Monday, December 29, 2008

Week 17 Bucs Post: Well, I Guess That's That...

Sigh. This has been a pretty rough NFL season for a kid like me. A month ago the Bucs were 9-3 and looking at the possibility of home field advantage throughout the playoffs... then an seriously embarrassing game on Monday Night Football kicked off the most epic collapse in team history. As I watched the Bucs lose to the freaking RAIDERS yesterday, I knew in my heart that it was for the best. Watching the team play over this past month has made it abundantly clear that they don't belong anywhere near the playoffs. I'm still waiting to hear how bad Cadillac's knee is, but hopefully the Bucs can get both him and Graham back at full strength next year... and maybe pick up a younger QB (I'm looking at you, Matt Cassel) while they're at it.
It's going to be a long off-season, and I hope one that provides some answers as to how this happened. I know injuries played a role, but there's not a single team in the NFL who doesn't face at least some injury issues by Week 17. I'm not sure if Gruden's job is safe, and I'm not sure if I even think it should be after this. It was practically Haslett-like, which I never though I would see from him. Breaks my heart a little bit... as did a lot of things this season.

On a positive note, Peter's (where we've watched every Bucs game when we were in town) made me a fantastic burger with which to smother my sorrows during this final depressing week of the season. Featuring bacon, cheddar, ham, and a fried egg, that was one damn fine burger.
As for the playoffs, consider me officially on the Carolina bandwagon. If the Bucs can't win the Super Bowl, I would at least like to see the NFC South represent, and the Panthers are the only non-Bucs team in the NFC South that I don't deeply despise...

Mmmm... Christmas...

I think Christmas dinner this year was one of the nicest in recent memory (even if certain key people were on another continent)... For brekky I cooked up some Eggs Baked in Spinach with Bacon Cream, which were super-tasty and hearty enough for tiding us over until dinner.
After breakfast we watched a pretty kick-ass snow storm (just when we thought we'd seen the last of it and things were starting to melt, massive hunks of snow started falling from the sky...),
spent a bunch of time in the kitchen preparing for dinner, and played a few games of Hearts. By early evening, the dinner table looked something like this:
The meal included (spiraling clockwise from the onions): Roasted Onions (which sat below the rib roast as it cooked), Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Bacon-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan, Sweet Potato Parmesan Gratin, Parmesan-Scallion Popovers, Creamy Horseradish Sauce and Madeira Sauce for the gorgeous Horseradish and Roasted Garlic Crusted Rib Roast, and (in the center, and my personal favorite) Baked Oysters with Bacon and Leeks. Here's a beauty shot of the Brussels Sprouts for any of you who may love them like I do:
Now, I'm a big fan of a traditional Turkey Dinner (and the sandwiches that follow it), but for me Christmas always follows too soon after Thanksgiving to do the turkey thing all over again, so a great big Standing Rib Roast is the centerpiece of my kind of Christmas feast... Also, as good as turkey sandwiches are, a nice French Dip made with leftover rib roast and homemade horseradish sauce (with the jus made by simmering the beef bones in beef stock and then mixing in a can of French Onion Soup... trust me, it works...) is hard to beat.
Here's hoping everyone else's Christmas (or preferred holiday, whatever it may be) was as awesome and delicious as mine...

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Snow, Canceled Plans, and Chili...

So, we are in the midst of what they're calling an "Arctic Blast" here in Portland. The snow just keeps on falling. It's absolutely gorgeous and I'm super-excited about it, except that it keeps ruining my plans to get together with friends. Sequel-Fest 2008: Part Two has been postponed a couple times now, and the Chili Cook-Off scheduled for last night had to be canceled as well. Yet, it's hard to complain too much when it looks like this outside:
Since we'd already bought all of the necessary ingredients before canceling the Cook-Off, my dad and I went ahead and had a one-on-one Chili Cook-Off while my mom and I had a one-on-one Cornbread Cook-Off. In the end, with the snow falling outside and with my heart still broken from morning football, it turned out to be a nice day for sitting at home staying warm by the fire and judging who made the best cornbread (I did) and chili (me again).
For the Cornbread Cook-Off I couldn't take too much pride in my victory since I sort of cheated by using bacon. My mom's entry was a more traditional cornbread (on the left in the picture above), which tasted really good but didn't stand a chance against a cornbread stuffed with bacon, scallions, and extra-sharp white cheddar (middle, above). The third entry was a Chorizo, chile, and cheddar cornbread which should have also been awesome had I not gone a little crazy with the amount of chiles I added, thus making the predominant flavor "fire" rather than Chorizo... I should clarify that, as far as cornbread to serve with chili goes, my mom's Three Layer Cornbread would be the winner... It's only when one thinks about sitting down to a solitary piece of cornbread that the Bacon-Scallion-Cheddar version takes the lead.

