Monday, December 31, 2007

Danny's Diner - Somerville, Mass

We stayed overnight in Boston before driving up to Maine on Sunday. I hopped on Chowhound and did a quick search of breakfast places in the area. One that had good word-of-mouth was Danny's Diner in Somerville, about 4 miles from our hotel on Beacon Hill. We packed up our bags, got the car from the valet, and headed over.

Danny's is on the end of a rather run-down looking block across Beacon Street from a Star Market. Since there were very few spots and tons of snowbanks on the side of the street, I opted to park in the Star lot and we hoofed it over to Danny's from there. Unlike the rest of the block, inside Danny's was nearly brand new. They opened in July 2007 and it looks like they gutted whatever had been in that spot. A long bar with stools and several tables along the wall made up the seating. A cooler in the corner held soda and other drinks. We took a seat at a free four-top. Four or five other groups/couples were enjoying breakfast when we arrived.

The menu was very straightforward. Sections give simple descriptions of the items. Tara decided to get a bacon and cheese omelet and I got a hash omelet. We decided to get a side of hash browns too. When the waitress came to take our order, we found that a bread/muffin/pancakes comes as a side to the omelets. Each category had several choices. Tara got wheat toast and I got pancakes. After running through them for each of us, we both forgot to get hash browns. I walked over to the counter to add them only to find out that they are included. We both got cokes from the cooler that were at about 33 degrees. Nice and cold.

As we waited, we overheard bits and pieces of conversations around us. Having gone to college in central Massachusetts and spent a lot of time around Boston, the local accents made me feel right at home. The patrons ranged from a group of four or five older locals to younger couples who might have come from Harvard to folks who just walked over from their apartment. Danny himself was doing the cooking and I believe our waitress was his wife. While Danny wasn't a local judging by his accent, his wife certainly was. It also appears that Danny's had a lot of regulars, as the group behind us was planning on having breakfast there for the foreseeable future.

Our omelets came up in turn and they looked incredible. Taking up fully half of a large oval plate, they were with what we judged were about 5 or 6 real eggs each. No yellow generic egg mixture here. The other half of the plate was a generous helping of hash browns. Tara's bacon omelet looked to have been cooked a little longer than mine and wasn't quite a fluffy, but it had a great flavor and I preferred it to my hash omelet. While i found mine really good, the extra crispness of her omelet made it stand out for me. I also got two five or six inch pancakes and Tara had her toast. We managed to finish Tara's omelet, toast, my pancakes, and 2/3 or so of my omelet, as well as a good portion of the hash browns, before we had to give up. Despite the sparse menu descriptions, what were listed as $6.95 omelets came with more than enough extras to leave us stuffed.

With three cans of coke, our bill came to under $20. Given the quality and quantity, this is definitely a good deal. If we need a breakfast place on our next trip, this is definitely high on our list. They also serve sandwiches, subs, and other things, but we didn't have a chance to try them.

Danny's Diner
298 Beacon St Somerville MA 02143

Friday, December 28, 2007

Maine trip

Tara and I returned from our trip to Maine last night. Overall we had a good time, but she caught a nasty cold/sinus infection on Monday and was beat down by it for the rest of the stay. We had great weather for the most part, with lots of sun and above average temperatures.

We have to say that Continental Airlines seems to have miniature seats in their planes. We aren't small people, but sitting in our seats, our shoulders completely overlapped, so that we couldn't get comfortable. This hasn't happened before, yet on both our PHX/Newark legs, we had the same torture. The shorter leg from Newark to Boston on a different plane had more room, but still squished. Luckily she could take one of her Vicadin pills (for her shattered tooth) and she didn't mind the cramped quarters quite as much. Other than a two or three hour delay getting out of Boston and into Newark yesterday, the flights themselves were on time.

Knowing the mercurial weather of my home state during winter, I reserved an SUV for the trip. We ended up getting a Kia Sorento and I actually liked it. It has plenty of power and for a V6 4x4 SUV, not bad mileage. We had plenty of room for our bags, it drove great on the highway, and after getting into a bit of trouble backup out of a friend's driveway, the four-wheel drive let me drive my way out no problem. It had some squeaks and a typically stiff SUV ride, but I wouldn't be upset if I was given one again.

We were able to get our fill of lobster and for the first time in many years, fresh Maine shrimp, thanks to a longer season this year. We had steamed lobsters and boiled shrimp Sunday night and grilled lobster sandwiches with shrimp salad on Monday. I forgot how good fresh shrimp can be. For dessert Mom made an older favorite of coffee mud pie with homemade 3-2-1 chocolate sauce with whipped cream. It was a good as I remembered.

My sister made Christmas dinner. She grilled a couple different beef tenderloins. One was marinated and the more well-done of the pair and I really enjoyed that. She also had glazed carrots and snap peas, baby spinach and strawberry salad, twice-baked potatoes, peas, mushrooms, and stuff I'm sure I'm forgetting. The baby spinach salad had a great sweetness to it. Much bolder than most that I've had. The twice-baked potatoes were addictive. Not a bad dish in the lot. For dessert there were mini lemon cheesecakes, a lemon pound cake, brownies courtesy of my cousin, and ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. No one left hungry, except possibly my nephews, who were more interested in playing with their Nintendo DSs then eating.

Speaking of Nintendo. My sister has this crazy luck when it comes to shopping. She happened to be at the local Target a couple days before Christmas and they had Wiis available. She was in the right place to overhear a lady getting one, so she asked and they let her have one too. We know people who have been dying to get one and little sis just lucks into one. Go figure.

We got a couple LL Bean gift cards (EVERYONE gets them where we live, as it's only 20 minute from the LL Bean mothership-sized flagship store) and did some post-Christmas shopping there. After that we went to my friend Joe's place for some homemade fondue.

Yesterday we got up at 5am to drive to Boston. We got there WAY too early, but there was a storm front coming in that I wanted to miss, as it had the potential of freezing rain. Nothing terrifies me quite as much as driving in freezing rain. But we got to Logan fine and after the delays, made it home safely. Now we just need to catch up on our sleep.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Miserable failure

I've been baking cookies for almost 20 years. In all that time, I've never made a bad batch of Mexican Wedding Cakes. Until tonight. Tara asked me to make some for some gift baskets she's giving out at work. I made the dough and put it in the fridge. It tasted normal. While it was chilling, I made some chocolate chip cookies. They came out good. After I finished them, I started on the wedding cakes. I followed my normal procedures, but for some reason the cookies spread out a bit more and were too crisp. They also taste horrible. I'm somewhat at a loss as to what happened, as I'm very anal when it comes to making my cookies. They aren't even merely subpar so that we can eat them at home. They have an odd taste to them. So back to the drawing board. I'll try them again tomorrow night.

UPDATE: After speaking with my Mother today, I realized that I'd used double the amount of powdered sugar. Apparently I can't follow my own recipes. Oops.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

This is Tara's new car. She's posted about it in her blog. It's an awesome blue color that my camera phone doesn't quite capture. It's basically just an updated version of her old 2003 Camry, but this one came with a sunroof and the fancy auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass. We didn't really want those, but she wanted the dark blue and this was the last one that Right Toyota had on the lot. While not as sporty as my little A3, it's definitely a more comfortable car and gets pretty good gas mileage. My biggest pet peeve with her old one was the steering wheel didn't telescope, and I couldn't really find a comfortable driving position. This steering wheel tilts and telescopes and I can get comfy.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Are we in Maine already?

It's getting chilly here in Phoenix. For reasons to be listed in another posting, either by me or Tara, we were up at 7:30am this morning. As we got to our car, we saw something we haven't seen in a long, long time on it. Frost. We're heading to my parents place in Maine next weekend for Christmas, so a light coating of frost is just the beginning. They are due to possibly get a foot of snow in their area this weekend. We can't wait.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cinnamon Rolls

Tara's had a lot of luck with The Pioneer Woman's recipes, so I wanted to give one a shot. Her cinnamon rolls looked really good so I decided to make those. Her recipe apparently feeds a small army, so I quartered it. I made the dough last night and cooked them up this afternoon after work. It worked out to two aluminum cake pans worth. The icing is really good, with a maple flavor. Her recipe for icing called for a whole bag of powdered sugar, but I used 8oz by weight and used half the quantities of the other icing ingredients.

For the rolls, this is what I used for each of her steps:

1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 package active dry yeast
2 cups flour
1/4 cup flour
1/4 heaping tsp baking powder
1/4 scant tsp baking soda
1/4 heaping tbl salt

The butter, sugar, and cinnamon for the filling aren't measured, so I just used a generous coating of each.

For the icing:
8 oz by weight powdered sugar
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
1/4 cup milk
1/8 cup melted butter
1/8 cup brewed coffee
pinch salt

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Saturday's travels

It's been a hectic past few weeks. Between the Thanksgiving week prep and being on-call at work, time has just flown by. Since we finally had a weekend where we didn't have to do anything special, other than my being on-call, we slept in. When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, Tara cooked up the last of our Vonhanson's bacon and mixed some of it with scrambled eggs. It came out really good. Since we were out of bacon and hot dogs, we decided to go to VH. We also wanted to check out one of the new Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Markets that are starting to sprout up in the Valley. Also added to the itinerary was a trip to the new EJ's Meat Market in Mesa we've seen mentioned on Chowhound. So we grabbed our largest rolling cooler, some ice packs, and headed out.

