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!

November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Special - Classic Stuffing - Home Cooked Recipe 35

In honor of Thanksgiving week, I'd thought I'd post a recipe for a traditional Thanksgiving dish.  Honestly, my favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner are the sides.  I like the holiday Turkey, and the desserts, but the sides are what I look forward to the most.  This year I volunteered to make stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner, just like my mom has always made it.  There is nothing fancy or complicated about this stuffing, it's merely a white bread stuffing with sausage.  But as simple as it is, it's also delicious.  Not to mention it's one of the rare occasions where I'll actually eat sausage.  There is much debate as to whether this dish should be called "stuffing" or "dressing".  From what I've researched, the consensus is that "stuffing" is more of a Northern term and "dressing" is more of a Southern term.  Also, some people think that if you stuff it inside the turkey it's stuffing, but if you don't, it's dressing.  We have always called it stuffing in my family, so that's probably what I'll continue to use.
Here it is, my recipe for Classic Thankgiving Stuffing!

Classic Thanksgiving Stuffing

  • 2 loaves white bread, cubed (or torn in to pieces)
  • 1 lb ground (pork) sausage (My mom uses Jimmy Dean, so that's what I use as well, but feel free to use your personal favorite)
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped (some people prefer more celery, I just don't care for it that much so I use less, however you can use however much you like in this recipe, I've been advised that 6 stalks is average)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsps ground sage
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tbs butter
  • 1+ cup chicken broth (start with one cup, use more if stuffing appears too dry)
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
Grease a 9x13 pan (I used a cooking spray) and preheat the oven to 325.  Start by browning the sausage.  Cook over medium until evenly brown, then drain, reserving one tablespoon of the drippings.
Next add celery and onions to 1 tbs drippings and add butter.  Cook over medium-low heat until veggies are tender and onions are translucent. 
In a large bowl, mix together sausage, veggies, bread, sage, salt and pepper.  I usually add the spices to my veggies and mix well before mixing with bread and sausage, I just find this distributes the spices more evenly.
Pour eggs and broth into bread mixture.  Combine well, adding more broth if necessary.  *Stuffing should be moist, but not turned into mush.
Pour into the greased baking dish, and bake for 1 hour, or until top is golden brown and crunchy (crunchy parts are the best in my opinion!).


