Category Archives: grilled cheese

Who Cares What Nation’s Restaurant News Thinks? Here’s My Top 10.

On the same day the New York Times wrote about Pop-Tarts World, the Huffington Post added this blurb from a Nation’s Restaurant News report on America’s favorite restaurant chains.

Cheesecake Factory topped the list. And while some of my favorite restaurant chains were on the list, they missed some good’uns. So…if I ruled the world (or at least Nation’s Restaurant News), the list would have looked like this:

10. Quiznos/Subway — I like toasted sandwiches and LOVE QUIZNOS’ CATS. I could also go for a sandwich from Subway with everything in it — even the peppers — just about any day of the week. But only if it has everything.

9. In-N-Out — While I think In-N-Out is somewhat overrated — YES, I JUST SAID THAT — it’s a classic burger joint and it does things right, which earns it a spot at #9.

8. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s — They clearly won me over with the ads featuring scantily clad Paris, Padma and Audrina + that French-talking mouth app. (Why, yes, I *did* write about it for ClickZ…)

7. Swensen’s — I have found memories of getting ice cream here as a child. Unfortunately, all I can remember is that it was good.

6. Coco’s — I used to go with my grandmother (who hid in a booth in a corner). I have fond memories of Coco’s southwestern melt (see? Told you I like toasted sandwiches….) and boysenberry pie.

5. Panera — This joint has one hell of a muffin…and was also the focal point of my first (…and admittedly only…) story in the Wall Street Journal.

4. Sizzler — A popular joint with my maternal grandmother. I loved the cheese toast and was once a bit of a smartass when the manager asked if everything was okay and ended up with an entire platter of it.

3. Baja Fresh — I perhaps love nothing more than Mexican food. And I think this place does a fine job. I don’t care if Wendy’s owns it.

2. Chevy’s — Annnd…I don’t care what Jonathan R. Duke says either. I love this place. Always have, always will. And I have the birthday sombreros in my closet to prove it. The cookbook proved to be a little overly complicated, but that’s just fine — gives me a more powerful excuse to go there in person.

1. Waffle House — I also have fond memories of the Waffle House, which I will forever associate with my brief stint in Mississippi and Georgia. Plus, their menu development team was genius — who doesn’t like saying, “Scattered, smothered, covered…”?

Image via Stevie Rocco/Flickr

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Filed under books, cheesecake, entrees, grilled cheese, ice cream, Mississippi, pie, UCLA

The Comfort Food Roundup

Oh, my little blog, it’s been such a long time since I’ve written a proper food post…and not just used you to help celebrate friends’ birthdays…so, I think at this point, the wisest course of action would be to do a little roundup to get us back on track…:

1. Carrot Cake, I Seek Comfort in Thee

For all intents and purposes (…which I always say as, “all intensive purposes…”), I have a massive sweet tooth. And when things in life get rocky, I cope with an entire mouth of sweet teeth. And so I indulged myself recently with a carrot cake. My favorite recipe is one my mother found in Saveur that includes crushed pineapple and coconut flakes. (I used to really not like coconut, but I think it’s growing on me…) I was on a cooking binge a couple of weekends ago and wasn’t sure I’d have room in the fridge…but I’m glad I rearranged things to make space on the bottom shelf — this cake is best after it has been refrigerated (…and, frankly, it was so hot in my apartment that I’m pretty sure the frosting would have melted right into the cake had I left it out). In short, you cannot be sad when eating this cake. (I have to be careful though — I recently caught a snippet of Dr. Oz’s weight loss secrets…one of them? “Don’t wear pants with elastic waistbands.” And that’s basically what I’ve resigned myself to while I feed my feelings…)

2. Real Olive-y Olive Oil

A J-school classmate recently invited me to a launch party for a new line of olive oil. (Thanks again, Columbia! My degree still hasn’t procured gainful employment…but, thanks to you, I made a friend who works with a guy who knows a guy who launched his own olive oil!) For all my blathering about food, I have realized in more recent history that I’m not exactly a “foodie.” (I just wrote a cover letter for a editorial food gig in which I tried to explain that if I was ever on The Next Food Network Star and Bob Tuschman or Susie Fogelson asked about my chef persona, I’d have to call myself something like the “curious novice,” by which I mean that I experiment a lot and learn as I go…and there are plenty of quasi-disastrous teaching moments.) Case in point: I bought 1.5 liters of extra virgin olive oil the last time I was at Costco. And…I can say with complete certainty that the samples of Ritossa Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Delmonico’s — yes, that Delmonico’s — were definitely more olive-y than Kirkland Signature Filippo Berio…but that’s about it. I don’t think I have a very fine palate. My companion could tell subtle differences by sampling the oils in quick succession…but I, alas, could not. The Delmonico’s bottle says, “Savor the intense and alluring aroma of fresh-cut grass…” which my friend definitely picked up on. But…it’s kind of like me and wine-tasting or what celebrity someone looks like — I never pick up on it by myself…but once someone says, “This wine has a hint of cat pee…” (which some wines do! Ask any oenophile worth his or her salt!) or, “She looks like Chloe Sevigny,” it hits me. (This is certainly not the plug the folks at Ritossa were hoping for, I’m sure…and I hope they are comforted that a) my mother is the only one who reads this; and/or b) I have included a cheer-you-up carrot cake recipe above. I will also vow to experiment with Ritossa and Delmonico’s once my Kirkland Signature is gone…and maybe there will be a noticeable difference in my food. Stay tuned.)

