Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Leftover Stew

My husband has been the executive chef in our house for the past year and his cooking skills have really expanded. Because we've been trying to eat lighter, he's been making lots of soup, mostly experimental, but all good. But last night, he really blew my mind with his concoction, composed of extremely varied leftovers.

How varied? Um, like this:

1 cup Keema Mattar (an Indian dish of ground beef sauteed with onions, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, cardamon, garlic, ginger, cayenne, and peas)
1 cup mashed potatoes (purple Peruvians, mashed with butter, milk, and horseradish)
1 1/2 cups chicken cacciatore, sans chicken (onions, garlic, chopped tomato, chopped and roasted red jalapenos--he thought they were roasted red peppers, and well, they were red, rosemary, and chicken stock)
1 cup chicken stock (left from making the cacciatore)
3/4 cup canned chopped tomatoes (ditto)
1 small bag radishes
Handful of baby carrots, chopped
frozen corn and peas

So what did this kitchen sink concoction become? A really yummy and spicy beef stew. Miraculously, the rosemary flavor disappeared, and the Indian spices were subtle. The radishes stood in for chunks of potato, and the mashed potatoes made for a nice thick (but not too thick) consistency. Because of the cayenne and the jalapenos, the dish was quite spicy, but with good bread on the side it was hardly noticed.

I brought the last bit of it for lunch today, and I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I'm not sure if this is the proper forum to vent my anger, but hey, it *is* food-related. And it's *my* blog, so I'll cry if I want to. :)

So I had this client, a chef, you remember...I blogged about him before. And I say "had" because now the Web site I designed for him has someone else's name on it. I wrote to this company to complain that they took my name off the site and now were taking credit for my hard work. I got a snippy response saying that they were not in the habit of advertising for others and so took my name off. Plus, the weren't saying they designed the site, but that the site was "Powered by" them. Ok, whatever you need to do to justify your actions, pal. You're still wrong, and visitors to the site are still going to think YOU designed it. Asshole.

Anyway, Chef Idiot owes me money. Not a lot, but still. He wanted me to design product labels for bottles of hot sauce and water, and to create a logo for a shopping bag. We agreed on the paltry sum of $400 for these items. And then he added that he wanted a logo for some revolutionary new culinary product that he was working on. I said I'd do that for an additional $100. So that made $500 total for four designs. And the labels and bag were a rush, because they would take 6-8 weeks to process and he wanted these for Christmas. Oookkk! I got inspired and cranked out three beauties, which he approved, and had the designs to the printer in 4 business days. So I invoiced him, since that part of the job was done, and I needed the money. I hadn't yet invoiced him for the cookbook cover I did earlier in the year, so added that to the bill.

I heard nothing from Chef Idiot for a month then invoiced him again with a note that the original invoice requested payment "on receipt" and there was no grace period, thus he was 30 days overdue. I got an apology from him with a promise that I'd get a check soon. The week after Thanksgiving, I received two checks from him, one for the amount of the book cover, and another for $250. A copy of my original invoice was included with a note that he still owed me $150. I immediately re-invoiced him for that amount.

In the meantime, while waiting for the checks, I had done two sample logos for his "innovative cooking style," something he was calling "P-Style." Now, ladies and gentlemen, when you see or hear "P-style" relating to cooking, what do you think? No, the cook claims not to urinate in the food. But that indeed is what it seemed like it meant to me, and to 9 of 10 other people I questioned about it. Now, me being basically a good person and not wanting Chef Idiot to look like an idiot to the rest of the world, my logos were red and black, with a tagline, "Cooking with Passion" (for that is what the "P" represents). Red is passion, right? So after a long time, I finally get an e-mail from Chef Idiot--who is pretty near functionally illiterate, from what I can tell--saying that he liked the logos, but could I do them in gold and black. :::facepalm::: Gold, as in a shade of yellow. The color of piss. An association I was trying to avoid. So I did the logos in gold, making the color as close to brown as possible (and inadvertantly creating a new, scatological, connection) and flat out told Chef Idiot why I chose red.

