Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bosnian in Bevo Mill

For dinner, I had goulash, chicken livers with polenta, Slovenian beer, a bite of cheesecake, and a cappuccino.

Sorry for bad photo quality, but it was dark. I don't usually even like taking photos of my food in public, but, well, there was something else I wanted to photograph for the blog so it was ok. More on that in a minute...

We went to Laganini, my favorite local Bosnian restaurant. St. Louis is the home of 30,000+ Bosnian refugees, so there is a great neighborhood here called Bevo Mills, that is full of Bosnian deliciousness. Laganini supposedly also has some of the best pizza in our (pizza parlor-saturated) town, but the rest of their menu is so interesting I haven't managed to try any of it yet. When I do, their intriguing-sounding tuna fish pizza is first on my list.

In any case, their goulash is simple but tasty. The chicken livers were kind of ill-conceived on my part- as I get older, things I used to eat without thinking about I now think about, and get grossed out by. I'll still try anything, but certain odd meat products are less and less appetizing. Maybe I could've managed it without the goulash, but it was just too rich and I gave up. The polenta, which I generally don't like, was really nice, with a little more texture than I'm used to and some underlying complex flavors (perhaps onion and schmaltz?). The beer was Lasko, which actually has a caron (thank you, Wikipedia) over the "s", and is thus pronounced "lahshko", was pretty good. A friend described it as Heineken with more hops, which is apt. I had a bite of someone else's cheesecake, which was delicious (and homemade). The cappuccino was nice, too, but could've used a little more foam.

Beyond the really good food, the good prices, the pretty decor, the great (and yes, dudes in my group, very pretty) waitress, there is the best thing of all. Something worth taking photos of.

Singing! On Saturday nights, the owner and a friend break out a guitar, a keyboard, and various computer synthesizer thingies and go to town. It is awesome. We had a great time drinking our coffee and listening to Balkan synth-folk.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bread from Beard for Breakfast

For breakfast, I had some homemade bread with butter and boysenberry preserves, and some coffee.

I ran out of white whole wheat flour a few days ago, so I'm trying to get rid of all the weird, adventurous flours I have on hand before I buy more. Specifically, I have graham flour and dark rye flour on hand. I decided to tackle the graham flour first, with Beard on Bread's graham bread recipe.

Graham flour, interestingly, is just normal whole-wheat flour milled differently. Instead of being milled whole, the wheat is separated into endosperm, bran, and germ, and milled to different degrees of fineness before being re-mixed. Stupidly, I somehow expected it to taste like graham crackers. It did not. But it turned out reasonably well.

My only complaint is the overwhelming smell of fermentation my bread always has. Sort of boozy. I've heard it's from too much yeast, or too much time rising? Next time, I want to try the overnight refrigerator rise that bread bakers advocate for more developed, nuanced flavors.

Regardless, I added some butter (not Cabot's, needless to say), and boysenberry preserves from TJ's, and it became delicious.

The coffee is TJ's pinon blend. I still don't like it, but it's almost gone. I can't wait, so I can buy some beans from Northwest Coffee instead.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Garlic Soup at Home

For dinner, I had homemade garlic soup, with a roasted acorn squash half.

I had leftover garlic, olive oil, and anchovy pasta for lunch, so I figured my breath was already shot for the day (Jon confirmed this. Rapidly.) Then, while we were grocery shopping, I remembered reading this and this awhile back, and decided to give the concept a try. Did I actually bother to call up the recipe on my new iPhone while at the grocery store? No. I laugh in the face of recipes.

So, of course I come home and realize I don't have the baguette I need. Nor sherry, sadly. I actually like fino sherry and usually do have it on hand.

Forget recipes, I decided to read a few different ones for context and then improvise. I ended up cooking perhaps ten cloves in olive oil, then adding chicken broth (half from a leftover box, half homemade!), and simmering it for awhile.

