Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Of This and That


Been a while since we’ve done a sort of Pot Pourri kind of thing, often entitled “Of This and That” which I guess is good enough…  Hopefully not a single subject will go on and on…  but we’ll see

Food in a Box
Funny how you report on something and readers jump in with their experiences and pretty soon you’re off to the races.  So it was with my “fun” little posting on Blue Apron.   Several people chimed in with experiences and recommendations, so apparently a lot of people don’t like to shop, chop, cook and clean, but still want higher quality, healthy, portioned meals. And turns out I found out there are hundreds of meal delivery services, among which was my initial foray with Blue Apron.  

I did a little poking around and seems most programs are pretty much similar although one that was recommended had what I considered a nice feature (which I’ll get to in a minute).  Generally, you get ingredients for three meals, some control over the menu, good directions, and uniformly what all report is high quality stuff.  Some claim you don’t have to “sign up” and just get what you want, or not. Others (like Blue Apron) require you to enroll in the program.

If you’re interested, you can browse Hello Fresh; Chef’d; (which claims they can do special menus, including diabetic considerations); Home Chef which has an interesting video comparing the home deliveries with Grocery Store prices (Chrome had trouble with it).  I didn't run across any touting Vegan, but is suspect they're out there.  I didn’t really scour the landscape, but a friend recommended Terra’s Kitchen.  I was attracted to their headline: “We prep, you cook”, showing nicely prepped bits of this and that, which apparently arrive individually packaged in a (returnable) cooler.

If you’re interested, just Google “food (or meal) delivery services” and stand back.  Prices don’t vary a lot (usually around 60 bucks for three meals for two).  I suspect the decision driver for you would revolve around how much you want to share the prep, or just get cooking..

Bon Appétit

LRB

After our little communications miscue with them (they were closed for repairs on our first booking), we met some friends for dinner last Saturday night at La Rive Breton.  The front of the house (co-owner) guy made it a point to come over and express his disappointment that they were unable to contact us about that despite several tries (upon booking, they didn’t ask, nor did I volunteer our phone number).

We arrived a bit before our appointed time, but were seated immediately, near the front giving us a nice view of the diners on the outside.   The first thing that struck me was that the previously bare wooden tables were draped with nice white tablecloths.  There was some new art on the walls, and I thought the overall effect softened and elevated the tone of the dining space, leaning toward a bit more formal.  Just felt good to this diner..

Would say this visit pretty much echoed previous experiences, food was good, service was adequate, although I had a new (to us) server who gave us the “Hi I’m… of you” speech, obviously not briefed that the Feeder was in the house and had his pet peeves!   Anyway, cocktails were ordered with an assist from the floor manager with the Gins available (green hat, blue coat, etc., besides the big three) and I followed her suggestion of Green Hat (Have we ever discussed the origin of that name?....another day perhaps).  As in previous experiences the time elapsed between ordering and delivering drinks was longer that I (always) wished, but it was a nice drink, good proportion, served in a proper “up” glass, and kudos to the barkeep who knew enough to stir a clear spirit drink instead of shaking it. 

The menu has been reformatted into a quadrant arrangement with “for the table” and firsts on the upper half and entrées and sides the lower.  We ordered the cheese plate for the table choosing three of the four options (Gorgonzola, Camembert, Piave, and Manchego) of which we selected the first three, and eventually the attractively arranged board arrived



All the cheeses were freshly cut and quite fine, (although the menu listed the Piave as Sheep's milk, but I believe it is actually Cow).   Anyway all were good, and the sides were a nice helper.  Eventually got around to food, with two orders of Rack of Lamb, a Bistro Steak Chuck Tender (apparently the Teres Major has been replaced). In due time they arrived and my lamb was (honestly) a bit less cooked (and cooler) than I would have preferred



But had good flavor.   A multi spoon Crème Brûlée for dessert was quite good.   By the time we left, the house was full.  I didn’t intend this blow by blow, but you know me. 

