Category: opinion (page 1 of 3)

12 Things At Restaurants That I Love & Hate

The inspiration for this post is a recent dining experience where I could smell the bathroom air freshener from our table in the dining room. The scent was so strong that I could taste it in my mouth when we walked outside after the meal. This post is also inspired by our favorite restaurants who make us feel at ease and serve great meals time and again.

In no particular order, here are 12 things restaurants do that I love and hate:

I wrote a similar post about grocery stores in 2015. 

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Everything I’ve Always Wanted To Say About French Fries

I have a lot of opinions about French Fries.

  1. Bad french fries are better than no french fries.
  2. Even bad fries are still good fries.
  3. Steak fries are trash.
  4. Crinkle cuts are one step above steak fries. Only exception: Saint Dinette (more below)
  5. Matchstick fries are mostly trash. If I wanted a tin of shoestring potatoes, I’d buy a tin of shoestring potatoes.
  6. Waffle fries are fun, but typically not good enough to deserve an up-charge. They should be served with sour cream dip that tastes like Top the Tater.
  7. Seasoned wedge fries are two steps above steak fries.
  8. Arby’s curly fries are their own thing. I like Arby’s curly fries.
  9. The best thing to dip your fries in is whatever you like to dip your fries in.
  10. Generic pre-frozen french fries can be elevated with a good deep fry job + proper seasoning.
  11. Burgers should always come with fries. If they don’t, the burgers should be cheap, or, the fries, really really good.
  12. Restaurants that charge an extra fee to swap potato chips for fries are the worst.
  13. Housemade fries prepared with care are the best.

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10 Things I’d Rather Drink Than Eggnog

Here are ten things I’d rather drink than a glass of holiday eggnog:

  1. Not Your Father’s Root Beer. I hate Not Your Father’s Root Beer.
  2. A green smoothie.
  3. Three-day old coffee.
  4. Grape cough syrup.
  5. Liquefied White Castle burgers.
  6. Florida tap water.
  7. The liquid that collects on the bottom of the trashcan when your trash bag rips.
  8. Lye solution that hydrates lutefisk.
  9. The water in my dog’s water bowl that’s still sitting there when we come home from vacation.
  10. Beezlebub’s angry tears.

10 Things I Learned In Culinary School (That I Still Use Today)

It’s been three years since I attended culinary school in Moorhead, Minnesota. We were offered the opportunity to move to Iowa for my husband’s job right after I completed my first full-time year. While I have decided not to jump back into school again, I learned a lot that year that I continue to practice every day in my happiest place, my home kitchen. Here are some of my favorite tidbits of knowledge our culinary instructors taught us:

The first rule of culinary school: A falling knife has no handle. Seriously, friends. If you drop a knife, just step back and let it fall.

Be patient and let bread rise twice, once for flavor, twice for structure. Don’t rush the process unless you want messed-up bread. If you’re going for flatbread, that could be a different story.

Purchase “dry” or “dry-packed scallops.” Dry scallops are scallops, plain and simple. Wet scallops are soaked in sodium triphosphate solution that adds water weight and affects the flavor. Because wet-packed scallops absorb the solution, they are waterlogged when thawed and difficult to sear. Don’t hesitate to ask your fish monger or seafood department manager if they are selling wet or dry scallops. If he or she doesn’t know, buy them from someone who does (or a clearly marked package).

How to prepare dough by feel. Preparing pasta, bread, and pie dough became less intimidating when I could feel when the dough was ready. Our culinary instructors walked us through the processes, but the rest of the learning came from practice. Eventually, you will just be able to handle a dough and tell if it’s too wet, too dry, or just right.

Pie crusts aren’t scary! I didn’t attempt making pie crust before culinary school because I was afraid I’d ruin it. One morning in baking lab, I made pie after pie alongside my culinary instructor. It was one of my favorite learning experiences. I loved how she didn’t handle pie and scone dough too delicately. Her approach was not to stress too much. “Many people get themselves into trouble because they don’t add enough water,” she shared. Instead of sticking to recipe’s strict number of tablespoons of ice water, I add it until the dough holds together.

Make the leftover pie crust dough into something special. The excess pie crust you trim will become too tough if you try to roll it out again into another pie. Simply, do as our instructors taught us: Roll the dough into a flat sheet and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. Bake and enjoy!

