Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Buca di Beppo [to go]:

David was feeling a little under the weather one morning and had a craving for spaghetti. I felt alright, but was not up for being social and interacting with a server at a restaurant.

I also did not want to change out of my pajamas.

So, delivery then. Larosa’s, located about 2.5 miles up the street by Rookwood commons, has spaghetti. Balboa’s just opened up in O’Bryonville, but we could not find a menu of theirs anywhere online, so their spaghetti status remains a mystery.

I called Larosa’s for delivery. We’ve had hit or miss deliveries with them—sometimes they deliver to our apartment, sometimes not.

This time, not. After much tense negotiation with David, I volunteered to go out and pick up the desired spaghetti. Marriage is full of little compromises.

I searched around and decided that if David wanted spaghetti and meat balls, he was going to get a top notch spaghetti and at least one ½ pound meatball. I ordered online from Buca di Beppo’s website.

I ordered:
1 kids pepperoni pizza ($4.99)
1 kids chicken parmesan (which comes with a “mini” side of spaghetti) ($4.99)
The small order of spaghetti and meatballs ($16.99)
1 extra meatball ($4.99)
A small Caesar salad ($9.99)

I headed over to Rookwood after placing our order and strode across the parking lot in my flip-flops and pajamas for my bag of takeout. It was ready right when they said it would be, and packaged in a large back full of aluminum tins. It was also extremely heavy, so I am sure that I made an amusing sight as I lugged it back to the car.

If you’ve never eaten at Buca di Beppo before, you need to know their portions are gigantic. They do the family style Italian dining, which means if you order the tiramisu, it will come out in a large bowl. A small order of a dish should serve two to three people, and a large serves four to six. I figured ordering off the kids menu and getting the small size should reduce the potential gluttony that is a Buca di Beppo meal, right?


Our meal came with some very good white bread. David dug into the salad first, under kitty’s supervision. A small Caesar at Buca is a large Caesar everywhere else.

He had already eaten half of it at this point

I impatiently ate some of my pizza, which was a good size. Nice thin crust, good pepperoni. Solid pizza. Not spectacular, not bad.

The kid’s chicken Parmesan seems to be intended for, shall we say, a huskier child. At $4.99 with a side of spaghetti, I thought this was a really good deal.

David ended up eating my supposedly kid-sized “mini-side” of spaghetti and the extra meatball, and still couldn’t finish if off. We were curious to see what the small spaghetti looked like. It was in the bottom of the bag in a large metal tray. Upon opening the container, I discovered why the bag was so heavy. The marinara sauce from Buca is very nice, it’s lighter and a little sweet. I liked my chicken Parmesan, the chicken was juicy and the breading was crisp. Sometimes Buca can be a little to enthusiastic with the garlic, but with Italian cuisine, it’s a risk that you take.

vat O' spaghetti

For the next two days, the answer to “what’s for dinner?” was “Spaghetti.”

Buca di Beppo on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thick cut rib steak:

David went into work after hours last Friday. While he stated it should only take an hour or so, I had my doubts. I’d heard that before.

I decided to make the best of it—I wanted to go to Whole Foods and buy dinner as a surprise. I wandered around the store and by the butcher counter, trying to decide what I wanted to bring home. I finally decided on a thick cut rib steak.

As a side note, the butcher counter at Whole foods is way too tall, so it took about 5 minutes and me jumping up and down like a frenetic terrier to get the attention of the man behind the counter. This is why I usually let David, who is a foot taller, order.

I also visited the salad bar and was scooping up curried cous cous and wheat berry salad into a little box when David texted me that he was on his way back.

This was good and bad. David was not going to be stuck at work all night, but my surprise would not be quite as surprise-y. David would notice when he got back that his wife was missing and know something was up. Deciding that I could salvage this and I was going to be cryptic, I texted him the following message.

“Preheat the oven. Meat. 2lbs.”

When I got back, the oven was almost ready and we were ready to roast our steak.

I also bought this flemish sour ale made with champagne yeasts

I had also picked up some red peppers, one white onion, and some mushrooms, which David sautéed in a yummy sauce. I had seconds of the onions and mushrooms, and I don’t even like mushrooms.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fuji's House, the happiest place on earth?

David turned 28 on this past Monday; and instead of taking him to steakhouse, we went the sushi route. We took the afternoon off from work and headed over to Fuji's house in Hyde Park plaza for some good tempura and sushi.

We perused the menu for about 10 minutes before deciding what we wanted. I decided to get the chicken tempura dinner ($14.95) which comes with some very good miso soup and salad, as well as the Yaki tori appetizer--skewered chicken in special brown sauce ($4.50). I also wanted to try their fried rice. (side, $2.00) David really likes the Fuji's house ginger dressing on the salad, and I thought it was very good as well.

