Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tidbits: A few recent food adventures

1. Minneapolis/St. Paul visit

Izzy's Ice Cream

The "Izzy Scoop" is a baby scoop of ice cream on top of a regular scoop, and to me it's kinda like an alien scoop. And not only that! Their flavors are modern and experimental, for example they had five types of strawberry the night we were there plus a few exotic chocolates, including Umeshu Chocolate made with Japanese plum wine. I couldn’t decide, so ordered a 5-Izzy scoop sampler of Mexican chocolate fiesta, cream cheese, coconut, graham cracker and the amaaazing salted caramel. When I was done with my 5 Izzy’s I did indeed want another scoop of salted caramel and my local friends (bless them for taking me here) talked me out of it. Balderdash! Not to torture you but here, take a look at the current flavor list and next time you're in the Minneapolis area run, don't walk, to Izzy's.

The Juicy Lucy

Another fantastic thing in St. Paul was the Juicy Lucy (a.k.a. Jucy Lucy) burger at Matt's bar. This discovery shared by a local friend made me pretty happy. It's basically two McDonald's-sized burgers sandwiched around a liquidy cheese sauce. No, not a gloppy Cheddar ooze as some photos suggest, but a nice mellow cheese sauce. The servers and the menus both warn to let the burger cool before chomping down, since that cheese sauce is molten and it wants to spurt all over your face! We waited a few and blew on our burgers then took a bite. Sure as heck if that cheese sauce wasn't dying to come out! It had a bonefide lava-like propulsion factor, and it was really yummy. Thank goodness the burgers weren't too big either, since too much meat-to-cheese ratio would have made the Juicy Lucy less humble, obnoxious even, in my opinion. This way was just right.

2. Carmine’s Chicken Scarpiello – cookbook vs. restaurant showdown

In my January 8, 2009 blog post “I heart Carmine's, and now you know,” I wrote about one of my favorite NYC restaurants and a fantastic dish there that I order all the time, chicken scarpiello. Many Italian restaurants make this but at Carmine's it is very unique and outrageously delicious. In my blog entry I described it as “heavenly, different from any other, with a sweet & sour brown lemon rosemary garlic sauce and caramelized garlic cloves.”

The reason this was written about in January 2010 is because my family and I had visited the Atlantic City Carmine's in December 2009, and there lo and behold I noticed the new Carmine's cookbook for sale. Celebration! Now the chance to make chicken scarpiello at home was mine!, especially necessary since Carmine's, for me, was no longer just a subway ride away.

A month later my friends came over for the recipe unveiling. Well it didn't turn out well at all :(, though my friends were pretty polite about it. The official planetmarly blog rating was, on a 1-3 scale: “1: bad recipe”. In the history of this blog, nothing's ever turned out THAT bad. Frustrated over wasted money – this was the main reason for my purchase of the cookbook – I slid my new Benedict Arnold hardcover onto the cookbook shelf and there is has remained. Until last week.

See my sister -- another fan of the chix scarpiello magic -- recently discovered an online recipe for the dish associated with the restaurant's chef. She made it and wanted to compare the recipe in my cookbook with hers to see if a match. Turns out my sister's version came out just fine, but that's only after she improvised. And when she sent me her online version of the recipe with notes, it became clear that the cookbook’s version was filled with errors:
  1. Garlic – Cookbook said crushed garlic, which was awful on the finished dish and covered the chicken like little balls of soft tapioca. In the restaurant, the dish is known for its browned garlic cloves. No garlic cloves in the cookbook's recipe, a major faux pas which honestly I should have caught.
  2. Recipe Liquid – This dish is also known for its lovely brown gravy. My cookbooked dish had none. My sister decided to up the wine quotient a little and also add a cup of chicken stock. Genius. There was only a 1/4 cup of wine in her recipe and no stock. This is why I’m more of a baker. I follow directions to a T and this recipe really needed some intuitive (and obvious) improvisation.
  3. Laziness – My sister felt the recipe I emailed her from the cookbook was lazy. It often said to use the “remaining” of this and that (lemon, herbs and butter), without being clear of how much that would be, which would have helped out the home cook tremendously.
All in all, this episode reminded me that we shouldn’t automatically trust cookbooks just because they're published, since some of them are simply not good. I recently finished reading Julia Child’s “My Life in France,” and that chef took great pride and many years in the proofreading and testing of her recipes. I probably won’t make any other dish from the Carmine’s cookbook. But the Ghirardelli or Tom Douglas cookbooks? Oh yes indeed I will go to them over and over again.

By the way, the photo of the dish above is from “www.twofatbellies.com,” and the authors had a pre-theater dinner at Carmine’s. They wrote why this is a special version of the dish too, and I agree because it’s why I only order this dish at Carmine's and no where else. “The chicken is covered in a lemony, garlicky sauce that is flavored with rosemary. It’s different from other versions of scarpariello, which usually feature sausage and peppers, but I vastly prefer this version.” Exactly! So after my sister puts the final touches on her recipe redux, I’ll try again and also post it on the blog if everyone wants it.

That's it for now blog peeps. Next week I'm off to Orlando for a conference and will be dining at the San Angel Inn in EPCOT Mexico. This beautiful "Mexican village at night" pavilion within an Aztec pyramid is one of my favorite places to visit, cheasy like a Juicy Lucy and oh so festive. I ate my first molé there during a college spring break road trip. Let's see if the restaurant stands up to the test of time.

Until we eat again,

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