Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Week 16 Bucs Post (@ New Orleans, W 20-17)

I can't plead sadness on delaying my post about this one... I'll just blame it on this impending cold I seem to be picking up and recovering from a rough day of travel followed by a jet-lagged two days at work. Enough whining. On to the good stuff: Tampa. Beat. The Saints. No kidding. I'm not making that up. In New Orleans, no less. Woot! Before I get to Tampa things that made me happy, let's watch something awesome, shall we?

Ha! That's the Saints' owner, celebrating the missed game-winning field goal, before realizing he's heading into overtime... where his team would lose... This was thanks in large part to Cadillac running the ball on all but one play in overtime. Caddy had a beautiful game, and it was great to see him back, including a 23-yard run to cap off a 98-yard touchdown drive.
Also great was Michael Spurlock, making a huge impact on his return to the Bucs' special teams unit. After a great stop by the Tampa defense to send the Saints 3-and-out, Spurlock ran the punt back for a touchdown... setting up the shanked kick in the above video and the chance for Tampa to win in overtime.
Speaking of the defense, they showed a lot of pride after Tampa went down 0-17 early. I think this unit has a lot or potential.
Big picture, this was both a good and a bad win. Even more so than the Seattle win, this game seriously screwed up our chances of drafting Ndamukong Suh. As several defensive players pointed out, though, if we want Suh then we're just going to need to trade up for him. While losses would bring us closer to Suh, they would make it impossible for Morris to hang on to his job, and at this point I would like to see what he can do next year... especially since the alternative is apparently Bill Effing Cowher. (Arg.) Beyond the draft, the bad news was in the injuries.
Earnest Graham sustained a toe injury, which sounds blessedly short-term, but Jimmy Wilkerson tore an ACL. Here's hoping he's back as soon as humanly possible.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mmmm... Christmas-y...

Pretty sweet Christmas holiday for me. It started off with a nice Christmas Eve breakfast with Maggie at Helser's on Alberta. They have a pretty cool $5 brekky special before 9am, but I was lured away from the special by my inability to refrain from ordering Eggs Benedict. This version was made with Zenner's Ham and served with kick-ass Yukon Gold Hash. It was the bomb.
The rest of Christmas Eve was family time... Beating the parents at Scrabble, watching a movie, hanging out, then having the traditional Christmas Eve night present-opening. (When we were kids, we always got our main presents from our parents on Christmas Eve night, then Santa came and filled our stockings with smaller things Christmas morning... In hindsight, it seems only fair for parents to take credit for the good gifts, rather than giving Santa all the credit... and when you know it's your parents and not Santa who buy the presents, you are more likely to understand when you don't get a pony...)
Christmas dinner (above) was possibly the best we've ever made, and confirmed our suspicions that we are in fact quite awesome. And, of course, the second best part of cooking a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner (after the dinner itself) is bomb-ass French Dip sandwiches for Boxing Day lunch. Mmm....

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Quest for (Awesome) Trashy Mexican Food