Yaki tori with carrot flower

tempura chicken and veggies

As for the sushi, David decided to get the "Love boat for two" ($55.00), after promising me he would not try to eat all the sushi.

"the rice will expand, and then you'll be rolling around on the futon clutching your expanding stomach. It will be like a true happening of the urban legend about what happens when you after birds eat rice at weddings." I explained. Below is a video of David's sushi feast.

David stuck with Asahi ($4.00) to accompany his dinner, but I wanted the special cocktail that comes with a special glass I got to keep. The description was "souvenir glass". I expected a glass with a logo of some sort. I ordered the Buddha ($10.99) which was a tropical cocktail. I was not expecting it to come in an actual Buddha. With a straw in the belly.

I ended up getting two so that my Buddha would not be lonely.

I particularly like how they look like they are raising the roof. Party on!

David enjoyed his sushi very much, and we both recommend Fuji's house. They have excellent tempura, offer inexpensive bento boxes at lunch, and have very good fried rice. The only thing we did not like was the water, which tastes kind of funny.

Fuji's House Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

...and I didn't set anything on fire. Win.

David went into work while I was home this past week, though I tried my hardest to convince him to stay home with me.

“Are you sure you can’t stay home? What’s so important at work?” I pled, listing out all the fun things that we could do. The park, the aquarium, the zoo, the museum center to see the dinosaur exhibit. Despite my offers, David decided to be a responsible adult and go into work. This left me with an entire day to myself.

What would I do with it? I tossed around the idea of dying my hair, decided against it. I resolved to embark an equally risky endeavor.

I could cook dinner.

I was already headed to the store for supplies for a grill out anyway.

I spent about an hour on photograzing, looking for inspiration. I needed something easy, something that was difficult to mess up. I was determined not to fall prey to my usual MO, which is wandering around in the grocery store for a huge period of time, grabbing random ingredients and bringing them home to try and form some sort of haphazard semblance of a tasty dinner or snack.

I saw the
chocolate dipped coconut macaroon picture first. The recipe claims that they could not be easier to make. They certainly seemed easy, and they looked fantastic. I wrote down the ingredients on my grocery list.

But for the main course? I tried to pin down what I wanted to cook. The only results after all my “research” was that my stomach was rumbling from all the yummy visuals and I had decided that I wanted something larger—that I could stick in the oven and leave for a few hours. Ribs are pretty hard to mess up, right?

I headed out to Hyde Park Kroger for provisions. Despite my good intentions, I did end up wandering around the store for an hour in an erratic, inefficient pattern that probably puzzled security. I ended up with the supplies to make my macaroons, two racks of beef ribs, some red, green and yellow peppers, chunks of beef for the skewers, and juice boxes of cheap white zinfandel, with obligatory cheese, Beecher’s Flagship reserve.

yay for fancy-pants aged cheese

I hauled it all home and struggled to carry it all up the stairs. I then sat down and thought about what I should do first. David would have made a scheduling chart.

I just started with the macaroons.

I decided to make a double batch, and after fudging the recipe to approximately double the amount while doing the least amount of math, fraction and conversion factors possible, dumped the whole can of sweetened condensed milk in the large mixing bowl. A little salt, vanilla extract, and egg whites went in, and I stirred them well. Then I measured out the coconut flakes.(I've put my laura-fied recipe at the bottom of this post.)

I ended up with some very yummy smelling coconut goo. Following the recipe’s instructions, I placed them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven, setting the timer for 20 minutes. I them went about my next task.

In a separate area of the kitchen, I put down freezer paper and prepped the ribs. I liberally sprinkled them with pepper, soy sauce and a ½ cup secret ingredient, then lightly brushed them with Montgomery inn BBQ sauce and stuck them in the fridge.

I'm not very good at keeping secrets

My first set of macaroons finished baking, so I pulled them out and set them aside to cool. I loaded up the cookie sheet with another set and put them back in the oven.

The skewer prep was next. I put more freezer paper down and opened up the packages of meat. I stuck them in a baggie and poured in some soy sauce, Marsala wine and a little onion powder, then stuck them back in the fridge. I then cut up the peppers for the skewers.

After a few more rounds of macaroons in the oven, I had used all of my coconut goo and they looked oh-so-tasty. I let them cool, then transferred them onto more freezer paper for the next phase—milk chocolate dipping and covering the bottoms of them in crushed heath bar pieces.

Now that the oven was free, I transferred the ribs into it, and set the rib timer for 2 hours and 20 minutes. At this rate, the ribs would be ready about an hour an a half after David got home. I made him a cheese plate to keep him happy until they would be ready. I decided I had earned a juice box, and some cheese.

raw cow's milk cheddar, Beecher's flagship reserve, Widmer 4 year old cheddar, Black Diamond 2 year old cheddar, Beemster gouda and extra aged gouda and lastly, Cabot chipotle cheddar cheese

yes, that's a crazy straw

I then began the dipping process. I used a whole bag of Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips, but ran out halfway through. This was terribly upsetting. But I am a resourceful baker, so I looked in the cabinet for the supplies I had bought the day after Easter from Graeter’s. And began melting down chocolate bunnies.