EJ's was first up. It's at 5606 E McKellips in Mesa. We took the 202 to Higley and then hit McKellips. It's a small market adjoining their steakhouse restaurant. They had a pretty good selection and it looked to be good quality. Since it's been unseasonably wet lately and we need to get a refill for our propane tank, we didn't get any steaks to grill. Instead we opted for a half pound each of thick-cup Applewood-smoked bacon and fresh breakfast sausage. We had the bacon for breakfast this morning, and it's outstanding. Tara ranked it second to VH bacon. I need to try some side-by-side with Midwestern Meat's bacon to judge which is better. VH is still my favorite, but this an exceptional value at only $4.99/lb. For comparison, both MM and VH are $5.99/lb, but more than worth it.

Since we were close to MM, we thought about stopping by, but Tara didn't feel like it. So we headed back west on the 202 to Alma School and south to University to the Fresh and Easy. It was an interesting little market. Absolutely no ambiance whatsoever, but we did see some interesting items. We grabbed a bag of garlic naan that smelled wonderful. They have pre-made pizza dough, so I grabbed a bag each of white and wheat to give it a try. Tara needed a snack so she grabbed some seasoned croutons. We haven't tried anything other than the croutons yet, but they were good. VERY crunchy.

We headed south on Alma School to Vonhanson's. At the Alma School/Elliot intersection we saw another F&E. As we were stopped in traffic, a rolling billboard truck was beside us with a huge denouncement of F&E about how their parent company has been penalized for selling spoiled/rotten goods in the past. I'm sure it's not sponsored by any of the larger supermarkets in the area who are fearing the new competition. Gotta love scare tactics.

When we arrived at VH, we were disappointed to see that they had no bacon in their display case. When we asked about it, we were told that their supplier called them to have them pull it, as there were some concerns about it. So while it's being tested, they weren't going to sell it. We were very disappointed, but at least they weren't taking any chances. We grabbed a couple packages of their maple country sausage and some hot dogs. Needless to say, we were very happy we got some of the EJ's bacon after that. Now we wish we'd gotten more. Oh well.

With all of our planned stops done, we decided to head to an AJ's to look for some bread to make the breakfast casserole Tara made last week again. We found some three-cheese bread at the AJ's that worked out great. We also grabbed a couple chocolate croissants from the pastry counter for a pre-dinner snack. We thought about dinner and Tara suggested Osha. Since we were in the neighborhood, I suggested Yupha Thai, since it was just up the 10 from where we were. We'd tried to go on Thanksgiving weekend, but they were closed. Tara had no objections.

We stopped at Joann's for Tara to get some craft supplies and then headed to Yupha's. We got a shumai-like appetizer, chicken panang for me and chicken on spinach with a peanut sauce for Tara. The food was all great, but service wasn't as good as our last visit. The restaurant was less than half full this time, but our drinks stayed empty for long periods of time despite us being right next to the soda machine and servers passing our table whenever they left the kitchen. On our first visit, the place was packed but our drinks never had a chance to get empty. Still we'll go back because the food is so good and they have some items that Osha doesn't.

After dinner, Tara needed to go to a Michaels for some ribbons for her project. We decided to head back up the 51 and go to the one at Tatum and Cactus. After that, we went to the Bed Bath and Beyond at Tatum and Shea. It's one of the larger stores in the area and sometimes has stuff others don't. I was looking at hot water pots, as my tea kettle is starting to die. On my way there, I noticed the new Cuisinart SM-70/SM-55 stand mixers. I'm a long-time KitchenAid mixer fan, but these babies definitely caught my eye. Countdown timers, interesting accessories, massive power, and larger bowls. My KitchenAid is a 10-year old 250watt/ 4.5-quart bowl model I got as a birthday present. It's starting to show some age an the bowl is a bit small for some of the things I make. So now there's another player in the heavy-duty stand mixer area and I'm definitely intrigued.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bumps in Turkey Road

Today hasn't been great for the prep. First, I went to brine the turkey and our Von Hanson's "Fresh Turkey (never been frozen)" was a nice block of ice. This really pissed me off, since I found this tidbit out just as I opening it to put into the brine bucket. I called VH and they said the turkeys are "flash chilled" with CO2 for shipping per federal regulations. How this is different than "freezing" isn't readily apparent to me. They said the flesh would be "firm to the touch" but that's it. Well, by bird was pretty much frozen. I had it in the sink under running water for an hour or so and that seems to have thawed it, but I still feel somewhat hoodwinked. When I get a "Fresh" turkey at other places, it's not frozen at all. The turkey has been in the fridge all night too. Next year we'll just go with a standard one at this point. Why pay extra when it's frozen and that's what we were trying to avoid in the first place.

On the side front, the yams we got for $.25/pound have gone south. The ends are all mushy. Pretty nasty. So much for the fresh, cheap veggies at Phoenix Ranch Market on 16th Street. All in all, not a good day for the food.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Preparation

Tara and I are in full Thanksgiving preparation mode. I just made the brine and it's starting it's cool down. The house smells of chicken stock and spices. We haven't quite figured out where to store it overnight, since the fridge is full already. I picked up the turkey from Von Hanson's today and it's taking up the bottom drawer. I'm sure we'll figure something out. I'm also doing a trial run of sweet potatoes. We picked up some at Ranch Market for $.25/pound and I want to make sure they'll work out. Tara make some cornbread last night and has that and a loaf of French bread air-drying for her stuffing. She's making an apple crisp right now. Since I work from home, we're both hoping it'll last until Thursday. :)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Strange deal

Since our friends are coming into town to have Thanksgiving dinner with us, Tara has been planning what to have for a few weeks now. We've finally gotten it all figured out and we spent today shopping for the ingredients at various stores. We had lunch at Welcome Diner and since it's just down the street from Phoenix Ranch Market, we headed there to check out the veggie selection. After we had gotten all our vegetables, we walked around the store, which is how we stumbled upon this very confusing special:

We did the math, and $2.40 for a 12-pack is a pretty good deal. Then I looked closer at the banner. The yellow sign above it says "limit 1". Huh?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wal-Mart fun

While everyone knows Wal-Mart is one of the evil empires that will end mankind at some point, for the basic staples of our shopping, we usually go there. Back when I used to work the 3pm-11pm shift when I first moved to Phoenix, Tara and I would on occasion go to Wal-Mart after I got off work. Now, during regular hours, Wal-Mart has some interesting patrons. Once it gets closed to midnight, things get even more interesting.

It's always fun at the checkout line. Seeing what some people buy and trying to figure out what the hell they are going to do with it. Once we saw people with what must have been 20 packages of Lifesavers and 30 of rolls of duct tape. Another time the guy in front of us had a table-top water fountain, scented candles, two or three types of KY and condoms. We have fun making up our scenarios for why people would require these combinations.

We were behind an older man who was buying several stacks of this appetizingly named product:

Now, I know "Spam" was taken, but was there no other name they could have chosen for this? Did the marketing guys have that day off? I just always get a laugh when we walk by this. "What's for dinner?" "Potted meat food product."

I'll pass.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mexican Wedding Cake results

I made the dough last night and after getting home from the gym, found I lacked the inclination to bake them. I got an earlier start at the gym tonight, so I had time and the energy to roll, bake, roll, and roll. The bare spots on the sides are where the powdered sugar adhered to my fingers after the second roll in the sugar. Fringe benefit, I guess. They taste great. The lower two on the far right came out much more flattened than the others and slightly crispy. In nearly twenty years of making these, that's never happened before. Very odd. They were in the middle of the sheet, and only three were affected. They still tasted good, though. :)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Mexican Wedding Cake cookies

Growing up, I was blessed with a mother who loved holidays. Dressing up for Halloween (ok, not so much a holiday) was something she lived for. Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, she'd always bake tons of holiday cookies. In addition to the sugar cookies and drop cookies, she'd make Mexican Wedding Cakes. How she started making them in Maine, I'll never know. I absolutely love them. When I started living on my own, both during college and when I moved out of state, I had to make them myself when I wanted some. She used to send or bring them to me in college, and some of my friends got addicted to them. While mine come usually come out great, Mom's are just that much better for some reason. Some of my friends would refuse my cookies and instead wait to see if Mom sent me some.

When I lived in Dallas, I'd make them during the holidays. I tried to dye them orange for Halloween one year, but that didn't work out too well. At my last job in Dallas, one of my coworkers, Connie, would pester me at least once a month all year for them. Luckily she was placated most of the year by my chocolate chip cookies. However, once Thanksgiving rolled around, it was restraining order time, as everytime she walked by my cube, she'd ask about them. Since she was over six feet tall, the cubicle walls weren't an obstacle for her.

Nowadays, it's Tara who does the pestering. To me, they are strictly a holiday season cookie. The last time we were in Maine, she tried to get Mom to admit that she made them all year, but Mom backed up my story that they are holiday cookies for us. Tara wasn't pleased.

I picked up some pecan halves last week while getting brining spices at Sunflower on Bell and tonight I toasted them in the oven. Tomorrow or Tuesday, I'm gonna make the cookies. They are really easy to make. A food processor makes them a snap.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1 cup butter/margarine
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
Cream butter and 1/2 cup confectioners sugar. Add vanilla and flour. Beat until well mixed. Stir in nuts. Chill for 1 hour. Preheat 350. 1" balls. bake on ungreased cookie sheet 15 mins +/-. Cool 2-3 minutes. Roll in confec sugar. Cool and roll again in sugar.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Brined Turkey

The turkey came out really good. I haven't perfected the browning process, as you can see by this one's farmer's tan, but it still tasted great. It was incredibly juicy. Now all we need to do is figure out what to do with all the extra. A 17lb bird is way too much for us to eat in one meal. The brined meat makes great turkey salad, though. Roughly dice it up and mix in mayo and pepper. Yummy. I'm pretty sure that'll be my lunch tomorrow. :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Turkey Brine

While doing our normal shopping this past week, I noticed that several places had fresh turkeys on sale. Not a ton (I saw maybe six total between a couple stores) compared to the freezers and freezers stuffed with Butterball and the like, but I was confident on being able to buy one when we were ready to cook one. After the fiasco that was the chicken brining (well, the brining went fine, cooking not so much), we were anxious to try the real thing.

