Bonus Food Pics: Cranky Carol’s Fries & Cheesesteak From Slack’s Hoagies

slacks hoagies cranky fries A few weekends back my wife, daughter and I made our way to Pennsylvania to meet up with some friends and visit the Sesame Street theme park Sesame Place (hear more about it on my most recent podcast if you’re interested). The first night we got Qdoba for dinner, but after two full days in the park and being relatively close to Philadelphia, we were hoping to get cheesesteaks. Of course, the problem with traveling is that you have no idea how good anything around you is or where to even look. Fortuitously, when we got back to our hotel that evening, there was a menu waiting from a place called Slack’s Hoagies. Not only did they have cheesesteaks, but also delivered. Perfect!

slacks hoagies cheesesteak

My wife and I each went with a cheesesteak as well as the Cranky Carol Fries where had a good deal of pepper and maybe a few other spices to bring the heat. Everything tasted great, though I will say that this was not the best Philly Cheesesteak I’ve ever had. Still, after a long day of walking around, waiting in lines and dodging excited kids, it was nice to sit down with a hot, cheesy sandwich, some fries and enjoy a meal I didn’t have to make myself.

Disney World Bonus Food Pics: French Breakfast & Moroccan Dinner

french breakfast You know what I love in pretty much any combination? Ham and cheese. You really can’t go wrong there, you guys. One morning we decided to hit Epcot and to start our day we headed over to the World Showcase to get breakfast in France at a place called Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie. When you add ham and cheese to a buttery piece of bread you’re really onto something. Good on the French for figuring that out.

moracco salad

For lunch we went to a place in Epcot where I not only had a bad experience but also didn’t enjoy my food, so we’ll just skip right past that. That night, my wife and I had planned on going out for a date just the two of us. We wanted to try something new and interesting so we decided on going to Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco back in Epcot in the World Showcase. We both went with the Taste of Morocco – Royal Feast which included (*deep breath*) “Jasmina Salad: Lettuce, Tomato, Olives, and Feta Cheese in Mustard Vinaigrette, Seafood Bastilla: Layers of thin Pastry filled with Grouper, Shrimp, and Mushrooms, Lemon Chicken: Braised Chicken seasoned with Green Olives and preserved Lemon, Roast Lamb Meshoui (A Moroccan tradition – Roasted Lamb Shank in Natural Juices),  Couscous with Seven Vegetables and Assorted Moroccan Pastries.”

moracco entree

As you can imagine, it was quite a meal. First off, everything was fantastic and interesting. I was a big fan of that salad, which is kind of a strange thing to single out when talking about so many different kind of food. The lamb fell of the bone and I don’t have much experience with that particular protein, but I enjoyed it. The lemon chicken was also nice and tangy. I even dug the desserts which is something I don’t always say. So, if you’re looking for something unique and packed with variety, do yourself a favor and hit up Restaurant Marrakesh.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: BBQ At Whispering Canyon Cafe & Pork Belly From Waves

bbq On Monday my wife, dad and I went on the Disney Backstage Magic tour which takes you on an all-day tour of the park behind the scenes. Since it really does last all day they stop at a place called Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge hotel that’s got a real country western theme. They’ve got a regular menu, but also a family style barbecue thing where they bring big plates of food to your table and you all just dig in. As it turned out, there were the perfect number of people on the tour to fill three big tables and then one with just three people. We were that table of three which was great because I don’t like the idea of other people accidentally touching my food.