I have not heard back from him since, except for one e-mail, clearly not written by him as it was concise and used somewhat correct English (and was a forward from the original author to Idiot to me), requesting that I put all of the designs I created for him on a CD-ROM and then I'd get the rest of the money he owed me. He was holding my money hostage, despite the fact that I had delivered his product to the printer in record time. And the designs he asked for included the P-Style logos, which he did not approve nor had he paid for. So I added another $100 to the $150 he owed me, re-invoiced him yet again and attached a copy of the e-mail saying that the three product labels would cost him $400 and the P-Style label would be another $100, just in case he thought it was included in the $400.

Now, as I said, I am basically a good person, so I put all of the designs--except P-Style--on a CD-ROM and shipped it to him. And I put the correct, printable-size versions on the disc, despite his ghost writer requesting the designs using the names of the sample jpegs I had put on the Web, images that looked fine in a browser but could never be used for printing, especially not professionally. I included in the envelope yet another copy of my invoice, with a note saying if he paid the additional $100, I'd be happy to ship him another disc with the P-Style logo.

By New Year's, I still hadn't heard anything from him, so sent him an e-mail saying that it was ridiculous that I had to beg for my money, considering I did the job, and that he was currently 60 days overdue. And another copy of the invoice. I'll wallpaper his house with them if I have to. Then I thought to e-mail the printer, to see if they had gotten payment for the three products. Apparently, after discussing cost, the printers never heard from Idiot again. Of course it was too expensive - four-color labels? With bottles and product?? Idiot's not a man who looks at the big picture, and probably had no clue that he'd need to order 10,000 units or similar huge amount, and just wasted a lot of people's time and energy. And now he thinks he doesn't have to pay, and switched Web companies because he can't face the designer he's just screwed.


Have I complained how unchef-like a chef this dude is? Not recently? Ok, let me get into that now (this is a food blog, after all). I've only eaten one dish cooked by him, a tropical chicken dish with blobs of chicken meat, bell peppers, and pineapple...in a sauce that tasted of dish washing liquid. It was disgusting. Now, this guy has owned three different restaurants and is currently a caterer. I don't know about the restaurant days, but his current catering menu is utterly boring: Garden Fresh Vegetable Medley; Swedish Meatballs; Scallops Wrapped in Bacon; Chicken Marsala; Cajun Catfish; and the utterly gross-sounding "Escargot and Chicken Tender Teriyaki." Snails and McNuggets in Teriyaki sauce? Mmmmm, mmmm, good!

Maybe I'm jaded, but I expect a "chef" to create new and exciting dishes once in a while. But the recipes featured on his Web site are trite universal standards like Crab Imperial. So when it came time to design a cover for his cookbook, my expectations were not high. I figured he'd just take some recipes out of his original cooking-school cookbook, that he still uses today, and that's basically what he did. The poor person who typed up these recipes isn't a cook and had no idea how truly bad they were. She didn't know that any chef worth his salt wouldn't put margarine, or pre-chopped garlic in water, or something called "table-ready bag-in-box eggs" in a recipe for public consumption.

Apparently the person who edited the book knew nothing about cooking either, and Chef Idiot didn't bother to check to see if the recipes would translate properly. Keep in mind, the theme for this book is romance in cooking, putting love in food. So why are all of the recipes for SIX people? Orgies, maybe?

Let me share one of my favorite recipes from the book with you. The light text is verbatim from the book, and the red, snarky, comments are mine.