As for my victory in the Chili Cook-Off, I feel my dad was somewhat handicapped by the fact that the paprika we had in the house was smoked paprika, whereas we both typically use hot paprika when we make chili. This affected both of our final dishes, but paprika is a much more dominant component of his chili so he was at a greater disadvantage. That being said, my chili was totally freaking awesome and I suspect I might have won anyway... I think we may need to have a rematch with proper ingredients. My chili has a softer texture and a richer, more subtle flavor while my dad's chili is a bit chunkier and much more aggressively spiced (not spicier as in "hotter," just seasoned with more spices...). Despite all the differences, they still look almost identical.
When I first made my chili I was actually following my dad's recipe (inasmuch as I ever follow recipes). The fact that it turned out so completely different is due both to differences in the ingredients that were available to me (I was in Melbourne) and also to differences in our cooking styles. (For example, I like to put in all the spices at the same time as the meat so they can season it while it browns as well as while it simmers, whereas my dad cooks the meat and then adds the spices to season it as it simmers.)
My secret ingredient (ground veal) is something that resulted from running to the store in Melbourne mid-chili-cooking for more meat and finding that ground veal was less expensive than lean ground beef and, unlike the ground beef, was available in the exact quantity that I wanted to add. Finding veal in Portland was a bit trickier (it's practically as common as chicken in Australia, whereas the guy at New Seasons looked at me with a special level of disdain reserved for people who support baby-cow-torture before telling me I would have to go out to Gartner's (below) to find ground veal around here), but I do think it's what gives my chili its amazing texture.
I guess the point of the above rambling is that I like how recipes evolve due to random circumstances and spontaneous ideas. Sometimes (like with my totally awesome chili) it works out for the best and sometimes (like with having to substitute smoked paprika for hot) it's not so great, but it's a lot of what makes cooking so much fun. I started keeping a kitchen notebook a couple months before I made my chili for the first time, and it's been way niftier than I ever would have thought. I hate when I make something and it turns out absolutely perfect but I have no idea how I made it and thus can never get it quite so perfect again. Taking notes while I cook lets me fix things that don't work so well and recreate things that work perfectly... and beat my dad in Chili Cook-Offs...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Week 16 Bucs Post: Well, That Sucked... Again...

Hopes? Destroyed. Dreams? Dashed. Heart? Broken. Spirit? Crushed. Sigh...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This One's for You, Stanley...

Sometimes when the weather is cold and stormy and all you want to do is sit around by the fire all day, you get to thinking about how brilliant it would be to get take-out trashy Mexican food... A couple factors contributed to the decision to have a Chimichanga-Off between La Sirenita and Ole Frijole the other night. First, my dad missed out on lunch at Ole Frijole when I went with my mom, and I was concerned about the jealousy that was clearly eating away at him. Second, I learned after a tasty (if rather greasy) meal at La Sirenita that my big brother uses the Chicken Chimichanga as the dish by which he judges the quality of a Mexican eatery. I can't say that I'd ever ordered a Chimichanga in a restaurant before, so this was definitely something that warranted further exploration... Now, I should point out that Ole Frijole and La Sirenita are neither the only trashy Mexican restaurants in town nor are they widely considered the two best. They do, however, both happen to be within one mile of my parents' house, which played a large role in selecting them (given the weather and the laziness that inspired this meal in the first place)...
The La Sirenita Chimichanga (below, right) had a slight disadvantage in the crispiness department because we picked it up first and it was topped with sour cream, melty cheese, lettuce, and pico de gallo, while the Ole Frijole Chimichanga (below, left) serves sour cream, guac, lettuce, and pico de gallo on the side.
The Chimichanga-Off portion of the evening ended in a split decision. I found the chicken in the (gigantic) La Sirenita offering to be more flavorful, while my dad thought the best item out of everything we ordered was the (more reserved) Ole Frijole Chimichanga. (My mom thought both were awesome and had no preference.) A recurring theme in the evening's food (which I alluded to in my last post about Ole Frijole) is that the Ole Frijole food is surprisingly ungreasy, while La Sirenita is not at all shy with the grease. I think after the taste comparison, though, that the main thing I learned is that I'm not really a Chimichanga kind of girl...

