Archive for January, 2010

Jill was finally feeling up to a date night. Pregnancy seems to make all food taste like cardboard to her for about the first four months. Knowing this ahead of time, I saved the Christmas date and Birthday date till she was able to enjoy the dinner.

Here is the background: the local sports radio station (WFNZ) has a promotional deal “50 of Fridays” where they sell gift certificates for local restaurants, spas, etc at 50% of face value. You would think that most of the restaurants would be pizza places or sports bars, but they also have some really nice places. They must have been clearing out inventory in December, because they had $50 Ratcliffe certificates for $15. After looking at the website, I bought two. $100 meal for $30; not bad, right?

March rolls around and we need a break. So we head out to Ratcliffe. It’s downtown (oops, in Charlotte it’s “uptown”), which is not a plus for me, but I can make do every once in a while. The Ratcliffe is in an old flowershop location. Ornate. The maitre d’ spent a fair bit of time filling us in on the history of the location. Turns out the owner of the flowershop swiped some fancy colored glass lamps from the streets of Charlotte when they converted them over from gas to electric. Interesting, but I’m here to talk to my wife, not the maitre d’.
One really odd thing: when he seated us, there was a white linen napkin folded at the table. He took that up and gave us each a black linen napkin. We called Jill’s cousin who owns a spa and restaurant with her husband and they have never heard of this custom either.
Anyway, Ratcliffe specializes in “farm-to-fork”; use local produce; go organic as much as possible. Jill ordered the pork chops and I chose the striped bass. She was thinking about the trout stuffed with foie gras, till I told her what foie gras is. She suddenly decided to look at other options.
We were served a potato soup in a tiny, and I do mean tiny, little mug. It could not have held more than two tablespoons of soup. I imagine there is some fancy name for the soup, and I think I remember our server mentioning some word I didn’t recognize. But I wasn’t paying much attention; I was staring at this tiny, and I do mean tiny, little mug, wondering what on earth…??? I looked at Jill; Jill looked at me and said, “Don’t ask me, this is your department.” (Sometimes being a foody brings a lot of pressure. Especially on our budget.) Fortunately, a different server swept past at about that time, taking a pair of these tiny, and I do mean tiny, little mugs to a different table. I told Jill to watch what they did with them and that couple knew what to do and quaffed the soup straight down. And so we followed suit. And it was good. I wish they had brought a bowl.
After that the server stopped by with a basket and tongs. She carefully opened the basket and placed one, just one made-from-scratch biscuit on each plate (using the tongs). I know it was made-from-scratch, cuz the Pillsbury frozen we buy are a lot taller. (That is the subject of a whole different blog entry, but those frozen biscuits are among a very few things that I would rather buy than make myself.) I also know she could have been a wee bit more generous, cuz there were more biscuits in the basket; I saw them. They were fairly non-descript.
Well, we also ordered salads: Jill – farmhouse salad and I had the goat cheese and spinach. That was a kickin’ good salad. Love that goat cheese.
Finally, on to the main show. Jill’s pork chops (two of them) were really quite good. However, the “organic pink lady apple break pudding” was pretty dry. It sounds great but was a disappointment. The bass was really good. Worth getting again. Although it arrived on a plate the size of a hubcap and looked rather forlorn sitting there in the middle surrounded by white nothingness.
We ended off the evening with a dessert each. I cannot remember what we had and the desserts aren’t on the site. After all was said and done, I handed over both $50 gift certificates, plus another $30 or $40 dollars. Shoulda bought three of ’em.
We decided we both liked the place and the food…at 70% off. I cannot imagine dropping $140 on one meal. If we have the chance we will go again. (Help me out WFNZ.) But I would forgo the dessert, and I would try the rabbit next time. Of course their site says they change their menu regulary. But they have their “winter menu” still going. It’s April for goodness sakes. It’s only winter in Canada at this point.