Herb Health Salad
(Yields Six Servings)

3 heads Romaine lettuce Three heads of lettuce for 6 people?
3 heads Boston lettuce That makes six heads of lettuce, one per each I guess
2 pounds Spinach Chopped or whole? Fresh or Frozen? Cooked or raw?
1 bunch Fresh basil Chopped? A chiffonade? Stems and all?
1 sprig Fresh mint My, that's generous of you. One sprig in 6 heads of lettuce.
1 tablespoon Sage Fresh or Dried? Chopped or whole?
1 teaspoon Fresh ginger Chopped? Sliced? Or just in one big chunk?
12 pounds Medium mushrooms TWELVE POUNDS? To feed six? Even if you cook it down, 12 pounds is a lot of mushrooms.
6 each Tomatoes Beefsteak? Cherry? Whole or sliced?
1 cup Alfalfa sprouts I suppose this is the "health" part.

Combine all ingredients. You may add other ingredients as you desire, such as nuts, raisins, grated carrots, beets, and cracked wheat.

Dressing: Vegetable oil and a raspberry vinaigrette mixture. So where's the recipe for this raspberry vinaigrette? And doesn't that already contain oil? Wouldn't olive oil be tastier?

See what I mean? And why would one need a recipe for both fried catfish fillets and fried catfish fingers? Couldn't you just cut the fish into smaller pieces and use the same recipe? And there's that damn recipe for Crab Imperial again. That's so done already, give it up!

I'm just glad I didn't have to pay for this piece of crap. At least the cover is nicely designed.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Belated Happy New Year!

This charming portrait of moi and my lovely husband was taken 16 days ago. Yes, on New Year's Eve. I know I am very behind in my blogetry, so please be patient and eventually I will catch up with myself.

The day after our Tribeca Grill adventure on 12/27, we had another wonderful meal at Jesse Wong's Hong Kong, in Columbia, MD. That's our usual dim sum spot, and now it's our favorite non-delivery/carry-out Chinese restaurant. So that makes two really rich meals in the week after Christmas (not counting the pasta extravaganza of Christmas day)...and NYE was going to be our third. By that time, I was starting to feel pretty logy and was ready for Neal's soup Nazi diet to start up again...but first, the decadence of our last meal of 2005.

We had originally wanted to eat at Ixia, the high-end posh place that took over the space where the late, lamented Louie's the Bookstore Cafe used to be. We had eaten at Ixia a few times before and were delighted by their Asian/Mediterranean/Modern American fusion cuisine. Our last visit was for my birthday, 2004, and we thought a year was too long a time to pass before our next visit. When I called to make our reservations, the dude who answered requested my fax or e-mail address, as he needed to "send some forms." An hour or so later, the e-mailed forms turned out to be for credit card authorization. Seems that there was a $25 charge per person for uncancelled no-show reservations. Hey, I appreciate that, and have no problem with giving my card number to a restaurant. Over the phone. Faxing or e-mailing my number is a tad unsecure. So I called back.

"Hey, I'm not comfortable with giving my phone number via e-mail. Can I just give it to you over the phone."
"I understand your concern," Ixia-dude said, "but it's our policy to get a fax or e-mail confirmation. Other folks have faxed their information and we keep it in our safe."
"Um, no, that doesn't make me feel better. I'm sorry, but why can't you take my credit card number over the phone? I've made reservations at several high-end places in New York and Las Vegas and have never had this issue."
"Well, we need your signature." was Ixia-dude's reply.
"Um, how do you expect me to sign an e-mail?"
Ixia-dude went silent. "Well, can you come in and sign the form?"
"No thanks...we'll just go elsewhere!"

So we made a reservation at Roy's, possibly our all-time favorite upscale restaurant. We've gone there for birthdays, anniversaries, New Year's Eve, and Just Because. Roy's is an "upscale restaurant group" (these places don't like to be called "chains") with locations in 11 states serving Hawaiian fusion cuisine. The Baltimore location, at Inner Harbor East, is decorated in warm orange and yellow hues, with an open kitchen, friendly staff, and a menu that makes me drool just thinking about it.

The New Year's Eve 2005 menu was a four-course prix fixe, price determined by the entree chosen. Each category had a few choices and it was somewhat difficult to decide what we wanted to eat. Interestingly enough, I went for complete and utter decadence, while Neal's selections were on the lighter side.

