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Archive for August, 2011

Last week I spent 3 days in Los Angeles for a job interview.  My final afternoon with the group, one of my potential co-workers took me to lunch in the hospital cafeteria.

Those of you who know me well know I despise hospital food.

I spent a week in the hospital when I was 16 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Though the food at my hospital was less than appealing in general, my condition probably exacerbated my aversion.  Two surgeries meant fasting, but even once they were over and I was cleared to eat solid food again, the lingering effects of anesthesia made me feel gross.  Then there were the painkillers.  The morphine made me miserable.  Yes, I was in pain.  But I was hungry, and the morphine made me too nauseous to eat.  It didn’t take long for me to tell the nurses to nix my drip and just load me up on extra strength Tylenol.  When I finally felt like eating, well…

I know this may sound odd, but I fondly recall having several of my friends visiting when my dinner arrived after a few nights in the hospital.  I lifted the lid off my plate, caught a whiff of what was supposed to be pork loin, and immediately slammed the lid back down.  We still laugh about it now.  It is not much of an exaggeration to say the only thing I ate from the cafeteria was soft-serve and bread.  I subsisted almost entirely off the gifts of food visitors brought me…take out from the Olive Garden, cupcakes, and fruit immediately come to mind.

In the coming months, I almost always brought my own snack with me to the clinic during chemo treatments.  Just the smell of hospital food made me gag.  It still does; getting trapped in an elevator from which a food cart has just departed is one of my least favorite hospital experiences (God forbid the food cart actually be in there with me).  My chemo actually made me more tired than nauseous; in fact, the prednisone I was also on made me ravenously hungry.  All the time.  But the few times I attempted to eat cafeteria food during treatments were less than successful.  I recall making my mom go get a second helping of chili for me one afternoon, only to open the lid and feel like tossing my cookies.  I also remember ordering a Caesar salad on the way home once with similar results.  It took me years to give Caesar dressing another shot.

Anyways, the point of all of that was to give you an idea of how shocked I was to be agreeing to eat at a hospital cafeteria.  I mean, I’ve spent A LOT of the past two years in hospitals, and I’ll spend A LOT of the rest of my life in them.  But if I got so hungry I needed to eat there?  It was a sandwich and Craisins every time.  No lie.  Now I found myself actually excited to be eating an entree at a hospital, and you know why?  Because said entree was fish tacos!  I would get to check something off my bucket list without even trying!  And, I was assured these were delicious (and the only reason to ever eat at the cafeteria, haha).

They were fabulous.  This version was made with breaded fish, though most of the recipes I’ve seen call for unbreaded.  There were about five different salsas and sauces you could add to your heaps of freshly chopped fish and slaw; I opted for the creamy Baja sauce made with cilantro.  Everything about these was amazing, with one small exception.  The flour tortillas they were made in were slightly gross.  Holly will remember a package her mom bought us a few months ago that we used to make green chili but found oddly textured on their own.  This HAD to be the same brand.  They were almost rubbery, not at all what your typical tortilla should taste like.  But not nearly gross enough to prevent me from eating the entire plate of tacos 😉

Conclusion: fish tacos are phenomenal.  I’m sure there are some restaurants serving up gross versions out there.  I’m sure certain sauces or toppings are better than others.  But in general, it’s safe to say that this is a dish I’ll be eating forever and ever 🙂

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That Bucket List

Here it is…the beginning of my list!

