Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waffles and...

Recently our small group said farewell to one of our members due to a move and for the send-off party we indulged in one of her favorite treats: waffles & ice cream.  I knew this to be one of her faves since that is what she served the very first time she hosted small group a few years ago.  I’d heard of people having waffles & ice cream as a dessert from watching a fun little cooking show called “The Take Home Chef” on TLC.  But this was a new experience for several individuals in our small group.  They were slightly mystified at the prospect of putting these two treats together. 

But no one was disappointed.  Everyone loved the combo.  What’s not to like?!  We topped the waffles with vanilla bean ice cream (fat free vanilla for Jake, poor guy) and then chocolate and/or caramal syrup & sprinkles, if desired. 

I made a somewhat half-hearted attempt to procure a waffle iron for the event, but came up short so we just went the route of Eggo.  Which was fast & fine.  I did get a new toaster for the occasion, spending a whopping $7 on it.  Our old one was just that – OLD.  Seriously, it was probably from the Reagan era.  We don’t have a lot of use for such things at our house, what with my dislike of bread and all. (Cook’s choice, people.)  We do enjoy our BLT’s on toasted bread, so in the summer when we have garden fresh tomatoes (from someone else’s garden, of course) we do whip out the old hunk of metal.  But lately it’s been somewhat lacking – it either burns or doesn’t toast hardly at all.  So goodbye, ‘ole pal!  Hello, new hunk of junk.  (I mean, if it cost under $7, it can’t be all that great, but I don’t require a lot of it.)

Another interesting waffle combo: waffles & chicken.  This is apparently a southern fave and has been a featured menu item on Man v. Food quite a bit at various restaurants.  The "chicken" part is usually some form of fried chicken or chicken strips.  My brother recently mentioned on Facebook that he was attempting a try at this pairing.  I don’t care too much either way about this idea, but Jake is pretty astounded that people would combine the two on one plate.  We’ve yet to try it, but again, I’m not opposed.  But I don’t think it will make my top 10 dishes to try either. 

What’s your take?  What would you like to eat your waffles with?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cincinnati Chili

To my actual Cincinnati peeps, I apologize for dubbing this food “Cincinnati chili”.  But that is how most of the rest of the world refers to it (and yes, I’m sure it’s world renowned).  I am aware we just call it “Skyline”. 

I guess this is the month where I’m feeling nostalgic for Cincinnati hot spots.  First Thai Café, now Skyline.

For those unfamiliar with this special “treat”, Cincinnati chili is very different from the kind of chili most of the rest of us grew up with.  For starters, it’s thin & runny and you put it over spaghetti and top it with an actual mound of shredded cheddar cheese.  And you don’t eat it with a spoon.  Not to mention that the taste is far from the Tex-Mex chili you find elsewhere.  Since the recipe is “secret” I can’t be certain how the original really is made, though it is widely known that cocoa powder & cinnamon are common ingredients.  So yeah, it’s different.

My first introduction to Cincinnati chili was when Jake & I were visiting the city for a wedding about a year before we actually moved there.  And I wasn’t impressed by this particular "delicacy".  It wasn’t very appealing in either appearance or taste.  The fact that it was so popular astounded me.  (Much as the prevalence of cilantro astounds me.) 

The originator of this distinctive dish is Skyline Chili.  It’s the first, the best.  (They actually tore down the original location when we lived in the Nati, which was near to where we lived & worked.)  There are many copycats (hello, Gold Star).  But in the city of Cincinnati, no other restaurant is as popular as Skyline.  Not even McDonald’s.  Let that marinate for a moment. 

The price is right.  You can get a full meal for under $5 at Skyline.  (Unless inflation & the economy have jacked that up.)  And it’s a sit-down place, though it’s quick.  You have a range of menu options, from the aforementioned spaghetti (aka a “3 way” or make it a 4 or 5 way with onions and/or beans) to chili dogs or even a Greek salad.  This makes it a staple for every high school / college kid and family in the tri-state area.  Sure, it’s a greasy spoon of a restaurant.  It doesn’t try to pretend that it’s anything but.

And for almost 3 years, I spent every midday Monday at my local Skyline.  I got to know the waitresses by name.  I probably ordered just about everything on the menu that doesn’t come with the chili (not a lot of options in that category, by the way).  I enjoyed being a “regular” with my co-workers for our Monday ritual lunch before staff meeting time. 

