Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Waffle House

Three years ago today, we were off on our Southern road trip heading for Savannah. When we last wrote about this trip, we had just visited Nando's for the first time, indulging in some delicious grilled chicken before hitting the road and driving for hours. We stopped briefly in Richmond, Virginia to do some sightseeing, but otherwise our next real stop wasn't until Rocky Mount, North Carolina for a late dinner.

Waffle House is a true American institution. They're cheap, they're open all night, they have a lot of choices on the menu, and the food hits the spot. Even though they're now as far north as Pennsylvania and Delaware (still not close enough to us), I pretty much still associate them with the South. So there was no question that on our Savannah road trip, we would try to fit in at least one visit to Waffle House.

My first trip to Waffle House was in college. We were on a road trip to Myrtle Beach and after a long night of driving, we stopped off at Waffle House for breakfast. It was exactly what we needed to refuel for the rest of our drive (although I passed out from food coma shortly thereafter since I drove all night), and I've associated good memories with them ever since. Somehow, even though he had been to the South many more times than I had, A had never stopped at a Waffle House before. I was happy that around the time we chose to stop for dinner in North Carolina, there was a Waffle House right near the interstate. Perfect road trip stop.

We both opted to order off the special $5 meals menu which not only covered your choice of breakfast, lunch, or dinner (from a list of 15), but also included a drink. A opted for coffee to help him stay awake until we got to our stopover in Fayetteville (about 90 minutes further), and I went for a sweet tea-lemonade mix. We were in the South after all.

Since it was A's first time at Waffle House, he chose to go with the double classic waffle. He topped it with butter and syrup. The waffles were creamy and sweet, and the butter and syrup combined to make a really tasty concoction that was salty, sweet, and extra creamy. A had never put butter on his waffles before, but it just seemed like the right thing to do. It was great, but he's thinking that he might only do that while at other Waffle House locations and not a regular basis. The coffee certainly helped him get to the next hotel, but it wasn't anything special. For the most part, it tasted just like regular diner coffee.

I'm not much of a breakfast person (although the sausage, egg, and cheese grits bowl and biscuit were tempting), so I picked the Texas sausage melt which came with hash browns. Each of the Waffle House Texas melts came with meat (sausage patty in this case), double cheese, and grilled onions on Texas toast. This was simple, but so, so good after a long day of driving. This ended up being our only Waffle House visit on our road trip, but it made us really happy. It's definitely a Southern road trip must for us!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

52W Challenge: Salt

This is the last post from the 2017 challenge for the 52 week cooking challenge. In my last post about why I quit, I mentioned I was starting to twist whatever I was making into a theme to check the boxes, and there is probably no better example than this challenge right here. I wrote this back in November when we made the soup, but had been waiting to post it until I finished all the challenges in between, which as you know never happened. This was from Week 41 since I was jumping around, but going forward I'll just note any posts with themes from the challenge with 52W Challenge in the title instead of the week number since I'm no longer following along, officially or unofficially.

The Week 41 challenge was all about salt. The challenge was supposed to be about using salt in cooking, which is something we do all the time but rarely with salt as the focus. They had a bunch of suggestions, like encasing food in salt or doing a brine or curing. I didn't really have any interest in those types of projects at the time I was going to do the challenge, and the only thing I could think of was seasoning some vegetables with onion salt, not exactly much of a "challenge." Since I'm not officially participating, I decided to switch it around. How could I get the flavor of salt without using any actual salt itself?

Around that time, my grandparents had split a giant winter melon that had grown in someone's backyard into three sections, and I had to figure out what to do with a third of a winter melon. (Yes, the winter melon in the photo below is about a third of a single melon.) The easiest thing to do with winter melon is soup, so we decided to make a soup without using salt. Instead, we would use chicken bouillon to make chicken broth and also incorporate some chopped ham.

The soup ingredients were simple: half of the winter melon, a pound of carrots, a bowl of shiitake mushrooms (plus the soaking water), about 3 big scoops of bouillon, that entire ham steak, and a little white pepper, plus some more water to make broth. No salt itself.

The steps for making the soup were:

1. Prep: Soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water for about 20 minutes or until soft, and then remove mushrooms from water but save the water. Squeeze excess water from mushrooms and chop into slices. Peel and chop carrots.

