Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I Want a Cool Dog

I noticed last night that the web is slowly replacing television for me. While my wife read a book and watched American Idol in the background, I focused on finding useless things to read on the Internet. I'm not sure which is worse, channel surfing on TV or the Internet. They both stink.

But at The Food Section, I was pleased to learn about the Cool Dog, a melding of two of my favorite foods: the hot dog and ice cream. When I learned of it, I excitedly began anticipating summer and the chance to try one of these delicacies, but when I reviewed the Cool Dog website, I learned they aren't selling them yet in Michigan. Apparently it's difficult to penetrate the grocery market and compete with the big guns like Nestle's Drumstick or the Choco Taco.

I've considered selling myself as a retailer to have some shipped to me, but I'm not sure we have the freezer space for a pallet of ice cream hot dogs. I'm also not sure what my wife would think. The New York Times wrote a story about the Cool Dog, too. Note the Cool Dog is 14% butterfat. I'm all about the fat. If you're interested, ask your grocer to carry them and maybe we can all enjoy them at a picnic by the lake.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Steady Eddy's Cafe and Stepping in the Same River Twice

My wife and I ate at Steady Eddy's Cafe in the Flint Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. Even after a late Friday night, I had a hankering for a sandwich we tried the last time we were there: The Four Star Veggie Club. It is "a double-decker layered with Monterey Jack and American cheese, hummous, avocado,tomatoes, shredded carrots, cucumbers, onions, sprouts and mayo on your choice of toasted bread." It's not the kind of sandwich I would usually order, but I gave it a shot and then woke up Saturday morning craving one.

There are two pieces that might help express my desire. First, if you arrive at Steady Eddy's later than 9, you usually end up waiting at least half an hour in a hallway lined with chairs and people cackling too loudly for a Saturday morning. When I woke up, I knew we wouldn't get to the Market before 9:30. Second, I wanted one bad enough to wake my wife (a great lover of sleep) and ask her to go with me. We went.

The stars were aligned for us because there was no waiting; there were even empty tables near us. We ordered our Veggie Clubs (and I ordered a side of potatoes to make sure I got my necessary carb count for the day). Mine was very good, and my wife was disappointed she forgot to ask for hers toasted. [I have been corrected. She did ask for it toasted. I was engrossed in the Flint Journal while she was ordering. My bad.] I know I will order it again, but probably not for breakfast. I am a great lover of breakfast. It's my favorite meal. And when done well, I like the traditional coffee, eggs, potatoes, and toast best.

But I remember how shockingly good the Club was the first time I had it. It was a cold day and we were eating breakfast with friends. I was feeling a bit adventurous and decided to try and sandwich for breakfast. It was amazing. The tastes melded together and were meticulously encapsulated between crispy pieces of toast. I remember laughing a lot that morning and going home satiated.

Heraclitus said one can never step into the same river twice, and I often feel like the example constantly proving him right. I love the river of Steady Eddy's Cafe and the Four Star Veggie Club. Knowing me, I will dream of that morning with friends, eating that sandwich and drinking coffee. I know I will eat it again and I will enjoy it. But I also know that the chances of every having that Club taste that good again is slim. The moment of discovery, that pleasant surpass of something new and wonderful, cannot be replicated.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Search for Perfect Mac and Cheese

I have begun the search for the perfect recipe for Mac and Cheese. Yes, people have recommended Kraft, but that's the kids version of a traditional comfort food. I'd like something more complex, bold, and less sickeningly sweet. Of course the perfect recipe has to be a mix between fabulously flavorful, beautiful to look at, and easy to make.

It seems like the task is simple, but as my wife and I embark on our journey to find that recipe, it seems to be more elusive that I thought. The first recipe I'll post here comes from a recent episode of America's Test Kitchen, a show I like to think of as comfort television. Only Julia Child and Norm Abrams provide more comfort when I'm lying on the couch trying to avoid life's difficulties. I'm a big fan of the Test Kitchen and their recipies, so we tried this one first. Here it is with my assessment below:

It's crucial to cook the pasta until tender-that is, just past the al dente stage. Whole, low-fat, and skim milk all work well in this recipe. The recipe may be halved and baked in an 8-inch square, broiler-safe baking dish. If desired, offer celery salt or hot sauce (such as Tabasco) for sprinkling at the table.

Serves 6 to 8 as a main course or 10 to 12 as a side dish

bread crumb topping
6 slices (about 6 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces pasta and cheese1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt

1 pound elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
5 cups milk (see note)
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

1. FOR THE BREAD CRUMBS: Pulse the bread and butter in a food processor until the crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside.

2. FOR THE PASTA AND CHEESE: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and the macaroni and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until tender, drain, and set aside.