We didn't buy a fresh bird on our usual Sunday shopping run, figuring we didn't have the space in the fridge to keep it till we were ready to use it, so last night I went looking. The Albertson's a half mile from our house had one on Sunday, but of course it was gone last night. I tried the Super Target at Bell/3rd St, the Safeway across from that, and a Basha's. None had one. I remember the Wal-Mart Supercenter having some on Sunday, so I went there at lunch today. They had one left, a 17-pounder. That's a bit bigger than we normally do (there's just the two of us) but we can freeze the leftovers. The leftover brined meat makes great sandwiches.

The brine is simple to make. I love Alton Brown's recipe from the classic "Romancing the Bird" episode of "Good Eats". I made the brine last night to give it time to cool down. We used to get a 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot and stash it in the fridge, but then we saw Alton use a 5-gallon Gatorade-type cooler for a brine. We picked up an Rubbermaid 5 Gallon cooler at Wal-Mart and just stash it in a corner overnight to brine. I just put the turkey in it so it'll get a nice long soak.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

F**K YEAH!!!!

The Red Sox won ANOTHER World Series! Twice in my lifetime. As a life-long, die-hard Sox fan, it's pretty sweet. Not quite as good as 2004, but not much compares to coming back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees. :-D
Boston's gonna be a nightmare tonight. But we deserve it.

New Beer trend?

Now, I don't drink, so I might not be up on the latest and greatest beer trends. I was shopping at the local Albertson's last night and I needed some beer to boil my brauts in. When I was looking for some beer to get, I noticed these two items.
Now, it might just be me, that looks disgusting. The fact that the idea went through the complete product development cycle at a major company, was greenlighted, and TWO flavors were produced, just makes me weep for our future. Exactly who thought "Gee, Clamato and beer would taste GREAT together!" and why aren't they in a 12-step program?

Monday, October 22, 2007

When sushi is too fresh...

No idea what anything says on this Dutch site, but the video says it all. Tara, if you read this, don't click the link.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

All Sync'ed up

After giving it some thought, Tara and I decided to see about consolidating our cell phones under one carrier. I've had AT&T since they were last AT&T, and she was on Verizon. She bought one of her former coworker's phones back in '05 and since it was Verizon-only, she switched. We stopped into the nearby AT&T store to see what we could do. After about 20 minutes waiting in line, we talked to Mike there. We explained what we wanted. I was eligible for an upgrade from my mostly reliable V3 RAZR which I've had since Jan '06. It was starting to have some odd issues and a lot of dust has gotten under the screen via the vents, so it's hard to read.

We'd seen the Samsung Sync on the AT&T web site and it seemed like it would work. Bluetooth, 3G compatible, music, camera, and all the other goodies. We asked about pricing and Mike went in the back. He came back with a pair of blue Syncs (Tara had wanted a blue one but hadn't mentioned that yet) and said we could get the pair for no cost with a new 2-year contract. That was more than a good price for us. Not sure how we'll tell the phones apart, but we are now paying about the same for two phones as both of us paid before for our single phones. It's always nice when everyone's happy. :)

As far as the no-cost phones, I've seen some pricing charts for the various costs that phone companies pay for devices vs the cost of what they charge you in a year vs their cost to have your phone on their network. "Raking it in" and "Hand over fist" don't begin to cover the profits. Giving you a free phone is peanuts compared to what they make over the course of a contract. I'm in the wrong racket.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Susan G Komen Drive for the Cure, Finale

Today was the final day of the 2007 drive. Both fleets were the BMW North Scottsdale dealer. Of course, I forgot my camera. That didn't matter when it came to the food. It was a joke compared to the S. Scottsdale event. I went upstairs at 11:30 to where the food was. The lunch consisted of sandwiches (ham, turkey, roast beef) cut in half. The top pieces of bread were already dried out at 11:3o. It's nice to see that a lot of effort went into the big finish. I ended up taking two halves, discarding the dry pieces, and putting them back together for a double-decker half. The meats weren't bad, but compared to the freshly grilled meats on Wednesday, it was a joke. Oh well. Pretty much what I expected.

The cars were the stars for me anyways. I drove the 550 sedan, 535 wagon, 335i sedan, X5 4.8, X3 3.0, 328i convertible, 335i coupe, 650i convertible (twice) and the Z4 3.0si. The 335i sedan surprised me by being nearly as much fun as the 335i coupe. With the traction control off, it would swing it's tail out more easily than the coupe. It was a blast. The 550 was fun, too. I couldn't adjust the seat to my liking, but I made do. I kinda killed one of the 335i coupes. Apparently they don't handle the heat very well. One went out of service earlier in the day (not my doing) and the second one's check engine light came on as I was merging onto the 101 at 56th Street. I got off at Scottsdale and let them look at it. BMW does an outstanding job at making it's wagons feel like sedans, and the 535i was an excellent example of that. While not quite as rocket-like as the 335i or 550, the twin-turbo 3.0 six still made for a fun ride. The SUVs drove nice, but I'm more of a car person. The 328i convertible was also capable, but not quite as fun without the twin-turbo. I drove it mostly to get a feeling of how the hard-top worked up on the highway. It was certainly livable. The last car I drove was the Z4 3.0si. It's a great car to toss around. I can't imagine what a screamer it would be with the twin-turbo engine. One can only dream... :)

Hopefully by the time it comes around next year, the new 1-series cars will be in the mix. Smaller than the 3-series, they will have the same engines, including the sweet twin-turbo. I can't wait.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Practice Run

So we're brined a couple chickens for dinner tonight. A couple because the first one I got at Hobe Meats was only 3lbs and Tara's comment was "I could eat that myself." So I grabbed a second, 7lb one at Albertsons. I go to cook it tonight, it's in the oven for a while and the temperature alarm on the thermometer tells us it's done. I let it rest, go to carve, and keep hitting bone. Finally we realize what I'd done. Genius me cooked the damn thing upside-down. We flip it over, put in the probe, and it's a whopping 141 degrees and just doesn't look cooked. So I turned the oven back on, wrapped foil back over it, and shoved it back in. It's currently still cooking.
The sad thing is we're pretty sure I did the same thing the last time I cooked a chicken...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pizzeria Bianco

After weeks of planning, first to find enough people to be able to make reservation to bypass the famous "2-hour wait" and then to set a day, we finally made it to Pizzeria Bianco last night. Tara an I met up with our Chowhound friends Winedubar, AZHotdish, and Seth. AZHotdish brought his girlfriend A and Seth apparently brought two of the Seth-clones he keeps in the basement, Seth-D and Seth-N. Tara and I arrived about 7 minutes past our 6:30 reservation time, but the others had checked-in, so all was well. We made the introductions for those who didn't know each other yet and after about 5 or 10 minutes of chatting, a hostess called our group in to eat. Sure beat waiting two hours.

We were seated in the very back of the restaurant at three two-tops with eight place settings. Given that at least four of us equaled the space of six people, it was a tight fit. We made do though. A party of nine was seated just behind us. I sat on the outside end, Seth, N, and D took the left side, Tara, AZHd, A took the right, with Winedubar in the inside end.

Our waiter came over and verbally harassed Seth. Apparently on all three of Seth's visits, he's had this same waiter. He took our drink orders, several iced teas, a Coke, a Bubble-Up, and iced water rounding it out. A few minutes later, the drinks arrived and somehow we ended up with nine glasses of water in addition to the drinks.

Our waiter explained the menu to us. He pointed out the pizzas that didn't have any red sauce, gave us the rundown on the Farmer's Market salad of the night (fennel, pomegranate, candied walnuts, and apples) and said that the antipastos were enough for two to share. We ordered, in no order, three Wiseguys, two Rosa, one Biancoverde, one Margherita, and possibly a Sonny Boy. Two antipastos, and two Farmer's Market salads rounded out the order.

Tara and I split one of the Farmer's Market salads. We really enjoyed it. Everything was very fresh and the dressing wasn't overly sweet. Seth had the other one and liked it as well. He said it was slightly different than the last one he'd had there, but like it better because it wasn't as sweet.

A while later the pizzas started arriving. I got one of the Wiseguys (Wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella, Fennel Sausage) and Tara got a Rosa (Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, AZ Pistachios). I loved the sausage. It reminded me of the house-made sausage at the restaurant my sister works at back home in Maine. The mozzarella was heavenly as well. I liked the crust, but it seemed to be a bit more charred than the other pizza I tried, Tara's Rosa. It still was good, but Tara's crust was better. The thin crust was also a bit overwhelmed by the relatively substantial weight of the sausage slices. They are very generous with it and it's not really a complaint. I took about half of the pizza home and the crust had firmed up so it held the sausage without collapsing.

