Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Many thanks

It has been a while since my last post, so I'll hit the ground running with a big Thanksgiving post.

Driving down a beautifully tree-lined Lake Valley Road.

For the first time in 6 years I traveled home to Northern California for Thanksgiving. My parents were a little sad when they hear, because it meant they wouldn't get to enjoy the 70 degree weather that San Diego tends to provide on Thanksgiving. For me, I was excited to head north for the holiday. Fall leaves and crisp, cool air makes it feel more like the holidays in my eyes.

Even though I was the one traveling this year, I was still charged with making the side dishes to accompany my dad's wonderful bbq'd turkey. This was the first year in a while that I didn't make anything new. My mom requested I make my Pumpkin Muffin Stuffing and to go along with that I decided to make Roasted Asparagus and Gratin Potatoes.

The hardest part about the Pumpkin Muffin Stuffing (or dressing, as we don't stuff it in our turkey) is finding pumpkin muffins pre-made from the store. This year we lucked out by finding some pumpkin muffin mix at Crate & Barrel. So the night before the muffins were made fresh.

Pumpkin Muffin Stuffin ready to go into the oven.

Placing the top layers of potatoes on top of the bacon and cabbage.

I always have a problem with timing when I'm cooking Thanksgiving, so this year I did things a little differently. First thing in the morning I prepped as much as I could. I cooked the bacon for the potatoes, shredded the cabbage and chopped the chives. The only thing I didn't do early for the potatoes was slice the potatoes, because they tend to brown quickly. For the stuffing I chopped all of the vegetables and put them all in a bowl as they would be cooked up at the same time. For the asparagus I chopped the shallots and tarragon.

Grilled asparagus was a nice change from the traditional green bean dish.

When it came time to cook everything came together much easier and my timing was impeccable. All the dishes came out right as the turkey came off the bbq.

The bird was crackling on the bbq. The aroma in the backyard was amazing.

Two thumbs up from the cook. Time to eat!

It was a small Thanksgiving gathering, not kids' table here.

The dinner table was beautifully decorated by my mom and even though I commented on how the plates were too small, I still couldn't finish everything in front of me. All-in-all it was a very delicious dinner and I was very thankful to spend it at home with my family.
Full plate = full belly. Just how I like it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hearty and healthy

I came across this brilliantly simple healthy meal in the October issue of Real Simple magazine.

To me, apples are the quintessential fruit of the fall. I know they are easily found year-round, but this is the time when the smell of apple pies fill the air and a glass of warm apple cider warms your insides on a crisp fall afternoon. Ok, so for me that really isn't the case where I live any more, it was afterall about 98 degrees in San Diego the day I made this meal. But apples definately remind me of growing up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and visiting the apple orchard in the fall. So we'll go with that angle.

I made this for lunch the other day for my roommate and I. The apple flavor was just right and the walnuts gave it a good crunch. I'm not usually a big fan of walnuts, but toasting them brought out a great nutty flavor. Plus walnuts are loaded with Omega-3 and I just read an article in Prevention magazine that claims "adding about seven to nine whole nuts to your daily diet may improve balance, coordination, and memory."

I bought Light Four-Cheese Ravioli by Buitoni to use. I wish I would have found a whole-wheat ravioli to make it a bit more healthy, but these got my thumbs up as far as taste goes. The recipe claims to make 4 servings, but I found it to be more like 3 unless you're having a big salad or something on the side. I just went for a bowl full of the ravioli by itself, so I might have eaten slightly more than a serving.

I will warn that the 3rd serving was chalked up as leftovers at lunch the next day. While the taste was still there, the freshness was zapped after a quick round in the microwave. So I wouldn't cook a big portion in the hopes of having it for more meals throughout the week.

To get right to it, here's the recipe:

Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts

hands-on time: 20 minutes total time: 20 minutes serves 4

1 pound cheese ravioli (fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 crisp apple (such as Braeburn or Gala), cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon each of Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used fresh)

>Cook the ravioli according to the package direction.
>Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. (I found these cooked a bit faster than the recommended time)
>Add the apple, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and toss to combine. Spoon over the ravioli and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Enjoy, and happy fall.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Biggest Loser, Season 8

Abby, I'm pulling for you girl. Go Green!

There seems to be two things that I must have with me when I sit down to watch Biggest Loser these days: a fattening food (i.e.: ice cream, potato chips, etc.) and a box of Kleenex.

Now, the later makes sense. There are a bunch of people sharing personal stories who are separated from their families and who tend to get emotional on air.

The former, however, makes absolutely no sense, but each week I find myself eating while watching the show. It’s not like I’m listening to the trainers’ nutrition tips and am eating a previously portioned snack like carrots and humus or a cup of popcorn or something. No. I’m sitting on the couch, probably in my PJ’s, with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a bag of Kettle Chips (sometimes I’ve even had both in the span of the two-hour show).

