Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful for Thanksgiving

You know what makes Thanksgiving so wonderful; it's not the family, the friends or the travel.  The food is what makes Thanksgiving worth the trouble.  The menu is almost so sacred that virtually no one eats it outside of November.  Depriving myself of turkey, stuffing and gravy for one holiday seems crazy and yet we follow along because it makes the day that much more special.

When thinking about a thankful Thanksgiving one must contemplate the turkey.  We have over the years tried several variations.  Frying made the skin crispy and lovely but created a texture with the meat that wasn't perfect for the Holiday.  Smoking a turkey was a novel idea and tasted wonderful (especially the one with Cajun seasoning) but produce a gravy that was not very tasty.  Roasting a turkey in the oven makes the perfect Thanksgiving.  In my opinion roasting a whole turkey with one of those bags is a great way for any average cook to make something close to perfection.  For the more advanced start by buy a fresh turkey, brine and then roast starting breast down and switching half way through cooking.  I have had a frozen turkey cooked in a bag with no prior brine taste as good if not better than others that were crafted by skillful cooks.  Turkey is a great anchor on the plate but by no means what brings me to the table.

This is one of those times when the side kicks make it all worth while.  Must start with mashed potatoes that are as fluffy as clouds.  There must be both stuffing and dressing (please research if you don't know the difference).  Cranberry relish (the recipe on the back of the fresh cranberries works well) and canned cranberry jelly (I know this is a little wrong but somethings are just supposed to be a little wrong and processed).  Green beans (whole with bacon and almond slices comes to mind but any fresh will do) and other fresh greens cooked in some sort of butter or pigs fat.  Gravy lots and lots of gravy.  I like my gravy to create a bath for the food to swim in on my plate.  A dinner roll and a large tab of room temperature butter rounds out my perfect plate.  I know there are hundreds of sides to be had but these can in some portion fit on one fork to give me the perfect Thanksgiving bite.

No matter what you eat may your Holiday be filled with a full tummy.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What I like to order at chains!

Chain restaurants get little love in the blogging and foodie world and for the most part for good reason but I've listed below a few of my favorite choices at each restaurant.

Olive Garden:

Zuppa Toscana- My only suggestion

PF Changs:
Orange Chicken or Shrimp

Long Horns:
Pork Chops with Asparagus

CPK (California Pizza Kitchen)
Thai Crunch Salad Substitute Avocado for Chicken
Taco Mac:
Wings swimming in TMI sauce cooked 5 extra minutes

Outback Steakhouse:
Rack of Lamb or Baby Back Ribs

Cracker Barrel:
Meatloaf sandwich and Greens

There are more but I have no specific recommendations.  I try to eat at chains as little as possible because I like exceptional food but when out at a chain no reason not to attempt to get close. 

Tell me what's your favorite thing to order at a chain?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fish in Parchment

Once you get the basics down for this recipe you can play with more flavors, exotic citrus', edible flowers, and interesting vegetables.  The photo below is a basic fold there's a heart shape fold once you've practiced that will add additional flair.

4- 18" long piece of parchment paper
4 Fish fillets (6 oz each)
1 cup of shredded carrots
4 slices of lemon
1 cup of diced zucchini
1 cup of diced tomatoes
8 small thinly sliced Red Potatoes
4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons of Butter
1 Teaspoon of fresh Parsley
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees

Place the carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, red potatoes, 1/2 the olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper in a bowl and lightly mix.  In the center of each parchment place a 1/4 of the bowl ingredients then top with the fish, parsley, olive oil, lemon slice, salt, and pepper.   To close the parchment fold the top like an brown paper bag then fold the side the same.  After completing all 4,  place them on a cookie sheet and back for 20-35 minutes depending on type of fish and thickness.    

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Restaurant Tipping

This one, I thought needed no explanation but after working in restaurants you see just how cheap people can be when the bill arrives.  Tipping is the only way your waiter, waitress, or bartenders make a living.  They receive an hourly rate below $3 and that just pay some taxes.  The starting percentage should be 20% or higher depending on how satisfied you are with your service.  If however the service is substandard or just plain terrible then move the percentage down to as low as you see fit.  
I have seen that there are certain types of people that consistently tip poorly and I don't think they are aware of just how dreaded they are by this entire industry.  Some terrible tippers even have the nerve to keep visiting the same restaurant over and over again.  I'm not saying that someone should mess with there food although I'm sure it happens (I would never do that because I am very particular about how food is treated) but they shouldn't be allowed to eat at the establishment.
Let's be clear here 15% is not acceptable.  In the 80's and maybe the early 90's this worked but now that's just not enough.  I'm sure if you've never been a waiter or a bartender this probably makes less sense to you.  Most people think waiters have a pretty easy job; they take your order and bring out food but most don't know that everything besides the kitchen (even part of this) is cleaned by a waiter or bartender.  Every piece of silverware is rolled and cared for by the wait staff, and they usually even have partial responsibility when it comes to cooking duties such as salads, desserts and some appetizers.  Plus 3-5% of the tip goes to tipping out a bus boy/girl, hostess, and any other auxiliary person used.  Leaving 10-15% consistently is wrong and says that you don't care if that person serving you can pay his/her rent or feed his/her child.