I decided it needed body, so, with much trepidation, I tried a technique I've never tried before- adding an egg to the hot soup. Embarrassing blogger confession, but eggs make me really nervous. My mayonnaise always sucks. Custards are even worse. And poaching? I can do it, but I usually don't want to eat the result.

The technique is to add the hot liquid to the egg in very small increments while stirring furiously. To my surprise, it actually worked, and I got a nicely emulsified soup without any egg chunks.

The result was very Japanese to me, and not at all garlicky. The flavors were incredibly subtle, with a silky, chickeny creaminess that makes it seem like dairy was involved, without any heaviness. I did not cook the garlic long enough to render it mushy, so the cloves remained whole in the soup. They had been thoroughly cooked, so added only a very mild, mellow flavor. I added some leftover arugula to the soup, and a bit of lemon juice and salt to balance it all.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Cunetto's on the Hill

For dinner, I had pasta in a garlic, olive oil, and anchovy sauce, with a small salad.

Cunetto was actually the first Italian restaurant we tried in St. Louis, back in August. None of us liked it, although I had less strong feelings about their food than Jon and his parents, who uniformly hated it. Now that I've eaten there again, I agree with them.

The salad at least was okay. Their house Italian was tasty, and the lettuce was crisp. There was no Provel that I noticed. The croutons were boring and the meat (dried ham? NO idea) was not very flavorful, but the whole thing was not bad. It helped that I'd had nothing to eat all day but a banana and a granola bar.

The first problem is that my menu item's pasta is described (in two languages, no less) as "macaroni/maccheroni". Macaroni, in English, is generally thought of as shortish, tubular pasta. See: macaroni and cheese. What does it mean in Italian, you ask? I speak close to zero real Italian, but, unfortunately for Cunetto, I speak enough Spanish to comprehend written Italian.To summarize: "Il maccherone รจ tipicamente un tipo di pasta corta.". And yes, there are regional terminology shifts within Italy, but why on earth would you confuse people on purpose? Because what I received looked an awful lot like spaghetti. I know this was not a random fluke, because it's what I ordered in August, and the same thing happened (at which point, I assumed it was a fluke). Can you imagine being on, say, a blind date, or a job interview, and choosing the macaroni so as to be less messy?

The second problem was the salt. Oh god, the salt. At first I thought they'd done a poor job of soaking their anchovies, but Jon's carbonara was just as bad.

The third problem depends, I guess, on your perspective. Their portion sizes could kill a large mammal (if the sodium doesn't). One serving of pasta is 1/2 cup, about the size of a scoop of ice cream. Their entree is easily four cups. Maybe more. Also, they serve it in an oblong server that can barely hold it all, which no doubt leads to more blind date/job interview fun. At under $10 for that many servings, their menu items are a great deal, but it's so much, it just ends up being grotesque and excessive.

I could complain more, but why bother? It's a St. Louis institution, and family run, and cute. I want to like them. They're packed on the weekends, and in no danger of going anywhere. Good for them. But will we be going there again? NO.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

PIzza at Home

For dinner, I had homemade pizza with some arugula and a glass of red wine.

On a whim, I decided to try TJ's white (as opposed to their whole wheat) pre-made pizza dough. I'd tried their whole wheat dough before, with unimpressive results, so my expectations weren't high. In my mind, the mere act of making pizza is an apathetic way to clean out the fridge, so my expectations are never terribly high.

I had a disastrous time finding toppings (turns out my fridge wasn't as full of leftovers as I thought), and an even worse time wrangling the dough onto the pizza stone and topping it (as you may recall, I do not own a pizza peel).

And yet, it turned out reasonably well. The crust was perfect- crisp on the outside, chewy and fluffy on the inside. I was very impressed, and wonder if I hated their whole wheat crust because I followed their cooking instructions rather than my gut pizza stone instincts. Next time, I'll try their whole wheat crust, but bake it at a higher temperature and see if it yields better results.

Ooh, pretty crust...

