Sunday, December 28, 2008

Breakfast on a Snowy Sunday...

That was last week.

This Sunday, it feels like monsoon season here in Providence. It's nearly 60 degrees and windy, sort of rainy, cloudy (now dark!).

I have a 'thing' for mugs. I am completely in love with them and have collected quite a few favorites over the years! That said, I still drink out of my Taylor and Ng 'Le Lapin' rabbit orgy mug most mornings.
My grandmother gave me four of them years ago. I don't know if she knew what those bunnies were doing! (Who am I kidding? Of course she knew. The woman lived a jam-packed 81 years on this planet. She knew a lot more than she ever let on!)

This Gary Larson 'Midvale School for the Gifted' mug is a close second in the frequency-of-use department. Or perhaps it's a tie between this one and 'The Scream'. Either way, this is one of my favorites.

Maybe I will photograph my collection soon. Every now and then I will pull an oldie out from the recesses of my cupboard and I'm like a kid on Christmas, or a pig in shit!

The man has been working every day, and we've both been battling sinus issues, so things have been rather monotonous and subdued around here. Plus, the holiday season always throws me into this holding pattern where I have to think twice to even know what day it is.
I don't deal well with either monotony or subdued - or the holidays, it would appear!

Today was easy - too much football is on for it to be any other day but Sunday...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Big Fat Pillow for my Great Big Bed!

Great Big Bed
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
We got a ginormous Bob-o-pedic, and it's not bad! I suppse it's part of our collective holiday presents to ourselves - the other being a trip to Cozumel in February.

I can't tell which thrills me more! I've always been an instant gratification kind of gal, but this bed we bought from "Lucky" is (effectively) forever. I guess it's a win-win situation. Do those ever happen in my life anymore? Maybe you should reach out and pinch me...

The man sleeps better, and therefore so do I. Once his sinuses clear and he gets a day off, it will be a veritable nirvana around here.

(Oh, yeah, then there's the issue of the motherfucking smoke in my motherfucking condo; the issue of the holes in the crotches of all my favorite jeans; that of my constant puffiness of my ageing face; my sagging everything; the depressed economy and my depressed psyche, the heaviness of the holidays...)

"You just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!"

That's my focus.

Merry Merry, Holly Jolly...

Whatever you are celebrating out there, I hope you are doing a fine and complete job at making merry.

Here at Chez Steph, the Dinnerman is supine on the couch with a fantastic sinusitis that's manifested itself in both of us this past week. Combined with his work schedule, it's thrown a wrench in any Christmas plans. I suppose working in a hospital and living in a building with "air quality issues" can do that to even the strongest among us.
I have taken the premature pre-emptive antibiotic route. He prefers to suffer loudly and drink bourbon as a cure.

We are effectively limiting ourselves to televised figure skating, RedBox DVD's, and Chinese delivery, which ain't so bad if you ask me. Here's the beautiful thing - you don't have to ask, because I am effusively forthcoming with any and all info pertaining to my life and times. Maybe too much so, but in case you couldn't tell or in case you are new here, I do not subscribe to the notion of TMI.

I did cook dinner last night for Kenny and the Dinnerman - linguini with shrimp in a red sauce, garlicky asparagus, and naked peppers. I am very bored with my own cooking of late, but the men seemed to enjoy it, though I suspect the meal took a backseat to the gossip. I swear, they are worse than women when they get together! I suspect a DNA analysis would reveal an extra X or two...

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be, well, whatever.

Tidings. Later.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My First Picanha - Why We Love Casa Brasil

As all three of my regular readers may know, the Dinnerman and I frequent a fantastic rodizio restaurant called Casa Brasil, just over the bridge in East Providence.

Owned by Joe and Rose Barros, the family-run Casa Brasil has been open since 2002, and a regular haunt of ours since 2004. They feature a plentiful hot and cold buffet (for sale by the pound to go if you want) and if you desire, the full-blown 'churrascaria' thing - that Brazilian display of pageantry where meats are carved onto your plate at your table until you flip your 2-sided spool from green to red.

The usual procession includes bacon-wrapped chicken, turkey, and sirloin; chicken wings; smoky kielbasa; pork loin; pork ribs; beef short ribs; big pieces of sirloin; something called 'flap meat'; garlic-rubbed tri-tip; and if you get lucky, rarities such as chicken hearts and home-made Brazilian sausage. But the star of the show, at least in the Dinnerman's mouth, are the big hunks of the Brazilian cut known as 'Picanha', which is not a common cut of beef in this country.

According to Wikipedia, Picanha is also known as 'rump cover' steak, and is considered quite a delicacy in South American countries, especially Brasil.

We go through phases with Casa Brasil - we can go for months without a single visit, but then we'll venture out for an early dinner one Sunday and we are hooked. Like true addicts, we then return each week. We dream about the meats, we can't take our minds off of them!

And the buffet! It offers the perfect sides to all that animal protein: the delicious and authentic feijoada; the tutu beans; the rice; the Brazilian salad of tomato, green pepper, and onion over which we have been instructed to sprinkle farofa (toasted manioc flour with crumbled bacon) - these are the perfect accompaniments to this hedonistic feast.

Joe is the front man - the jovial native of Rio de Janeiro who happily greets and informs his hungry customers. He has been known to bring us a dish of this or that, telling us how he made it, where he got the ingredients, how it should be eaten. Rose, his lovely and beautiful wife, is just as present and integral but not as overtly so. She creates many of the dishes on the buffet, and keeps everything running so smoothly. Their daughter Amy waits tables and is sweet as can be. And interestingly, their son Jason works at the same hospital as the Dinnerman, who sees him often. This is a solid family who pour themselves, heart and soul, into all they do. They are in the perfect location too, as East Providence has such a large population of Portuguese. At Casa Brasil, you hear more Portuguese than English.

Back to my point - not that I ever have a single one!

This past Sunday, per our prior request, Joe brought out 3 beautiful slabs of Picanha for us to take home and cook - complete with instructions and baggies full of just the right amount of salt and flour to execute the operation to perfection.

It could not have been more simple - one hour before roasting, I rubbed the gorgeous meat with salt from baggie number 1. Then, right before shoving into a 350 oven, I tossed the meat in flour. So simple - 45 minutes later, we had dinner.

Granted, my beans and rice don't compare to Rose's feijoada, and I don't think I've ever seen brussel sprouts at Casa Brasil. But the man and I were so damn happy with that Picanha!

Thanks, Joe! And happy birthday to Rose (yesterday, December 18th, was her 50th, but she looks younger than my 35 years). I hope Joe was able to fulfill his desire of getting her drunk. He makes the best Caipirinhas, so I don't know how he could have failed...

Go to Casa Brasil. If you appreciate meat and family, you'll love it. And seriously, the Caipirinhas can't be beat. They have the perfect balance of sour to sweet. I abhor drinks that play to the idea that the American palate sways toward the overly sweet. These are not that way. They are great.

We'll see you there on Sunday.

Casa Brasil
545 North Broadway
East Providence, RI 02914
(401) 434-8500

My Casa Brasil pics on Flickr:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jumping on the Bed

Jumping on the Bed
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
I was going to wear this dress for last week's party, but it was too cold, and my boobs were too big.

No, I'm not pregnant.
Yes, I am crazy.

Cod with Pesto and Mustard Panko Crust

I made this for dinner the other night. I went to Whole Foods early in the morning in the driving rain - so early that not all the fish was out yet. The cod looked fantastic, though, so it was a no-brainer.