This is a phenomenon that baffles me, but each week continues. You’d think it would have the opposite affect. It should be that I want to watch each segment and while doing jumping-jacks or lifting free-weights in the living room. I’ve seen all there is to see on the show as far as obesity is concerned and there have been some cringe-worthy stomachs on that show (i.e.: season 7’s Ron). I can tell you that I don’t ever want to have to put on a sports bra and spandex shorts and weigh myself in front of millions of viewers. So why do I do what I do? I can’t explain it. Any ideas?

As for this season so far, it has been an interesting one. 30-year-old Shay weighed in as the heaviest contestant, male or female, ever on the show. Dan, the previously heaviest contestant on the show from last season has returned to finish his journey. There is a mom who lost her whole family to a car accident. There’s a young pastor who, with his wife, is expecting another child soon.

The contestants this season seem pretty gung-ho and willing to help each other out. Tracey was so intent on pushing herself that during the very first challenge, she collapsed during a 1-mile race, just shy of the finish line and was taken to the hospital where she had to stay for nearly a week.

There have, however been some slip ups. During the first workout with trainers Jillian and Bob, Shay gave up and walked out of the gym. She did come back, eventually, but as I’ve seen on this show that’s not a good sign. Then there was Julio who, after being saved from elimination, reentered the gym only to seemingly half-ass his way through his workouts when the trainers weren’t around. Turns out he put up one of the biggest weight losses in the dreaded week 2, so he must have been doing something right away from the cameras.

Things I like so far this season:

  • Contestants got to pick their partner in the order they finished the first 1-mile run challenge.
  • Jillian and Bob are training everyone as one big group, it’s not one team competing against the other.
  • Out of all the teams, one team falls below the yellow line and then only one person is voted from that team to go home. This is better because sometimes one person really works hard and is punished when the other doesn’t pick up his/her weight.

Contestants I’m cheering for:

Abby, Sean and Dan

Can’t wait for next week’s episode, wonder what kind of ice cream I’ll have.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visible invisibility

While reading my blog I think it’s safe to say that you can easily draw a few conclusions about who I am. From my profile picture you can see that I am a female. If you click to see my whole profile you will be informed of what activities I like as well as what movies, music and books I’m interested in. You should be able to surmise that I enjoy cooking and watching TV (otherwise, the name of the blog would be a total sham).

But looking at these things and reading the content on my blog there is one thing about me that is completely invisible. In fact, this feature I possess is rather invisible to most everyone in the world except to those I am extremely close to. This mystery attribute is the invisible disease diabetes.

If you scroll down a few posts you’ll see a few blogs about making cookies. I bet if you read those before I revealed my invisible disease you wouldn’t make a connection that I had diabetes. Cookies, that’s the last thing a diabetic should be eating, right? Diabetes is a balancing act. I don’t eat cookies/sweets all day every day. But I will tell you right now, I do love my cookies (and ice cream and brownies) and life is too short not to enjoy these treats, whether I have diabetes or not. It’s just all about moderation.

I write this blog because it is about two things that I really enjoy in life: food and TV. I could write a blog about having diabetes or what it’s like to live with a chronic disease that there is no escaping. However, I feel like if I did that it would be some “whoa is me” garbage and it would mean spending even more time thinking about something that already never leaves my thoughts. Sure diabetes is a pain in the ass (all of the time) and there are times when I feel hopeless that there might not be a cure or it could subtract years off my life, but why wallow in the negative when there is so much positive in the world? (I know it’s cheesy) I’d much rather spend my time writing about my passions with a smile on my face than write about diabetes and be near tears (like I am now) thinking about what a crap hand I was dealt. Life is too short not to have a smile on your face as much as possible.

So, on that note, I bring you my list of 30 Things You May Not Know About My Illness. Soak it up, educate yourself, break the stereotypes.

1. The illness I live with is: Type 1 diabetes
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: June 1999
3. But I had symptoms: for only a week
4. The biggest adjustment I've had to make is: being comfortable with being public with my disease – i.e.: testing in public, taking shots, etc.
5. Most people assume: diabetes is preventable, this is the biggest misnomer due to the fact that mainstream media is usually talking about Type 2 diabetes, which is extremely different from Type 1.
6. The hardest part about mornings are: waking up with a really high blood sugar and you have no idea why.
7. My favorite medical TV show is: ER.
8. A gadget I couldn't live without is: my glucose meter.
9. The hardest part about nights are: waking up in cold sweats and shaking because of a low blood sugar.
10. Each day I take: varying amounts of insulin and take my blood glucose reading 5-6 times a day.
11. Regarding alternative treatments: it would be AWESOME if there was one. Right now it’s just insulin all the way.
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: Is there even a good answer for this? Of course I wouldn’t chose either.
13. Regarding working and career: I am scared to death about losing my job because that could mean termination of my health benefits. A) I wouldn’t be able to afford the higher premiums or paying out of pocket for my supplies. B) I could be turned down for medical coverage for having a pre-existing condition.
14. People would be surprised to know: there is not a moment in the day where I don’t think about my disease.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my reality has been: there might not be a cure for this disease in my lifetime.
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: train for and run a half marathon (still working on that, but it will get done).
17. The commercials about my illness: are never about MY illness. They create a lot of stereotype that are REALLY annoying.
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: Going to 7-11 and getting a Slurpee on a hot summer day.
19. It was really hard to have to give up: going on a youth group kayaking trip to the San Juan Islands just after I was diagnosed. It was a trip I so looked forward to going on with friends and while I still got to go, I couldn’t do the kayaking or physical activity. Maybe one day I’ll make it there.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: does testing your blood sugar count as a hobby?
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: get a Slurpee, duh.
22. My illness has taught me: persistence and perseverance.
23. One thing people say that gets under my skin is: "You can’t/shouldn’t eat that.” Ugh. Or, "You can't have diabetes, you're not fat." Double ugh!
24. But I love it when people: show a true interest in understanding this disease and what I go through every single day.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: Keep on keepin’ on.
26. When someone is diagnosed I'd like to tell them: it is an inconvenience, but it’s not the end of the world.
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: how many incredibly strong and passionate people there are living with diabetes (both Type 1 & Type 2)
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn't feeling well was: hmmmm.
29. I'm involved with Invisible Illness Week because: I always take the chance to raise awareness about diabetes in the hope of quelling the misconceptions about the disease.
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: like you care and that is amazing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Glee with me