But I never “got” what the fuss was about.  I just figured it was because I didn’t grow up on it.  Sure, there were transplant people like me who enjoyed it, but I guess I lumped them in with the “cilantro” people of the world too.  And bread people.  I’m not denying I can be picky.  And Skyline just wasn’t my cup of tea.  I missed several restaurants when we moved away, but Skyline wasn’t one of them.  We visited a couple times and made our list of all the restaurant musts & Skyline didn’t make the cut for either of us.

And then.  A couple years ago we went back for a wedding and the couple served Skyline as their main course.  Real Skyline, not some homemade version that someone cooked up to copycat.  They had it catered in.  And I loved it.  What?!  Where did that come from??!!   

And now, every so often I sort of crave it.  But not the kind of craving that won’t go away & MUST be satisfied.  Just a fleeting thought.  Still, I’m baffled by this.  I’m sure I could get one of my friends to send me a can (yes, they sell it canned in the grocery stores, as well as frozen meals, & people use it to make a popular dip: chili spread on top of cream cheese & then topped with shredded cheddar, served with tortilla chips – that’s YUM, people!).  But I’m not that desperate.  Yet. 

Have you tried Cincinnati chili?  Love it or hate it?  Indifferent? 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Easter Candy

Easter is the very best time for candy.  I feel like a bit of a broken record here, knowing I’ve proclaimed this many times for many people.  But I just can’t say enough about it.  Here’s a “best of” for my Easter candy basket:

-Cadbury Crème Eggs.  Doesn’t get better than this gooey, rich treat.  ‘Nuff said.

-Starburst jelly beans.  These flavors beat all others.  Even Jelly Bellies take a backseat to these at Easter time.  (I think they are available year round now, but I will always associate them with Easter candy since that was their original debut.)

-Lifesavers Pastels.  The cotton candy flavor is gone in a flash when I’m around!

-SweeTarts Ducks, Chicks & Bunnies.  I don’t normally get too excited about SweeTarts but these little critters make me very, very happy.  They are super sweet, mouth watering (from the tang) and just dissolve into a million little taste explosions.  

-Reese’s Mini Eggs.  I know some prefer the giant eggs that come in a single package.  But I much prefer the mini ones.  Their ratio of chocolate to peanut butter (which seems much creamier in the mini egg than normal, which is great) is better.  More chocolate means more happy.

I know some of you will be extremely disappointed by the lack of a Peeps reference here.  And although I’m not at all opposed to the squishy sweet goodness of a Peep, in whatever form it may take, they’re just not that high on my list either.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Picky Eaters

As I mentioned in a previous post, I wanted to devote an entire post to this highest of my pet peeves.  And though most of you are probably chuckling to yourselves about the irony of ME being so bothered by picky eaters (ME who hates bread!), you should know that I don’t mean what you think I mean.  I’m not talking about people who don’t like mushrooms, or broccoli, or all vegetables for that matter.  I couldn’t care less about individual people’s little preferences or tastes.  I mean, I’m married to the cheese hater, for crying out loud!  I’m used to that. 

What bothers me most is the kind of picky eater that can’t tell you what they don’t like.  They don’t have a whole list of ingredients you should stay away from.  And they don’t react overly poorly to something they don’t really like.  But they also don’t react hardly at all when they DO like something.  Which is UNNERVING. 

To top it off, this kind of picky eater will sometimes even like the same dish that they really didn’t care for the first time around.  Like it so much that they profusely praise it, much to your (the cook of said dish) surprise since they didn’t seem too enthused prior.  Like it so much that you make an effort to make it again for them.  But the third time doesn’t turn out to be a charm.  Instead, they’re back to indifference, or worse – they really dislike it & are confused as to why.  Did you, the cook, use the same exact ingredients?!  Did you add the exact same amount of love or loathe?  Did you stand on your head in a jumpsuit & repeat the exact same mantra at the exact same time in the exact same language?!  In a nutshell, there is absolutely no earthly reason for the differing reactions.  And perhaps they know it themselves but just aren’t willing to admit it out loud.  Or perhaps they are entirely clueless.  Ding, ding, ding!!!

In my years of catering to this kind of picky eater, I’ve come to some conclusions.  Sometimes the differing reactions are due to nothing more than the fluctuations in appetite of the eater.  When they are hungry, food tastes infinitely better than when they are simply not as famished.  Because you – the cook – have absolutely no control over the state of the eater’s appetite (since, let’s be honest, this eater is not a regular feaster of your fare; no such eater would exist in your home but is just a passing guest from time to time), this is something you will never be totally prepared for.  Though offering appetizers or 5 course meals should be avoided at all costs, of course. 