They have stopped serving lunch during the week which is a shame, but they know their business and numbers.  Partly that may be due to us.  We have to do our part by patronizing them whenever we can.  They have proven they ARE NOT Café des Artistes II, but have their own identity as a “Coastal Kitchen and Bar”.  We need that option in Leonardtown, as the chains are nibbling at the edges.

Dammit, I did it.  I see I’m on page three of three..

One quick rant before closing…  Starbuck’s has taken to push their (unique?) Cold Brew Coffee.   Yet another attempt at marketing “something NEW”!  Anyway, in their radio commercials, they set the scene by saying they coarsely ground select coffees, and add cold water and let it alone for 20 hours.  Then “the more you drink of it (it’s for sale, see) the more you will notice the smoothness, and eventually the “hint of chocolate”!   Arrgghhh, there’s that “hint of” crap that nobody EVER notices.  If you want chocolate in your coffee.  ORDER A DAMN MOCHA

Lastly a tease for another upcoming blast  The Feeder learns about Sous Vide!

 DFD


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Tablier Bleu


Translation: 


As I’ve teased for a while, I finally get a chance to walk you through this (at excruciating detail) ..

A friend of mine who tried this service was able to “give” somebody a “free meal” (no such thing, right?) and I was asked if I would like to try it.  I always have had the little “Gee, that sounds intriguing” about Blue Apron in the back of my mind, but have (as usual) never acted.  So, this pushed me over the edge and I said.. Sure.  You have to go to their website to accept the offer.  And, not unexpectedly, here’s where the “no such thing” kicks in.   Yes, your (first) delivery is no charge, but to avail yourself of their largess, you have to sign up for the program, with the caveat that you “can cancel at any time”.    Figured what the hell, so I went for it.

For those unfamiliar with their program, the overall deal is:
·       The cost is $69 for a weekly delivery on Friday
·       The box contains three meals for two people
·       The website specifies the dishes you will receive.
·       You have (limited) options to change the menu, as long as you do it over a week in advance of delivery
·       You may decline that week’s delivery if you wish (over a week away)

So, sure enough on Friday I arrive home to see (fiercely defended by our attack squirrel):



I bring the box into the house and after figuring out how to open it you are greeted with

I must admit the thing is very well packed, the three recipes on top with overall insulation and two of those ice packs.  Peeling back the insulation reveals the “refrigerated” ingredients, which sets atop one of the ice packs



Below the first ice pack is the frozen proteins and under that is the second ice pack.   Don’t know how long the squirrel guarded box sat on the porch, but everything was cold and frozen.  I unpacked the complete shipment


All the ingredients for the three meals are labeled and individually packaged, including a single carrot or green onion.   If more than one recipe calls for green onions, you get more than one package of them.  Each recipe is complete.   Notice the little paper bags (to the left above)? They are what they call Knick Knacks and contain dry ingredients or little tubs of sauce or special spices.

The three meals in our first shipment were: Seared Catfish with Udon Noodles with Mushrooms and Carrots; Za’atar – Spiced Chicken with Pink Lemon Pan Sauce and Pearl Couscous; and Spaghetti Bolognese with Butter Lettuce Salad and Creamy Italian Dressing:   


Being our first attempt, we selected the Catfish.   The two-sided recipe card is quite complete, showing a picture of the finished dish and pictures of ingredients needed,



and on the back is step by step instructions (complete with cooking times) with a picture of each step




So we set out the ingredients for the Catfish

And began the prep

Our division of labor was that the Feeder did the heavy chopping and dicing and MFO handled the more delicate stuff (like the mushrooms above). 


And finally all the mise en place was complete


(Hey Boomer!  If you’re out there, look at the salt container!! Remember that?)

And then we marched down the recipe steps



Then we committed the catfish to the non-stick pan to sear, while adding the Udon noodles to the aromatics,

(another side note, if you can see the recipe card images, note that all the cookware is All-Clad, as are the Feeder’s inventory – great stuff)

Finally, the dish was plated

And voilà! it bore a good resemblance to the model on the recipe card.   Although they recommended a 2016 Brick and Mortar Vin Blanc (amazingly available at blue apron dot com), we substituted a bottle of 2013 Talbott's Kali Hart Chardonnay (courtesy of FOTJTE).  Sweet! A nice dinner, but the kitchen staff left dirty pans without cleaning them for us.

