Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cooking: Lemon Meringue Pie

I recently picked up a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible at Bookman's. For quite some time, I've been waiting for a craving for one of the specific pies in this weighty tome to strike; there's so many absolutely phenomenal looking things in here, there's just no way to choose except to wait for a craving to strike. It finally did, and its name was lemon meringue. I can definitely say that Beranbaum's instructions are quite well written, I never felt like I was at a loss for what to do next. There are three parts to a lemon meringue pie; the crust, the filling, and the meringue topping. The crust she recommended was the Basic Flaky Pie Crust, and then for an especially light meringue that won't weep, an Italian meringue, made by whipping hot sugar syrup into beaten egg whites.

The recipe itself isn't too bad; bake the crust, make the filling and add to the hot crust, make meringue and top the pie, then bake until the top is nicely browned. This time through, everything but the crust has been chalked up to a learning experience. I was going off the visual cues that Beranbaum gave for the cooked filling (thick, smooth, and translucent) and not the temperature the cooked filling was supposed to reach (190 degrees F). Next time, it's getting cooked to 190. When I picked the pie up off the cooling rack, I saw the meringue jiggle around. Uh oh. My fears were confirmed when I tried to pick up the first slice; I made lemon meringue soup.

The meringue also was also much less than perfect; this was my first time doing an Italian meringue, where hot sugar syrup is beaten into whipped egg whites. For what it's worth, this was my first time that I'd done anything involving the culinary napalm that is boiling sugar syrup. I now know for next time to not scrape out the pan when transferring the hot syrup to another vessel. As you may guess by now, there were little chips of sugar flint all through the meringue.

Then there was the pie crust... oh Lord, was there the pie crust. If the pie crust is any indication, I'm going to have people begging me for the recipe once I have the lemon filling and meringue down pat. It was far and away the best pie crust I've ever eaten... it was tender, yet incredibly flaky, and for once it was a blind-baked crust that didn't shrink in the oven! I'd better be careful, I might end up making the pie crust and baking it just to eat it... wow, it was good stuff.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Signs You're Dating a Chowhound

This should be fun...

1) They take you to a restaurant you have never heard of, in a part of town that you normally wouldn't venture into.

2) You recommend a really trendy restaurant and they look at you like you grew a second head.

3) You try to take them to Olive Garden and they threaten to break up with you.

4) They have a cookbook on their nightstand.

5) If you take them out for dinner and a movie, they don't care a whit about the movie.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cooking: Pan Pizza from Cook's Country Magazine

We did the pepperoni pan pizza from the most recent issue of Cook's Country magazine and it is pretty darn good. There's a couple of minor tweaks I'd make... First is to do more herbs in the sauce than 2 cloves of garlic for a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Second is that I wish the dough was a bit richer... maybe substituting some melted butter for some of the olive oil would do the trick? Other than those, it came out absolutely wonderful. I loved their trick of microwaving the pepperoni in between a few layers of paper towels to get rid of the grease; puddles of orange oil have plagued more than one pizza I've made, and this one had none of it. I can see doing triple batches of this instead of calling out for Papa John's again the next time everyone wants pizza.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Chowhound Rules of Thumb

Something I've been meaning to do for a while is the Chowhound Rules of Thumb. These are various things about restaurants that will be true just about no matter what. Some time soon I'll make this a sticky article and put it up on the sideboard. And maybe I'll update the recent CDs, I keep picking them up and am about 15 behind. This list will most certainly grow with time, and feel free to suggest your own. If I like it enough I'll use it as part of the list.

#1: If a restaurant has a special gimmick, the restaurant will use that gimmick for all it's worth in hopes that you won't notice how bad the food is.
Corollary: If the restaurant moves in any way, whether it's because it's on a boat, or rotates at the top of a building, this goes double. Especially if it rotates at the top of a building.
Corollary 2: If they offer dinner and a show at the same time (such as Medieval Times does), the food will be industrial fare no better than from a Hometown Buffet.

#2: If there is an adjective as part of the name, such as "authentic" or "good", the opposite will be true. This goes both ways, I've heard good things about a place called Terrible's.

#3: Places that leave the cents off the menu (Filet of sole........... 23) charge 2 dollars more than they should for an entree.

#4: If jalapeƱo poppers are on the appetizer list, anything on the menu that could come from a bag in the freezer (i.e. 90 percent of the appetizers and at least half of the sides) comes from a bag in the freezer.

#5: Things wrapped in bacon taste really good. If the best praise you've heard about a restaurant is "The bacon wrapped (insert foodstuff here)" is AMAZING!" go elsewhere for dinner.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tasting: Coke Blak

I'm intrigued by the vast line-up of flavored sodas to give a twist on classic beverage fare. In the last few years we've seen coke with cherry, vanilla, cherry and vanilla, lemon, lime, and goodness knows what else I missed. The gurus at the Coca-Cola company have come up with yet another iteration of their timeless drink. Coke Blak is certainly an interesting twist... coffee flavored Coke. It works better than it sounds... the coffee sparks the mild acidity of Coke, while the spices in the Coke do great things to the coffee. Now if only they'd use sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup... aie. It's available in glass bottles at convenience stores.