2. Add carrots and mushrooms to large soup pot. Add the mushroom soaking water plus however much water you think you need for soup broth. (Didn't measure, but we ended up removing at least a few ladles full later because we had too much water.) Bring to boil.

3. While waiting for water to boil, prep winter melon. Scoop out seeds and peel, then chop into smaller chunks. Chop up ham.

4. Once water is boiling, add winter melon, bouillon, and ham. Season with white pepper and stir everything together well. Bring back to boil over medium heat, and then lower to simmer. Simmer half-covered for about half an hour.

This was a very simple soup to make, and we based it on the soups that a lot of Chinatown restaurants serve before meals. We didn't plan to eat the entire pot of soup in one night but we did, mostly because it isn't exceptionally filling with just winter melon and carrots and mushrooms in it. It had so much more flavor than we were expecting it to, and it definitely tasted like there was salt added even though there technically wasn't. Probably wasn't what this challenge was intended to be about, but works for me. Would definitely make this again.

Monday, May 7, 2018

196 Weeks

The title of this post when I originally started it was going to be 208 Weeks, because I never had any intention of quitting the 52 week challenge, especially not mid-year. I'm a completionist by nature, and the idea of stopping, even if I was finding some of the challenges more of a chore than fun, in the middle of my fourth year wasn't really on my radar. But with all the craziness happening at the end of last year (getting a new place, doing renovations, trying to start clearing out our pantry, etc), I just never seemed to find the time to fit in some of the challenge meals, and started to find myself really uninspired to make the time. After hopelessly falling weeks behind, I decided to just call it. There was no way I'd finish before 2018 rolled around, and I hadn't even finished all the posts for the ones I did do. I was a little disappointed since I only had 12 weeks to go to make it to 208 (there's that completionist side of me), but 12 weeks is a whole quarter of the year, so it really wouldn't have been a small thing.

Week 22's Thai challenge where I just remade larb because I wanted it and wasn't really inspired at the time to make something new instead

So, why was I increasingly uninspired? A bunch of reasons, and I don't think it was any one thing in particular. Some of the themes were starting to feel a little broad/vague. They could literally be anything, not really much of a challenge. (For example, one of the ones I never got to in 2017 was meal prep. How is that any different from a normal day/week?) Other themes seemed to repeat things from previous years, and sure, I could make something different, but I felt bored. I wasn't inspired by some of the other themes and just couldn't find anything I wanted to make. Eventually, it just felt more like a chore, and I felt like I was trying to manipulate anything into the themes just to check them off, kind of the opposite of the spirit of the challenge.

Week 6's Italian challenge, one of my favorite new recipes of the year

I considered just stopping 2017 since I was so far behind, and starting clean in 2018, but by the time I looked at 2018's themes a few weeks in, I saw a bunch of repeats (like inspired by books, which was 2015, week 10 and hard enough to figure out the first time) or things I didn't really care to do (like new to you, which considering my 1000+ recipe collection could be basically ... anything). My current plan, now that we're finally getting settled in our new place, is to try to use the challenge list for periodic inspiration - maybe do something new, explore some new area, develop some new skill, all the reasons I started doing the challenge in the first place. Basically, skipping themes like "showing off" but maybe checking back in for something like Portuguese or Balkan.

Week 32's salad challenge, which could have been almost anything, but which I used as the start to a new challenge, cooking from the Jerusalem cookbook

At the end of every challenge year, I usually posted a recap of the challenges for the year, so here they are for 2017, the last time I'll do this (at least for now). For the ones I never got around to posting about, I added a photo since I don't think I'll ever get to those posts unless I remake something. And yes, I skipped around. Those aren't typos.