Luckily (and because we are crazy), the Chimichangas were not the only menu items we investigated. For a more thorough comparison of the two restaurants we also decided to order a couple random things. From La Sirenita one such thing was a Carnitas Burrito (below). This things was seriously dripping with grease. (It soaked through the paper it was wrapped in, through the paper bag that was in, then soaked the entire interior of the outer plastic bag with grease.) That being said, it was a pretty tasty $4 burrito. I really do enjoy the Carnitas at La Sirenita...
...which is why we also decided to check out the La Sirenaita Carnitas "Special Quesadilla." You can see the grease glistening on it in the picture below, but damned if that thing wasn't absolutely delicious. I think this was my second-favorite food out of everything we ordered that night. The quesadilla was filled with carnitas, two cheeses, cilantro, and pico de gallo. It was really nicely seasoned and (aside from the grease) totally awesome.
From the refreshingly-non-greasy Ole Frijole, we ordered a Carne Asada Torta. This, my friends, was a good idea. This was definitley my favorite thing we ordered, and was probably the least horribly-unhealthy as well. The torta is filled with carne asada, jalepeƱos, avocado, onions, tomatos, lettuce, and mayo and is seriously delicious. I could see myself heading by Ole Frijole and grabbing one of these for lunch pretty often if I worked in the area... so it's probably a good thing that I will not be working in the area...
When you get down to it, La Sirenita makes very tasty but very very greasy food, while Ole Frijole makes some really nice trashy Mexican food without any of that icky greasiness... I still like the carnitas better at La Sirenita, but Ole Frijole gets my vote for Best Trashy Mexican Restaurant within One Mile of My Parents' House because not only is the food delicious and the ambiance sort of exactly what I look for in a trashy Mexican restaurant, but you also don't feel totally gross after eating there.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Trashy Mexican Food...

Is there anything better than trashy Mexican food? Sure, the French Laundry was a meal I'll never forget... and Verre was pretty darned awesome... but, more often than not, when I'm obsessively craving some specific type of food, the type of food in question is trashy Mexican food... I think this phenomenon began as a result of living in Australia for two years and thus being denied access to anything resembling the fantastic trashy Mexican food that I had developed an addiction to when I lived in Southern California. It got so bad that I would stop at the Mexican restaurant in the LAX international terminal every time I flew back to Melbourne just to get one last fix (typically the chile rellenos and a margarita) while I had the chance...
Today's venture into Portland's trashy Mexican food scene was a bit of an accident. My mom and I were out running errands when we realized it was getting to be lunch time and we decided to stop for Mexican food on the way home. The not-so-trashy place we were planning to visit is apparently only open for lunch on the weekends, so we ended up going to the nearest place we could think of, which we had just driven past on our way to the closed place: Ole Frijole (located in the old Mr. Burger building on Killingsworth).
We ended up ordering a few things to share (and, due to poor impulse control, also ended up with way more food than two people could reasonably consume). First up was the Chile Rellenos combo plate. Chile Rellenos are one of my very favorite foods, so I'm more choosy about them than I maybe should be. These were pretty good, but not the best I've had. (I strongly prefer the Super Cuca's version, and actually sort of prefer the LAX version...)
For the sake of comparison amongst restaurants (while Stanley is a Chimichanga man, I'm a Carnitas Combo Plate chick) we also ordered a Carnitas combo. This dish (and this whole meal overall, actually) was much less greasy than what I'd tried with Max and Midge at La Sirenita, but the carnitas was a bit dry and not as flavorful as the La Sirenita version (I'm hoping that's not just because it was less greasy...).
Because we are crazy people, we also ordered a couple tacos just to get an idea of the different meat options. My mom went with a carne asada hard taco (below, left) and I tried the chorizo soft taco (below, right). The carne asada was reportedly pretty good, and improved with the addition of hot sauce. I liked the chorizo taco much better than the ones I've tried at La Super Rica (in Santa Barbara), again, in large part, because it was so much less greasy. I was definitely a fan of the chorizo taco...
In summary, this isn't necessarily going to be the winner in the Emily's Favorite Trashy Mexican Food in Portland category, but I think I would try it again for two reasons. First, it's possible they were just having an off day on the carnitas. If they're not typically this dry, I think I would be a big fan of the Ole Frijole carnitas combo (given the lack of greasiness and the fact that I liked the tortillas and the general construction of the plate). Second, as I was leaving I saw somebody's Chimichanga order come up. That thing looked crazy. I may have to use the Stanley standard for further evaluation before I form my final opinion...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Week 15 Bucs Post: _______

