Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Post Of The Year

December has been a pretty slow month, food-wise. We haven't really tried any new places for the most part. We did do lunch with some fellow foodies at Indulge Burger at Scottsdale and Shea last weekend and it was pretty good. We're going to try dim sum at Great Wall tomorrow. We tried it there a couple years ago and weren't impressed, but they've gotten some good marks lately, so we're giving it another try.

We found out we need to move out of our rental house at the end of our lease in January. We hate moving, but apparently the owners are moving back in. Luckily Tara still has some realtor contacts from her days in the mortgage business, and one of them is helping us look. We're kinda bummed, because we love the open floor plan of our current house and the quiet set-back cul-de-sac we live in. We're basically looking in the corridor between our current place (UH/Cave Creek Rd) and Tara's work (Raintree/101). Since I work from home, location isn't really an issue for me. We hope to start looking at places this weekend.

Tara's sister arrived in Arizona this past week to start a 2-month internship in Tucson. She's staying with some relatives down there. She spent Christmas with us (AWESOME apple cider-brined turkey) and will probably spend some weekends here as well. She goes to college in Florida so Tara rarely sees her. They are enjoying the bonding time. Theresa seems to have some OCD issues, as she feels the need to rearrange our kitchen cabinets and pantry. We're still looking for some stuff.

My family in Maine is enjoying the brutal winter so far. No power for days after the ice storm in Dec and tons of snow. We're planning on seeing them in Hatteras, NC, in April. My parents and aunt and uncle are renting a beach house. We're looking forward to it.

Hopefully 2009 will be less eventful than 2008 for us. I'm sure we'll find out soon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Satara Thai Restaurant - Peoria

Last night we tried Satara Thai in Arrowhead. I had bought a gift certificate for it from Restaurant.Com during their $25 gift cert for $2 sale back in October. They bill themselves as being a higher-end Thai place than normal and their prices reflect that. The quality of the food, however, does not. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

They are located in the restaurant row around 83rd Ave and Bell. They are set back from 83rd Ave south of Bell and are a bit hard to find. We eventually found them and entered. The space is very modern, with black-painted walls, a large section of waterfall glass, wine racks, and a stained glass window. It looks like they also have a patio in the back, but it was hard to see it after dark.

We were seated in the dining room and it was just under 1/3 full. It's not a huge space. We were given menus and wine lists to look over. The prices are almost shockingly high for a Thai restaurant. Tom Kha Gai is $14 and only in a bowl. Noodle dishes range from $13 to $17, salads $10 to $14, entrees $13 to $16, and even the fried rice dishes were $13 to $17.

We eventually settled on an order of chicken satay ($8.95), fried rice with crispy beef and basil ($12.95) for Tara, and musamun gai (chicken in a coconut milk, red curry sauce) ($14.95) for me.

We ordered the satay before we'd decided on our entrees, but it still took a while for it to come out. When it arrived, it was four large pieces of chicken on skewers, with small bowls of peanuts sauce and a sweet/spicy sauce. We each took a piece and dug in. Or tried to. I noticed I had a hard time cutting it. I turned my piece over, and it was solid black on the bottom. I checked the other three pieces, and all were the same. Burnt. For $9, this was unacceptable. We're sure it was no fluke that all the pieces had the nicely grilled side up when it was brought out. This dish should never have been put on our table. Tara said she wouldn't serve something like this at home. I shaved off the burnt bottom and the meat wasn't bad. A bit dried out, as you'd expect. The peanut sauce was really good, but didn't save the dish as a whole. I even turned all the meat I'd cut off so the black side was up, but the server made no mention of it when she took our plates away.

A little while later, our entrees came out. Tara's fried rice had a nice flavor, but the bits of beef seemed small to me. Overall she liked it, but felt it definitely wasn't worth $13.

My chicken was a bit aggravating. The square white plate had a colorful orange sauce covering the chicken, potatoes, carrots, and onions, with whole peanuts sprinkled over the top. The peanuts weren't mentioned on the menu, and I'm glad that while I can't eat them, I'm not actually allergic to them. I was able to eat around them fine. I noticed that the once piece of chicken I could see was a whole drumstick. As I dug in, I realized that ALL the chicken was in drumstick form, as three of them were lined up on the plate. This irritated me, as I felt really ripped off paying $15 for three drumsticks and some paper-thin vegetables. I got it mild and there was some heat to it, but nothing near the full flavors that good Thai and the price should warrant.

Service was ok. For the early part of our meal, a waiter came by, bringing us drinks and checking a few times to see if we were ready to order yet. When we were finally ready, we had to wait and eventually the waitress came over and took care of us for the rest of the meal. This seemed odd, as the waiter was still servicing other tables.

Satara serves their glasses of water with thin slices of cucumber in them. They said it gives them a crisper flavor. To me, it tasted like cucumber water. I like cucumber well enough, but not in my water.

Overall, we found Satara very over-priced and not worth the extra money compared to the alternatives. The burnt satay was completely unacceptable for nearly $10. The other items were good, but certainly nothing special. The bill came to $40, but with our gift certificate, it came to $15 plus tip. I would feel taken advantage of if I had actually paid full price for the meal. Osha, Thai House, Thai Basil, and Thai Pan are much better choices and far better deals.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Chocolate Grand Marnier Balls Recipe

My first year in Dallas, I found this recipe in the paper. It seemed pretty easy so decided to try them. The first attempt burnt out a brand new Hamilton Beach food processor I grabbed at Wal-Mart. I returned it (love their return policy) and grabbed a Black & Decker model that lasted me nearly a decade before the cover to it's bowl melted in a dishwasher accident. I currently use my nice and brawny, yet slightly homicidal, bright red KitchenAid food pro. Despite the accident with the blade that sliced my finger open and also saved my life, I love it. Tara is scared of it and if you'd seen the amount of blood in the sink and bathroom at my old apartment, you'd understand. But I digress...

This recipe is incredibly easy, but does more or less require a beefy food processor. A direct drive model, nothing with a belt. You basically just mix all the ingredients together, roll them into balls, roll them in powdered sugar, and put them in an air-tight container for 5-7 days. They aren't baked, so the Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur) permeates the balls. They were usually a hit among my coworkers, but productivity declined as consumption increased.

Triple Sec orange liqueur works great in this recipe and is in fact the one I used nearly all the times I've made it. I found that I still had my Grand Marnier bottle, so I used it for this batch.

Chocolate Grand Marnier Balls

One 9 ounce box of chocolate wafers
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup almonds
2 tablespoons Karo
1/2 cup Grande Marnier

In a food processor:
Process wafers and almonds. Add powdered sugar. Add the rest. Mix till
moist mass. Roll into balls and roll in some more powdered sugar. Pack
them lightly in an air-tight container. For best results, let them sit for
5-7 days.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

They are getting closer...

After calling Shish Kebab House a couple weeks ago and getting a live person who said they should be re-opening in November, we drove by today to check the progress. They still aren't open, but there is a real Shish Kebab House lighted sign mounted on the new location and a coming soon sign still in the window. So they are progressing, but apparently aren't quite on their projected schedule.

We made do with a late lunch at Z's Greek on Indian School around 40th Street. We got our usual and it was terrific as always.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Maizie's Cafe

Whenever we dine out with our friend Winedubar, she always, ALWAYS, knows about half the people who come into the restaurant. Our dinner at Noca (mmmmmm Noca.....) was no exception. One of her friends there was Maizie, who Winedubar said runs a great little cafe just south of Camelback on Central. Tara wanted to get out of the house on Sunday, so we headed down to Maizie's Cafe for lunch.