Week 1 - screw-ups revisited (baked mozzarella sticks)
Week 2 - rice (shiitake fried rice)
Week 3 - made healthy (sweet potato shepherd's pie)
Week 4 - chowder (sweet potato chowder)
Week 5 - Tex-Mex (sweet potato Tex-Mex skillet)
Week 6 - Italian (sausage and chestnut pasta)
Week 7 - black and white (oden with black rice)
Week 8 - spice blends (doro wat)
Week 9 - one pot (sausage and vegetable pasta)
Week 10 - Middle East (Iraqi eggs in meat sauce with quinoa salad and rice)
Week 11 - pies (leek, bacon, and cheese tart)
Week 12 - dorm food (ramen)
Week 13 - Escoffier (chicken and green beans with mustard sauce)
Week 14 - Southern (salmon, grits, and collards)
Week 15 - British (baked Scotch eggs)
Week 16 - vacation food (peri peri chicken with peas and cole slaw)
Week 17 - cafeteria food (pepper jack grilled cheese with tots and salad)
Week 18 - stir fry (black bean chicken)
Week 19 - tea (ochazuke)
Week 20 - 5 ingredients or less (bacon, leeks, mushrooms and cheese scramble)
Week 21 - presentation (cloud eggs with roasted potato salad and hash)
Week 22 - Thai (larb gai)
Week 23 - on a stick (chicken satay)
Week 24 - baking (smoked salmon and tots casserole)
Week 25 - California cuisine (braised corn)
Week 26 - berries (tomato salad)
Week 27 - garlic (cheesy garlic bread)
Week 28 - vanilla (banana bread)
Week 29 - dim sum (dumplings)
Week 30 - charcuterie (summer sausage, cheese, and jam board)
Week 31 - inspired by magic (Mexican bean salad)
Week 32 - salad (roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs salad)
Week 33 - midnight snacks (quesadillas)
Week 34 - batter (almond cake)
Week 35 - American Midwest (tot hot dish)
Week 36 - stacked (zucchini pancakes)
Week 37 - tailgating (chicken chili)

Week 40 - Oktoberfest (bratwurst with German-style potatoes and cucumber salad)

Week 41 - salt (winter melon soup)
Week 42 - casseroles (chicken enchiladas with hatch chile cream sauce)

Looking forward to new challenges in the kitchen, from Reddit or elsewhere!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

M's Favorite Food Memories of 2017

Somehow it's already May, and we still haven't posted our favorite food memories from last year. We originally planned to do it by Chinese New Year, and then wanted to finish them before we moved, but things got so busy and so hectic (multiple all-nighters level of busy), much more than we anticipated despite knowing we had 12 years of stuff to move, and we never got to it. A lot of our stuff is still in boxes, and we still don't have a complete living room, but we don't want to neglect this blog forever. So this post is long overdue, but before summer officially kicks off, here are my favorite food memories from 2017. We ate a lot of good food in 2017, both at home in NYC and on our trips to LA, Seattle, and Vancouver. In (sort of) alphabetical order, here are my 10 favorite food memories of 2017.

1. Eatsa (NYC)

I went to Eatsa for the first time early in 2017 (we posted about it) and returned several more times over the course of the year. (It probably would have been many more if I had still worked in a Midtown office.) Eatsa revolutionized the eating scene in two different ways: the ordering process (automat-style from a kiosk/phone app without any human interaction) and making healthy quinoa bowls affordable (pretty much everything was under $10). In the end, the price may be part of what did them in, since quinoa isn't cheap, and they closed all their non-SF stores in October. (The cynical part of me still wonders if all the stores were just a test run for their tech.) I'll always be sad that I can never have another no worry curry (what ended up being my favorite) bowl again, with its tasty quinoa, spaghetti squash, apple-cabbage slaw, pickled onions, red Thai curry sauce, and more, but all the tasty bowls are a happy memory of 2017.

2. Bollo de pescado from Ecuadorian Delights at the Queens International Night Market (NYC)

I love going to the Queens International Night Market (which has already started up for 2018 before I finished this post). In 2017, we made two visits and sampled Burmese, Guyanese, Antiguan, Salvadoran, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, Persian, Nigerian, and Filipino cuisine. There really isn't anywhere else in the city where you can do all that in a short period of time and at affordable prices. My favorite thing at the night market last year was the bollo de pescado from Ecuadorian Delights, a green plantain tamale with tuna and peanut sauce wrapped up in banana leaves and topped with pickled onions. It was so delicious, and tasted like something that was just made in someone's home kitchen. We got it on both visits because we liked it so much, meaning we were too full to try their hallaca or corviche, and now I have no idea where to go to get any of those.