Review: Burger King, Scottsdale AZ

I tried out some new mass market products today, and thought I might as well tell you all about it, since this is a food blog and all. First up was the new french toast breakfast sandwich from Burger King. I will start out by mentioning I absolutely despise BK. They're bland as hell, unless the food is overly salty, their menu board is in desparate need of a new color, and they just try WAY too hard to be "edgy". I think the idea going through my head when I went there this morning was "If I buy one, will you PLEASE stop playing those damn ads?"

I get to the drive-thru and order the sammitch with ham on it (knowing full well that their sausage is positively horrid), a medium order of the Cheesy Tots that someone was telling me about, and my standard fast food breakfast beverage, orange juice (I'm reminded of putting hot fudge on frozen yogurt... it's still bad for you, but hey it's yogurt so it's a little healthy, right?). I pull around to the window, pay up with plastic, see my food sitting in the drive-thru window while the drive-thru person goes and takes care of something else (apparently one guest at the counter and one at the drive-thru constitutes a major rush for these people), and eventually get my food. I check in the bag and see the sammitch, and a small order of hash browns. Grr. I do understand these things happen, so I went in and told the person at the counter what happened. They looked at it, took the hash brown order out of the bag and put it back under the heat lamp (!), then put in my correct order. Before I got my correct order, the drive-thru person protested that I hadn't paid for that one. Holy christ. I've worked in the service industry for a very, very long time, and have learned two simple rules:

1) If there is a problem, the customer is right.
2) If the customer is wrong, see rule 1.

For something as minor as a miscommunication on an order, all that should happen is a swift apology and fixing the order. Protesting that you think you're right should never, EVER be done.

Anyway, once I got things fixed and back on the road, I started chowing down. The french toast sandwich is almost as good as the McGriddle sandwiches from McDonalds... in other words, it sucks. Their eggs are almost flavorless, the cheese completely unnoticeable after it got absorbed by the bread, and the bread has the same blah feel as a French toast stick. The only thing even remotely good was the ham, which was sliced nicely thin and had some flavor to it. I think if for some reason I go back to Burger King for breakfast, I'll do this with no egg, extra cheese, and hope to God they have raspberry jam, and have a luxurious Monte Cristo sandwich for breakfast. Well, at least a somewhat reasonable facsimile of one. The cheesy tot things were quite possibly one of the worst things I have eaten in a very long time. It was something that tasted sort of like cheese with little bits of almost cooked potato, wrapped in breading and deep fried. It was kinda cheesy, kinda crisp, but mostly a pasty mess. Whoever mentioned them with a smile in the first place should fear my wrath, and then I'll make him a breakfast that actually tastes good. Oh, and as for the orange juice... something that has a little bit of pulp in it won't kill us. Really.

And what an honor, Burger King has received the first ever score on What the Jester Had for Dinner of 0 on the 1 to 5 scale. The normal scale is:

5: I love it!
4: I like it.
3: It's OK.
2: I don't like it.
1: I hate it!

On rare occasions, you'll see the 0, which stands for Not Acceptable. This is for those times that something is just plain unforgivably awful, such as the double whammy of implying that I did something wrong AND putting food that had been given to a guest back on the serving line. Whatever the offense, it is absolutely certain that I will never, EVER visit the place again. On the other end is the 6, which will simply be known as "Oh. My. God." These are the places that do things just so extraordinary that you tell EVERYONE you know about it, from friends and family to the checker at the grocery store. If you see me rate something a 6, for goodness sakes get over there NOW. Just stay the hell away from Burger King.

Burger King
Scottsdale Rd north of the 202
Food: 1
Service: 0 (Not Acceptable)
Atmosphere: 2
Overall: 1
Value: 2
Price: 1 (Cheap Eats)
Kid Friendly: 4
Open for: B, L, D

Noooo... One of my favorite places for a Chinese lunch, Jasmine Palace on Scottsdale and Thunderbird, has closed up shop. The chocolate wontons will be sorely missed, along with the lunch buffet that was, for once, some outstanding chow.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Review: Houston's, Scottsdale AZ

Again, not much in a writing mood right now...

In a nutshell, it's an above average chain. The food is solid but uninspired (and sometimes overseasoned),

6113 N Scottsdale Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85250
(480) 922-7775
Overall: 3
Food: 3
Service: 4
Atmosphere: 4 (Almost a 5, but like so many other restaurants it was too noisy)
Price: 3-4
Value: 2
Open For: L, D
Kid Friendly? 2

Review: Los Sombreros, Scottsdale AZ

Full review on the way when I think about it... for now, here's the numbers.

Overall: 4
Food: 4
Service: 3
Atmosphere: 5
Prices: 3-4
Value: 3
Hours: D
Kid Friendly: 3