Nov 28 2009

Legal’s Test Kitchen – Logan Airport

November 28th, 2009 at 9:54 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Our flight from Manchester to Newark got canceled earlier today due to high winds, so we ended up having to get rebooked via Boston’s Logan International Airport. Here we found another eatery worth mentioning for good airport food – Legal’s Test Kitchen.

Legal's Test Kitchen in Terminal A of Logan International Airport in Boston

Legal's Test Kitchen in Terminal A of Logan International Airport in Boston

Located in Terminal A across from gate A5, Legal’s Test Kitchen (or “LTK” as it’s referred to) is an off-shoot of the popular Legal Sea Foods chain. Geared towards travelers, the menu features fare suited for faster delivery than Legal’s typical restaurant entrees, like whole lobsters.

But that doesn’t prevent LTK from offering hamburgers made with beef from Niman Ranch (a farm known for high-quality grass fed cattle among other animals), Legal’s tasty clam chowder, lobster wraps and rolls, a variety of shellfish served in several ways, and even some pretty tasty Buffalo wings. This is complemented by a small but complete wine list. The menu can be found here.

Prices are, as with any table service restaurant serving above-average fare, quite a bit heftier than that of fast food places (main courses run $15-$27), but in my opinion well worth it.

One of the cool technological advances LTK offers is that when you ask to settle your bill with a credit card, you are given a wireless credit card terminal which allows you to add, if you wish, a tip via a flat percentage (10, 15, and 20 percent are all options), an entered dollar amount, or a custom percentage. You then confirm the total, swipe your card, print a copy for the restaurant to sign, and print your own copy of the receipt. Sign their copy and you’re ready to leave – no need to wait for a server to take your card and then return it to you, which saves precious minutes when at an airport waiting to board a flight (and arguably gives you more time to enjoy your meal).

LTK also offers take-out and even a counter at which you can order lobsters and other seafood to be delivered to friends, family, or even yourself. So, if you’re flying out of Terminal A at Logan any time soon, make sure to budget a bit of extra time for a stop at Legal’s Test Kitchen and a bit of New England seafood or other better-than-normal airport fare options.


Nov 27 2009

Godiva Discontinues Sugar Free Chocolate

November 27th, 2009 at 11:59 am (AST) by Jake Richter

As we have been researching nutrition and dietary practices and the impact thereof on human health, including the connection between diabetes and heart disease and high carbohydrate diets (a.k.a. the “Western diet” most folks in the western world eat, including bread, pasta, sugared drinks, etc.), we have found that our desire for chocolate has not abated.

Our solution has been to try to find the best sugar free chocolates we can, and our search led us to Godiva, an internationally known chocolatier chain. For years we have greatly enjoyed their sugar free chocolate bars, which we found to be comparable, if not better, than their sugared kin.

Godiva Sugar Free Chocolate Bars

Godiva Sugar Free Chocolate Bars

However, after trying to look up a link for Godiva’s excellent sugar free dark chocolate for the chocolate peanut butter pie recipe I posted last night, I came up empty. This morning I contacted Godiva’s on-line help service. Here’s the transcript:

Please wait while we find an agent to assist you…
You have been connected to Ed .
Ed : Hello Jake. How may I assist you today?
Jake: Hi Ed. It appears that it is no longer possible to order Sugar Free chocolates from the Godiva web site. Is that a permanent change?
Ed : correct
Jake: Has Godiva discontinued all of its Sugar Free Chocolates? That would be tragic. They were the best ones out there.
Ed : sorry, but they have
Jake: How sad. Thanks.
Ed : Thank you. Have a nice day.
Ed : and Holidays!
Ed : bye

And that’s all she wrote.

Godiva Sugar Free Chocolate, rest in peace. And now we have to try to buy all we can before the stores sell out. Sigh.


