Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past."
Old Dutch proverb

I love butter. I love cream. I love wine, garlic and everything in between. From pepper to salt and veggies to meat, enjoy my ramblings on everything I eat!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Patron Saints and Shellfish

Religion class, eighth-grade. Confirmation was just a couple months down the road and Ms. Magruder, our masculine homeroom teacher, informed us that we would soon be seen as adults in the Catholic church (scary) and had to pick a saint meaningful to us for the occasion. As a burgeoning classical clarinetist, I was a bit predictable and chose St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. I wish I could remember the names my classmates picked, because I'd be curious to know if any picked St. James the Greater, the patron saint of shellfish. His emblem is the scallop shell and he is now my favorite saint. I wonder if there is a patron saint of butter (and no, not St. Pat of Butter), because if so, the two of them may have blessed the meal I made the other night.

I actually had the evening off from working at the restaurant, and after days of diner food followed by boring health food, I was ready for some homemade fine dining. Seared Scallops with Pinot Gris Butter Sauce seemed like it would fit the bill. The last time I went to Trader Joe's I decided to buy a bag of frozen New England Bay Scallops as an experiment. I know I know... after watching many an episode of Top Chef where the chefs are chastised for using frozen proteins, I know it's probably not the way to go, but I felt rebellious and wanted to defy the judges. Of course I forgot to take them out early and had to speed-thaw them (speed would suggest that the thawing would be a quick process, but it still took an hour). In the meantime, I decided to learn a little bit about my delicious friends. These many-eyed mollusks (they have 30 to 40 blue eyes along the edge of their bottom shell) are the only of their bivalve counterparts who can jump and swim. Bay scallops are usually no more than 2 inches across, and mine were a little smaller. Despite their slightly diminutive stature, they were simply delectable when drizzled -- ok, more like drowned -- with butter.

I admit, it's a little silly that the sauce for this dish had an entire of stick of butter in it, but that's why it tasted so damn good. Whisked into a base of shallots, thyme, Pinot Gris, chicken stock and heavy cream, the butter finished off this opulent sauce. I seared the scallops lightly, and managed to get some stuck to the pan, but got them out mostly in tact. Fast forward to plating: a bed of spinach lightly sauteed with lemon juice was topped with the scallops, the pinot gris butter sauce and toasted and slightly crushed pine nuts. I was hoping to make a magazine-quality dish, and I don't think I reached that goal aesthetically. By the time I was done, I was hungry, I kind of just slapped everything on the plate, but the flavor was definitely there. They may have been frozen, but the scallops were sweet and had a buoyant texture. Take that Tom and Padma!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Diner #5: O'Rourke's Diner

Our final destination was O'Rourke's Diner, a cozy diner with and Irish flare in Middletown, Ct. The menu offered a plethora of options, but we knew what we'd come for: steamed cheeseburgers (an O'Rourke's tradition since 1941). Some of you may be skeptical of steamed meat, but the burgers cooked in this diner's special burger steamer stand up to any traditional patties. These unseasoned burgers pack a punch with their pure and unadulterated beefy flavor. Served on fresh buns, they were smothered with melted white cheddar. Drool...

As the burgers' partner in crime, we ordered sweet potato fries, and hands-down, these crispy, crunch, fresh-cut fries were the best we'd ever had. We'd hoped to top the meal off with O'Rourke's famous banana bread French toast. Sadly, it's popularity was proven because by the time we arrived, the diner was out of banana bread. We still had to satisfy our sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), so mini raspberry pancakes it was (side note: whoever decided to call them "mini" must have been a giant). We inhaled those raspberry-preserve covered pancakes like it was our last meal, stopping briefly every so often to shovel fresh clotted cream in our greedy little mouths.

By the end of our dining experience, the morning drizzle had escalated to a torrential downpour. But as we got up to brave the storm, customers were still streaming in. Nothing was keeping them from a meal at O'Rourke's, and rightly so.

Diner #4: Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory

Any food establishment with the word "factory" in its name should be approached with caution and an empty stomach. Too bad for us this was the third diner of the day.