Sigh... I really can't think of anything to say about this game that isn't going to result in me typing excessive amounts of profanity, so...

SNOW!!!!!!

I don't want to alarm you, but it is totally snowing in Portland right now... It's been a few years since I've seen snow in person, so this is pretty seriously awesome... Woohoo!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Evolution of a Sunset...

You know what's awesome about being on vacation at the beach? Sometimes you have absolutely nothing more pressing to do than to sit around watching a kick-ass sunset develop over the ocean...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

That’s More Like It…

Before the crushing sadness of Monday night, Monday started out as a pretty good day (even featuring a morning rainbow on the horizon…).
We started at the Lincoln City Library, where there is free wi-fi and where there is also a book sale on Monday mornings. The books are both ex-library and donations, and they’re on sale for $1 each. For those of you who know me, you know that I can’t pass up such things… I ended up with about 12 books, but we also ended up spending a lot more time at the Library than we’d originally planned, so all this book-shopping threw a wrench in our lunch plans. (It was already 1pm, but we had two more stops to make before we headed back to enjoy the lunch waiting for us at the beach house…)

We decided that, since we need groceries anyway (don’t get me started on the fact that you can’t buy a papaya anywhere in this city…), we would get lunch at the McMenamins across the street from the big grocery store. This turned out to be a very good idea. McMenamins is a chain of brew pubs, but each pub has a slightly different menu than the others. Because I was still a little sad about our icky crab cakes at Georgie’s, we decided to do a Dungeness Crab Cake appetizer on the menu here along with a small order of fries.
These were seriously delicious crab cakes, with lots of sweet, fresh crab and was served with a really nice wasabi sauce. Just what we needed to banish memories of the bad crab cakes… The fries at this McMenamins were superior to the ones we had at Kennedy School, as well. Awesome. For lunch, I saw that the menu listed “blue cheese dressing” as an ingredient on the Captain Neon Burger (which is the traditional awesome version, not the lame “blue cheese” of Kennedy School that had disappointed me recently). Sure enough, my Captain Neon came with delicious creamy blue cheese, making it a bit messier to eat than the Kennedy School version (which just has lame crumbled blue cheese), but also infinitely more delicious… Good stuff.
After lunch we stopped at the outlet mall to do a bit of Christmas shopping, then finally drove back home. As we were coming around a sharp curve in the road near the beach house, we encountered a mail truck driving towards us entirely in our lane. My dad slammed on the brakes and we came to a stop less than a foot away from a collision. Whew. I was very happy not to die on the way home to watch what I (wrongly) thought would be a great football game (sigh). Good to know the brakes in my car are functioning so well.

Below are some more beach pictures (sunset last night before my heart was broken above, sunrise this morning below), which I don’t seem to be getting tired of taking.

