Welcome to my food blog! I am your average home cook and I want to share my love of food with the world. I'll divulge my recipes as often as possible. Feel free to comment or to email me at nodessertpodcast@gmail.com! Don' forget to come by often for new posts... I love having you visit me!

September 26, 2012

Italian Beefstro-Restaurant Review 8

If I'm going to have lunch out during the week, I usually take it on Friday's.  It's a special treat, and something to look forward to.  After my first full week of work (in over a year!), I decided to treat myself to a brand new place.  It's good to get out of the office for awhile. 
I was looking at my Foodspotting app (if you have and iPhone, grab this app.  It's free and awesome!), and trying to find somewhere around my office building to go, somewhere I hadn't eaten before. I saw a picture for an Italian Beef, and knew that was my winner.  I went on the internet to check out reviews, and I saw and incredibly positive response.  So off I went to see how authentic Italian Beef can be in Orlando (and to satisfy my lunchtime hunger!)
If you remember, I did a special post about my trip to Chicago a few months back, and included in that post was my first adventure with an Italian Beef sandwich.  It was (and is) the best sandwich I have ever had.  And now that I had eaten an authentic Italian Beef, I felt like I could judge a new kind in a different location.
First, let me talk about the restaurant.  It's a small place, but very clean, and nicely decorated. There is a nice outdoor courtyard where you can eat under an umbrella by a fountain.  And they pipe their music outside, so you won't miss that element.
The staff was friendly and helpful.  My cashier had a smiley personality and was very polite.  I had a bit of a wait to get my meal (about 15 minutes), and she was apologetic that it took so long.  Good customer service is never something that should be overlooked.  The older woman working behind the counter getting the food ready to go out seemed friendly and efficient, and I heard her have different conversations with some of the regulars.  There was another gentleman walking around, straightening the chairs, offering to help out newcomers with the menu (this did not apply to me, I purposely affect an air of confidence and knowing what I'm doing in a new restaurant, even if I don't, LoL!).
At first, the prices seemed high to me, but after seeing and eating the amount of food I was given, I don't feel gipped.  My soda, fries, and sandwich came out to $11, but I couldn't even finish the whole sandwich (I got the whole, but there is a half option, which I would get on my next visit).  I probably could have gotten my order, split it in half with someone, and still be perfectly satisfied (and saved $).
I ordered the standard Italian Beef.  You can choose to have it dipped (this is traditional in Chicago, and that's the way I like it) or you can have the juice on the side and dip it yourself.  You can have sweet peppers (green bell peppers) on it, for free.  And your third option invloves a side of hot giardiniera (a wonderful condiment made from pickled veggies like carrots, onions, peppers, cauliflower, and celery - it can be spicy or mild, I like both), which is a small upcharge (30 cents or so).  I had my sandwich dipped, with sweet peppers, and added the giardiniera on the side.
To round out my meal, I added fries for a couple of dollars, and also a medium drink.  The fries were crinkle-cut and were nice and crispy.  It was a fairly decent sized order.
About my sandwich.  The bread was awesome.  The dip in the juice made it moist, but not overly wet.  Personally, I do not like hard or crunchy bread, especially on my sandwiches.  I prefer to have soft bread, and this bread was perfect!  The meat (thinly shaved roast beef roasted in a wet broth) was tender, sliced nicely, and seasoned well.  The sweet peppers were good, but I ended up picking mine off (and next time I would order my sandwich without them) because I prefer raw green bell peppers to cooked ones (this is on everything, by the way, and I often forget to ask for no peppers on cooked items, no reflection of this restaurant).  Giardiniera really is a great compliment to this sandwich, and the giardiniera at this particular restaurant was delicious, spicy, vinegary, and looked homemade.  At first I thought the small container wouldn't be enough, but it really was the right size.
I overheard some conversations while I was there, about how the restaurant had been slow all week.  However, when I was there, the place was packed!  I was surprised to learn that not a lot of people had been there during the rest of the week.  This is definitely a place worth eating at, even if for the Italian Beef alone.  They do have other sandwiches, included a meatball sub which I saw ordered frequently, Chicago style hot dogs (which the reviews online are mixed on), and other items like salads.
I highly recomend you check out Italian Beefstro if you're in the Orlando area.  It's close to downtown, has a great sandwich, and a friendly staff.  If you're worried about the price, split a whole with a friend, and then share and order of fries.  You'll save $ and both be full.  As for authenticity, I would say it is pretty darn close to what you'd find in Chicago.  Go try it for yourself!
The website for the restaurant appears to be down, but if you want more info and user reviews, check out UrbanSpoon at the link below:
UrbanSpoon-Italian Beefstro