For starters, I went for the foie gras confit, served with a blackberry ginger jam; Neal was daring and tried the lamb carpaccio with balsamic drizzle and eggplant chutney. The foie gras was cold, something I had never tried before, and was like the world's best braunschweiger (I love braunschweiger, so that's a good thing), very mild but firm-textured. The blackberry jam was thick and not too sweet (the kitchen thoughtfully had strained out the seeds -- a nice touch), and was actually a very nice compliment to the foie. The two tiny toasts were not enough to accomodate the generous portion of foie, so I supplemented it with my sourdough roll. I was tempted to break the roll open, slide in the foie, and eat it like a really naughty sandwich.

Neal's carpaccio, tiny slices of raw lamb, about an inch square and paper thin, were arranged side by side on a long narrow plate, with a dollop of eggplant at the center and artful drizzles of balsamic reduction and puddles of cilantro oil. The flavors were simple yet complex: the combination of lamb and cilantro, fairly pure in themselves, exploded on the tongue in combination, and the eggplant chutney was fresh and firm, with subtle Indian flavors.

Our second course was soup or salad, and Neal went for the salad of baby greens with a bbq pork wonton crisp, and I had the oyster stew. The salad was, as expected, fresh and green, and the wonton crisp - wow. The filling of shredded Chinese bbq pork was scrumptious, and I am luck enough to have a husband who will periodically pull out shreds of meat and place them lovingly on my bread plate. Of course I shared a bit of my oyster stew with him as well. It was a large portion, served in a shallow but wide bowl. The stew was chunky with bacon, potatoes, fresh corn that was still crisp, three whole fried oysters, and a few cubes of jalapeno corn bread. Comfort food at its finest. If only the soup Nazi can concoct that at home....

By the time the entrees arrived, I was full. But I pressed on. I had the maple-glazed duck with porcini risotto. I swear they were trying to kill me with the portion sizes, as I received almost half a duck (leg, thigh, wing, and partial breast). The skin was crisp, with a bit of fat underneath, and the meat was tender and flavorful. The risotto was a bit firm for my tastes, but delicious, as were the accompanying asparagus spears, cippoline onion, and tiny charred sweet peppers. Neal went with the applewood smoked bacon-encrusted shutome (shoo-toe-may) and fennel gnocci. Shutome, or Hawaiian broadbill swordfish, is a meaty, firm, white fish that absorbed so much of the bacon flavoring, it was hard to tell it was actually fish and not some other heavenly creature. And the gnocchi were feather light and subtly-flavored.

By dessert time, we were fairly bursting with food, but I had wisely doggie-bagged most of my duck. I had the white chocolate chestnut mousse, and Neal went for the green tea tiramisu. He was a bit disappointed, as there wasn't much green tea flavor at all, but the creamy texture was very nice. My mousse was served as a little confection, with a circle of white cake topped with white chocolate mousse and glazed with chocolate. Perched on top, nipplelike, was a candied chestnut, and chopped chestnut pieces and their syrup were scattered about. On the side was a demitasse cup filled with the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever experienced. In fact, despite all of the other amazing things we had during the meal, it was the high point. The drink was warm and malty and chocolately and reminded me of a cup of Horlicks, my favorite bedtime drink when visiting the U.K. Perched atop the rim of the cup was a tiny spoon-shaped cookie, too precious to imagine, which unfortunately fell into the cup and dissolved when my clumsy fingers attempted to pick it up.

I was still worried about my potential grape allergy, so our beverage for this meal was Roy's Hawaiian martini -- vodka and pineapple juice with a huge chunk of vodka-soaked pineapple that we saved for the very last.

What a nice way to end 2005. Let's hope 2006 presents many more opportunties for fine dining.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Tribeca Grill

Two days after Christmas, Neal and I headed up to Manhattan with Dad and girlfriend to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. After the show, and a trip through Chelsea Market (oh, how I wished I lived in Manhattan, to be able to experience a crusty loaf of Amy's Bread and to smell the heavenly chocolate aroma wafting out of Fatwitch on a regular basis!), we headed to our dinner destination, Tribeca Grill.