I've become such an afficionado of this fish-cooking process. At Whole Foods, there is a display of flavored panko crumbs and spice rubs at the fish counter. One day, the fish guy suggested that I rub pesto on the fish and then top it with some crumbs. He said the mustard flavored crumbs went well with cod. The first time, I didn't listen and bought the pistachio crumbs - I'm such a rebel. Without a cause. Scratch that. I have a cause. More than one, actually. But I digress...

The pistachio/pesto combo was fabulous. This time, I tried the mustard, which was good too. But I must say I prefer the pistachio.

Try this! The potential combinations of fish and panko crumbs are multitudinous, and it's such an easy thing to do!

(Apologies, folks, for the disjointed nature of this post and the angry nature of last night's. Tonight there are 2 rather intoxicated people in the room who will not stop talking to me, and last night I was the drunk person experiencing an unfair, unpleasant, over-a-year-long-now scourge and it was the 'biggest' full moon. I guess that means it was the closest full moon, as I can't imagine that the size of our lovely satellite has changed...)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bienvenidos a Motherfucking Rhode Island...

It is unbelievable how this can go on - a cigar bar in a residential building? Where I smell this acrid fucking stench 24/7 in my residence? Where I breathe in toxic fumes as I sleep at night?

Welcome to fucking Rhode Island. Breathe at your own risk. Oh, and go fuck yourself too. That is, unless you know somebody...

I hate it here.

To you City Officials, and the embarrassingly impotent, defiant, and self-righteous RI State Department of Health - all you assholes have blood on your hands. May you never get a good night's sleep - ever again.

I will never, ever let this go.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Angry Pork Chops

I've been pretty uninspired of late. This is no doubt in part related to the cold, the rain, and the darkness that falls earlier each night.
I'm sure it's also because of the situation in my condo building involving a certain business that fills our halls (and homes, in our case) with acrid cigar smoke each night. But I digress...

The pork chop moniker comes from the party we had last Saturday night. We'd picked up the catering, laid out the booze, and everything was all set to go. That is, until Kenny came by and said that we needed to put out some nuts or some chips or something. This, of course, was something I had suggested as well, but, you know how it goes.
So, I furiously popped pan after pan of popcorn, and instead of just a sprinkle of kosher salt, doused it with curry powder and cayenne pepper! Angry popcorn was born. A mistake? Maybe. Will I do it again? Probably not. Did it work on the popcorn? Not really.

But it worked just fine on pork!

Hope your week has been less angry than mine.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Grow a Chick

Grow a Chick
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
Actually, I think I'm growing a rubber ducky. It could take a few weeks, and my goal is for it to be like that pear brandy where the jar is placed over the bud and the pear grows into it. You know what I mean, right? Good.

We had a big party last night, sort of a combination Holiday Bash/ Dinnerman's Birthday Celebration. I was very happy with the number of people who participated in our optional 'Re-Gift Yankee Swap'! Somehow I ended up with this chick (or rubber ducky, or whatever the heck it is...) growing in a Munroe Dairy jar, suspended by a roach clip.

Like I said, it was a big party...

Today is the birthday boy's actual birthday. It's also Pearl Harbor Day. I'm going to remember it as 'A Day Lost to the Somewhat Painful Aftereffects of Drinking Too Much of Everything' as well.

It's time for a hair of the dog that bit me.

Tozai Sake

I've become quite enamored with Tozai sake of late. The first one I tried was the super-unfiltered and cloudy 'Snow Maiden' in the pink bottle. We couldn't find that one at Yankee Spirits this past Friday when we went to stock up on all manner of intoxicants for our big bash. They did have this one, 'Voices in the Mist', which is less cloudy though still unfiltered. I think I actually prefer this one, though the man disagrees. His first love will always be the 'Snow Maiden'.

It all started back in September when the man was in Chicago. His meeting ended early, and everyone but him was able to switch to an earlier flight. One of his favorite colleagues got the last seat on the only earlier flight with availability! My man was not happy - that is until his hotel, the Hyatt, gave him a free ticket to the first ever 'Gourmet Chicago' event that was being held that afternoon in Millenium Park.
That ticket was worth $150, and my lover's opinion of Hyatt Hotels skyrocketed as quickly as his frown turned into a smile. He got quite soused as he was able to taste all kinds of delicious food and drink. I know this because I had the privilege of hearing about it live as he drunk-dialed me (well, really he dialed Kenny as that was the day my phone died from texting in the rain, but I digress...) with the play-by-play.
He went on and on about how much I would really love the event and how it was right up my alley! I love when he does that. It's happened many a time from a variety of locations around the planet: Nice, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Tokyo...someday I'll get to those places! :)

Anyway, back to the sake. After hanging up the phone he met up with his longtime Japanese friend who just happened to be in Chicago as well, and they started in on the sake booth. Because his friend was Japanese he was able to communicate very well with the Japanese man who was running the Tozai booth, and, well, let's just say that Gourmet Chicago may have ended at 5pm that day, but their private party was just beginning...

He was still drunk when he landed in Providence, and ever since, we've been drinking more sake.

It snowed for the first time this season today in Providence, on the Dinnerman's birthday. Happy Birthday, baby.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Roasted Chicken with Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts

This is a very simple meal, of which I make a version most weeks.
Sometimes I use a whole chicken, but this time I just did breasts.

I rub kosher salt into the chicken several hours before cooking and let it sit in the fridge as I find this makes the meat tender and the skin crisper.

I've begun to roast brussel sprouts, garlic, and cubed potatoes ahead of time so I can haul my butt to the gym and not have to rush to get everything done when I get home. I just douse them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and throw them in a 375 degree oven until they start to brown. The brussel sprouts tend to brown more quickly than the potatoes so I use separate pans - unlike when I roast potatoes with carrots, for example.

The chicken gets a quick pass under the broiler until the skin starts to brown, and then I turn the oven to 375 for about 20 minutes or until done.

Simple! I usually serve this meal with a salad including bitter greens, red onion, and sheep's milk feta.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Originally uploaded by whatstepheats

Though the sun did shine today and temperatures were in the fifties, I am sorely missing these sweet little nuggets of juicy perfection.
I could live in a more southern clime, for sure. The Yankee impatience in me would fade, fade away...

Perfection is the Enemy of the Good

Um, Yeah.
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
And here's a rather extreme example. As far as I know, this sign became a humorous office oddity which explains why it wasn't corrected. I guess this would be an example of 'perfection being the enemy of the good' gone bad.

I believe Voltaire's quote literally translated is, "The better is the enemy of the good".
It's something I think about often, having a thread of perfection sewn into the fabric of my being. Before I became so enlightened, I allowed my desire for perfection to hold me back. More than a few times in my years on this planet I've managed to convince myself that it's pointless to even try my hand at something because surely the outcome wouldn't be perfect. I've sat on my ass wishing for a magical guru to come take me under his wing and show me all the secrets of my unlocked talents. Tap that shit. It's a potential stranglehold on one's life.

While I am far from relieved of this affliction, at least I am aware of it. I can see it festering and most times get past that tendency to give up and burrow my head like an ostrich. A little OCD is in the mix as well, adding to my tendency to get stuck. But with age (!) came some wisdom and now the voices in my head urge me forward with a little more forcefulness and success. I remind myself that I am smart, capable, and strong and that it can be rewarding and meaningful to just try.

Of course, though my demons and angels remain in balance on a good day, not all days are good!

I suppose it doesn't help that the Anglicized pronunciation of my last name rhymes with 'inertia'.

Maybe perfection is in the imperfections anyway.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Great Oz

The Great Oz
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
When I was a little girl, I had an obsession with The Wizard of Oz. I was Dorothy for Halloween almost every year, and Judy Garland remains a favorite for both her talent and tragic life.