3. Corn ice cream taco from Empellon (NYC)

We went to the Midtown Empellon to celebrate my birthday, and one of the desserts that we heard a lot about before our visit was the corn ice cream taco. I figured it would be good, but I wasn't prepared for the explosion of corn flavor in every bite. Corn and ice cream are a great combination, one of my favorites, with some sweetness, saltiness, and savory flavor all in one bite. It wasn't a big dessert, so we were also able to get the avocado dessert and a seasonal apple dessert sampler, but it was probably my favorite dessert of the year.

4. Acai and pitaya bowls from Fruit Wonders (Palm Springs, CA)

Our big trip last year was to California, and we spent a few relaxing days in Palm Springs. It was really hot during the day, and the perfect way to cool down was a visit to Fruit Wonders. We got an açaí bowl the first time and a pitaya bowl the second, and both were really good. Sweet smoothies with granola, hemp seeds, oatmeal, blueberries, bananas, strawberries, kiwi, coconut, and agave. We'd been wanting to try açaí bowls for a while, but this was our first time, and we were hooked thanks to Fruit Wonders.

5. Los Tacos No. 1 (NYC)

Los Tacos No. 1 has been open in Chelsea Market for years, but they finally opened a second location, right near Times Square, last summer. Their tacos are some of the best in the city, and this new location was so much closer to us. We went there a lot since their opening, getting tacos, quesadillas, mulas, and nopal plates topped with (most commonly) pollo asado or adobada. Even with all the new spots in Hell's Kitchen/Midtown West over the past year, its arrival was the most exciting thing that happened for us. One of my few regrets before we moved was that I didn't manage to go there even more.

6. Salmon oshi sushi from Miku (Vancouver, BC)

We had a lot of things on our Vancouver to-try list for our few days there, and one of the must-dos was aburi oshi sushi, a special type of sushi that is not very common around here, pressed and flame-seared. We went to Miku, an expensive restaurant on the downtown waterfront, and sat at the bar for a light meal just so we could try the sushi. The salmon was BC wild sockeye salmon, and it was topped with jalapeño and Miku sauce. This was unlike any other sushi we'd had before. It basically melted in your mouth, and was so full of flavor. Pretty much a perfect bite of sushi, and I still dream about it.

7. The famous chicken for two from The NoMad (NYC)

We went to The Nomad for A's birthday, and we were finally able to try their famous whole-roasted chicken for two. We weren't sure if it would live up to the incredible hype, but it definitely did. They bring the chicken out to you once it's done, but then bring it to the back and plate it. You get a large piece of white meat chicken, so juicy and tender, with foie gras, black truffle, and brioche bread crumbs under the skin, on a plate with potato puree and leeks, and then you get the dark meat in a small bowl like a stew. It was amazing, and its stellar reputation is well-earned.

8. Cheddar garlic roll from Piroshky Piroshky (Seattle, WA)

I'm not big on waiting in line for food, but we waited for Piroshky Piroshky. We had tried their salmon pate piroshky years ago when a relative gave one to us to try, so we got that again along with some other stuff that looked good. While the salmon one was as good as we remembered, what we really loved was the cheddar garlic roll. Layers of perfectly chewy pastry with cheddar cheese, garlic, and scallions, it was a combination of some of my favorite things. We went back again on the day we left to get some more, because it was just that good.

9. Sisig tacos from various spots around NYC

We don't have any Filipino restaurants in our neighborhood (last year or now), so before last year, we only ended up getting Filipino food once in a (very long) while. Last summer, we got some sisig tacos at a street fair, and that ended up kicking off an unplanned summer of Filipino food exploration. We got so much Filipino food last summer, everything from halo halo to sisig bangus to chicken adobo to buko pandan, but of course, more sisig tacos all over the place. They may not be traditional Filipino cuisine, but they're fun to eat and delicious.

10. Sockeye salmon sashimi from Sushi Itoga (Vancouver, BC)

Last but certainly not least, the sockeye salmon sashimi from Sushi Itoga in Vancouver. Sushi Itoga was another one of those must-try things I put on our Vancouver list. It was a small spot where you ordered sushi at the counter, and then they brought it to your table. Even better, it was incredibly affordable. We got six rolls, a plate of sashimi, seaweed salad, and the included miso soup and tea for like US $35. Even better than the price was the quality. That sashimi was so fresh, and it was so soft that it really just melted in our mouths. (I realize I said the same thing about Miku, but it's true.) We went there on our last day in Vancouver, and we were talking about the sashimi the entire way back to Seattle on the train.