Nov 27 2009

Thanksgiving Pie Treat with Whipped Cream

November 27th, 2009 at 2:20 am (AST) by Jake Richter

One of our favorite desserts for Thanksgiving is Peanut Butter Pie. We’ve tried a lot different recipes, some which require actual cooking of the pie filling, and others which have unusual or overly complex preparations. But after much research, we finally found a good, repeatable recipe, which I have replicated below, with additional comments and minor modifications, including a low-carb option.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
Based for the most part on a recipe from Cooks.com

Ingredients:

Pie Crust and Pie Filling:

  • A 9″ pie crust (This can be Graham cracker or even a pre-made pie shell, however to make this low-carb if you choose, you could use almond flour or hazelnut flour to make the crust).
  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese (regular, don’t use light cream cheese – it’s just wrong to have a “light” cheese of any sort, and you soften it by letting it sit at room temperature for a while, depending on your ambient temperature)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (we use 1 cup of Splenda granulated sugar substitute as a way to cut down on carbohydrates)
  • 1 cup peanut butter (we use organic, no-sugar-added chunky peanut butter, but any peanut butter will do)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (salted butter is fine, but don’t use butter substitute or margarine – you can use your microwave oven to melt the butter, but do it in stages so it doesn’t splatter or get overly hot)
  • 1 cup whipping cream (in liquid form, as you use this to make real whipped cream)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (use the real stuff, not fake vanilla)

Chocolate Topping:

  • 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (we prefer dark or bittersweet chocolate with a high cocoa content (60-72%), or for true low-carb, we also use Godiva’s Sugar Free Dark Chocolate)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons oil (we recommend a nut oil like sunflower oil or peanut oil – do not use olive oil due to the flavor)
  • 1/4 (one-quarter) cup of chopped dry roasted, unsalted peanuts

Directions:

Prepare crust according to favorite recipe (which may involve baking the crust), and then let adjust to room temperature.

Whip cream cheese until fluffy, which is easiest to do with a hand mixer or stand mixer.

Slowly add sugar (or Splenda sugar substitute), peanut butter, and butter. The reason to add this slowly is to ensure even distribution and prevent clouds of sugar.

In another bowl, combine the whipping cream and vanilla extract, and whip until firm. We find that if the bowl for the whipped cream is chilled first, we get better results. An easy way to chill a bowl is to put a cup of crushed ice in the bowl along with a half cup (no need to be exact) of water, and then swish it about until the bowl is nice and cold. Then dump out the ice water and dry the inside of the bowl with a towel before pouring in the whipping cream and vanilla extract.

Blend 1/3 of whipped cream into peanut butter mixture – it’s okay to be rough in for that first third.

Fold the peanut butter mixture into remaining whipped cream (or vice versa – the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture) gently until thoroughly incorporated.

Fill the pie crust, smoothing top. Chill. This will result in a rather firm pie filling.

Once the pie filling is nice and firm, get out a double boiler, fill with a bit of water, and heat the double boiler.

Combine the chocolate, butter, and oil in top of the double boiler until chocolate melts. Cool slightly. Spread chocolate on cooled peanut butter filling. Start at center and work out. Sprinkle top with peanuts, chill pie thoroughly.

The Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie described above may serve 10-12 people if they take small slices. For our family of four, we have found that the pie is so rich that it lasts us at least a couple of days of nibbling.

One additional suggestion for serving would be to make up extra whipped cream to eat with the pie, as it helps balance out the rich flavor and density of the peanut butter filling and chocolate topping. To make the whipped cream, use a 16 oz. container of whipping cream, add one packet of vanilla Splenda and one packet of normal Splenda (or, if you’re into sugar, a table spoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract), and whip it up in a chilled bowl as described above.


Nov 26 2009

Thanksgiving the Virtual Way

November 26th, 2009 at 11:56 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

In the last 24 hours I have made 40 slow-roasted turkeys after catching just as many wild turkeys. I have also made scores of pumpkin pies, bowls of cranberry chutney, dishes of candied sweet potato, and portions of spice bread stuffing. Further, I have even managed to make 20 bountiful feasts. And all without breaking a sweat.