We visited the Dinnerman's mom on Thanksgiving, and this sign resides now above her stove. I couldn't help myself.

I used to quote the movie as a child, and would say, "The fatificent Oz has spoken!!!"

Fatificent. Maybe someday it will be part of the vernacular.

Countertop Cholecystectomy

Here you go, all my insatiable fans. This turned into a lovely ragu with some pappardelle in a red sauce.

My life is without purpose.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Plan B

Look at what we will be nibbling on for a while!

This was so easy it doesn't really warrant instructions. Rub kosher salt into a 2-3 lb pork loin roast. Let sit in fridge all day. Wrap with bacon and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in a 375 degree oven (I used the convection setting).

I left it in for approximately 45 minutes, then let it rest for about the same amount of time before cutting into it. The center was a little pink, which I love, but freaks some people out (including one who lives with me). Those people can eat the ends!

Winner, Winner, Chicken (Liver) Dinner!

I've been lacking confidence in everything about myself all week - especially my cooking ability. The title of this post is really stupid, too, I think.
In reality, everything I've made has been delicious: the oven-roasted salmon, the asparagus, the roast chicken, the potatoes and brussel sprouts.

But that didn't stop me from worrying yesterday about my first attempt at chicken liver ragu - so much that I cooked a bacon-wrapped pork roast as a backup!

The ragu over pappardelle was delicious, by the way, and very easy to do. I think cleaning the livers was the hardest part; it was not straightforward to me exactly what needed to be cut away.

Whatever I did worked, and that's all that matters in the end I suppose.

To make this, I took a pint-sized container of chicken livers and cleaned them. One of the livers had the gall bladder still attached, which had to be removed. I trimmed the shmutz and blood vessels and hard things off the liver lobes as best as I could. I was struck at the variation among the different livers in size, texture, color - everything.

Anyway, then I sauteed the livers in olive oil with some minced garlic and onion, salt and pepper until they were no longer raw-looking.
I added a splash of red vermouth and a splash of dry red wine and simmered for a couple of minutes. Then I cheated by dumping in a quart of my meat sauce I had thawed from my freezer stash. I suppose it's not really cheating; I'd made that meat gravy from scratch. It just seemed too easy. I then simmered the concoction for about a half hour. It smelled so rich and delicious and tasted even better!

I wanted to make this with dried porcini mushrooms and not have it so tomato saucy. But my man has both an issue with mushrooms and a strong affection for pasta with red sauce, so, you know, I have to please my audience! He's a customer who is worth keeping satisfied, for sure.

Don't be afraid of liver!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pistachio-crusted Cod

I made this for dinner last Thursday. Originally I had meatloaf planned for that night, but the rainy warmth called out to me for something less 'cold-weather hearty'. Plus, the man was feeling bloated, he said, and we really haven't been eating as much fish as I like to.
This couldn't have been more simple. I approached the fish counter at Whole Foods and asked for a couple fillets of cod. As I was perusing the selection of seasoned panko crumbs next to the seafood case, the fish guy said that the mustard variety went well with cod. But they were out of that flavor, and I already had the pistachio panko in my hands. He said a customer reported that the pistachio crumbs went especially well on fish with a layer of pesto underneath, so our dinner fate was sealed in that instant.

It could not have been more simple. I simply placed the cod in a foil-lined baking sheet, salted and peppered it lightly, then spread it with a thin layer of store-bought pesto, and sprinkled with the crumbs. Into the oven it went - convection set to 375 - until it looked done. (Sorry about that, maybe 20 minutes? I use my senses and not the clock to cook.)

Meanwhile, I made a pot of brown rice. I sauteed garlic, a shallot, and a jalapeno in some olive oil until it started to brown ever so slightly. I then added a splash of cider vinegar, some home-made chicken stock, and the brown rice. This simmered away for a while, and when it was almost done I threw in a drained and rinsed can of black beans.

The broccoli was simply steamed.

This entire meal was ready in well under a half hour with minimal prep work. It was light but filling, and the leftovers tasted great the following day!

I can't take full credit for the pesto-pistachio combo, but that's what it's all about - the give and take of bits and pieces that lead to the creation of your own thing - in cooking and in life!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fried Egg with Pesto

Fried egg w/pesto...
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
Just thought I'd offer you a view of what I ate this morning, on top of some leftover brown rice and black beans.

In other news, my abs are really sore from taking a Pilates class last night - my first one in months. I used to go 4 times a week, but seem to have replaced that with spinning of late.

I do love the burn, however.

Hope you all are having a fantastic Friday and enjoying the brilliant orange maple leaves as much as I am.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

There are So Many Colors in the Rainbow!

I've been thinking about it for about a week - how many colors we can turn, both literally and otherwise. These thoughts came to me in that space between sleeping and waking one morning last week.

Red: Flushing, blushing, physical over-exertion, anger, fury, sunburn...

Orange: Too much beta-carotene ingestion (try eating pounds of carrots and see what happens)...

Yellow: Liver failure, fear, cowardice, also derogatory for Asian I think, which pisses me off...

Green: Envy, sometimes also associated with nausea, but I don't believe that faces ever turn green literally...

Blue: Lack of oxygen, face paint...

Purple: Extreme physical over-exertion, face paint...

White: Blood draining from one's face (induced by fear, illness, whatever), face paint...

Black: Moles, malignant melanoma, stuff the football players use under their eyes to alleviate glare...and face paint.

Yes, I am crazy. Thanks for wondering, and thanks for reading!

On a culinary note, I am roasting cod with pesto and pistachio crumb topping, simmering brown rice with black beans, and have already created a salad of Bibb lettuce, tomato, feta, spicy olives, and red onion.

Happy days are here again! A change has come.

And dear readers, feel free to augment my color cause list. I'm going to eat dinner now.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hong Meas Combination Rice Noodle Soup

I really love this dish here! It's not quite pho as the owner, Sophia (an Anglicized version of her real name, but I'll get that straight one of these days) is from Cambodia (via New Zealand!) and thinks that the typical Vietnamese noodle soup has too many strong flavors going on.

This is a simpler broth, though simmered with chicken and pork bones for 8 hours. Despite the inclusion of imitation crabmeat - among the rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, beef, and sometimes pork, scallops and squid - this combination rice noodle soup has become a front-line favorite.

In fact, the whole experience of driving over the bridge to East Providence [Washington, or sometimes Henderson ('Red') - gotta mix it up!] and sitting down to this big steaming bowl has become a comfort ritual.

Plus, Sophia is a hoot! She's so gracious, accomodating, funny, and sweet to all her customers. So down to earth, she frequently tells me to relax and go home to have sex with my boyfriend! She is a beautiful woman with a lively and free spirit. Though the restaurant is very casual - comfortably divey, kind of red, and sparsely kitschy - it serves some of my favorite Asian food in the Providence area.

So many factors converge to make a dining establishment a regular destination for me. It's not just what I stab with a fork or pinch with a set of chopsticks. It's not the threadcount of the tablecloths or how comfy my ass is in the booth. Rather, it's the depth and richness of the whole dining experience - the humanity, the thread that runs through our common need to feed ourselves, to sit around a table and fill up with so much more than what goes into our mouths.
That is harder to come by, and worth seeking out. When I find it, I hold it close.