3. Martha’s One Good Recipe?

I’m not a huge fan of Martha Stewart’s recipes. There — I said it. Like Rachael Ray, I think they sound good (and easy) in theory, but usually come out bland and are not worth the (minimal) effort and I vow to never make them again. Not true with Martha’s Mediterranean Tuna Melt though. (Tuna melts are another Lisa comfort food. I think one of the best I ever had was at Lori’s Diner at SFO. But…since a cross-country flight was not an option, I had to find a Plan B.) The olives and capers really give it some zing and differentiate it from all the other tuna melts you’ve had in your life…although I’d advise against spooning it on two halves of French bread — I think it’s easier to just make the tuna and store it in the fridge and make individual melts as you go along. And…since her Mediterranean Tuna Melt renewed my faith in Martha’s recipes a bit, I also stocked up on ingredients to make her Spicy Black Bean Cakes. I hope I don’t regret it.

4. The Best 25 Cents You’ll Ever Spend

I have a friend who knows that sweets make me happy…and who brought me some 25-cent candy bars. I sort of forgot about them until I ran out of carrot cake (and — cringe — pudding…but the latter has lots of calcium so it’s good for my bones!)…and was happy as a little clam when I discovered them in my refrigerator last night. They’re Sunbelt bars. And…you know what? They’re really good. The chocolate-covered coconut bar reminded me a lot of the Samoa Girl Scout cookie. And it was only a quarter! (I recently decided that I can’t be such a spendthrift and drop off my laundry anymore…and was pleased to discover that it actually isn’t that bad to do my laundry myself at the Laundromat around the corner. Just $3 a load to wash and dry…and a little over an hour. So…I have to save my quarters for laundry…but my dimes and nickles will be going toward Sunbelt bars from now on!)

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Filed under cake, chocolate, Food Network, grilled cheese, Martha, olives, weight loss

A Consistent Bacon Theme…with the Best Burgers in Chicago and Pies to Boot.

My fat-themed trip to Chicago began with K meeting me at O’Hare with a pumpkin spice latte (say what you will about Starbucks, but it’s become a rite of fall…), which was absolutely perfect as my flight from Denver left at 6:40 and I needed just a *little* more coffee to really feel like Lisa.

Our first stop was Vosges, a chocolate shop with the tag line “Haut Chocolate.” We were there specifically for a bacon bar, but discovered there were actually several to choose from — milk, dark and caramel toffee. I don’t actually remember which of the chocolates I liked better with the bacon bits (it’s sweet and salty…which is one of the reasons I used to love Take 5 so much…), but I generally like milk chocolate better, so that was probably it. The bacon caramel toffee was certainly good, but we couldn’t tell there was any bacon in it…which may defeat the purpose of actually buying bacon chocolate. But, in the end, neither one of us was compelled to buy a whole bar…in part because I could not tell how much they were…and if I had to ask, maybe I couldn’t afford it? (Turns out they’re about $7.50 each…so it might be worth it as a special treat for bacon lovers.)

From there, we stopped off at Dominick’s (…which sells Safeway products! A nice little kickback to my California roots…) for pie ingredients. K is participating in the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest on October 18 and wanted some pointers. I told her the one big thing I learned from the 2007 APC Crisco National Pie Championships — Plain apple won’t do it. You HAVE to have something unique and/or distinctive. — and we found a recipe on Epicurious for a Deep-Dish Caramel Apple Pie. (She actually used her iPhone to do it…which made me long for one even more…but then I worry that I will never be able to make calls in my apartment as the reception is so bad…and I continue to hem and haw…)

We used my aunt’s crust recipe…and, in all honestly, all I think K needs to do is practice a bit to get her confidence up…and *maybe* purchase a few tools (a pastry blender! a pie crust shield! a silpat liner!). Otherwise, the only advice I gave was the standard “make sure your water is really, really cold” and “don’t let the dough get too sticky.”

And…even though the recipe does not call for an upper crust, we improvised a bit and added one…and I think the pie was better for it. It was definitely a memorable spin on standard apple.