You see, one of my other pleasures at the present is playing World of Warcraft, also known as WoW to its adherents, all twelve million or so of us. WoW is a massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG) with a Dungeons & Dragons-like (DnD) theme. In addition to being a DnD fan from way back, I enjoy that I can be on-line in a group of adventurers with my kids, both when I am traveling thousands of miles from home or when we’re in the same room. In fact, my twelve year old son Bas is the in-house WoW expert and has been teaching me a wide range of things I simply was not aware of previously – a fun thing to share, as someone his age is not usually acting in the role of an expert adviser, especially with respect to adults.

In addition to being able to increase one’s skills as a hunter, mage, priest, warrior, or whatever class one’s character in WoW happens to be, there are also professional skills one’s character can learn, with first aid, fishing, and cooking among those.

This week in the WoW universe happens to be the time of the Pilgrim’s Bounty (the in-game version of the U.S. Thanksgiving celebration). Characters who have an interest in learning how to cook or already have in-game cooking experience can learn a variety of  new recipes for the holidays, including the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

The Slow-Roasted Turkey Recipe in WoW

The Slow-Roasted Turkey Recipe in WoW

Cooking in WoW is not nearly as complicated or intricate as in the real world, as evidenced by the above screen-shot. Basically, once you have all the ingredients, you click on “Create”, and a few seconds later, you have finished cooking that item. Getting some of the ingredients can be a bit (or even extremely) challenging, as evidenced by recipes like “Spiced Mammoth Treat” or “Baked Manta Ray”, and your character needs to build up his or her skill to a level sufficient to practice more complicated recipes. I can proudly state that my Night Elf Hunter, as of yesterday, has the maximum cooking level of 450, not an easy achievement.

So why would one bother cooking in WoW other than for self-aggrandizement? Because the foods you cook have “health” benefits. For example, eating the slow-roasted turkey allows your character to regain 4% of his health and mana (spell power) every second for 30 seconds (25 should be enough though), and if your character remains seated eating this dish for ten or more seconds, you get a “well fed” bonus of attack power and stamina for an hour (see below):

The benefits of slow-roasted turkey in WoW

The benefits of slow-roasted turkey in WoW

The cooking skill in WoW is one of a number of other crafting skills, all of which make the game more interesting (and less boring). Considering WoW has at least twelve million users at present, it appears to be working.

I will note that although I did a lot of virtual cooking for Thanksgiving, my family and I enjoyed a tasty real-world Thanksgiving dinner as well, with turkey and all the trimmings, including a number of pies.

For those of you in the U.S., I hope you had a very enjoyable Thanksgiving as well!


Nov 25 2009

Airport Food Can Be Good

November 25th, 2009 at 9:27 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

While airplane dining has deteriorated (see previous entry) over the years, one nice air travel related dining change in the last few years is the introduction of upscale restaurant options at a growing number of airports around the world.

For decades, the “best” food at airports was limited to bags of snacks, McDonalds, and Chilis Too. But we’ve been finding that as we spend ever more time at airports, our options for a decent meal with reasonable table service have drastically improved from pedestrian fast-food fare. Note that you will pay a premium for such dining experiences, so if you’re looking to dine at an airport on the cheap, you’ll unfortunately still need to stick with fast food for the most part.

In the last couple of months, we’ve been in about a half dozen airports. We have had time and opportunity to have real meals at four of those: Houston’s George Bush International Airport (IAH), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Miami International Airport (MIA), and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

In Houston, where we typically end up for hours waiting for our red-eye flight back to Bonaire, we’ve become fans of Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, a southern chain of restaurants which specializes in creole-style seafood. They have a reasonable wine selection, a broad menu (try the Oysters Pappadeaux and the Blackened Catfish Opelousas), and consistently decent service. The prices are pretty good as well. The only negatives are that the tables are a bit close to each other, making for snug seating, especially when you have large carry-on bags. Pappadeaux is located near gate E5, and is open daily 9am to 10pm.