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from April 2008

Read Clarence Thomas’ memoir while on a JH study trip to mid Tennessee. Excellent book. And it must be a pretty easy and fascinating read if I was able to read it on a bus filled with JH’rs.
Thomas recounts his childhood in depth, explaining the title. His profound respect for his grandfather shines through. He also details the struggles he had with his grandfather and his deep regret in not reconciling before “Daddy” passed away. Thomas’ explanation of his early adult years clarifies how he came to embrace conservative principles. Alas, he also recounts how the Republicans held him, and other black conservatives at arms length. (Politicians are remarkable in their ability to shoot themselves in the foot.) He does not sugarcoat his problems, placing the blame for the breakup of his first marriage squarely on himself. He also unsparingly speaks of his long term financial difficulties.
He ends the book with a lengthy and detailed account of his confirmation hearings. That alone is worth the price of the book. (Of course it is best if you use the library, as I did!) Talk about going through the maelstrom. He ends the book with the beginning of his time on the Supreme Court, which leaves you wishing for more.
Thomas is a clear and simple writer, easy to read. I would very much like to read him on other subjects, but I doubt that will happen till he retires. It would be truly interesting to read about the Court, but I don’t know that that will ever happen.

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For our annual Memorial Day picnic,  I decided to add chicken wings. Target (cursed-be-their-return-policy) actually sells a rack that is useful for grilling and smoking wings and leg quarters. But I had too many wings for two racks and it was going to take too long to smoke them. So I spread the wings out on a cooling rack to smoke a little over half the wings. Worked great! Just slid the cooling rack onto the grill rack. It was ten times faster than putting each piece on the grill. Lost less heat; smoke them wings sooner.

Worked even better after saucing the wings. The rack of wings are ready to be slid again onto the grill rack. The rack of wings can be maneuvered pretty easily from above the coals to the cool side using spring loaded tongs and an oven mitt. Clean up is a breeze: just put the rack into the dishwasher.

Now to experiment: Jjill has some cooling racks with these cool fold-down legs that can be stacked. I wonder if I can have two layers of wings going at once. Three???

Btw, the wings were excellent. This will be a regular addition to the grilling/smoking lineup.

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I am not a big fan of sweet sauces. I much prefer a sauce that has a bit of kick and a lot of tang (ie. tomato-based sauce with an eastern-NC flair. It isn’t done right without a cider vinegar base). Jill, on the other hand, much prefers sweet sauces. I found the following recipe on line but had to adapt things:

Honey Barbecue Sauce
1 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses Didn’t have any
3 tablespoons ketchup Needed more. I think I added about 1/3 cup
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 tablespoon meat tenderizer
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup steak sauce This was necessary
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 1/2 cups brown sugar

I made a batch at first without any steak sauce. Made a second batch with it and it helped a lot. I also had a rather old bottle of Southwest style bbq sauce in the pantry (a gift from someone), so I added about half (8-10 oz) of that.

SWEET! It’ll give you diabetes. You could pour it over ice cream. But Jill likes it. It does have a good depth of flavor and is well worth making again. But I am not a fan of sweet sauces.

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Sausage Gravy

Cholesterol? Who cares, when it tastes this good? Great recipe for sausage gravy (adapted from Cooks Country):

1/4 C AP flour
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
pinch of cayenne
1 lb pork sausage
3 C whole milk

Cook sausage until no longer pink; break up clumps. Stir in spices until fragrant. Stir in flour and cook until flour absorbs fat. Pour in milk. Simmer until thickened.

Use Pillsbury frozen biscuits. Bake acc/to directions.

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From August 6, 2008

Gideon Boaz is ready to begin training in the prep department. His employment began July 29, 2008 at 9:09pm. If the adage about not trusting a skinny chef is true, Gideon will be a worthy chef; he weighed in at 9lbs, 5oz. Chef Aubrey and Chef Emma welcome the new hire and are eager to begin passing along the finer points of Malto Meal preparation.

Based on current evaluation of gifts, talents, interests and inclinations, we are seriously considering him for the overnight shift.

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Flourless Chocolate cake

I love dark chocolate. A few years ago ATK had a flourless chocolate cake in CI. Tried it and it worked! (Not always the case on my first try.) Decadent is the first adjective to describe this luxurious dessert. I made this a year ago for a school cake auction and it sold for $220. This year it only went for $65 (the big spender was getting engaged. Talk about priorities.)

Here is a photo montage of the process.
Hard to go wrong with dark chocolate and butter.

I made a bit extra so 9 eggs, r/th 8. These are whipped till tripled in volume. The melted chocolate folded into the egg mixture. I usually include chopped pecans, since dark chocolate and nuts is a combination from heaven.

It comes out soft and will collapse a bit as it cools. Waiting is more than a little difficult at this point.

I decided to gild the lily for this cake sale. Swirling on the melted almond bark needs some work.

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