There you have it, my favorite food memories of 2017. Somehow it took over four months to put it into words, but it's finally done!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Winter Snowflake Pasta

I love pasta shapes, so when Trader Joe's comes out with a new shaped pasta, it usually ends up in the cart. This winter snowflake pasta appeared near the end of last year and looked like a fun shape that would hold sauce well in all of the little snowflake holes.

The pasta did indeed hold the sauce, but we found that the thickness of the pieces wasn't that uniform. That meant that if you tested one piece and it was al dente, it didn't mean all the rest were equally cooked through. I think if we had realized in advance how different some of them were, we would have probably cooked them on the longer side. They were good, but not as good as some other shapes we've had before.

Buy again? If this were to turn up again, probably not. We didn't like it as much as some others, and I prefer vegetable or whole wheat pasta for health reasons, so probably not.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Joe-Joe's Truffles

How is it already February?! We haven't posted all year, and we haven't even finished writing up our 2017 favorite food memories. It's been incredibly busy and chaotic as we prepare for our move, but there's so much we've wanted to write about (or needed to, so we don't forget our rapidly fading memories), whether it's trip recaps or our favorite food memories from last year or my thoughts on abandoning the 52 week cooking challenge. Need to start creating a good habit again and exercising that creative writing part of our brains, and Trader Joe's reviews seem like a good way to dive back in.

Last year, in an attempt to cut down on food waste, I started making lists of all of our food and their respective expiration dates. As a result, we often end up eating our snacks close to their expiration date, because (a) we have a backlog of too many snack foods and (b) we often forget about things until they turn up on the list as close to expiring when they get buried or put away out of sight. That was the case with these Joe-Joe's truffles that we apparently picked up last April, but I thought was much, much more recent than that. (Time is flying.)

Anyway, we were intrigued by the Joe-Joe's truffles, because we have tried just about every variety of Joe-Joe's cookies. These combine the traditional chocolate vanilla Joe-Joe's, crumbled, with more creme from inside the cookies and white chocolate, and then have a coating of dark chocolate and pastel sprinkles. (Now that I'm reading the description again, April makes so much more sense. Pastel sprinkles, Easter candy, that whole thing.) They came in a box of 12 with each truffle separated, and other than having less sprinkles, looked pretty close to what was on the box design. We really liked these. They actually tasted like Joe-Joe's cookies, but in a softer, chewier, far less crumbly form. Texturally, they were basically like cake pops without sticks. A wondered if they might have tasted fresher or different months ago, but they were still quite good and didn't taste that old like some other chocolate we've had close to its expiration date. Not sure if these will be back this spring, but if they are, it might be our springtime treat!

Buy again? Probably. They would be more of a treat purchase for us than a regular thing (we definitely don't need more snacks or chocolate to add to the list), but since they're seasonal (if they return at all), a once-a-year treat sounds good to us.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Our Year in Food: 2017

It's been a (very long) while since we've posted anything here, but it's been an incredibly hectic few months. One major reason why is that we're preparing to move for the first time in 12 years and doing all sorts of related stuff, like planning out our own kitchen. (Super exciting!) Also, as we prepare to move, we've been trying to eat stuff from our overstuffed (and sometimes expired) pantry, so not as many new cooking projects. (I also abandoned the 52 week cooking challenge, despite being a completionist, something I'll explain in a separate post.)

It's somewhat unbelievable to us that we're already at the end of December and the end of 2017, as the time has just flown by, especially ever since we've started working on our move. We have lots of WorldEats recaps to catch up on and other stuff that we want to write, but here's our quick year-end summary for 2017:

The first restaurant meal we ate in 2017: Family dinner at Park Asia in Brooklyn. We got together to wish my grandparents well on their upcoming trip and also celebrate my cousins' birthdays, and it was nice to start off the new year with family.

The first home-cooked meal we ate in 2017: Daikon miso soup plus stir-fried Korean chicken sausage (sadly discontinued this year at Trader Joe's) and mixed vegetables over rice.

The last restaurant meal we ate in 2017: Family dinner at Affable Eatery (FKA New Spring Garden) in Brooklyn, for pretty much the same reasons as the first restaurant meal of the year. Getting together with the extended family was a nice way to close out the year, and we hadn't even realized until now that we basically bookended the year with family dinners.