One of my favorite quips from this kind of picky eater is the side compliment.  This eater will tell you what a wonderful cook their son/wife/friend/co-worker thinks you are.  This is a nice thing to hear, of course.  Until you realize that you’ve never heard a compliment from THEM.  They couldn’t give two rips about your cooking.  But their “somebody else” thinks you’re tops.  Hoo-hah.

Have you run into this?  Is it as infuriating to you as it is to me?!  Or is it just me?  Probably just me…

Friday, March 18, 2011

Update on Quitting

Well, folks.  It hasn’t been going well.  I’m a slave to sweets.  I was going solid on my “no sweets for a month” quest for almost an entire week and then I hit a wall.  A wall made of sugar.  And I ate it.  I thought maybe if I just let myself have one cheat day every week, I could endure.  This is craziness, of course, but when you’re a slave to a substance, you aren’t capable of thinking clearly about it.  You tend to rationalize.  A lot.  I was just sorry I’d made this “no sweets” proclamation public.  I thought I’d learned my lesson in that area.  Apparently not.

Anyway, I’ve fallen off the wagon.  Hard.  And have about one pinky toe still on it.  For a good two weeks I stayed away from soda completely, which is definitely my biggest sweet vice.  But then I thought I’d give myself a cheat day.  Ha!  Seriously, it’s become apparent to me that cheat days are the gateway drug.  They don’t help you endure.  They help you fall flat on your face.

Did you know that you can screw your body up so much by feeding it so much sugar on a regular basis that when you stop the sugar rush it will protest by squeezing your brain until it hurts like caffeine withdrawal?!  I didn’t!!  But NOW I do!  I’d always associated those headaches with quitting caffeine.  Now I know it’s not just caffeine that my body craves.  Plain ‘ole sugar will do.

So I’m still working on the whole discipline thing.  I used to be able to go months at a time without something (aka Lent and the times I gave up chocolate, then ice cream, then sugar).  But I guess when I hit 30 my body decided it can no longer do without.  It just retains.  And screams and screeches until I give in.  Since going cold turkey doesn’t work for me now, I guess I’ll have to learn moderation?  This learning stuff is hard.

But a BIG, FAT “THANK YOU” to those of you out there that have been encouraging me along the way!!!!!  I am so honored that you take the time to read my silly words and respond!!  And a little dismayed when I disappoint you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Food Pet Peeves

We all have them.  Food pet peeves.  Little quirks, faux pas & idiosyncrasies that OTHER people do in regard to food & eating that irritate us to the very core.  Surely we do not possess any such annoying traits ourselves!! 

Near the top of my little food pet peeves list is picky eaters.  And not picky in the way you would normally assume.  But more on that in the next post.  That one deserves it’s very own little acknowledgment.

Other food pet peeves:

-Trying to sneak/hide an ingredient in a dish.  My mother constantly did this to my husband early on in our relationship.  She couldn’t quite grasp his hatred of cheese.  And she knew he tolerated mozzarella fine.  So she’d take advantage of his good nature & innocence, trading white cheddar for mozzarella and trying to play it off.  Jake got wise to her trickery, though.  And to this day, whenever he’s unsure of a dish’s ingredients (no matter the cook), he lets me take a bite first, then inquires with plaintive eyes and waits for my nod.  I know the cheese thing is hard, friends, and probably when you hear that Jake hates cheese the only recipes that you can think of contain loads & loads of melty, cheesy goodness.  But it’s just provoking my husband to give the “I’m just not that hungry” response at some point in the dinner.  Pizza, folks.  Just order a pizza & we’ll all be fine.  As long as it only has mozzarella on it!  Otherwise we might have to grate anchovies into the next meal we drop off at your door.  Just sayin’.  (And, yes, cream cheese counts as cheese.)

-Spouting off how many calories / carbs / fat grams are in every. single. menu item.  I get it.  You’re health conscious.  Much more than me.  You win!!  However, I probably have better taste.  And am enjoying my food more than you are.  Just sayin’.

-Hidden ingredients.  Can’t food just be made of real ingredients & not weird chemical concoctions?  Just what is “autolyzed yeast extract” anyway?  And why do I need it in my rice pilaf mix?  I have a friend whose adolescent daughter has started helping her grocery shop & if a product has any ingredient that she doesn’t understand or recognize, they put it back on the shelf.  I promise you, that will cut out a whole lot of stuff from your pantry!  One of my favorite things is looking on a package of frozen vegetables and seeing under the ingredients list just “green beans”.  Or “corn”.  Nothing else.  Awesome.  Does that make anyone else a little sad, though?  That it’s awesome?  That it’s a surprise at all?!

