Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Demise of Mom & Pop (or, When Will Large Corporations Learn to Keep Their Dirty Little Fingers Out of Everyone Else’s Pie)

Growing up, I never heard the term “Big-Box” store - nor, I’d venture to guess, did my parents. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago I began to hear that term, referring, of course, to large chain stores. Sure, we had Sears and J.C. Penney’s, but no one ever referred to them as “Big-Box” – we called them department stores. Likewise, Safeway and Ralph’s were referred to as grocery stores. And, in my mind, they still are.

When I was growing up, there were also lots of “Mom & Pop” shops – the type of establishment of which there was only one or two – not like Safeway or Sears – of which there were many. The “Mom & Pop” shops were small restaurants or businesses and they were everywhere: just around the corner, downtown, across the street … you get the idea.

Somewhere along the way, the M&P’s began to disappear. Some went away as a matter of course – maybe the relative who’d started the business passed away and there wasn’t a family member interested in pursuing the business; maybe the validity of their establishment ran it’s course – this widget or that widget were no longer sought after by customers. Others, however, have been shoved out by the BB stores. Either the M&P’s cannot compete price-wise with the BB’s, or BB’s have so many stores – or so much property – that they’re shoving – literally – the M&P’s out of business.

What on earth am I talking about? You know – you see it every day in your own neighborhoods. Take, for instance, the Omelette Parlor in Costa Mesa, California. This quaint and charming – and BUSY! – little restaurant has been in the same location for 27 years. For 27 wonderful years they’ve served their community and their customers well. For 27 years they’ve served quality food to generations of customers. People who ate there as 20 year olds, brought their own children in to dine, and are now taking their grandchildren in to enjoy the same quality food they’ve enjoyed for 27 years.

…but not any more.

Well, at least not after May 31, 2010. What happens on that day? On that day, the Omelette Parlor will close its doors for the last time. Why? Not because they don’t have enough business. Not because their food is no longer sought after. No. They will close their doors for the last time because the “Big-Box” store (corporation - Safeway) that owns the strip mall where this little family restaurant exists, has decided to tear it down and build on to their already existing grocery store. Unbelievable! I’m not clairvoyant, but I’d be willing to bet that, if you asked the people of this community which one they’d prefer – a charming, cozy restaurant that has served them well for 27 years, or a larger grocery store (of which there are currently myriad) – they’d choose the Omelette Parlor hands down.

And large corporations can’t understand why the American public is fed up with them and their business tactics. Huh. Go figure.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New (to me) Recipes

Life's gotten crazy again and I've had a hard time finding a moment to post. Well, that and the fact that our internet has been down ... then up ... then down (again!) ... But hey, that's life, right?

Anyway, last weekend I had the opportunity to try out several new recipes. All of them were delicious!!

If you've grown up in the San Gabriel Valley, you're no stranger to the Northwoods Inn restaurants. If you haven't had the great fortune of dining at a Northwoods Inn, let me just say three words: Red Cabbage Salad. YUM!! I tried out a 'copy cat' recipe for their red cabbage salad, and let me just say, it tasted exactly like the real thing! This is definitely a keeper - I plan on making this often. While the restaurant is a bit pricey, the red cabbage salad is inexpensive to make (there's that "beer budget" thing again!), so I think we'll stick with having this at home. A steak on the grill and a little Clearman's spread on some sourdough bread. that's a winner! If you'd like to try it at home, here's the recipe:

Northwoods Inn Red Cabbage Salad
• 1/2 head red cabbage
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I thought this was too much; I'd use 1/3 cup the next time I make it)
• 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (see above comment on oil)
• 3 Tbsp sugar
• 2 tsp salt
• 1 tsp Lawry's Seasoned Salt
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
• 3/4 tsp onion powder

Shred half of the cabbage finely and the other half coarsely. Place in a large bowl.

Whisk together vegetable oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, seasoned salt, black pepper, and onion powder.

Toss the dressing with the cabbage. Scrape the salad with the dressing into a zip-top bag or covered container and refrigerate at least 48 hours (I only marinated it for 6 hours and it was fine) or until cabbage turns deep red, softens a bit, and flavors meld.