  1. Sushi!  ‘Nuff said.  I’ve heard such good things.  And I love seafood, I’ve never minded seaweed, and wasabi sounds great to my chemo-burned-out tastebuds 🙂
  2. Burnt ends from Oklahoma Joe’s, Kansas City, KS.  In my post about sweet corn muffins, I think I made it perfectly clear I’m in love with barbeque.  And though I’ve sampled a variety of the different smoked meats, I always come back to beef brisket as my favorite.  Obviously, Pappy’s prepares the best brisket I’ve had yet, and nothing has really come that close to besting them.  Maxie’s Southern Comfort, a few blocks from my first apartment in Milwaukee did a decent brisket.  Their KC-style sauce was damn good, but the beef itself was a little fattier than Pappy’s.  The Brickhouse BBQ in Madison was disappointing.   The closest thing they had to straight brisket was an open-faced brisket sandwich.  Covered in cheese.  For the umpteenth time: as a full-blooded Wisconsinite, I rarely have a problem smothering anything in cheese (or butter).  But, I found out last fall that I have a problem smothering brisket in cheese.  Even delicious pepper jack.  Nope.  Appropriately, it was Adam Richman and Man vs. Food that led us to Pappy’s, and it was Adam Richman that led me to Oklahoma Joe’s and stuck the idea of burnt ends in my brain.  Essentially, a burnt end is a piece of brisket cooked even longer than usual, yielding even more yummy barbeque flavor.  I guess these little beauties are a Kansas City specialty.  I haven’t noticed them on a menu up here ever, that’s for sure.  And since every restaurant suggested by Man vs. Food has been amazing, I have my heart set on having my first burnt end at Oklahoma Joe’s.  Which is in Kansas.  And a gas station.  In fact, it might be that last fact that excites me the most.  I love being able to say stuff like “I ate bbq in a gas station, and it was amazing.”  With Holly in St. Louis, chances are we can make this happen sooner rather than later.  Update 9/29/11: As my post for today describes, I’ve now been to OK Joe’s, I just didn’t get what I was looking for!  As a result, I need to do some research on a new KC place to get burnt ends.  And then I need to go back to KC at some point.  12/18 for the Packers-Chiefs?!  Haha.
  3. Caviar.  I go from eating burnt meat at a gas station to wanting caviar.  I just sat here for a moment trying to think if I’ve ever discussed caviar with somebody who had eaten it themselves.  I think the answer is no.  We’re pretty simple up here in Wisco 🙂  This may be the most challenging thing I put on this list, and I may very well have forgotten about blogging by the time I ever taste it.  But anything that can fetch upwards of $9000/kilo (according to a quick Wikipedia search) is something I figure I should try!
  4. Edamame.  Being a quasi-health nut, it’s a surprise I’ve never actually had this.  I always think of edamame in the dry roasted version I’ve seen some of my friends snacking on, but the traditional way of eating it involves steaming or boiling the soybeans in their pods.  For the purpose of this blog, I’ll say I want to try the dried version, but I’d be open to trying the hot/fresh version if I were to stumble across it in a restaurant or something like that 🙂
  5. A Malt from Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis.  Crown Candy is the only place from the STL episode of Man vs. Food that I haven’t visited.  And I LOVE malts.  Mmmmm.  With Holly in STL for the next two years, I will have plenty of reasons and opportunities to visit again, so this will be a no-brainer!  I just won’t be able to eat Pappy’s first….
  6. Buffalo tenderloin.  This shouldn’t be too difficult.  There’s a bison farm a mile from my parents’ house.  It’s getting to be pretty popular nowadays.  I’ve had my fair share of bison burgers, but I’ve never had a straight-up tenderloin.  We’ll see how it compares to venison tenderloins.  I had the latter during our cruise this spring, and it was one of my favorite meals on the ship.  However, the tenderloins we grilled up with butter and onions during deer hunting season were/are equally delicious.  Too bad I didn’t get to try any buffalo in CO this March!
  7. Fish tacos.  This makes me laugh, because my random brain just went on a very quick detour.  Starting with a quote in our college quote book that goes something like “if there were a pizza with fish on it, and you ate it, I would judge you.  A lot.”  That one was aimed at me, of course.  The best part of this is that while we were visiting Kari in Colorado this spring, I actually ate pizza with fish on it.  It was a Friday during Lent, and the cook at her school had prepared one with an alfredo-esque sauce and tuna.  It was fricken yummy!  Fish tacos are something I’ve long contemplated cooking myself, but I’ve also got a few recommendations of places to get a good one around here.  I think my dad would really enjoy them if I made them, so I might have to go ahead and try one of the recipes I’ve collected.
  8. Broccoli Rabe.  I am actually quite surprised I made it through an 11 night Mediterranean cruise (including four stops in Italy) without trying this veggie.  It seems like Giada is using it every chance she gets.  I love my vegetables.  Honestly, since tomatoes are technically fruit, it can be said that there aren’t any veggies I despise enough to avoid.  I also love bitter (hence the obsession with Guinness and other dark beers).  So a veggie that’s described as bitter?  Hell yes.  This should be easy enough to stumble across at a Whole Foods and prepare in some Food Network-inspired recipe.
  9. Deep-fried pickles.  Mentioning Giada just now reminded me of one of her recent Tweets regarding some awesome deep-fried pickles she’d just eaten.  Another something that’s been recommended by multiple friends, this one makes the list easily.  I love pickles.  They are a good diet food.  They are a good drunk food (I can’t count how many times we’d come home from the bars in Madison and eat an entire jar…likely as an appetizer for the microwaved pot pies hahaha).  Of course, by “they.” I mean dill pickles.  Bread and butter pickles disgust me.  Anyways, I also love deep-fried stuff.  Cheese curds (my God, what will I do when I’m forced to leave Wisconsin?!?).  Cauliflower.  Mushrooms.  Fish.  Onions.  As so on and so forth.  Combining a dill pickle with deep-fried goodness?  Yes, please.
  10. A Black and Tan.  Fine readers, you are again witnessing the marvels of how my brain works.  Just as mentioning Giada once sparked the deep-fried pickle entry on this list, mentioning Guinness reminded me that I’ve never had a Black and Tan.  I highly doubt it will prove so amazing I’d rather drink my Guinness mixed with Bass instead of on its own, but I’d like to give it a try.  In fact, a quick Wikipedia search provided a ton of variations that also sound interesting.  Belgian Brunette = Guinness and Stella.  Two stellar beers right there!  That could be a whole other tangent for the blog 😉