Conclusions/Thoughts/Recommendations

This is not formed from the “one off” of the seared catfish.  We have had eleven more meals



I find that many recipes lean toward the (trendy) hot and spicy: Spicy Tomato and Olive Pasta; Cumin-Szechuan Shrimp Fried Rice; Spicy Chicken Sandwiches; Mole-Spiced Beef Chili.  And to be fair they do say things about if you prefer a less spicy dish, do…..

Anyway, Thoughts:
·       Pluses:
o   Packaging is professional
o   The ingredients are excellent.  Proteins are very      tasty, better than I expected
o   All the produce is fresh (garlic is tight, root ends on scallions, potatoes sprout, etc.)
o   There are interesting dishes, new esoteric spices, etc., something that you would (or cannot) not do yourself
o   Instructions and directions are clear, and easy to follow
o   They do allow room for modification

·       Other:
o   Very dependent on your personal preferences and life style
o   Since the ingredients are fresh, they tend to “age” quickly in the refrigerator if not used, creating a “Oh, God, we have to use them Tonight!”  tyranny.
o   If you enjoy “cooking together”, this is for you, if not, you may wind end up yelling at each other. Plan on making the prep and cooking your evening (with a clear delineation of duties).
o   If you’re a relatively accomplished chef, you may consider their step by step insulting and just use recipe as a guideline
o   Creates a lot of pans and containers which remain after you enjoy the meal
o   Managing the menus require attention.

So if you want fun and a chance to cook something with new and interesting ingredients and spices, give it a try.  You can opt out..I'd recommend, realizing there are now other options out there..

And, after all that stuff, before you consume the product of your efforts, you must

DFD


Friday, May 12, 2017

Sidebar..


First of all, be sure to raise a (real or mental) glass and toast to your Mother this Sunday, whether she's here or just a memory.  I wouldn't be writing this, or you reading it, without her.  For me, Thanks Jackie!


Okay, I finally got my head above water, figuratively and almost literally.   Been a rainy couple of days and more on the way tonight.  Also a busy week with civic organization pulls and duties.. 

Thanks for accompanying me to Charleston and points south, and thanks also for the kind words of appreciation.   We both enjoy traveling.  Especially with a bag of Canon equipment.  MFO drives, I shoot, er I should say, take pictures.

As I wend my way through the days, I run across (or see on TV) things that bug me, and sometimes have enough sense to write them down.  So the list has grown enough that we should take a little side trip through rantdom.  Of course other more interesting things are in the hopper like our Blue Apron experience, a little foray into cooking with a sous vide device, a couple of restaurant visits, and other things more culinary…

But, let’s get a few things off the list and my chest:

Selfies:   I do haunt FaceBook a bit, and besides all the kitties, puppies, babies, and grandkids, there actually are several useful sources of information.  Like our neighborhood has a page that is useful for us to keep track of vandalism, lost dogs, and such, there are Birding pages which I frequent, and a couple of interesting history related pages (You know you’re from St. Mary’s County if….) which contain pictures of structures of years ago, stories from residents about tobacco farming, “did you ever know…. So and so), etc.   But, there is one phenomenon which always puzzles me.  (And, this is just cultural curiosity, not meant to criticize anybody), WHY do people feel they need to publish pictures of themselves (commonly called selfies)?? And I’m not talking about pictures of folks standing in front of the Washington Monument, I’m referring to those that are just their face.  WHY?  They know what they look like; if I know them, I know what they look like; if I don’t know them, I don’t care what they look like.  And of course the “comments” below them are always a string of things like: “beautiful”, “gorgeous” “lovely”.   Is that their narcissistic motive, pump me up folks!  If I would join the crowd, I can only imagine: “ugly!”; “hide the kids!” and so forth.  