I’m sure there are many, many more.  What are some of your food pet peeves?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Girl Scout Cookies

Is there anything better than the sweet taste of youthful independence in the springtime? 

What?!  Isn’t that what you taste when you bite into the delectable delight of a Peanut Butter Pattie / Tagalong?  The traditional crispness of a Thin Mint?  The gooey goodness of a Caramel DeLite / Samoa?

First, why are there different names for the cookies based on what region you’re in?  I remember one year in Cincinnati we ordered some cookies from a friend in Ohio and they were called one name and then some more from a friend nearer to Indiana (Cincinnati is right on the border between Indiana, Ohio & Kentucky) and they were called another.  Except for Thin Mints, of course.  Those remain the same for all regions, all time.

People generally have their favorites.  And their absolute top favorite is generally NOT Thin Mints.  However, like myself, most people still generally order Thin Mints in addition to everything else, making them the most popular in terms of ordering. 

But I would not die for a Thin Mint.  I might sell my left arm for a Caramel Delite / Samoa, though.  That chewy toasted coconut, gooey caramel, sweet chocolate & crunchy cookie satisfies in a way almost nothing else can.  I long for them.  I devour them.  I buy the Edy’s brand ice cream that incorporates them.  And I know they’re popular.  People who generally don’t care for coconut have found a deep profound love for them.

My husband is a Peanut Butter Pattie / Tagalong man, though.  And this works quite well for us.  I have no desire to spend calories on his cookies and the same goes for him with mine. 

We used to order a box of Caramel Delites / Samoas for me, a box of Peanut Butter Patties / Tagalongs for him and a box of Thin Mints to share.  Due to cutbacks in the finances, the Thin Mints are a thing of the past.  And we find we don’t miss them.  They were always the last to go anyway.  (Isn’t this always the case with Thin Mints?!  Why do we all bother if we’re not that crazy about them?)

In recent years I’ve ventured out into other options, only to find them lacking in comparison to our faves. 

You’ll rarely see such devotion as that from a person to their favorite Girl Scout Cookie.  Why do they provoke such strong responses from us?  Is it that they’re only available for a limited time?  Is it that it’s a strong national tradition?  Is it that we can taste the investment we're making in our country's youth?  Is it that they’re SO incredibly delicious? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Thai

I will forever be grateful to my band of co-workers at Cincinnati Christian University for introducing me to a few lasting food favorites.  One of those happens to be Thai food.  I’d never ventured into the area of Thai cuisine before lunching with that fabulous crew.  Thai Café will always hold a special place in my heart.  Though finding parking was a near nightmare, the food was fantastic.  And nothing satisfied more than finishing off with a short hop, skip & jump over to the nearby Graeter’s ice cream shop for dessert.  Ah, I miss you guys…

Anyway, in Omaha we’ve found a few decent Thai places.  And recently Jake has determined that since a lot of Thai food fits his new strict diet regimen, Thai is the food of choice for most eating out opportunities.  Our favorite is Thai Kitchen.  They have a wide range of options at decent prices.  This happens to be the first Thai spot we encountered in the Omaha area when we moved back and I think it very closely resembles Thai Café in food offerings.  They say that the first cut is the deepest when it comes to relationships and I find this to hold true for relationships to food/restaurants as well.  (Our favorite sushi is still Hiro, which was the site of our maiden sushi voyage, so my theory holds.) 

Ordering Thai food can be tricky.  Most Thai restaurants we’ve been to require you to request how much heat you’d like to experience via your food by choosing a number from 1 to 10.  (Sometimes zero can be an option as well.)  I usually stick with a 2.  The funny part about that is that sometimes a 2 is no heat at all and sometimes, like this last time I went, it can be so hot that your lips are on fire after bite #3.  I think this discrepancy mostly has to do with who is cooking at the time.  But still, this makes things a bit dicey.

My favorite Thai dishes are the ones that have lots of veggies & chicken accompanied by a thin, sweet but very slightly spicy sauce, all of which is then spooned over rice.  Yum.  The Cashew Nut Chicken at Thai Kitchen is a good example of this.  Also, I definitely prefer the crispy spring rolls at Thai places versus egg rolls at Chinese places.  The only difference I can tell is that the crispy spring rolls are wrapped in a light flaky crust similar to phyllo dough rather than the thicker crust on an egg roll that would be more similar to pie crust.  

