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Monday, September 22, 2008

Breakfast at Russ's

I moved back to the old 'hood over a month and a half ago. When Jack Jackson suggested breakfast at Russ's Market (the original at 17th & Washington that I still usually refer to as B & R which means either Bums and Rummies or Bugs and Roaches depending upon who you ask) before he drove me to the airport so I could go pick up my new car I was a little skeptical.

I've had breakfast at Russ's at least once a weekend since I've been in the neighborhood and it is always perfect. Nothing costs over $5 although I did note this past Sunday morning that a few items had gone from $3.99 to $4.59.

My favorite is the chicken-fried steak breakfast with two eggs, hash browns and two slices of buttery rye toast. A couple of weekends ago I tried to branch out and had the chicken tender skillet. All the skillet meals are served with two eggs and toast along with enough fried potatoes and gravy for two people. The hearty breakfast features two slices of bacon and two sausage patties along with the hash browns, two eggs and toast.

You really can't go wrong with breakfast at Russ's Market and it's kind of fun to sit there with all my fellow cranky old men reading the newspaper and cursing Wall Street.

The best thing though, is that no matter how you order your eggs, they're always perfect. I'm an over-easy guy myself and I just can't do 'em like that at home. I've also tried them poached and scrambled and they always do it just right.

One of my pet peeves about breakfast places is that many of the cooks think scrambled eggs means cooking the eggs as fast as you can and then chopping them up so they look scrambled. Scrambled eggs take time, more time than any other breakfast egg prep if they're done right and the cooks at Russ's do them right.

I'll probably continue to make Russ's breakfast a weekly ritual. Since I eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast every other day of the week I think it's a good trade-off.


I picked up some nice trout at the Farmers' Market on Saturday. I don't recall the name of the vendor but they also sell goat although they were fresh out. Maybe next time.

Disapproving little buggers, aren't they? They were in great shape after a day in the fridge. I could actually put my nose about two inches away from them and not detect any fishiness at all.

The nice thing about trout this small is that any pin bones I may have missed in the cleaning process kind of melt away with a little heat. I gave them a light fry on both sides in a non-reactive pan after whipping up a little bacon vinaigrette out of some bacon, shallots, lemon juice and tarragon. I also sauteed some yellow squash and baby spinach and served it alongside a toasted quinoa and almond pilaf. This is one of those plates that tastes best when you mix everything together.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pork Carnitas Tacos a la my favorite taquerias

Yesterday morning after hitting the farmers' market I grabbed a bag of pork rib ends at Super Saver and threw the whole thing in the crock pot with a chopped onion, some fresh garlic, salt, pepper and lime juice for about 14 hours. There are only so many pulled pork sandwiches one can eat (although that is a very high number for me) so for lunch today I made some tacos carnitas.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Dinner: Rustica

Spelt Spaghetti (pronounce it "Spa-gheeee-ti" like Giada and it tastes better) with a cannellini bean ragout.

Does anyone know where I can find bulk, dry cannellini beans? They're so much better than navy or great northern beans. It seems like Progresso is the only game in town when it comes to cannellini beans.

I'm off to Madison, WI, until Thursday night. I may post from the road if I remember to take pictures of Ella's.

Saturday Dinner: Lunch at Piezano's

I rarely eat dinner on Saturdays, especially when I eat a big lunch like I did yesterday. Piezano's recently started doing a daily lunch buffet so I met Jack Jackson and a couple other folks there to check it out.

When we arrived around 12:45 there were a few other people in the restaurant but only a couple of slices of pizza on the buffet table. We hit the small salad bar while we waited for more pizza to appear. It was comforting to find out the reason for the delay was a shortage of pizza sauce that was only being remedied as we arrived. They didn't lose their can opener or anything like that. They were actually making the sauce in the kitchen.

I've never been as enthusiastic about the pizza at Piezano's as most people. I think it's too thick. When the fresh pies hit the buffet table I was pleased to find the crust was crispier than I remembered. Of course, this could be because I usually eat Piezano's pizza delivered. The only times I've ever eaten at the restaurant were for Sunday night spaghetti.

Overall, the buffet was worth the $6 price but there were a few things I'd change. First, the whole thing appeared a little slapdash. The buffet tables were just plain tables. The salad bar was not a traditional salad bar but just a bowl of lettuce with the toppings and sides set out next to it in round serving containers. I'd also like to see some marinara sauce for the cheese sticks and maybe a pasta option.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Dinner: Unplanned

I had to work until 8 tonight and as I was about to leave there were a bunch of people in another department working on some kind of afterhours software emergency. They had a bunch of of Sam & Louie's pizza. Since I'm a big fan of their pizza I couldn't resist a couple of slices.

I had intended to make some spelt spaghetti and toss it with garlic, olive oil, parmesan, a chopped boiled egg and some white beans. Maybe on Sunday.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thursday Dinner: Odds and Ends

I had a couple of Raisin' Canes chicken tenders tonight at the Light the Night walk for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society so afterward I just put together a small salad plate from stuff I needed to use.