Okay.  On to:
Car and other advertising:   I know I have ranted before on Subaru about “Love, it what makes a Subaru a Subaru”.  Not automobile safety, features, Love.  And the commercials reflect that.  Dad with a teary eye seeing daughter off to college in her Subaru and he says at least it’s the Subaru.  Works for them.

And recently another ad is plastered all over the place that makes me kind of nauseous.  Starts out with a close up of an elderly lady obviously grieving, with a soft focus (female) “kid” in the background with a sad, concerned face.  The audio is a male voice talking about how he never had a chance to see this great country and now wants everyone to see it.   On to smarmy shots of cross country travel through Monument Valley, swing sets, deserts, with Pandora music with lots of “America’s” in the lyrics, and so on with more close ups of Grammy with that same expression, sometimes with visible parts of an urn in hands.  Finally, we’re on the coast of California (?) and although (mercifully) we don’t see ashes flying it is obviously the culmination and objective of the trip..  More patriotic music, and finally the kid is seen piteously smiling at Grandma who now doesn’t look so sick.  Okay, is this a commercial for:  A funeral home?  Insurance policies? Investment firms?  No, no, and no.  It is an ad for a VOLKSWAGEN.  All of the traveling shots are in some version.  Until the closing logo, I don’t think the word comes to us.  And with all that patriotic foofaraw, exactly where are those vehicles mostly made?

And of course the concept of “selling the experience” not the product is not new.  Another recent example is the folks from Zillow telling us that we’re not buying a home, we’re buying a back yard with a pool where the kid’s fingers turn pruny, or that kitchen where you make yourSide baby’s first “Smash Cake” (whatever that may be).  Or the guy that bemoans his commute time because he never sees his family (all with about five seconds between sentences) and how they “jumped on Zillow” and found a place much closer to work, and “now he has his family back”. Plus a hefty mortgage payment????

Nothing is sacred.  Charmin wants us to have a “cleansing experience” when “we go”, all done with cutesy cartoon bears exposing their backsides.   What’s next?   I shudder to think.

And I’m not even going to mention Chevvvvvvveeeyyyyy! All done with “real people, not actors”.

As H.L. Mencken (actually) observed (~1926):  

No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me —has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.

And, as the Bottom Feeder writes almost every day


DFD

Sunday, May 7, 2017

All good things must come to an end - Geoffrey Chaucer,1380


Surprised? No he wasn't with us...

Well, the time has come to leave “Charleston”, for which I’m sure you are breathing a sigh of relief (about time, Feeder!).   If I don’t get too verbose (spoiler, I did), besides closing out “the trip”, there are several things that are getting under my skin that I need to rant a little about, so we’ll see (no we won't)..

But first.. we bid adieu to the journey.  A cruise that starts at A and ends up in B provides for some interesting logistics, and in our case the MOMSTER was parked at A (Charleston) and were in B (Jacksonville).  So joining up with another couple in the same situation, we arranged to have a rental car to drive from Jax to Charleston.   We sat in the “lounge” for the last time while the bags were taken off the ship.

   

After a bit of thrashing around we finally got the car and headed north to Charleston, about four hours.  Was a pleasant day and being in an auto instead of a water borne vessel was refreshing.

MFO and I were going to stay overnight in Charleston and drive all the way to the digs the next morning.   It was decided that all eight of the “Maryland Team” would eat out together at a restaurant where the folks that have a home in Charleston were “regulars”, a place called “FultonFive” which always ranks in the top end of the many excellent venues in Charleston.  Before we went to the restaurant we had a little cocktail session in the house of a relative of another of our travelers.



With charcuterie and some of his “famous” barbecued brisket…  I was quite good, and deserving of his reputation.   Being a “regular” does have its rewards and our table was pretty much ready on a busy Saturday evening.  FF is an Italian themed place, relatively small but with that comfy feeling that seems to always accompany Italian places (when you’re here, you’re ….; sorry but kind of true)


The server greeted us, offered the wine list, went over specials and handed out a menus.   Typically Italian

with the usual “anti, primi, secondi” courses..  Nice selections, although I notice more and more my favorite Veal Piccata appears less and less.   Anyway we did appetizers around the table, I had a very good bruschetta, and MFO a very good “Zuppa di Funghi”



I chose an off the menu special of Rigatoni with lamb sausage, and MFO a shrimp pasta maybe a fettucini (I didn’t take notes that day, and it’s been a while) and a Sauvignon Blanc from Cyprus, and at the suggestion of the server I had a very nice Valpolicella.  Of course there was plenty of crusty bread to go with.

