Thursday, March 25, 2010

A place to call home...well, somone's home

Black Sheep Coffee, 11th Street

Pros: Strong community vibe, with a very relaxed atmosphere. The coffee was pretty decent, though I didn't add enough cream. Guess that isn't their fault. It really reminds me of a lot of places in Madison, in that I could imagine a group of sprightly hippies chilling out, talking about social justice over yerba mate.

 image source

Cons: That community vibe I was talking about--If you're not in that community, you feel a bit out of place. The tables and seating area are really close together, so it feels almost if you're intruding upon someone if you sit near them. I intended to stay here when I came to get coffee, but left because it didn't feel like there was anywhere to sit, even though there was. Some coffee shops are really good at cultivating that feeling of walking into a comfortable living room--the problem is when it makes you feel like you're walking into someone's ACTUAL living room. Maybe that's why Bed and Breakfasts sometimes creep me out.

Still, I think I'll give them another chance, eventually. Its not MY living room, but given the right beverage incentives, I could be called upon to impose.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Looking for a Cuppa (Coffee)

When Dave first visited Sioux Falls, one of my first tasks for him was to find decent, non-Starbucks coffee shops I could go to. Nothing against Starbucks, but if its your only option in a town, you know its going to be a long winter.

So, once I moved here, I began that arduous task of finding My Coffeeshop. Over the course of the next few blogs (my caffeine addiction permitting) I'll give a quick review of the coffee shops here. To begin let's start with....

Scooter's Coffee House
Pros: Its a small coffee house on the south side with an unpretentious vibe. Though technically a chain based out of Omaha, it doesn't really feel too corporate. Wi-Fi. outlets, comfy looking chairs as well as small tables to work or meet at. It's also next door to a nice specialty market, Cleaver's.

 Cons: The coffee was not good. It tasted like gas station coffee; watery, and lacking in any unique characteristics. Maybe I shouldn't write them off until I have one of their lattes, but I don't know if there is any point; if you can't do the basics, what's the point in moving on to something more complicated?

Even a cup poured from the single pot of coffee at the doughnut shop in Tea  tasted better. Of course, the problem with that place is that its only open until noon, which I don't quite understand---there's nothing better, after all, than doughnuts at 1 am.

Next up: Black Sheep Coffee

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Travel Food Nostalgia

Come this time of year, when winter begins to dangle spring just barely out of our reach, I start getting a case of the travel bug HARD. This past week though, the travel bug has been manifesting its symptoms rather strangely. My stomach is rumbling, I'm having the oddest cravings...

No, I'm not pregnant. I'm having food nostalgia. Since I don't have the $$ to cure my nostalgia through reliving my food memories (willingtoacceptdonationsfoodnetwork) lets all relive them for a moment here. And we can, thanks to the magic of the internet and google street view.

Starting in order of their appearance in my life, from most recent to least....

1. The Chippy - Ullapool, Scotland
Ah, vacations while on vacation. I visited this little shop while on a tour of Scotland with some friends. The tour (the adorably named Highland Fling by Haggis Adventures) went all over Scotland and this was the northernmost spot of the entire tour. When we got off the tour bus here, our driver told us that this was the "best fish and chip shop in all of Scotland." I was dubious, because every other corner shop in Scotland and England claims to have the best Fish and Chips in town/the county/the country/the world. Its like claiming you have the best Apple Pie (which, if you're wondering, is Elegant Farmer). It's clearly open to interpretation.

Or so I thought. I don't think I am just saying this because I was on vacation; this was the best fish and chips I have ever had IN MY LIFE (you'll hear that phrase repeated quite often in this post). I wasn't even that hungry. The breading was hot and crisp, the fish was insanely fresh, having come from the bay 25 feet from the shop. The chip were a nicely salt compliment, and the whole thing, wrapped up in paper and sprinkled with malt vinegar, was so delicious I think I'd eat it every day and gladly welcome the heart attack.

2. The Sandwich Shop, London, England
When I was studying abroad in London, life was pretty much just a constant decline of the bank account. Aside from of course having no job while there, London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. In order to enjoy your time there, you couldn't always eat out at all the fancy restaurants. Enter the Sandwich Shop; the poor college students dream. For only a pound, you could get a delicious sausage baguette, which is exactly what it sounds like; a foot long sausage, sandwich is a baguette, liberally toasted and slathered with butter. Top that off with some brown sauce, and you've got a delicious and filling lunch that won't eliminate the trust fund.

When I went back to London with my then boyfriend (now hubby) for an irresponsibly expensive vacation, I insisted we make a stop there again. It was definitely the cheapest meal we ate there, and possibly the one I remember the most.

3. Caffe al Ciclope - Pachino, Sicily

What do kids spend their money on? Ice cream! Or in this case Gelato. If only our parents had known when they sent us to Sicily on a church program that all of our money would go towards gelato. We bought gelato for lunch. We bought gelato for snacks. We bough gelato for dinner. We bought gelato just because we happened to pass by a gelateria. And this place, by far, got most of my money. I've had gelato since, and its been good, but never quite the same. Perhaps there was something unique about it, the bizarre combination of flavors resulting from the fact that I didn't always know what the signs said, perhaps just being young, when the most awesome thing you could think of was having an ice cream store right outside your house...Whatever it was, I've never again felt like I could always eat more and more of something, to a limitless extent.