Anyway, the food itself was pretty great. The menu describes the Family Platter as including “Kansas City-style Smoked Pork Ribs, Herb-baked Chicken, Hand-carved Oak-roasted Beef Strip Loin, Citrus-crusted Market Fish, Western-style Sausage Sides fro Sharing: Seasonal Farm Fresh Vegetables, Herb-crushed Yukon Gold Potatoes, Cowboy-style Baked Beans, Corn on the Cob.” I’m pretty sure we didn’t have fish or beef stip loin, but the ribs were fall-off-the-bone cooked and super tasty but the real star of the show was that sausage which I could have eaten a whole plate of. I’m not sure if a huge heavy barbecue lunch is the best idea when doing a Backstage Tour, but it was tasty.

waves pork belly and tenderloin For dinner we ate at a restaurant called The Wave…Of American Flavors in the Contemporary Resort. I feel like I kind of screwed up while eating at The Wave. While my family went with some fancy steaks, I decided to try the “Thompson Farms Naturally Raised Pork Belly and Tenderloin with White Bean Cassoulet and Locally-sourced Vegetables.” What drew me to this dish is the fact that so many chefs and food personalities that I like and appreciate say that pork belly is supposed to be one of the best foods around. Unfortunately it didn’t do a whole lot for me and just kinda tasted like fatty bacon. It wasn’t bad and I didn’t really know what I was expecting, but it didn’t exactly send fireworks through my brain like in Ratatouille. However the tenderloin — small as it was — was fantastic as was the cassoulet, though I wound up passing that to my daughter who really loved it.

waves sherbert dessert

Since the Disney Dining Plan comes with dessert (I’d personally rather have an appetizer, but I’m a team player) I had a lot more dessert during that vacation than I normally would. The desserts at The Wave are pretty neat because they all come in little tiny dishes and you get three of them. I went with “Our Spring Gelato Trio: Mandarin Orange Gelato, Chocolate Malt Gelato, and Toasted Marshmallow Gelato” because I didn’t want to pile it on too heavy. And it was actually really tasty. My favorite was the marshmallow gelato because it really did taste like toasted marshmallows which are one of the desserts I really enjoy.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: Studio Catering Co. & Sci-Fi Dine-In At Hollywood Studios

studio catering company We spent the second day of our Walt Disney World vacation walking around Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a place that had great food at both the counter service and sit down levels. For lunch we hit up Studio Catering Co. which is supposed to be set up like the commissary of a studio, but, you know, right around the corner from Star Tours and butting up against the Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground (which is a childhood favorite of mine).

The way places like this work is that there’s a menu posted up high where everyone can see it (those yellow signs in the above picture). When you know what you want, you approach one of many very nice people standing at a computerized register. Once your food is ordered, you move up and pick it up from the people working in the kitchen and prep area, so it’s a little nicer and more organized than your average cafeteria, which you’d expect from Disney.

studio catering turkey panini For lunch I went with the Pressed Turkey Club which includes “Turkey, Applewood-smoked Bacon, Swiss, Roasted Red Pepper, Arugula, Multigrain Ciabatta Bread.” It was a really solid, tasty sandwich that didn’t feel like something slapped together. It seemed well thought out and well balanced. I also got the cole slaw which was better than average and think I even had a little cheesecake dessert, though the for-a-limited-time-only Worms & Dirt Cupcakes you see in the background were enjoyed by my family.

sci fi dine in reuben That day we had dinner at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater which is a fun place where you actually sit in tables that look and feel like old school convertibles. Those car-tables are “parked” in an area that’s set up like a drive-in theater complete with a movie screen running film clips, cartoons and trailers of stuff from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

We weren’t sure if the atmosphere — which was fantastic — would outshine the food, but I really enjoyed the Reuben I had. You might think that a sandwich with such basic ingredients (corn beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and rye bread) would be difficult to screw up, but that’s not been the case in my experience. For one thing, you can find a wide spectrum of quality in just those five things, but the way a place treats their corn beef is also really important. The Sci-Fi Dine-In seems to treat its beef really well because the meat was nice and juicy and not dried out at all. In fact, all the ingredients felt top notch and tasty. I’ve probably had better Reubens in my life, but not while sitting in a fake car watching trailers for Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman. Oh, the cucumber salad was actually super tasty as well, it was a kind of sour, pickle-y alternative to fries if that’s something you’re looking for.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: New York Strip & Shrimp Combo At Big River Grille