After baking, we hit up the Bristol…which allegedly serves a Bacon Manhattan for brunch. We thought maybe we could ask nicely and they would serve us one anyway for happy hour, but, alas, the barkeep said he did not have the right bacon-infused booze on hand. He later let me try some bacon-infused scotch (and the brunch menu says the Bristol’s Manhattan is made with bacon-infused Dewar’s, so…?)…and I told him I liked it better than regular scotch — the truth! — but I did not tell him that I do not like regular scotch. The bacon infusion sort of took the edge off of it…and totally made it drinkable. (Another bonus? They had duck fat fries…which I have been unable to try at Hot Doug’s for TWO consecutive Chicago trips. [They are only served on weekends.])

After meeting up with K’s new husband, we headed over to Kuma’s Corner for what was supposed to be one of the best burgers in Chicago. I don’t like eggs, so the Kuma Burger (with fried egg) was out, but it was really hard to decide between the YOB and Iron Maiden and Neurosis (among others). In the end, I went for the Iron Maiden and K ordered the Neurosis…and both were really, really good…on the order of not-much-talking, lots-of-eating kind of good. I was at Subway once with a guy (hey, big spender…) who was sort of shocked that I ordered a sandwich with everything on it…so, what can I say? I like lots of stuff. I actually kind of wish I lived closer to Chicago so I could try some of the other combinations at Kuma’s. Worth noting in so many words: Definitely worth the trip if you’re in the area.

With bellies full of burgers, K’s husband dropped us off at the Green Eye, where we continued to catch up and whatnot…and we were thrilled to see it had one of those collegiate banners hanging from behind the bar that said, “Bacon!” (The theme continues!) And…I’ll blame it on the bacon-infused scotch, I guess, but it maybe seemed like I had nothing to lose by contacting Wall-E at that point…although it was kind of weird when he showed up and I think I was maybe kind of mean and ignored him a little. So. There ended that.

The next day, our first stop was the Hoosier Mama Pie Company…which K had emailed me about long, long ago. We were both kind of sick of sweet stuff — we had, after all, had pie for breakfast — but they had a peach raspberry pie…which contains, like, my two favorite fruits of all time…so I couldn’t not get a piece. (K, for her part, got a slice of bacon quiche.)

We couldn’t eat it right then and there though — so we dropped off the baked goods at K’s house and headed downtown…where K had the brilliant idea of eating at Rick Bayless‘ new restaurant, Xoco. We had to wait in line for a good long while (and a ballsy woman pulled up in a Corolla and wanted someone to give her menus and phone numbers)…but it was totally worth the wait. (Plus, RICK BAYLESS HIMSELF was working in the kitchen…so we were sort of able to gawk while we waited…) K had the choriqueso, I had the milanesa…and by the time we actually had seats, it was another one of those no-talking, more-eating moments. We were approached by a WGN reporter at the end of the meal who wanted to talk about our food. Unfortunately, nerves got the better of me and I sounded like that version of myself that I hate…and even though it didn’t come out very clearly to WGN, it *is* true that my mother LOVES Rick Bayless and that my torta was really good…I just couldn’t think of any other way to describe it while on the hot seat. Perhaps I’ll give it another go here: it was kind of like a grilled cheese sandwich, but with this tomatillo sauce that gave it a little zing…or maybe you could even think of it as a Mexican spin on an Italian cutlet sandwich?

K and I did some kind of arty, shoppy stuff in the afternoon…and then, finally, we more or less ended everything with a trip to (O)enology at the InterContinental Chicago for — that’s right — more chocolate-covered bacon. One of my classmates had tweeted or Facebooked or somethinged about trying chocolate-covered bacon in Chicago…and so we knew we had to add ENO to our fat list, too. And, you know what? It had one of those menus that seems like it would be really fun to write (Another? Le Peep.) and I would totally dig a job like that…except, even though I realize they have a schtick, I might feel kind of like a schmuck with the whole “Wine. Cheese. Chocolate. Sensation.”-thing. Regardless, the chocolate-covered bacon was only available with the “Wine and Swine” Chocolate Sensation…and so that is what we ordered (along with flights called “Tickled Pink” and “Ring Around the Rose”). It also came with a shiitake truffle…which I was not sure about…but our waiter (who looked like Bradley Cooper from afar) assured us we’d wish it had *more* mushroom. I can’t say I really tasted any shroom…it was pretty much just chocolate. And the chocolate-covered bacon was, you know, good. Same sort of sweet/salty combo as before…but perhaps with more salty this time as there was more meat…and it was covered in dark chocolate…which I suppose was a nice complement to the higher chocolate:bacon ratio?