In fact, I actually preferred Tara's pizza. The Parmigiano Reggiano was perfectly browned and had an amazing flavor. It was a much sharper flavor than the sausage on mine. Her crust seemed to be a bit more moist and fluffy since it seemed to have taken less heat. The flavor combination just hit the spot, and that pizza was finished in short order.

Seth was in love with his Biancoverde (Fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta, Arugula), mostly due to what appears to be a very unhealthy love for arugula. I'm fairly certain counseling or at least an intervention is called for. He offered a slice, but I'm not an arugula fan, the disclosure of which almost cost me a limb.

It was hard to communicate the entire length of the table, but the general impression was that everyone loved their meals. D and N were both Bianco virgins like us, and from what I gathered, had no complaints. There was a lot of slice trading going on at that end as well.

Service was very attentive. Water and iced tea glasses were filled on a regular basis. Someone dropped a fork and before they'd picked it up, a waitress was on her way over with a new one before she knew who actually needed it. Given that the restaurant is always packed, such attentiveness is nothing short of amazing.

Is Pizzeria Bianco the end-all, be-all of pizza? Probably not. Worth a two-hour wait? I wouldn't. It's definitely some outstanding pizza, and I'll be back. The way to go is to get a group together and make reservations. We were in and out in under two hours.

A note on parking: If you park in the garage at Monroe and 5th Street, they will validate your parking slip so you'll only pay one dollar for parking. We parked on the first level and it was a two minute walk to the restaurant.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ultimate Drive for Susan G. Komen, Day 1

So today was the first of my two drives this week. My first drive was at 9am, but unfortunately due to traffic, I got there at 9:15 and literally walked by my first scheduled car, the 335i coupe, as the Australian guy running things signed him out in it. So I went and checked in, signing the "Whatever dumb ass things you do in these cars, there's no way in hell BMW can be held responsible" disclaimer/release form. I then went down and asked what I could drive. Luckily for me, the 650i coupe was free so I got in, adjusted everything to my liking, and hit the road.

The course went from the BMW dealer on McDowell, east to the 101, south to the 202, west to the Priest exit, north on Priest to McDowell, then finally east back to the dealership. The best part is the twisty section of Priest/North Galvin Parkway between East Van Buren and McDowell.

The second car I drove was the 528ix. This was probably my favorite car of the ones I drove for a daily driver. Plenty of power, very comfortable, and a very smooth ride. I didn't realize it was the all-wheel drive, signified by the "ix", until I took the picture above.

After that, I was able to get into the second car I reserved, the 650i convertible. It was just after 10am, bright sunshine, and 72 degrees. If there is such a thing as perfect weather for a convertible, this was it. While not quite as solid as the coupe is, it's still a great car.

My favorite car of the day to drive was the 335i coupe. I'd heard great things about the twin-turbocharged engine in the 335i, and at first it unimpressive. However, once I got on the highway, it came to life. Once in mid-to-upper revs, the response is amazing. Hit the gas, and it just surges forward. Driving it through the twisty section was incredible. After I finished and was talking to some of the other guys there, most of them found it their favorite or second favorite behind the 550i sedan, which I will drive on Saturday.

Another one I was looking forward to hard-top convertible version of the 335i. Top up, it was very quiet. After about 1/2 mile, I put the top down, set my hat a size too small, and took off. The engine was just as much fun with no top. It, too, had a noticeable reduction in rigidity, but not too much. Even more impressive was that I was able to out-drag guy in a 750i from a stoplight. That amazed me as well as him. I could certainly live with this convertible.

The final car I drove was the coupe version of the Z4 roadster. Sadly, I didn't like it. Visibility was horrible, with huge blind spots and a nearly useless rear-view mirror. Pill-box was the word that came to mind. It shared the great engine in the 335i, but the cramped interior made it hard to for me to maneuver it. I'm about 5' 10, and I had the seat all the way back and it squeaked against the back of the cabin. The ride was also very harsh. While a beautiful car to look at, I would take the 335i over it in a heartbeat.

I also drove the X5 3.0 SUV. Even with the smaller engine, it was a nice drive. Definitely underpowered after driving the other cars, but still very livable. The 750i was a nice car, too. I think I drove another vehicle, but I can't remember it.

After talking with the lady who organizes this event, I found out that the event on Saturday is the last one of the year. Both of the fleets will be at the N. Scottsdale location and it sounds like it should be fun.

After I finished drive around 1:15pm (traffic at the 101/202 exchange was starting to get bad), I signed the Signature Vehicle for this year, an X3. The Signature Vehicles are put into the BMW museum.

Finally, the best non-car part of the day. For the third year running, they had a chocolate fountain. Oreos, strawberries, pineapple, angel food cake, marshmallows, pretzels, and rice crispy treats were available to be put under the chocolate. A rich, delicious treat after the great lunch they provided. Freshly grilled kielbasa, steak sandwiches, fried fish, french fries, pasta salad, caesar salad, and a couple other dishes. And it was all free. :)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The best charity work ever

This is mostly non-food related, so feel free to skip it if you don't like driving German cars for breast cancer research.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way...

Almost every year since 1999, I've taken part in the BMW Ultimate Drive for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Simply put, you get to sign up and drive almost any current BMW car or SUV unchaperoned over a 12-15 mile course along the local roads around the BMW dealership. For every mile put on a car, BMW donates $1 to the Susan G. Komen foundation. Two separate fleets travel all over the country. This year, they are in the Phoenix area this week. Wednesday, Oct 17, in South Scottsdale and Saturday, Oct 20, they will be in North Scottsdale. Being the car geek I am, I've signed up for both days. N. Scottsdale is much closer, but S. Scottsdale always has much better food, including a chocolate fondue fountain. The S. Scottsdale course also has some better roads.

My first one was in 1999 at Texas Motor Speedway. They had an autocross course setup and a short instruction school for it. My first car was a 1999 M Coupe. I loved it. I drove quite a few more cars that day. In the years since, I've only missed a year or two. It's a great time if you like driving and/or abusing expensive German cars. Where else can you drive, for FREE, a 650i Convertible or a fully-loaded 750i sedan with no one looking over your shoulder?

Like a lot of people, several members of my extended family have had breast cancer and one has even died from it, so it's definitely something that hits close to home. Being able to combine charity work with driving some of the best cars on the road is something I can't pass up.

So if you are in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area this week, you can actually just stop in and sign up on site. They will put you in whatever cars are not reserved at the time. I've signed up online to reserve the ones I really want to drive, but you can (and I usually do) spend as much time as you want there and just about drive all the cars. They are coming to the Camelback BMW too, but given it's location and the light rail construction, it's hard to really enjoy the cars. If you aren't in Phoenix, click in the link and see if they are coming to your city. If you missed it, there's always next year. :)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Centro Paninoteca update

It was bound to happen. We went to Centro last night and for the first time, Chris the owner wasn't there behind the counter doing the cooking. Almost predictably, the food suffered for it. Both our paninis were cold once you got through the bread. The cheeses weren't melted and the bread didn't have the delightful crusty crunchiness. On all my previous visits, everything was warmed through at the minimum and very hot fresh off the grill. I guess next time I go if I don't see Chris, I'll just leave.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Baiz Market - Phoenix

This past Friday I met a couple of my fellow Chowhounders, Winedubar and AZHotdish, at the restaurant inside Baiz Market on 20th Street between Roosevelt and Washington for lunch. Baiz is a fairly huge Middle Eastern grocery store. If you ever need a 40-lb bucket of tahini or a 2-gallon bucket of nutmeg, this is the place to find it. The whole place smells like Middle Eastern spices, so you get hungry just walking around. This is good, since the front corner is occupied by the restaurant. I forget it's name, but it sells a wide variety of foods, many of which I'd never heard of.

After looking at the large display case full of meat pies and other items, I decided to get a small hummus and a chicken schwarma. AZHotdish got a small meat pie and I believe a lamb schwarma. Winedubar got a chicken taook (?) platter. Drinks are of the bottled variety from a small stand-up cooler near the counter. We all got sodas of various varieties.

It's a counter-service place, so they randomly yell out the name of whatever item is ready and you walk up and take it if it's yours. First up was my small hummus. Small being relative I guess, as a large amount of hummus was in a large, shallow bowl. Several pitas were wrapped up below it. The hummus had a liberal drizzling of olive oil on it. My first taste was without the olive oil and didn't do much for me. AZHotdish said it tasted like too much tahini. Upon mixing some hummus with the oil, it really brought out the flavor. The pitas are baked on-site and are about the thickness of a tortilla. They are somewhat chewy, but good. I found that mixing the olive oil with the hummus that I brought home was the way to eat it.

The chicken schwarma was excellent. It came with sliced pickles, diced tomatoes, spices, and a sauce, all very tightly rolled in one of the pitas. The chicken was grilled and you could taste it. The spices are spot-on. I loved it.

Both Winedubar (who'd been there before) and AZHotdish really enjoyed their meals as well. His schwarma looked identical to mine. Her platter held enough food for a small army. She also got some sort of a cheese dessert whose name escapes me. I tried some and it wasn't for me.

Overall, I really liked Baiz and look forward to eating there and shopping there in the future. The menu held lots of items that interested me, and the prices are very low. The schwarma are only $3.99 and my small hummus was about $2.99. It doesn't look like much and the neighborhood is airport-adjacent at it's finest, but the food is worth the trip. It's just off the I10 at the Washington/Jefferson exit, so if you are heading someplace and are driving by, definitely give it a try.