September 21, 2012

Special Post #2 - My Favorite Cuisines

A few weeks back I mentioned I would be having special posts outlining some of my favorite foodie things.  In the first post I covered my pantry.  In this post I am going to talk about some of my favorite cuisines, and WHY they are my favorite.
#1 - GREEK
First of all, I love Mediterranean food.  There is something about the flavor combinations, the olive oil, the use of lemon, that just gets me. It reminds me of everything fresh and light. I think of being by the water somewhere and just enjoying good food and good drink.
Some of my favorite Greek ingredients are olives, lemons, oregano, olive oil, cucumber, yogurt, eggplant, phyllo dough, feta cheese, and pita.
My favorite Greek dishes include Dolmades (grape leaves, stuffed with rice and beef, sometimes have a lemony sauce on top), Spanikopita (spinach pie - spinach and feta between layers of phyllo dough), Greek salad (but the more Americanized version that includes lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, beets, chickpeas, feta, olives, pepperoncini, potato salad, and a dressing that is a red wine and olive oil vinaigrette), Saganaki (FRIED CHEESE - need I say more?!?), Tzatziki (probably one of my all-time favorite sauces, containing yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic, sometimes with mint, dill, and/or oregano), Avgolemono (a chicken and lemon soup), Gyro (usually a lamb/beef meat mixture with spices roasted on a vertical spit and served with pita and tzatziki), Souvlaki (skewered meat seasoned with Greek spices and grilled), and finally, Baklava (a dessert made from layers of phyllo dough and nuts, and drenched in a honey sauce).
I could probably go on about Greek food all day.  Other popular dishes include Moussaka (which is super fun to say!), and Pastitsio.  Both are kind of Greek lasagnas (at least in my opinion).  Moussaka is layers of eggplant and ground beef with a custard-like sauce.  Pastitsio is tomato sauce, then ground meat, then pasta, and topped with a delicious creamy beschamel.
The best thing about Greek cuisine is that it's fun.  Having flaming cheese come out to your table, drinking ouzo and yelling "Opa!" make dining in this culture an experience.  If you haven't tried Greek food, get out there, you just might love it as much as I do!
While I have enjoyed Mexican food my whole life, I get more adventurous the older I get.  No more basic tacos and burritos, I now want to explore carnitas and moles, and other delights I have been missing out on.
It's hard to know where to start with Mexican cuisine. I do love tacos of all varieties, burritos are delicious, enchiladas are probably one of my favorite dishes. Then of course you have your taquitos, flautas, quesadillas and many, many more options.
Some of my favorite meals as a kid were Mexican, whether it was out at a restaurant or taco night at home.  My mom made awesome tacos and enchiladas, and I looked forward to these kind of dinners.
There is something about a deep mole, or a fresh salsa that satisfies something in my core.  A rich red enchilada sauce, or a zesty green enchilada sauce can hit the right spot at any given moment.
I will say I am a bit of snob when it comes to Mexican.  There might be disagreement or outrage, but TACO BELL IS NOT REAL MEXICAN FOOD.  I do not crave Mexican food and think that a fast food chain will satisfy my need.  When I want Mexican I want freshly made enchiladas, handmade guacamole, warm and salty tortilla chips, crispy tacos with meat, cheese, and salsa, and sometimes even sizzling fajitas (which may be more TexMex but they work in my scenario).
Mexican is another fun cuisine.  It makes me think of the Mariachi bands that used to play on Fri nights at my old favorite restaurant.  It also makes me think it's ok to play with your food (think fajitas or nachos), and what is better than a colorful Margarita with your dinner?
So skip the Taco Bell and head to your local non-chain Mexican restaurant.  Sip a refreshing beverage, dine on fresh salsa and crunchy chips and a new entree.  You may never eat fast food Mexican again...
It's really hard to decide what my ultimate favorite food is, but I will tell you that pasta of almost any variety is something I can get behind.  And where does a lot of pasta come from?  That's right, Italy!
Of course, it's not just pasta that I love about Italian food.  They are also Mediterranean, therefore I still get lemons, olives, olive oil, oregano, etc. There's also meats and cheeses galore, ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and parmigiano-reggiano being some of my top picks.  Eggplant, capers, and tuna are also ingredients that can amp up Italian dishes.