I watched the pilot episode of Glee last Spring at the urging of some coworkers. I thought it was hilarious and couldn't wait for the episodes to continue this fall.

Glee is about a group of social misfits, the one's who were looked down upon in high school (but are really the ones who go on to rule the world), who are in a show choir group called Glee Club. Mr. Schuester, the group's advisor, was in the school's award winning Glee club back in the 90s. He is married to a wacky, needy woman named Terri, while guidance counselor Emma secretly pines away for him.

Last week's premier did not disappoint, in fact, it had me rolling it was so funny. The episode started with Kurt, the fashionista character, getting tossed into the garbage by the jocks. Before they toss him in he throws his designer messenger bag to the side and tells the bullies, "One day you'll all be working for me." Probably true.

Mr. Schue wants to recruit new members to the currently 5-member club and wants the students to perform "Freak Out" in front of the entire school during a pep assembly saying, "It's a crowd pleaser." Nobody in the club agrees and say they'll be the laughing stock of the school if they perform to disco.

To appease the students, Mr. Schue brings Kanye's (*cough* jackass) Golddigger to have the group work on for nationals. He wants shy jock Finn to sing the lead, but Finn says he's too busy trying not to trip over his own feet while singing let alone dance the lead. Mercedes opens the piece with some amazing vocals and Mr. Schue gives a show stopping performance as the lead.

In the end, diva Rachel goes behind Mr. Schue's back so that the group doesn't have to sing disco. Instead, it's Salt and Pepper's "Push It" that is performed at the rally. This performance alone is worth watching this episode of Glee. It is hilarious and the singing is spectacular. Of course the group gets in trouble for the sexually charged performance, but it was well worth it. Even the principal says, "I haven't seen the student body this excited since Tiffany performed at the Northills Mall." Must be good.

Some other highlights of the episode were when Rachel tries to impress Finn by showing interest in stuff he likes. She attends the school's celibacy club that Finn goes to with his girlfriend Quinn. The club's motto: "it's all about the teasing and not about the pleasing." To combat the problem of arriving early, Finn shares with the other males of the club that people say to think about dead kittens or something, but the only image that worlds for him is the day his mom took him to practice for his driver's permit and he hits the mailman, sending his mom into a screaming fit. When the boys and girls of the club join back together they play a game where they cautiously hold a balloon between them for the "immaculate affection."

Mr. Schue and his wife are looking to buy a house because a new baby is on the way. While checking out a home the real estate agent points out that "the banisters were made by Equadorian children." And when Terri shows her husband the children's room she says, "this is where our daughter or gay son will sleep."

Finally, Rachel is caught in the bathroom by Emma who asks if she's just thrown up. Rachel replies, "The girl who was throwing up before me left that. I tried but I guess I just don't have a gag reflex." Emma responds, "One day when you're older that'll turn out to be a gift." They proceed to have a talk about eating disorders and Rachel reveals she doesn't have an eating disorder, just the desire to be thin so that Finn would notice her.

The show is full of snarky comments and pop-culture references that keep you laughing. There are also moments that make you cringe when you recognize yourself in these high schoolers or think, "Gee, I knew someone just like that." This past week's episode was not as funny as the first two, but as long as things don't get too show-tuney I will continue to tune in.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Midweek meal

During the heat wave that we had in San Diego the last few weeks, it was way too hot my apartment to even think about cooking during the day. One night had a Rigatoni and Riggins night (aka: I made Sausage & Eggplant Rigatoni then watched Friday Night Lights), but that was a 2 night process – one to do pre-cooking another to actually bake – and shooting the food at night made it kind of ugly, so no blog was written.

Now it has finally cooled down a bit and I’ve caught the cooking fever.

I spent about an hour online looking up recipes the other night and practically everything looked good. If only I had the time and budget to make it all.

Today I started with two rather simple recipes for lunch time. One I got from the Trader Joe’s Web site, the other I got from watching Martha Stewart while peeling wrappers for my Primo Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.