The last home-cooked meal we ate in 2017: A Greek feast prepared by A as his traditional year-end cooking project. A whole fish, lemon potatoes, spanakorizo, with an appetizer round of skordalia, tzatziki, and pita - it was an ambitious plan but it all got done and got done deliciously.

# of different restaurants we tried in 2017 (together and separate): 291, which is more than any other year since we started counting back in 2012. We must have done more food crawls or something, because we certainly didn't eat out almost every night.

Places explored (outside the NYC metro area): Buffalo, NY; Corning, NY; Dansville, NY; El Segundo, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Palm Springs, CA; Pasadena, CA; Redondo Beach, CA; Richmond, BC; Seattle, WA; Thousand Oaks, CA; Torrance, CA; Vancouver, BC; Venice, CA.

Most visited restaurant of 2017 (together): Tie between Los Tacos No. 1 (the new one that opened near Times Square over the summer) and Mang Tang Hung, a Chinese restaurant we visited for multiple family dinners. I had expected tacos to be the winner, not a tie, but that's what the numbers said.

Favorite food memories of 2017: Not yet done, but will add the links here once we've posted them!

Progress on WorldEats challenge: 58/196 have been posted about, but we've been to many, many more that we need to recap.

Favorite overall meal of 2017: Our dinner at Guu with Garlic in Vancouver. We had spent our only clear and sunny day in British Columbia running through the trees and walking over the suspension bridge at Capilano and then strolling around gorgeous Stanley Park, and we were so hungry by the time we walked through the door of this cozy izakaya. We ordered so many things, and every single one was delicious. What a great meal.

Looking forward to more adventures in 2018!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Week 36 - Stacked

I couldn't figure out what to make for the stacked challenge, so I asked A for some ideas. He immediately said a short stack of pancakes. I don't really make regular pancakes (like the breakfast kind), and it was going to be for dinner, so I decided to make zucchini pancakes, following an Ina Garten recipe.

The ingredients we used were:

- 1 lb zucchini, grated
- 1/2 large onion, grated
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 7 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- onion salt
- freshly ground black pepper 
- butter

(Again, cheese in picture but did not use...)

The steps for making the stacked zucchini pancakes were:

1. Prep: grate zucchini and onion, beat eggs.
2. Stir onion and eggs into zucchini.
3. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper, and stir well. (Initially added less flour but seemed too thin, so recipe said to add more.)
4. Melt some butter in a large sauce pan and once melted lower heat to medium/medium low.
5. Add batter to pan in scoops of about 1/4 cup.
6. Cook pancakes on each side until browned. (Recipe said 2 minutes per side but it took much, much longer than that. Unfortunately did not time it.)
7. Continue frying pancakes in batches until they're all done.
8. Stack the pancakes and eat!

I don't know why, but in my head, I had this idea that these would come out soft and fluffy like regular pancakes but made with lots of zucchini. That wasn't the texture at all, but I don't know why I thought it would be. They were more like pan-fried potato pancakes, very soft. As far as taste, they were good, but I thought they would have more flavor. Frying them all up took a while too, so I'm not sure if I would do this again.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Week 35 - American Midwest

There are a lot of different foods associated with the American Midwest, but the one thing I knew I wanted to make for the challenge was hotdish. I don't remember where or when I first heard about hotdish, but I mostly associate it with Minnesota for whatever reason. (Wikipedia says Upper Midwest, particularly Minnesota and North Dakota, but I always think Minnesota.) For those unfamiliar, hotdish basically consists of some (usually ground) meat, mixed vegetables, and starch (often tots) mixed with canned (usually cream of something) soup in a casserole. Simple and hearty.

For ours, I used a pound of ground turkey, a few cups of frozen mixed vegetables, an onion, cream of mushroom with garlic soup, and about a pound of tots. (The ingredients photo has cheese in it, but didn't end up using the cheese because I didn't think it needed it.)

To make the casserole, in a baking pan you assemble layers of cooked ground turkey, mixed vegetables and onions, soup, and then finally tots on top, and then bake it for about an hour until the tots are golden brown. Very easy to make.