Mazie's is a cute little space on the end of an tiny strip mall. We started to sit outside, but the strong cigarette smoke drove us back inside. The place was mostly full with the lunch crowd, but nearly every party was winding down when we arrived.

The menu has a large selection of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and pizza. It sort of reminded us of Flancer's a little bit, but not quite as funky. The sandwiches are available on a wide choice of breads, and a variety of styles: wrap, sandwich, or panini.

We eventually settled on a couple of sandwiches. Tara got the Pineapple Chicken Salad (toasted slivered almonds, fresh pineapple, and crisp lettuce) on ciabatta. I had the Milano (genia salami, capicolla, smoked ham, provolone cheese, red onion, sliced tomato, pepperoncinis and lettuce drizzled with classic italian dressing) on panini bread panini style. We both chose the hand-cut french fries as our side.

The sandwiches came out a few minutes later. Both looked great. Tara took a bite of hers and declared it was the best chicken salad she's ever had. Mine was grilled nicely. The bread had grill marks and was crunchy. The various meats had great flavor and there was some heat from the pepperoncinis and capicolla. The fries were outstanding. Crunchy on the outside and cooked on the inside. They have an chipotle dipping sauce available that spice-phobic Tara was really enjoying despite the burn.

Service was good. At the start when the restaurant was busy there were understandable lags, but otherwise it was fine.

We really enjoyed our meal. The portions were generous and we both left stuffed. The best part is that even with Tara's Coke, the bill with tax was only $20.85. Given the quality of the food and quantity, it's a screaming deal. They also have a Monday Happy Hour special where you can get a burger for $3. I actually drove down there tonight to try a burger, but they were packed and I didn't see any close parking. It was nice to see them busy, especially in this economy. I should have plenty of time to get back and try their burger.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Noca - Phoenix/Paradise Valley

One of the most talked about restaurants this year has been Noca. Chowhound has been rife with Noca reviews and they have all been gushing. Our good friend Winedubar has been many times since they opened in September and has regailed us with descriptions of her meals there. She can be evil that way. With all the job issues and related money shortage, we hadn't been able to try them until last week. Winedubar had been for their first "Lobster Roll" night and raved about it. Being a native Mainer and lobster roll lover, I knew I had to try it. It's currently available every Wednesday night. Now that our finances have started to even out, Tara and I decided it was time to try Noca, and picked a Wednesday. Since our friend Seth was still on his honeymoon in beautiful Montreal (or so we thought), we invited Winedubar to join us. She jumped at the chance.

The short review: Wow. Go. Now.

For those needing more verbosity, I'll do my best. I won't be able to do justice without pictures of the dishes we had. Everything was presented perfectly, sometimes playfully. Many were "deconstructed". All were even better on the palate.

Before the meal, we were each .given a palate cleanser. It had pomegranate fruit, a cheese, a balsamic reduction (which I think mine was missing) and something else. It was all served in a big spoon. It was an incredibly intense flavor and did a good job of getting us ready for the meal.

For starters, Tara had the new-to-the-menu Roasted Chestnut soup. Winedubar had the seared fois gras. I had the duck confit. I only had a couple small tastes of Tara's soup, but it was my favorite item of the night. I'm not sure I can even describe it. My taste buds just sighed in delight. My duck confit looked like a meat lolipop. The leg bone stuck out of a flattened hunk of perfectly crispy on the outside, moist on the inside duck. Juicy, salty, with a great crispy flavor. I wanted the rest of the duck. This was my close second for best of the night. Never having had fois gras before, Tara and I were hesitant to sample Winedubar's "meat butter", as she put it. The bites we had essentially converted us. Ultra-rich, it was as good as W desribed it.

For mains, we each ordered the lobster roll. I've been eating lobster since shortly after I learned to breathe. The lobster meat in the rolls was poached perfectly and is the tenderest lobster I've had in a roll. Mixed with various herbs and celery root, it was served on a roll that had been fried in herbed butter. There were lots of flavors going on, but the lobster meat wasn't overpowered. The texture of it all was outstanding. My only complaint is it isn't a huge roll, and I finished it in no time at all. More, please.

The lobster roll was served along with Duck Fat French Fries. You could definitely tell these weren't your ordinary specimens. They had a distinct extra flavor from the duck fat. I'm still not sure if I liked it or not. It was different and I had a hard time processing, as I was still blissed out on the lobster and duck. Tara and Winedubar loved them.

Minor update to the original post: Tara reminded me that I forgot to mention the sour apple cotton candy that was served between the main dishes and dessert. It was a big bowl of light green heaven. It helps that I love cotton candy. :)

Desserts were, for me, the weakest part of the meal, but that isn't to say they were a let down. Tara got the donut holes with three dipping sauces. This was my top dessert. The donut holes reminded me of the homemade ones Mom would make during our Fall cider pressing parties growing up. I'd thought about ordering them myself, but opted for the apple "risotto", I think it was. I'm can't remember all that was in it. It was good. Winedubar had the deconstructed cheesecake. Three round scoops of cheesecake filling, a pineapple puree of sorts, a pile of cinnamon graham cracker "crust" and drizzles of a sauce. It was good as well. I'm VERY particular about my cheesecake due to an idealized flavor and texture I had growing up. This was good, but it wasn't how I like mine. Tara and Winedubar had no such hangups, and both loved it.

Service was excellent. Our server is also happened to be a chef in his own right, just not at Noca. He was extremely funny and offered/threatened to give Tara a table dance, as we were celebrating her birthday. Thankfully, she didn't take him up on the offer. The host stopped by frequently to make sure everything was going ok. The restaurant was a bit noisy for most of the meal, but quieted down after a large party left. The dining room is very nice, with huge mirrors lining the walls.

When all was said and done, our bill came to $165 for the three of us. We had no complaints about the price. We were all stuffed and endorphins were running high.

We pretty much loved everything about Noca. Tara proclaimed it as the best meal she's had since we've been together. I can't really disagree. We ran out of ways to praise the meal on the drive home.

The best part is that we have reservations for their Simple Sunday Dinner next weekend. They are serving the sous chef's grandmother's fried chicken recipe. We've been assured by Winedubar that it's to die for. After having eaten one meal at Noca, we are sure we'd die happy.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fusion Sushi - Scottsdale

Last night Tara and I used the second of the three Restaurant.Com gift certificates we bought during their sale. This one was for Fusion Sushi in Scottsdale. It's located in the Target/Albertsons plaza on the SE corner of the 101 and Frank Lloyd Wright. It's a fairly new restaurant that specializes in Chinese and sushi. My main interest is that it is close to Tara's work and would be a good place to have dinner on nights she works late. The cheap gift certificate seemed like the perfect time to try it.

We arrived about 8pm and only a couple tables were occupied. Three or four people were sitting at the sushi bar that ran in an L-shape along the right side in front of open kitchen. Over the course of the dinner, several more tables filled up. We were seated promptly and looked at the menu.

It's a fairly straight forward menu. Lots of Chinese dishes, some specialty dishes that were house sauces with your choice of meat, some standard fried rice variations, and a long sushi menu. We started out by ordering the Chef''s appetizer combo (2 crab puffs, 2 vegetable egg rolls, and two steamed dumplings) while we decided on our main dishes as Tara was starved. We also got a Pepsi and a Sierra Mist for Tara and myself.