I started with the Martha Steward tabbouleh salad. The recipe I found online dates back to a 2004 issue of Everyday, but it was the same one I saw her make on television. This is a really simple recipe that requires hardly any cooking – just the boiling of water for the bulghur wheat. The addition of fresh mint on the salad is delightful and refreshing.

Then it was on to TJ’s BABP (Trader Joe’s Bacon, Apple & Brie Panini). First off brie cheese with apple slices is a snack time favorite of mine that I don’t have very often, but really enjoy when I do. With the addition of bacon, confirming my mission statement that bacon makes any sandwich better, I was sold at hello.

For the sandwich I used my wonderful Cuisinart Gourmet Griddler. I grilled four slices of bacon with the top closed. This kept the bacon from curling and really kept the bacon from shrinking much. The recipe asked to spread butter on the outside of the roll/bread that you use while making the sandwich, but I just didn’t clean the grill plates of the bacon grease and skipped the butter. It worked just fine.

While in the Panini press mode the outside of the sandwich gets nice and toasty, but the inside gets nice and soft. The brie melted around the apple and softened the apple a little, but the bacon managed to keep its crunch. TJ’s BABP was a wonderful sandwich that I will make again very soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Primo peanut butter cup cookies

In general I don’t consider myself to be a very good baker. I envy the one who can successfully cook up moist cupcakes or gooey-in-the-middle cookies. For me it is a rarity that my baking endeavors have a happy ending.

But I suppose failed baking doesn’t always stop me from trying once more to see if I can get it right. Practice makes perfect, right? If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again? I could go on and on.

For Labor Day I made some Lemonade Cookies that looked NOTHING like the picture in which I was aiming for. In fact, they stuck together and I had to scrap nearly an entire batch. Check out the rest of the story here.

This week a co-worker of mine had a birthday and I wanted to bring in a treat to work. Instead of stopping at Costco for the usual brownie bites (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with these), I decided to make something for her. I mean, even if they didn’t turn out perfectly, it would be the thought that counts, right?

My September issue of Real Simple arrived on Tuesday and my roommate pointed out that they had a recipe for Peanut Butter Cup Cookies. Sold.

I went to the store (walked there actually, I was being green and decided to burn off the calories before I ate them) in the morning and got the few ingredients I was missing, including the peanut butter cups. When I got home I realized that I forgot to allot time for pealing the wrappers off of a bag of mini peanut butter cups. So I sat myself on the couch and watched Martha make some yummy looking tabouli salad and bunny lamps with Jerry O’Connell while shucking (?) wrappers. So I guess I was "cooking" in front of the TV at this point, rather than eating in front of the TV.

Once the peanut butter cups were ready it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.

I am learning that when baking, if it says room-temperature butter it is of utmost importance. It doesn’t really cut it to microwave it and it really has the wrong consistency when it’s fresh out of the fridge.

When I made my Lemonade Cookies and scooped them with a spoon they came out with ragged edges, not perfect circles like the pictures. My roommate told me Martha usually uses a small ice cream scoop for more rounded cookies. While I don’t have one of those and didn’t want to drop the dough (get it?) to buy one, I improvised this time and just used my rounded-bottom tablespoon measure. It worked like a charm. I held up a perfectly rounded cookie and exclaimed, “Look how pretty!”

Cookies and milk in front of the TV – nothing better (and that's America's Top Model on in the background by the way -- Fall Season Premiere blog to come soon).

The reviews from the birthday girl and others at work were a reinforcement that maybe I am getting better at this baking thing.

From the birthday girl: “I think it's a 5-star cookie. The reviews keep coming.” The review that she was referring to: “that was MOST excellent. She's definitely on the hook to do that more often. (thanks for sharing the goods.)” An editor exclaimed: “Those are awesome cookies. I may steer clear of you for a while until they're gone or I fear I'll scarf them all.” Yet another editor demanded: "By the way, once you bring in cookies that are that good, you're not allowed to stop bringing them in. Company policy." And finally, the namesake of this blog: “Primo cookies!”

Here’s how you can make your own Primo Peanut Butter Cup Cookies (recipe from Real Simple September 2009 issue):

Hands-on time: 15 minutes | Total time: 40 minutes | makes 48 cookies (I only made 30)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 12-ounce package small peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped

>Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.

>Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat to combine. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Fold in the peanut butter cups.

>Drop tablespoon-size mounds of dough 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until light brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Make-ahead tip: The cookies can be baked and stored at room temperature in an airtight container up to 3 days in advance.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Day Lemonade Cookies

About a week before Labor Day I came across a recipe for Lemonade Cookies. Since I was going to a friend’s house to BBQ during the holiday weekend I thought the recipe would be the perfect treat on a hot day.

I set out to make the treat on Friday night so they’d be ready to go when I left for the BBQ on Sunday morning. The first batch appeared to come out well. They were light in color and texture and had just the right amount of lemon tartness. The recipe said to make sure the cookies were dry enough to put the recommended glaze on, so I decided to wait until the morning to make the addition. Before I went to bed Friday night I gathered the cookies off the baking rack and piled them on a plate and threw foil overtop.