An example of that sitting-'round-the-table-family-is-the-glue-that-keeps-you-from-disintigrating-in-life thing, which I felt privileged to witness, occurred on Labor Day, in the late afternoon. I wandered in for my bowl of soup and saw a long table set in the middle of the restaurant. It was set with stand-alone burners and plates of uncooked meat, seafood, and vegetables - even beautiful watercress! Clearly this was to be a hotpot extravaganza. Family and friends straggled in - some bearing gifts, all speaking in language unfamiliar to my ugly-American ears - and I at once felt like an honored guest and an intruder.
When Sophia's beautiful daughter (who I thought was her sister at first!) brought me my check, I asked if it was a holiday party. She said that yes, it was a good chance for the family to get together, Labor Day being notoriously slow. On my way out I said to Sophia, "Watercress?". She said yes, call a day ahead and she'd get it for me...and my boyfriend!

I've been eating at Hong Meas steadily for at least 7 years. So much has changed in my life during that time, but this place, like other things that continue to provide me comfort, has remained a constant.

Hong Meas Restaurant
332 Warren Avenue
East Providence, RI 02914
(401) 438-5227

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stuff I Love From Whole Foods Market

I posted this pic on my Flickr photostream, and was asked to add it to the Whole Foods Market Group by the administrator.
It got me thinking about some of my other favorites from WFM.

Here is my list, off the top of my head:

1) Olives: Whole Foods has such a wide and excellent variety of olives in interesting preparations. Some of our faves include the pictured Sicilian-spiced variety; the feta- and blue cheese-stuffed green ones; the sampler of mixed pitted olives; and the large green pitted ones with citrus and garlic.

2) Fresh Mozzarella: Whole Foods has 2 sizes of water-packed fresh mozzarella balls - the cherry-sized 'ciliegine' ($3.99), and egg-sized 'ovoline' ($5.99). They are rich in flavor, creamy in texture, and very reasonably priced. Mmmm...craving some as I type this.

3) 365 Chunky Peanut Butter: I am talking about the kind with only peanuts and salt; again - great taste at a great price - around $2 a jar.

4) 365 Sparkling Water: We love all the flavors, especially the strawberry. I don't know how much of a factor the glass bottling has to do with it, but this water has the perfect amount of sparkle and a refreshing fruity flavor. I think a liter costs around $1.39.

5) 365 Salted Almonds (in the re-sealable bag): For some reason these seem crunchier and fresher than others. I always have a bag stashed in the freezer.

6) Eggs: I try to buy Rhode Island eggs at farmers' markets whenever possible. My favorites of all time are from Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton, with the newly-discovered eggs from my friend's chickens just over the CT border running neck-in-neck. But a close second are the eggs I've been buying for years at WFM. They're very fresh with a rich yellow-orange yolk and great flavor. We are really lucky in the egg department here in Rhode Island.

7) WFM Air-chilled Free-range hormone- and antibiotic-free Whole Chickens: These are a new discovery for me. I confess, up until several months ago, I was quite non-discrimating in my meat choices. With seafood, I was my usual picky self. But with meat, I was lazy. I credit Jen of Last Night's Dinner ( with having been the most influential factor in the change in my approach to both meat and food in general - I think more now about where it all comes from and I think that makes me value it much more than ever. But I swear, these chickens have changed me. I do love the ones I can get from Pat's Pastured, at the farmers' markets, but I honestly think the WF chickens win in the taste (as well as the convenience) department. Plus, I think it's a sign that the first one I bought had 2 hearts in the cavity - one for my baby and one for myself!
(I find the all the meats superior at Whole Foods, and will not buy meat from any other market. This is my relatively new policy - Whole Foods or farmers' markets for meat. Nowhere else.)

8) 365 Olive Oil: What a fruity and fresh-tasting everyday olive oil at a mere $7.99/ liter!

9) Tofu: Is it 365, or WF? In any case, it's around $1.29 per 1 pound block. How can you go wrong?

10) Shells and Cheese: Yes, in the box! Again, I'm not sure if it's WF or 365, but this stuff is a total guilty pleasure of mine, and at 99 cents a box (less than half the price of Annie's, the last time I checked), it's a very affordable vice. When you're all id like I am, it helps to have one or two indulgences that don't completely drain the bank account! Times are tough.

There is so much more that I love about Whole Foods. And conversely, there are a few things I am not so fond of. If I seem to come across as something of a sycophant (a rather uncommon accusation in my experience), I feel obligated to disclose that I am not in any way affiliated with WFM - these are purely unsolicited raves, and those are my top 10.

In fact, if I hadn't already poured myself a bourbon in an effort to assuage the loneliness of having my favorite person in the whole universe - the only one who understands and still loves the wacko that I am - away for the weekend, I might just jump in my Volvo and shoot my ass over there right this minute. But I won't drive after drinking and it's kind of far to walk this late at night...

Alas, tonight I will likely be eating Little Chopsticks (fave local Chinese delivery, though I miss Ming, the former owner), delivered to my door, as I finish up the laundry. What an enticing and exciting life I lead! But it's my life! I am more content than I've been in as long as I can remember. Happiness is priceless; I am very, very fortunate; I am also very, very flawed.

I hear the dryer buzzing, and 10 Ingredient Chow Mei Fun sounds good right about now.

But is another day to spend another couple of sawbucks at my local Whole Foods.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Steph 2, Ile de France 0

They keep sending me cheese, even though I don't say very flattering things about it.

This time I received goat cheese. We ate it crumbled on a salad and the Dinnerman did not complain that it tasted too strong. This might, at first consideration, sound like a positive evaluation, but it is so very not. A good goat cheese should be pungent and edgy. This was so very not. It was bland and boring.

This cheese was better than their brie. And, like the brie, it had an okay texture. That's about all I can say without delving into negativity.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Got Screwed by Verizon Wireless

Over the weekend my 3 year old cell phone died while I was texting in the rain, taking with it all my stored contacts.
As if this was not bad enough, today I opened this box that I thought contained my new phone. Lo and behold, it's empty!
Verizon sent me a receipt along with instructions on how to activate my new phone.
Thanks, Verizon. You made my day.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Love Lisbon!

We've been in Portugal for a few days and I am struck by how warm the people are here. It's beautiful. Every man we see is fawning over his woman; public displays of affection are the norm. How wonderful and liberating it must be to exist in a culture that is so open with affection and holds women in such esteem.
In my observation the people here go out of their way to connect with you, no matter what language you speak or from where you come. It's possible to get by with hand gestures and facial expressions. There is such depth in the eyes I have seen here. It's pain and warmth and passion.
As usual, we sought out advice on where to eat from the locals. We were not disappointed. And my lips are sealed!

See more pics of our trip here:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ziti with Shrimp and Roasted Eggplant Sauce

Summer is winding down. How do I know this? Aside from the crisp air and changing angle of the sun, the bags of produce given to me by friends is a dead giveaway.
Since we are going to Portugal next week, using and/or preserving all these beautiful fruits and veggies has been a priority. Yesterday the mood struck and I started roasting peppers and eggplants.
As the smells permeated the air, I was reminded of a roasted eggplant pasta sauce I used to make. Somehow, this versatile recipe fell from my rotation. I think the last time I had made it was back in 2000, when I last grew my own eggplant. Well, suffice it to say it's back!
This sauce is very easy and makes your whole house smell intoxicatingly delicious. The recipe makes plenty - you could easily give a quart away or stash the rest in the freezer.
Last night I served this with some shrimp I simply broiled with lemon zest, garlic and parsley. The sauce would go just as well with chicken or even some goat cheese instead of the shrimp.