Dad is all into Tribeca Grill because DeNiro is an owner; he's been there at least twice before. GF was paying for dinner, and is a picky eater, so it was strange that Dad asked me to make restaurant suggestions. I tried to stick to places that would serve steaks, and I knew Italian food was safe too, so my short list included Felidia as well as Tribeca Grill. I threw in db Bistro Moderne as well, because I am dying to try the hamburger there. Anyhoo...guess which restaurant made the cut? Well, you don't have to guess, as I've already told you. ;)

We made early reservations, as we had a long drive back home after dinner, and it was nice that the place was mostly empty. Read: quiet. I hate noisy restaurants, and we seem to dine at a good number of them. We were escorted to our table, after which GF complained about the hard chairs and Dad suggested we request a booth, while I rolled my eyes. The table was fine. But I don't say anything, as free food was involved.

Good food too. I started out with a salad described on the menu as: Maytag Blue Cheese & Endive salad, Asian Pears, Candied Walnuts & Fig Syrup. Dad and GF are boring as hell and chose the Green Salad Cherry Tomatoes, Parmigiano Reggiano, Lemon & Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The ever daring Neal eschewed a salad and went for Duck Leg Confit Sundried Cranberries, Lolla Rossa & Frisée, Honey Yogurt Vinaigrette.

My salad was a bit different from my expectations. The endive and other ingredients had been chopped and tossed in the dark fig vinaigrette. It was a nice balance of bitter and sweet. Neal's confit was served piping hot and it was tender and delicious. And Dad's and GF's salads were...well, just salads.

They were equally daring with entrees, and Neal joined their party: Grilled Filet of Beef Garlic Whipped Potatoes, Sautéed Spinach & Crispy Onion Rings. I went the beefy route as well, with Braised Short Rib Foie Gras Ravioli, Porcinis & Horseradish Consommé. I had a taste of Neal's filet, and it was good, but paled in comparison to my single, enormous, boneless, short rib which were like the world's richest pot roast. God, I loved my mother's pot roast when I was growing up, and this was very much like an adult version, with meltingly tender meat in a rich sauce. The ravioli oozed foie gras into the bowl, making it a bit difficult to eat the molten foie gras with a fork. Additional bread was quickly called to the table when I discovered that a lump of Neal's mashed potatoes wasn't going to absorb my leaky foie properly. The only flaw to my meal was that the porcinis perhaps hadn't been cleaned as well as they should have been; the occasional crunch of sand was unpleasant.

Dessert was unexceptional, although Dad's portion of Tahitian vanilla creme brulee -- large enough for two -- was nicely eggy. I had an espresso "parfait" that turned out to be a little bombe of ice cream molded over a bit of crisp meringue, with white chocolate macadamia sauce. Neal went for the Banana Tart with Milk Chocolate Malt Ice Cream, mostly for the ice cream. The tart with its bruleed top was pretty, but the crust was overly-thick and a bit bland. If I hadn't been pretty full, and had we not eaten strawberry cheesecake the past two evenings in a row, I might have tried their pumpkin version with cranberry caramel sauce. Ah, maybe next time.

The meal was, on the whole, very good, and our waitress was friendly and capable. Neal liked the place a lot, I think partly because of the atmosphere, so we wouldn't turn down another meal at Tribeca Grill.

Tribeca Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 13, 2006

Eating Las Vegas: Part Three, Day Four

So why do I skip from day two to day four? Well, day three was spent on a 17-hour bus extravaganza to the Grand Canyon, and lunch consisted of a buffet somewhere in West Bumblefuck, Arizona, and dinner was a sandwich from a Subway in Kingman. Nothing worth writing about.

Day four, however, was my birthday. Our plans consisted of wandering through more casinos, souvenir shopping, and dinner at Mesa Grill. But first, lunch.

