Chicago?

Last year, I went to Ann Arbor for my food tour. This year, I’m thinking about Chicago. A couple of these are Unique Eats recommendations, and a couple more are tourist destinations, but I figure why not? Where am I going?

-Kuma’s Corner- this is the place that names all their burgers after heavy metal bands. And after viewing the menu, I will be ordering the Led Zeppelin burger.

-Longman and Eagle- once again, a Unique Eats recommendation. And since their menu changes often, I’d like to have the porchetta.

-UNO Pizzeria and Grill- Once again, a tourist destination, but I want deep dish pizza. I’m probably going to order the classic pepperoni…

-Eataly Chicago- Don’t know which of the restaurants inside I’m visiting, but I want to go.

And for shopping, I’m going to visit Fannie May Candies. Their chocolate is amazing and I want it in my belly. Like now.

As for lodging, it looks like I’ll have to stay in the suburbs since it’s cheaper. The Hyatt in Hoffman Estates costs $118/night, as compared to $300 a night in the city. And that’s on the cheap end.

And I really don’t want to go with my dad… I’m hoping I can get a few NMU friends to make the trip with me.


Cutting the food budget (sucks)

With me not having a job, and my dad working at a gas station for peanuts, we’ve had to fall on the sword budget wise. This means we’ve had to wave goodbye to a lot of the creature comforts we’ve had the past couple years. So far, the slashes have affected the following:

-Coffee. I went from the premium to Folgers. God… Folgers is nasty stuff. I’ve given up artificial sweeteners and sugar, and I need one or the other to drink it.

-Meat. We haven’t been able to order from Creswick Farms or the Fishmonger’s Wife, and have had to buy factory-farmed meat at Meijer. Since I know that factory meat isn’t the healthiest, we’ve started buying lean meat and pulling the skin off chicken.¬†And because I know from my whole60 that factory-farmed bacon and sausage is perhaps the least-healthy meat you can buy, we’ve backed off that too.

-Pop. This has actually been a blessing in disguise. Since I know either regular or diet soda both are addictive, and that artificial sweeteners give me gas, it’s been easier to cut that stuff out. If I do have soda, I want it to be either stuff I make from scratch, Stewart’s, or Virgil’s. Maybe Jones too.

-Dining out. There was a point we were going to Hennessy’s, Mia and Grace, Toast N Jams, etc with regularity. Then again, we really shouldn’t be dining out anyway.

And if I do find a good job, we might be able to bring some of this back… but for now, we have to walk through the desert.


Tying Baking to Running

My other passion is running. And for the longest time, I didn’t know how to tie baking to running. If you look on the surface, it would seem apparent that my need to make cookies and brittle would negatively impact my running. That changed this year. To be honest, I’m tired of having to buy packaged energy bars, energy gels, and sports drinks. Far too often, they come with a list of ingredients you can’t pronounce, the cost adds up over time, and the packaging ends up either in the trash or on the side of the road somewhere.

I decided that this year, I would make my own fuel using fresh, minimally processed food. In 2011, I made energy bars for a Team in Training function, and they were a hit. Containing old-fashioned oats, dried cranberries, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower kernels, honey, Demerara sugar, and butter, they’re quick to assemble and bake. Only problem is, in 2012, I went back to CLIF bars, and in 2013, I didn’t even think about making them. But with wanting to run on the cheap, it’s time I broke the recipe out of hiding.

As for gels, I looked up a recipe online, and they were simple. All I need is honey, blackstrap molasses, and salt. Plus water or some kind of liquid to make it pourable… you have to put it in a 5 oz GU flask to use it. That being said, I’m going to add brewed coffee. I figure the caffeine will give me an added kick, and the coffee taste will be a nice touch.

I’m still figuring out the sports drink, though. The recipe I found calls for water, lemon juice, lime juice, baking soda, and salt.

I figure my first test of these products will come later this month, when the training schedule for the Fifth-Third River Bank Run 25K (15.5 miles) calls for a 10 mile run.


Christmas Recap

Made the bread pudding first. On Thanksgiving, I used apples and raisins, so on Christmas day, I used dried cranberries, almonds, and orange zest. Pulled the pudding out at about 2:40 and it was fantastic.

I took an afternoon nap and woke up at 4. Since I couldn’t find the recipe for the ham in orange-apricot glaze, I decided to do Nigella Lawson’s ham in cola. So before I left for my afternoon run, per instruction, I started the pot and put it on medium low. Got back from my run and smelled gas. Apparently the cola was dripping out of the pan and extinguished the burner. Reignited the stove and set the timer for an hour and a half.

After the ham was done poaching, I pulled it out of the pot, set it on the cutting board, and peeled the skin off. Scored the fat, then rubbed a glaze of molasses, dry mustard, and brown sugar. While the oven was preheating to 500, I got the cauliflower cut into florets and the sweet potatoes peeled and rough chopped. About 7:30, I got the sweet potatoes boiling…

At 8, every thing was done. The ham was nice and moist, not too sweet, and the fat rendered quite well. The sweet potatoes didn’t burn, but this is the last time I use light coconut milk.