We had high aspirations: three different kinds of pancakes, a pancake wrap, and moussaka. But reality guided our decisions and we only ordered two plates of pancakes. Pancake stack numero uno was meat pancakes. Maple-syrup-drenched hot cakes with bacon bits = perfect marriage of sweet and savory. The other pancakes we ordered were Honky Tonk pancakes. These flapjacks were studded with peanut butter chips and topped with fresh banana and a dusting of powdered sugar. To add insult to injury, both stacks were served with butter that looked like it had been measured with a full ice cream scoop. We proceeded to use all the butter on the pancakes as any good American would.

Try as we might, we couldn't finish. Tears ran down our faces, there was sobbing and failing, but when we saw a morbidly obese man at the counter going to town on his food, we knew we had done the right thing.

Diner #3: The Hightstown Diner

After a quick trip to the Liberty Bell, we headed to the Hightstown Diner in Hightstown, New Jersey. Stefano, a down-to-business 10-year-old, lead us to our seats. We were still from our meal at the Dining Car, so in an effort to avoid bodily harm, we ordered the diner's famous corned beef hash, but salads as well.

Unsurprisingly, the salads were as big as our heads, and Evan's chef's salad... well let's just say that many animals gave up their lives to make it happen. The salads were good, but the real star was the hash, meat and potatoes all in one. This hash is the REAL Situation in Jersey.

Diner #2: The Dining Car

We arrived at The Dining Car in Philly B.C. -- before coffee. Wiping the sleep from our eyes, we perused the menu, looking for the specialties Guy Fieri highlighted: Chicken Croquettes, Scrapple and Chipped Beef.

Now, chipped beef over toast with hash browns and scrapple are relatively normal breakfast items. Ok , perhaps not, but chicken croquettes? And keep in mind that the croquettes are served over mashed potatoes and come with a salad and two sides -- your choice of spinach, french fries, beets (yuck!), coleslaw and applesauce (weird). We bit the bullet and ordered it all.

First came the salad. A little weird for breakfast, but heaven knows we needed the roughage. For the main event, the chipped beef arrived in a cream sauce that allowed it to stay in its salty, meaty spotlight. The scrapple, with its crispy exterior and soft porky inside was delish according to Evan. (Compressed pig parts aren't my thing).

The croquettes came as a pair, very suggestive of the female anatomy. They were good, but it was the buttery, sage-infused gravy that made the dish. If all my food were served with this gravy, I could die a fat and happy woman. I made a pretty good dent in my meal, but the two sides and the complimentary (and completely superfluous) cinnamon bun defeated me. We'll meet again, Dining Car!

Diner #1: Blue Moon Cafe

We didn't venture far for our first diner destination, the Blue Moon Cafe in Baltimore, Md. Situated in a, shall we say, "transitional" neighborhood, the cafe is an unassuming brick building painted in blue. We waited about an hour to be seated (about an hour less than usual, we were told by the tattoo-adorned owner), and were more than ready to start feasting. For a savory dish, we ordered the juevos rancheros: two eggs over a tortilla, topped with cheddar cheese and wickedly spicy tomatillo sauce. No wussing out at this joint. Accompanying the eggs were hash browns, and these weren't just any hash browns. They were probably the butteriest has browns this side of the Mississippi. Crispy and light despite the butter, they paired perfectly with the eggs and could probably kill you if consumed on a regular basis.

For "dessert" we had Cap'n Crunch French Toast. What?! Yes, that's right, Cap'n Crunch French Toast. If decadence had a physical form, this would be it. The inner layers of the toast hid the Cap'n Crunch which gave each bite a great contrast of textures from the bread. Served with a topping of blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, fresh whipped cream and powdered sugar, our vision seemed blurred from a sugar overdose after finishing the last bite.

How much did this glorious meal cost? $18. That's it. I think it's dangerous that this place is so close to home...

Triple-D/Triple Bypass Roadtrip of Delicious Doom

A birthday celebration can come in all shapes and sizes -- a quiet evening with coffee and cake; a drunken night at the bar; a fancy dinner -- but for Evan Kwisnek, none of these options would do. An artery-clogging, pants-button-popping road trip to some of the best diners on the east coast was more like it. After pouring over old episodes of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Evan laid out the game plan: eat, eat and eat from Maryland to Connecticut and pray to God we wouldn't die before reaching the final diner.