Saturday morning I awoke early to make a second batch of cookies and add the glaze to the first batch. When I went to separate the cookies from the plate they were all stuck together. This is not what was supposed to happen! My poor baking skills/judgment strikes again. I was able to peel apart and salvage a few cookies from the first batch, but the rest just broke apart or looked too ugly to bring with me.

The second batch of cookies came out nice. I set them out, and left them, on baking sheets and let them sit while I went to work. When I got home that night I made the glaze, which didn’t quite work according to the recipe. The recipe asked for a few drops of whole milk, plus 1 Tablespoon of lemonade concentrate to go along with the 1¼ cups confectioner’s sugar, which made a goopy mess. I ended up using about 2 Tablespoons of lemonade and 3 Tablespoons of whole milk to make the glaze thin enough to spread over the cookies, but not so thin that it flowed right off the cookies.

That night instead of putting the cookies on a plate under foil I left them out on the rack to REALLY dry out.

The cookies turned out nicely. They were a little bit too much like a muffin/scone for my liking and needed a cup of coffee or milk to accompany them. I think next time I make them I would lower the baking powder from ½ teaspoon to ¼ teaspoon. But overall, the flavor was light and refreshing and would be worth trying again.

As for the cookies that crumbled apart, I didn’t see any reason why they should just end up wasted in the garbage, so I improvised. I placed about 3-4 cookies in the bottom of a small trifle bowl added a cup and a half of vanilla instant pudding and topped it all off with some sliced strawberries. This made of a few nice desserts for my roommate and I and no cookies were wasted.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Say it ain't so

According to Yahoo! news gossip Kate Gosselin is going to return to TV. This time it's in the co-host seat.

Kate coming to "The View"
Anyone with half a brain could have seen this one coming from a mile away. Kate Gosselin, formerly of the super group Jon and Kate Plus 8, will sit in as co-host on "The View" for a few times in September. She with the spiky locks will apparently fill in for Elisabeth Hasselbeck while she's on maternity leave. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that devotees of Ms. G will want to tune in on Sept. 14 and 15 to watch their favorite supermom mix it up with Whoopi and company. And from the looks of Search, many are already programming their TiVos.

What the heck?! First off, I don't watch The View, so I guess it's not a big deal. At least she's not co-hosting an important show that I actually enjoy. But Kate Gosselin, really? The only thing that would get me to tune in to those episodes would be if all the hosts cut their hair to look like Kate's not-at-all-flattering do. That would be a site to see indeed. The whole Jon & Kate thing has REALLY gone to far. Anyone interested in that storyline is sick, just sick.

Monday, August 24, 2009

In search of a perfect burger

In this episode of "In search of a perfect burger" we headed to Ocean Beach's own Hodad's. The sign boasts "World's Best" so my expectations were high. Speaking of "world's best," I have often wondered how restaurants get that title. It seems like just about every town and every other street corner boasts a "world's best" of something. I'm just saying.

I had lunch with two friends of mine. None of us had been to Hodad's before. Typically while passing the restaurant I'm always amazed at the line; it typically snakes down to the street corner about 30 people deep. Two of us were fashionably late to lunch and the third in our party had already snagged a table inside, so the line was bypassed. Sweet way to start lunch.

The lunch special was any kind of burger/sandwich with cheese, fries and either an ice tea or lemonade. All three of us went for the special as it only set us back $7.75 each. Here's what it looked like:

The french fries were awesome. Jo-Jo-style potatoes perfectly crisp on the outside. Little slices of heaven. My first bite into the burger my taste buds were saying, "wow, this really is a great burger." Each of us ordered our burger differently. One with just no onions, another with only pickles, plus more pickles and mine with no onion, no mayo.

A few bites into my meal I was thinking, yes, this is a good burger, but the patty isn't all that thick and most of the moisture is coming from the tomato, pickles and other condiments rather than the meat itself. Yes, it was a satisfying, tasty lunch, but I wouldn't go so far as to claim it to be the "best burger in the world." My co-lunchers kind of nodded in agreeance when I voiced my opinion. We were not asked how we wanted our burgers cooked, so either they're all cooked medium-well or it's just known that you need to ask for something different.

The overall atmosphere of the place was great. There was good music playing that was loud, but not overly annoying. I was wrapped up in the company of my lunchmates most of the meal so didn't notice the clever license plates adorning the walls. Near our table a Montana plate read "PCP" and a California plate read "Pull my (finger)," which really started out as a full open hand but everything but the index finger was painted over. Funny stuff.
Final result: good burger, but not nearly the perfect burger. Still in search of....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Project Runway returns

Boy, oh, boy have I missed Heidi and her auf wiedersehen, but she has returned at last along with the rest of the Project Runway crew.

Lifetime had a BUNCH of Project Runway stuff lined up on Thursday and somehow I didn't end up recording the actual episode. But thanks to the wonder of reruns was able to record it last night and watch it today (I also found out that you can watch it OnDemand on Cox).