Roasted Eggplant Sauce

3 medium eggplants

-Stab each eggplant several times with a knife; drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and roast at 400 on a foil-lined sheet pan for about 45 minutes or until tender. When cool enough to touch, scoop flesh from eggplants with a spoon and set aside. Discard skin.

olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 head garlic, minced (or to taste)
1 large tomato, blanched, peeled, and chunked
1 medium zucchini, grated
red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1/2 to 3/4 c. dry white wine
water - approx. 1 c.
fresh flat leaf parsley

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large pot. Add onion and zucchini, saute over medium-high heat until somewhat softened but not browned. Add garlic, saute a couple minutes more. Add red pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Add reserved eggplant and cook for a couple minutes. You will notice the mixture beginning to stick to the pan and brown. As soon as this happens, deglaze the pan with the wine. Cook for several minutes until you no longer smell alcohol. Add the water and cook for another 20 minutes or so. Toward the end of cooking, add chunked tomato and a generous amout of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley. You should be able to tell when the sauce is ready because it will just smell so good. Adjust seasonings, and serve with pasta.

I added a squeeze of lemon juice at the end as well. I also mixed about a pound of broiled shrimp with the 1.5 lbs. of pasta I had cooked. It would be great with grilled chicken, and also some form of cheese if you are not serving with seafood.

I hope this recipe is clear enough; feel free to ask questions if some step is not. It's hard to quantify something that I usually improvise!
I'd love to hear stories from you if you try any variation of this basic recipe.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

You Talkin' to Me?

You Talkin' to Me?
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
I absolutely adore late summer. It's my favorite time of year, the time when everything comes to fruition.
This is the time of year when more than ever, so much is in season, coming forth from the fertile soil.
The students all come back to town, infusing the city with a new breath of life. The smell from area restaurants fills the air. Fairs and feasts celebrate the end of summertime, the fruits of the soil, and the beginning of a new time of toil and industry.

But the ocean still retains its warmth, soaked up over the summer's heat bearing down. The weather is still gorgeous-sunny-clear skies-perfect (well, ok, not every day is sunny, as I peer outside to the pouring rain). And the vegetables are more plentiful than ever.

Late August and September are times of harvest and homecoming.

Kenny, in his infinite generosity, has given me bags and bags of produce this past week!
One day there were tomatoes at my door; the next day there were carrots and peppers.
Some of the tomatoes got eaten fresh with just a drizzle of olive oil, some got stewed and subsequently frozen.
The carrots! Some were steamed and eaten for breakfast (we do that, deal with it). Some were grated and dressed very simply with olive oil, lemon juice, sugar, salt, pepper, and herbs a la David Lebovitz.

The Italian sweet peppers! Well, those were braised, with hot Italian sausages, potatoes, garlic, onions, and beer.

Cruelly, I treated them to the hot pot because one of them was giving me the business, as you can see. I've documented it photographically; I am thereby justified.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Please Excuse Stephanie's Absence...

Taking off for a while, to parts so remote I will be without the internet.
Keep yourselves full of good things!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Very Local Striped Bass

Striped Bass
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
A thank you to my neighbor, Ricardo Diaz, for catching this gorgeous striped bass and sending it our way like manna from heaven. Thanks also to his lovely wife, whose bass-aversion is a boon to the Dinnerman and me.
These babies were a bit hit around here Friday night, very simply crusted in cornmeal and pan-fried. The Dinnerman rarely raves about fish; he is still talking about this bass 2 days later.

Thanks Ricardo! Keep the bass flowing!

I suppose I should talk a bit about how I prepared this, for the minions who come by for the "recipes". It was simple, really. I salted and peppered the fillets, then dredged them in beaten egg and rolled them around in cornmeal. Into a pan filled about 3/4 inch high with olive oil until they browned on both sides, into the oven to finish cooking. They were really good slathered with hot sauce.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Everything's Better With Bacon

Last night I just didn't know what to do. I had thawed out some boneless breasts, but seriously didn't feel like grilling.
In the fridge, I had an abundance of the zucchini and yellow squash that's omnipresent here this time of year, plus bacon, garlic, basil, onions, and a hunk of Narragansett Creamery's fresh mozzarella.
On the counter, I had some German striped tomatoes from White Barn Farm that I got at last week's Wickenden Street Farmer's Market.
I rubbed each chicken breast with kosher salt, black pepper, cayenne, olive oil, and minced garlic. I then topped each with a slice of zucchini, a slice of yellow squash and some fresh basil leaves and wrapped the whole she-bang in bacon. Into the over at 400 for about 20-25 minutes (I think), or until the chicken is cooked and the bacon is crisp.
I served this with an insalata caprese.

Quick, easy, and a little out of the ordinary routine. Plus, bacon!

Native American Poem

My sister found this Native American saying and asked me to read it at her wedding ceremony last week. We have a bit of Iroquois blood in us from my mom's side, and I think this is an Apache blessing. But I love this simplicity of it no matter where it came from. It's been in my head ever since.

May the sun bring you new energies by day.
May the moon softly restore you by night.
May the rain wash away any worries you may have,
And the breeze blow new strength into your being.

And then, all the days of your life,
May you walk gently through the world
and know its beauty and yours.

Sausage and Lentil Soup

I make soup a lot. Out of the blue, an idea will start to coagulate, and before you know it I'm setting the big pot on the stove, laying the cutting board down, rummaging through the fridge and cupboards, dicing and sauteeing.
Maybe this is my subconscious scheming up ways to use the last bits of this and that before the next market haul. Maybe it's just part of my particular brand of crazy. In any case, I had a bout last week, and came up with this little number.
The Dinnerman has learned to just accept these seemingly random fits of inspiration. Instead of asking, "why are you making soup now?" he now only asks, "what smells so good, Schmoopie?".

As Festivus begins with the airing of grievances, a good soup starts with a flavorful stock. Or does it? Up to this point I never used stock or broth in creating a sausage soup. I think it's because I once read a recipe for Portuguese kale and chourico soup that called for water and no stock, so stuck in my head now. Whatever.
This time I broke tradition and used homemade vegetable stock (my first ever!). The flavor of the final product benefits from it, I think. It's fuller, rounder, more substantial tasting.

I sauteed 6 hot Italian sausage links in the casing in olive oil, then added diced onion and garlic as I cubed 2 medium potatoes, which went in next. I added the broth and lentils, brought it to a simmer and let it cook until the lentils became tender. At the last minute I decided to add spinach, so in went a brick of the frozen stuff. A splash of cider vinegar for balance, salt and pepper and crushed red pepper to taste, and there you have it!

It made a lot! We ate some, the man took a big container to work, and there were still a few quarts hanging around the fridge. Fortunately, this soup freezes well, and that's where the rest is residing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Teeth Seeds

No, not the ones from berries that irk you into reaching for the floss.
I'm talking about a futuristic concept for replacement dentition that came to me at 5 am this morning, lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did.

Imagine a group of cells predetermined to turn into a tooth, injected into the gum and stimulated somehow systemically. All you would have to do is wait for this seed pod to grow into a tooth, which would push out the existing detritus in a fashion familiar to all.

Think of all the money that would turn up under pillows!

I'm sure there will be detractors - the tooth fairy not least among them.

Clearly I need to return to bed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

I found this irresistible little meme on Jen's site, Last Night's Dinner (, though it appears that Andrew at Very Good Taste ( came up with it. Join the fun!

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.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (I'm with Jen: does Alligator count?)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
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
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar

37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects

43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
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
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (though I've had the tasting menu at a 1-star)
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

Pretty pathetic, no? 64 out of 100. I feel so inadequate.

Apologies for the ugly links, everyone. I have tried to make them look nicer, but obviously I am doing something wrong!

True Love, and Marriage

Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
I'm still here. It's been a busy week, the highlight of which was the marriage of my little sister. Her ceremony on the beach was the most beautiful I've ever attended - it was perfect.

