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.