Not only did the show move to Lifetime this season, but it packed up and headed west to Los Angeles. The contestants settle into their apartments and there really isn't any one person that stands out to me personality wise. Of course, as is custom on Project Runway shows the contestants have a roof-top toast with Heidi and Tim to kick things off.

The first challenge was to design an innovative red carpet look. Sounded simple enough. It could be Emmys, Oscars, MTV, Kid's Choice, whatever.

We had our first breakdown before the first challenge day was even over. Johnny the recovering meth addict started babbling about how he doesn't know who he is or what he's doing there and doesn't want to fail. Well, I'm sure nobody there wants to fail Johnny, so suck it up and "make it work."

Other than Johnny drama (haha, get the Entourage reference?) the first challenge moved along quietly. I think at this point there are SO many designers that you don't get to see a lot of the garments and it's hard for me to make keen observations.

The guest judge for the fist challenge is Lindsey Lohan. Ummm, ew. I laughed when Heidi introduced her as actress, singer and clothing designer. Uh, she designs a line of leggings. Does that really count as being a clothing designer? And singer, really? Heidi, you're too nice.

On the runway Shirin designed a silver dress with some kind of hood/cape that could be released into a small train. Mmmmm, not so much. Ari's design didn't look like any kind of red carpet dress and actually resembled one of those big puffy quilted jackets you wear when it's like 20 below. Ra’mon had my favorite design even though it really wasn't all that great and he played it pretty safe. I think Qristyl designed a dress that would have been worn by Cha-Cha Diva at the Latin daytime Emmy awards.

In the end it was Christopher’s video-music awards show dress that was in. Despite her description that her dress was for an awards show in "like 2080", Ari and her silver, shiny puffy dress/jacket/quilt got aufed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Top Chef Sin City

Top Chef Las Vegas looks promising for twists and turns and might actually live up to "biggest season yet" claims. Photo courtesy of Vegas Chatter.com

I have enjoyed watching Top Chef Masters over the past two months, but I am ready for the drama that comes along with the regular Top Chef and being that this season is in Vegas I'm sure drama will abound.

Within the first few minutes of introductions there are already some chefs that are standing out. First we have the Frenchie Mattin Noblia who is dressed more like he's headed for the street of Pamplona rather than the Vegas Strip (which is quickly mentioned by another of his housemates). I feel Mattin will bring some entertainment, but nothing compared to Euro duo Fabio and Stefan from last season.

Even in the first brief moments of the show I can tell that Michael Isabella is going to annoy me to no end. He's quiet frankly a jerk and extremely arrogant. Let’s see if his cooking can keep up with his mouth.

Then we have the brother duo Michael and Bryan Voltaggio. By far these two are the best eye candy on the show. The brothers live on opposite sides of the country and haven't lived together for more than 10 years. I can foresee some words and maybe even some food flying between these two. The first Quickfire Challenge dove right into the preparation relay. Teams of four had to shuck oysters, clean shrimp, clean lobster and prepare a rack of beef. To assign teams contestants drew different colored poker chips. Robin drew the lucky gold chip which won her immunity on the Elimination Challenge. After the blue team won the relay they had to face off against each other in a cook-off worth $15,000. Jen comes out victorious with her clam civiche.

The first Elimination Challenge was interesting. Each contestant had to cook a dish that represented their biggest vice, since they were, after all, in Sin City. It looks like there are a lot of alcoholic chefs on the show because the most popular vice seemed to be alcohol. The chefs would cook at CUT at the Palazzo with head chef Wulfgang Puck being the guest judge.

Laurine became my favorite contestant during this challege when she decided to cook bacon donuts with a Belgian beer sauce. Ummm, yummmmmm! Unfortunately, Wulfgang did not share my sentiments as he threw one of the tasty sounding spheres across the room saying it was more like a golf ball. Nice try Laurine, I still appreciate the idea. And because the judges did at least like her beer sauce, I have been inspired to bring donuts and beer to my morning softball gathering this weekend as treats.

Michael V. had the funniest vice of everyone: Plastic surgery. He cooked a rack of lamb and used some fresh coconuts.

All cooking aside I have to comment on Padma's outfit. Girl felt the need to bust out the shiny Vegas sequins and ended up looking like a majorette. Not a good look.

Anyway, who took the cake this week? Kevin with his procrastination vice and slow cooked arctic char. It was Jennifer with her hot temper and brick of chile rellenos who was sent packing. Can't wait for the rest of this season.

Step right up folks

Ok, so it has been WAY too long since I updated the blog. I could make up excuses as to what I’ve been doing instead, but I’m just going to get right down to it.

The San Diego County Fair came to town as per usual at the end of June. This year I doubled up on my visits and hit the fair twice. The results: way too much fried food, but always a big smile on my face.

Trip one I took with my roommate. We went up before work on a Tuesday to visit a friend who was working at a booth, ride some rides and eat some tasty food. We played this trip smart and took a ride on the Zipper before we dug into the grub.