I have to say that I haven’t branched out too far when it comes to Thai options.  And I don’t really care for Pad Thai all that much, which is surprising given my love for all things rice.  (Pad Thai is a dish mostly consisting of rice noodles.)  Though I do prefer my rice in actual rice form rather than flour or noodles, so that’s probably part of it.  I’ve been known to order rice noodle dishes at pasta restaurants like Noodles & Co. or Nothing But Noodles, but I rarely (if ever) order a noodle dish at an Asian restaurant.  Lo Mein always takes a backseat to fried rice at my table.  (Apparently my table is a bit schizo & thinks it’s a car sometimes?!)  Thankfully, though, my husband has discovered that he LOVES Pad Thai.  I’m so glad he’s finding things on his new diet that he not only can tolerate, but actually really likes. 

Thai Kitchen (near Lakeside, 168th & Center) & Thai Spice (multiple locations) restaurants in Omaha are operated by the same people.  And both seem to be good options, though I have to confess I’ve only experienced Thai Kitchen firsthand.  My husband has dined at Thai Spice several times, though.  But it does seem that Thai Spice tends to be more spicy (as the name might suggest), as well as a bit more expensive (though not extremely so).  So bear all that in mind.  We’ve also tried Thai Pepper (Miracle Hills, 114th & Dodge) and though the food was good, the prices were outrageous in comparison.

If you like other Asian (aka Chinese, sushi, Japanese), you will most likely love Thai.  If you like Indian food, you’ll find something to like at a Thai place as well.  Check it out!  We recently found that though there are over 20 sushi places in Omaha, there are only 11 Thai places.  We thought that was immensely interesting, as sushi would seem to be the more extreme of the two.  But since Omaha residents apparently love their sushi, I’m pretty sure they’d love Thai as well. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Calling It Quits

No, not on the blog, silly.  On the caffeine.  (If you read my Monday post, you know this is going to be a huge feat.)  And on the sugar.  (If you know me, you also know that this is quite an undertaking.)  Just for a month.  I once quit refined sugar for all of Lent, so one month shouldn’t kill me.  But right now it feels like it’s going to.  Which I why it is imperative that I do so.  Right now.

I read on Facebook recently that a friend of mine gave up sweets & soda for a month.  He lost 14 lbs in the process, though I’m not at all optimistic about the chances of that happening for me.  But his story inspired me.  And since this is the beginning of March, no better time than the present to tackle this issue in my life.

Discipline is something that escapes me.  I am not a very disciplined person at all.  I’ve flirted with it at various times in my life, in various ways.  But I have a hard time tackling it to the ground and making it work for me.  Probably because tackling something requires the discipline to build up the strength to be able to tackle.  I’m sure you see the vicious cycle there.

I was astounded when I announced to my husband this goal and he automatically volunteered to join me in this quest.  He normally is very resistant to such changes and with his new diet restrictions I was definitely expecting a bucking at the idea of cutting out even more.  However, I think discipline begets discipline.  He’s now aware of how eating better can make him feel better, I think.  Maybe.  I have no real idea, but I like to think that might be it.  Because it will make my job of helping him live longer much easier.

So for the rest of March I will not partake of sweets like desserts, candy, soda, Koolaid, etc.  Which will be hard.  So, so hard.  It’s already been really hard & I’ve only been on it for a couple days.  But I know I can do it.  I need to do it.  Sometimes you get stuck in patterns where you’re just binging on everything.  I recently stocked up (truly, obscenely stocked up) on Koolaid since my Walmart finally decided to stock it after MONTHS of empty shelves.  Right now my counter is littered with Cadbury Eggs (more on those later), Girl Scout Cookies (ditto), homemade cookies from my neighbors and some oatmeal fudge bars.  Seriously.  Now you see my problem?!  However, I also have a produce basket on my table that is chock full of oranges, pineapple, bananas and apples.  And this morning, rather than indulge in an oatmeal fudge bar for breakfast (what?! It’s oatmeal!!), I chose the orange.  So here goes.  Pray for me.  Seriously.  I've already experienced pretty severe headaches & more just from the caffeine & sugar withdrawal.  Thank goodness I've never tried any hard drugs!!  

But the good news is that there will still be time for Easter candy deliciousness afterward.  That’s very good news, my friends!