Growing up, my mom would often make a dish called a "hot plate" with ground meat, mixed vegetables, and some sauce (often an Asian sauce, like Yoshida sauce) over rice. That one was stir-fried and not creamy, but this reminded me a lot of that. Just a simple protein, vegetable, and starch dinner. Easy to make, no fuss, but tasty.

We've never had hotdish in the Midwest before, so no idea whether or not this came close to how it should really taste. It wasn't as flavorful as we thought it would be, but that could be because I misremembered some of the recipes I saw online during my research and only got one can of soup instead of two. That probably would have added more flavor. It was a good hearty dinner though.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Week 34 - Batter

It's been a very long time since we've posted here for a lot of reasons. One, we went on vacation to California, which was lovely but took up a good portion of the last month between preparation, trip, and recovery. Second, it's been hectic and crazy dealing with a lot of other non-food-related stuff and we haven't had much time to write. Third, we've been trying to figure out what the best use of our writing time is for this blog versus other outlets and review sites and the like. Not saying we've figured it out, but for sure, one thing this is good for is accountability with respect to the 52 week cooking challenge. I definitely need that because I am so, so, so behind (as in, I still have challenges to do that were from weeks before vacation).

Anyway, the Week 34 challenge was batter, something I don't make very much of and am trying to actively make less of at home for various health reasons. I had already planned something with batter for the Week 36 challenge (post coming soon), so the idea of doing two challenges with batter wasn't really that enticing to me. At the time of these challenges, A was making almond cake almost every week or every other week, so that seemed appropriate for the batter challenge. A simple batter of almond flour, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest, and it turns into this magnificent cake that is gluten-free, dairy-free, and delicious. Best use of batter in our household this year, so good enough for me for Week 34.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Oakland Goodbye

Our last morning in Pittsburgh started out with some free orange juice and mini muffins at the hotel, and then it was time to pack up and hit the road. We had plans to stop for lunch and ice cream before leaving the city, and then to drive the old Lincoln Highway all the way east until we hit Gettysburg. We were deliberately taking the "back roads" instead of the interstate, but we had a whole list of places we wanted to visit on the way, the types of roadside spots you would miss on the toll road. It was our Pennsylvania road trip, so we wanted to see as much of Pennsylvania as possible.

We decided to spend our last moments in Pittsburgh in an area called Oakland, home to a lot of universities in the city. We were mostly heading there because A wanted to take me to an ice cream shop that he liked, and before we left, I looked up places that might be nearby for lunch on Yelp. There was a taco joint with good reviews down the street, so we decided to try that. What we didn't realize was that it was actually a Mexican grocery store with a griddle and taco bar on the street outside, but that was actually better for us since we weren't entirely sure whether we were parked in a legal spot (signs were a bit confusing) and eating outside would mean we could keep watch on our car.

We got three different tacos -- chorizo, chicken, and pork -- which came on doubled corn tortillas with no toppings. The reason for that was because they had an entire bar of toppings and salsas next to it so you could pile on whatever you wanted. For us, that meant some guacamole and salsa verde, and tons of pico de gallo, onions, and cilantro. We love eating tacos with a garden on top of them, and this one had lots of options.

We don't remember a ton of the details about the tacos four years later, stuff like which one we liked best, but we do remember they were really tasty. I wish we had taken notes, because they look really good in the photos and I would love to remember more about the experience.

After the tacos, it was time for ice cream from Dave & Andy's, known as one of the best ice cream shops in Pittsburgh. A had been there once before when he was in college and really enjoyed it. The thing Dave & Andy's is known for, besides good ice cream, is that they put an M&M on the bottom of the cone to prevent the ice cream from dripping out. Smart idea.

We each got a cone. For me, it was a no-brainer to get birthday cake, which made my favorite food memories list back in 2013. They mixed yellow cake and sprinkles into the ice cream and it was delicious. The waffle cone, even though I'm not usually a cone person, was crispy and sturdy, and it was just a great ice cream cone all around. A doesn't remember exactly what he got (maybe something coffee-based), and back then we didn't always take pictures of the menu board, but he does remember he liked it.

Back when A went there the first time with other Pittsburgh folks, they told him that the thing to do there was to try to guess the color of the M&M at the bottom before you got to it. No idea if this is a real tradition or not, but we did it anyway because it was fun. I guessed blue, and it was blue. A guessed orange, and his was orange. We were pretty happy that we both guessed right.