How we treat those who serve us is a reflection on how we treat others.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Red

My red sauce was in my 20's a bit complicated and then I realized I could strip it down to a few basic ingredients.

2 cans of crushed tomatoes (hunts is my preference)
2 oz of tomato paste
1 large onion
3 Garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tablespoons of oregano
fresh chopped basil (optional)

Cook the onion for 8 min on medium heat with olive oil. Then add garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir frequently. Once off of the heat add basil.

Its simple but perfect.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Where does your passion for food come from?

Today I was eating with my father at a large Chinese buffet (Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet).  While the food is OK, its the fact that my dad and I have this place that's in our rotation that makes it special to me.  My earliest memories of food are with my mother and father.

My mothers contribution to my culinary life is small but very important.  I got my amazing appetite from her, and I don't mean an appetite I mean a real appetite.  When my wife first met my mother and saw how much she ate she would say, "its disgusting to see a woman eat so much".  It made me feel proud (I think its a boy thing).  My mother is not a large woman either which makes it all that much more fun.  Needless to say my father would have to make 2-3 chicken breast a night for my mother and I (just to give you a little perspective).  She made a ramen dish with the noodles made like fried rice (peas, carrots, onions, little soy sauce) with sliced browned smoked sausage (beef kielbasi).  My kids and I call it Hot Dog Fried Noodles.  It's a special happy food memory that I'm getting to share with my kids.

My father was a little more hands on with my culinary training.  He was in the Coast Guard and went to cook school (I don't know if that a proper term but that's how he refers to it).  He also worked with a pastry chef at a large hotel, owned a restaurant, and sold food supplies to restaurants all over the country.  So his credentials are legit and he started teaching me at a very young age.  Some of the time I didn't see what he was making but there was a lot of thought that went into what we were going having.  Sometimes Dad would decide on a Saturday that we were going to Dekalb Farmers Market because he wanted to make egg rolls. He would also cook like he was still in the military.  We would have a serious amount of leftovers but as I explained about our appetites earlier none of it went to waste.  There are so many memories like this that I can't tell you all in an entire blog.  One meal above all stands out to me, mainly because most of the people I know will not touch it, and that's liver and onions.  He would fry it like country fried steak, make a gravy with a healthy amount of onions, and serve it with mash potatoes.  I seriously love that meal, and I love it even more that people refuse to eat liver.  I do have to give my father lots of credit because I ate food that no other kids would eat because he made them better than they might ever try.

Just the other night I had a batch of plantains that were a little under ripe for my liking and wanted to make sure that I was making them how my father does, so I called him.  First as I'm calling him I remember him making plantains when I was a kid and could see how he would fix this problem.  As he answered and listened to me then responded by telling me that I was doing what he would do and he started laughing because he was doing the same thing at the same time (now that's a little creepy).

Going forward I want my passion and my kids passion to be an endless bowl of creativity.  My Dad started me on that mission and its my sincere hope to continue the tradition.


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Review

Today me and a friend visited Nam Phuong (I think #3) located on Buford Hwy.  From the outside this place was promising with a nice mix of different cultures and a clean parking lot.  As I went to sit down, two tables over was Chef Kevin Gillespie, a Top Chef contest and the former co-owner of Wood Fire Grill.  He has a new Atlanta restaurant named Gunshow that is a different take on the traditional restaurant experience.  Well, needless to say I thought our choice of Vietnamese must be pretty good if a famous Chef would eat there with his personal friends.  Watching there order arrive made me wish I was eating with them, not only for the company but most the quantity of amazing looking food.

My friend Tony had never eaten Vietnamese, which has become a weekly staple for me.  I was glad to show him the ropes.  Since it was his first time I felt that we must order Beef Pho.  When they brought the plate of condiments/herbs/veggies I could see his interests being peeked and my stomach started to rumble in anticipation of spicy broth and noodles.

Once the soup bowl arrived we added our plate full of goodies and then a healthy dose of Sriracha.  In my humble opinion if you aren't sweating you aren't doing it right but for those who don't like it hot just don't add it.  When my broth looks more red than brown, I know its just about perfect.

Tony loved it.  I could see that this would become a regular place for him and maybe even open up some of his co-workers to a cuisine that they've never had or at the very least we will eat there again.

I would say this is one my favorite Vietnamese locations in Atlanta.  I will return soon and order a wide selection, so I can give recommendation on what to and not to order.  As of now the Beef Pho (fatty flank, flank, brisket) might be my only selection but it was enough.