Torn Bread

Cooking Sausage

Browned Sausage Draining

Diced Onion

Diced Celery

Saueteeing Onion and Celery

Mixing Meat and Veggies

Combine Veggies and Sausage with Bread


Thanksgiving 2012

Last year I posted a special post during the Thanksgiving about having dinner with my family Thanksgiving 2011.  This year I wanted to do something different and got my chance when I ate dinner with my boyfriend's family instead of my own.  This gives me a chance to compare my family's Thanksgiving with someone else's for this year.  And check out the next post I publish, where I'll have a recipe for my family's classic Thanksgiving stuffing!
Similarities start with my family eating at the around the same time of day (which is between 3 and 4pm).  The boys watch football, while the girls do kitchen work.  The man of the house, in this case my "brother-in-law" (they're not actually my in-laws as I'm not married, but it's the easiest way to put it so that's usually what I call my boyfriend's sister and her husband), carved the turkey, just like my dad does.  We have some similar dishes, such as turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pies, and a broccoli cheese casserole (although there were slight variations that made it different from what I'm used to). There were about the same amount of people at this Thanksgiving that would be at my own family's (we usually have between 9 and 12 people, and there were 11 in attendance here).  Both houses decorate nicely in an autumn style with Thanksgiving themed tablecloths and centerpieces.
Now for the differences.  Whereas my family generally always has corn, my in-laws served peas.  They also served a rutabaga dish (in which I gathered gets very mixed reviews within the family).  I had never had rutabaga before and being a fairly adventurous eater I tried it in spite of several people stating it tasted like dirt.  To me, it was a fairly normal dish, it tasted like a cross between squash and potatoes.  It was not terrible, but it wasn't something I'd go out of my way to make either.  I would say it was an acceptable dish, especially since rutabaga's are a root vegetable which are a typical seasonal fall item.  They did not serve a squash, and my mom normally makes either a butternut or acorn squash dish (and I just compared it as this family making rutabaga where my family would make butternut/acorn squash). 
My family generally eats at a table and passes the dishes along.  At my in-laws the food is displayed buffet-style and you get in line and take what you want and then sit either outside or inside.  I like both styles, having a sit-down dinner is nice, but I also like dining outside when the weather's nice so my in-laws style worked for me too. 
After dinner, the whole family (except for the two youngest boys) played board games and for me that was really fun.  I love board games, and I love activities that can bring the whole family together to have fun.  In my families house, after dinner people usually sit in the living room and talk and/or watch football, which can be nice but I love games so when I get around to hosting a Thanksgiving that's what I would prefer to do.
There was a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, and I was not uncomfortable at all eating a dinner with a family other than my own.  This has not always been the case when I've dated someone and gone to their house for a holiday meal, so I felt blessed this year to be at a place where I felt warm and welcome and part of the family.
In honor of the Thanksigiving holiday, to end this post I thought I'd give you a list of what I'm thankful for this season.  Don't forget to check out the stuffing recipe to follow in the next post!
1. I'm thankful to have a good job now.  After being unemployed for about a year (and going through basically the hell that is having no money) I could not be more thankful to have a place to get up and go everyday where I feel like I'm making a contribution to my company, society, and my financial well-being.
2. I'm thankful to be dating the person I am.  We have gone through some rough times in the year we've been together, but we still do everything in our power to make it through the hard times and get to where we will be financially comfortable.  He always convinces me to be positive and that we'll make it, no matter what's thrown at us.  It's comforting to be with someone who tells me he loves me, works towards our future, and includes me with his family and friends.
3. I'm thankful to have a handful of really good friends who have been there for me and helped me out when I've had hard times in the last year.  There is nothing like having people to count on when you need them, and I hope that I do the same for them.  It always takes a few bad seeds to show you who your real friends are and I'm glad I know who my real ones are.
4. I'm grateful I have a hobby (shooting darts competitively) that allows me to keep developing my talent and allows me to meet new people and have a good time.
5. I'm grateful I have a hobby (this food blog!) that allows me to be creative, intellectual, and try new foods and express my love for all things culinary.
6. I'm thankful to have a roof over my head and a vehicle to get around.  At different points in the past year I lost both briefly and now know how important these two things are.
7. I'm happy that the majority of my family/friends are happy and healthy as this has not always been the case and I want the people I love to be well.
I'm sure there are more things I could add to my list but these were the most important things and the first things that came to mind.  I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