Hi folks, it seems I’m apologizing more and more for my lack of posting these days. I apologize for that. Things were crazy work-wise two weeks ago as I was doing my best to get all my work done before heading on vacation and then spent last week computer-less at Walt Disney World with my wife, daughter and parents. I’m back in action now, though and have plenty of food pictures to show off from our vacation! My dad and wife did a fantastic job figuring out the whole trip while also mapping out the restaurants. We went with the Disney Dining Plan, which gives each person in your party one snack, one counter service meal (basically any place where you’re not being served by a waiter) and one sit down meal per day. It worked out really well for us and I recommend giving the plan a look if you’re even remotely interested. In addition to having a lot of different options, we really enjoyed the break that a sit down meal gave us from all the park hopping.

steak and shrimp at big river grille

Our first meal was at a place called Big River Grille & Brewing Works on the Disney BoardWalk which was right across from our hotel room at the Beach Club. As it turned out, our flight from New York was right on time and without complication, but my parents wound up having to sit on the runway pre-takeoff for 90 minutes. As you can imagine, they were looking forward to getting some food and a drink, so Big River — which had been planned out months in advance — became an even better choice thanks to its proximity to our hotel and availability of beers brewed in house and a healthy list of cocktails.

The beauty of the Dining Plan is that you can choose anything on the menu from the cheapest to the most expensive offering and it all costs the same (though it doesn’t include alcoholic beverages, just FYI). With a healthy appetite, most of us ordered the New York Strip & Shrimp Combo which is described on the menu as “Grilled 8oz. New York strip with large scampi-style shrimp, served with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables.” I also went with a couple of the Steamboat Pale Ales which had that bitterness that all pale ales are known for, but didn’t pack that real soul-punch that some of the more intense ones feature.

I’m not the biggest fan of shrimp, in fact I tend to avoid the tiny sea bugs most of the time, but figured I’d give them a shot and they were pretty good. I’m just not a big fan of that flavor/texture combination though I guess as I’m still not won over. The steak was also great, but not the best I’ve had. I think what I actually liked best about the meal was the garlic mashed potatoes, but then again, I’m a sucker for mashed taters. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with a nice steak and some beers on a warm Florida day after doing some hefty traveling.

Stay tuned here for more Disney food posts. If you’re more interested in our trip, keep an eye on Pop Poppa where I’ll be catching up on Photo Diary posts and also posting the latest episode of The Pop Poppa Nap Cast which will be all Disney!

Bonus Food Pic: Piece Of Fish

piece of fish

There’s a place around the corner from our house. It’s a tiny one room operation that’s served as several different kind of carry out food places since we moved to the area back in 2006. Its specific location is in kind of a dead zone as far as our travels go. It’s on a stretch of road that we often use, but take various other routes to get to meaning the place isn’t always on our radar. When we first got here it was a hot dog place, but we didn’t make it over there before they shut down. I think it was empty for a while and then a nice little wrap place opened up called Wrap and Roll. My wife and I loved that place because, not only were they not your average deli — and I’d say most of the delis around us are pretty average — but they also had this killer southwest pasta salad that I should have asked for the recipe for. After that it was a Philly cheesesteak place called Billy’s Phillies (or something). They were okay, but inconsistent.

Now there’s a new place in there called Piece of Fish which, as you might be able to guess, serves fish. I stopped in a few weeks back for lunch. The menu is pretty limited at this point, but I think that’s a smart movie. Start off with some items you can really knock out of the park and if they do well, start bringing in specials and other new menu items as you grow. And that’s what POF seems to be doing. I went with an order each of Whiting and Tilapia with regular fries and sweet potato ones and my wife and I were pretty happy with both results.

My main worry with fried sea food is that it will be super heavy and greasy, but that wasn’t the case here at all. Both fish has a really nice, light breading and fry to them that didn’t take away from the taste of the fish. I had never had Whiting before, but it was my favorite out of the bunch. We haven’t had the opportunity to get back there, but I’m definitely adding Piece of Fish to my mental liste of worthwhile, quick, in and out restaurants in the area to hit up.