I have irrational fears when getting on carnival rides. I imagine the carnie who put the ride together and visualize the latch breaking or a screw coming loose sending me crashing down to the ground. But for some reason, I think this irrational fear totally adds to the excitement of going on fair rides. Of all midway rides the Zipper is my favorite; it has just enough stomach churning spins and drops to keep it interesting, but not cause me to lose my lunch (as long as I don’t eat right before getting on the ride).

I can’t remember the last time I went on a midway ride and by the time we stopped swirling and twirling I couldn’t see straight. Stepping off the ride I took a few crooked steps, but was quite satisfied with my 45 second Zipper experience. Even though we had a few leftover tickets, my roommate and I decided one ride was more than enough for the day. Onward to the food booths.

We grabbed our friend for her lunch break and the three of us set out to devour a few (OK, a lot) of calories. Having someone with us who has tried multiple food booths while working at the fair was almost an unfair advantage. The first stop was the Chuck Wagon for some BBQ beef brisket sandwich. The nice thing about having three of us is that we got to taste more without getting full too fast.

The sandwich got my stamp of approval. I love a good tender meat that practically melts in your mouth and when it’s smothered in BBQ sauce there’s no going wrong.

Next up: the “healthy” portion of our day. Our friend raved about artichoke sandwiches served by The Roxy (which is actually a restaurant in Encinitas), so even though it had nothing fried in it, we gave it a go.

This sandwich really was pretty healthy and tasted good, but just didn’t have that “fair flare” I was hoping for. The sandwich had sprouts, marinated artichoke hearts, olives, sunflower seeds, tomato, avocado (which we added as an extra) and mozzarella, all served with a whole-wheat bun.

To accompany the sandwich, we also got a basket of Tasty Chips with a side of cheddar and bacon dipping sauce. The chips were a cross between kettle chips and French fries. They were a little greasy and not as crisp as a chip and for having bacon in it the cheddar dipping sauce was a bit of a flop.

The grand finale was a batch of deep-fried Oreos. When you want something good and fried you go to Chicken Charlie’s and that’s just what we did.

We passed on the other fried items like Twinkies, hotdogs stuffed in zucchinis, avocados, Snickers, etc., keeping to the simple, or so we thought. Apparently it’s not enough to just deep fry the Oreos; in addition, they are drenched with chocolate sauce and topped with sprinkles. We asked for no chocolate sauce to try to save ourselves a little, but apparently our cashier wasn’t too smart (he also thought we tried to order Twinkies with our Oreos) and the chocolate sauce was not left off. Sadly, we all agreed that the cookies probably would have been way better without the sauce because it made it way too sweet. Oh well, at least now I can say I’ve had a deep-fried Oreo and my heart has lived to tell the story.

Trip two took place when my mom was down visiting. I’m always looking for ways to entertain my mom when she visits so I figured stuffing her with greasy, fried fair food would be the perfect thing.

Our first indulgence was mini donuts inside one of the expo areas. These little treats were a perfect start to the fair experience. The donuts are light and fluffy with just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar on top.

For lunch we returned to The Roxy booth but instead of ordering the healthy artichoke sandwich we got fried mushrooms and artichokes on a stick. It’s not a full fair experience unless you eat something from a stick. We also returned to the Chuck Wagon and each got a BBQ beef brisket sandwich (you know it must be good if I go back for a repeat). The fried veggies had a lot of batter on them, but it wasn’t too overwhelming.

After a rousing concert put on by The Guess Who, I topped my night off with some chocolate covered bacon and my opted for a corn dog. The chocolate covered bacon came packaged in a small Chinese take-out container. Inside there were about 5 pieces of delicious bacon, on the outside there was a small packet of salt taped to the box. As if it weren’t already unhealthy enough they needed to add a packet of salt?! Odd. The take-out boxes were kept in an ice cream handcart, which kept the chocolate bacon practically frozen and very crisp. I thought it was awesome. When I originally made my chocolate covered bacon I used milk chocolate. At the fair the bacon was covered with dark chocolate and I think that made a world of difference. I’ll have to use that the next time I try a batch.

There were some highlights and lowlights this year, but one thing is for sure: I can’t wait to see what they have in store for next year’s fair-food circuit

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mmmmm, hamburgers

A few weeks ago some of my girl friends came to visit. We had a wild and crazy weekend filled with concerts, shopping and of course, food.

The Vons that I shop at is located across the street from a place called Tioli's Crazy Burger. Outside this restaurant there hangs a sign that says “best burgers in town.” Every time I do my grocery shopping I always drive past and think, “I should really check that place out, I love a good burger!”

After a long day of shopping and bar-hopping in Pacific Beach my friend exclaimed that she really wanted a hamburger. *Light bulb* “I know just the place I told the group.” To Tioli’s we went.

Turns out, Tioli’s was on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, so it must be pretty good.

The restaurant isn’t very big. You order at the counter and for the most part you have to order sides, like fries, separate. Prices are pretty reasonable for restaurant burgers. Here’s what we got:

TEXAS Burger with Hickory smoked Barbeque Sauce (plus bacon)

Saturday special: Hamburgeeeeeerrrrr FRANCAISE with melted Brie Cheese

CheeeeeeeeeeSeeeeeeeey Burger.......................... Pepper Jack

My order: SANTORINI Burger, ½ Beef ½ Lamb with Tsatsiki Sauce

How we all felt afterward:

Monday, May 11, 2009

A dog day at Dodger stadium

Mom's took to the field before the start of the game to create a human pink ribbon for breast cancer survivors.