In Newark, another airport we pass through whenever we use the Newark/Bonaire connection, has a steak house called Gallagher’s. Service has been variable, and while pricey, the food has generally been very good (I particularly enjoy their ribeye steaks), and the wine list better than we’ve been used to in airports. Make sure to ask for a table in the back, where you can overlook the airport’s plane traffic. There’s also ample space in the back section for the storage of carry-ons while you dine. However, make sure you budget an hour for your meal at Gallagher’s in order to properly enjoy your steak or other selection. Gallagher’s Steak House is located at terminal C and is open daily 6am to 9pm.

At Miami, the best dining option we’ve found is actually outside of security, the Top of the Port Restaurant, appropriately enough on the top floor of the MIA Airport Hotel at the entrance to Concourse E (at least until MIA renames its terminals in the coming year or so). While the MIA Airport Hotel is a truly horrid place to stay, at least in my experience – with closet sized, dingy rooms, the restaurant is actually quite good and reasonably priced, and there’s a nice view of the airport from one side of the restaurant. My favorite items at the Top of the Port are the Caesar salad and their grilled fish. Service is generally good and efficient. But make sure to give yourself ample time to dine (budget forty-five minute or an hour) and then another at least a half hour minutes to clear security (which can take a long time in Miami) to get to your gate. Open daily 7am to 11pm.

A cup of tea at Sam and Harry's at Washington's National Airport

A cup of tea at Sam & Harry's at Washington's National Airport

And a couple of days ago, at Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport, we were fortunate to find a newly opened extension of the Sam & Harry’s family of restaurants. They opened their doors this past Saturday for the first time, and while they are still working out a few kinks in service, I can truly say they served the best breakfast I have ever had in an airport. Sam & Harry’s is located at the end of the terminal near the security lines for gates 35-45,and offers ample seating and a diverse breakfast and lunch menu. And their wine list on the lunch menu features mostly wines from small boutique vineyards which should make for fun wine tastings. Monday morning we had Eggs Benedict and a short rib hash with poached eggs. The egg yolks (from organic farm raised chickens, incidentally) were perfectly gooey as they should be, with a rich orangey yellow color and fresh flavor, and the short rib was delicious. They were also able to accommodate variations as all their food is cooked fresh to order. They will soon also be offering free Wi-Fi and a special area near the bar where power computers can also find power jacks. And you can get an inside table overlooking the jetways and runways of the airport if having a view is your thing. The menu is a bit pricey though, so review it first so you don’t get a surprise when your bill arrives. The next time I fly through National airport near meal time, I will make extra time to come back to eat here.

In addition to the aforementioned restaurants, I think that terminal D at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport (DFW) deserves an honorable mention. There are a number of sit-down restaurants there with table service and good food, such as Cantino Laredo, but the feel of the restaurants is a bit rush and impersonal. However, there’s no question the food there is a notch up from typical airport fare.


Nov 15 2009

Airline Food

November 15th, 2009 at 1:10 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We fly a lot.

Enough so that we typically have elite status with at least one or two airlines every year.

One thing we have found is that airline food quality has not improved much over the last couple of decades – it’s actually gotten worse, and certainly when flying coach domestically food quantity has gone down significantly as well. Nowadays you’re lucky to get a small bag of nuts or pretzels for free, with anything else needing to be paid for. And the things available to buy are mass-produced and laden with chemicals, refined flour, and refined sugar (or worse yet, high fructose corn syrup).

We typically use the large quantities of frequent flyers we earn on getting upgrades to business class or first class, off a base paid economy class ticket. As such, we fly in first class most of the time. And I can say that first class food, while far better than what’s in economy, is also nothing exciting from a food enthusiast’s perspective.