And then that was it. I had to go home and eat leftover burger and pack so I could wake up super-early and fly back to NY. (And I will share my thoughts on *that* momentarily…)

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Filed under beer, chocolate, eggs, frying, gadgets, grilled cheese, hot dogs, pie

Oddball Cookbooks, a Soapbox & Kenny Chesney

At the last “party” I “hosted,” one of my “guests” remarked that I have a lot of oddball cookbooks.

Case in point: there’s Erica with my copy of “More of Jesus, Less of Me.”

This is a Christian guide to weight loss that I found at my junior class rummage sale at St. Andrew’s Episcopal (but my sister says, “Epispocal“) School in Ridgeland, Mississippi. When I first saw the title, I thought, “This is NOT about weight loss!” But it totally is a literal take on “less of me.”

The name “Kay Fant” is written in pencil on the very first page…so I can only assume this book once belonged to Ben Fant’s mom. (Ben was one of my classmates. My basketball coach used to tease him and ask him if he had a sister named Ella. I just looked him up on Facebook…and there’s a photo-less guy who is an Ole Miss grad, so it HAS to be him. But he has no friends. So I assume he doesn’t use it very often…and even if poor friendless Ben *does,* I never knew him well enough to be, like, his first friend.)

His mother’s spiritual guide to slimming down begins: “To all of God’s children who have been called Fatso, Tubby, or Two-by-Four, my fellow sufferers in life, especially those who have asked God to help them lose weight. I was an utter failure at weight loss until I found God’s way, and He asked me to share it with you.”

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this book. It’s like a peek into this whole other world where being fat is “no glory to God.” (But…there are testimonies in the back…so clearly it *has* worked for some people…and who am I to judge? Clearly not, well, Jesus. And…*that* is kind of ironic because my blended family went to a Christian therapist for a brief, shining moment in the great state of Mississippi. Classic stuff. We were assigned personality animals. I was a — wait for it — beaver. [Because I am hard-working and conscientious, they said.] And…to make a long story short, I had some issues with what was expected of me. And after the word “perfection” was bandied about, my Christian therapist said, “Oh, honey, the only person who was perfect in the history of time was Jesus Christ!” And it was like, “See? My point exactly. I am not Jesus.”)

But…back to oddball cookbooks.

Last week, I saw *another* cookbook at work…and couldn’t help myself: The Little Black Apron: A Single Girl’s Guide to Cooking with Style and Grace.

And, you know, I like cooking. And I’m totally a fan of learning new things. And I like to read. And I don’t even really take issue with chick lit all that much. (Hello, Bridget.)

And it’s my own stupid fault for opening the book anyway…because clearly what can be expected from something like this? (But, at the same time, it’s sort of this voyeuristic peek into another world…kind of like Christian weight loss…and how much fun have I had with that??)

But…the thing is that Christian weight loss isn’t really all that offensive. Crackpot, maybe. But not offensive-offensive. I mean, don’t get me wrong — I think it’s a totally crazy that the author had to ask her husband for permission to have an ice cream sundae on their anniversary…and he told her that it was between her and God, but if she really wanted one, he would buy it for her.

But THIS is essentially the kind of relationship that the authors of “The Little Black Apron” profess most young, single career girls are really waiting for while pretending to be professional and stuff:

“We know you exist because we’ve been exactly where you are…You’re a single girl who doesn’t know a can opener from a whisk. Deep down inside, however, you have dreams of living the domestic life and being an amazing mother and wife while residing in your newly remodeled Connecticut farmhouse. And, although you never admitted this openly, you already neurotically contemplate the day when you won’t be able to fix your three-year-old child a grilled-cheese sandwich…”

First things first, NO ONE is more neurotic than I am…but this begs sooo many questions…least of all which is: who on earth doesn’t know how to make grilled cheese sandwiches? Slice cheese. Butter bread. Put it in a pan. Grill one side until it starts to make noise. Flip it over. Repeat. Serve.

And I’m totally not saying that there’s anything *wrong* with wanting to be an amazing mother and wife (one might even argue that *I* have the same aspirations, making me quite hypocritical, indeed)…but — indulge me in a feminazi moment — it really irks me that this is ALL they say women want to do with their lives…when, in actuality, my dears…I would imagine there’s SO much more for a good chunk of the population.

But, okay, off the soapbox…

The less heated comment I have to make about this book is that it *also* kind of reminded me of a song in which the guy croons, he “(ate) burnt suppers the whole first year, / And (asked) for seconds to keep her from tearin‘ up…”

And I can’t embed the video from YouTube! But…if you’re into it: Kenny Chesney – The Good Stuff.

(You may recall that Mr. Chesney was the *real* Bridget‘s husband for a brief, shining moment. And everything comes full circle…)

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Filed under basketball, books, Bridget Jones, feminism, grilled cheese, Kenny Chesney, Mississippi, Ole Miss, weight loss