So, as I've lamented before, there is a dire shortage of awesome trashy Mexican food in Waltham. It's almost worse than when I lived in Melbourne. In Melbourne there was no (remotely authentic) Mexican food at all. In Waltham there are a few places that come recommended as being good, authentic Mexican food and get my hopes up only to leave me disappointed with their lame bland white rice and lack of the flavors I'm craving. Thus, as promised, I'm working on fitting as much trashy Mexican food into my weekend in Portland as possible. First up was take-out from Ole Frijole with my parents on Monday night when we got home from Seattle. They've actually spruced the place up quite a bit since I was there in July, including the addition of a nice hot sauce bar. (The hot red sauce is AWESOME.) We went with a variety of items to share, and I sort of panicked while ordering (I don't do well under pressure), so we ended up with more than was strictly necessary for one meal... but I'm not complaining.
First upwas a Carnitas Quesadilla (because I have a carnitas obsession, and "Mmmm... Cheese..."). This was pretty darn awesome. (It's not on the picture of the plate above because we enjoyed is as an appetizer... and I'll go ahead and throw in the apology here for the fact that I only have the crappier of my two cameras with me on this trip...)
Next we went with a Chicken Chimichanga in honor of Stanley, which we'd enjoyed before and enjoyed again this time.
The Carne Asada Torta has been haunting my memory since I first tried it, so we ordered that again,
as well as a Carnitas Torta (again: carnitas obsession + "Mmmm... Torta...").
Then I panicked and added a Chorizo Burrito to the order. This turned out to be a good call, both because it ensured that there would be ample leftovers for brekky the next day and because it was delicious.
I met up with my friend, J, on Tuesday for lunch. We were hoping to hit Autentica, but our suspicions about their phone message ("We open at 11am for lunch!") were confirmed and they were indeed closed. Not having a real back-up plan and working with only my 12-year-old memories of how Northeast Portland works, we decided to head to Alberta, where I remembered there being restaurants, and we ended up outside of La Bonita (which is two doors down from La Sirenita). J ordered an awesome-looking Carne Asada Tostada (at rear in the picture below) while I went with a Chile Relleno platter. We also both ordered Horchata (J because she loves it, me because I was curious and wanted to seem cool). The tortillas with my platter were lame, but it was a pretty good relleno so I was happy. The Horchata was also totally awesome.
Last night I had plans to go out for Trashy Mexican with Max, Midge, and Micahoe. We headed out towards 42nd and Killingsworth, thinking we'd hit either Ole Frijole or "that place across the street from Ole Frijole," aka Santeria Domingo Taqueria Oaxaca (Yes. I was willing to go to Ole Frijole again...) At the last minute I made the call that we should hit Santeria Domingo Taqueria, since I'd never had a chance to really explore their menu beyond the awesome burrito they once made for me, and I'm really glad that's where we ended up. I ordered the Carnitas Plate (the thing I order to compare Mexican restaurants to my favorite place in Santa Barbara), and it was the bomb.
The Carnitas were delicious, crispy, and not at all greasy - by far the best I've had in Portland, and probably better than Super Cucas, too. This is definitely going to be my favorite place in Portland for what has become (through deprivation) possibly my favorite cuisine these days... And they even put up slightly tacky decorations for the season:
Here's hoping everyone has an awesome extended weekend, whether celebrating holidays or just happy to not be at work...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weekend in Seattle

Beyond the travel fiascoes and an awesome football game, it was a nice (if pleasantly uneventful) weekend in Seattle. I was feeling pretty beat up and gimpy after travel, and again after the game, so wild and crazy fun in the city wasn't really an option. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to see my parents' version of The Only Chair That Doesn't Hurt My Back in their trunk when they picked me up at the airport.We were staying at the lovely Camlin Hotel in Seattle for free as part of a time-share my parents own, which meant absolutely gorgeous accommodations in a great neighborhood, with money to spare for yummy food and tasty beverages.Confined to the room for most of a drizzly Saturday, my mom went down to the front desk looking for a deck of cards, but returned instead with a game of Scrabble. I rolled my eyes and explained that I had no interest in playing that stupid game, then relented and almost instantly became addicted to it. I think this is largely based on the fact that I really enjoy games that I'm good at. The 75-point word I threw down on Sunday morning was one of the non-football highlights of the weekend...
It turns out that one of my awesome cousins and his totally awesome wife live in Seattle and, amazingly, we discovered that they actually live walking distance from our hotel. They met up with my mom while my dad and I were at the game, and presented us with a Christmas Yam when we got back to the hotel. Sweet.
It was great catching up with some extended family who I never really get to see despite how much I like them. We stuck to our dining M.O. for the weekend by going with the ol' "have a nice man bring us some yummy food" approach. We were actually 3-for-3 in delivery deliciousness while in Seattle, with really nice gourmet pizza on Saturday for lunch, the only great experience I've ever had with delivery sushi for Saturday dinner, and then some really kick-ass Thai food with our guests on Sunday night. Given this success rate, I'm led to believe that Seattle must be a pretty good food town, and I'll have to go back for some further exploration some time when I'm not largely constrained to a chair. In Portland now, looking forward to catching up with friends and enjoying as much trashy Mexican food as is humanly possible in a week. (My parents didn't think my idea of just doing $3 burritos for Christmas dinner was a good one, so it looks like we're going to be doing the traditional standing rib roast with all the fixins...)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting to Seattle