I brought Tara to Baiz late Saturday afternoon to show her around. She liked the place as well, but we didn't get any food. She thought it smelled great as well, so we'll probably head there for lunch some weekend. It's the best Middle Eastern market I've been to, but that's not exactly a large number. If you are looking for olive oil or any type of Middle Eastern spices, this is the place to get it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Another busy, but successful, Saturday

In addition to our stellar meal at The Capital Grille (we'll just not mention our third bad visit to Golden Buddha for dim sum. See the thread on Chowhound), we hit up several of our favorite spots for groceries.

After our dim sum, we walked across the parking lot to the Super L Ranch Market. Tara wanted some kaffir lime leaves and I wanted to look for some Tung Ting tea. Since Souvia sells it for $31 for 100g, I wanted to see if they had some cheaper. They had Tung Ting for $12 for about 4 or 5 ounces. It didn't say premium, like the tea I got from Souvia, but considering the cost savings, I was willing to risk it. Tara was able to get some lime leaves, so we were all happy. The tea turned out to be really good, so it was a good buy. Curiously, we stopped by Lee Lee Market in Chandler later in the day and they didn't have it. I would have bet on Lee Lee having it over Super L. Go figure.

Since Tara wasn't with me on my trip to Midwestern Meats the first time, we hopped back onto the 202 East and took Val Vista down to Main Street. We grabbed another ribeye, a couple bacon hamburgers, and a huge beer brat. I also got some ice cream at their bakery. Two scoops for only fifty cents? I'm in. :)

We then went to a nearby Marshalls and grabbed some white truffle oil and maple syrup. The syrup was good on pancakes yesterday morning. Tara still hasn't figured out what to use the truffle oil with. She just wanted to get some so we had it.

Heading south on Alma School from Marshalls, we hit Vonhanson's. We were out of their great hot dogs and had to stock up. We also got a half pound of bacon and some breakfast sausage. We also reserved a fresh, free-range turkey for Thanksgiving. We can't wait to try that on Turkey Day. Given how much we love their other stuff, we aren't too concerned. :)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Capital Grille - Scottsdale

What a difference a day makes.

A couple weeks ago, Tara schlepped one of her bosses all over town. A couple trips to the car dealer and one to the airport. To show his appreciation, he offered her choice of gift certificates from various restaurants through his American Express rewards. The choices were a $25 one for Red Lobster, a $50 one for either PF Changs or Cheesecake Factory, or a $100 one for The Capital Grille. Being the uber-carnivore that she is, TCG was the obvious choice. Her boss warned us that we'd probably be spending at least an extra $50, but since we usually spend that much on a weekend dinner, it wasn't an issue. We decided to use it this weekend and had dinner there last night. I used OpenTable to make 8pm reservations at their Scottsdale location.

We arrived shortly before 8pm and took advantage of the valet parking, despite the gorgeous, almost chilly (for Arizona) night. We entered the restaurant and after the host finished a phone conversation trying to explain to the caller they were located directly under the huge blue spire (in the process, explaining what a "spire" was) at Scottsdale Road and Frank Lloyd Wright, we checked-in. He explained that they were just starting to rotate some tables and were pretty much on schedule and that we could enjoy a drink in the bar and they would get us when it was ready. The bar was packed, so we found a spot along one of the walls of personal wine lockers near the host stand and waited. We had a great view of the kitchen area and the wait staff would rush by us carrying various orders. The smells were making us really hungry. While we waited, we noticed that any time someone asked the staff where the restrooms where, instead of just giving them directions, they would walk with them until the entrance to the restrooms were in sight. Nice touch.

As we waited, we enjoyed the people-watching that Scottsdale has to offer. Tara commented that she was definitely not showing nearly enough cleavage, judging by the other guests we saw. You can always tell when you are in Scottsdale.

After about a fifteen minute wait, a lady came over and apologized for the long wait. She said she was a manager and in appreciation of our patience, that our table would be ready shortly, and she was giving us a free appetizer once we were seated. This surprised us, as we could tell they were busy and weren't making a scene, just waiting. About ten minutes later, we were lead to a booth in the main dining room.

As we sat down, the hostess who seated us gave me a black napkin and took the white one that in front of me on the table. As near as Tara could figure, people wearing dark pants were giving dark napkins and light-colored pants kept the white one. This was a first for me. She handed us our menus, thanked us, and returned to the host stand. A bus person then arrived and asked if we wanted sparkling water or ice water. We both chose ice water and looked over the menu.

A bread basket containing slices of crusty baguette, pumpernickel, a seeded roll, and a crispy lavosh cracker was set on the table, along with a silver ramekin of butter. The pumpernickel seemed to have some sort of a fruit in it, adding a tangy flavor. The seeded roll was our favorite, with a nice crust and dense insides, with the toasted seeds adding a really great touch. The lavosh was very sweet and my second favorite of the basket. A second ramekin of butter was hidden at the bottom of the bread basket.

After deciding the the $45 cold shellfish appetizer would be woefully abusing the free appetizer, we settled on the lobster and crab cakes. Our waiter appeared after a few minutes, greeting us by name, and offered to go through the menu for us since it was our first visit. He also went through the specials for the night. One of them, the king crab legs, sounded really good. He also mentioned a lobster mashed potatoes dish, but it was part of another special and not a separate item. He left to get Tara a refill of water and we made our meal decisions. Tara went with a Kona-rubbed dry aged sirloin, a wedge salad with blue cheese, and the parmesan-truffle french fries. I went with the crab legs special, a bowl of lobster bisque, and the lobster mac and cheese. I had a feeling we wouldn't be leaving hungry.

The lobster and crab cakes arrived first. In another classy touch, we were each given a plate containing one cake, a corn salad on a lettuce leaf, a ramekin of remoulade, and a lemon half wrapped in a fine yellow mesh to prevent seeds from falling into our food. The cakes were wonderful. Large chunks of lobster, large enough that I could identify the part of the lobster they came from, were mixed with the crab and some binder. The remoulade set off the flavor very well. Tara absolutely loved the corn salad that came with it. Crunchy kernels of corn and a few herbs well-chilled with some sort of oil, it was nicely sweet. She immediately made a mental note of what she thought was in it so she can attempt it at home. These were a definitely keeper.

After we'd scraped up the last morsels of corn, crab, and lobster, our plates were cleared. Our waiter gave Tara a very nice steak knife, saying he always found it easer to eat the wedge with a sharp knife. He gave me a soup spoon for use with my bisque as well. A few minutes later, Tara's salad was brought out. She waited for my bisque before she dug in. And waited. A few minutes later, our waiter was walking by and asked if my bisque had arrived yet. Seeing that it obviously hadn't (the large, bowl-shaped void and unused soup spoon were a dead giveaway) he went to the kitchen and came back shortly with a large bowl of bisque.

The bisque was extremely hot. I let it cool for several minutes. As I stirred it, large chunks of lobster meat were visible. Claw meat, tail meat, and some knuckle meat. Once it cooled enough to eat, it was very good. Extremely rich, as all good bisques are. I enjoyed it a lot, as did Tara when she tried it.

Her wedge salad was a decent wedge of iceberg lettuce with a ton of blue cheese dressing nearly completely covered with bacon morsels. Three slices of tomato were on the side. It was a very good blue cheese dressing, with huge chunks of cheese throughout. Tara really liked it but thought there was just a bit too much dressing. I like lots of dressing, so it looked fine to me. She didn't quite finish it, so I polished it off for her.

After our empty plates were removed, new silverware was given to us in the form of another steak knife for Tara and a small three-tined fork for my crab. Our waiter and another server brought our dishes over and I could almost watch their silent 1-2-3 count as they timed it so that our plates were put in front of us at exactly the same moment. The sides were brought as well.

Tara's plate held a large piece of steak, very thick with a noticeable darkness to it from the rub. She loved it. It was perfectly cooked medium, with lots of juicy pinkness. I tried it and found it rather bitter from the coffee, but I'm also not a coffee drinker. Her parmesan-truffle fries were really good as well.

My plate contained a large pile of crab legs, all sliced in half length-wise, so I only had to pry the meat out. A small bowl of melted butter was along side. I tried the small fork once, but soon resorted to my well-honed lobster-picking skills instead. The meat came out cleanly and I was able to only get most of it with no problems. It was really good and the butter added just the right touch. My lobster mac and cheese came in a much larger portion than I expected, housed in a wide, shallow cast iron skillet. I can't remember the cheeses in it, but I believe one was fontina. I only had two bites of it, as by this time I was very full. Tara had a little more than I did and she really liked it. I enjoyed what little I had.

Once we were finished, I excused myself to wash the various crab/butter juices off my hands. When I got back, our leftovers were gone and being boxed up. The waiter brought us dessert menus and dropped the bag of leftovers beside our booth. Several of the desserts sounded really good, and we'd seen a few go by and they looked good, but we were both too full. When we informed the waiter we were done, he asked for our valet ticket and took that and the leftovers away. When he came back with the check, we looked it over and saw that the appetizer hadn't been comped. We mentioned to him and explained what the manager had told us. He apologized and said he hadn't been told and would take care of it. A few minutes later, he came back and said it was all taken care of, and he'd continued the free lobster theme and took the bisque off as well. This was certainly unexpected, and brought down our post-gift certificate total down from $47 to $17. Given the high-quality of the whole experience, we had no qualms leaving a $40 tip on our "$17" bill.