Sunday was Mother's Day, but also marked game 3 of 3 in the Dodgers/Giants series in Los Angeles. A group of us, both Dodger and Giants fans decided to make the trek from San Diego to Chavez Ravine and Dodger Stadium.
Philippe is located just outside of Chinatown at 1001 N. Alameda St. It was filled with Dodger fans on the way to the game.

On the way up we stopped at Philippe home of the famous french dip. You can get a french dip with just about any type of meat your heart desires: beef, pork, lamb, turkey. Walk inside this establishment and it feels a little bit county. There is sawdust on the floor and the tables are set up in rows with bar stools near the order counter. Lines are queued up between these table tops, but go fairly quick. For $5.55 you get about a 6-inch sandwich filled with meat straight off the bone. I was expecting to get a side of au jus, but instead that is applied directly to the meat on the sandwich. We also ordered a few slices of apple pie to enjoy while tailgating before the game.

Just about the time we finished our wonderful french dip sandwiches, the parking security came through the lot telling people that they were not allowed to hang around our cars and we needed to proceed into the stadium. Well we weren't happy about that since we had just poured our second round of drinks (which we also found out it was against the rules to drink alcohol and grounds for removal).

Boo to the Dodger organization for making people pay $15 to park and not allowing them to enjoy their time before the game chillin with their friends and enjoying some good food and drink. After going to many a Padre game in San Diego where the tailgating parking lot costs some $30, this was part of the baseball game experience I was greatly looking forward to. And this is another reason why:

Yes people, $12.25 for a large domestic beer. I bought a 6-pack of blonde ale at Trader Joe's the week before for only $6.99! That is robbery. At Petco these days I think a beer will set you back some $7 or $8, but $12,25?! I was just silly enough to purchase one, though.

And then what's visiting a new stadium if you don't partake in the food they are known for. So, even after being full from apple pie and french dip, in the 8th inning I opted for a famous Farmer John Dodger Dog. Here's what I got:

That is one long, skinny wienie. Hope that's no reflection on anything else in the Dodger club.

But I will say, that even though it didn't look too appealing, it did taste mighty fine. Much better than the standard hot dog at Padres games.

And I'm very glad that I did chose to get a hot dog in the 8th inning since the game went for 12. And I'm happy to announce that the Giants game out victorious winning 7-5! Huuuuuuummmm, baby!

Andrea, Alexa and I outside of the Dodger Stadium. We did have to console Alexa a little after the Giants took 2 of 3 in the series.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Kitchen gadget

A great kitchen gadget is something that you can use for any meal, no matter what time of day. I have been looking to get an indoor grill/griddle for quite some time. I nearly purchased one from Crate & Barrel only to find when I got to the cash register that it didn't work on my glass-top stove.

I kind of forgot about the quest for a while until I was flipping through my Costco coupon book and came across the Cuisinart Gourmet Griddler 4-in-1 grill/griddle. At $79.99 with coupon it was a little more than I'd wanted to spend, but after using the new gadget 3 times in one day I was convinced that it will be a good investment in the long run.

Meal: Breakfast
Setting: open griddle

I LOVE banana pancakes and was so excited that all of my pancakes turned out perfectly golden brown on my new griddle. I set the temperature at high, as recommended by the instruction manual.

Meal: lunch
Setting: closed grill/panini press

I didn't have any artisanal bread so I just used some of the whole grain sandwich bread I had in the refrigerator. On my panini I put turkey, Gouda cheese, mushrooms and avocado. I lightly spread some butter on top of the bread before putting it on the grill.

Meal: dinner
Setting: open grill/closed grill

A few weeks ago a friend of mine passed along a bag full of lemons. With those lemons I made a fantastic lemon & asparagus pasta dish. Since it was such a light and delicious meal I decided to add a few ingredients, including grilled chicken and zucchini.

2 small to medium sized chicken breasts
1 medium sized zucchini, cut in rounds then in half again (half-moons)
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 pound bow-tie pasta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Accompaniment: freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Grill or bake chicken. Season with pepper and lemon juice.
Grill zucchini or add it with asparagus in steamer. In a steamer set over boiling water steam asparagus, covered, until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer asparagus to a colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain asparagus well.

In a 6-quart kettle bring 5 quarts salted water to a boil for pasta.

In a deep 12-inch skillet heat butter and cream over moderately low heat until butter is melted and stir in zest, lemon juice, and salt. Remove skillet from heat and keep sauce warm, covered.
Add pasta to boiling water and boil, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Ladle 1/4 cup pasta water into sauce and drain pasta in colander.

Immediately add pasta and asparagus to sauce and cook over moderate heat, tossing, 1 minute, or until heated through. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste and toss well.

Sprinkle pasta with a little Parmesan and serve more Parmesan on the side.