The boss is back in town after a sailing trip, so there's that as well.

But I've still been cooking a lot, and with the Dinnerman doing my share of eating out. We had great sushi from Ran Zan last Thursday and a fantastic meal at the Portuguese feast last Saturday.

I tried to update over the weekend, but blogger was acting up and wouldn't allow me to sign in. So, here we are.

I've been really enjoying the Olympics this year, especially swimming, gymnastics, and, surprisingly, ladies' beach volleyball.

Lot's to catch up on. Right now, I'm out the door!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Double Click To Open

I had surgery on my leg a couple of years ago. I broke my leg and have "hardware" in there now, screws and whatnot. My surgeon told me it wouldn't set off any metal detectors in airports, and he has been correct for the most part. It went off in Frankfurt though. Gotta love German engineering.

Anyway, after my surgery, while high on Percocet, my friend took me for my very first trip to an adult video store. There, I purchased a thong that said, "Double Click To Open" on the front. What can I say? It was on sale. I was on top of the world!

I wore this thong religiously. I wore it to one post-op appointment with my surgeon. The Dinnerman accompanied me and sat in the exam room behind my surgeon, facing me. My surgeon wanted to take a look at my scar, so I dropped my pants. "Double Click To Open" was staring them both in the face. My surgeon, who is younger than I am, turned a little red in the face. I couldn't suppress a laugh. The Dinnerman just rolled his eyes, quite used to these things as he was by then.

What good is life if you can't have a good laugh? Sheesh. People are far too serious!

Portuguese Feast This Weekend!

Everyone! This is the weekend for the Portuguese feast at Our Lady of the Rosary Church on Traverse Street, which is off Wickenden Street behind Adler's Hardware. If you've been to the Wickenden Street Farmers' Market, it's right there!

When I ventured up there today I noticed they had strung lights up and were getting the area ready.

Last year the Dinnerman and I went because of Kenny's stories about the grilled sardines. We sat on the curb near the giant outdoor grills and sampled one of just about everything. Standouts in my mind were the grilled sardines and the spatchcocked grilled little chicken - one of the best we've ever had. They also had the ever-present grilled chourico sandwiches and some manner of potatoes.

And yes, they do have beer and wine, for those of you who think like I do.
You must go!

Here's a link to their website, which has contact info and the schedule:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Why Are Rhode Islanders So Crazy?

Why are so many Rhode Islanders so crazy? So wanting for assurances and guarantees? So paranoid and suspicious? So closed off and stubborn?

Take a chance! There are no absolutes. Venture outside your city; open your eyes to the world outside your door! Pay attention! You just might learn something that will challenge all your preconceived notions.

Thanks, Kenny!

After one too many nights commiserating in the courtyard, your bizarre Peace Corp-acquired habit of drinking beer over ice has worn off onto the Dinnerman.

Emergency intervention is required; there's no telling how far I will go to make this stop.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What I learned on my trip to Fresno, and other random ramblings from the plane.

1) American Airlines blows; their planes smell like toilets.

2) Luggage does get left behind in connection cities, even when you have an hour and a half between flights.

3) While rifling through a bag that is unclaimed due to #2 (see above) in DFW, where people are exceedingly annoying and aren't familiar with "walking etiquette", AA baggage handlers may rape and pillage said bag. Pilfered items may include prescription medication and makeup (?); broken items may include a bejeweled compact/mirror given to one by one's father, thus possessing nostalgic importance. (It's no one's fault but my own for checking the bag in the first place, this I know...)

4) It is beyond futile to attempt to recover items referenced above.

5) It is therefore best to avoid checking luggage, even if that means one's hair will be frizzy due to the lack of the array of products with which one usually travels. Lesson learned, okay?

6) Inbreeding is never a good idea, but it is certainly a popular one.

7) Catching a connecting flight in middle America is not a good idea either.

8) In general, people in Fresno are nicer than those in Providence.

9) Ethiopian food is tasty, especially when it's spur of the moment with new friends.

9a) I have a much higher threshold for "spicy" than most, or at least than many.

10) Paso Robles Wine Country is an hour west of Fresno, a convenient midpoint stop on the way to coastal Morro Bay.

11) Turley is in Paso Robles.

12) Pomegranite trees grow in backyards in Fresno. It's not just citrus!

13) Not surprisingly, great Mexican food is easily had in Fresno.

14) Fresno has beautiful starry skies.

15) The Big Dipper remains the only constellation I can reliably recognize. I point it out to all.

16) The Dinnerman likes freshly picked (pilfered) grapefruit.

17) Many bartenders have no idea what a Vieux Carre is, and look at me like I am crazy when I ask for one, while the Dinnerman looks on and rolls his eyes. I do realize that mistaking me for crazy is not hard to do.

18) Hot tubs are nice.

19) Maria Shriver is on my flight (LA to Boston) right now. She is standing in the aisle as I drink my vodka and soda, and she looks great!

20) I must concede that this particular AA plane does not smell like a toilet.

21) People generally find me interesting, but I wonder if it's akin to rubbernecking at a car crash.

22) Crying babies on planes make me almost as crazy as kids kicking the back of my seat. I bet there is no one kicking Maria Shriver's seat.

23) It's especially irritating when even having my ipod on the highest volume setting can't drown out said (spoiled, undisciplined, indulged) screaming baby.

24) It's good to land in Boston.

25) It's good to anticipate sleeping in one's own bed.

Good night!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

California, here I come!

For a couple of days, anyway. Fresno, to be specific. Everyone's late summer destination in the valley.

I'm most sad that I will miss the Saturday morning Hope High Farmers' Market and Waterfire (if there's even a Waterfire planned).

I have a couple of places lined up that promise exciting gustatory experiences. Got my camera, some mixed nuts, and the Dinnerman's ipod. I'm on my way.

Ciao for now.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Vieux Carre, you say? What's that?

Rick's Roadhouse, at the bar. Tuesday evening. Lovely sunny summer day, clear summer night. Farewell to our friend, round 2. School in Philly. Back soon! Lots of laughs. Lots of drinks. Yummy roasted peanuts. Stories, jokes. Jovial folks. Kids with crocs. Crocs with socks.

What can I get for you today?

One Heineken Light, and one Vieux Carre!

What's that? I've never heard of it!

Here's the recipe; which I found for free. (Dinnerman looks on and says, for real? Steph? You kidding me?)

Bartender looks blankly at me. Hmm. No can do. Benedictine, we lack.

Rye Manhattan then. (I'm now a convert; bye-bye to bourbon.)

Bar to booth. Orders placed, food in mouths. Feet in mouths. Hands in pants. (?)

Bartender fly-by - that ordered drink? We want to make it in days to come.
On the rocks, you say?

Yes, I think.

We hope to have it, by your next visit!

Thanks, appreciate that, say I.

And I walk away quite satisfied. :)

Here's the recipe that launched a thousand ships. Google it if you want to know more.

Vieux Carre

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce Cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon Bénédictine D.O.M.
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Mix all ingredients in a double Old Fashioned glass over ice; stir.

Let me just sum this up to say the tonight, Rick's Roadhouse exceeded my expectations. I'm sure that our fantastic friends had a big hand in framing this evaluation, but I also think the food was better than my first visit. The Dinnerman's brisket was not so dry. My peel and eat shrimp were good. The rye was flowing.
Still, I want to smoke my own meats, stew my black eyed peas.
And I will, I will.

Just not tonight...