When we got to outside, our car was already at the valet stand with the leftovers on the passenger's seat. We tipped the valet and head on our way. We know The Capital Grille is a chain, but it's a very high-end chain. We enjoyed it from start to finish, and the outstanding customer service was much appreciated after the debacle we endured the night before.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thai Hut - Phoenix

I'm somewhat of a hard-ass when it comes to my service at restaurants. I have certain minimum requirements that I like having met: drink glasses refilled as needed, our orders taken in a timely manner, our food being brought out in a reasonable amount of time, and the correct food at that. Tonight, well, tonight was just bad. I don't enjoy leaving no tip, but sometimes I'm so shocked/horrified/stupefied at something that happens, I just can't leave one.

Tonight, like other nights we've "cheated" on Osha Thai Cafe by going somewhere else, we treated to a bad experience. Having heard about a new Thai place on McDowell, and having heard favorable things about it, we decided to try it. Thai Hut is on McDowell just east of Central, on the south side. We parked in the overflow lot and walked over in the beautiful, cool night air. We got there a little after 7pm, and they had quite a crowd. A large group was eating in the east dining room, and most of the tables and booths were taken. Upon entering the restaurant, we where hit by a blast of arctic air from the air conditioner. It seemed like they had the thermostat set a few degrees above "meat locker". We were taking to the west side of the U-shaped dining area, past the diner-like counter with stools, and asked to wait while the cleaned and separated two tables that had been pushed together. I took the opportunity to used the restrooms and when I came out, Tara was seated. I sat next to her and started looking at the menu. When I leaned on the table, it shifted towards me on uneven footing. As this was bugging both of us to some extent, I asked if we could sit at an empty table beside us and they moved us to a stable, smaller four-top. We spent several minutes looking over the menu. In the meantime, a waitress asked for our drink order. Tara got a Pepsi, and I asked for a Pepsi and a glass of water. Our Pepsis arrived a few minutes later, but sadly, my glass of water never arrived.

After looking over the menu and debating what we wanted, we settled. We ordered appetizers of fresh spring rolls, satay, and a bowl of tom kha kai for me. Tara ordered the Crispy Pad Thai and I decided to order something different and got the Spicy Noodles (aka Drunken Noodles) asking for them to be on a lower end of the spice level if possible.

As we sat, the other tables around us started filling up, first table we'd orignally been seated at, then the one next to, and a large table seating about 10 people slowly filled as they arrived in small groups. One thing I noticed was tables that ordered after us seemed to be getting their food first. Mostly it was what appeared to be items associated with the nightly combo special, so it didn't bother me too much.

After somewhat of an extended wait, our fresh spring rolls arrived. Well, they sort of arrived. A waitress took them to the table we were seated a previously and the people there said they hadn't ordered them. She looked at us and I waved her over. Two rolls were cut into thirds and came with a very light-colored peanut sauce (almost beige) and a sweet/spicy sauce. The oddly-colored peanut sauce turned out to have what seemed like a high coconut milk content. I liked it but Tara just sort of shrugged. The rolls had shrimp, tofu, veggies, and noodles in them. They seemed to be freshly rolled and I enjoyed them with the peanut sauce.

Another dish was brought to our table, but it wasn't something we ordered, so the waitress asked around and found the right table.

Our satay arrived at the correct table on the first try, so they seemed to be learning. It came with the same peanut sauce as the spring rolls. The chicken had an odd texture, both grilled and charrred and somewhat runny. It was strange, but it was still good. Again, Tara wasn't a fan, but ate a couple skewers because she wasn't convinced the waitstaff would be able to bring us our entrees. In retrospect, ominious music should have played in the background at this prophetic statement.

After another long wait, long enough to convince me that my soup was eloping with my missing glass of water, they brought me what I will very loosely term my "tom kha kai". A bowl held a pure white liquid with visible chicken and mushrooms sprinkled with cilantro on top. Every other tom kha kai I've had has had large amounts of red spices sprinkled through it. This was white as the driven snow. Thinking that the spices might be on the bottom for some reason, I stirred it around, but no, it was still white. I tried some of it and it tasted for all the world like coconut milk with chicken and mushrooms. No spices at all. I did see one small piece of lemongrass. I pushed it away and the next time our waitress came by, I asked that it be returned and taken off our bill. She asked why and I explained. She said they must have left the spices out of it. Um, huh?!?! She offered to bring back another bowl, but I declined.

At some point, my Pepsi was refilled, but Tara's stayed empty for a LONG time until I set it right on the edge of the table. Eventually they got the message.

Next came our entrees. Well, almost. I watched them being taken to the table next to us with the large group. I heard the waitress say "Spicy Noodles" and heard the confusion from the people at the table. She set the dishes in front of a couple guys and left the table. For several minutes, I watched her go behind the counter and look over the order slips trying to figure out what was going on. No one from the waitstaff was still at that table. Finally, she goes over, takes the dishes, and tries to give them to us. I refused, saying we wanted fresh dishes. She asked why and I told her I wasn't sure if the guys had tried them. She asked "They tried them?" like she wasn't sure either. At that point, any return visits by us were not going to happen. I find it inexcusable that she'd try to serve us dishes she left unattended for several minutes at another table and wasn't sure if the people at that table had eaten some of it. I'm fairly certain that violates several heath codes. After arguing some more, she returned to the kitchen to get us freshly made entrees. At least, we hope she did. When she returned ten or fifteen minutes later, the dishes looked different, but weren't terribly hot.

I did like my noodles, but they were just a bit too spicy for me. I picked out the chicken and some of the noodles, but left most of it. Tara's "crispy" pad thai was actually my favorite dish. The noodles didn't seem crispy to me, but they were definitely not the usual noodles. It had a really good flavor and was sweet, but too sweet for her. She's more of a savory person. She likes crispy noodles, though, which is why she tried it.

So when the check finally came, I left a goose egg for the tip. The staff was busy but still somewhat friendly, but Tara was getting upset because they so busy and seemed to be impatient because of it. Trying to serve me possibly used food, though, it just not something I can live with.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


There are some restaurants around Phoenix that all us self-described Foodies/Chowhounders know about. Ever since moving to Phoenix a few years ago, I've been hearing about Pizzeria Bianco and it's acclaimed pizzas. As famous as it's pizzas is the 2+ hour wait to get in on any given night. This has been the primary reason I've never tried it. However, if you can get a party of 6-10 people together, you can make reservations for 5pm, 6:30pm, or 8pm. At one of our recent dinners with some fellow CHers, someone suggested we get some folks together, set a date and get a reservation. After waiting for them to reopen after their later summer vacation, I was able to get enough people and finally secured a date a few weeks from now for us to go. Can't wait.

One restaurant that has been on my radar for a while is Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler. It's been reviewed by many publications and bloggers recently and it's only whetted my appetite for it even more. Generally considered one of the top two places currently in the Phoenix area along with Binkley's in Cave Creek, it's also one of the most expensive. Since Tara and my birthdays fall very close together, we decided to forgo our traditional buying birthday for each other and pool the money for a single trip to Kai. I made the reservations for that trip this week as well. Unfortunately that is still a bit over two months away. My stomach is growling just thinking about it. Of course, the bacon currently cooking in the oven isn't helping with that either. :)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

State of the Bacon

Ever since trying Vonhanson's bacon, we've tried to find anything near as good. Whenever we've heard about any other meat markets, we've grabbed some bacon from them to try. So far we've tried the bacon from Hobe Meats and Midwestern Meats.

Vonhanson's bacon is double-smoked and has a distinct sweetness to it. Midwestern Meats bacon ranks a strong secoond to VH. It also has a sweetness to it, but it's not as strong. Hobe Meats' bacon is very good bacon, but it doesn't have that sweetness and suffers a bit for it. While we wouldn't turn down bacon from HM, we're willing to drive the extra miles to get VH or MM bacon.

While looking at the CH Southwest board yesterday, I saw mention of Butcher Bob's out in Surprise, at 116th Ave and Bell. Someone posted a very favorable comment about it, and since it's about 1/2 the distance from our place as VH or MM, I'll probably stop by soon to give them a try.

If anyone else in the Phoenix area has a bacon favorite, we'd love to hear about it. We have heard that The Pork Shop in Queen Creek has good bacon, but that a long drive even for us.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A bored Foodie afternoon...

After getting back from breakfast with some friends at The Good Egg, Tara decided to take a nap. I was kind of restless, so I decided to drive semi-aimlessly and see where I wound up.

My first stop was Midwestern Meats on Main Street in Mesa. We'd heard some of the Chowhounders talk about it and we tried to go last week, but of course, they are closed on Sundays. I looked through their fairly large meat selection and grabbed a ribeye for Tara, a piece of marinated "carne asatha" for me, and for comparision to Vonhansons, a half-pound of bacon.

Next up, I made my way to Pop's Soda Shoppe at 74th St and McDowell. I hadn't made it to their new location yet and was surprised at the much roomier layout. After browsing their large selection, I picked out four bottles to try. Jones Pure Cane Soda MF Grape flavor, Jackson Hole Soda Co's High Mountain Huckleberry, Empire Bottling Works Grape, and Moxie Original Elixir. Being from Maine, Moxie has always been around, but I remember I didn't care for its, to put it mildly, "acquired taste". I got it so Tara and I can see exactly what it tastes like. As I was about to check out, the guy in front of me was told there was a $5 minimum for credit/debit cards. Since that is also how I was paying, I went back and grabbed a bottle each of Capt'n Eli's Orange Pop and Capt'n Eli's Parrot Punch. I was looking for soda made with sugar/pure cane sugar. I haven't tried them yet. They are still chilling.