November 13, 2012

Restaurant Review 11 - Thai Cafe

Thai Cafe Exterior

Thai Cafe Menu

Thai Cafe Menu

Thai Cafe Menu

Salad with Ginger Dressing

Spring Rolls

Included in Lunch Special

Pad Garlic with Chicken

Interior - Cash Register & Kitchen Entrance

Interior - Row Of Small Tables

 Sometimes I get tired of the normal everyday lunch choices like pizza, salads, sandwiches, etc.  Being a foodie and an adventurous eater, I don't like my lunches to boring or predictable.  So I'm constantly on the hunt for new lunch places of varying cuisine.  A couple of weeks ago I had a hankering for some type of Asian food and after doing a search of what was within walking distance of my office building I found a Thai restaurant in Downtown Orlando that sounded worth a shot.
Thai Cafe is located at 217 N Magnolia Ave in Orlando, FL 32801.  They have plenty of seating even though the restaurant looks small from the outside, and they offer daily lunch specials.
When I walked in there were quite a few people there (which I always take as a good sign).  And it smelled good, also a good sign.  I was given a small but comfortable table and took some time to peruse the menu.  The waitstaff was friendly when asked questions, and I believe this is a family-owned establishment. 
The daily special is $8.95 ($9.53 with tax) and includes your choice of a variety of entrees with a salad and 2 spring rolls.  The only caveat to this is if you want a dish with beef you have to pay extra because the $8.95 only includes chicken, veggies, or tofu.
There are a variety of rice and noodle dishes to choose from, but I wanted to try something new that I haven't had before.  I had read some reviews on Yelp and Urban Spoon and ultimately opted for the Pad Garlic (with chicken as my protein).  The Pad Garlic is served with Jasmine rice and a variety of fresh veggies in a sauce.  And because I got it as a special a salad and spring rolls were included.
My salad came first and I LOVED the dressing.  I have had ginger dressing at various other Asian establishments, but this was by far the best.  It had such a good flavor I even dipped a couple bites of one of my spring rolls in the dressing after I had finished all my lettuce.
Next came my two spring rolls and they were also delicious!  Crispy on the outside with a flavorful filling (that I believed included chicken and some veggies), they were great alone, in the dipping sauce that came with them, with soy sauce, and yes, even with the ginger dressing from my salad.  I probably could have eaten 6 of them, no problem.
My Pad Garlic with chicken was good.  Not quite as delicious as the rolls and salad dressing, but flavorful and quite an acceptable lunch.  The sauce wasn't as garlicky as I thought it might be given the name, but it had a nice rounded flavor, and a bit of pepper overtones.  There was plenty of it, which is more than good with me because I am a big sauce/condiment person.  The rice was adequately cooked, and the veggies that came with it (which included broccoli, zucchini, and carrots) were fresh and cooked to a crisp-tender.  The chicken itself appeared to be thinly sliced white meat, and was cooked to a nice tender doneness.
The service was quick and appropriate for the downtown lunch crowd.  The price seems slightly high at first, but considering the amount of food you get it's a very good deal.  I highly recommend giving Thai Cafe a visit.  I am excited to go back and try something else (as long as it comes with that salad and spring rolls!).  I want to try something on the spicy side my next visit, although I did read that if you're looking for extremely spicy you have to request it as their "spicy" items can be more on the mild side.

November 7, 2012

Restaurant Review 10 - Not So Successful

Occassionally I go to restaurants just because I'm hungry and need to eat.  I will often take pictures of my food, but then decide that the restaurant is not worth writing about.  In the last few months this has mostly happened to me at Mexican restaurants.  So in today's post I'm going to be talking about a few of local Mexican restaurants who weren't terrible, but are probably places I won't be dining at again.
The first place I visited was Paco's, in Winter Park, FL.  I had heard that some people loved it and I was in the mood for Mexican at lunch one weekday.  It was extremely close to where I was doing some contract work at the time, so I hopped on over.
The first problem is that there is very limited parking.  Luckily I was able to grab a space, but I would have been irritated if I hadn't been able to.  The second problem was that when you walk in the place is quite small, and they were PACKED at lunch.  I take it as a good sign when a restaurant is that busy, but in this case it didn't work out for me. 
I will say the person who greeted me at the door, and the waitstaff were very friendly and attentive.  That was a plus for Paco's.
My third problem was that the food was expensive.  I have a certain scale that I think Mexican dishes should hover at, and Paco's was above what I consider to be average priced.  This might have to do with the location, as Winter Park is considered one of the fancier parts of metro Orlando, but if you visited this particular neighborhood that doesn't apply.

Chips and Salsa at Paco's

Complimentary chips and homemade salsa were provided, but I did notice that on the menu it stated if you wanted refills of either there was a surcharge.  Again, I consider this disappointing as in 90% of Mexican restaurants chips and salsa are complimentary and this place was not special enough to exclude themselves (especially with higher than average menu prices!).

Enchiladas at Pacos (part of combo)

I placed my order for a combination plate that included two beef enchiladas and 1 beef hard taco.  The plate also came with rice and beans.  The beans were okay, just your typical refried beans topped with a Mexican cheese blend (cheddar and jack most likely).  The rice is not the normal rice I get at Mexican restaurants (that I really like and have managed to duplicate at home).  It was okay, but I would have preferred the kind I get elsewhere.

Pacos Taco with Combo Plate
The enchiladas were different.  They came with a green enchilada sauce instead of the normal red.  It was tasty but there was not enough of it.  The cheese topping the enchiladas was the same Mexican blend that was on the beans, and I would have preferred fresh cheese instead of the kind you can get from a bag at the supermarket.  The enchiladas were accompanied by lettuce, tomato, and sour cream.  I liked this touch because that's how my mom used to serve hers (with lettuce, tomato, and sour cream on the side).
The taco was a fairly standard hard taco with meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato.  Not bad, but nothing special.
Like I said, Paco's was not bad, but to me it was overpriced, and in my opinion there are better local Mexican restaurants.