The edible portions of a couple of heirloom tomatoes I'd been saving for too long, sprinkled with fleur de sel and a little cracked black pepper; the last of my baby spinach; more watermelon radish and some wheat germ bread from Open Harvest, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with fleur de sel and black pepper and broiled until toasty.

Wednesday Dinner: Amsterdam Falafel and Kebab

I headed up to Omaha after work tonight to see two of Will Johnson's bands, South San Gabriel and Centro-Matic at The Slowdown.

Since I had plenty of time before the show I called Jack Jackson to see if he wanted to grab some dinner. We decided on Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob on 50th between California and Underwood in the heart of Dundee.

Amsterdam Falafel follows the idea that if you're only going to do a few things, do those things well. There are two sandwiches from which to choose, falafel or kabob. You can also get fries and hummus. The sandwiches come with a choice of sauces - garlic, herb or spicy - and are served on toasted leavened bread in the European manner. The fries are dusted with curry powder.

I can safely say this was the best falafel I've ever had. It was nice and crispy but not dry on the inside and greasy on the outside. The kabob meat was unique too in that it contained a higher percentage of lamb than beef. Most places serve kabob meat that is much heavier on beef. Both sandwiches come topped with a tabouleh-like mixture and marinated red cabbage and chickpeas.




Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tuesday Dinner: Salad Week

It's officially salad week at Chez Swoof.

Baby spinach and more watermelon radish from Open Harvest; Brussels sprouts leaves shed from chopped sprouts on Sunday; tomato from parents' garden; a chopped boiled egg from Phil's Fresh Eggs; diced chicken breast from Sunday night's bird; marinated cauliflower; a chopped dill pickle; dressed the same as last night.

I wonder how long I can keep this nightly meal posting up. My bet is through the weekend.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Monday Dinner: Leftovers and Almost Unused

What better way to enjoy 7 straight hours of pro football than by devouring a big salad.

Chicken leg meat from yesterday, diced and sauteed; little fritters made of last night's parsnip-turnip puree; tomato from my family's garden; green beans I bought a week ago found in the back of the crisper drawer flirting with the Dark Side, blanched; salad mix and watermelon radish from Open Harvest; dressed with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, seasoned rice wine vinegar and dijon mustard.

Eatin' in Tulsa

I was down in Tulsa for a week in early August when it was over 100° every single day but I found some decent food which made up for it. At first glance, Tulsa appeared to me as Omaha with a slight twang and a nicer airport, where the money flows from oil instead of insurance.

Tulsa has a few things you can't get in Nebraska although there's no reason for it. First, Tulsa has a Brazilian steakhouse. I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this but if Tulsa can have an all-you-can-eat grilled meat emporium, why can't Lincoln or Omaha? The one in Tulsa was called the Gaucho and seemed to be an independent operation which was interesting since if you find a Brazilian steakhouse it'll usually be one of the two chains, Texas de Brazil or Fogo de Chao.

The grilled meats were just as good at The Gaucho as they are at either of the chains and the parmesan chicken, a staple, was better than I've had at the other places. What sets the chains apart from The Gaucho is the salad bar. At Texas de Brazil or Fogo even a devoted carnivore can get a full and satisfying meal without even eating the meats brought around on swords. The salad bar at The Gaucho was just a salad bar.

I had a couple off lunches at a place called Sushi Train which is a sushi place with a big train with about 30 flatbed cars that goes round and round the sushi bar in the middle of the restaurant. The cars are loaded with color-coded by price plates of nigiri, rolls, salads, desserts. It's a familiar concept as there are many places like this around the country although usually the transportation is boats in a moat. I think I ate three squid salads for lunch one day topped off with some flying fish roe and toro.

I also visited the new Whole Foods in Tulsa during its grand opening week. What was interesting about it was that it was not a gigantic fortress of fine food like the Omaha Whole Foods but a smaller store in an old strip mall. It would be like if Whole Foods moved into the space occupied by Sun Mart at 48th & Van Dorn or the old Russ's space in Bishop Heights. There was plenty of everything there but it wasn't overwhelming. I wonder if this is a new Whole Foods strategy to cut costs and combat their most famous nickname by leasing smaller, older spaces and reaching more markets.

Tulsa: like Omaha but richer and meatier.

Carmela's Bistro and Wine Bar

I'd been meaning to get out to Carmela's for over a month but hadn't really had the opportunity until last Friday night when two friends to whom I owed dinner for helping me move at the end of July finally took me up on the offer.

We didn't make reservations figuring if we showed up late enough we'd get a table since Lincolnites are typically early diners. We arrived around 7:45 and and were told we had about a 40 minute wait. We took seats at the bar, which you have to walk through the main dining room to reach, ordered drinks and wound up being seated in about 20 minutes at a tiny table in the smaller dining area separated by a wall of wine racks from the main room.

If I had a choice I would have requested to be seated in the main room. First, the smaller dining room had a big TV on the wall which is fine for sports bars but really takes away from the "fine" dining experience people are looking for in a bistro. Plus, the table we were seated at was barely big enough for two people, especially considering the entrees are served on huge platters over a foot wide a la 90's nouvelle cuisine. The three of us could not help but pity the table of four next to us we watched them make use of every single square inch of their table.