Sunday, July 27, 2008


It hasn't been much of a weekend of cooking around here. Friday night I grilled some mediocre steak; that's all I will say about it from now to eternity. Yesterday we went to Ichiban for a mid-day feast. Last night, I made a gravy and some ricotta meatballs with the sincerest intention of having them for Sunday Dinner today. But we all know about the best laid plans, and somehow it just wasn't meant to be. This gravy will be an easy meal for the future, but it also meant we needed to find a place to eat in the present!

I had read a thread recently on Urbanplanet that mentioned Sura, a Korean bbq restaurant on George Waterman Highway in Johnston. The poster, known as "The Ank", said he had a great meal there for 2 that was very reasonable, and the restaurant was dead, so they need our help.
I have been to Sura many times in the past few years and enjoyed it very much on all occasions. I used to live much closer to it than I do now, but that should really have no bearing in a state this small. I took the Dinnerman there once before, and we really enjoyed the bbq, the sushi, and the strange juxtaposition of the bigscreen tv with bizarre Korean food shows and the greatest American hits of the 70's and 80's piped in overhead. Sensory overload? Maybe. But what other way is there to live?

So today, a gloomy, drizzly Sunday in late July, proved to be the perfect storm for a return trip to Sura.

The Dinnerman came back from the gym. I was in the shower. I emerged.

"What are we doing?", he says.

"Dunno", say I, feigning ambivalence.

"We having those meatballs?", he asks hopefully.

"Dunno. You want that?"

"I don't know. What do you think? What do you want?"

"Eh, not so into it. You?"

"What do you want then?"

"How about Sura?"



"Let's go then! I'm hungry! They open?"

"Dunno. I'll call."

(I call. They are open.)

And so it came to pass. I ordered a bottle of soju right off the bat; he got an Asahi. I'd never had soju, which is a Korean distilled spirit traditionally made from rice like sake. In most soju today the rice is supplemented by other sources of starch like sweet potato, wheat, potato, barley, and/or tapioca, lending it more of a sweetness and full-bodied taste than sake. I actually thought it was much better than any sake I've had, but the Dinnerman thought it tasted like vodka. Huh? Drink your Asahi then.

To start, we got some fried dumplings, a few pieces of sashimi, and a couple of maki - spicy tuna and spicy scallop. The dumplings were really good - crispy and flavorful. The sashimi we ordered was fantastic - the white tuna and salmon very creamy and rich, the yellowtail rich and more fishy than normal which I liked - and the rolls were very good too. I am a purist; I like smaller maki with the seaweed on the outside. Usually a spicy tekka maki fits the bill, but this one had the rice on the outside. To boot, it contained minced tuna mixed with spicy sauce inside - not so much my style. The spicy scallop maki had the rice on the outside too, and a squirt of sauce on top of each piece - again, not so much. Nothing was wrong with the maki, but they were very Americanized and not so Japanese. I guess it's too much to ask of a restaurant in RI to do authentic Tokyo style sushi, but my bar is set there and won't budge.

We then ordered Korean bbq - bulgogi - which at Sura is cooked on a grill built into the table if 2 or more people order it. The Dinnerman got the pork belly; I ordered the spicy chicken. It came with romaine lettuce leaves, garlic and hot pepper slices, and some sauce that tasted kind of peanutty. Also included in the spread were the requisite banchan, those little bowls of various pickled veggies and sometimes fish that accompany a Korean meal. Today we were given deliciously spicy kimchi, seaweed salad, cubed potatoes, sweet black beans, and pickled bean sprouts. Can I just tell you how much I love kimchi? I am so happy the Dinnerman abhors cabbage, because I get all the kimchi to myself.

The pork belly was great. I forgot my camera, so you are all stuck with a phone pic, but it was slices of uncured bacon. The first round we took off the grill before it got crisp; the second time we let it get crunchy. So good. The chicken was delicious as well, but by this time all we could do was take a bite and wrap the rest; we were so full. So, a snack for later, while we watch 21 on a rainy Sunday night. I guess I had a bit too much soju, because in my effort to take the grill plate off the heat, I accidentally dropped it into the depths in the middle of the table. It required every person working in the kitchen to come to our table and fish it out, all the while conversing in Korean. Can I just say that I felt every inch the Ugly American? I kept apologizing. I couldn't figure out how to turn the heat off, I explained, and I didn't want the pan to burn. The Dinnerman kept rolling his eyes. Uh oh. I can't leave anything alone. What can you do?
(The Dinnerman is fond of quoting the legendary words of my unforgettable grandfather, "Goddamn woman hovers - can't leave anything alone.")

Hope your weekend was relaxing and filled with great food, friends, and family.

Go to Sura. Just don't mess with the grill.

Sura Korean BBQ Restaurant
300 George Waterman Road
Johnston, RI 02919
(401) 233-7888

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Music, Food, Jeff Buckley, and My Ipod

(Think The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover)

My Ipod shit the bed yesterday, and I am suffering the sequelae. It gets worse by the hour; these things always do get worse before they get better. Tomorrow I will venture out to the Apple store at the mall (groan), which will no doubt be busy busy busy because of the new Iphone and all its charms.

Ahem. Which leads me to wonder: if I could only have one of the two, which would I pick? Music or food? Which would sustain me more completely? Is it even possible to dissect apart the two and their respective influences on my psyche? (Which is no doubt positive! Such a shining example I am of mental health!)

If I could only have one or the other, which would I pick? Which means more to me? Listening to and playing music, or cooking and eating food?

I realize this is ridiculous, and would never be a decision I would have to make. I am an American, after all. I want for nothing but a soul and someone with whom to discuss its implications. As I listen to Jeff Buckley (on the Dinnerman's Ipod, thanks god) and smell my meatballs simmering on the stove, I can't imagine being without either.


Ile de France Le Brie - An Evaluation

Le Brie
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
Last month I was contacted by a representative from Ile de France asking me if I would like to try one of their cheeses and write about my opinion. They had found my blog and found it "interesting".
Being a sucker for a compliment, I acquiesced, with the warning that I am brutally honest. They said fine, we are confident in our product, bring it on!
I was expecting a wedge of brie; instead, an entire wheel came in the mail - perfect timing the week after my lobster bender. There goes any attempt to lower my cholesterol, thought I. (Yeah if that will ever happen)

I admit I went into this endeavor expecting to be less than thrilled. First of all, this cheese is mass-produced and marketed. How much personal attention could go into each batch? Secondly, consider the audience to which it is marketed - the American public. Need I say more? Is the target demographic really into stinky, runny, nuanced cheese? Or are they looking for something to grab while running up and down the aisles at the local big chain grocery store to impress at the potluck?

Maybe that sounds a little harsh, but hey, this is my blog. These are my opinions. You don't like it? Go watch Nickelodeon.

On to my thoughts on this brie. First, it had a very smooth and creamy texture. Even the rind was rather soft for a brie, which was good because I like the rind. I liked that about it very much.
But the second issue is of course flavor. There just wasn't any. It had none. If you liquified this cheese and put it on my tongue I wouldn't be able to tell you what it was. I really love strong tasting cheeses - the runnier and stinkier the better - and this just had no taste.
I gave Kenny a couple of wedges and he independently came up with the same comment - no flavor. He said, "I kept eating more and more of it waiting for it to taste like something, but it never happened."
Now my friend is constipated, his taste buds left wanting.

So, would I buy this? While I appreciate the attention from Ile de France, the answer would have to be an unmitigated 'No'. I can't think of any situation for which I would make any effort to obtain this cheese.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

This cow got into an onion patch

A couple of weeks ago I ran out of half and half so I hiked up to the local Shell station one morning for a pint.
I noticed as I was pouring it into my coffee that the half and half was all clumpy and curdled-looking.
I brought it back to the Shell station and said to the Bozo the Clown look-alike that something was wrong with it, it was curdled, maybe it had been stored improperly or something?

