Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Road To Hell Is Carpeted With Gooey, Yummy Sandwiches

For real.
For months now I have embraced the whole foods, mindful eating, focus-on-being-healthy-not-on-losing weight thing. And I've lost 15 pounds, with 10 more to go.

Then I went on vacation and embraced the idea of incorporating... a little indulgence. A teensy snacky-treat in my day. Half a spoonful of ice cream to sate the Ice Cream Monster.

In one week:
Chicken marsala
Brownies for breakfast
Several mojitos (not for breakfast)
Salt water taffy (a New Jersey specialty)
Butter pecan ice cream
French fries
White pasta and lots of it (it's cultural. They made me.) In fact, this whoooole Greek Chicken and pasta dish is compliments of Peter's Diner somewhere in South Jersey. It is large enough to be controlled by the moon and, presumably, would slosh over the sides at high tide.

Regular stinkycheesers are thinking, "But you just got that ginormous windfall of farm-fresh veggies! THAT must have gotten you back on track."

You would think so, right? And to his credit, Sweetie did make homemade tomato soup that was virtuously fresh and packed with lycopene and all that.

But what goes with tomato soup? GRILLED CHEESE. And now I'm hooked on sourdough and melty cheddar. Re-hooked, actually. Relapsed. Mmmmm, cheese....

Ellie Krieger's Sweet and Spicy Grilled Cheese

2 tsp canola oil

1 red onion, finely diced

3 oz sharp Cheddar, thinly sliced, divided

8 slices of whole-wheat bread (although sourdough really, really makes a grilled cheese)

3 oz pepper-jack cheese, thinly sliced, divided

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium; add onions and saute, stirring, until edges are brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place 3/4 oz. Cheddar on one slice of bread. Spread 1 TBSP carmelized onions on top of cheese, then top with 3/4 oz. pepperjack. Top with 1 or 2 slices of tomato, then another slice of bread. Repeat with 3 other sandwiches.

Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat until hot. Flip when browned on the bottom (you knew that already).

Sunday, August 23, 2009



It's like Christmas in July! From our friend's large garden/small farm:

Tomatoes (big)
Tomatoes (teensy)
About 5 dozen eggs (she has chicken coops)
A big bucket o'herbs
Isn't it gorgeous???
Sweetie was running some errands north of the city, and stopped in to visit a friend. She was planning to go on vacation and said she didn't want the garden's goodies to go to waste while she wasn't there. A thank-you note is seriously the least of what we owe her for all this farm-fresh yumminess.
To be honest, it was more than we could eat, too. So we shared the gift with Cutie and her parents. Thank goodness we did, because it turns out only one of the five of us likes eggplant, and that drove Cutie's dad to find a palatable recipe for it.
I'll be darned - it turns out I can eat eggplant after all without puckering up my face or dying or anything! These were actually very tasty - Cutie, Cutie's Mom, and I all had our doubts and we're all converts now. I can't tell you that I'd eat eggplant any other way, but I would be happy to eat these again.
Cutie's Dad's Eggplant Croquettes
2 eggplants, medium, peeled and cubed
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (if you have plain, just add some dried basil, oregano, and rosemary)
2 eggs, beaten
2 TBSP dried parsley (optional)
2 TBSP chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
1. Place eggplant in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on medium-high 3 minutes. Turn eggplant over and microwave another 2 minutes. The eggplant should be tender; cook another 2 minutes if they are not.
2. Drain any liquid and mash the eggplant with a fork.
3. Combine cheese, egg, parsley, onion, garlic, and salt with the eggplant. Mix well.
4. Shape the eggplant mixture into patties. Heat oil in a large skillet. Drop eggplant patties into the skillet one at a time. Fry each side of the patties until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Local Color Tour - Everything Else

After completing the most important parts of trip preparation - asking Mom to bring her famous cream cheese brownies and my grandfather to make me chicken marsala - I made the long, long, loooong-ass drive from Atlanta to Cape May, with a welcome stop at College Buddy's house in Virginia and an unwelcome meeting with North Carolina's Finest about their secret traffic laws.

College Buddy and I weathered classes and finals and being RA's back in the day. I'm hoping we can close the circle by arranging a marriage for my niece and one of his sons. That's a sign of quality aunt-ing right there, isn't it? Anyhoodle, we had a terrific dinner at Kahill's in the South Hill area of Virginia. It pays to know locals with excellent taste, and few things are as uplifting as catching up with an old friend. I highly recommend all of the above.

Cape May, NJ is quaint and lovely and annoyingly quirky with its liquor laws. It had simply never occurred to my drink-with-dinner family that there would be dry restaurants - indeed, an entire dry side of the cape (if I understood correctly). Nothing makes you feel like a lush like trying to decide if you should walk out of a restaurant because they don't have wine... but then, nothing makes you feel like you come by it honestly when it's your own mother saying resignedly "Well, we can leave here and get a mojito."

Mom rocks. She made the brownies, too.

Godmother's, Cape May

Meh. The food was OK - not outstanding, but OK - but we did not care for the snippy hostess and lackluster service. This Italian girl expects more from a New Jersey Italian restaurant.

The Lobster House, Cape May

For our Nice Dinner - we showered after the beach and everything - we went to The Lobster House. This is the first time in my life I said "OK" when the hostess said "the wait is currently an hour and twenty minutes."

The Lobster House compound includes a restaurant, raw bar, takeout shop, cotton mill, Li'l Lisa's Fish Slurry plant (that's for you Simpsons fans), gift shop, ballet studio, bar, gift shop, preschool, etc. It's effin' HUGE.