As for what I got, a friend gave me a bunch of nice ties, some every day shoes, and Biggest Loser: Power Sculpt. Add that to the love I received from my cats, as well as all the hugs I got the previous Sunday…

My Christmas was a success!


Thanksgiving Disaster

I decided on an evening meal, primarily because I woke up real late and didn’t want to eat at 3 PM, like past Thanksgivings. So at the tail of the Lions game, I got up from my chair and decided to make the bread pudding first. That way, I knew it would be done and out of the way.

Pulled the bread pudding out of the oven and it turned out fine. So I decided to go for a short jog, then I could come back and start the chicken. And that’s when it all went to hell…

I was using a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which called for rotating the bird in the oven with a V-Rack. Instructions also said that if you didn’t have a V-Rack, you could just use a regular roasting rack and prop the chicken up with balls of aluminum foil. After the first 20 minutes of cooking, I had trouble rotating the chicken to its other wing side. Finally got it turned and back into the oven for another 20 minutes. Thankfully, for the final turn, the recipe called for the bird to be placed flat in the pan. Didn’t have any problem making that turn.

Toward the end of the last turn, I decided to start the mashed sweet potatoes. I felt I could go sit down in the living room while waiting for the chicken to finish cooking. Come to find out, I fell asleep, and woke up to the oven beeping, my dad yelling, and the sweet potatoes burning. All the water boiled out and now my sweet potatoes were charred on the bottom. My dad was still yelling at me, which really wasn’t helping the situation, and then I pulled the chicken out of the oven. Put the pan on the counter. There wasn’t enough room on the counter, apparently, because the roasting pan, with the chicken, fell onto the floor. My dad was still yelling, and I finally just yelled back “F-CK YOU!” I picked the chicken up, wiped it off, and served it anyway.

Even after the disaster, my dad is still prattling on and on, talking about how he doesn’t like eating at 8:30. I don’t like it either, but seeing as he did nothing to help, I just shut him out for the rest of the night.

No vegetable made it to the plate. Surprisingly enough, even with the chicken staying in the oven too long, it still was nice and moist. The bread pudding was nice, though there was no caramel sauce.

One of these days, I will look back upon this meal and laugh… right?


Ann Arbor- the food

Last week, my dad and I went to Ann Arbor. All we did was nap and eat. Here’s where we ate:

Friday night, after checking into the motel, we ate at Tio’s Mexican Cafe. Located in downtown Ann Arbor, the place was packed. We had a 30 minute wait for a table, but when we sat down, we ordered the chips and salsa and Dragonmead Final Absolution IPA. The salsas were good… they gave us a mild, medium, and hot salsa. The hot wasn’t “oh my god, this hurts,” it provided a pleasant kick. When it came time to order, I ordered the enchilada sampler; I chose beef, pork, and mushroom. The entree came with refried beans and Spanish rice, which I had them box up for me. We also talked to the waitress about Mt. Nacheesmo, and we learned it’s really for 4-5 adults. We also learned that several people, thinking they’re all that, take on the Mt Nacheesmo challenge and end up humiliated. Overall, I give the place a 9.5/10.

Saturday and Sunday morning, instead of looking for a breakfast spot, we went looking for coffee and settled on Espresso Royale Caffe. I was expecting odd paintings on the wall, folk music playing, that sort of thing. But it was actually wide open, there was no music playing, and the paintings looked normal. I ended up ordering a chocolate chip scone on Saturday and a raspberry almond scone on Sunday, along with the house brew coffee. I was disappointed by the scones, though… the chocolate chip only had 4 chips in it. 7/10. (great coffee, weak pastries)

Saturday afternoon, we went to Maize and Blue Delicatessen. It’s located near campus, and sure enough, the place was crawling with students. But we didn’t have to wait for a table. I ended up ordering Sumer’s Delight, a roast beef and Jarlsberg sandwich on grilled challah… with Mrs. Vickie’s jalapeno chips, a big pickle and a pop. The sandwich was as big as my head. Overall, I would definitely go back. 9.5/10.

Saturday night, we went to Arbor Brewing Company. There was a 15 minute wait for a table, which I wasn’t surprised by. While I waited, I noticed the atmosphere: dimly lit and very warm. Inviting, even… like they wanted you to stay there for awhile. I ended up drinking the Sacred Cow IPA… 2 glasses. Their large beer is only a pint, which is alright with me. As for what I ended up ordering, I had the blackened shrimp and Andouille sausage etoufee. And it was a modest size, too… I was expecting portions to be crawling off the plate. Definitely want to go back. 9.5/10.

I wanted to go to Zingerman’s as well, but I was over-ruled, and we ended up going to some place in the Michigan student union. And the food there simply wasn’t worth writing about.