For example, on this morning’s flight from Bonaire to Newark, we had a choice of Cheerios or an egg “omelet”. I’m pretty sure it was really egg, but it was flat and rubbery and tasteless. My cat could probably cook a better omelet. The sausage patty had a puffy texture and was bland (it did not get eaten) and probably didn’t much meat in it. The only “real” thing on the plate were scalloped potatoes (reasonably tasty, but not noteworthy enough to sacrifice my carb allowance on) and a thick but small (and dry) slice of ham (which made the egg “omelet” slightly more edible).

Accompanying the main dish (omelet or Cheerios) were a bowl with fresh fruit (strawberry, cantaloupe, pineapple, grapes, and watermelon) and a sweetened berry yogurt. A croissant or muffin were were also offered. Okay, but again, nothing special. But still better than the cereal-only option in economy class.

The real issue with airline food is that it is mass-produced, formulaic, and designed to be reheated (when applicable) in the limited quarters available in the airline galley. That’s a recipe for mundanity. Airline food provides calories but no real culinary joy.

One solution to the unsatisfactory airline repast problem we have come up with is to pack a small bit of extra food for ourselves which is, almost always, of higher quality and food enjoyment value than airline food. It can be as simple as hard boiled eggs (which still look and taste like eggs, unlike this morning’s “omelet”), cold cuts, and nice cheeses, along with fresh fruit. However, if traveling internationally, note that you cannot bring any meat or produce into many countries, so such items need to be consumed or thrown out before landing.

On a related note, did you know that each airline has systems in place to determine where in the first class/business class cabin they start to offer meals? If you know the system for the particular airlines you travel, and book early enough, you can secure yourself a seat in the right area to have a better chance to have an option in terms of the types of meals available.

For example, on Continental Airlines, the flight attendants always start at the front of the cabin, meaning if you sit in the first half of the first class cabin, you’re more likely to have a choice, but if you get sit in the back, you’ll get whatever item the other passengers didn’t want as much of. If, like me, you avoid meals with empty calories (high carb, like pasta and pizza), this means you may well get stuck with a dish you don’t want or can’t eat.

On American Airlines, if the flight number is odd, they start asking for meal choices in the back of the cabin, while for even numbered flights it’s in the front. In economy, they always start in the front. This is very important nowadays when many airlines only sell food in economy, as they are very likely to run out of what you want as they progress towards the back of the plane.


Nov 13 2009

Peanuts, Pea-not-nuts

November 13th, 2009 at 3:06 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Something that always puzzles me is how certain things get classified in ways that don’t really make sense.

A classic example is the ever popular peanut. Also known as earthnuts or ground nuts, peanuts are not nuts at all. They are legumes, a fancy word for beans.

Peanuts grow underground or on the ground. Real nuts grow above ground, typically in trees.

However, popular culture has lumped peanuts in with almonds, cashews, filberts, and others.

That’s much like saying that tomatoes are vegetables. They are not – they are fruits. But someone decided at some point they should be classified as vegetables. Likewise, bananas are actually berries and not fruits, although for most of us that distinction is less significant.

All this false classification is almost too much for a logical person to handle.

Fortunately it’s Friday afternoon meaning that the weekend is just about here. Tomorrow we pack, and on Sunday we’ll be in Washington, D.C. We have a whole bunch of food things lined up. We’ll post the results of our food experiences here as they happen.


Nov 11 2009

Hot Spicy Buttered Almonds

November 11th, 2009 at 3:24 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

I’m a crunchy nuts sort of guy. Not much into chewy, soggy, or stale nuts. So when I discovered last week that I had a bag of stale almonds sitting around, I decided to tried and pep them up. First thing I did was try and dry roast them in a non-stick pan. That helped a bit, but not enough. I then thought of Julia Child and added butter to the pan. And then I added some creole seasoning (which adds salt as well as spice) and for good measure, some spicy Sriracha sauce. I let that saute for a while on medium-low heat until the butter/spice mixture was sizzling nicely and all the almonds were well cooked and then took it off the stove to let cool. The result was excellent. Addictively so. We finished the whole batch that night.