The app combo came out pretty quick, before we had actually decided on the rest. Our waiter dropped it off and let us have time to look the menu over some more. We decided on walnut prawns for Tara and I got a couple maki rolls, the Shrimp Crunch (shrimp tempura roll with crunchys on top) and a Sakura roll (tuna, salmon, white tuna, crab meat, albacore wrapped in cucumber). We set our menus on the outer edge of the table, ate the combo, and waited for our waiter to come back.

He was standing in the entry to the kitchen chatting with the waitress. He looked up, saw us eating with the menus set aside, and kept talking. He walked by our table, made eye contact with me, and went to the host stand to hang around. He then seemed like he was going to stop by, only to go and start talking to a girl sitting at the sushi bar about checking out apartments in the complex she worked in nearby. She gave him her card, and he then walked by us again to the front of the restaurant and chatted with the host, showing him the business card. Eventually he appeared to remember he was at work and decided to stop by and see if we were ready to order yet. He took our order and left.

The appetizer combo was good. The items all tasted fine and there were three sauces (mustard, duck sauce, and dumpling sauce) to dip in. We liked them, but Super Dragon has better ones for less.

Once we finished, they cleared the plates and our meals came out shortly after. Tara's walnut prawns were a deceptively small looking dish. A mound of shimp covered in candied walnuts were in the middle of the plate, with brocolli arrayed along the ends. I tried a shrimp and they were really good. Tara didn't think they'd fill her up, but in the end, she gave up with four shrimp left. She like them as well, although there might have been just a bit too sweet for her savory tastes.

My rolls came out a few minutes later. The Sakura roll was five pieces arrayed around a small bowl of some kind of sauce. It was never explained what kind of sauce it was. Small plastic swords (think garnishes for polynesian fruity drinks) were stuck through each piece to hold it together, a nice touch. Small dabs of different colored roe topped each piece. The roll was good, but the cucumber flavor and watery texture overpowered the fish flavors. Everything tasted fresh, but I think I would have preferred a regular nori wrapping. The Shrimp crunch roll came on a long, narrow dish. It was cut into 8 or 10 pieces, liberally sprinkled with crunchies and drizzled with eel sauce. It also was somewhat cold, like the sushi rice or eel sauce had been chilled. Or that it had been sitting under the a/c vent. The shrimp inside was warm, but the outer temperature seemed way too low. It tasted really good, but would have been much better at a normal temperature.

Overall, our meal wasn't bad. Service was somewhat lackluster. There was nothing wrong with the food. The bill came to $44 before the $25 gift certificate. We both felt it wasn't worth $44. At $26 after tip, it seemed like an ok value. We can stuff ourselves at Super Dragon with better tasting food for $26. The sushi rolls were nothing special and for similiar sushi prices, we can go to Hana and get fabulous sushi. Tara said she might stop in for their lunch specials, but we won't be back for a full-priced dinner.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Decision '08

Well, there should be a Widget here...

Monday, November 3, 2008


If you don't, you've got no right to bitch later about who won.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A little from column A, a little from column B

Wow, it's been a month since I updated. Bad, Tim. Here are some stream of thought updates...

First, a fond farewell to my sister's awesome standard poodle, Chattee. After 13 years, my sister had to put her to sleep a couple weeks ago. Everybody's friend, she was about all anyone could ever want in a dog. Shes was always friendly and just happy to be around people. We played many hours of fetch and I'm gonna miss that. I'm not going to miss her chronic, as Jen put it, "dragon breath".

Urban Campfire in Tempe reopened in a slightly renovated form, but the food has suffered. The menu is more compact, some of the nice extras are gone, and you can tell that Robert has left the building. Tara had some sliders and I tried a burger. Tara enjoyed her sliders. I've never had a worse burger in a restaurant, let alone one the specializes in grilled meats. They even tried to make me a second one, but it was only marginally better. They both had a horrible burned, acrid taste. They did bring me a free beef slider while I was waiting for the second burger that was good, but overall Tara and I won't be back. There are better burgers around and better bbq to be had not too far. We are sorry we only visited the original incarnation a few times. was having a special where you could get $25 gift certificates for only $2. While there weren't a ton of places we were interested in, we snagged a few. The first one was for Il Posto at 7th St and Mountain View in the Sunnyslope area of Phoenix. We got therre after 8 and it was kinda slow. The staff was great and we ordered the stuffed mushroom appetizer, lobster ravioli for Tara, and their white pizza with added pepperoni for tomato-phobic me. The mushrooms were way overpriced at $7.99. Four small button mushrooms were in a huge serving dish that was about 5 times too large. They were not really memorable. We only got it to fulfill the $35 min for the gift cert. Tara loved her lobster ravioli and I tried some as well. It definitely had lobster in it. I adored my white pizza. Four cheeses, fresh garlic, and I think some herbs, along with the extra pepperoni, made for a great meal. It was just as good cold the next morning, part of my criteria for great pizza. The crust was crunchy and chewy with a nice flavor. They also didn't skimp on the garlic. They had a free bread and pesto that were very tasty as well. So except for the mushrooms, we really enjoyed our visit and will be back.

Some great news for fans of Shish Kebab House in Glendale. Friday night, Tara was lamenting their absence of late as their move to a new location appeared to be stalled. The last time we saw their new location, it was basically white walls and nothing really done. That lasted for a few random scoutings since they closed in February. We'd given them up for dead. Just for fun, I called their number to see if the answering machine had any updates. I was SHOCKED when a real voice answered at 8pm. I thought it was the wrong number. It was the correct one, and the gentleman who answered said they should be open sometime in November (aka this month). We were very happy to hear that.

For lunch today, Tara suggested Mr Greek. We stopped in, only to find it's been renamed "Z's Greek". Luckily, it appears to be the same owner and nothing else is different. We had our usual and it was awesome as always. We're both still stuffed. I did opt for a small greek salad instead of fries, and got a nice sized salad loaded with feta crumbles. Tara loved the cheese and kept taking bites.

Last but not least, many happy wishes to our good friend Seth, who finally tied the knot with his beloved J yesterday. We were unable to travel to SoCal for the wedding, but it seems to have gone off without any major hitches. We aren't sure if they headed to Montreal for the honeymoon yet or not, but we are very jealous of that. We can't wait to hear the wedding stories, as Seth's friends and family are usually quite entertaining.

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Thier Back!"

Tara and I went to dinner at a new place for us, Taylor's Chowder House, near Thunderbird and 35th Ave. We got there and were looking at the specials on a dry erase board. After a few minutes, Tara had a disgusted look in her face and told me to read the bottom of it. I did and saw the problem.

Tara is somewhat of a stickler for spelling and grammar. The bottom line proclaimed "Thier Back!" I forgot exactly WHAT was back, but the fact that they used the wrong "their/there/they're" option AND spelled it incorrectly, was really bothering her. It was all she could do not to grab the dry erase marker off the hostesss stand and correct it.

She thought I'd be bothered too, but I just found it really amusing that they got it about as incorrect as possible. Choosing the wrong word, OK. It happens to the best of us. But selecting the wrong word and also misspelling it? I found that just too comical.

Eventually she mellowed and saw the overall humor of the situation and her mood improved immensely. The fact that the food was pretty darn tasty didn't hurt either. :)

Sunday, September 28, 2008


How cute is this kid? At this point, Tara's greatest ambition is life is just to squeeze Jacob's cheeks. My sister is lucky we live so far away.