I topped it with a garlic/olive oil sauce, smoked chicken sausage from TJ's, and some baby Swiss left over from a fondue experiment a few weeks back. I wish I'd had another, more assertive cheese to blend with the Swiss. I was trying to get rid of the chicken sausage, because it tastes like hot dogs. Gourmet or not, kosher or not, I do not and have never, ever liked hot dogs. The sausage is slightly better than a hot dog, and tasted fine on the pizza, but it will not be a repeat TJ's purchase.

The wine was Albero tempranillo from TJ's. It's inexpensive(under $6), and made with organic grapes. It's also weird. My best guess is that it's too young to drink. I like tannins, but it's downright bitter, after two hours of breathing.

In other news, I made some muffins this evening. Chocolate chip mini-muffins, with white whole wheat flour. They turned out nicely, except that it is impossible to thoroughly grease my mini-muffin tin without significant effort. And I am lazy. Hence, decapitated mini-muffins.

Also, I am still grossed out about the crappy butter I have.

Yuck. This is the butter with "natural flavors" added that make it smell and taste like movie popcorn butter. Even Jon noticed the weird smell, and he has notoriously bad smelling acuity. It's not terribly noticeable in baked goods, but I'm still irate with Cabot's.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kasha at Home

For lunch, I had a big bowl of kasha and a glass of soy milk. I LOVE kasha.

Kasha, not to be confused with Kashi the cereal company (although apparently "kashi" is also the plural of "kasha" when the word is being used in its more generic Eastern European meaning of groats or porridge), is toasted buckwheat.

Kasha comes in different granulations- whole, medium, and fine. My favorite is medium, which seems (anecdotally, over years of kasha consumption) to be the most popular to carry at grocery stores. Unless that grocery store is my local Whole Foods (ie, the same place that doesn't carry bulk semolina). Thanks to them and their weird stock choices, I have whole kasha on hand.

After prior trial and error with the whole granulation, I've found the best way to prepare it is to follow the microwave prep instructions from the medium granulation box. Following the non-microwave instructions from either box, or following the whole granulation's microwave instructions both yield mushy, gluey kasha.

The secret is an EGG. The basic procedure is to mix a raw, whole egg with the dry kasha kernels and microwave it. It turns into a hockey-puck-like blob, which you then break into the tiniest chunks you can with a fork. I usually break down and use my hands, steam burns be damned. Then you add hot water, cover, and microwave until the water is absorbed. The egg protein appears to keep the individual kernels from smushing (with apologies to Ronnie) together and getting gluey, which makes the texture interesting rather than icky.

The kasha was pretty good. I prefer medium granulation over whole because whole kasha kernels have a slightly dusty taste that overpowers the nutty, toasty flavors. The cooking technique minimizes the dustiness, but my light toss with a little butter and salt didn't completely eliminate it. It might be interesting to try using whole kasha in a grain salad, dressed liberally with vinaigrette, to remedy the problem.

The soy milk is from, of all places, Costco. We have a membership solely because they have the best prices anywhere on eyeglasses, and otherwise shop there maybe twice a year. We happened in a few weeks ago, and discovered they were selling 32oz. containers of organic soy milk in packs of 12 for under $12. It was too good to pass up, but it means I'll be drinking a lot of soy milk.

PS- no picture on this one, because kasha looks pretty boring and gross. I am a kasha evangelist, and y'all are probably more likely to try it if I don't put up an unappetizing photo...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Soup at Home

For dinner, I had some homemade potato-leek soup, with bread and a glass of red wine.

I wasn't actually going to blog about food today again, but I found this photo in my inbox, from Jon. I can take the hint. Did I mention HE made it? Maybe if I blog about it, Jon will cook cool things more often. I can hope.

It is pretty soup. And it was pretty delicious. Jon followed a modified Julia Child recipe for potage parmentier, chosen for its simplicity (we found several that required fifteen ingredients, which is ridiculous). This one contained only four real ingredients, although he modified it by using chicken stock instead of water. It took less than an hour of mostly unattended cooking, and turned out really well. It was very creamy, even though Jon used butter in lieu of heavy cream, and managed to be very filling. It's reasonably healthy, but doesn't taste "healthy". After my breakfast, and some crazy tallow-fried chicken for lunch, I was grateful for something light but substantial.