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning and Sriracha sauce

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning and Sriracha sauce

To recreate the result, here’s a recipe I developed. Note that I typically eye ball ingredient amounts and then supplement if needed. As such all measurements here are merely suggestions, not hard and fast rules.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of Butter
  • 1 tablespoon of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (or equivalent)
  • 1 tablespoon of sriracha sauce (or you can try an Indonesian sambal, like sambal brandal or sambal manis)
  • 1 cup of unsalted almonds

Cooking:

Whole natural almonds, although unsalted roasted can be used too

Whole natural almonds, although unsalted roasted can be used too

If the almonds you have are natural almonds (as pictured above) you will want to dry roast them for a while. The easiest way I have found to do that is by putting the almonds in a non-stick pan and cooking them at low heat, stirring them regularly until they brown up a bit. If you’re starting with unsalted roasted almonds, just warm them up.

Add the creole seasoning to the hot almonds and distribute well. If you add it after the butter, it tends to clump up.

Add the butter to the pan with the almonds and turn up the temperature a bit – perhaps to halfway between low and medium, and let melt and sizzle for a bit. Don’t let the butter get too hot and start to brown or burn though.

Add the sriracha sauce evenly while stirring the pan. Let it cook for a few minutes until you get that nice spicy hot fragrance filling your kitchen. The bottom of the pan should turn a bit pasty and dark reddish brown. Take the pan off the heat, stir one last time, and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Serve into a bowl and enjoy!

Hot spicy buttered almonds - the end result

Hot spicy buttered almonds - the end result


Nov 10 2009

How Does Jell-O Work?

November 10th, 2009 at 5:03 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Nice article over at the Boston Globe on how Jell-O works, explaining the science of food.

This same sort of food science is what is a core component in the fascinating field of molecular gastronomy, but that will be a subject of other posts in the future.

One thing I found interesting in the Boston Globe article, however, is that if you put certain fresh fruits, such as papaya, in gelatin, the gelatin won’t set. That’s because papaya and pineapple, among other fruits, contain enzymes which break down protein. Which is also why papain, a papaya enzyme, is helpful in reducing the sting of jellyfish and related stinging organisms – the papain breaks down the proteins of the stinging toxins, rendering them inert. Food as a type of medicine. Cool!


Nov 10 2009

My Favorite Hot Dip

November 10th, 2009 at 4:21 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

I’ve already mentioned one of my favorite versatile food items is mayonnaise. And when I cook savory dishes, I find myself eagerly looking towards garlic as one of my ingredients.

That’s why it’s probably no surprise that my favorite hot dip combines mayonnaise and garlic, and to provide some substance, it also includes Parmesan cheese and artichoke hearts. And it’s incredibly easy to make, although I have not come up with a good and short name for the Garlic Parmesan Artichoke Mayo Dip.

First, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius).

Then, get a baking dish, and then combine equal portions (by volume) of grated Parmesan cheese (like Kraft’s), canned artichoke hearts, and mayonnaise. I usually use a cup of each.

Then add as much minced garlic as you think you can handle. I personally add 10-20 cloves depending on whether I will be meeting with others the next day (less cloves if I like the people I’m meeting, more if I don’t or am not meeting with anyone). I should add that while you can sometimes buy minced garlic at the supermarket, the acidic liquid they package it in robs the garlic of a lot of its pungency, so I prefer fresh or at least some of the garlic that I have pre-minced and stored in oil with salt for later use.

After you have thoroughly blended all the ingredients and smoothed out the top to make it nice and flat, pop the baking dish into the oven and cooking until the top is a nice light to medium brown color. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 15 minutes.

Serve with something nice and crisp. Folks who eat carbs might enjoy it with tortilla chips, pita chips, or toasted wafers of baguette. Low carbers can use cucumber slices or pork rinds. At home we also use the dip as a condiment for meats like steak or pork.

The Garlic Parmesan Artichoke Mayo Dip is also a great thing to bring to pot-lucks and BBQs.