**Name drop alert** And on the night we were there, Ann Hathaway - last season's funniest SNL host, in my opinion - was eating one table over from us.

The food was amazing. My huge portion of salmon was absolutely perfectly cooked, as were the garlic green beans on the side. Mom and Sis were perfectly happy with their shellfish extravaganzas. It's pricey but worth it.

Pop-Pop's House

And then... oh, then... it was off to spend a few days with my grandfather. A first-generation American, polio survivor, and cook- and vegetable gardener-extraordinare, the man can put together a meal like nobody's business.

I had really hoped to get his recipe for chicken marsala. Of course, "recipe" is a rather loose term where my grandfather is concerned. A little of this, a splash of the other, some time in the pan. Oh, and half the discussion (his half) was in Italian, which I don't speak.

He asked when he had last made me chicken marsala. "When I was in college and you were still living at the old house," I said. Well, he informed me, that was the last time he had made it. Whatever - it was terrific. Best as I can tell, you saute some onions, then dust some chicken thighs with flour, salt, and pepper and saute them in the pan. Then add mushrooms and a little butter, some more flour, and some marsala. Mangia!

We did genealogy, we visited my Aunt Jackie, we ate, we ate, and we watched Lawrence Welk. I was privileged to attend his monthly high school class reunion luncheon with him. Monthly because "who can wait a year at our age?" and lunch because "who can drive at night at our age?" THANK YOU, class of 1938, for the warm welcome and showing the rest of us how it's done!

And on the way back, College Roomie did an impromptu re-arranging of her evening so that we could experience some fine dining at the Richmond, VA Cracker Barrel together. No sarcasm there - I love high-falutin' restaurants with famous chefs and innovative dishes, and I love Cracker Barrel. And Roomie really did make extraordinary schedule adjustments so that we could spend time together.

Some trips are about exploring new places. This was the "These Are A Few Of My Favorite People" tour, and it's just what I needed.

As vacation was vacation from lots of stuff - work, daily routine, healthful eating - here's our energizing breakfast, courtesy of Mom. She's justifiably famous for these brownies amongst family friends. The only thing preventing me from whipping up a batch of these right now is that it's Ramadan. "Wait," you're thinking, "she's Methodist." Yup, but we don't keep sweets in the house so I'd have to bring them to work, and my assistant is Muslim and is fasting all day for the next month. Totally rude to bring snacky-treats into the office right now.

Marble Squares

1 6-ounce package of cream cheese

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup water

1 1/2 ounces squares of unsweetened chocolate

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 6-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips (or dark chocolate)

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine cream cheese and sugar in a small bowl. Add egg and mix well - set aside.

3. Combine butter, water, and chocolate in a small saucepan. Melt chocolate, stir well, and cool. Set aside.

4. Stir chocolate mixture into sugar and flour. Add eggs, sour cream, baking soda, and salt - mix well. Pour into greased 15 1/2" x 12 1/2" jelly roll pan. Spoon cream cheese mixture over chocolate batter.

5. Drag a butter knife through the batter several times to marble the brownies. Sprinkle with chocolate chips (were there ever more welcome words in a recipe than "sprinkle with chocolate chips"?).

6. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 - 30 mnutes, or until wooden toothpick inserted in the center (NOT through a chocolate chip) comes out clean.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Local Color Tour - Gaffney, SC

I'm trying not to lose too much time on the road, so this will be quick. I'm en route from Atlanta to Cape May, NJ for a Girls Beach Weekend with my Mom and sister, then scooting over another 50 miles to visit my grandfather.

Part of the adventure, I've decided, is to do my best to eat at non-chain restaurants on the trip (please disregard the fact that I'm using the free wi-fi at Panera at the moment). Lunch was at Clocks Restaurant, in Gaffney, SC.

They did not take the obvious/Hitchcocky route with an all-clock decor, thank goodness. You know, when you look at a menu in the South and see fried pickles, pimiento cheese sandwiches, three different types of barbecue sandwich, and fried green tomatoes, you think "These folks take their Dixie cookin' seriously."

About the last thing I would've considered is "Man, they have GOT to have some terrific Greek food." No idea if it's terrific, but to my great amazement they had a lot of it listed on the next page.

When you eat a good barbecue sandwich there should be a little sweet (molasses), a little sour (vinegar and tomato), a little spicy and a little smoke. What this sandwich did - and I have no idea how - was smell like hot dogs. I tried it anyway (I LOATHE hot dogs) - it first tasted honey-sweet, then syrupy, then sourdough-ish, then a kind of chemical/liquid smoke kinda thing was going on.

A shame, because I wanted to like it. The fries were amazing and the service friendly. They even took the extra step of double-bunning the sandwich - there were two bottom-bun-pieces stacked one on the other, so that the sauce wouldn't soak through the bun. GENIUS.

Thoughts while traveling:

A radio station in South Carolina advertised "Rock Star Dentistry" and promised an unparalleled sensory experience. For real? Because would totally do the drive for a chocolate-pedicuregasm that left my teeth clean. Weekly.

Holy moly, I really am eating nuts and berries. My car snacks are strawberries and almonds.

I've been working on my genealogy for a while and have come across some people that I suspect are relatives who I've never heard of. I'm going to ask my grandfather about them while I'm there, and suspect it's (another) branch of the family that no one's talking to for reasons I'm not yet old enough to know (I'm 40).

My friend in Virginia said there are very few restaurants in the small town where he lives, so I'm glad I've embraced the adventure. Stay tuned.