One of the best things about Italian food is that there are soooo many regions, which means so many different dishes from all over the country.  Gnocchi, risotto, tortellini, gelatto, lasagna, minestrone, and even pizza vary from region to region, or may even be exclusive to one part of Italy.  There is a vast array of dishes and locations to explore.
 And don't forget the wine!  Italian wine is as diverse as any other cultures wine, and you're bound to find one you enjoy.  Did you know that Italy is the largest wine producer in the world?  Many people believe it is France or even the US, but in actuality Italy reigns for the most wine produced.  I suggest trying some Prosecco, delish!
What are my FAVORITE dishes?  Well pasta ala carbonara is definitely up there.  Gnocchi that is light and fluffy and melts in your mouth, frankly melts my heart.  Who doesn't love pizza?  I know I do.  Moving away from pasta, a mushroom risotto can satisfy my Italian need, also bruschetta is a pasta free favorite. 
I would be hard pressed to believe that my readers have never had any kind of Italian cuisine.  Whether it's spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, or lasagna, I'm guessing there's at LEAST one dish that most people have tried.
There are plenty of Italian restaurants to choose from in any given area.  My favorite in the metro Orlando area is Cafe Paisano, which is located in Longwood, FL.  If you're in the area, check it out!
When I say Southern, I mean the Southeast of the United States.  This is probably one of the true American cuisines.  And luckily for me, my mom's side of the family was raised in the Northeast, but my dad's side has southern roots.  So while I mostly had my mom's dishes, which were European in nature (goulash, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, stuffed cabbage, etc), I also went on many trips as a child to South Carolina and discovered my love for Southern dishes as well.
While there are other truly American dishes, and new methods of cooking going on all over the US, the South has distinct regional dishes that make them classics.
What dishes might I be talking about?  How about the delicious, and popular, fried chicken? Chicken fried steak smothered in country gravy is another regional classic (and one of my personal favorites). Collard greens are also a Southern staple, my challenge in this dish was that I didn't even try it until last year, and now I love them and have made my own.  Cornbread, hushpuppies, catfish, fried green tomatoes (which I DID have as a kid, my mom made some great ones), black eyed peas, and for dessert, bread pudding.
Another section of Southern cuisine is BBQ.  This is not to be confused with throwing meat on a grill.  This method is a low and slow process, that requires time and a little bit of effort.  Depending on the area, whether it's the Carolinas, Tennessee, Texas, etc, there are different rubs and sauces and even ways that the meat is served up.  There may only be a rub and no sauce, or only sauce and no rub, or there can be both.  Tennessee is known for its sweet sauces, the Carolinas have vinegar based sauces.  A lot of places in Texas, especially when it comes to brisket, don't even use sauce.  Personally I prefer either a sweet sauce or a "white sauce" (which is mayo based). Also, as far as meat goes I prefer pulled pork to chopped or slice, and I prefer sliced beef brisket to any other kind of brisket.
A section of Southern cuisine that I've been enjoying more and more is Cajun and Creole cooking, which stems from Louisiana.  These are definitely different styles, but both involve indepth flavors and lots of spice.  The older I get, the higher my spice level tolerance becomes, and I'm glad because I'm discovering all new dishes that I'm falling in love with.
Creole cuisine is more in the southeast region of Louisiana, and Cajun is in the southwest portion (more in the New Orleans area).  Crawfish, shrimp, oysters, and other types of seafood are prevalent in these styles of cooking.  Rice is used in both Cajun and Creole food, because it helps stretch the meal (and in my opinion helps to soak up a lot of the yummy sauces and broths featured in these dishes).  When I think of Cajun and Creole foods I think of gumbo, jumbalaya, etouffe, crawfish pie, shrimp and crawfish boils, remoulades, and bisques.  Of course, these cuisines heavily use on of my favorite spices, cayenne pepper.
Southern food is fairly basic, but made with time and love which invoke flavors and warmth that you can't get anywhere else.  Find yourself a Soul Food, or Cajun restaurant, or even stop by your neighborhood BBQ joint to get a little piece of Southern cuisine.
#5 - ASIAN
This is a HUGE category.  I include countries such as Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Korea when I talk about Asian cuisine.  And if you read my blog last year, you know I had a huge Asian influence going on in my cooking repetoire. 