The wine was good, considering it was less than $4. It was a strange/slightly sketchy bottle we picked up at my favorite Italian market. It's bottled under the "Lost Vineyards" label as a Portuguese table wine. It definitely wasn't as robust and rich as my beloved Portuguese reds, but it was an inoffensive dry red. I'm tiring of TJ's international selection, so it's nice to find cheap, good wine that's new, even if it's not amazing.

Federhofer's Bakery in St. Louis

For breakfast, I had caramel stollen with soymilk.

St. Louis is a city of neighborhoods and municipalities, many of which haven't seen any changes since the 60s or 70s. At ALL. There seems to be a huge belt of neighborhoods like this on the south side of St. Louis, running out to the suburbs in a south-west swath- Marlborough, Sappington, Crestwood, and Affton. It's very confusing and time-warpey the first time it happens- you're just driving along, and suddenly everything is old. Bowling alleys, vacuum repair shops, hairdressers. And little family bakeries.

We happened to drive by Federhofer's Bakery in Affton yesterday on our way somewhere else, and it looked so intriguing we had to loop back around to check it out. I haven't been in a dedicated bakery in years, so I was dumbfounded with the array of treats on offer. We ended up with a caramel stollen and some doughy crescent-shaped pastries filled with a chocolate-like substance (maybe a thin layer of chocolate pastry cream?).

The stollen is pretty good, if a bit sweet. There is coconut in the caramel glaze, which I find a little distracting, flavor-wise, but it adds a nice crunch. The almond filling is subtle, and the bread does its best to balance all the sweetness. Federhofer's prices were also great. It's quite a trek back there, but it's worth the drive for an occasional treat. I'm curious to try their fabulous-looking fresh breads next.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lion's Choice in St. Louis

For lunch, I had a cheddar roast beef sandwich, fries, and a root beer.

I've been wanting to check out Lion's Choice since we moved to town months ago. It's a local chain, started in the late 1960s, with kitschy signs and intriguing menu items.

It wasn't bad. I'm not much for fast food, and rarely order a "meal" somewhere because I hate most fast food fries and don't really drink soft drinks (Chick-Fil-A's fries and lemonade being the exception).

In any case, I ordered their #8, which is a roast beef sandwich with "cheddar". To my glee, "cheddar"= nacho cheese sauce; unfortunately, it obscured the flavors. I wish I'd ordered it plain to actually taste the beef (which, impressively, is sliced to order and cooked to a default medium rare). There was also a slightly absurd amount of salt sprinkled on the beef, so some bites were wildly salty and others merely over-salty. Underneath all the crap, the beef itself seemed to taste good.

The fries were okay. They were in the vein of McDonald's fries, which I do not like, but, it being a roast beef restaurant, there was glorious creamed horseradish sauce everywhere, which makes everything delicious. Especially fries.

To drink, I had a Barq's Root Beer. I usually just get iced tea when I eat fast food, but every once in awhile I figure it's good to throw up my hands and embrace the HFCS monster. It was likewise okay. I've seen sassafras drink mix at Schnuck's that I'm curious to try, and I like root beer as those things go, but I just can't handle drinking this much sugar at once, even after my prophylactic filling-the-cup-95%-full-of-ice trick.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cookie Wedge for Breakfast

For breakfast, I had a chocolate chip cookie wedge and some coffee.

The wedge is the last slice from the giant cookie I made last week.

Hi giant cookie. I made giant cookie because this recipe's dough spread a ridiculous amount while I was baking it last time, and I ended up with a blobby sheet of cookie amoebas. I figured same result, less work.

Sort of. I purposely made them more dense because I was going for a cookie cake sort of texture. It worked well, but the density obscured some of the more delicate butter/brown sugar flavors I liked.