Ok, I’ve grown this list to ten.  That’s sort of weak, but it makes for a long blog post as-is.  I’ll start another draft of my food bucket list and add to it as more things come to mind, publishing every time I come up with ten ideas.  These first ten provide me with a few things that I could easily do now, and a few that will involve some planning and traveling, so it’s a perfect mix 🙂  I’ll be on hiatus for a few days here, but hopefully I can come back this weekend with something yummy to talk about!

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My final post of my barbecue adventure was getting a bit long so I decided to post a final review of the meal separately.  To recap the menu was:

  • Grilled Chicken Legs with Southern Comfort BBQ Sauce
  • Green Beans with Bacon
  • Summer Vegetable Medley, marinated and grilled
  • Sweet Corn Bread
  • Sweet Iced Tea

The general consensus? Delicious!  The BBQ sauce was a big hit, especially with the smokey flavor from the charcoal grill.  Chris (not a SoCo fan at all) liked that it wasn’t overly SoCo flavored and Mike particularly liked the tang that the lemon juice added.

Also a favorite were the green beans with bacon, I’m sure we all would have eaten seconds if there had been more to go around.  Big points for the beans still having a little crunch.

The grilled vegetables were good and liked by all, but I do think the flavor of the marinade I chose clashed a bit with the rest of the meal.  I’d probably go with some different herbs/spices next time I’m barbecuing and use this particular blend for something Italian/Mediterranean.

The sweet corn bread, as I expected, was the perfect finish.  Chris’s first comment was that it tasted like Famous Dave’s, which I informed Danielle of and she seemed pretty excited for the feedback.

I think only Mike tried some of my Sweet Tea, but he gave it a good review: very refreshing and not too sweet.

My Adventure was a huge success and I had a great time spending my day baking, cooking, grilling and eating.  I got to try out a bunch of new recipes and they are all keepers.  I hope I’m lucky enough to be struck with another menu idea for a food adventure soon.

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Alright, I’m back to finish my little series on my Saturday BBQ adventure.   If you’ve read parts one and two you know what I had planned for the menu and what I had left to prepare Saturday afternoon before my BBQ could be served.  First up I made my sauce…

As you might remember some left over Southern Comfort was inspiration for this sauce and I used Google to help me find a recipe.  Here’s what I found:

Browning onions and bacon, with the other sauce ingredients on deck in the background.

Southern Comfort BBQ Sauce [from keyingredient.com]

    • 1 medium onion – finely chopped
    • 3 slices bacon – finely chopped
    • 1/2 cup Southern Comfort
    • 2 cups ketchup
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp chili powder
    • juice of 1 lemon

Lightly brown onion with chopped bacon.  Remove from heat, add Southern Comfort and ketchup; stir. Add remaining ingredients and simmer slowly for 10 minutes.  Grill chicken, basting often with sauce.

Notes: the original recipe calls this sauce “spicy” but it was really more sweet and tangy – you could try adding more chili powder or some red pepper if you really want spicy, but I liked it just the way it was.  I don’t know that I used as much SoCo as the recipe calls for as I just poured in the rest of the bottle I had, but our sauce did not overly taste like the whiskey.  I think what it really gains from the SoCo is some sweet caramely  flavors.  The bacon I used was apple wood smoked, which also probably added sweet smokey flavor.

Once my sauce was done and simmering, I started on my green beans.  I stumbled on this recipe a few months ago while browsing foodie blogs and saved it for use when green beans were in season.  The original poster heralds this as an alternative to ‘gross’ green bean casserole for Thanksgiving, I take offense as I absolutely adore green bean casserole, but this is still a great alternative green bean dish.

Green Beans with Bacon [from foodbat]

Sorry the picture is a bit out of focus, I think you still get the general idea of deliciousness, though.

  • 3 pieces thick cut bacon, diced
  • half of a sweet onion, finely diced
  • one clove of garlic, smashed
  • one pound fresh green beans, washed and with the tips snapped off
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • the zest of one lemon
  • half a lemons worth of juice
  1. In a heavy pan over medium-high heat cook bacon for a few minutes until it begins to crisp, then add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the green beans and toss to coat with the onion and bacon mixture. Add a little olive oil if it looks dry.
  3. Add the red pepper flakes, lemon zest and lemon juice.
  4. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the green beans are crisp-tender, about 5-10 minutes depending on what sort of beans you got. Tasting is key!
  5. Add salt and pepper to your liking.