I then headed up to Souvia Tea at Miller and Camelback. I'd found coupons online for a free pot of tea at each of their locations. Last week at the Moon Valley store, I'd talked to the person behind the counter about a tea I'd had from a coworker years ago in Dallas. From my description, he'd narrowed down the probable tea (I never knew the name) to a couple candidates. I got a pot's worth of Tung Ting Premium oolong tea leaves that day and it's a great tea. Hideously expensive compared to the likes of Lipton and Bigelow, but worth every penny. Today I opted to get a sampling of Jasmine tea. I've tried it and it's not bad, but I prefer the nice oolong.

Souvia is in the same strip mall as Bread Basket bakery, my next port of call. I got there 4 minutes before 4pm, their closing time. I got a three-pack of their crack-like macaroons and a loaf of their even more addictive cinnamon pecan bread. Since it was closing time, the lady behind the counter also let me have the diced up sample oatmeal chocolate chip cookie as well.

My final stop was west on Camelback to the AJ's at Central. I grabbed Tara a Vosges Barcelona Exotic Candy Bar and a Black Pearl Bar (wasabi, ginger, and black sesame seeds in a 55% cacao dark chocolate) for myself. I also snagged a loaf of Simply Bread's Kosher Challah for use as French Toast tomorrow's breakfast.

Total mileage for the excursion: about 100 miles. The things I do for food. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ressurecting a TiVo

Last month, I upgraded one of my TiVos when the hard drive was failing. During that process, my backup TiVo had a drive failure and died completely. I was finally able to grab a replacement drive to see if I could get it going again. I tried using the upgrade method I used last month, but the old drive was shot. It registered in the BIOS, but any attempt to access data failed.

I searched TiVo's site to see if they had any info on replacing a completely failed drive, and I couldn't find anything. I searched on Google and found a reference to a program called InstantCake. For a $20 download, it said it could take an off-the-shelf drive and after answering a few questions, it would be able to create a new drive for your TiVo. I decided to give it a try. I downloaded the ISO image for ImageCake and burned it to a CD. After configuring my desktop computer with the new drive and setting it to boot from the ImageCake CD, I booted my computer. The ImageCake software started up, asked couple questions, and then kicked off the drive making process. About 1/2 hour later, the process finished successfully.

I removed the drive from the computer and put it back into the TiVo unit. I fired it up, and the TiVo started normally. I got a message about a service update being applied and that it might take up to an hour. I let it sit and when I came back, it was booted up. A message on the screen said it's account wasn't activated. I checked that the TiVo serial number was right, and it was. I logged onto and verified the SN was activated. I did a manual connection to TiVo and it finished and showed "Account in Good Standing" in the system information. I finally restarted the TiVo again. When it was up, it said it was applying a servicie update again so I waited again. This time when it came up, I got a message that the guide info was empty, but no account activation errors. I went through the Guided Setup and when it finished, everything was working fine. The TiVo now has up to 402 hours of recording capacity (up from 80hrs) and it is back in it's home in the back bedroom.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hana Sushi revisit

Hana has become one of my top favorites for sushi. We haven't been in a while and tonight I decided I wanted some raw fish. We got there much earlier than usual, around 7:45, and it was packed. One two-top and four seats at the bar were open. We took two seats at the end of the bar.

After debating for a while, we ordered toro, albacore, and unagi sushi for me, a Hana roll for Tara, gyoza, edamame, a Negi Toro Tempura Mint Leaf roll from the special board, poke chips, and an Ebi Yakisoba noodle dish. I stuck with water and Tara had a coke.

First out was the edamame. They were stone cold. When I asked, the waitress said traditionally they are served room temperature. These were far below room temp and she took them and nuked them for us. Every place else we've ever ordered edamame it's been hot or at least warm out of the steamer. I don't know the whole "traditional" thing is true, but Tara has a thing about cold food that was once hot and I didn't want slimy and cold beans either. They are passable heated.

Despite the note on the specials board warning that sushi will take extra time, our Hana roll was ready in about two minutes. I was shocked and even more so to find the two shrimp in this shrimp tempura roll-on-steroids to be piping hot. I had one piece just as they brought out the poke platter so I put it on Tara's tray. It was an outstanding roll. Tara had pleasure of finishing the rest.

The poke is a ceviche-like mix of krab and other stuff served on tortilla chips. Despite Tara's aversion to spicy items, she loves these, as do I. Her first one nearly killed her, but she settled down and finished her half.

My albacore and toro showed up next. The albacore was dressed with a nice sauce, a tiny sliver of chile, and green onions. As usual, it was great. Both pieces were gone in short order. The female sushi chef (I want to say it's the main chef's sister, but I'm not positive) also gave me a small ramekin of real wasabi. I mixed that with some soy sauce and dipped the toro in it. The sharp spiciness of the real wasabi with it's shorter burn was excellent with the toro.

The Negi Toro Tempura Mint Leaf roll was chopped up toro pressed between mint leaves, lightly battered, and fried. Cut into four pieces, it was topped with eel sauce. I loved it. The interesting combination of flavors was great.

Our gyoza with pork filling came out next. Nicely caramelized on the bottom, we made short work of them. I kinda wished they'd fried the top as well, but they were still really good.

The Ebi Yakisoba noodles came out very hot, as had all but the edamame. The sweet flavor of the noodles is something I really enjoy. I kind of wish there weren't vegetables mixed in, but it's ok. We were getting pretty full by this point, so we ended up taking most of them home.

Last to show up was my unagi. Possibly my favorite item at Hana, their unagi is always cooked perfectly. The eel is cooked through, but not charred at all. As is also normal, they were cut differently than the other two times I've ordered them. Still, they were almost like dessert. Tara even tried a small piece and liked it, but resisted my offer to take one of the three pieces for herself.

As usual, we were both given a small tempura cream puff with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Despite being full, we scoffed them down, as they are always a great ending to the meals here.

Despite the packed house, service was prompt and friendly when time permitted. Tara's coke and my water were refilled as needed, dishes cleared, and questions answered with no attitude or brush-offs. Despite our infrequent visits, they do remember us, mostly because half of the waitstaff is from Wisconsin and they and Tara did some Midwestern bonding on previous visits. They are BYOB, as two guys next to us found out. One vanished for quite a while and when I asked his friend what was up, he told me he'd gone on a beer run. When he got back, the waiter took the six-pack, put it in their fridge behind the counter, and served them with no problems at all.

My biggest issue is still the lack of sound-deadening material on the walls. A large group at the first two tables would make a deafening noise when they all broke into laughter, and I couldn't hear anything else. It's one of those things that I can put up with for the excellent food I've always gotten. It's a very casual atmosphere, devoid of the mega-attitude over in Scottsdale. Hopefully they'll be able to keep it up as word-of-mouth spreads. We just need to curtail our ordering, as we always order way too much. It's just all so darn good, though. :)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Palatte revisit

We went to Palatte for lunch today. The owner greeted us and asked if we needed to look at the menu, but since we knew what we wanted, we went right to the counter.After Tara ordered The Egg, we were told that it was sold out. We were there at 2pm and they closed at 3pm, so that was fine. We went back to the menu stand to look for a back. In doing so, we noticed some items we didn't remember. One was the Wild Mushroom Tart, which Tara decided to get with a side of the pear salad. Another was a French Toast with warm apple compote, tart berry syrup, and cream. Since I love French Toast, I decided to get that. Tara added a side of bacon. Mine dish came with choice of the smokehouse selection of meats, so I decided to try the chicken apple sausage. While we were debating, a table cleared, so we snagged that after ordering.

After a short wait, our meal arrived. Tara's came in one of their usual square tart crusts with a fairly sizable portion of the Pear Salad. She really enjoyed it, although she didn't think the mushrooms were wild mushroom, but regular button mushrooms. Still, it was very good when I tried it.

My French Toast was two long slices of challah bread with a very generous amount of finely cubed apple compote, drizzles of the tart berry sauce, and a large dollop of cream on top. Several pieces of the sausage were beside it. It was very good. The apple compote wasn't too sweet and almost like a dessert, with the occasional tastes the tart berries adding a nice contrast. The chicken apple sausage also had a nice flavor. Overall, it was a definite success.

About halfway through the meal, the owner came over to ask how we liked our meal, since we picked two of the new menu items. We assure him that we really like them and they were definitely a worthy addition to the menu. He said he's changing the menu to reflect seasonal offerings and to keep things fresh. We talked to him a few minutes about the horrible traffic flow, and he acknowledged that it's not great, but since he was reluctant to tear out a load-bearing wall or two (perfectly understandable), he did the best he could with what he had. Apparently we went at a good time today, as in the morning, the restaurant and all the outside tables were full, with more people waiting for seating. They've added misters that help, but still, we were very glad to beat the rush and eat inside. He also said there was a 1hr 15min backup for food this morning as a chef called in sick. We're REALLY glad we slept in. :)


After months of threatening, we finally got a gas grill this weekend. I saw online that Lowes in Happy Valley had one for $78, so of course we left with the $138 one. :) It's got three burners and a side burner for who-knows-what. I went to assemble it today, only to come to a screeching halt at the fourth part. One corner of the bottom plate that holds the propane tank had a huge glob of slag partially blocking a screw hole. I took the plate to Lowes and they exchanged it, but to do so, they needed me to "return" my purchase via a charge-back on my credit card so they can RMA it. I would then "buy" another one for the same price, when in reality they were simply exchanging the part. The problem came when went to "buy" it again. The charge-back hadn't gone through yet, so my credit card was declined. D'oh! I called the customer support line on my card, only to find out they are closed on Sunday. After some debate, Tara used one of her emergency cards to buy it.
After some shopping for groceries, we got home and I resumed the build. So of course, a few more pieces, and when I got to the side burner, it didn't fit quite right, so a screw hole was about 1/32" out of alignment. After about 1/2 hour of pounding, drilling, and filing, I was able to get the screw in enough to secure it. Once that drama was over, it went together smoothly. I really liked that the grill part itself was all assembled for the most part. I didn't have to mess with the gas fittings, knobs, etc, except for the side burner. So around 10pm, I finally fired it up and we grilled some hot dogs. They were delicious.
With Tara's carnivorous streak for red meat, we'll recoup the cost by grilling steaks at home in about a month. :)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Fry Bread House - Phoenix

Growing up in Maine, we always looked forward to fall and the many fairs that popped up in the various counties and towns. It was a tradition to go to the Topsham Fair from as far back as I can remember and later in my teens, we'd go to the Fryeburg Fair in far western Maine. The two foods I looked forward to were cotton candy and doughboys. Doughboys are round thin pieces of dough that are fried in a deep fryer. I like mine with cinnamon, butter, and powdered sugar. A fair wasn't a fair if I didn't get one or both.