The coffee is curious. I want to say horrendous, but I'm trying to stay open-minded until I try it a few more times. It's New Mexico Pinon Coffee from TJ's. Maybe I'm making it way too strong? If anything, it reminds me of Starbuck's (grammatical digression: if the coffee chain is named after Melville's character "Starbuck", the chain should be "Starbuck's Coffee", not "Starbucks Coffee", no? Am I missing something?) cold-brewed iced coffee- very strong, with blunt, bitter flavors.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pork and Rice Krispy Treats at Home

For lunch, I had leftovers from last night's pulled pork sandwich and some bad fake rice krispy treats.

The sandwich was from The Shaved Duck. So tasty. Also tasty? Their chili sampler (including a smoked duck white chili), their mac n' cheese, and their duck fat fries. That's what I had for dinner last night. I can't wait to go back and try the duck confit. Or maybe just have some more chili and fries...

The krispy treats were less successful. I was wandering down the cereal aisle at Schnuck's, looking for muesli (which no one in this city sells, apparently, not even Straub's, the posh grocery store), when I was struck with a bizarre krispy craving. I haven't had actual homemade ones in perhaps fifteen years. But I just couldn't bring myself to buy Rice Krispies. I hate those things- what was I going to do with the leftovers? So I decided to try making them with Kashi instead.

I was seriously underwhelmed by the final product. I'm not sure if it was the fact that the marshmallows were old, my cereal substitution, or the butter.

The butter, you ask? Sweet, innocent butter?

I am a huge label reader. I never buy a processed product without examining the ingredients in detail. I'm just weird like that. But I never imagined I should examine the butter label. I check that it is butter, not margarine, and whether it is salted or unsalted. But what could possibly be in butter, other than cream...maybe some salt or vitamin D?

Yeah. I'm still not quite sure what this means, only that the butter reeks of fake movie popcorn butter. Unfortunately, I bought two pounds of it because it was on sale and I've been baking a ton lately. Fine with me, Cabot's just lost my business forever. The least they could do is label it appropriately. Maybe some people want movie popcorn butter.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Chicken at Home

For dinner, I had leftover chicken with peppers and a glass of malbec.

The chicken was from Trader Joe's, and labeled "chicken serenada". I had to go look at my photos again, because I misremembered it as "chicken sonesta" which sounded like a pharmaceutical to me- antidepressant? sleep aid? But no, it's serenada. Which merely sounds like something you'd find on Olive Garden's menu.

The day I bought this, I was feeling open-minded and bought a bunch of things I don't usually like or have only recently come to like- among them the green and red peppers in the serenada, and some Camembert (which I hadn't had in fifteen years but, to my dismay, still hate). The serenada came frozen, and consisted of two chicken breasts in sauce. I bought it mostly because I wondered what such a strange array of ingredients would taste like together. Alas, I just took out the trash, but I recall red and green peppers, onion, jalapeno, coconut milk, garlic, maybe some lemon juice? The package touted Caribbean-European fusion or some such nonsense.

I was decidedly unimpressed when I made it yesterday- although I now like red peppers, I still really hate green ones. Plus, the sauce was incredibly watery and flavorless. I drained off most of the sauce and piled the veggies on top of the remaining chicken breast to save. Upon reheating the whole mess tonight, I was very surprised at how much the flavors had improved. I still don't think I'd buy it again, but it wasn't bad. It's certainly easy.

In other news, I don't even have to spend $7 to find a good malbec at TJ's. Tonight, I am drinking the Fuerza 2009 malbec, $4.99. It doesn't have amazing structure or complexity, but it's nicely dry, a little spicy, with soft berry flavors. It tasted much better when I opened it yesterday; as of now, it's a decent table wine, although the alcohol is starting to overwhelm it a bit.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shredded Wheat at Home

For breakfast, I had a bowl of frosted shredded wheat and TJ's holiday spice coffee.

In other news, this is not me, but it may as well be. I am the person who judges you for your groceries. But I only judge if they're more than 40% or so bad. Everyone needs a good snack.

From Postsecret.