Yes, Tara IS alive

I've had at least one query, so I wanted you folks to know that, yes, Tara is still alive. I haven't buried her in some convenient plot of saguaro-covered landscape. She's been crazy busy at her new job. Between her regular work and "projects", she put in nearly 60 hours this week alone, including working yesterday. I have duly chastised her for letting her blog suffer. :)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some Twisted Fun

A few weeks ago, Tara came across a recipe for soft pretzels. She sent me this recipe courtesy of Ramblings of a Frantic Home Cook. It looked really good, so I saved it for later.

I was in the mood for a snack this afternoon, and since the recipe is very simple, I decided to give it a try. Luckily my little KitchenAid mixer was up to the task (or at least it didn't burn out).

Soft Pretzels

1 1/2 pkgs dry yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup bread flour
3 cups all-purpose flour

1. Sprinkle 1/1/2 pkgs of dry yeast onto 1 1/2 cup of warm water and stir to dissolve
2. Add 2 Tbs brown sugar and 1 tsp salt and stir to dissolve
3. Add in 1 cup of bread flour and 3 cups of all-purpose flour
4. Knead until smooth and elastic. Place in lightly oiled bowl and let rise for at least 1/2 hour in a warm place
5. While dough is rising, mix 2 c. of warm water with 2 Tbs of baking soda. Stir until completely dissolved
6. Pinch off a bit of dough and roll to about 12-14 inches long
7. Dip the pretzels into the baking soda/water mixture and shape into pretzels. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with course salt. Bake at 450 deg. for about 10-12 minutes

I made a few to sample and they tasted really good. I had some errands to run, so I let the rest of the dough rise for a few more hours. When I got home I rolled out the rest of the dough.
As you can see, I'm not a professional. :) Still after baking for 13 minutes, they looked pretty tasty.

Somehow I managed to miss the salt on three of them. Still, they taste pretty good. Tara sampled some of the first batch and they met her approval. Nice and crispy on the outside with a soft, chewy interior. If I'd thought, I would have sprinkled some of Tara's bacon salt on a few. :) Oh well. Maybe next time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Teriyaki Chicken

Well, after a beef-tastic week, we are finally going to cook some chicken. I decided to use a slightly modified version of the grilled tuna teriyaki I made a few months back. I substituted 4 tbs each of mirin and sake for the Jack Daniels, as well as adding some grated orange zest from an orange we've had hanging around. I mixed the marinade in my blender and put the chicken into a Ziploc to soak overnight. Tomorrow night I'll fire up the grill and see how it comes out. I've used this recipe recently on more tuna, but only soaked it for an hour or two. Hopefully more flavor will infuse into the meat with the much longer soak time.

Friday, September 5, 2008

How to get Tara really excited

We stopped into Sweet Republic after dinner tonight and Tara started jumping up and down and grabbed my arm when she saw this flavor. We sampled it and she really liked it. She wanted to get Sugar n Spice ice cream, but I gently reminded her how badly she felt after out last visit, so she got Peachy Keen sorbet instead. I got Real Mint Chip. Very good.

We ended up chatting with the owners for quite a while. They are much younger than we expected. They are very friendly and discussed everything from where to get good bacon, what kind of ice cream flavors we enjoy, to Chinese and Thai food in the Valley. I introduced myself because I'd responded to a deleted thread one of them posted on Chowhound. It turns out that Sweet Republic is quite the CH gathering place. She knows quite a few of them now from their repeat visits. :) Or from the fact that one has always shown up wearing kilt... What's THAT about? :-D

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Then again, you can't get this in Georgetown...

While I dearly miss my beloved hometown, some things just aren't available without an hour or so drive to Portland. Unless the culinary landscape has changed since my last visit, Vietnamese still isn't very common in Mid-Coast Maine. Sure, they are a dime a dozen in Boston, Worcester and thereabouts, but not so much in Sagadahoc County.

I never really got into Vietnamese until I finished college. Despite having a ton of Vietnamese friends in college, the one time we went for it I nearly gagged. I was the only white guy among a group of two Vietnamese girls, an Indonesian guy, and our Atlanta native white girl friend. My meal came out a full half-hour after they got their food and every piece of "chicken" was apparently joint-meat. It put me off for years.

Then came one of my visits to Montreal for the F1 race. I went with one of my Vietnamese college friends, T, and a coworker of hers. We ate lunch at a little Vietnamese place somewhere in Montreal and I loved it. Perfectly cooked, subtle flavors. Yum.

When I moved to Dallas in '95, I met said friend's family, who lived in a Dallas suburb. By that point, I'd known her and her sister, L, who went to BU, for six years. Memorial Day of '96, L was visiting her family and they invited me to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. This was my first exposure to pho. They showed me how to use the various sauces and fresh herbs to season it. I was more or less addicted to pho from that point. There was a great pho place near my longtime home in Carrollton, TX, that I went to so often they recognized my voice on the phone before I'd even order. :) Dallas has a huge Vietnamese population among it's sprawlburbs, and I tried so many places I lost count.

Jump ahead to my move to Phoenix. While there are some great restaurants here, there just isn't the volume that I was spoiled with in Dallas. One place I've been to many times is Pho Avina. Tara went into work today, so I had the day to myself. Since I was going to be on that side of town anyways, I stopped in for lunch. They don't serve their banh mi on weekends, so I got the grilled pork with egg roll bun I snapped a picture of above. The grilled pork was nice and sweet. I love their egg rolls. The barely visible plate in the upper right is what's left of my appetizer order of them. All in all, the meal hit the spot. Speaking of spots, my poor white shirt took a beating, as my somewhat rusty chopstick skills tended to splatter the nuac mum just a bit. Well worth it, though.

Not that I wouldn't kill for fresh lobsters right now. You have to pick your battles. :)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why my sister is evil...

Because she posts pictures like this on her blog. She and Mom aren't very subtle about wanting Tara and I to visit more often.

Evil, I tell ya. :)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sweet Republic Ice Cream - Scottsdale

Our good friend and uber-food blogger Seth posted a review of Sweet Republic on his site a couple days ago. Being avowed ice cream lovers and having read their flavor menu online, we knew we had to try it sooner rather than later. We were in the neighborhood this afternoon, so we dropped in.

Sweet Republic is in the small strip mall on the northwest corner of Shea and 91st Street in Scottsdale. Due to the shape the mall and the Bank of America on the corner, it's hard to see from the road. I'd looked up the address ahead of time so knew which nook to look in.

We were the only to patrons when we entered. They have a typical ice cream shop layout. The display with their daily selection of ice cream faces the door. They had eight or ten varieties of ice cream and then another ten in a separate freezer with their selection of sorbet and yogurt. They are happy to let you sample as many as you like. We tried nearly all the ice cream and a few of the sorbets/yogurts before we left.

Tara got a scoop of their Sugar 'n Spice- "molasses sugar cookies meet cinnamon spiced ice cream". It was outstanding. Strong cinnamon flavor and a great grainy texture with bits of cookies, sugar and spices. We both loved it.

I got Belgian Chocolate- "made with extra-rich, smooth Belgian chocolate". Compared to their other very flavorful creations, this was rather plain, but still a great ice cream. It had an incredibly smooth texture and a nice chocolate flavor. I really enjoyed it.

After we'd finished, we looked over the flavors again. The lady behind the counter asked if there were any other flavors we wanted to try before we left. So of course, we went nuts. I loved the Real Mint Chip- "fresh mint leaves & rich flakes of chocolate - pure minty goodness". The flavors came in waves. First the ice cream, then the strong, natural mint flavors, and then the chocolate. It's hard to describe the fullness of the mint flavor. The use of mint leaves brought on different stages of mint flavor for me. This is on the top of my list on the next visit.