After our tacos and ice cream, we drove over to the Lincoln Highway to start meandering our way across the state. We had a lot of stops planned -- the Flight 93 Memorial first, followed by a really fun and mind-boggling trip to Gravity Hill (completely worth it), and more -- but for now, it was goodbye to Pittsburgh!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Eel Burgers

When news broke earlier this month that Shake Shack would be collaborating with Chef Fergus Henderson of St. John in London on a special limited edition burger, we were really excited. We love chef collaborations, and the description of the eel burger they had planned sounded interesting. While we were really looking forward to it, I did have a couple of lingering doubts in the back of my mind. First, my experience with eels on our trip to London wasn't the greatest. Although this sounded completely different, those jellied eels are still one of my food nightmares. Second, we hadn't lined up for a chef collaboration or special limited edition item at this Shake Shack for a while, not since the epic 3.5-hour wait for the shrimp stack back in 2014. While I was prepared to wait on line for this event, I wasn't willing to go through a repeat of that stressful time.

My plan on Friday morning was simple. While I was getting ready to head down to Madison Square Park (the only Shake Shack with the eel burger), both A and I would keep an eye on the Shack cam. If the line circled all the way around the park to the point where the end was out of camera range, I would seriously reconsider going. Not just because the wait would be long, but because we had no idea if we'd get a special burger at that point. There was a real lack of detail in the announcements about the event. What time exactly would they start selling eel burgers? How many were going to be available on each day? How many were we allowed to get? (My main worry there was whether any office interns would buy out the entire supply.) We figured that if we watched the line get to a third or half of where it was on shrimp stack day before lunch even started, it probably wasn't worth taking a chance and ending up with no burger and lots of frustration. Lucky for us, some combination of it not being summer, it being a two-day promotion, it not being Momofuku, and maybe some people being grossed out by eels or not liking the flavor of eel led to a much more reasonable, I'd even say short, line.

Although our main focus was on the eel burger, they were also selling St. John vanilla custard doughnuts that they were calling "pillows of joy," so we had figured that even if they ran out of burgers by the time I hit the registers, there would at least be doughnuts left to buy. (There was wine too, but we didn't really look into that.) By the time I got to order, it was around 11:25, but they still had everything. I ordered two eel burgers and a doughnut for us to share. Success!

First up, the doughnut, mostly because we took one bite of the eel burger and then decided we should eat the entire doughnut first, so that the eel burger would be the last thing we tasted. (There were also fries which we snacked on in the beginning and then as a palate cleanser between the doughnut and burger.) The doughnut had "sourdough notes and lemon zest, filled with creamy custard filling." I'm not a fan of custard doughnuts in general -- they're more A's thing -- but I appreciated being able to see flecks of vanilla bean in the custard. I ate a little of the custard and thought it was nice, but concentrated more on the sugary, chewy exterior of the doughnut, which was pretty great. I'd love to eat a doughnut like that without any filling. A, on the other hand, thought that overall it was a good doughnut, but that the custard tasted better than the doughnut part.

After we finished off the doughnut, we moved back to the eel burger, savoring every single bite and remarking over and over again about how good it was. Piled on a soft bun was the smoked eel burger, along with smoked Niman Ranch bacon, pickled red onion, creme fraiche, fresh horseradish, and watercress. The eel burger was kind of like a fish cake patty, and the smoked flavoring was amazing. (Then again, we are fans of smoked fish in general, like the year that two dishes with smoked fish ended up on my favorites list.) All the other ingredients complemented the eel patty well. The smokiness of the eel, combined with the smoky saltiness of the bacon, the freshness of the watercress, the creamy bite from the horseradish and the creme fraiche, and the sourness of the pickled onions, made for "a perfect melody of flavors" (A's words which I think are quite fitting here).

We were so happy with our lunch, and it was definitely worth the walk and wait on a very muggy and hot morning. It was much better than the shrimp stack that we waited so much longer for, and that was even after walking with these finished burgers for almost a mile to where we were meeting to eat them. We had thought we would probably like the eel burger, since we both like eel, but I'm not sure we expected it to be this good. It was so good that we might even like it more than the regular ShackBurger. We were sad when we remembered that it was probably going to be the only one we would ever get. Really wish this were becoming a permanent part of Shake Shack's menu.