As we finished our cocktails we ordered wine and entrees. I was impressed with their wine list which I think rivaled what can be found at The Lodge or Venue. There were some nice New Zealand whites by the glass and a couple of terrific wines from Chilean producer Montes. One of my favorite wines, Pio Cesare Barolo from the Italian Piedmont was also available by the bottle but I didn't feel up to Barolo at restaurant prices. If you feel like bringing your own bottle, the $15 corking fee is very reasonable.

For entrees, I had the Napoleon Chicken, which was chicken breast stuffed with (allegedly) smoked gouda, ham, and sun dried tomato pesto, and drizzled with Bechamel sauce. I didn't taste or feel any texture that would suggest the presence of smoked gouda. The pesto was made up of big chunks of marinated sun dried and very little else. The dish seemed like it had sat for awhile and a quick glance at the congealed Bechamel confirmed it.

My friend Dave ordered the sea bass which I completely forgot was batter-dipped from reading the LJS feature. The fish was good but batter dipping and frying a good piece of sea bass seems a waste. The pairing with cheesy risotto and a Thai-inspired sauce was also puzzling. I'm all for experimentation with fusing different cuisines but the risotto with the Thai flavors seemed a little off. What was even more mysterious was the cup of curry-flavored sauce that came with the dish as what I was guessing was intended to be a tartar sauce. It reminded me of when I would mix mango habanero salsa and sour cream together.

My other friend Neal had a thick sirloin which was perfectly cooked to medium rare, which is to say, red and warm in the middle.

The service was also an issue but it seemed to be limited to our server who must have been new. He read us the special, instead of having it memorized, and a very ordinary special it was - chicken, basil fettucini Alfredo, reeking of Olive Garden. We also had to ask for bread, while it was brought to the table next to us right away, and water, which should also appear at the table immediately.

Overall it was a very ordinary dining experience. I'm glad the place is doing well. Keeping the room small is a good idea for a restaurant like this in Lincoln. I was hoping to see more Italian-style dishes on the menu instead of enchiladas and more Bechamel sauce than I've seen on any menu in a long time. From what I've heard and experienced the steaks are probably the way to go there, which puts it on par with about a dozen other restaurants in Lincoln.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Catching Up

Late last week a friend emailed me asking about Tokyo Steak and Sushi and lamented that I didn't blog anymore. I replied that it had been a month since my last post but I was still blogging. Of course, he didn't know I had resumed blogging last winter. Still no Tokyo post either way, but his email did provide the impetus for me to write something.

I have a few more new posts in the works including stuff Carmela's, breakfast at Russ's Market and eating in Tulsa but for now check out the new link in my blogroll to JesseandElizabeth.com. Jesse and Elizabeth are friends of mine who are about to embark on a three month European wine tour. It's not a recreational visit though. They are both what you could call beverage professionals and Jesse is one of about 160 odd Master Sommeliers in the world so they're going to be working and studying and visiting what seems like about every wine producer in Europe. Take a look at their itinerary.

Sunday Dinner

It's been a little over a month since I moved from our old house and into an apartment and today I finally finished unpacking and organizing the kitchen. The counter tops are cleared of the detritus of moving and the boxes are all broken down and put away until I move again. Oddly, my new kitchen is bigger and more functional than the kitchen in my house. What better way to celebrate the new, fully operational kitchen than by making a complete mess of it?

Tonight I made a pan-seared chicken breast with spinach and garlic sauce, puree of roasted root vegetables and caramelized Brussels sprouts, garnished with slices of watermelon radish.

Brussels sprouts take on such an amazing deep smoky flavor when they're sauteed until brown. I used a tablespoon of butter with a little olive oil to bring the smoke point up a bit. They're even better when you do them in a pan in which you just fried up some bacon.

The root vegetable puree is way too labor-intensive to do very often but I felt like going all out since I had a new, clean kitchen. I started out by cutting a couple of parsnips and a couple of medium-sized turnips into small chunks, tossing them in olive oil and roasting them in a 350° oven for about 30 minutes. I put the roasted chunks in my food processor, added a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of light sour cream and a couple tablespoons of milk and processed until smooth. As the chicken breast and sprouts were cooking I formed the puree into a mound, slid it onto a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray and put it under the broiler until the top was browned. Of course, this would have been way better with more butter and heavy cream instead of light sour cream and milk but I was trying to keep things somewhat healthy.

The spinach garlic sauce is part of my experimentation into almost calorie free sauces in the manner of Bernard Loiseau. It's basically a puree of spinach, celery, garlic and a little bit of water. Since there's no cream or oil being used it's important to really concentrate the flavors being used. That also means using more salt than normal and refrigerating it for a few hours before use to let the flavors mingle.

Today felt like a chicken-in-a-crockpot sort of Sunday but I only used one breast tonight. I'll use the rest of the chicken in pasta and as chicken salad as the week goes by.