Well, that was a bit of a fiasco, but ended reasonably well. I made the highly regrettable choice to fly with a certain crappy airline, and it came very close to ruining the first leg of my trip by stranding me in Milwaukee and giving me a rage-induced aneurysm. I probably shouldn't name names, so I'll just call the airline "Air T." No, wait. That's too obvious. I'll call them "A. Tran."
I'll save the bulk of my rant for a strongly worded letter to the company once I reach a point where I think I can write said letter without excessive use of profanities, but let's just say the airline did everything in their power to make travel as frustrating and inconvenient as possible, while adhering to a customer service policy of being as surly, rude, and offensive as possible.
I was told at Logan that I should wait to fly out on Saturday because there was no way I could make my connection in Milwaukee due to delays, but I decided to take my chances going to Milwaukee (figuring that even if I was stuck I would be that much closer to getting to Seattle on Saturday). When we departed Boston, I had a 2-minute layover scheduled in Milwaukee and was convinced I'd be staying the night there, as were 90% of the other people on the plane. Conveniently, the ridiculously bad airline runs every single plane through Atlanta, which meant that every single flight was delayed by one to five hours due to weather and I was able to get on my Seattle connection.
A couple more atrocious customer service experiences later, I found myself on board surrounded by about a dozen hardcore Bucs fans flying out from Tampa for the game. (They travel to one road game together each year...) They were all pretty thoroughly awesome, and seemed to get a kick out of the fact that this Portland-raised chick living in Boston is a die-hard Tampa fan. One of the guys moved up to the seat across the aisle from me so we could talk more easily, and we proceeded to spend the next THREE HOURS talking about Buccaneers football. It was totally awesome. I don't think I've ever talked to somebody who is as obsessed with the Bucs as I am. It's so cool to be able to talk about obscure players and random moments in games that were played 5 years ago and have somebody know exactly what you're talking about. The band of rowdy Bucs fans definitely helped make up for having to deal with the many, many obnoxiously incompetent and rude employees of the worst airline I have ever made the mistake of traveling with. (Also, I'm now extra-glad to be flying back on a non-stop flight from Portland with the good people at Alaska. They have this weird policy of not treating their customers like crap, and it seems to work out pretty well for me...) Looking forward to four hours in the rain at Qwest Field tomorrow... Go Bucs!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter Dinner with Friends