3. In the now-empty stockpot, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour, mustard, cayenne (if using), and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, gradually add the milk; bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly (the mixture must reach a full boil to fully thicken), then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the cheeses until fully melted. Add the pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.

4. Transfer the mixture to a broiler-safe 13 by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Broil until deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then serve.


Cut 8 ounces baked deli ham, sliced 1/4 inch thick, into 1-inch squares. Follow the recipe for Classic Macaroni and Cheese, adding the chopped ham and 1 cup frozen peas to the cheese sauce along with the pasta. Proceed as directed

You can view the recipe at America's Test Kitchen.

We generally liked the recipe, and I'd happily make it again, but I did have a few things I would like to rework.

1) I'm not sure I let the milk-cheese mixture thicken enough. I went past their time recommendation, but it still seemed a bit too thin. Of course I'm partially to blame for not waiting longer because I was really hungry and tired of wisking.

2) I'd like it to have more zip. I could add more pepper, but I think I would start with more cayenne. Not letting the mixture thicken more could have had an impact, but I can't imagine that much. The Tabasco on the table is a good suggestion, too.

3) We didn't try the ham variation, but we did add peas. We liked that, and it is fairly traditional.

I'm open to recommendations. Send me your recipe. I'll be posting more later as we continue to eat our way through the mac and cheese world.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Tia Helita's has the Chips

Friday night we went to dinner at Tia Helita's with my sister- and brother-in-law. The dinner was inconsistent; I had the taco dinner, shells medium crispy. I prefer them that way because they have some crunch, but don't fall apart as soon as you sprinkle hot sauce on them.

The side of beans must have been left under the heatlamp to be classified as "refried." I just called them "redried." The rice was unfortunately typical of Mexican rice in Flint; dry and flavorless. I've stopped hoping for good beans and rice in Flint. I haven't developed a good theory as to why no one can make it, but that isn't why I usually go out to Mexican restaurants.

The tacos were fairly good. The shells were crunchy, yet didn't break. The tomato wasn't bad given the season, and the meat was well-seasoned without being overpowering. I added salsa and was quite happy as I ate.

Tia Helita's is located at 4070 South Saginaw St.

What I really like about Tia Helita's, though, is the chips an salsa. They make their own chips and the salsa has zip and a great texture. It isn't picante sauce, but it's thicker than the watered-down salsa restaurants like Chili's serves. But the chips: wow. They must put some kind of chips-and-salsa-crack on the chips because I can't stop eating them when we go. It makes the mediocre food and bad service (which was atypical) worth the trip.

I don't know the history of Tia Helita's, but I've been told it's a Flint institution. what I do know is that I'll be there whenever I'm jonesing for some chips and salsa.

Friday, February 11, 2005

I Hate Bill O'Reilly, too.

I’m not a bit fan of Bill O’Reilly. I must admit I don’t get to see very often. Actually, I almost never get to watch him on television because I only get basic cable television, so I am denied the pleasure of watching Fox “news” programs. But O’Reilly does manage to make the larger news networks regularly for his inflammatory commentary. Most recently, I heard about his attacks on Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor who is receiving the national spotlight for his views (both unpopular and nonsensical) on the 9/11 attacks. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wrote a nice piece about the controversy you can read here. I think she calls his comments "moronic nonsense."

More to the point of this post, I found a great website dedicated to exposing the spin of Bill “no spin” O’Reilly: Sweet Jesus, I hate Bill O’Reilly, Intl. It’s a fun site (though a bit crass at times). They show that if O’Reilly really does have “no spin”, it’s because he’s already spun himself sick, puking up lies, inflammatory propaganda, and biscotti, and he’s broken away from the earth’s rotation into his own orbital reality (not unlike certain government officials who admit to making their own reality – read Ron Suskind's piece in the NY Times here). Of course O'Reilly is too busy yelling at people to hear anything they might say to rebut him. I think it's important that we hold people accountable for what they say, and it's a part of the job for pundits and journalists (to use the terms extremely loosely for O'Reilly) to be held accountable for what they say. Just as. . .say. . .O'Reilly wants Churchill to be accountable for his words. I don't disagree that Churchill should be accountable; I just don't' think he shouldn't be fired for voicing unpopular views. I don't know. I seem to hold some stake in that thing called the First Amendment. Call me crazy. I think there are other, more appropriate ways to hold Churchill accountable without shattering the foundation of academic freedom.

But, hey, that’s just one academic’s opinion.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

My Peeps

Tonight, in a fit of procrastination, I stumbled upon a science website that provided valuable information about Marshmallow Peeps. I will never think of them in quite the same way. Most interesting to me was the Medical Miracle, but I also found the Risk Analysis fascinating.

There is also a link to a literature review, so I look forward to reading more when the need to procrastinate takes me.