Tara had a similar experience with the Peachy Keen Sorbet- "ripe yellow peaches – a pure juicy bite of summer". She said it had an extremely pure peach flavor and was probably her favorite of all we tried. In all, we sampled twelve different flavors of frozen goodness. If you like coffee ice cream, try the Sumatra Espresso Shot- "made with locally roasted bold, full-bodied Sumatran espresso beans (More Than Fair trade)". It had a great, strong coffee/expresso flavor.

They rotate their flavors, so every time you go, it will be different. The flavors Seth and J had weren't available when we went. We hope they are able to do good business in their location, as they have great product.

One word of warning: If you are lactose-intolerant, stick to the sorbets or yogurts. Trust us on this one. The richness of the ice cream will wreak havoc with you. If you are like some lactose-intolerant, ice cream-loving people I know, you might consider it worth it. Just be prepared to pay the Piper afterward.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Omnivore’s Hundred

This list has been ALL over the lately. It's a list of 100 things every good omnivore should try at least once. This list was developed on a blog called Very Good Taste. Here's a link to his original post. Tara and I both saw it and counted how many we've tried. I had to revise my count after I'd looked up some items I didn't know. Turns out, I'd actually eaten them. Is it just me, or is that kinda scary? :) Looks like 42 is my magic number.

And as all true Geeks know, 42 is a great number. :)

Here's what to do:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. I just did them in red.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros

4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari

12. Pho (Love pho)

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart (Brud’s in Boothbay Harbor)

16. Epoisses

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns (a staple at any dim sum I go to)

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn or head cheese

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters

29. Baklava (another favorite of mine)

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam Chowder in Soudough Bowl

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar

37. Clotted Cream Tea

38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects

43. Phaal

44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more

46. Fugu

47. Chicken tikka masala (one of my favorite Indian dishes)

48. Eel (unagi from Hana in Phoenix is like candy for me)

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (way over-rated)

50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine

60. Carob chips

61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian

66. Frogs’ legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings or andouillette

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost or brunost

75. Roadkill

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie

78. Snail

79. Lapsang Souchong

80. Bellini

81. Tom Yum (I prefer Tom Ka, but Tom Yum also good)

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a Michelin 3-star restaurant

85. Kobe beef

86. Hare

87. Goulash

88. Flowers

89. Horse

90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Temptation and Torture

Tara worked some of today to get caught up at work and have a co-worker help her with an Access database. I hit the gym, a rare occurrence for me on a Saturday. When she got home mid-afternoon, we wanted to get out of the house so we took drive. She got hungry around 5pm and got her yearly pizza craving. She only wanted a slice or so, and since I can't do tomato sauce pizza, we swung by Luna Pizza in Deer Valley at the 101 and I17 intersection. I used to go there for lunch when I worked across the street and knew that had good pizza by the slice.

Tara got their special (2 slices of two-topping pizza and a drink) and garlic knots. I got two pepperoni rolls, hoping they were sans-marinara and a drink. We each helped ourselves to a Pepsi at the soda fountain and waited for our meals.

After 10 or 15 minutes, Tara's slices were dropped off. Two woefully out-classed, thin paper plates were overloaded with her to large, greasy (in a good way) slices of pepperoni and garlic pizza. They smelled so good. They were fresh out of the oven and extremely hot. I was all but drooling. A minute or two later, the garlic knots and my pepperoni rolls were dropped off. Thankfully, the marinara sauce was on the side. They looked like two cinnamon rolls, except made with pizza dough with chopped pepperoni instead of cinnamon.

Once they'd cooled down, I took a bite, They were really good. Nicely browned and the pepperoni grease flavored the dough nicely. They didn't have the nice crust that the pizza had, but they were a pretty good substitute. Tara liked her slices (she's normally not a pizza person), but she was only able to finish one. Between the size and grease, she had to stop. I scavenged the pepperoni and crust from it. I really wanted to scarf the whole slice down, but I knew there would be very bad repercussions if I did. I was THIS CLOSE to just giving in. I love the high-quality gourmet pizzas from PB and Humble Pie, but there's a lot to be said about the simple perfection of a greasy, NYC-style slice.

After we finished, we headed home so Tara could change shirts (did I mention the abundance of dripping grease?). We watched some incredibly boring covering of the women's Olympic marathon for a while and I decided I wanted something for dessert. We eventually decided to go to Mary Coyle's on 7th Ave just north of Missouri. Across the street from my beloved Hana (more temptation...).

Tara got a small sundae and I got a regular one. They were both pretty good. Unfortunately, being Asian, Tara is extremely lactose-intolerant and Mary Coyle's ice cream hits her hard and fast. We hadn't been there in ages, so we'd forgotten. So we headed home and she retired to the bedroom until her stomach decided to relent.

I'd just gone into the bedroom to finish reading one of my Dresden Files novels when I got a call from the support team on one of my accounts. I forgot that they were patching servers this weekend, so I get to stay up until the Intel team finishes so I can verify my servers are running normally. So much fun... I just want to sleep.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My current pizza methodology

Lately I've been buying F&E pizza dough and experimenting with it. I've tried making my own dough, but my aging KitchenAid isn't what it used to be.

I cut the dough into two balls, roughly 8 oz. each. I preheat the oven to 450 and put our 12" Lodge Logic cast iron skillet on medium-low. I put 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (or any convenient oil) in the skillet before heating and use a pastry brush to spread it evenly. I roll out the dough until it will just about take up the whole bottom of the skillet. Once the skillet is up to temp (350 or so), I put the dough into it. I then brush the top of the dough with more olive oil. Once the bottom has gotten a bit of a crisp and browned, I use tongs to flip it over.

I then top it. Since I can't have tomato products of late, I've used pepperoni, ham w/pineapple, and/or mushrooms. I've also used pesto instead of tomato sauce with good results. I sprinkle liberally with mozzarella and then bake it for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese is nicely browned.

I take it out and let it cool on a rack for a few minutes. I usually get a nicely crispy (although with occasional small burnt spots on the bottom if I'm not careful) pizza. The top gets a nice crust from the initial crisping so the toppings don't get it mushy. The pizza is even good cold, which is one of my benchmarks for good pizza.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Uber-Geek + Romance =

You've gotta hand it to our friend Michael. After being chastised for being too low-key in his first proposal, he bribes a few of his fellow Google-rs and comes up with this. See his full site for it here:

Geeks in love. Be very afraid.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Eden's Grill

Friday, much to my surprise, Tara let me know she's been craving Eden's Grill for weeks now. She never mentioned it until then. Apparently, the beef she had on our first visit was so good that she was like Odysseus with the Sirens. So we headed over for dinner.

Tara ordered a small bowl of their curried lentil soup and the Beef Kebab dinner. She got her rice with almonds, but without raisins. I got a small Fattuchee salad (Romaine lettuce, cucumber, and parsley topped with deep fried pita bread and house dressing, hold the tomatoes) and the Chicken and Gyros dinner. I got my rice without raisins or almonds. Both of us stuck with water with lemon for our drinks.

Tara's soup was really good. She usually doesn't do curry, but the friendly waitress assured us it was for flavor, not heat. She nearly licked the bowl clean. The small tastes I got I liked. My salad was very good. It was very large, split nearly equally between romaine and cucumbers. The deep fried pitas added a strong crunch. The flavor is hard to describe, but I enjoyed it. I really liked the many layers of crunchiness.