Because waiting 12 months for my next birthday before having friends over for a dinner party thingy again seemed crazy, I decided to have a few friends over for a winter dinner this year as well. Just like last time, this would have been nearly impossible without Lisa. It's nice when people are not only kick-ass friends, but kick-ass co-chefs. I was more laid-up with back issues than I had hoped when I first scheduled this, which meant leaning on Lisa more than I would have liked (since she should have been relaxing and enjoying herself as my guest). All in all, I think everything turned out really well, though, and (it seemed) a good time was had by all. I'll post recipes for this stuff over on my recipe blog in the next few days, but for now I'll just summarize the food. Appetizers all involved seafood.
There were Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp with a Garlicky Dipping Sauce (painstakingly wrapped by R and grilled to perfection by Joe while Lisa was on Blini duty and I was on the fryer). There was a basil leaf underneath the prosciutto around each shrimp that I pondered omitting because I couldn't quite picture it (and there's no basil in the version I usually make), but that bright herbal bite is pretty much what made the dish. (Sorry the picture's a bit blurry. We were in the weeds.)The second appetizer was also one of my favorites to make at this time of year (which is nominally easy, once you master the art of the blini, as Lisa did...): Buckwheat Blini with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche. The buckwheat adds a nice sweetness to the blini, which works really well with the crème fraîche, salmon, and herbs:
Finally was Parmesan-Crusted Calamari with Garlic Aioli. This was something I started making in Melbourne and hadn't made since coming back to the States. Lisa is an amazing aioli-maker, and having this again reminded me that I should make it more often (now that I've found a good source for the nice big calamari that I like to use).
For the soup course I went with a Curried Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Soup with Roasted Garlic Flatbread. I'd made the soup a few years back, but had never tried the flatbread before. (I was basically making it just because I had all of the ingredients on hand...) The dough was... weird. I prepped the dough on Friday, and Lisa worked it for a while on Saturday. The proportions were odd and the dough was super-sticky... but the end result was tasty.
The secret to the soup is using freshly grated cinnamon rather than that per-ground stuff. I dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkle of chives finish it. I love squash soups in winter, and this is a nice change of pace from the one I make for Christmas Eve. It also paired pretty perfectly with the Sokol Blosser Evolution that we poured with it.
The salad course was based on my desire to make a warm goat cheese salad at some point in my life. We played with the dressing a bit and came up with the right balance of red wine vinegar (the choice of red wine vinegar out of all the vinegars in my pantry was Lisa's brilliant idea, but knowing that I should ask Lisa which vinegar to use was my brilliant idea, so I think we can share credit for the end result...), shallot, dijon, and olive oil. The trial version I'd made involved baking breaded rounds of cheese sliced from a log of chevre. The plan for this course was to make smaller rounds (because you basically need three for aesthetic reasons, and that's a lot of cheese) - which were easier to engineer than we expected - crusted in a mix of panko, black pepper, and fresh thyme, then deep-fried rather than baked. We dropped the test-round into the fryer, and immediately the bread crumbs went flying off in every direction and the cheese shrank as it melted into the oil. Oops. The oven was already on to warm the main course, so we quickly cranked it up and threw the cheese in on a silpat to bake, and they came out perfectly. Also featured in the salad were cranberries and toasted pine nuts. The pairing of a Papapietro Perry 2004 Peter's Vineyard Pinot Noir with this was sort of ridiculously awesome, and not just because they're my favorite winery on the planet for Pinot.
The main course was Braised Oxtail with Red Wine Reduction and Celery Root Mash. This is a hearty, simple dish that gets great texture from the bones and from a couple pigs' feet. It's one of my favorite winter meals, and honestly the desire to have a few portions in the freezer for cold winter nights was 90% of my motivation for having people over for dinner (thus giving me an excuse to make it). Props to H-Mart here, who not only provided me with gorgeous oxtail, pigs' feet, and the kick-ass calamari above, but had a stock of beautiful celery root when everywhere else in town was sold out.
R was awesome enough to bring a cheese course. I've already mentioned countless times my love for Russo's, but she gave me yet another to love them by telling me about her interaction with the cheese guy. As she was looking for the perfect set of cheeses and he started to recommend a blue, she told him that she's not a huge fan of blue cheese. He smiled and told her that this would be the cheese to change her mind, and thus she ended up bringing my favorite cheese in the world, Saint Agur Blue. (Seriously, if you haven't tried it before, go get some right now. You can thank me later.) Even better, he recommended a wine that pairs perfectly with it (Chamarré Tradition Jurançon 2003), which is something I've been in search of for years... Yay! The other two cheese were really good, too, as well as the black cherry jam to go along with one of them, but I can't read their names in the picture I took, so I'll have to inquire with R and report back.
Because it was now 1am and people needed to get going, we rushed out dessert at the same time. This was Chocolate Caramel Hazelnut Tart, and is one of my very favorite winter desserts. It's super-rich, but not too sweet and really really really delicious. It's easy to make, too, which is key for me since I'm more of a cook than a baker.
In summary, it was a fun night of good food with some awesome people, and reminded me that I should come up with excuses to hang out with these guys more often.