My next venture was to California Burrito Express.  I started working in downtown Orlando about a month ago and I am exploring new places to eat.  One day for lunch I wanted to go to Sweet Tomatoes but was afraid I wouldn't have enough time.  So I stopped at a place closer to the office that I thought would be faster.  It was Mexican and that sounded good to me so I thought I'd give it a try.
I guess the concept of the restaurant is real Mexican food, real fast.  You order fast food style from a menu they have on the wall (I believe they also had paper copies of the wall menu).  I perused the menu, looking for a combo plate that was on the cheap side.  I saw menu items stating they had rolled tacos, and as I had not had a rolled taco I thought that would be fun to try.  So I ordered the 5 rolled taco supreme plate. 
I only saw two men working, one was cooking and the other taking orders.  They have a drive thu, and I only saw 1 car pull through.  the counter guy was not exactly up to par on his customer service skills, but I don't generally expect a lot from "fast food" places.

Rolled Tacos at California Burrito Express

I waited between 5 and 10 minutes for my order to be ready.  I had ordered mine with beef, and when they said it was ready I noted it was chicken and informed them.  The next attempt was ready a short time later.  The plate came with the 5 rolled tacos, which seem to be nothing more than taquitos.  I wish they had called them that, I would have ordered regular tacos instead.  The plate came with guacamole, cheese, and sour cream spread on top of the rolled tacos.  On top of the sauces was grilled beef chunks.  There was lettuce and pico de gallo on the side.
The main problem was that there was not a lot of flavor!  The guacamole was bland, the beef could have been seasoned better, even the salsa verde I tried lacked any kind of flavor, it was just heat.

California Burrito Express

Paco's Menu

Plus, they over-fried the taquitos and they were tough to eat. 
It's such a bummer to be disappointed by a new place.  I feel like I've wasted my money and could have had something way more delicious.  The problem is, if you don't try new restaurants you might not discover a new favorite, so I guess it all comes down to taking the good with the bad.  
The third Mexican restaurant that I've gone to that was disappointing was Gringos Locos, located in the heart of downtown Orlando.  Now that I moved to a building downtown I am within in a ten to 15 minute walk of multiple restaurants.  This is GREAT because I can get between 20 and 30 minutes of excercise in at lunch, and I don't feel so guilty about eating things that I know aren't that great for me.  Plus there's a bigger variety of food and new restaurants awaiting me.
I was on my Foodspotting app (which you should get if you have an iPhone - but they also have a website you can check out if you don't) and saw that one of the people I follow kept posting pictures from Gringos Locos.  When I looked it up I saw that it was a ten minute walk from my building and figured I had nothing to lose.
Well, unfortunately I was disappointed.  When I got there it looked promising.  My first sign that things weren't going to go right was when the selection I had made while perusing their online menu was not on the menu at the actual location.  So I switched my order to be two Sloppy Tacos.  In theory, these sounded great, but in reality weren't any different than normal tacos.  They were ground beef in flour tortillas with lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and pico de gallo. 
Unfortunately I was not impressed.  Not by the price and not by the food.  My order came to $8 for two tacos and a drink.  I could have done better at Taco Bell (which is really sad to say).  The ground beef had some kind of sweet taste to it, and I am certainly not a fan of that.  It was almost like sloppy joe meat, just not as saucy.  When I order tacos I want fresh, slightly spicy, flavorful food.  This was just not that. 
If, and that's a big if, I return I will not be ordering their tacos again.  Hopefully in my journeys to other places downtown I will find another Mexican place that is priced right with delicious food.
I had perused the menu online and had made a selection
My advice is to try other restaurants in the downtown and Winter Park areas of metro Orlando.  PR's in Winter Park was better, and there are various other Mexican restaurants downtown that you could try.  I would recomend spending your lunch break avoiding the above mentioned places, and finding somewhere new.

Gringos Locos

Gringos Sloppy Tacos