Let's start with Chinese.  First let me say, I realize most Chinese food in the US is an Americanized version of China's dishes.  However, whether they are authentic or not, I love a good Chinese restaurant here in America.  I especially love a Chinese buffet.  If you want to make me happy on any given day, give me some lo mein, egg or spring rolls, wonton or hot and sour soup, sweet and sour shrimp or chicken, broccoli and beef, mongolian beef, or crab rangoon.
But let's talk more authentic Chinese for a moment.  First thing to know is that there are staples that include rice, noodles, and soybeans. Seasonings include soy sauce, and China is where soy sauce originated.  It is made from soybeans which are fermented, and wheat.  Other seasonings are fish sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, garlic, scallion (green onions), peppercorns, and sesame oil.
China is divided into different regions and each region has its own style.  These regions include Szechuan and Cantonese, among others. 
Dim sum is a traditional chinese dish.  We have versions of this here in the US.  Dim sum includes small dishes such as buns, rice rolls, and other tasty small bites.
Next I want to talk about Japanese food.  Japanese methods have been instrumental in influencing my own cooking, especially in the last year. 
Like Chinese food, rice is a staple in Japanese cooking.  Preferrably sticky rice.  And let me tell you, I would much rather have sticky rice than any other kind.  I'm pretty sure this is because of my dad.  When I was little my dad pretty much only ate his rice as sticky white rice with butter and soy sauce.  I am still on his team (although I have branched out and enjoy other types of rice as well).  Noodles are also a common staple.
Soy sauce and miso are also staples.  As far as seasonings, sake, mirin, vinegar, salt, and sugar are used frequently.  Wasabi, daikon and ginger are also used a lot in Japanese cuisine. 
Fresh fish and vegetable dishes are prominant in this type of cooking.  As Japan is an island nation, they have abundance of fish available. 
There are different styles of Japanese cooking.  These include sashimi (raw food, especially fish), steaming, and sometimes, deep-frying.
One of the most popular things that has come out of Japan is sushi.  Sushi is a cooked, and seasoned (usually with vinegar, salt, and sugar) rice combined normally with fresh (raw) fish, and vegetables.  Ramen, or Japanese noodle soup, is also very popular here in America, whether it's in those little 10cent packages, or fresh at your local Japanese restaurant.
Another thing I adore about Japanese cooking is Miso soup.  I'm convinced it is a great hangover cure. Also teppanyaki restaurants (such as Kobe's) have become quite popular here, and having your food cooked on a hibachi right in front of you is quite fun.  Definitely dinner and a show.
Now onto Thai food.  I was scared for a long to try Thai food because I thought it would be too spicy for me to handly.  But it turns out that there are quite a few Thai dishes I enjoy, and I'm glad I opened my mind to the possibility.
To start with, Thai cooking prides itself on being balanced between flavors, and these include sweet, sour, salty, and spicy.  The result are complex dishes that satisfy multiple cravings.
Fish sauce, shrimp paste, lime, coconut milk, chili pastes, curries, soy sauce, rice, noodles, lemongrass, Thai basil, coriander, and cilantro are ingredients that are featured often in Thai dishes.
Some of the most poplular Thai dishes are Pad Thai (a noodle dish), Tom Kha Gai (soup), Panaeng (meat with a coconut sauce that might be spicy), and Papaya salad. Yam Nua, a spicy beef salad is a favorite of mine, and I do enjoy papaya salad and pad thai as well.
Vietnamese food.  A lot like the other Asian cuisines, this food focuses on rice, noodles, lemongrass, spice, soy sauce, and fish sauce.
Noodle soups are probably my favorite Viatnamese treats, although Banh Mi's (sandwiches) are right up there. 
Vietnam ferments items, they also pickle items a lot as well.
Lets move to our final part of Asia, Korea. 
Guess which staples they have in common with the rest of Asia! If you guessed rice and noodles, you're right.  But they also have something these other countries don't have, and that is the fabulous Kimchi. 
If you read the description for Kimchi, it sounds pretty gross, and you might wonder why anyone would eat fermented cabbage.  But trust me, it is really good, and nowhere near as bad as it sounds. 
Popular in Korean cuisine is what we think of as Korean BBQ, and this involves grilled meat such as Bulgogi (beef), Galbi (pork), and Dak Galbi (chicken).  I personally adore Bulgogi, and when I visit our local Korean Food Truck (the Korean BBQ Taco Box) that's all I get.
Bibimbap is another popular Korean dish, and it is rice topped with veggies that have been seasoned, and is served with a red pepper paste called gochujang.  These bowls can also contain meat and/or eggs. 