Tara loved her meal. The beef was perfectly cooked to her tastes and the rice/almond combo was superb. Mine was equally good. The chicken had a nice flavor from being marinated. The gyros were sliced in long, thin strips, perfectly cooked. The rice at Eden's is amazing. A deep yellow color, it's full of flavor.

You get a huge amount of food, and Tara and I both took home enough for another meal each. We had to force ourselves to stop eating. We knew we were full, but it was so good we just wanted to keep eating. I think that's a sign of really good food. All told, with tax and tip it came to about $51. Considering we got a second meal from our leftovers, it's a really good deal.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Does your Samsung SGH-A707 SYNC keep restarting itself?

Tara and I consolidated our cell phones onto my AT&T account last year. We both got Samsung SYNCs, identical blue ones, for free. Lately, they will spontaneously reboot AT THE SAME TIME multiple times a day. What the hell is going on? I know they can get OTA firmware upgrades, but this is more than that. They've rebooted three times each in the past few hours alone. Is is AT&T's way of getting us to switch to an iPhone?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A photo tour of Arizona Apple Stores (or "What to do when you have too much free time.")

Well, for no particular reason, I decided to visit all five of the Arizona Apple Stores this weekend. Since the Tucson store was the farthest, and we drove there anyway this weekend, I started there:
It's located in the La Encantada shopping mall. It's a pretty mall, like a cross between Biltmore and Kierland. Walking around in the 100+ degree heat and high humidity, we both wondered why they don't enclose more malls in AZ.

Next, we hit the two southern Valley Apple Stores. First was the one in the Chandler Fashion Center:
It's located in the basement of the mall, so the "hot" new 3G iPhone only gets EDGE reception, thus they can't demo the new higher speed data rate. Brilliant.

Barely ten miles east in San Tan Marketplace is the Gilbert store:
Why they need two stores so close is a mystery. It's a brand new mall and the Gilbert area really needed the new retail options. It's a sprawling complex, similar to the new one near us at Happy Valley and the 17.

We hit the first Apple Store in the Valley next in the Biltmore:
The Biltmore mall puzzles us. Unless they've changed, nearly every store closes at 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. We went there the week before Christmas a couple years ago at 4:15pm and like 4 stores were open. The Apple store was open to 6pm I think.

Lastly, we stopped by the newest Valley store in Glendale today. It opened yesterday:
This is another store in a mall basement with no 3G signal. Granted this only affects one product in their range, but still.

All the stores are running together for me at this point. I'm not really sure what possessed me to go to all of them. Just weird, I guess. Hopefully within a few months I'll be able to visit one and pick up a nice new iPhone. Or a new iPod, to replace my long-gone Nano. We'll see.

Tucson Day Trip

For no real reason, we decided to drive to Tucson yesterday. I kinda wanted to take my car on a long highway trip to see how it does for highway mileage. So a little after noon, we gassed up the Passat and headed south. My Passat drives better than my old Audis on the highway. It has that European "gee, we're just dawdling along" feel at fairly high speeds. If felt like I was going slow but as I went to go by the car in front of me, I look down and we're doing, well, let's just say a tad above the speed limit. My Audis always felt like they were going fast. The Passat is just serene. It's similar to the feel my parents' Peugeots from the 80s had. Unlike most Peugeot traits, that's a good thing.

The trip down was uneventful. We got there a bit before 2pm and made a pit stop at the Wal-Mart at Cortaro Rd/I10 for batteries for my camera and nature breaks. We used to take Cortaro Rd to the Omni Tucson when we did weekend trips to Tucson for a few years. Really nice resort with great customer service. We were upgraded to better rooms on two of of our three stays due to fairly minor problems. Hopefully we can visit again this year or next.

After Wally World, we headed east on Ina to La Endantada shopping mall. I felt like visiting the Apple Store. We looked longingly at the iPod Touches and 3G iPhone (they were sold out, btw). We were both hungry, so I hijacked a MacBook Air and perused Chowhound for a place to eat. We settled on the Wildcat House at 1801 N Stone. One person said it had good burgers and was cheap. I checked its website and the menu looked good, so we headed down.

Wildcat House is a huge bar that I'm guessing caters to UofA crowd. It was described as "cavernous" in the thread I saw and that's very apt. We ordered a 1/2 lb burger for me and a tri-tip sandwich for Tara, each with fries, at the window for $14. You order your drinks from the long bar in the back. We got two huge glasses of Coke for $2/each and waited for our name to be called. We took a seat at one of the massive wooden picnic tables on the large tiled dance floor and passed the time watching the Red Sox take it deep from the Yankees. It was painful.

After what seemed like a somewhat long wait, our order was up. I dressed my burger at the topping station and Tara scrounged a couple plastic ramekins for ketchup and Thousand Island dressing (she like TI on her fries). My burger was really good. Nicely charred but cooked to my medium-well order. The fries was beefsteakish, thick cut and nicely crispy on the outside, soft, but cooked, on the inside. Way better than a fast-food burger combo. Tara really liked her tri-tip sandwich. The only downside was they had a huge breeze blowing that cooled us nicely, but also chilled our meals faster than normal. Not a huge deal. We really enjoyed the food and for only $18, it was a definite bargain.

We hit a Marshalls on the way out. I'd found some shirts that I liked at the ones around Phoenix and wanted to see if the Tucson store had any. They didn't, so we headed back to the highway. I wanted to grab a drink from our cooler in the trunk, so I happened to stop in the parking lot of a donut shop. We'd passed it on the way in and thought it was closed, but it was actually open. I hadn't planned on going inside, but the smells were too tempting. Tara and I went in. She didn't want anything except a Coke. I got a couple glazed donuts, a glazed twist, and a maple long john. At which point Tara decided she wanted a plain croissant. The lady behind the counter got all that and then took the bag to the far end of the counter and put something else in it. She came back and told us she'd put some glazed donut holes in. I tried one and it was like glazed crack. Perfectly cooked, great texture, and the perfect amount of glaze. She gave us ten and they were gone before we hit the city limits. The place is called the Donut Wheel, and it's on Ina just east of the I10, next to a Circle K. The other items were nearly equally good. It's a definite to-go place on our next visit.

On our way back we stopped at the new shopping mall in Casa Grande. The Marshalls there had several shirts my size on clearance, so I snagged a polo and two tshirts. After that, we made our way back to the Valley. All in all, it was a fun little trip with the added bonus of finding some pretty good food.

Payson Bacon Update

The bacon we got at Charlie's in Payson last week was divided evenly into two distinctly different sizes. Last weekend we cooked the seven larger slices and they were good, but overly salty. This morning I cooked up the remaining seven slices that were smaller, maybe 1/2 the size of the first batch. I took a bite and gave Tara the remaing half of the piece I sampled. We both agreed this time it was fantastic. It was perfectly salted and I managed to cook it to a nice crispness. It had a great meaty bacon flavor unspoiled by excess salt. This seemed to come from another batch. This bacon is a solid third, possibly second on a good day, on our list. Vonhanson's still is top, but this gives The Pork Shop bacon a good run for it's money. We need to hit TPS when they reopen in September.