One of the other recipes I tried was a Barefoot Contessa recipe for Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits. Oh MAN! Served warm, these biscuits are like Heaven on a plate. They're pretty darn good at room temperature, too! Here's a peak: We served them with homemade beef stew. DELISH!! Here's the recipe:

Barefoot Contessa Buttermilk Cheddar Cheese Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup cold buttermilk, shaken
1 cold extra-large egg
1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk
Maldon sea salt, optional

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, add the butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas.

Combine the buttermilk and egg in a small measuring cup and beat lightly with a fork. With the mixer still on low, quickly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix only until moistened. In a small bowl, mix the Cheddar with small handful of flour and, with the mixer still on low, add the cheese to the dough. Mix only until roughly combined.

Dump out onto a well-floured board and knead lightly about 6 times. Roll the dough out to a rectangle 10 by 5 inches. With a sharp, floured knife, cut the dough lengthwise in half and then across in quarters, making 8 rough rectangles. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with the egg wash, sprinkle with salt, if using, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the biscuits are cooked through. Serve hot or warm.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

When I was growing up, fried chicken was a staple at my grandmother's house. Actually, both of my grandmas made fried chicken, but Grandma Maxwell made it a lot more often. Which made us very lucky because it was delicious! I can't tell you how much I miss that fried chicken. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

Fried chicken is just not one of those things that I make on a regular basis. While technically it's an easy dish to make, it's also a very messy dish to make. Then there's the fact that it's ... well, less than healthy shall we say.

However, every now and then I get a hankering and nothing but good 'ol fashioned fried chicken will do. This past Monday was one of those times. On the menu: fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn. YUM! When Kevin got home, he was tired and laid down on the couch to take a quick snooze before dinner. It wasn't long before he came in to the kitchen and said "MAN that smells good!". Ahhh, shades of my grandma's house =)

A short time later, we sat down to our fried chicken. MAN! It didn't just SMELL good, it was delicious! The vote is in: definitely a winner!

Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

That's what my grandpa (Pa) always told me - that I had champagne taste on a beer budget. And honestly, that's mostly true, though it's more of a microbrew budget ;o)

Around Christmas time, I became enamoured with tinsel and feather trees and all of the wonderful vintage-y type ornaments that are available to decorate them. Not just for Christmas, but for every holiday and season throughout the year. Then, I began looking at the prices of the trees and the ornaments. Big mistake! Holy cow, I was SHOCKED at how expensive these lovelies are!

I had grandiose dreams of ordering some of these goodies - so pretty! ...then, my beer budget kicked in and I just couldn't allow myself to do it. However, I wasn't ready to abandon my dreams completely.

Figuring out how to make the "microbrew" version of some of these ornaments, my creativity kicked into full gear. What kind of supplies can I use to make something similar? Where will I find them? How will the finished version turn out - will it look cute? ... or would it be a waste of time. Having more time on my hands than money, I thought I'd at least give it a try.

So, without further ado, here's a sample of the type of ornament I'm referring to: Cute, right? Well, unfortunately the price isn't nearly as cute as the ornaments. The price tag for this particular trio? (Are you sitting down?) $64.00!! Oh, well, if you act now though, you can get them for a much more appealing $54.40. Can you believe it?!

Okay, so mine don't look exactly the same. But honestly, I think they turned out really cute - I'm very happy with them and I think they're almost as cute as the original. Here's my version:

What do you think? Pretty cute, right?

I used vintage image stickers that I purchased for almost nothing at Dover, Martha Stewart glitter (also available at Michael's - and there's a 40% off MS products coupon in the May issue of MSL), and rolls of crepe paper that I found at the Dollar Tree store. Each ornament (not including the orange tinsel in the wrapper) probably cost about a quarter to make.

I made the same types of ornaments for a 4th of July tree and will make them for Easter and Valentine's day as well. As for the tree, I found a much cheaper version here (Dadgummit! I see they're now on sale!). It's not exactly the same thing as a feather tree, but it definitely fits better with my beer budget.

...I'm so proud of my beer budget!