Sorry little buddy, it's for a good cause

The heath bar crumbles helped a lot, because they acted as a binder against the gluey chocolate and secured my crumbly macaroons. I set my chocolate covered macaroons in the fridge to further set them.

Making the skewers was the last thing on the list, which I did while singing a little nonsense song about bell peppers to the cat, that I believe makes cooking more enjoyable.

The ribs came out and were very good, though I may have used a little too much pepper. The Scotch gave them a nice earthy flavor that went well with the tangy BBQ sauce.

So-easy-even-I-could-make-them Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons with Heath Bar

Macaroon batter:
1 can sweetened condensed milk (I used the large can of eagle brand)
about ½ cup egg beaters egg whites
3 teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon of salt
6 ½ to 7 cups sweetened coconut flakes

For the chocolate dipping:
1 entire bag of milk chocolate Ghirardelli chips
2 small chocolate bunnies, or more chocolate chips
1 bag crushed Heath bar from baking aisle, or you can crush them yourself for good anger management

To Start:

1. Heat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with aluminum foil. Seriously. Line the sheets, and spray the liner with PAM, these cookies are very sticky once they’ve cooled and you will have to pry them off your cookie sheet. I used a metal grilling spatula to do that part.

2. Dump the entire can of condensed milk into the bowl, mix in the salt, the vanilla and the eggs. Stir well. Then add the coconut flakes. Stir some more.

3. Grab little pieces of the batter and arrange them into little sticky coconut piles on a cookie sheet. They don’t expand much when cooked, so about an inch and a half apart is good.

4. Bake them in the oven for about 20 minutes. I tried 17, but in the end stuck with 20.

5. Take your cookies out of the oven and set them aside. Do not touch. I let mine set for about 20-30 minutes.

6. Once the cookies have cooled, transfer them from the foil to some non stick paper, such as wax or freezer paper (shiny side up). They will be stuck to the foil. Your best bet to get them off of it is to use a metal spatula. There will be a few macaroon casualties. It is OK to eat them.

7. Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave safe container with curved sides (this is important), checking every 40 seconds and stirring to melt evenly. Place the crushed heath bar on a small plate.

8. Grab a macaroon where you think it will not fall apart and put it in the chocolate, gently. Then use the side of the container to keep the macaroon from falling apart from the pull of the chocolate on the bottom of the cookie. Run the macaroon up the side of the container to coat the bottom in chocolate, then immediately place on the plate of Heath bar. Stick the macaroon back on the nonstick paper.

9. Stick the macaroons in the fridge to further set them and make sure they don’t fall apart for about ½ an hour.

(Adapted from a combination of Joy of Cooking and Baking Illustrated, and the
Brown Eyed Baker)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oriental Wok:

David has been trying to get me to Oriental Wok on the first floor of the Regency in Hyde Park for some time now. I always was kind of lukewarm on the idea, until he showed me two things. First, their appetizers, and second, their cocktail list.

Oriental Wok is a local chain, having several locations; and is run by a very nice family. It’s also pretty swanky inside. David and I entered and were seated in a nice cozy corner.

We were pleasantly surprised by the beer selection. David settled for a Brooklyn IPA ($4.50). As you can see, both mainstream beers and oriental beers are present, as well as Canadian brewer unibroue and Salvator, a doppelbock.

I knew what I wanted though. The Volcano Hawaii ($13.00), intended for two people, a tropical drink with a flaming garnish. A giant tropical novelty drink? I am all over that. My new iphone can take video, so we have included a short clip of my drink in all of its flaming tropical glory for you. If you turn up the sound, you can hear David giving me instructions on how to take video and my annoyed grumblings.

I chose the right shirt to wear

Ever since Taste of Cincinnati, I’ve been enamored with crab rangoon, so I ordered that. ($7.00) They were very tasty and I ate most of them, only allowing David a few.

I also wanted to try an eggroll. ($2.00) It was well seasoned, with a little garlic and ginger. I liked it a lot.

David’s choice was the volcano chicken, which supposedly was spicy. It had a little kick to it, and plenty of garlic. The chicken was nice and juicy.

The last thing I wanted to try were the lettuce wraps. I loved these, especially the crunchy water chestnuts. ($8.00 for 4)

In the end, I was defeated by the volcano Hawaii.

curses! bested by a large tropical drink

I really like Oriental Wok and I am glad we finally visited. We'll be back for sure, and next time, I'll bring a friend to help with the volcano and share lettuce wraps with. Any takers?

Oriental Wok  on Urbanspoon