I Had One Of The Best Meals Of My Life At Barnaby’s In New Paltz

barnabys

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is a wonderful event held in and around the area I live in in New York where all participating restaurants offer a set menu for lunch and/or dinner with three or four options for a three course meal. While looking around for things to do last weekend while my parents visited and coming up with zero events, I stumbled upon the fact that we were right in the middle of Restaurant Week again. I did some looking around and saw that  a place in New Paltz called Barnaby’s Steakhouse was on the list and happened to be offering a pretty impressive line-up of appetizers, entrees and desserts for the $20.95 price tag. I scoped out a few other places, but decided on Barnaby’s not only because we’d never been there before, but also because it seemed like the most bang for the bucks. We headed up there on Saturday for a late lunch and man, was it a wonderful experience.

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I started off with the the Lobster Bisque partially because it sounded like the most intriguing of the appetizers on the list, but also because I figured it was the best value. The bisque itself had that wonderful richness that you get from the best bisques, but it also had a cream swirled throughout as a sweet corn and tarragon relish that really added a depth of flavor that made me want to dive into a vat of this and eat my way out.

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We all wound up going for the Grilled Petit Filet Mignon Steak for our entrees that came topped with “a crust of Gorgonzola cheese & herbed horseradish” that also came with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. The steak came perfectly cooked to medium and I probably could have cut through it with a fork. The gorgonzola and horseradish topping was a nice touch that didn’t overwhelm the solid flavors of the steak. The potatoes were good, clearly made in house and creamy, though I always compare these things with the ones my mom makes and they don’t hold up. I wasn’t into the creamed spinach, but that’s okay, I was already pretty full at this point. Of course, it wasn’t over yet. 

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I went with the Creme Brulee for desert and kind of regret it, not because it wasn’t good, but because I wound up being uncomfortably full the rest of the day. Also, even though I figured I wouldn’t worry about calories after eating such rich food, I did add everything up as best I could and was shocked at how many calories this dish added to the meal. If my rough calculations are correct it’s actually more calories than the steak! Anyway, the caramelized sugar was perfectly done and the creme was super nice and creamy.

I’m not that best at comparing meals in my head. If I like one, I remember liking it, but it doesn’t enter a ranking system or anything like that. But, I can tell when a meal really rockets past all the other ones and this was definitely one of those experiences. Aside from the one time I went to Peter Luger’s, I think this might be the best steak I’ve ever had in New York. It’s probably up there with the best steak experiences ever. Plus, it was all the better because I was with my family AND it was my mom’s first time eating a steak after years and years of being a vegetarian. There’s a lot of reasons she’s moving away from that, but I think the high quality of the food at Barnaby’s helped kickstart the process even more!

Cooking Homesick Texan Carnitas With Avocado Dressing & Asian Carrot Slaw

It seems like I just can’t recreate the success I had the first time I made Smitten Kitchen’s Homesick Texas Carnitas. It’s a super simple recipe that involves a few ingredients and a bunch of time, but the last time I did it I accidentally bought beef instead of pork and then this time I didn’t chop it up ahead of time. Both times the results were pretty good, I just want to nail the procedure again, you know?

Anyway, I’ve already talked about making that dish, so I want to write about a few of the accouterments I made to go along with it. For whatever reason I had a brain fart when planning the menu that week and didn’t plan on serving the carnitas with anything other than a tortilla. Scrambling, I used what I had at hand to make Paula Deen’s Avocado Dressing and Martha Stewart’s Asian Carrot Slaw. The latter might seem like kind of a strange choice, but the only veggies I had in the house were carrots and I thought the Asian flavorings would bring something interesting to the table.

The Avocado Dressing was alright, but it being a Paula Deen recipe, there’s a good deal of mayo in there which I thought threw the flavor off a little. Since then I’ve made an Avocado Crema that I’ll write about eventually that actually had no dairy or condiments involved and tasted a lot more avocado-y which is what I wanted. Still, it was an okay addition that worked well with everything else on the plate.