I can make roux in my sleep. At the time, I wasn’t enthusiastic about my soup and sauce class. Twice a week, we raced to the back room to drag out the portable gas burners and made roux-based sauce after roux-based sauce. It was the last class of the day, and so we always tried to pair-up with a competent partner and make that day’s assignment as quickly as possible. In hindsight, I have no idea why we were in such a hurry. The best part of this class is that I can make a creamy, roux-based sauce in my sleep. Biscuits and homemade gravy? No problem! A complex, savory veloute made from the drippings on the bottom of my crock pot? Easy enough. Mac & cheese sauce? Got it.

Cool down big pots of soup, safely, in an ice bath. Food safety class was a trip. Our ServSafe Food Handler book literally instructed us not to vomit into food. While this advice was really obvious, other details weren’t, such as the correct holding temperatures of food served inside vs. outdoors, the time frames of how long food can be held at the correct hot and cold temps, and the order food should be arranged in the fridge. Sometimes I wonder if I now too much about food safety for my own good. For example, I take special care to cool down pots of soup as quickly as possible before storing them in the fridge. There is actually a two-stage cooling process to minimize harmful bacteria in which food must be cooled from 141-70°F within two hours and from 70-41°F within four.

Parchment paper is your best friend. Taking the time to trace and cut out parchment paper to line your baking pans ensures easy removal and no damage. I roast my veggies on parchment paper, too. Potatoes have a tendency to stick to my pans. Flipping my baked fries is a breeze when I line my sheet pans with parchment paper.

Many foods can be fixed. There were so many times we ran to our instructors fearing we ruined a dish. They were almost always able to fix things. A few baking disasters were lost causes, but most of the foods were salvageable after playing with the seasonings and textures. Don’t give up. At least, not right away.

What’s your favorite piece of kitchen wisdom? Has a family member, friend, or employer ever given you a piece of cooking advice that you find yourself returning to frequently? 

Everything I’ve Ever Wanted To Say About Burgers

Disclaimer: Sorry Mom and Dad.

If you really want to bother me, overcook my burger.

The prelude to disappointment is when a restaurant asks you how you want your burger cooked and then it arrives well done, anyway. I always ask for medium rare and just hope it arrives a little south of hockey puck.

Growing-up, we ate burgers weekly and I avoided burgers into my mid-20’s because I assumed I hated them. I remember helping my mom divide one pound of beef into four balls and packing them into disks. We seasoned them with salt and pepper and placed them on the grill until they were charred on the outside and well done on the inside. It’s not that they tasted horrible; I just didn’t understand why anyone would go out of their way to eat a hamburger.

My perfect burger is simply a burger that isn’t messed up. There are burgers for every mood and occasion, but when I’m really craving a burger, I want a classic one. O’Connell’s Pub delivered our perfect burger this weekend. It was like my mom grilled us a burger on our deck and didn’t mess it up. Now, I’m left with intense burger feelings.

Use delicious beef! But not too lean.

Don’t overcook it.

Keep it loosely packed.

Season the beef, but cook it however you like.

Grill it or griddle it, I really don’t care as long as it’s medium rare and you do all of the things I just mentioned.

Take the time to toast the bun because, let’s be real, it only takes a second and makes a huge difference.

Hold the foccacia or ramen noodle or Texas toast bun and keep your wacky sauces for another time. 

Simple garnishes like raw onion and tomato are just fine and there’s no shame in the ketchup game. Crisp iceberg lettuce is OK, too. A good burger’s like good pizza. Too many toppings can be overkill. More guacamole, peanut butter, and chicken fried bacon burgers for everyone else!

Good burgers don’t have to be expensive. If your burger costs at least $12 and then I have to pay extra to upgrade the potato chips to french fries, I’m gonna get cranky. Especially if it’s overcooked. And double especially if it has canned mushrooms.

Much of a burger’s goodness is about the person who cooks it. Last month, I enjoyed a good burger at the Hilton Garden Inn by the Lambert airport. The chef cooked it to a perfect medium rare and served it with crispy, house-cut french fries. I’ve received far less burgers for a higher price and at fancier restaurants.

A simple burger cooked well is a beautiful thing.

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