I guess it will come down to consistency. VH's bacon varies in sweetness, but is always great. We've had TPS bacon once, and it was very, very good. Others also love VH and TPS bacon, so consistency seems pretty good. Since we just have the one experience with Charlie's bacon, and no other annecdotal evidence, it's hard to say which might be their "typical" bacon. At $4.50/lb, if you are in the area, it's certainly not that bad a gamble. Not worth a special trip at this point, but if the batch we had today is typical, it's pretty close to being worthy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Beginnings

Tara finally got her job offer today from the company she's been interviewing with for nearly a month. We're both very excited. She finally gets to go back to work and we can both breathe a little easier about our finances. It'll be a few weeks before she gets her first check, but at least the light is at the end of the tunnel. She's got much better benefits, too. Three weeks paid vacation, the company pays 90% of her health insurance, and they don't take 10% off the top of her paycheck like her old company. They also just moved to a brand new office two weeks ago. Another bonus is they are within spitting distance of Ice Tango, which is one of Tara's new vices. :)

Today is also our 4th anniversary together. We had dinner at the then-new, now-closed original location of Blue Wasabi, followed by watching Fahrenheit 9/11. Nothing like sushi and Bush-bashing on a first date. :)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bacon Tasting

I cooked the bacon from Charlie's this morning using my normal oven bake procedure. It was pretty good, but overly salty. Even Tara, who has a much higher salt tolerance then I do, found it too salty. It's a very thick-cut bacon, so trying to get it to my preferred crispiness would have rendered it into burnt sticks. I was able to get a good balance, though. We each had a slice and a half. We used the rest in bacon and egg sandwiches. The saltiness wasn't as noticeable in that application.

It's possible the saltiness was just an errant batch. If we're ever up in Payson again, we'll probably grab some more just to see. As it stands now, Vonhansons still wins. Saltiness aside, we'd rank Charlies about fourth, behind VH, The Pork Shop, and Midwestern Meats. Given it's $4.49/lb price, without the saltiness it would be a great deal. It's head and shoulders above most pre-packaged bacon that costs more as it is.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday Road Trip

Last night around 12:30am, my sweet, still-unemployed-but-the-end-might-be-in-sight, slightly insomniac girlfriend, who hadn't left the house in a day or so, asked if we could drive somewhere. Like Litchfield Park. Flagstaff. Tuscon. San Francisco. Right then. With me half-asleep. Luckily I was still aware enough to decline.

Today after I got back from seeing "The Dark Knight" (absolutely brilliant by the way), she said she needed to go somewhere. Initially I thought about going to a place with a huge chicken out front that our friend Seth had mentioned in Apache Junction, but we didn't know the name. I texted him, but didn't get a response in the short time we had. On our way to AJ, I vaguely remembered that there might be construction this weekend on the 60. Actually, it was the 202, but we didn't find out until we got back. Since we were coming up to the Shea exit on the 101, we decided to head towards Fountain Hills.

When we hit the east end of Shea, we took AZ87 north. I decided to go to Payson for no particular reason except I hadn't been there before. Except for a metal wheelbarrow flying over the 6' tall cement median and landing about 300' in front of us in the fast lane, it was an uneventful trip up.

While driving up the main drag in Payson, we noticed a shop in a small strip mall with a sign advertising "Old Fashioned Sausage & Fresh Meats". Since we were in need of a pit stop first, we stopped into a convenient fast food restaurant. When we came out, it was at least 10 degrees cooler and blowing a gale. We could see dark clouds off to the east that appeared to be coming our way.

We got back on 87 and drove north through Payson to see what was there. We saw a couple little shops that looked interesting and we stopped in after pulling a u-turn at the north end of town.

The shops turned out to be nothing special. The typical touristy, over-priced stuff. Disappointed, we headed to the meat market, Charlie's Old Fashioned Sausage & Fresh Meats, we saw on the way in.

We entered the small store to the strong smell of smoking meat. They were smoking fresh jerky as well as getting ready to close down for the weekend. It was 5pm, and they aren't open Sunday or Monday. A large glass-doored freezer held dozens of varieties of homemade sausages. Their item sheet boasts 35 varieties of homemade sausages.

Their meat cooler was bare as they were in the process of moving the meats into the larger fridge in the back. They did still have slab double-smoked bacon out front. For only $4.49, we had to grab a pound to try. It looked really good, extra-thick cut and meaty. The owner told us he gets it smoked, peels off the layer of fat, and hickory smokes it again himself in the store. He warned us not to try to cook until crispy as that will render out a lot of the good flavor.

He also gave us the sheet of available meats and bundles he has available. It's very extensive. We told him we're from Phoenix and he said if we call ahead, he can have it ready to pickup with a few days advanced notice. We thanked him and left with our booty.

At this point, we are scared that we might really like the bacon. We are going to have it for breakfast tomorrow. We currently drive 80 miles round trip for our beloved Vonhanson's bacon. A 184 mile round trip would be a bit much, even for us. We'd need to rent a uHaul truck and by a MASSIVE quantity to make it worthwhile.

After a few more random stops and exploration, we headed back to the Valley. I'll post an update tomorrow on how the bacon turns out.

Charlie's is located at 405 S. Beeline Hwy Ste. A, Payson, AZ 85541 (928) 474-2085

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies - Some now, some later

I love chocolate chip cookie dough. I also make some really good cooked cookies as well. Over the years, I've pretty much perfected my method. I use a slightly modified Tollhouse recipe. The only problem is we usually can't eat four dozen cookies at time. Now that I work from home and Tara is unemployed, we have no place to get rid of the extras before they become hockey pucks.

I'd tried freezing leftover batter once before, with not very good results. I did some Google-ing, and saw that a lot of people freeze the dough after spooning it into cookie-sized portions. That way, they can just take out the number they want, cook them up, and always have fresh cookies on hand. I tried this and it worked really well. My problem was that dishing out by hand, while nice and rustic, didn't lend itself packing in plastic containers.

I'm a huge Good Eats fan. I love the off-beat, scientific approach Alton uses. Most of his recipes I've tried have been good. He uses an ice cream scoop to portion his cookies. I hit up the local restaurant supply stores a few weeks ago and got myself a #40 scoop. It looked to be the right size for my usual cookie portions. It turned out to be perfect.

I now get uniform cookies and they are very easy to pack into our various Rubbermaid/Glad/Tupperware containers. I just line the container with parchment paper or wax paper and then seal them up. I generally make a dozen and a half right after I mix up the batter.

To use the frozen nuggets, I take out the number I want to bake and set them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. This weekend we were way over in Mesa and stopped into the tiny outlet mall off of Power and the 60. There's a Kitchen Collection shop in there and they had a two-pack of silicone mats for $5. I tried one last night and it worked really well. Once on the sheet, I let them sit out for anywhere from 15-45 min so they can thaw a bit. Some people put them directly into the oven frozen, but I tried that to not good results. Others use their toaster oven, but again, I had bad results. I stick to the regular oven with perfect results.

The ones I made last night tasted just as good as the ones I made from the same batch several weeks ago. I like my cookies either raw (it's a sickness, I know) or fresh out of the oven while the chocolate is still somewhat molten. Now, I can have them either way just about any time I want. :)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fourth weekend activities

We had a good long weekend. Thursday we caught an early show of Wall-E. I really liked it. Not quite as good as The Incredibles, but animation is amazing and the story is very desolate for a long time. I'm sure I'll be seeing it again sometime soon. After the movie, we hit Osha Thai. They were open (but were closing for the rest of the weekend) and we had a great meal, as always. I love their panang, even if it was a tad spicier this time than normal. The important thing is it had FLAVOR as well as a bit of heat.