My Dad had been all excited about a pastrami sandwich he ate in a chain deli called Jason's. He rhapsodized over the flavor so much, Neal and I decided it was a must for our eating itinerary. After all, Neal hadn't had a good pastrami sandwich in ages.
We had passed the restaurant on one of our sojourns around town earlier in the week, so after sleeping in a bit longer than usual, we made lunch at Jason's our first meal of the day.

Obviously a California-style deli, the place offered salads and soups as well as various sandwiches. We ordered hot pastrami, on rye, with mustard. When the woman taking our order looked at us funny and asked if we didn't want lettuce and tomato too, I said, "no, we're purists." She made some comment about it not looking that way to her and shooed us towards the cashier. Pastrami on rye with mustard isn't pure? What the hell else do these freaky west-coast-type people put on pastrami? Oh, the horror of it all!

And the verdict on the sandwiches? Eh. They were ok. The meat was cut too thickly, and there was plenty of fat on the edges. It was warm in spots and cold in others, due to the nature of microwaving food. It made me long for a corned beef sandwich from Jack's or Attman's, back in Baltimore (we never ate pastrami as a kid, just corned beef or beef brisket). There we could get the meat extra lean, sliced paper thin so one doesn't pull a slab of meat out from between the bread while taking a bite, with just the right amount of yellow mustard on fresh slices of rye. And a well-done pickle. Ah, the memories....

Out of all of the restaurants in Las Vegas, why did I choose Mesa Grill? Because I was familiar with the place; we had eaten in the New York restaurant a few years ago, and it still remains one of our favorite dining experiences. The food was amazing, the service excellent, and the atmosphere casual and hip. This time, I was turning 40 and didn't want to be disappointed by my celebratory meal.

We had seen the Food Network special on Mesa Grill LV and were pleased to have the chance to actually go inside the place. A shame they never got those giant flaming grill/rotisserie gadgets working, but they probably would have been: 1) dangerous; 2) too hot, which might affect the climate of the place.

I was a bit afraid of drinking wine because of my maybe-allergy to grapes, so I ordered a cosmopolitan with Absolut. Neal, no longer afraid to spend some money in a restaurant, ordered a Glenfiddich and water. They were very generous with the scotch, and the cosmo was excellent. The best part was the price - only $7 apiece with a $2 surcharge for my premium vodka. Definitely one of the best deals in all of Las Vegas!

Unfortunately, it's been so long since this dinner, I can't remember what my appetizer was, but it may well have been the roasted pumpkin soup. I'm pretty sure Neal had the bbq duck on a blue corn pancake; he can't pass on duck if it's on a menu! If memory serves, both were terrific. For entrees, I went for the Sixteen Spice Rotisserie Chicken with Caramelized Mango Sauce and Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potatoes, and Neal had the Coffee Spice Rubbed Rotisserie Filet Mignon with Wild Mushroom-Ancho Chile Sauce and Horseradish Potato Gratin. I had seen Bobby Flay make a sixteen spice chicken dish on Iron Chef, and was intrigued. It was amazing - a tender, juicy leg portion of chicken, absolutely coated with a suprisingly delicate spice concoction, sweetened with mango sauce. The mashed potatoes were creamy and delicious. Neal's filet was huge, tender and perfectly cooked. The coffee flavor didn't stand out, but the sauce was exquisite and the potato gratin was a dish I'd want to have in my Last Meal. Wow.

We couldn't decide on dessert, as there were far too many choices, so we tried the sampler - what I thought would be three half portions of blueberry shortcake, caramelized apple cheesecake, and molten chocolate cake. But nooo...three full-size desserts (full-sized these days thankfully means pretty small) arrived on a boat of a plate, each garnished with various scoops of sorbet and drizzles of sauce. We managed to finish all but one bite of the cheesecake.

What a fabulous meal. The service was great, the food decadent. I don't know why people hate Bobby Flay so much - the man knows how to design a menu.

Jason's Deli on Urbanspoon
Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill on Urbanspoon