I like the town. Its downtown is active with plenty of places to hang out, shop, and eat. I also saw plenty of runners, and there’s a lot of trails.

As for the University of Michigan, I’m rather ambivalent. I did not attend the school, and I really don’t care one way or the other about the sports teams on campus. Which is odd, because in Michigan, you’re told what school to cheer for since birth. After graduating from Northern Michigan University in 2006, I started to not care about Michigan football.

And yes, I took pictures, but I haven’t uploaded them to my computer yet.


Another Alex and Amanda dream…

…and no, it wasn’t a bad 70s porno. I had a dream where I was minding my own business, when I heard a knock at the door. It was Amanda Freitag and her car was on the street in front of my house. I looked in the car, and saw Alex Guarnaschelli was in the front passenger seat.

“Amanda!”

“Bob!”

“Grab your coat. I hope you’re hungry, because we’re going out.”

“Okay.”

So I got in the car, which was pretty nice, and Amanda soon followed. After she buckled her seat belt, she looked to me in the back seat and asked me what my favorite restaurant in Muskegon was. “Hennessy’s. It’s downtown.” “Groovy.”

I direct Amanda to Hennessy’s, and on the way, Alex starts talking. “We taught you about cooking last time, and another lesson will follow. But now, you need to learn how to eat. We’re going to teach you how to critique food, the same way we do it on Chopped.”

“Wonderful.” I admitted that prior to this, I’d been rushing through mealtime, not really stopping to savor each bite.

Amanda laughed as she pulled into the Hennessy’s parking lot. “That ends today.”

We walk through the door, and are promptly seated in a booth. Alex and Amanda sit on one side, I sit on the other. Alex starts looking at the beverage offerings. After some discussion, they decide on a bottle of Riesling for the table.

Waiter, it was someone fresh out of high school, asks us what we want. Alex, speaking for us at the table, orders the Marguerite Flatbread appetizer and the bottle of Riesling.

Amanda puts her hand on mine, sensing I was nervous. “We’re going to walk you through ordering. Just trust us.”

Alex asks “what do you normally order?”

“The spinach and portobello boxty. And a beer.”

“Is it good?”

“I think so.”

“Today, you’re not going to order that. Part of being in food means having a curious mind, wondering what food tastes like. And if you keep ordering the usual, you’ll never grow.”

Amanda agrees.

The waiter comes back with the flatbread. Amanda cuts a piece off, puts it on a plate, and gives it to me. “Taste it.”

I take a bite and chew it, trying to pick up the various flavors hitting my tongue. I especially notice the balsamic reduction.

“Good,” Alex smiles. “Time to order.”

Amanda starts. “I will have the chicken and portobello marsala.”

Alex chimes in. “I’ll have the coconut red chicken curry.” And before I can order, Alex says “he’ll have the bagun agus cabaiste.”

I take a sip of wine and smile. “I’ve been wanting to try that.”

“Good,” Alex nods, and so we wait for our food. After 15 minutes with some small talk, our food arrives. Amanda starts eating her ravioli, telling me that it’s well seasoned, the dough is nice and light, and that the Marsala isn’t overwhelming. “What do you notice about your pork chop?” she asks me.

“I can taste the pork. Just enough salt, it’s moist, and it melts on the tongue. The cabbage and bacon ragout really adds that needed bacon flavor.”

Amanda smiles and takes another bite of her pasta. “Now you’re getting it. Try your mashed potatoes.”

“Velvet. The garlic is there and I can taste the butter.”

Alex takes a sip of her wine and chimes in. “See what you pick up when you actually taste your food?”

“Oh yeah.”

I finish my wine. Amanda pours me another glass.

“This is what being a foodie is all about. You’re not only cooking, but you’re tasting everything. You have to be adventurous when you’re out. Hell, you have to be try new things at home, too. Try new vegetables at the farmer’s market. Ask your farmers how they like it. Your world is going to open up.” Alex puts her fork down. “I’m full. I’ll get a box.”

Amanda polishes off her ravioli and says she’s full too.

“What about you?”

“I’ve had enough.”

Amanda smiles and adds “when you taste your food, eating it slowly, you won’t need to eat huge portions. You know on Chopped, when we tell chefs that their appetizers are too big? You have to keep portion size in mind when you cook too.”

The waiter comes back with to-go boxes and the bill. Alex pulls out her credit card and puts in the folder. “This was good. You’re going to be a great foodie.”

“Thanks.”

The waiter comes back and takes the credit card. Amanda smiles at me again and says Alex is right. “You’ve got spark.”

After the waiter returns with Alex’s card, Amanda pulls a $10 bill out of her wallet and throws the tip down.

“Let’s go home.”

They return to my house, pulling into the driveway. They both get out of the car, hugging me and telling me they’ll be back soon. And as Alex gets back into the car, she looks up at me and says “remember what we have taught you. Be well.”

And then they take off.

—-Wonder what it means…


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