Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Restaurant Week

I have been remiss with my Restaurant Week dining the last couple of years. For reasons that don't need to be dug up again, I was low on funds and low on friends to come eat out with me. This time, I have a little money set aside and I'm not missing anything!

I'm going to put out a feeler to see if anyone wants to dine with me. I want to do at least 3 restaurants during that fantastic week.

This is why Restaurant Week is important to me. You can eat at some of the city's most forward-thinking restaurants for $35, and that includes an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. I know I can't afford to eat at most of these places at their normal prices. I wish I could, but that's why I ended up in so much debt to begin with when I was still married. Restaurants. I'm a little more frugal with the cash when it comes to eating out, but every so often I think everyone deserves a reward or a treat, and I'll almost always pick a nice meal over shoes or clothing.

As a chef, it allows me to see what's new in the culinary world. I don't work in kitchens and I'm not surrounded by my chef peers everyday. There is no other way for me to learn what's new out there if I don't go out and eat. TV will only show you so much. You have to smell, feel, and taste. That's the true way one gets an education.

Here's the link for the current two-week run. If anyone is interested in breaking bread with me, hit me up! I'll even do lunch for $25, if budgets are tight. =)


Monday, January 17, 2011

Strange Meat, Please!

I was looking forward to Colorado because of all the fresh meat  I heard they specialized in. I wanted to chomp down on some Rocky Mountain Oysters. That would be Bull Testicles for those who are unaware. They were no where to be found, and no one seemed to know what I was talking about except for some townie burnouts that I happened to meet one night. Still, there were no balls to be enjoyed.

Our first meal when we touched down was at a Denny's. It was 3am, and it was the only joint open. Although our waiter was indeed the NICEST waiter I have ever encountered in my entire 32 years of existence. I wasn't very hungry, but I knew I would be so I ordered some gingerbread pancake nuggets. They are exactly as you would imagine; little nuggets of gingerbread flavored pancake batter that's been deep fried, served with hot maple syrup. I ordered a side of turkey bacon, too. On top of that, there was peppermint hot cocoa, and I was all over that. I had one nugget. I had one slice of turkey bacon. Everything was SUPER salty. Luckily, my peppermint hot cocoa had unlimited refills, and he filled me up four times. Not the best meal I've had, but our waiter was so nice, we tipped him very well anyway. He earned it.

The next day, we had arrived in Breckenridge and were exploring the little town. We were starving, but it was only 11am, CO time. The only place open was Bubba Gumps, and we ended up having an early lunch there. I had gumbo and fish tacos. It was okay. I was still on the lookout for my strange meat, but all the menus I read as we passed by the restaurants looked strangely normal to me. Steak. Duck. Trout.

There was a nice lady selling homemade jerky on a corner. I bought elk jerky, buffalo jerky, and  deer jerky. It was expensive; $12 for each one, however, it was SOO  good. Once I was done sharing with everyone else, there wasn't anything left to take home and I ran out of money to buy more at the end of my trip.

My next meal was the rehearsal dinner. The menu said there was a choice of soup; French Onion and Chicken Rice. I had the French Onion. The salad was fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomato, and basil. The entree's were choices of Duck Two Ways, Stuffed Trout, Salmon, NY Strip Steak, and Grilled Portobello. Of course, I went with the Duck. What a mistake!!

Number One: the best think about eating duck is the crispy skin. As you can see, my breasts have been stripped of it's skin. It was over cooked and dry. There was not enough sauce to go around. It was dry and flavorless. I did not enjoy this at all. The picture below is the Salmon. It was dry and tasteless, as well.
My first fancy meal in Colorado, and it was a dry, tasteless mess. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I think I downed four glasses of red wine. The soup was forgettable. The salad was lacking in dressing. The  dessert was an ugly sheet cake. I would have been okay with it's lack-luster decorations if it tasted good. The cake was under-baked, the filling was forgettable (because I can't remember what was inside), but the marshmallow frosting on the outside wasn't bad. I think I ate that instead of the cake. My brother gave me a piece of his NY Strip, and wouldn't you know it? That tasted awesome. I'm in Colorado, and the best choice happened to be the NY Strip. Go figure.