4. House of Nanking - San Francisco, CA   
I'll be honest. I don't know if this is the right place. The funny thing about memory is that very often its not names and dates you remember best, but tastes, smells and feelings. While on vacation with my parents in San Francisco, we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for lunch, because you have to when you go to San Francisco. This place was carefully researched and chosen by my mother out of Frommers, which is how I found it again ( I think). Maybe she's reading this and can tell me if I am right.

The guide specifically stated to listen to your waiter, and just let them select dishes for you, and you won't go wrong. When our waiter came to our table (he happened to also be the owner!) my mother gave him a list of foods she did NOT want to eat, which included all seafood. The owner looked a little sad, as if we had just told him his best art was a pile of crap, so I was a little worried about what we would get. But still, he said "I will take care of you," and went back to the kitchen.

Then, came out the dishes. Over the course of the meal, there could have been 6-15 dishes, and everything was amazing, completely unlike any Chinese food I had ever had before. There are certain meals that you eat where you feel like you're experiencing something for the first time, despite the fact that you have, technically, experienced it before.  I understood now that the reason that I didn't like a lot of Chinese food was actually because a lot of Chinese was in fact not good. This, however, was fantastic. We ate as much as we could, but there was a lot left at the end. The restaurant had a no doggy bag policy, so taking it with us was not an option. Which is just as well I guess; it wouldn't have been as good the next day, or even later that evening. It was a singular experience, which refuses to be cheapened or diminished in the memory.

What are your most memorable travel food experiences?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Leftover Makeover!

So. It's dinnertime, you're trying to decide what to make, so you open the fridge.

Leftovers. Tupperwares and tupperwares of leftovers. Ugh. You know you should eat them, but its just not going to be the same. The breading is going to be soggy, the meat's going to taste 2nd day funky, and you're out of that sauce that made it taste really good anyway. What's a girl to do?

Time for a leftover makeover! I swear this is not an infomercial.

Leftover #1: pork chops
These were so good the first time. Crispy breading, with flavorful pork choppy taste. But I know once I rehear them, they're going to taste like feet. So, the challenge here is to do something with this pork to mask a little of that reheated taste, without treating it like Mockolate . To do this, I called on another leftover.

Mole, you are my hero. Slice the pork up thin, put in bake dish, cover with mole and cheese, serve over rice with a side of homemade tortilla chips, and voila!
It's like I meant to make this all along. The enchiladas were still better, but it was a great (and easy) substitute.

Leftover #2: Rotisserie chicken and spaghetti noodles

Sometimes, the problem with leftovers is really just that you don't want to have the same thing. Again. And again. Dave in particular seems to have some sort of psychological block against eating leftovers, so some trickery is clearly in order. To change up these leftovers, I changed the genre--from Sunday Dinner and Easy Italian to....

Chicken Lo Mein! Just stir fry some veggies, throw in the noodles, chicken and some scrambled egg. Season with soy sauce and oyster sauce, maybe some garlic, and whatever else you like in your stir fry. It's like an entirely new meal!

What do you do with your leftovers?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Good Mole is Forever

My husband has undoubtably one dish that he declares his "signature"-- Venison Enchiladas with Mole. It's not his signature because he does anything different, really. In fact, the entire meal follows a very specific recipe, carefully followed and printed off the internet. The reason(s) he thinks of this as his signature dish are:

1. There are a lot of steps
2. It takes all day
3. Making it inevitably intimidates others
4. It tastes really, really good.

A few weeks ago, Dave declared that he was going to make his Venison Enchiladas with Mole for his entire office--that's 20 people. And so it began.

Never one to shy away from asking for a bit of help in the kitchen, Dave's first
order of business was to appoint a sous chef.

I always get duped into being his sous chef, partly because I genuinely like cooking, but also probably because I always fall for the line "I can't cut the onions as well as you." A true sucker for feminine flattery.

And really, if you're going to make a dish like this, you need another person, if for no other reason than to assemble all your ingredients in an imposing manner.

That's mole x3. There were so many ingredients in the sauce that we couldn't find a pot that would hold everything. So we just made it. Three times. Check out those spices:

The funny thing about making food in large quantities is that it messing up your natural sense of proportions. Does half a cup of garlic sound right? Was I supposed to add 4 teaspoons of salt, or 4 tablespoons?

But luckily, everything pretty much just gets dumped into a pot, after which you get to wait for a hour while it simmers away to find out if you were right.

The result was, fortunately, AWESOME. Enchiladas come, and enchiladas go, but a good mole sauce is forever. It helps that this recipe makes way more sauce than you need, too.

After the sauce the recipe is really just a question of How Fast Can I Get the Rest of This Done So I Can Put This Sauce on Something and Eat It?

Sure, the venison is good, but I'm pretty sure I would eat this stuff over a bowl of crackers.

At this point, we enter assembly line mode. Thank God for disposable baking containers.

Cover with cheese, bake, devour, and sleep. What an eventful day.

Oh wait, I forgot the last step. Make mint chip ice cream.

Did I mention that I have problems?