Notes: the original recipe calls for 1 Tbs of butter to fry the bacon in but I left it out, a bit of olive oil to help coat the beans works fine.  One pound of beans cooked down is not a lot of beans!  If you’re making this for more than 3 or 4 people, I’d recommend doubling it.

And with that all that was left was to light the grill and cook the chicken and veggies.  Chris helped out with this part: rotating chicken legs as I basted and keeping track of time so they cooked evenly.  When all was said and done we had quite the delicious feast.  One last post coming with final reactions!

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A Food Bucket List, You Say

My friend Holly (hi Holly!) just moved to St. Louis for grad school, and has been relishing a few weeks of relaxation time after putting in 50+ hour weeks at work for the past year and a half.  Relishing relaxation time = reading food blogs and watching House Hunters with me while we IM about how crazy Rhode Island accents are 😉  Last week we were chatting and she told me she had an idea for the blog.  A food bucket list!

To me, “bucket list” brings to mind a movie starring my friend Kari’s father, Morgan Freeman.  I have a version of a bucket list in my mind, but since I’ve never written it down, it keeps changing as I keep forgetting certain things I must do before I kick the bucket.  I believe “witness a soccer game in South America” is on it.  Funny, because I “hate” soccer.  But it’s sort of like the Kentucky Derby or, dare I say, NASCAR: you want to be able to say you’ve seen it in person.

I asked Holly if a food bucket list consisted of things you wanted to cook or things you wanted to eat.  Hers is going to be things she wants to cook (perfect, we can line her up for a guest spot on here!).  I decided it would be fun for this blog to make my own list, but go the “things I must eat before I die” route.

What immediately came to my mind was sushi.  I have never had a proper sushi meal, though I do believe I’ve had a nibble of something my roomies brought home in Madison one year.  Too many people to count have said I’m missing out for me to ignore this for much longer.  So sushi will be number one on my food bucket list.  Oh, I have other ideas.  Some are the versions of foods made at specific restaurants and brought to my attention by shows such as Man vs. Food.  I’ll start working on a physical list later today, and make it into a nice, long blog post (or series of posts) in the coming week or so.  I’m excited for this project, mostly because as I check things off the list I’ll be able to blog each time 🙂

Enjoy your Sundays friends!

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As you know from yesterday’s post I have a menu planned for a little barbecue today.  I was up bright and early and off to the farmer’s market to pick up the last ingredients on my list: yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, green beans and a sweet  onion.  I also picked Chris up a little treat: honey snack sticks.  He shared a raspberry flavored one with me, very tasty!

Then I took over the kitchen to start prepping.  First up the veggies I would be grilling later.  Here’s a picture of the beauties all washed and ready to be chopped up. (I wish I had I nice camera like Danielle you bring you better pictures, but I think my phone’s built in camera does alright.)  Once sliced thickly lengthwise they got brushed with a marinade of olive oil, garlic, sage, thyme and rosemary.  Now they’re in fridge until grilling time.

While I was busy with those I had a kettle of water going for tea – sweet tea, that is of course.  A pitcher is also in the fridge chilling.

Next up was Danielle’s Sweet Corn Muffins Bread.  It’s in the oven now, getting golden brown and delicious.

This afternoon I’ll be whipping up my Southern Comfort Barbecue Sauce, a dish of green beans with bacon and firing up the grill.  Watch for the final chapters of my Barbecue Adventure in the next days.

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I have been brainstorming all day on a great meal idea.  I can’t pin point exactly where it started – perhaps with the chicken – at least that’s where I’ll begin the retelling.  I have a package of chicken drumsticks in the freezer, they have been there for a few weeks now, and while I bought them with intentions of grilling and barbecuing they just haven’t worked their way to the dinner table yet.  I also have a very nearly empty bottle of Southern Comfort in my possession.  It is so very nearly empty, I am not sure there is enough of it to make one worth while drink.  As these pieces bounced around in my brainstorm I hatched an idea to make the chicken legs more special: to not just grill them with barbecue sauce, but with a homemade SoCo barbecue sauce.  A Google search hooked me up with a recipe I can use as a starting point.

I continued to brainstorm: what else can I make to serve at my little barbecue?  I turned to the list at the website of my local farmer’s market to find out what I would likely be able to get fresh this week.  Eggplant, zucchini and squash;  These would be easy to prepare on the grill with my chicken, I again turned to Google and found a simple marinade that would add even more flavor.  Green beans are also in season; I could try out an easy looking recipe I stumbled upon months ago and have been waiting to try with fresh local beans.

A main dish and two sides, my menu is almost complete.  For a sweet finish I don’t have to search far, Danielle’s sweet corn muffin recipe should be perfect, though I will likely make it as bread.

I am making this my Saturday project: shopping for fresh local veggies, making a big beautiful meal from scratch and sharing it with you here.  I can’t wait.  Watch for more on my barbecue adventure in the coming days!

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