My lamb sausage dish was quite pleasing to the eye


However (unfortunately) not so pleasing to the (Feeders) palate when he found that the sausage was just “too darned spicy” for his taste.  Why do people do that?   I just don’t understand a kitchen that thinks a dish should contain something so hot it masks the other flavors.  Of course that is a subjective evaluation which others may not share.  Anyway, in the end, I “ate around” the sausage and enjoyed the pasta and “stuff”.  MFO’s was very good on all counts


The table was treated to a selection of desserts from the kitchen.. a very nice touch in honor of our host.  

A very nice meal.  The reputation of Charleston remains, with a little care, I don’t think you can miss a good meal.   It was difficult for the Feeders to branch out to some of the widely regarded places.   As I think I’ve stated before, we should plan a food dedicated trip to there as well exploring Savannah..

on the road again....

So the next day the loaded MOMSTER headed back up to the mother county.   With MFO at the controls I was able to take shots of the passing scene as we traveled.   Now, most folks would concentrate on the scenery of the Carolina s, but warped me concentrates on… Food Signs!  They are a wonderful way document regional tastes and (restaurants).  For instance, there were dozens and dozens of ("clever") signs for a whole range of Glory Seasoned Southern Style products



get it?



I am not sure what a “Snap” is… need some help from the locals there


And this is but a small sample of the miles and miles of signs.  To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “Glory” product around here

And another “Southern” specialty is the famous


Which are advertised everywhere


And even sold in convenience/gas station stores


Along with the red bull

I have tried them upon occasion, I must be too much a Yankee to appreciate them.

And the “un-boiled” version of the goobers are also everywhere



I can't imagine a sign saying "Fake Virginia Peanuts"

Anybody who has gone south on 95 should be familiar with this place



There is seemingly a sign a mile for 50 miles either way.   

I offer this one without comment (read it)




And of course depending on your luck you might have plenty of time to read the signs, as the poor souls in the southbound lanes did



Finally, after a long day of driving, we crossed the always welcome peace of Allen’s Fresh

A harbinger of home

So closed an interesting journey containing many sights and exposure to cultures (Gullah and Geetche) and traditions, local wildlife, and low country scenery.  Plus it is always rewarding to travel with friends and meet new ones.  As I’ve probably said already I thought the American Cruise Lines “side trips” were excellent and easily worth the extra cost.

Alert readers may note that there was not much coverage of food service on the ship.  I don’t have a good explanation for that.  The food was always well prepared and nicely presented, but somehow tended to have a sameness about it.  Maybe (gasp) I’m getting jaded.  Wines could have been notched up a little, Kendall Jackson IMHO is NOT a premium wine.  Table service was not always accomplished.  I might consider a Viking Cruise before another American Cruise Line Journey, but one hesitates to draw conclusions on a one-time jaunt.

That being said, the Cole Travel people took wonderful care of us, you sign up, and BOOM! Everything goes well…

And, you can easily be
DFD

Well, okay I did it.  The Rant will have to wait.   Just a quick bit of local Buzz: La Rive Breton has gone dark until the 12th to effect some repairs.   Have revisited Cow and Fish I the meantime.  More of that later as well as our adventures with Azure Apron..




Saturday, April 29, 2017

As Ella Said:


They call her Hard Hearted Hannah,
The vamp of Savannah,
The meanest gal in town

Well, we didn’t have the opportunity to meet Hannah, but we did visit “her” city for two nights and a full day.  We tied up to the quay in downtown for the day.

In old Savannah, I said Savannah,
The weather there is nice and warm!

And actually the weather was quite pleasant and we spent the whole day in Hannah’s town. 