He said, no, that's not the problem. The problem is that it came from the wrong cow. Um, huh?
He said that the cow this came out of had just had a calf and wasn't given enough time before she was milked again. Apparently the milk gets really thick after they give birth? (Anyone know anything about this sort of thing?)

I was so intrigued that I failed to notice until later that he made me pay for the replacement. I guess the lesson was worth the price of admission.

You learn something new everyday!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ragu with Mushrooms and Sausage

This past weekend I concocted yet another variation on the old pasta with red sauce riff. This time I sauteed diced onion in some olive oil and then added hot Italian sausage, out of the casing, along with some ground pork and crimini mushrooms. After this cooked for a bit I added minced garlic, cooked it a little longer, then poured in some white wine. I let the wine cook off and dumped in 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes. This time I threw in a handful of crushed red pepper and a celery stalk (because Joanne told me to do that once). I let it simmer for an hour or so and turned off the heat. When it was cool, the entire pan went into the fridge overnight.

It's nice to make a big pot of gravy ahead of time. That way all that's left to be done is to make a quick salad and boil the pasta. This past Sunday we had the gravy with rotelle pasta and a nice bottle of Bonny Doon Syrah.
As usual, there was lots of gravy leftover. Some went into the freezer, and some became my lunch today over some cheese ravioli from Gem (some of my favorite ravioli around). I topped this dish with dollops of fresh ricotta from Narragansett Creamery, which I had been dying to try and finally bought at yesterday's farmers' market. It was incredibly rich and flavorful - no wonder this cheese is an award winner!

Last night found us out at the grill again, with the recurrent chicken breast-on-the-bone-with-roasted-potatoes-and-carrots meal that I am rather sick of but the Dinnerman loves so. Tonight I was planning to grill some tuna steaks and mako shark that we had stashed in the freezer after last week's Bridgeport Seafood splurge, but thanks to the stormy weather it looks like pan searing is in my future. No worries!

What's cooking in your world?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Dad, Billy Joel, and Al Forno

For as long as I can remember, my dad has bought and sold vintage instruments. After a brief stint as a science teacher, he got fed up with the system, bought a banjo, and decided to spread his belevolence on more appreciative crostini - in this case, musicians. I credit my dad with my hippie soul, and for my musical slant. As my mom, who herself could not carry a tune to save her life (couldn't resist, I know it's inappropriate. If she were still alive, she would call me a bitch), would say, I was always very "musically inclined".

From the very beginning my life was filled with music, and music-making machines. There were always multiple guitars, banjos, and mandolins hanging around the house. (You want to take violin lessons? Here you go, take this violin. You want to play trumpet in the school band?
Okay, I've got one somewhere...) Occasionally he'd break out something more exotic and unusual, and my childhood memories include playing around with dulcimers and dobros, tubas, trumpets, and trombones. Once, I appropriated a clarinet, and wouldn't put it down until I could make a sound, any sound, other than a screech. I even broke out the old Minolta and forced my little sister to pose with this clarinet. (The pictures came out really well, actually. I made her wear my old prom dress and put her head in her hands. It was my first time using pantyhose over the lens as a filter. What a prodigy I was. How do I digitize these images???)

Anyway, my dad was, is, and always will be the Music Man.

As such, we always had music playing around the house and in the car. After my sister was born, we got a brand new mint green 1978 Chevy Impala station wagon with an 8 track tape player. This was just the best thing to me! We'd sit in the "way back" and hang our heads out the window. There were speakers back there, so I was able to hear all the Harry Chapin, Linda Rondstadt, Eagles, and Billy Joel that was playing.
Billy Joel was a favorite of mine and still is. The first album I remember buying was Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual. But the second was Billy Joel's An Innocent Man. I didn't realize it then, but now I know I am drawn to dynamic, dramatic, percussive musicians. He certainly fits the bill. (So does Elton John. My third album was Too Low For Zero.)

Anyway, the entire point of this post came from my perceived connection among the three title characters.
My dad showed me music. That music included Billy Joel. Billy Joel notoriously goes to Al Forno. My dad saw Billy Joel at Al Forno once in 1999, while having dinner with his wife, her aunt, and her husband (also known as her uncle). My dad didn't want to bother him, but his wife's aunt did, and did. I certainly wouldn't have. I wouldn't even approach a celebrity to say how much I love their work. But my dad's wife's aunt did. I heard this story ad nauseum over the years. So my dad, Billy Joel, and Al Forno are forever linked in this head of mine.

I love them all, in different ways and strengths.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Don Jose Tequilas

Yesterday we ventured out into the mid-afternoon heat and haze to get a bite to eat. For some reason - maybe the weather lent itself to memories of trips to Mexico - Don Jose Tequilas came to mind. The Dinnerman had never been; I had been twice, although my most recent visit was several years ago.

I was immediately struck at how different the inside looks from how I remembered it. It seems much more intimate and cozy, with a relaxed "cantina" feel. There are plants around the bar, and hanging lights over the tables which lend to the feeling of privacy. The middle of the dining room has a tile floor reminiscent of a patio. Someone did a great job on decor here! The space looks completely different from its days as Restaurant Fuji.

We started out with a couple of margaritas - the Dinnerman ordered one with blue curacao, and I went a more traditional route. We both wanted salt and rocks, but I didn't get the salt. It's easy to understand how the one waitress overlooked that detail, however, as she was handling the bar and the dining room all by herself on a busy Saturday afternoon. I don't fault her; she did a great job and could have used some help.

Chips and salsa are brought out with our drinks. The salsa was pretty smooth and had a little heat. We both prefer a hotter and slightly chunkier variety. The chips were, quite simply, too hard.

The guacamole was very good, but again, we like chunks. That's a matter of personal preference though. We both thought the chips, salsa, and guacamole were inferior to those at El Rancho Grande.

Let me say that our entrees were really wonderful - much better than I ever expected. I had the Molcajete Azteca, a mixed grill including chicken, sirloin, shrimp, chorizo, cactus strips, and Viajero cheese served over a chipotle sauce in an actual molcajete, which is a traditional Mexican stone tool with legs used to grind spices and salsas and also as serving vessels. Molcajetes often have the head of an animal on the side; I think this one was a pig. This dish was so delicious - the meats and cheese were grilled to perfection and the sauce packed a spicy punch. The molcajete held heat very well - this dish stayed really hot for the duration. All this was served with corn tortillas, rice and beans.

(Sorry for the bad pic; I left my camera at home and took this with my phone)

The Dinnerman really enjoyed his Barbacoa de Chivo, or braised goat shanks, but he kept commenting that he will order the Molcajete next time, and kept stealing bites of my meat. This is very out of character for him; he likes to order his own dish and erect a fortress around it. It's taken 4 years for him to get to the point now where he sometimes offers me a bite of whatever he ordered, because he knows I love to try everything. So perhaps his eating off my plate is a good sign (although now that I think about it I didn't get to try the goat...).

The Molcajete Azteca can be ordered for two, but somehow I doubt we will do that, even if we both choose this entree next time.

In our final analysis we give El Rancho Grande the award for chips, salsa, and guacamole, but Don Jose Tequilas is heads and tails better in entree department - especially for that Molcajete!

We will be back soon.

Don Jose Tequilas
351 Atwells Avenue
Providence, RI 02903

Tel: (401) 454-8951
Fax: (401) 454-8952

There is parking in a small lot behind the restaurant, and they offer valet on Friday and Saturday nights.