Friday we did a late-ish lunch at Stacy's Smokehouse. The last time we tried to go, two days after the good review on the Republic, they were closed. Turns out Stacy had a trip to Vegas already planned and didn't want to be open without him so soon after the article. Tara got a beef sandwich and I got a pork sandwich, both with mild sauce. The sauce was sweet and vaguely Sloppy Joe-tasting. The meat was amazing as usual. We tried the deep-fried corn on the cob, onion rings, and fried pickles. The rings were the winner. The pickles were good, but very salty to me. The deep-fried corn on the cob didn't have much flavor. It was battered in a cornmeal batter that Tara like separately, but not with the corn. Still, if you stick to the meats, you can't go wrong at Stacy's.

We tried Ice Tango after Stacy's at Frank Lloyd Wright and the 101. We both got their tangy tart yogurt with different mixins. It's really good and tastes like real yogurt. It was a bit too tart for me to finish all of it, but still outstanding. Tara loved hers with granola and fresh strawberries. Definitely will go back for more.

Friday night we decided to catch some fireworks. We eventually decided to watch the Tempe Town Lake show from Tempe Marketplace. It was close enough to see the fireworks and hear them after a bit of a delay, but no drunks or cover charge. A ton of folks were doing the same thing. Tara got to play with a little eight year old girl who was watching them next to us with her older sister. We could see five different shows from where we were. Tempe, Mesa, possibly Indian Steele Park, and two to the northwest in N Scottsdale or so. It was fun.

Saturday we stopped into Wicked Bakery on Cave Creek Rd south of Greenway to check them out. Man, they've got some good stuff there. We left with a whoopie pie, a slice of deep-dish Dutch apple pie, a double-stack brownie, and a piece of carrot cake. All were really good. The whoopie pie wasn't quite like the ones I used to have growing up in Maine, but pretty close. The apple pie was very yummy. It would be better heated, but I didn't have the patience. Tara loved the carrot cake, but eventually it was too sweet for her to finish, so I did. :) She had her brownie today and it was very chocolatey. We'll definitely be back.

Saturday evening we decided to take a road trip to Joe's Farm Grill in Gilbert. Thankfully it wasn't mobbed like the last time we attempted to eat there. Tara had a burger with gruyere and sweet potato fries. I had a double hot dog basket with regular fries. My dogs were great and the fries were very crispy and good. Tara's burger had great flavor in the small bite I had. Her sweet potato fries were very crispy, but she thought they lacked a good sweet potato flavor. I could taste the flavor, but it was very subdued.

Sunday we lazed around the house. We made homemade buttermilk pancakes for a late breakfast. We found an awesome recipe a while back. Very fluffy and nice flavor. I really need to get a new electric griddle. Our current one looks like it should be in a greasy spoon somewhere. Still does the job for now, though.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

For the food and science geek crowd

Tara sent me this link referring to the above product. This is such an out of left field name, yet so perfect. I remember Avogadro from high school chemistry and my engineering classes in college.

Too bad I don't like guac.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

No karma tonight at all

So Tara and I are trying to figure out where to eat tonight. Eventually she IM's me via Yahoo (I was in the living room, she was in the bedroom) suggesting Stacy's Smokehouse. It's about 8pm and I thought they close at 9pm. So I get my outside clothes on and go and tell her we probably need to hurry. She wasn't worried, because the New Times review said they are open until 11pm on Sat. Cool.

So we get there at about 8:45pm and there's not a soul or car anywhere near Stacy's. Parking lot is empty, all the lights are off, and all we need were some tumbleweeds to pound the point into our heads. It seemed very odd they'd be closed on a Saturday, especially since only a few days ago they got a rave review in the AZ Republic. So I drive west down Indian School while we ponder our options. I suggest Chompie's in the PV mall, since we've been there well after 9pm before. Tara agrees and we head up.

We arrive at 9:06pm to watch someone locking the doors below the ironically flashing neon "OPEN" sign. The hours on the window confirm they now close at 9pm. So now we're starved and 0-2. I wonder if PV mall made them standardize their house to coincide with mall hours or if they have shorter hours during the summer months. Either way, we're screwed and I'm starting to feel like I'm back home in backwoods Maine again where you can't eat out after the sun sets.

Eventually we end up at CPK in Desert Ridge. They are open till 11pm. I had a half Miso Salad and Tara had a penne pasta dish. We both can't wait until she gets a full-time job again so we could go to the places we really like that are open past 9, like Hana or Benihana (no relation). Or, as our dinner rambling suggested, Capital Grill, Binkley's, Kai...

Friday, June 27, 2008

My other can't wait movie this summer...

I love the post-80s, noirish Batman ushered in by Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns". The early 90s B:TAS had a great visual look (prior to it's WB-ization) and it actually introduced future villains into it's continuity prior to their turn to evil. "Almost Got Him" is one of my favorite episodes.

I loved "Batman Begins". Now comes the first review of "The Dark Knight" from Rolling Stone.

Iron Man (awesome), Wall*E, and TDK.

It's turning out to be a great summer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Grilled Marinated Chicken breast (and a bit)

I few days ago I stumbled across some food videos on's Dining area. One of them showed how to make a simple vinaigrette marinade. Apparently vinaigrette's are always a 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar, plus whatever herbs and spices. Their recipe was for balsamic, oil, garlic, dried thyme and dried basil. Put them all into a blender and mix well. Here is what I used:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic (our fresh garlic wasn't so much anymore)

Put all the ingredients into a blender and blend well. I meant to marinate two chicken breasts, but the ones I took out of the freezer ended up being a full-sized boneless breast and one that was barely a tender. I tossed them into a Ziploc and poured enough marinade over them to cover. I still have enough leftover marinade for a second run once the other breasts thaw. I let them soak for about six hours. The video only marinated for 30 minutes, but I like to do it longer.

I fired up the grill, oiled the grate, and put the chicken on. The "tender" cooked in about 7 or so minutes. I took it off and it we tried it. It was really good. The larger piece took about 12-15 min. It ended up very moist and good flavor. Tara made some orzo to go with it. I'll probably try it again tomorrow night (if Tara doesn't mind and the chicken is thawed) or Thursday.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sneaky Buggers

During my post-gym F&E visit, I was nearly run-down by one of their employees when he grabbed a cart and bee-lined towards their front meat cooler. I did a quick scan and didn't see any 1/2 price stickers, so I started to look at their main meat cooler. As I did, I noticed him rummaging around in the front cooler. In the far back, under a few other packages, he took a 1/2 priced 12-pack of hamburgers. I jokingly commented that they stash the good ones. He then grabbed a SECOND one from back there and said he had been "saving" it for a coworker, but I could have that one. So I got 3lbs of burgers for only $4.51. Not too bad. Tara wrapped them and stashed them in our freezer for future use. :)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wall*E opens Friday. I can't wait.

I love most of Pixar's movies. While Cars and A Bug's Life are technically (given their respective releases) impressive, their stories didn't enthrall me. The Incredibles is probably my favorite, with the Toy Stories, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, and Ratatouille close behind. For kids, you can't go wrong with any of them. My nephews love Cars.

I always look forward to the new Pixar movie. They are masters at the art of trailers. They frequently create exclusive footage for them, like The Incredibles' teaser with Mr Incredible hilariously and heroically strugging with his belt buckle. The Wall*E trailers have done a great job of slowly building up Wall*E's personality first and then expanding the movie's perceived world from Earth to a whole galaxy. Yet I still don't feel like I've seen the whole movie from the trailers, which is frequently the case with most other films.

We probably won't see it opening weekend. I shudder to imagine the crowds of screaming kids who are going to mob the theaters. We'll probably do a late show July 4th weekend or something. The little kid/sci-fi geek/movie buff in me are all chomping at the bit.

Plus Tara's getting sick of me giggling every time I see a clip or hear his name. :)