So that concludes this special post.  I have taken you to North America a couple of times, into different countries.  I have also taken you to Europe via Italy and Greece.  And finally we went all over Asia and explored regional cuisines.  I hope you enjoyed this special post, because I enjoyed writing it.  I may have a follow-up to this post where I talk about dishes from other countries that I enjoy, although their cuisine as a whole might not be something I get actual cravings for.  We'll be back next week with a regular food post!

September 17, 2012

Soft Peanut Butter Cookies - We Made Room For Dessert 4

While the title of this blog is No Room For Dessert, occasionally we do make room for something sweet.  I do like sweets, especially in moderation.  But I am more of a cook then a pastry/dessert maker, hence the name of the blog.
I am definitely a sucker for cookies.  Chocolate and peanut butter chip being my favorite.  But recently I became in the mood for just peanut butter cookies, and luckily, I had all the ingredients on hand to make them. 
I do NOT care for hard cookies, if they are homemade.  I like my cookies to be soft, slightly chewy, sweet with a hint of savory, bites. So this recipe is for soft, scrumptious peanut butter cookies that are guaranteed to be addictive. (This recipe makes 2 dozen (24) cookies).

  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter or 1/2 cup margarine, softened
  • eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  1. Cream butter, peanut butter and sugars together.
  2. Add egg, beating well.
  3. Add baking soda, baking powder and vanilla.
  4. Mix in flour til dough forms, being careful not to overmix
  5. Roll into balls (about a tablespoon or two) and then roll in sugar (white or brown, your choice). Flatten cookies, using a fork, in a criss-cross pattern.
  6. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, depending on size of cookies


September 3, 2012

Additional Pictures-Barrier Jack's

Shrimp and Blue Crab Omelette

Breakfast Burrito

Chili Cheese Omelette

Chicken Fried Steak

Barrier Jack's-Restaurant Review 7

Once in a while I stumble on a restaurant that instantly becomes a new favorite.  Some of them are local, and some of them require a bit of travel.  During this Labor Day weekend, we took a short journey from Orlando to Cocoa Beach.  On Saturday we visited a couple of different local restaurants, and they were decent, but not instant favorites.  However, on Sunday we visited a place for breakfast that I fell in love with.  The name of this establishment is Barrier Jack's, and if you find yourself in the Cocoa Beach area, I would recommend giving it a try!
We found the restaurant while we were driving around.  All the usual chains were packed, and while Barrier Jack's was indeed busy, it had open tables outside which required no wait.  The place serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  We were there around 10am, so our group all got breakfast items.  There are many options for breakfast, including a multitude of omelette options.  You can also choose from what they call Breakfast Basics, and those have options where you can order catfish or steaks if you're looking to make your breakfast more savory.  All of our meals had plenty of food, at very economical prices.
Our server (whose name I didn't catch, but wished I had!) was absoutely delightful and very on top of everything.  We got our drinks and food relatively quickly.  She moved quickly, and remembered to ask if we needed extras such as ketchup and hot sauce.
Two of my group members ordered omelettes (which have 3 eggs), one the chili cheese omelette, and the other the shrimp and blue crab omelette.  The seafood omelette had fresh decent sized shrimp, and lumps of real blue crab.  The chili cheese omelette had homemade chili that was spicy and tasty.  Omelettes also come with a potato option (hashbrowns, home fries, or grits-which aren't potatoes but included in that option), and a bread option (several types of toast, a biscuit, a flapjack, or a bagel).  Both of them ordered home fries as their potato option, and one had toast as the bread, and the other tried a biscuit.  The home fries were fresh potatoes that were cooked correctly, with nice seasoning.
My other group member ordered the breakfast burrito which is stuffed with eggs, home fries, cheese, and your choice of meats.  You can have as many of the meats as you want, she chose ham and bacon.  You can also get the burrito vegetarian.  It is served with salsa, sour cream, and lettuce.
I went with the chicken fried steak as my breakfast.  It also came with a potato option and a bread option.  I went with a biscuit for my bread, and hashbrowns fo my potato.  The hasbrowns had a nice brown crispy crust, but were creamy and well seasoned underneath.  The biscuits are homemade and quite tasty. My steak was tender, and had a nicely seasoned crispy breading.  The steak was smothered in a sausage gravy that was perfectly creamy and seasoned.
I can't wait to go back for lunch  and dinner.  They have a variety of items for those meals, includng burgers, fresh seafood, and texmex.  The food is homemade, and cooked very well.  This is the type of local joint worthy of a visit.
You can find more information about Barrier Jack's at their website: http://www.barrierjacks.com/

It is located at 410 North Atlantic Ave, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931, and they do take-out, which you can call 321-784-8590 to order.