The Asian Carrot Slaw actually wound up working really well with the carnitas. I kind of figured this would be the case when I saw that lime was a main ingredient, which is also in the carnitas, of course. I liked the tang that the sesame seeds and vinegar brought to the table and think I might be onto a cool flavor combination here. Anyone want to start a food truck?

Bonus Food Pics: Pre-Birthday Dinner & Dessert

short ribs horseradish potatoes - gilded otter

As some of you may know, today is my 30th birthday. I’m going back and forth between not thinking about this new decade and trying to figure out how I’m going to not trust anyone over 30 if I’m now included in that bracket. Last weekend, my parents came in for a visit to celebrate a little early. As I mentioned in a recent Photo Diary, we went to New Paltz on Saturday and while I originally thought we might come back closer to home for a mid-day dinner, I changed my mind and decided to head over to New Paltz’s Gilded Otter. Both a restaurant and a brewery, I decided to start off with their beer sample which not surprisingly lead me to order their India Pale Ale to go along with my meal of Stout Braised Boneless Short Ribs. I haven’t had shortribs too often, but have always liked their juicy tenderness. The meal was served with veggies and some super fluffy, bite-y Horseradish Mashed Potatoes. I scarfed this all done pretty quickly, so it must have been good.

pre birthday cheesecakeFor dessert, my lovely wife Emily made Michael Ruhlman’s Classic New York Cheesecake from Ruhlman’s Twenty (page 113). She wasn’t super thrilled with some of the vagueness in the recipe, but I thought the results were a real treat. More lemony than I would have expected, the mixture of acid and creamy cheese with the best graham cracker crust I’ve ever had made this aces in my book. I should say, I’m not much of a dessert fan, but I do love cheesecake and even had two pieces of this on Saturday.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce With Arugala & Lemon Couscous

Sometimes you’re just so excited to jump into a new cookbook that you don’t fully read the recipe correctly. That’s what happened with me and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen. I came across her recipe for Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce (page 44) and was immediately interested. When I noticed a note towards the end that suggested making her Arugala & Lemon Couscous (page 90) I started making that as well without fully reading that paragraph or really thinking much about what I was doing. What Lawson suggests in that graph is serving the prepared meatballs and sauce over the couscous, not in addition to. The way I did it, we wound up having a lot of pasta in one meal, but that’s okay every now and then.

One of the most interesting aspects of this sauce recipe was a method Lawson uses where you blend celery and onion into a paste and use that in the sauce instead of the usual diced or chopped variety. This seems like a good way to do this that saves on a little prep time and makes for a less chunky sauce (if that’s what you’re going for). I think I’m going to try this the next time I make Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion and Butter, which just so happens to be on the menu tonight!

From there you’ve got pretty standard sauce and meatball-making techniques (this is the first time I used my Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment for turkey, but it worked great). Another aspect of this recipe that I like is that you don’t bake the meatballs or cook them on the stove, you just put them all in the sauce while it simmers on the stove top. One thing that did surprise me about the recipe and I think made for a weaker sauce than I usually like is that it calls for a can of water. That seems like a missed opportunity for something that could add more flavor. I think next time I make this recipes I’ll use tomato sauce or V8 juice or something along those lines to bolster the sauce a bit.

The couscous is super easy to make. You get some chicken broth boiling and while cooking the couscous in another pot in some olive oil. Once the broth is boiling you pour it over the couscous, cover and let sit for ten minutes off the heat. Once that’s done you throw it in a bowl with some arugala along with lemon zest, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. This makes for a nice, clean, zingy side dish.

My wife and I both agreed that the meal would have been close to perfect had I forgotten about the pasta (it was too late in the process when I realized how much starch I was preparing) and just served the sauce and meatballs over the couscous. Since everything was on the same plate, they wound up mixing and the citrus-y zest of the couscous played very well off of the tomato sauce and turkey.