To start our day, we left for a Trolley tour of the city.  Although we launched at 0900, we were still early enough to see the local farmers in their carts bringing their products to the restaurants


wagon jam




Break Break…..
A quick (?) aside:  in looking at the image above, it sort struck me odd that you would name a winery “Custard”  (okay, there is a Cupcake).  With a little research, I turned up the fact that the winery is owned by a Sebastiani, a fairly large name in the world of wine for the masses.. Donny is quoted as saying about the Chardonnay:

These grapes make a wine that reminds me of one of my favorite childhood indulgencesSunday morning glazed doughnuts with creamy custard filling...'comfort food' before I even knew what that was”.  

The mind boggles.. And not to be outdone, the winemaker (Gloria Mercado – Martin) has to get back to more professional wine speak when she describes the wine as:

Opening with aromas fresh from the bakery, with hints of toasted almond and dried apricots. Flavors of pear and citrus intermingle with silky, smooth vanilla cream pie”

You ever notice that the huge majority of these gobbledy gook wine descriptions contain the words “hints of…”?  Translation: “you won’t taste this; I just say it to make me look like an expert”

Okay, back to business…

We got aboard a trolley (classic, open windows) and got a little overview lecture by our driver



Our first stop was at the “Massie School” Georgia’s oldest s

Which has been open continuously from 1885 to the present, although now it is more of a cultural center.  We heard a little program about the history of education and school operation



It also had a lovely little courtyard (discovered on the way to the potty, a common Feeder journey)



After leaving the school we Trolleyed around town, seeing many beautiful “old” historical buildings
and structures





And it was pointed out to us where some scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed, such as this little square where he sat on a bench, which has now been removed



Many of the older buildings were restored via designs from The Savannah College of Art and Design


Which was founded in 1978 to provide a center for the arts not generally available in Georgia, and is now rather famous.
Of course colleges have college students, and I’m not sure if this is real.  Are there that many of Andy’s works still floating around?  “your” Warhol?




FOOD! (it is, after all, supposed to be a food blog, not a travelblog, although we have strayed a bit)

We returned to our ship just before lunch, and MFO and I decided to get lunch off board.  There were many places along the quay right by our ship


Interesting sign

I'm sure "Cheapest and Coldest Beer" packs 'em in




Look familiar Debbie? (Private Joke)

Pretty "touristy", but at one place we got a glimpse through the window of


Which looked pleasant and was housed inside the River House



While we dearly loved dining with our fellow travelers, tables of six or eight for every meal makes one(me) occasionally yearn for a quiet, dark, single table and a cloth.

We went inside and were seated at a table by the window



We first decompressed with a glass of (sorely needed) wine


A rather nice Pinot Noir from “Left Coast” vineyards for the Feeder, and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Nobilo) for MFO..   we lingered enjoying the peace and quiet and the view through the window (with our ship in the background)



And very much appreciated an understanding server (John) who said, "Enjoy, just let me know when you want to order"  No pressure, and he did leave us alone.  The menu contained “regional” choices like a fried green tomato salad, oyster Po Boys, crab cakes, etc., and we got a plate of quite nice Hummus to relax with.. (getting the theme here?).  

we finally signaled John and MFO ordered a “Purple Crab salad - our jumbo lump crab cake atop fresh spinach with roasted beets, local goat cheese, red onions, yellow peppers, and glazed pecans with balsamic vinaigrette. And I stayed local with a special du jour of Shrimp and Grits.



Although in all candor, the level of spice was right at my upper limit, which as you should remember is not adventurous…

After lunch we returned to the ship, greatly appreciative of our little interlude of privacy.  Sometimes the experience is created by the food, sometimes the ambiance sets the tone, with the food just an added pleasure.  This wasn't the greatest food in the world, but it was quite competent and didn't take away from our mood. 

That evening aboard ship we saw many ocean going container ships heading out.  Savannah is a huge port for such vessels.
6929


And although we never did see “The Meanest Gal In Town” we did enjoy our stay.  A future excursion including Charleston AND Savannah is being considered.  The latter also has restaurants of some repute..

And of course we would be

DFD