Week 14 Bucs Post: Sigh…

I can’t even really talk about this one… too sad… I’m feeling utterly disillusioned after this game. I don't know what I can believe in if I can't believe in the Bucs' D... I’ve never seen the defense look so bad in my 11 years as a Bucs fan... This one broke my heart a little extra since it wasn’t just a loss in a game that could have all but locked up the division title for Tampa, it was Tampa’s much-vaunted defense getting thoroughly embarrassed on national television and making me question how far they can go in the playoffs if this is how they play in a big game… Sigh…
Nice game by Bryant... His 200+ yards would have probably been enough if the defense had showed up to play...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Off to a Great Start…

After my grandma’s birthday dinner, we got back on the road to drive down to Lincoln City, where we would be staying at a beach house owned by friends of the family. They rent the house out to their friends for a nominal fee, and it was always one of my favorite places at the beach when I was growing up. Since then my parents have acquired a fancy time-share down at Depot Bay (about 20 minutes south of Lincoln City), but it’s still cool to have a bit more of a quiet, rustic experience here…
Things were going pretty well on the drive (view out the front window of the car shown above), and we were in fairly high spirits (after working through the entire collection of “oldies” on my iPod) when we pulled into the driveway of the beach house at 10pm only to find… there was a car already there. After noting the lights on inside (thus determining that this wasn’t just a neighbor’s car, we called the owner to ask what was going on. He was sure these people were supposed to have checked out earlier in the day, but when we spoke to them (to determine when they would be leaving) they were convinced it wasn’t their fault. I’m pretty sure they’re the ones to blame, but maybe I’m still just bitter because they made it impossible for me to get settled in at the beach house that night and wake up there in the morning.

Since we weren’t going to drag a couple 80-year-olds out of the beach house at 10pm, we went off to find a hotel for the night. We found a pretty cheap place, and you could tell it was classy because the microwave in the room had a marble finish:
(The view from the room the next morning wasn’t that bad, actually, but it’s still not as good as being at the beach house…)
The old people weren’t planning to be out of our way until noon, so we decided to drive in to Newport for a little brekky. There’s a restaurant there called Georgie’s where my parents had had great experiences previously. It’s a nice-looking place, with great ocean views from the tables:
I’d heard stories of the amazing Crab Cake Benedict, which consists of a couple perfectly poached eggs served atop crab cakes and topped with a Creole Hollandaise sauce. The dish looked gorgeous…
…and tasted… pretty crappy, actually. I wasn’t a big fan of the Hollandaise (that’s a lot of parsley for a kid like me), but the real issue was with the crab cake. Last time they were here, my parents had big lumps of gorgeous crab meat in this dish, but on this trip it was just a ground mush that tasted sort of like old canned crab with onions and bread crumbs mixed in. We asked if the crab was fresh and the waitress told us they “don’t do it one by one” and that they “have a mix”… Not sure what that means, but the result is the worst crab cake I’ve ever had. Sigh… Before this meal I never knew crab cakes could actually taste bad (rather than just not great)…

Thus, our vacation was off to a fantastic start… After lunch we drove back to the beach house and found the driveway nice and empty. We got unpacked and settled in to relax and watch the storms out on the ocean. It felt extra-awesome to be here after the way our first 18 hours of vacation had gone.
For dinner that night we fired up the grill and made some seriously delicious Southeast-Asian Turkey Burgers, which are one of my very favorite meals. I really love bright fresh herbs with grilled meat that’s been marinated in lemongrass and shallots… So tasty…
Sunday was a football-watching day, where we made some awesome homemade Bloody Mary’s with our leftover fresh horseradish and watched the Giants get beat up by the Eagles. I have this dream of the Giants dropping 3 of their last 4 to give the Bucs home field throughout the playoffs (including the Super Bowl). Now that they’ve lost the first and will be up against Dallas and Carolina next, I don’t think that’s too far-fetched. My parents also got the pleasure of hearing me yell at the TV when the announcers kept saying that the NFC South is up for grabs, when clearly the Bucs have things under control. I guess they’ll see that on Monday night…
After the Seahawks showed some serious pride against the Pats my parents were working a puzzle and I was playing one of the versions of the totally-awesome Diner Dash video games, when my dad looked out the window and drew our attention to this awesome sunset... After a rocky start, things are definitely looking up...