Thursday, November 30, 2006

The New Hot Restaurant

The new hot restaurant is not far from you at all, it starts with your own kitchen. I recently was reading an article that noted how the new hot trend in dining out is dining in. Of course for the culinary challenged or time overburdened it's more likely to be take-out brought to you or picked up on the way home.
Fifty years ago eating out was not the everyday occurrence it is now, it was viewed more as something special. Now we've become so accustomed to our $1 burgers that it's actually more exceptional to have a full home-cooked meal.

How do you make your new hottest restaurant exciting, yet not have to spend your entire day like June Cleaver, cleaning and cooking in high heels with flawless makeup? One quick pass through food network and with the number of shows whose emphasis is speedy cooking and you can see there's plenty of people asking that same question. Answers are out there, it's a matter of what works well with your schedule and your level of cooking skill / experience. Here's a few ideas to give you a jump start:

1. Remember your old friend, the crock pot? It's time to dust it off and use it again. Beef or pork roasts can cook all day while you work, as well as all the veggies you need to make a full meal. Bone-in chicken can be slow-cooked, as well as uncooked whole or half hams.
2. Cook a little extra. Cooking that extra piece of chicken will only add a minute or two to your cooking time but can save you time later when a recipe calls for "one cup of cooked, shredded chicken."
3. Re-invent a dish. Last night you cooked chicken and have leftovers. Chop it up and toss it on top of a salad, mix it into a Mexican chicken casserole or season it appropriately and mix with the leftover rice from two nights ago.
4. Make menus. It sounds like a tedious task. If you jot down a few meals that sound good and check to make sure you have all the ingredients you need on hand, that week all you have to do is glance at your menu to see what you'd like for dinner. It also can streamline your grocery shopping.
5. Use your freezer. It's not there just to hold ice and frozen pizza. If you put in the extra time to make that giant pan of lasagna, why not slice up the leftovers into portion-sized pieces and freeze them? Here's a website with tips on what items freeze well and can save you from an unpleasant discovery later.

It's all about making the best use of the time you have. Doing a little prep work in advance can make having friends over for a meal a simple and fun evening. It doesn't have to be a fancy gourmet dinner. Try a taco buffet. Build a beastly hoagie. Finger foods can be nibbled on all evening while you chat. Just step into your kitchen and give it a try.

Remember, if all else fails, you can always order pizza.

A few more recipe sources worth checking out:
All Recipes - The name says it all. - An insane amount of recipes.
Copykat Recipes - Replicate at home your favorite restaurant meals.
Food Network - As seen on TV? Find it here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Movie-Going Experience

Today was the first time I've been to a movie theater in about a year. I was reminded today several of the reason why I haven't been in so long. When did a portion of the general public become so rude and inconsiderate? Was there a declaration made that I missed?

I went to watch two movies today, the new James Bond flick "Casino Royale" and if you've read my posts before you can guess the other film, "Happy Feet." Both were entertaining and worth watching. While the movie isn't where most of my grievances lie, I will say I do not like being highly mislead by a trailer, and I think Happy Feet does that to a certain degree. The storyline isn't just about a penguin chick's plight but pulls in a much larger environmental message. Regardless of whether I agree with the message, it's not even hinted at in the trailers. There are movies that have missed an audience simply by being mis-billed. One great example of that is "The Girl Next Door." It's nothing remotely like the American Pie series, but more a coming-of-age story. I don't believe it did very well at the box office, and I certainly wouldn't have even watched it if I had not just happened onto a few minutes of it while flipping through the channels one evening.

Anyway, my issues with going to the theater... In short, if you're going to take your cell phone in with you, at least have the common sense to set it to silent/vibrate or turn it off. Having a lengthy conversation after announcing to your caller "Oh I'm just at the movies, there's no one around me..." while those of us non-existent people around you listen to you blather on about nothing of consequence is simply put, rude. What do you say to a person this inconsiderate? A man marched down to the guy two rows in front of him today and announced loudly, "How can you be so rude?" The talker completely ignored him, but expecting a response was probably too much.

I think theaters also have given up the fight to clean the seating areas between screenings. After walking through a sludge of sodas and candy left behind from two previous groups, I ended up leaving my shoes by the door to clean them before wearing again. Call me a germ freak, but I can't begin to imagine what I would be dragging through my house on the bottom of those. They may toss the cups from cup holders around the seats, but the floors go untouched. I feel for the crews cleaning those up at night; that can't be an enjoyable or quick task.

But there is something about sitting there with that huge screen and the digital surround sound that does add to the experience. You just can't get that at home unless you have a theater room, which is beyond the reach of many consumers. Theater owners and the Movie industry wonders why sales are down. Ask the customer. They'll tell you how theaters are dirty, other viewers are rude, and we won't even elaborate on how popcorn has deteriorated into some popped-three-days-ago Styrofoam peanut substance.

Oh, Daniel Craig does give a very good performance as the new Bond. The film takes a step back to the character's earlier days, when he's more rough around the edges and doesn't quite have that suave persona as developed. Bond fans will enjoy the references to things you see appear in later films. Missing are both Moneypenny and "R." It's definitely worth watching.

Presentation is Everything?

Well, not really, but it does help. Comfortable surroundings add to the appeal of a good meal. I had the recent pleasure of going to Firebird's Rocky Mountain Grill. It actually is the second time I've been and both were quite exceptional. It's a small chain, there's only 12 locations nationwide so far. The menu is comfort food with a sense of flair, so while chicken may be on the menu it's not likely to be served with dumplings. The atmosphere of the restaurant is such that it feels cozy yet you aren't sharing in the conversation of those at the next table.

If you do find this restaurant along your travels, I highly recommend stopping for lunch or dinner. If you leave hungry, it won't be due to a lack of good food.

Monday, November 13, 2006

New Shoes

Elvis needed a new pair of shoes.

This was just too cute of a story to pass up. Elvis, the penguin shown here, got a new pair of blue socks to help protect his sore feet. His friends were all fitted with socks too. The whole story is here.

I've also discovered we have a few new restaurants in town, I'll be trying those soon and reporting about my tasty experiments.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Smoking or Non?"

This summer a big change occurred in Arkansas. A new law was passed to restrict public smoking, which incorporated restrictions on all restaurants. The first time I experienced this was in Los Angeles a few years ago while visiting a friend. She & I went into a restaurant and the hostess simply asked "table for two?" I definitely noted the missing second part, "Smoking or non?"

Now in Arkansas a number of years later, the restaurant standard greeting has been shortened to only the number in the party. On a busy Friday night, there's a whole new section of tables that can be incorporated into the evening's rotation. Waiters and waitresses no longer have to wade through a cloud to deliver a meal. (Can you tell I'm not a smoker?) Restaurant owners at first balked at the new rules; some claimed they would lose business. Yet this week I visited one of our frequent lunch haunts and the crowds are not diminished in the least. I'm a small business owner and can appreciate those not wanting the government determining how to run their business, but I can also agree that this is a case of public health being of foremost concern. I can also see how they may very well be heading off lawsuits, such as happened with flight attendants several years back.

The new laws only just went into effect this July, yet talking with my dad recently he commented how on a trip to St. Louis it seemed a bit out of place to see people smoking in restaurants. That old "smoking or non?" question came back from the dead and was a not-so-subtle reminder that he wasn't in Arkansas anymore.

It's amazing how quick the change has effected my view of restaurants. There are places I will patronize now that I wouldn't before just because I can now enjoy the smell of my food where all I smelled before was the odor of cigarette smoke.