The next big memorable meal was the wedding reception the next night. The passed trays during  cocktail hour were great! Stone crab claws, beef en'croute w/ horseradish creme, crab stuffed mushrooms, coconut shrimp, and prosciutto wrapped asparagus. It was all great! The dinner was surf and turf- lobster tail, filet mignon, mashed potatoes and squash. Again, it would have been great, but everything was over-salted. The mushroom soup was good. The walnut salad was forgettable. The cake. Ok, I know high altitude conditions does affect how things bake. The filling and actual cake was heavy and tasted underbaked. However, I did like the marshmallow frosting.

The next day, I was supposed to go snowboarding, but due to the fact that I couldn't breathe and I was running low on funds, I went into town instead. There was also a blizzard on the way in, which was absolutely beautiful up there. Huge, detailed snowflakes came tumbling down out of the sky, and although it was frosty everywhere, it wasn't that cold. We went to a steakhouse that was running a $9.99 special for an 8oz cut, and two sides. It was really good. It's too bad my appetite still wasn't back in full swing. Again, they were very cheap with the sauce. What's up with that?

The most memorable meal we had there was one the way back to the airport on the last day. We stopped at a small mining town, that advertised a restaurant that specialized in buffalo right off the highway. It was like stepping back in time driving through this two-lane town. Old buildings, and houses. We could see the entrances to the mines cut right into the sides of the mountains. If I wasn't feeling so ill, I would have taken pics, but I still couldn't breathe and the lack of oxygen getting to my brain was starting to take it's toll on me.

It was a fantastic little restaurant that just read "Buffalo" outside. We were seated right beside this huge wood burning furnace, which was rigged to heat the entire place. To my utter shock, it really was hot and gave off  a tremendous amount of heat! I ended up getting the Buffalo short ribs. My brother and father ordered the Buffalo prime rib and my mom had the Buffalo stroganoff. (Random, right?) It was all good. Nothing fancy; just earthy and real. It was served with a side of potatoes (or rice), two home made rolls, and some steamed veggies- carrots, broccoli, and green leaf lettuce. All steamed and served under the meat and potatoes. Very rustic and old timey. It was something that probably would have been served 50 years ago to men coming out of the mines, looking for a hearty meal before heading home. It was no-frills and simple. It was the best damn meal I had the entire trip!

Wood burning furnace
My favorite! =) Old time Coke Machine
Buffalo Prime Rib

Buffalo Short Ribs

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Stop Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Taking on those orders last night was a big mistake. I was too tired, feeling ill, and did not have enough time to do everything I needed to do.

I was three hours late for work this morning. I had three LARGE bags of cakes to amble into work with on a bus and three trains. It was one of those mornings where I should have picked up the phone and called for help. Yes! I need a ride! Yes! Please do me that favor you're always offering to throw me! Yes! I am desperate and I wouldn't ask if I wasn't absolutely fucked right now!!

But, my pride wouldn't allow it. So, I knocked over fellow passengers on the bus, cut off people heading into the subway, and took my sweet time trying to get through the turnstyle with my enormous bags.

I'm very tired. I haven't showered. I'm still not packed. I am most definitely coming down with a bad chest cold or lung infection. This is bad. Really, really bad. And I'm flying into the ass-crack of WINTER in an area at least one mile up off the ground. The air is thinner, I can't breathe, and I'm getting sick.

Oh, this is going to be fun. The extra pocket money I ended up with was not worth me putting myself through all that last night. Next time, the answer will be No. (At least, I'll try really hard to make sure the answer is NO!)