My first summer in Arizona back on '04, Tara and I went to the Arizona State Fair with her friend Leslie. It was here that I was introduced to Navaho fry bread. Not having heard of this before, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it's basically identical to a doughboy, but with the ones we got at the fair had lettuce, cheese, refried beans, and seasoned meat. Messy, greasy, but oh so good. Later that fall, the Phoenix New Times came out with their Best Of Phoenix issue, and The Fry Bread House won for some category that I forget. Having enjoyed the one at the fair, we gave it a try and have been back many times for their outstanding food.

Located on the west side of 7th Ave just north of Indian School Road, FBH is set back from the road and very easy to miss the first time. The usually full parking lot holds twelve or so cars and it's fun watching the mess when large trucks try to back out without taking out any over vehicles. The restaurant itself is not very big, with maybe twelve tables and booths in the L-shaped space. You order at the counter and they call your name to pick up your order when it's ready. Unlike some places (Palatte comes to mind) the traffic flow is natural, albeit usually somewhat crowded.

We arrived today around 2pm, and it was a mostly full house. The menu consists of fry bread tacos, stews, and burros, along with some dessert fry bread. Meat is ground beef, plain or seasoned with red or green chiles, spicy chorizo, and plain. I usually get a combo with chorizo, lettuce, refried beans, and cheese. Today both Tara and I opted for a ground beef combo. I got a large iced tea (free refills according to the sign behind the counter) and Tara got a coke (nothing about refills was noted). We got a booth and waited for my name to be called.

After a few minutes of waiting and Tara playing with a cute two-year-old girl in the next booth, our order was up. The two 12-inch pieces of fry bread were folded in half, with the ingredients in the middle. Butcher paper was loosely wrapped around each one and tied together, so it wouldn't fall apart. Each sat on top of a paper plate with a napkin, knife, and fork. A bottle of hot sauce was put onto the tray as well.

The bread was freshly fried and piping hot. While not as good as the chorizo one, I still really enjoyed the taco. I devoured mine in short order and Tara finished only slightly behind me. Not even remotely healthy, but sometimes you need to clog your arteries. After we finished, we decided to split a dessert fry bread with cinnamon, powdered sugar, and butter. Except for being prepared with regular sugar, it was divine. Liberally sprinkled with the cinnamon and sugar, it was a nice contrast to the main meal.

Full and with noticeably slower heart beats, we left very satisfied. We don't go often, but when we do, it's never disappointed. FBH is definitely a unique Arizona restaurant. There are a few other places that serve fry bread, but the one in Mesa that tried wasn't on the same level. I got a red chile fry bread there and it had no spice. So we will stick with FBH. They are closed on Sundays.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dick's Hideaway

One of the places I've heard a lot about in Phoenix is Richardson's. Apparently they are one of the "must go" places if you want to try New Mexican cuisine in Phoenix. After a long day of car shopping (see Tara's blog for that fun time), I was driving semi-aimlessly along Bethany Home. I was debating on Hana or something else in the area. Tara thought I was going to Richardson's since I'd mentioned it earlier, so we headed there. We parked near the entrance to Richardson's along the Bethany Home side. As we were walking from the car, she said hi to some guy walking towards us. Apparently he was a coworker I've heard about but never met. He was meeting some people and said Richardson's was packed with a 45 minute wait. I'd been planning on hitting Dick's Hideaway, since it serve the same menu and isn't quite as busy normally. I asked him where the entrance was and he said it was around the corner, and that they were busy, but not as bad. After looking over the menu posted in front of Richardson's door, Tara said she could find something (she's not into spicy food) and we headed over to Dick's.

Around the corner on the 16th side, an unmarked doorway had a menu board next to it with the Dick's menu. We entered a dimly lit, bar-looking place. No hostess was evident and I peeked into what looked like a large wine cellar to the immediate right. It was a dining room, but set up for a private party. A waitress said we could at the lone remaining two-top (a short bar-like table at the back) or take a seat at the end of the bar. We took the bar seating. The waitress handed us two place mat menus (with Richardson's Dinner Menu along the top, instead of Dick's) and took our drink order of water with lemon for each of us.

The menu is divied into several sections: Soups, salads, pizzas, house specialties, and Sante Fe Trail. The specialties run from $21 for a pasta to New Mexican surf and turf for $29. The Sante Fe Trail items range from $9 for a cheeseburger to $16 for a cheesesteak sandwich. The Carne Adovada on the SFT side caught my eye while Tara settled on grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp. She asked the waitress about non-spicy items, and this was suggested, minus the spicy sauces normally include. A house salad was subbed for the spicy rice and beans with no problem.

Behind the bar was where there were cooking all the food. We were able to watch them prepare our meal as well as others. It was kinda fun, but the barstools were a bit high for Tara and her legs were hurting. Luckily the food came out fairly quickly.

Her salad was a fairly basic salad with ranch dressing. The portion size was pretty good and the vegetables were nice and fresh. It looked like it could use more salad, but was a good alternative to the spicy carb fest of rice and beans.

Her meal was six good-shrimp wrapped in bacon, service on a large platter with three sauces arrayed on it. She thought it was ok. Something was a bit spicy and she also bit into something hard that might have chipped or broken a tooth and caused a toothache. She's going to visit the dentist for it this week. So in addition to paying for taking her to Dick's, I get to look forward to her holding this over my head as well. :)

My carne adovada came out of the oven on a large metal plate. A large tortilla was spread on the bottom of the plate and the carne adovada, rice, beans, and cheese were put on top of it. A heated tortilla was folded into quarters and set on top of that. Once it cooled, I took a bite, and loved it immediately. The simmered pork was fork tender and the flavor and spice of the red chili permeated the meat. It was a low-level heat the built up slowly. It was a great, full flavor, and in short order, I was feeling the heat and mopping my head. It was a huge portion for the $12 menu price, and I ate about half of the meat and all the beans and rice.

Service was good. The waitress did her best to try to give Tara some non-spicy options, and we knew going in that that might be a problem. A large carafe of iced water was put on the bar in front of us, so we never lacked drinks. With the side room booked, the bar area was nearly packed. I really enjoyed it and would go back in a heartbeat to try some of the other SFT options. I'll just have to drop Tara off at Hobe Meats next door with a portable grill and she'll be more than happy.

Lack o' Updates

Sorry for the lack of posts this past week. My trusty Blogomatic (aka my laptop) didn't like it when I tried installing a Bluetooth adapter. It lobotomized my laptop so that it couldn't connect to any networks. Luckily, one of my coworkers mentioned a way to rebuild my laptop and once I did that, it worked great. I'm still tweaking things, but hope to be back to regular posting soon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

TiVo Addiction

Ever since I got my first TiVo back in 2000/2001 (can't remember exactly), I've loved them. Right now, I have, well, let's just say more than one. My primary one has been acting like the drive was dying, so I decided to replace the hard drive. I've done it several times before on my two original Series1 boxes. I've got all Series2 now for the wireless ethernet capability and TiVoToGo. I went to Fry's Electronics over the weekend, and they had a 300GB drive on sale for $59.99. This TiVo was a 140hr from the factory, so I figured this would give me about 300 or so hours. Thankfully the TiVo upgrade community had polished the home upgrade software, so all I had to do was download a CD image, burn it to CD, and haul one of my desktops out of limbo to use for copying the info from the old to new drive. I'm a fairly skilled technogeek and have built all of my desktops myself, so this was easy. Once I configured the drives, I booted up via the CD I burned, and literally had to run one command and it was all hands-off from there. The last time I did it, I had to have a couple bootable floppy disks and run some obscure commands. This was sweet. So I kicked it off and a mere 22 hours later, the copy finished and I've now got a 366-hour TiVo using Basic quality. Even at High quality (my default) I've got 167 hours, more than the Basic capacity before I upgraded. Granted it's not a dual-tuner, HD-capable, but it'll work for $60. :)

The only downside is I pulled my 80-hr TiVo from the back bedroom to use in the living room while I upgraded, and it died yesterday afternoon. Does that fall into the Irony category? At least if I can get the drive up, I can copy the base image onto my desktop until I can get a replacement drive. Otherwise, Tara won't shed a tear if I lose one of my many TiVos (and TiVo-knockoffs). :)