Tasty Hobby

Because food matters

The Homemade Pantry

I have a new toy cookbook.   The Homemade Pantry, by Alana Chernila, and the her blog,  Eating From The Ground Up, were mentioned on another blog I follow.   Alana and I share similar philosophies about food.  Her blog post called Easy really hit home with me and I agree that I don’t cook at home because it’s easy.

When I cook (mostly) from scratch, I can control the ingredients, which means it doesn’t include lots of chemicals and other things I can’t pronounce or spell.  I can use organic ingredients as much as possible and purchase items from local stores and farms that I want to support, instead of a big-box retailer.

Most things I cook wouldn’t be considered difficult, but aren’t in the category of 30-minutes or less, super fast or extremely easy.  But, I’d venture a guess that they taste better than packaged meals and are healthier.

Various people have put together stories about how they’ve cooked their way through a particular cookbook.  There’s Julie & Julia, where a woman cooked through one of Julia Child’s cookbooks.  There’s Alinea at Home, where she’s cooking her way through the massive Alinea cookbook.  I can’t even comprehend that.  But, I can see myself working through The Homemade Pantry and sharing my experiences with you.  Hopefully I can inspire you to make something from scratch, too.

Bulk Grocery in Grand Rapids

Last week, I was in San Antonio and visited a Whole Foods for the first time. One thing I really wish we had here in Grand Rapids is a bulk food store. Yes, my go-to grocery store, Nourish Organic Market, has some items in bulk, but I was almost drooling over the 30+ feet of bulk options at Whole Foods.

In my email today was a note from Angela at Treehuggers explaining that she’s looking to add a bulk food section to her (already) super-cool store in East Hills.   I already endorsed them (see below), and will likely be making a contribution to the Kickstarter campaign. Here are the details:

Our Bulk Grocery Is Growing!

With help from Bartertown Diner, endorsement of our bulk grocery project on Start Garden, a website that provides funding to projects based on their support from people like you.

Alinea Review

I’ve been thinking about what should be on my bucket list and haven’t made much progress, but I am able to add (and cross off) dining at North America’s top restaurant.  It was a confusing experience, though.  I really enjoyed myself, but I was also disappointed, and not just because I left hungry.

Maybe my expectations were too high.  I expected to be absolutely wowed with every bite and I certainly was wowed with some of the bites.  However, there usually wasn’t enough in the course to have a second taste.  I believe the chef’s philosophy is that after a few bites of something, your taste buds adjust and you don’t experience the rest of the dish the same way as the beginning.  Regardless, I would have been happier with fewer courses and larger dishes.

Many people have a hard time getting reservations at Alinea.  I’ve read stories about people using four phone lines and spending an hour hitting redial to get through.  Since I was going to Chicago for business, Alinea reservations were a nice-to-have, but not the reason for my trip.  I decided to leave a voicemail on a Sunday afternoon, three weeks before my trip.  Two days later, I got a call back saying that they had a table for me, but needed to talk to me to confirm it.  I didn’t feel the phone buzz, so it went to voicemail and I spent the next 10 minutes hitting redial until I got through.  I didn’t hesitate when she mentioned the table for two would be at 9:30 on Thursday night.  I just hoped my computer class on Friday would be an easy one.

I had done enough research to know the restaurant doesn’t have a sign out front, just the building number (1723).  Thanks to Google street view, I knew exactly where we were going.

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Alinea Menu

Here’s a teaser…Alinea Menu.  The size of the circle represents the relative size of the dish.  For reference, the Oyster Leaf through Woolly Pig were each one bite.  The direction left/right indicates the level of savory or sweet in the dish.

More details to come.

Salad Greens, Dressed Up

Chicken, spinach, apples, walnuts, olive oil, vinegar
The weather here in west Michigan was shockingly warm last week.  It put me in the mood for a tasty salad from the garden.  But, since it was the middle of March, my garden hasn’t really done much yet – and probably won’t until I plant some more seeds.

This meal came together pretty quickly, which I appreciated because I had James at work with me, which is fun but can make for a long day.  I didn’t follow a recipe, but just figured it out as I went.  I didn’t take notes, either, so here’s what I think I did.   I forgot to get the bacon out of the freezer, but I’m sure it would have been a wonderful addition.

  • 1 chicken breast, chopped and cooked
  • 1 large handful of walnuts, chopped
  • 2 small apples, chopped
  • 2 bowls of salad greens – we put the greens right in the bowls we’re going to use to eat

Kip was put in charge of the dressing and I think he followed the rule of thumb to use 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and I told him to add 1 tablespoon of honey.  The vinegar was a white balsamic vinegar with peach flavors from Old World Olive Press.  Not surprisingly, the dressing ended up too sweet.  The tablespoon of honey is for a much larger batch of dressing than Kip made, so I added a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

Salad of greens, chicken, walnuts, and apples

Usually I would think apples, walnuts, and peaches might be an odd combination, but the weather had me in a summer mood,  so if the only way I could have peaches was as dressing on my salad, I was going to go with it.  I’m not sure if I should call it adventurous or admit I didn’t think about the apple / walnut / peach combination.  Either way, it was great.

 

 

 

March Plan #1

This time of year is just about the worst time to start a food blog.  It will be a couple of months before my garden produces anything tasty or the farmers’ market has anything new to offer.  Yet, I’m supposed to find something interesting to cook each week and write about it for you, my loyal readers.  To make matters worse, I have a tendency to get in a rut.  For example, if I wear a green shirt on Monday, I often look in my closet on Tuesday and see another green shirt and think it would be a good idea.  As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to do the same thing twice, close together.

With full acknowledgement that I’m breaking two rules, here’s my plan for the week.

  1. Potato Parsnip Chowder – (see above for rule) very similar to Loaded Baked Potato Soup
  2. Salad greens with apples, nuts, bacon, and chicken
  3. Risi, Bisi, e Carote (Rice, Peas, and Carrots)
  4. Beans Rancheros – I’ve been making an effort to eat seasonally, but this recipe sounded good and I already had the ingredients except for the  tomatoes, which I bought at the store, despite the fact that they’re not in season.
Now, I just have to decide which one to write about.  I’m open to suggestions, so let me know what you think.

 

Dinner at The Ranch

Wednesday dinner: Smoked Fried Chicken, Herb Whipped Potatoes, Corn Grits, Shiner Bock

When I eat out, I try to go to places that get their food from local farms or producers and places where they make the food, as opposed to having it delivered to them in a box and just warm it up when I order.  Since I was in the Dallas area last week, I did some research to find places to eat.  I checked www.localharvest.org, but didn’t really find anything besides the farm markets.  I didn’t have high hopes for eating ‘real food’ until my class instructor let me borrow a D magazine and I saw an ad for The Ranch, which mentioned that they’re a ‘farm to fork’ restaurant.

I went for dinner Wednesday night, lunch on Thursday (with a group of 7), and again for dinner on Thursday.  Obviously I enjoyed my food.  I only wish I had not spent 3 nights this week not eating there.  Both nights at The Ranch, I sat where I could see the open kitchen, which I found to be fascinating.  I have a lot of respect for line cooks; there’s no way I could do what they do.  I can barely get an entree and a side done at the same time.

Wednesday night, the kitchen was hopping, but I only saw one frantic moment when the chef realized no one was on the salad station.  Still, from what I’ve read about working in a restaurant kitchen, this seemed like a better than average atmosphere.  I saw smiling and joking around and didn’t hear screaming or swearing.  It looked like the people liked each other, which is always a good sign.

Despite the fast pace, the chef took a minute to chat with me and passed along a tip for low fat ice cream.  It involves pureeing yogurt and overcooked rice to make the ice cream base.  I look forward to trying it out, once I figure out the details.


One of my friends is working his way through restaurant menus in Grand Rapids,MI, one item at a time.  I would have been happy to eat my way through the menu at The Ranch, but unfortunately I was only there for three meals.

Wednesday:

Sticky Toffee Cake with a bowl of very tasty whipped cream.

Sticky Toffee Cake with a bowl of very tasty whipped cream.

  • Shiner Bock beer – There’s a reason this is Texas’ most popular microbrew.
  • Smoked Fried Chicken – I would have called it Fried Smoked Chicken, but that wouldn’t have made it any tastier.
  • Goat Cheese Grits– Much coarser grits than I’m used to, but very tasty; saved these for lunch on Friday.
  • Herbed Whipped Potatoes– Saved these for lunch on Friday.
  • Sticky Toffee Cake – Made in-house, huge portion, excellent candied pecans, and crème anglaise (which I mistook for melted vanilla ice cream)

Thursday Lunch:

  • Smoked prime rib sandwich – Plenty of meat, but not overflowing; just the right amount of horseradish sauce.
  • Mini Caesar salad – Shaved and grated cheese; I almost asked for more croutons (not quite as good as my favorite croutons of all time at Webster’s, but that’s a 4-diamond restaurant).

Thursday Dinner:

  • House margarita – After four days of intense training classes, I was extremely grateful for happy hour, and the hotel shuttle bus.
  • Herb brick roasted chicken – I was so excited when I got this and saw the chicken was fairly small, which I took to mean that it came from a real farm, not a factory farm.  No mutated Franken-chicken here.  Most supermarket chickens are intentionally bred to be oversized and out of proportion, hence the term Franken-chicken.
  • Cadi-mac’n chz – Definitely one of the best I’ve had.  I love the bacon pieces.
  • Fried peach pies with ice cream – three turnover style desserts with a super light, flaky crust.
  • Complimentary coffee – This won them some bonus points, not that they needed them, though.  It drives me crazy when you spend a chunk of money on dinner and dessert, only to have a place offer you coffee to squeeze another $2 out of you.

    Herb Chicken with Mac 'n Cheese

If you’re flying in to Dallas, it’s well worth the small detour to eat at The Ranch.

 

Alinea Reservations

I just got reservations at Alinea! Lord willing, K and I will be having dinner at North America’s best restaurant the second week of April.

Tornado Watch Ice Cream

In the process of updating my Inspiration page  tonight, I went over to Jeni’s to capture her web site so I could link to it.  I saw this gooey butter cake ice cream and decided I had to have it.  I called Art of the Table to confirm they had some in stock. 

Yes, I had heard on the radio that we’re under a tornado watch, but those are the ones that don’t really matter, right?  The tornado warnings (the ones that mean you should head to the basement) weren’t very close.  So, I got James (the dog) in the car and set out, since it wasn’t even raining. 

Halfway there, James is starting to whine.  it’s getting dark out, raining like crazy, and I think I saw small hail.   By the time I got out of the store, it was hardly raining, though, so I drove half a block to get my coffee fix at Rowster Coffee.

I admit this wasn’t one of my smarter decisions and I will probably stay home next time we’re under a tornado watch.  After all, the conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop.  But, it will be a very hard decision…the ice cream is amazing.

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

This slow-cooker recipe was featured in the latest catalog from Penzy’s Spice catalog.  When I saw cream cheese on the ingredient list, I was hooked.  I prepped the meal at lunchtime, but it took so long to chop over 3½ pounds of potatoes that I wouldn’t do it this way again.   Actually, between the potato chopping and taking care of our dog, I didn’t have time to eat lunch.

Unfortunately, this is the only meal this week that I didn’t take a picture of, but Penzy’s has a really nice picture and really it’s just potato soup.  It looks like you’d think potato soup would look like.  Despite its normal, bland appearance, this potato soup stands apart from most of the other potato soups we’ve had.

The recipe is sized for a large slow-cooker. (Adapted from Penzy’s Spice)

Mix together in the slow cooker until the stock base is dissolved.

  • 1 TB. (heaping) chicken stock base (i.e. Better than Bullion)
  • 8 Cups water
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

 Add 3.5-4 pounds of chopped potatoes.

Cook on low for 6 hours

Remove 3-4 cups of the soup and blend until smooth

Add 8 ounces cream cheese to the blender

Return the blended soup to the slow cooker and give it a good stir.

Taste it…it will probably need salt and pepper.

The cream cheese made for a richer taste without being too thick or heavy.  We topped ours with some chopped and cooked bacon, which was very tasty.  Other suggestions are cheddar cheese, chives, or green onions.