Okay, let's go to a wedding!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Officially Gone 'Round the Bend

I'm not packed. My nails are still un-mani'd and un-pedi'd. My eyebrows are un-waxed. My hair is un-dyed. I still don't have a ski jacket. My dress is neither dry cleaned nor pressed. And, no, my Britney has not had a chance to make it down to Brazil yet. I'm absolutely unprepared for my trip this weekend.

I just took on a four dozen cupcake & 8" cake order for tomorrow...the day I'm leaving for Colorado. Yes, I have lost my mind, but the money will come in handy for this vacation.

I don't know if I made the right decision or not, but I'll find out tomorrow on my way to work with these cakes...and my luggage. Yikes!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Great Cupcake Caper

When I last left off on Thursday night, I left a short f-word encrusted litany about being stranded with 5 dozen cupcakes and a  heinous trek to Astoria. This is how my night ended.

I slowly made my way two blocks to my bus stop over snow that hadn't been plowed and ice sheets that had  crusted over the unsalted streets. With two huge shopping bags full of cupcakes, it was a pain and it hurt even more to watch my bus pass me by because I was too slow to get to the bus stop on time. I waited an hour for another bus to slowly come ambling by and just managed to squeeze between two large people in one of those side seats in the back on the bus.

When I got to the F train on 179th street, I waited another half an hour for a train to come. When it came, I changed cars three times when homeless people came shuffling in and making themselves at home near me and my cupcakes. I know they need to stay warm on these cold winter nights, but the stench coming off them was making me quite ill. I was already very car sick from the slow, bumpy bus ride, and the stench was making me nauseous.

Once the F train started moving I thought it would be smooth sailing from there, but it took it's sweet time, going local and practically crawling down the tracks. When I got to my first transfer point at Roosevelt Ave, I climbed about a million stairs with my heavy bundles to get to the outer platform to catch the 7 train. It was cold, wet, and slippery. The train was crowded, and like the F train, it crawled down the track.

I had to transfer again at Queens Plaza for the N train. It's also an outer platform stop. The trains came quickly, but they were crowded and I couldn't fit inside with my two huge bags. Two trains later, I was squeezed inside, with my poor cupcakes protectively huddled against me and the door.

I had said last week that I had a 5 block walk to her apartment. Let me correct that. It was 8 blocks. Yes, 8 full, long blocks over unshoveled sidewalks and unplowed streets. By the time I got to her door, my feet were wet and cold. My hands were numb. My face was frozen, and I was done.

Thankfully, I got a $20 tip for all my troubles and a steaming Hot Toddy to defrost with. (A hot toddy is hot tea with lots of honey, lemon, and brandy.) Or maybe whiskey. I really don't remember which one it's supposed to be. But I had a nice big mug of it!

Anyway, here are a couple shots of my cupcakes:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Yo Gabba Gabba Cake: Foofa

My New Years Eve could have been a lot more Zen-like but, like everything else in this world; you just can't control everything. Here's my Foofa cake. Yes, I forgot to paint in two more eyelashes for each eye. I needed a smaller brush and completely forgot about it when I had my sister start shooting pics, at which point the customer came to pick it up and I had issues boxing it up properly. Every time I look at the pictures, all I want to do is draw in the eyelashes with a Sharpie on my laptop monitor. Poop.

I could have done better work. There are things about this cake that I hated, but the budget they gave me to work with limited what I was able to do. When I first took on this project, I thought I was going to make a huge 3-D Foofa cake. I started sketching  and calculating how much cake it would take to make the body and how much cake I could get away with using for the head without compromising the structure and stability of the entire thing. I agree to work on it to have it ready for New Years morning, (which killed any partying I may have wanted to do anyway on New Years Eve). But, with the idea that I would be making a 3-D children's cake, I take it on with gusto and excitement.

Then I find out they can only pay one tenth of my price, which leaves them with this cake; and I still cut $40 off my usual fee to give them a hand with their budget.

Not as awesome as I would have liked, but here it is: