Friday, September 29, 2006

San Fran Sandwich

You're probably going to think I'm crazy, but that's just because you haven't tried it yet. I've been told that this sort of thing is very popular in San Francisco, but having not been there myself, I'm afraid I couldn't tell you first-hand. I'm probably just as bad as those people that think that everyone in Utah is Mormon. Sorry about that, San Franciscans. Stereotypes are ugly.

I heard about this years ago when I ordered the San Fran Melt sandwich at Village Inn. Or maybe it was Dees. Do they have either of those outside of Utah? Probably. I'm not sure. Anyway, their sandwich was made with sourdough bread, turkey, ham, maybe even bacon, and one or two types of melted cheeses. It wasn't the first time I'd ordered it, but it was the first time the waitress brought me little packets of jelly with it. I wondered out loud to the person with me why they would bring jelly with a melty sandwich. They informed me, very matter of factly, that that was how they did things in San Francisco. I was to just spread the jelly of my choice on top of the sandwich and enjoy.

Odd though it sounded, I decided to try it out. It was amazing! Suddenly I had not a battle of flavors, but a medly of sweet and savory that played delightfully well on my tongue. From then on, whenever I ordered that sandwich, I made sure the waitress brought me my requisite jelly.

I haven't ordered that sandwich in years. I'm not sure it's even on the menu there anymore. But that doesn't mean I've lost my taste for it. I have since seen something called a Monte Cristo sandwich, which is similar to the San Fran Melt, except that it is dipped in an egg mixture and pan-fried like French toast. When finished, it is sprinkled with powdered sugar. I've been told that jelly is often applied to the top of the Monte Cristo.

It was time to leave my mark on the world of melty sandwiches. I started with a non-stick skillet on medium heat, with a little melted butter in it. I took a couple of slices of sourdough bread, added a couple of slices of turkey and a couple of slices of ham. I grew up on lunchmeat, and I still like it, so that's what I used. Feel free to use what you will. I topped the meat with sharp cheddar, closed the sandwich with the other slice of bread and put it in the pan. The melted butter in the pan found its way into the bread and browned nicely. When I flipped the sandwich, I made sure to add another pat of butter so that the other side didn't feel left out.

With the bread browned and the cheese melted, I pulled the sandwich out and turned it upside down on a plate. Since there was no cheese between the meat and the bottom slice of bread, the bottom slice of bread was easy to remove and spread with strawberry preserves. I added a couple of slices of Romaine lettuce on top of the preserves and closed the sandwich back up again. I dispensed with the powdered sugar on top, but it would have been a nice touch.

How was it? In a word: awesome. That's right, this was a sandwich that, to me, inspired awe and wonder. It was really good. It was hot and melty, but had that little bit of sweet from the preserves and a nice fresh crunch of cool lettuce and toasty bread. Keep in mind, this is the sort of thing that really needs to be served hot and fresh, and really can't be stored and reheated. That's okay, because I don't think it'll last long enough to have time to even cool down.

San Franciscans, I don't know if this is your thing or not, but I'm going to thank you anyway, just because it does include sourdough bread and you're all sorts of famous for that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Freezing Veggies

One of the problems with not having a garden is that when harvest time comes, you have to get your share of the harvest from the grocery store. Well, that is, unless you have friends with gardens. Most people with gardens end up with way too much food, which is ultimately unloaded upon their friends without gardens. Fortunately, this has happened to me a couple of times already this season. Unfortunately, this hasn't happened with jalapenos, red bell peppers or tomatillos.

Fortunately, these things all seem to be on sale at my local grocery store at the moment. Jalapenos for $0.10/lb? Red bell peppers 10 for $10? Still way more expensive then growing them myself, and certainly more so than getting 'em free, but also much better than the regular price. So I picked up a little over a pound of jalapenos, a few red bell peppers and even a few tomatillos. The problem is, even I can't go through that many at once. I was already planning on certain long-term storage options.

One of the things I really miss from my days living in New Hampshire is diced chiles in the freezer section of the grocery store. They sold green bell peppers like that, as well as a mix of green and red. I was always bummed that they never sold just the red like that, since I'd take red bell peppers over green any day. But now that I'm back in Utah, I can't find either. It's truly a curiosity to me. I miss just being able to grab pre-diced chiles from the freezer to toss into my morning hash browns. There was no prep work involved, and I knew the chiles would actually be fresher than the "fresh" ones they sold in the produce section, because produce picked for processing are usually picked at the height of freshness, because they don't have to make the same kind of journey as those picked to be sold as "fresh".

As you might have guessed, I had freezing in mind. I was going to go for a method known in the industry as IQF, or Individually Quick Freezing. This is a technique originally demonstrated to me by Alton Brown, who had freezer storage in mind for a bunch of strawberries. Mr Brown used dry ice, but it had not occurred to me to pick any up. It occurred to me that liquid nitrogen would be just as effective, but gosh if I'm not just fresh out. You see, the quick freezing is important, because it tends to keep ice crystals from forming as large. The more time it takes to freeze something, the larger the ice crystals in it tend to be. Since a lot of the water that's forming ice crystals tend to be contained in cell walls, and ice crystals have no respect for such a fragile barrier, larger ice crystals tend to damage cell walls. The more damaged cell walls you have, the mushier the veggie will be once thawed. This was something that needs to be avoided.

Having no dry ice or liquid nitrogen available, I was not going to get my veggies as quickly frozen as I would have liked. But that didn't mean I couldn't still get a jump on things. I started by stashing a few sheet pans in my freezer, each with a sheet of parchment paper on it. That done, I turned my attention to seeding and dicing my chiles. Having washed them, I seeded them all first, then cut them into strips, and then cut those strips into squares. I then pulled a sheet pan out of the freezer and, working as quickly as possible, I spread the chiles out into an even layer, and then tossed it right back into the freezer. Using pre-chilled pans would ensure that the chiles weren't waiting for the pan underneath them to get cold before they did. The parchment ensured that they wouldn't stick to the pan itself once frozen.

Now, I processed my red bell peppers like this, my jalapenos, my poblanos and even my tomatillos. The plan was to give each pan a stir every half hour to cut down on stickage, but because the dicing made everything so small, it ended up taking less than an hour. This is definitely longer than the few seconds or minutes it might take with dry ice or liquid nitrogen, but also much less time than, say, freezing ice cubes. With the chiles frozen, I quickly moved them to zip-top bags, marked with the date and the contents of the bag.

The date's important, of course. And when freezing certain things (maybe not chiles, but certain other things) the year gets important too. Plus, I'm just obsessive compulsive and can't handle storing dates without four-digit years. Stupid Y2K. With the chiles bagged and tagged, I quickly moved them back into the freezer. Because everything had been frozen as a single layer, there was minimal stickage between pieces of chile too. This is what the "individual" part of IQF is talking about. When I reach in the freezer, I can just grab a handful of diced chiles without having to worry about chiseling away what I need or letting it partially thaw. Even better, since the size is so small, it takes next to no time to thaw what I do need.

Now making hash browns is going to be a snap. Prep time will consist of pulling out what I need, and only what I need, rather than dicing up a whole chile and then leaving half or three quarters of it in the fridge. Had I set aside strips of chiles, I would be all set for stir fry. Have you ever made stir fry? It takes significantly more time just to do your prep work than it does to actually cook your food. With pre-frozen veggies, you can just walk into your house from a long day of work and get your wok preheated while you pull your veggies out of the freezer. Suddenly, it's one of the quickest meal plans out there. Hmm. Maybe I should think about doing some stir-dry this week.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Spinach! Spinach! Spinach!

This who thing in the news lately about spinach and E. Coli 0157:H7 makes me sad. It makes me sad because even though the thought of cooked (and subsequently canned) greens is one of the least appetizing things in the world to me, fresh spinach is one of my absolute favorite greens. And now it's disappearing from supermarket shelves, but in the bag and out, because people are getting sick and even dying from it. So I thought I'd take a moment to talk about food safety in the hopes that at the very least, the readers of this blog won't let it happen under their watch.

If you want an in-depth discussion of E. Coli in general, I have a good article for you to look at. I'm only going to cover what we need to for now. There are many strains of E. Coli, and many of them are good strains. There is a relatively rare strain that goes by the name of 0157:H7. How it got this name, I don't know. But I do know that there are three main places that it tends to be a little more common: dirt, blood, and feces, which I will refer to as "crap".

Now, crap is used as fertilizer. This is probably at least one reason why dirt is such a common place to find this bug. I'm sure there are others. There are also animals all over that may or may not bother saving their "business" for their own designated areas in their owners' homes. Sometimes people step in it, sometimes the rain just kind of spreads it around. What I'm getting at here is that the three, five and ten second rules are kind of unsafe. Those of you who don't believe me need to watch more Mythbusters; they covered these rules for us.

Now, the problem here is, plants are grown in dirt. What's more, that dirt tends to be a lot more fertilized than regular dirt. As it turns out, fertilizer contains a lot more nutrients than just regular dirt. The plants only take what they need, they break it down, and by the time the plant has processed it, it's safe. Then we pick the plants, we wash the plants, and then we eat the plants, sometimes after cooking them, sometimes not. The real problem here is in washing the plants. Sure, the farmers and the processing plants are going to wash them. Most bagged greens state right on the bag that they've been triple-washed. And that helps. But that's not the last word on washing.

Ever notice how a bar of chocolate may say something like. "this product may have been produced on equipment used to process peanuts," or something like that? The idea is that the peanut proteins that people are allergic to may not be the easiest to get rid of. Even if they clean the equipment thoroughly, and I don't doubt that they do, there's still a chance of the proteins hanging out in, or around the equipment, or even the workers. Do you see what I'm getting at? Greens still have that chance of getting stuff back on them, even after they've been triple-washed. The solution? Wash them again. Even if they're bagged, wash them again. If they're not bagged, then you have things like flies that may be carrying all sorts of icky stuff, and those will be everywhere from the farm to the truck to the grocery store to your own home. So don't just wash your greens, wash all your produce. A clean sink, or just a bowl full of cold water is a good idea. Put your greens in, swish 'em around, let 'em sit for a few minutes, and then lift them out. Look at all the dirt and crud that's floated to the bottom! Suddenly, your risk has been significantly lowered. If you have a salad spinner, use that to get the excess moisture off. If not, dry paper towels will work too.

But of course, I can't just stop there. There's at least one more thing that bears mention when we're talking about E. Coli 0157:H7. I'm talking about meat. The problem is, the animals that give us meat also have blood. Butchers have developed techniques for slaughtering animals that results in minimal or even no contact with the blood. Jews figured out long ago that large, flaky salt crystals are also very effective at extracting blood from meat. This is a process called Koshering, which uses a type of salt called Kosher salt. This salt is favored among chefs and gourmets for a variety of benefits that I will have to save for another post. When the Koshering process is finished, the salt (and all the blood that it has extracted) is washed away.

Judaism aside, The problem is, just because butchers are good at what they do, doesn't mean they're perfect. Fortunately, the bug in question is heat-sensitive. That means that if it gets hot enough, by which I mean cooking temperatures, it dies. And fortunately for us, that means that when we sear a nice, tasty steak in a pan, on the grill, etc, any bugs that might have attached themselves to it are now dead. And unless you're eating a hunk of beef that has a vein running through the middle of it, the meat on the inside is pretty safe too. If you, or that fancy-pants restaurant you like to go to play the cards right, then a rare steak will be perfectly safe from the ravages of E. Coli 0157:H7. But that doesn't help with burgers.

Here's the thing about steak: when it gets that sear, the entire surface area is getting the heat. Even the sides are getting enough indirect heat to kill those bugs. But when you grind meat, you increase the surface area by a hundred, probably a thousand times. Now, if you or your steakhouse properly handle the meat in the first place, and grind it immediately before cooking, then this isn't really a problem. Rare burgers are still okay. But once you've added that critical component of time, well, any bugs that might have been on the outside and now on the inside, and making their way through the whole burger. Any time you cook ground meat that hasn't been freshly ground, you need to cook it thoroughly. All the way through. No, freezing doesn't kill it. That's why it's so important for fast food places (which tend to work with pre-processed and pre-frozen meat patties) to cook their burgers thoroughly. You can go 150F for one minute, 155F for 15 seconds, or 160F for instant pastuerization. Or even 165F, just to be really safe. In fact, 165F is a pretty good tempurature to kill just about anything, and if you're reheating food, then 165F should be the lowest internal tempurature, no matter what.

So let's be safe, everyone. Let's make sure we wash our produce and cook our meat thoroughly. There's some really good eatin' out there that may be easy to screw up, but is also really easy to make really safe and really good. If we all start following a little food safety, then maybe my beloved spinach will once again return to my local megamart.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not Chicken Kurma

Last night I had two thawed chicken breasts sitting in the fridge, waiting to be used before they went bad. You can't refreeze meat after it's already been thawed of course. Why? Because every time you freeze meat, it forms ice crystals inside the cell walls. When you refreeze it, the ice crystals get bigger. And the bigger the ice crystals, the more damage they do the cell walls. The more damaged cell walls are, the worse the texture of the meat.

So I had to use these things, or lose them. I was so impressed by the chicken kurma I had at Bombay House last week, I decided to give it a try. Now, a lot of people would look up a recipe first, maybe online using this whole "Internet" thing we have laying around. I'm not most people. Other than chicken, I remembered the dish having curry, golden raisins and cashews. I knew nothing else about it. I assessed the items in my pantry and found that I had all of these ingredients. I also discovered that I had a few small cans of coconut milk left. I've used coconut milk in a lot of Thai curries, but something told me that it probably wasn't nearly as common in India. My tastebuds argued that it didn't matter, so long as it tasted good. My stomach argued that it didn't matter, so long as it was full.

First, I needed rice. Fortunately, rice is an easy dish that you can just start and ignore while it cooks. Since the curry would offer plenty of flavor, I didn't need much out of the rice. I really just needed it to be there, as a vehicle for the curry. I decided to go with plain white rice. Then something inside of me said, "wait! Didn't the Bombay House rice have little green bits of something in it?" I couldn't for the life of me think of what that might be, but I did think that adding a little bit of color would make it a little more interesting. So I measured out a cup of rice, minus one tablespoon. Then I added to it a tablespoon of Bhutanese red rice, which according to the package, cooks in about the same amount of time. I browned the rice in about a tablespoon of peanut oil, and since I knew I wasn't going to be using a salty liquid this time around, I added a pinch of salt. When it was ready, I added two cups of water, brought it to a boil, slapped the lid on, and let it sit on low for twenty minutes. When the timer went off, I moved it off the heat and gave it another twenty minutes. I would later discover that a little of the red color from the Bhutanese rice would color the white rice ever so slightly. It still ended up looking pretty keen, though.

With the rice out of the way, I turned my attention to the curry. I cut the chicken breasts (two of them, remember) into strips, and then tossed them with about two tablespoons of peanut oil and maybe two tablespoons of Madras curry powder because, well, that was what I had. Since the stuff I had already had salt in it, I dispensed with adding more. I already had a pan over medium heat, so I browned the chicken off in batches, just enough to give it a good sear on both sides. I did not bother cooking the chicken all the way through, but we'll get to that. It took about three batches to get it all browned up. While that was happening, I added one 5.6 oz can of coconut milk to my little two-cup food processor, along with a half cup each of golden raisins and cashew pieces. I processed that until it was nice and thick. It was still a little chunky, but it didn't have huge hunks of anything, so I was happy.

When the chicken was all browned, I added another teaspoons of oil to the pan, along with about a quarter cup of diced red bell pepper. I added a wee pinch of salt, and let the bell pepper sweat a little bit. Then I added all the chicken back into the pan, along with all of the coconut milk mixture. It wasn't as liquid as I would have liked, so I added another little 5.6 oz can of coconut milk. That's two cans total now. I brought it up to a boil, and then dropped it to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Since I hadn't cooked the chicken all the way through the first time, this would give it a chance to coast up to temperature, without making it overcook and get rubbery.

The chicken and the rice finished at pretty much the same time. Now, in the restaurant, they would serve each in a seperate container, and give you the chance to scoop out your own rice, and then top it with the curry yourself. In other restaurants, they would just serve the curry on top of the rice anyway. I believe the idea is that since there's so much liquid, you can mix it in with the rice and have something just a little more special than just chicken and rice. For photographic reasons, I served mine side by side, and then mixed things as I got to them.

Now, after I had gone to all this trouble of making what turned out to be a simple, yet excellently flavored dish, I then decided to look up an actual chicken kurma recipe. I was way off. First of all, I should have used yogurt instead of coconut milk. Second, I used a curry spice blend instead of making one up myself. Third, even though Bombay House used golden raisings, I could not find any recipes that even mentioned them. So this is Not Chicken Kurma. But it is pretty dang tasty.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Talk Like a Pirate!

Avast, ye mateys! Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Arrr! T'was many years ago today (I'm not bein' sure how many, 'cause of the grog) that Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket declared this day to be Talk Like a Pirate Day, and t'was some time later that it was promoted by buccaneer Dave Barry, and then went international.

I expect ye all to be talkin' like pirates on this very special day. If ye be needin' instruction, I suggest ye read this lovely how-to from Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket themselves. They be the ones who started it, and they be the ones who know best. Or perhaps ye be needin' the one and only pirate keyboard. Be clickin' here if yer needin' a wee bit of pirate culture. So all ye mates and wenches be ready to be enjoyin' International Talk Like a Pirate Day, for today be among the best days of the year! So says me, Redbeard the Pirate! Yarr!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Orange Curd Mousse

I thought I had a great idea. Does anyone remember back when I made lemon curd? Turns out you can make orange curd the same way. Just use orange zest instead of lemon, and replace about 2/3 of the lemon juice with orange juice.

Making all that buttercream for the Tux cake left me with a lot of egg yolks. What do I do when I have leftover egg yolks? I make orange curd. I was armed with an industrial supply of orange curd, and I had no idea what to do with it all. So I decided to try making an orange mousse.

Now, let's get the basics of mousse straight. As we all know from our high school French class (don't worry, I didn't bother taking it either), the word mousse means 'froth' or 'foam'? So the first requirement of a mousse is froth or foam, right? Well, something like that. There's actually two main types of mousse: cream-based, and egg white-based. Either one of them can be whipped into a kind of foam, but with strangely different requirements. Cream needs to contain at least 36% butterfat, or else it doesn't really whip up. It also whips up better when it's cold. Egg whites whip up better when they're warm, and if there's even a speck of fat, they won't whip. Period.

The second requirement for mousse is smoothness. It needs to be perfectly smooth. Smooth, I say! Let's say you like chocolate. Who doesn't? And let's say you like sprinkling chopped almonds or something into your chocolate. It might taste good when you mix it into your chocolate mousse, but it's not really mousse anymore, right? Because it's not smooth. Mousse needs to be smooth.

Now, chocolate mousse is pretty easy stuff. I've always based mine off of Alton Brown's recipe, but I go a little simpler. I melt a little chocolate, and while it's cooling I whip up an equal weight of heavy cream, which I then fold into the cooling chocolate. It's an easy recipe. It's a recipe that I thought might work well with orange curd instead of chocolate. It would be like a orange creamsicle, but creamier and without a stick.

I put some orange curd in a bowl and whipped up an equal weight of cream in a different bowl. I folded them together and loaded the mixture into a piping bag with a star tip. I pulled out a martini glass, piped the orange mousse into it, and dropped a few pieces of crystalized ginger on top of it.

It looked okay but it was a little, well, loose. As opposed to stiff. Chocolate mousse can be refrigerated for a day or two, but I think this would have fallen into a puddle within a few hours. What went wrong? Then I realized my mistake. When chocolate cools, it hardens. If you cool a pound or two of chocolate, without anything mixed into it, you end up with a brick. When you cool curd, it remains soft and spreadable.

Just for the heck of it, I tossed the bowl into the freezer, and gave it a gentle stir (kind of like folding it) every half hour or so. After a couple of hours, I had what was basically ice cream. Really, really rich ice cream. In fact, thinking about it, I realized that egg-based ice cream is basically just a stirred custard (like curd) with a bunch of milk stirred into it. Mine was kind of like the same thing, but with a lot of butter added.

It tasted pretty good, maybe even a little better than in mousse form. Just like a super, super, super premium ice cream. Unfortunately, it was a little too super premium, by which I mean it had a lot of a fatty feeling on the tongue. It was just a little too much. In fact, the sugary crystalized ginger that I also added to it actually cut through the fat a little bit.

It was an eye-opening couple of experiments. I'm definitely going to have to play with mousses and stirred custards a little more in the future, but maybe not at the same time.

Bombay House

I love Indian food (dot, not feather). In fact, I'm not sure I have ever had an Indian dish that I didn't like. My favorite day in International Cuisine back in school was Indian Day. But I used to lament that there was no good Indian food in Utah Valley, where I now reside. In fact, I used to complain about the quality of restaurants around here in general. I can't do that anymore.

TuxGirl used to tell me about how great Bombay House in Provo is. In fact, lots of people used to tell me about it. In talking to Art last night, he told me that it's probably the best place to eat in Provo, and that he goes there all the time. I still don't know Art as well as I'd like, but I'm starting to trust his judgement in food. TuxGirl too, for that matter. So last night I decided to check it out.

I used to go to Chile's sometimes. I used to go to Applebees sometimes. Hey, they're both right down the street from me. I don't know that I can ever go to either one again, because they're not Bombay House. This place was awesome. I think the fact that every employee I saw there looked like they were actually from India probably didn't hurt. Every one of them was friendly, though I think they got tired of repeating things to me, with their thick Indian accents. The service was, well, I think efficient is the best word. Fast and efficient.

I ordered Chicken Kurma for myself and Lamb Curry for my wife. Even though I asked for the chicken to be hot (spicy) and the lamb to be medium (my wife is going easy on the spice while she's preggers), we both agreed that the lamb ended up hotter. In my very limited experience in Indian restaurants, the level of spiciness seems to be relative to the dish, not to the restaurant or cuisine as a whole, as in other restaurants. As for the flavor? I took one bite of my Chicken Kurma and I was in heaven. It was spicy, oh so spicy. It just about knocked my on my butt. It was also flavorful, tender and juicy. And it was even a little sweet. It seemed like the perfect medley that no other dish could ever contain, until I tried some of my wife's curry. It was also perfect. It had that rich, deep, yet sweet flavor so consistent with lamb. It was also spicy. It also tried to knock my on my butt.

I also ordered a side of naan, which is a type of Indian flat bread that I love so much. I spent most of the meal dipping it into all of the sauce that my chicken was swimming in, and when it was gone I considered ordering another naan. Both meats were swimming in sauce, in fact. I would pour it on my rice and just go at it. Did I mention the rice? It was some kind of long-grain rice that was fabulous on its own. It had little bits of green in it that I have yet to identify, but were just awesome. When we got full and had to get a to-go box, we made sure to take the rise with us as well.

Despite being full, I knew I wanted dessert. There were two big reasons why I wanted dessert, even though I knew I was too full for it. First of all, Jeffery Steingarten once said that there were only two types of food left that he was still squeemish on: bugs and desserts in Indian restaurants. In It Must Have Been Something I Ate, he talks about how he's gotten over bugs, but not Indian desserts yet. I thought I'd leave bugs to him, and handle the Indian desserts myself.

Secondly, back when I was studying ice cream a lot, I kept running across mention of kulfi, which is an Indian-style ice cream that is frozen without being churned. It's not flavored with things like chocolate or fudge brickle. It's flavored with things like cinnamon and cardamom. I had to try it. And I'm glad I did. It's sweet, very sweet. It was nutty and flavored with, well, I don't know what. I'm going to guess there was rosewater in it. Probably a few Indian spices that I'm not incredibly familiar with... yet. The texture made me wonder if they churned it, even though it's known for not being churned. However they did it, it was awesome. I ate the whole thing.

Like I said, the service was stellar. The waitor stopped by on a regular basis to check on us, and to keep our water glasses full. I was often surprised to look up and see somebody standing at our table, just finishing a question that I had managed to miss. They were to the point, none of this "good evening folks, my name is John and blah blah blah, would you like to hear the specials?" One guy stopped by at one point and simply said, "box?" when it was obvious we weren't going to be able to eat anymore.

I will be going back to the Bombay House again, probably on a somewhat regular basis. In fact, I think it's worth saving up to go once or twice a week. I don't know if I can afford to eat out in general all that often, but if I could I would probably eat there just about every day. Those of you in the area, check it out. Bonus! There's one in Salt Lake too! If you like food, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Traffic Jam!

Welcome, Digg users! You killed my server!

My little server is a little underpowered, at least for any real amount of traffic. It wasn't ever intended to pull in the kind of load that started sending it immediately following my presentation at the PLUG meeting.

For now I've set up a redirect to the mirror that Ryan Simpkins was so kind as to put up. When things die down a little bit, I'll go ahead and put the tutorial back up on my own site. Hopefully my server can at least handle the redirect traffic for now.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Happy 10th Birthday, PLUG!

Finally, the Tux cake is revealed! I'm sure you're all going to be happy now that I'm going to stop talking about it. But allow me just a moment.

The Provo Linux Users Group celebrated its 10th birthday this evening. We started off with a presentation of the new website, and then moved onto a few words from our original founders, Mike and Thayne. Following that, I presented the Tux cake, along with a presentation of my tutorial, walking through how I built the dang thing. This how-to is now located in my tutorial area.

It was a difficult cake to build, but I'm glad I did it. We managed to convince Art Pollard of Amano Artisan Chocolate to show up, and we got somebody else to take a picture of him, me and Jayce (the president of PLUG).

We got a few other pictures in, some more morbid than others. There were a few kids there, egging me on as I cut into the cake. The older kid you see in the first picture is Thayne, one of the cofounders of PLUG.

Geez, people! Take yer dang pictures already! I posed for a lot of shots with the initial cake cutting. There was some sort of Linux kernel joke associated with this one, but I don't remember what.

How could you not love a lobotomized picture of Tux? We were originally talking about coloring the cake layers used for the head gray, and then use red velvet cake for the body. We have quite the macabre group, don't we? I'm still a little sad we didn't do that.

All in all, it was a fun time. And since I know you're wondering, Jayce's presentation on mod_security went well too. We had a great turnout, and a great time. See how much fun Open Source can be?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New Wallpaper and PLUG Reminder

James brought in some pears yesterday, straight from his own tree. This morning I decided to take the liberty of photographing them. And why not? They're pretty. Okay, so they're not pretty. Have I mentioned pears bruise easily? But that's just the beauty of home grown fruit: it has personality, right? It certainly has more flavor. The one I ate yesterday was probably the juiciest pear I've ever eaten. When I have room in my fridge again, I plan to steal a few pears and see what I can come up with in the kitchen. For now, check out them out in my wallpaper area.

Speaking of that fridge, it is currently home to the confectionary version of Tux, our beloved Linux mascot. He's about 98% complete at this point. He is looking a little surprised at the moment, possibly because he's still sans beak. I plan to remedy that tonight as soon as I get home from work. It was a difficult venture, but I'm glad we decided to do it. Be sure to head down to the PLUG meeting tomorrow night to check him out, before we lob off his head with a kitchen knife and serve him up to hungry computer geeks.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Happy Birthday Sarah!

I'm glad my wife's family doesn't mind me experimenting with things like birthday cakes. I had a couple of cake ideas that I wanted to play with, and my sister in law's birthday just happened to be at hand. We get together once a month with my wife's family to have a family dinner, and if there's any birthdays that month, soembody will bring a cake for them.

I wanted to get some use out of my new 12-inch cake pan that I had bought to make the Tux cake, so I used that. I mixed together a yellow cake batter and a chocolate cake batter, and then marbled them into the cake pan. It baked and then cooled, oblivious to the Tux construction happening around it. With the evening almost over, I levelled it, then halved it and put a layer of chocolate buttercream in the middle. I coated the outside with chocolate buttercream as well, and put it in the chill chest.

The next day, I whipped up a batch of white modelling chocolate. I used oil-based food color to make little balls of red, white, yellow, green and purple chocolate clay. I had meant for them to be lighter colors, like pastels, but it didn't work out so well. Then I put each between two sheets of parchment paper and rolled them out to 1/8-inch blob-looking things. I had just purchased a set of rolling pin spacers from the cake store, so I know the they were perfect thickness. Then I laid out a full-sheet Silpat, and started tearing off pieces of color and arranging them on the Silpat. When I was done and had what was more or less a circle laid out, I covered it with parchment again and rolled flat to make all the colors stick together. I laid this over my frosted cake, and worked it into a smooth covering, kind of like fondant. Unfortunately, modelling chocolate is not nearly as forgiving as fondant, so there were some seams. I worked most of then out with some fondant modelling tools that I had picked up from the cake store.

I piped out a birthday greeting in chocolate icing, and then moved onto my second technique that I had wanted to play with. I had some foam stamps that I had picked up from my local crafty type store. I wiped them clean with a damp paper towel and then dried with another paper towel, in an attempt to make them foodsafe. Then I scooped out a little cocoa powder onto a plate and tapped a stamp into it a couple of times to coat. Then I stamped it onto the cake. That's when I realized that I should have tapped off the excess first. Even worse, my mistake was with the biggest, fanciest stamp. Fortunately, I was able to just blow off most of the excess, but not all of it. Correcting my mistake with the rest of the stamps, I moved on.

I think that had the colors been lighter like I wanted them, it would have looked much nicer. As it was, I was still kind of impressed. This whole foam stamp thing seemed to work out really well, certainly for my first time. Had I used dark chocolate fondant for the cake covering instead, I would have gone with powdered sugar for my stamping. I would imagine these things are designed for things like paints, so I'm sure it wouldn't be all that difficult to use a colored royal icing or something with them. I think despite my amateur efforts, these techniques have potential. I'm not sure if I'm going to do much with the white modelling chocolate in the future, but I'm sure it will work just as well with regular fondant, or even marzipan.

Greek Festival 2006 Report

Every time I look for information about the Greek Festival, I get frustrated that they don't have a website for me to look at, and to refer people to. That said, I apologize to anyone that may have tried to meet me in the food line at 10:30am. Apparently, they didn't even open until 11:00am, so there was no food line at 10:30. I spent that half hour walking around the farmers market a block away, and then Tony Caputos Deli on the way back. All I'm going to say about those two places now is, I'm going to go back and do a review in a couple of weeks.

My wife did not feel like doing a lot of walking, seeing as she's carrying enough already, what with the baby and all. So she opted to stand in line to get into the Greek Festival while Scott and I walked around. Apparently she saw some crazy Greek lady walking around and complaining that she didn't know where her no-good husband was. He finally showed up, and she complained to him about how no-good he was, and he eventually wandered off again. Can't say I blame him. This gave her the opportunity to complain about his unknown whereabouts again, and say that he was just going to have to find her inside, because she wasn't waiting for him. My wife also got to chat with the women behind her, who had obviously been in a marathon that morning. She looked like she was maybe in her mid-30's, so I was surprised to learn later that she was closer to 50, which made it even more surprising to me when I found out she apparently took 3rd place. That's awesome.

When we finally made it into the festival, the food line was almost non-existant. See what showing up early does for you? There was a bit of a wait, so we ended up talking to a large, friendly Greek guy behind us, who's mom apparently used to run a Greek restaurant in Salt Lake called Anna's or something, and another place in Denver. He wasn't really there for the food, like we were. He had better at home. He was there because he was Greek.

He may have thought the food was just okay, but I thought it was stellar. I piled about half the menu onto my plate, knowing that I wouldn't be able to finish even half of it. I had a cooler waiting in the car to take care of the rest of it. I walked out of there $26 poorer, but with enough food to last me a while. In fact, I'm eating some of the pilafi and souvlaki for breakfast right now, and have a gyro waiting in the fridge for lunchtime. It's the type of thing I live for.

When we wandered out to the tables, we found our buddy from the line, who let us sit at his table. Scott talked to him a lot, and I talked to him a little. His camera, a Nikon N80, made me more than just a little jealous. My dad and his girlfriend showed up and ate with us as well. It was good for my wife to have somebody to talk to about non-geek stuff. I stole some of her calamari at some point, and it was pretty good, though I thought the tubes were a little rubbery. The tentacles were crispy and flavorful, though. I was also the only person who got stew, which is a mystery to me. That stuff is awesome. I did wish the hunks of beef were a little smaller, and easier to fit on my spoon. The dolmades were pretty okay, but nothing special. The meatballs were better than I'd ever had them. They're usually pretty minty, but this time the seasonings were extremely well balanced. The soulvaki wasn't as good as usual, and pretty tough when I reheated it this morning. It went really well with the pilafi though, which was excellent as always. I'm not sure offhand what the thing was that looked but did not taste like cornbread, which was filled with ground beef and had a base of macaroni, but I didn't much care for it.

We finished our food and began walking around the courtyard. I was the only person in our party to not order any sweets. Let's face it, I'm not paying $3.50 for a slice of baklava when I could make an entire batch myself at home for little more than twice that. My wife got a baklava sundae which looked pretty stellar, though.

As we continued to walk around, we saw Ted and Basil's Excellent Lamb Adventure, featuring whole lambs roasted on spits. A lamb dinner was only $12, and one of these days, I intend to order one and see what it's like. Vegetarians, look away.

Doesn't that look tasty? One day I will know for sure. One day when I think to bring more cash with me to the greek festival. Instead, I knew I needed to save my remaining cash reserves for the bazaar inside the Greek Cultural Center. Last year, it was packed. This year it was pretty darn empty inside. It seemed saddeningly devoid of vendors and customers alike. They still had a Greek market inside, where I bought a large bottle of my beloved Greek olive oil. They weren't able to tell me where to buy this stuff during the rest of the year, so I'm going to have to buy some online. We bought a small hunk of feta cheese for only $0.60, for our vegetarians friends who couldn't make it. I would have bought more, but I still have a good half pound of feta at home, which is good but likely inferior compared to this stuff. I finished up with a large jar of Greek Oregano, a pack of Kalamata figs and couple of cans of these Greek chocolate wafer stick things. There's a French version in most markets out here that is so completely inferior in comparison that I won't even mention the name. My mind is completely blanked on the name of the Greek stuff, so if you're interested, watch the comments. I'll post it in there later.

We finished with a tour of the Greek Orthodox cathedral next door. We would have visited the Helenic Cultural Museum in the basement, but it didn't open until 1:00pm, and we all had places to be. In particular, I had a pengiun cake at home to work on. All in all, it was a good time. Next year, I'm going to try and keep the entire day open, so that I can spend more time there. We'll have a wee one with us, so hopefully that works out. Maybe we can coerce either my parents or hers to help keep track of the little one then.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Sam Hawk Korean Restaurant

If memory serves me, in a reply to a recent post, TuxGirl told me to check out a restuarant called Sam Hawk, in Provo, UT. As it turns out, Sam Hawk serves Korean food. Why she decided to compare the authenticity of Chinese and Korean food, I may never know. But as it turns out, I owed The Pete lunch, so we decided to check it out today.

Now, I have no idea why a Korean Restaurant would have a presumably American-sounding name. I'm guessing it's a pun of some sort. But they do have good food, which I'm told is very authentic. Our waitress even told us it was authentic, and she looked Korean, so I'm going to trust her on this one. This was my first time (in memory) eating Korean food, so I have little to go by. We ordered an appetizer called dukpoki, which was advertised as "rice cakes, vegetables mixed in spicy red pepper sauce." The rice cakes were like really short, really fat noodles. One might go so far as to say dumplings. They looked like penne pasta, except they weren't hollow. They were slightly rubbery, and I suspect would be largely flavorless without the sauce. But boy, that sauce was good. And yes, it was spicy. My level of spicy. Sissies need not apply.

The Pete ordered beef bulgogi and I ordered chicken bolgogi. This was described to me by James, a coworker that's too good to have a blog or homepage to link to, as being kind of like Korean fajitas. We each got a sizzling plate of meat, and then between us were "side dishes" that we could add. We also had a plate full of romaine leaves to wrap everything in. The sides were all cold, and included some kind of potato, some kind of really tasty beef, some kind of crunchy beans, some kind of omelet, what I'm guessing was kimchee, and some kind of bean sprouts.

The chicken was good. It was really good. I would have eaten it by itself. The potatoes were also a favorite. The beef was awesome. I don't know why it was only a side, because it warrented entree status, in my opinion. The omelets were nothing special. The crunchy beans were tasty, but I didn't like the way they crunched. The kimchee was... well, you must understand, I've never had kimchee before. This is largely because I hate cabbage. Obviously, I expected to hate it, based on this reasoning. But there have been a number of occassions where I've tossed my biases aside in favor of trying something new, with the hopes that I would be wrong, that I would suddenly discover a new taste sensation that would quickly become a favorite. This has been the case on a number of occassions, where I have added a new item to my list of foods that I enjoy. Kimchee did not make the cut. Fortunately, it wasn't totally awful, so there's hope. However, I don't think I can say the same for the bean sprouts. The Pete described them as tasting like his grandmother's house. And he wasn't talking about the food that his grandmother made. He was talking about the house.

We ended up liking about half the sides, and absolutely loving the entrees. We were also each served some kind of purple rice which I certainly had never seen. Sadly, it only tasted like regular white rice, but fortunately this was not a bad thing. The service might have been a tad slow, but it was extremely friendly. The food was worth coming back for. As I was paying, I saw a printed copy of the menu and asked the woman if they did carry-out. She informed me that they did not, but you could come pick up your order. Keep that in mind. All in all, I had a great time there. I am likely to go again, and possibly go often.

Grilled Fresh Veggie Sandwich

I thought I'd play with my pastry cutters a little last night. I currently only own a fluted set, like this one but much cheaper. There are so many things one can do with a good set of pastry cutters, it's mind boggling. In my case, I decided to make a designer sandwich.

I took the second largest cutter and cut out a couple of bread rounds from a large slice of sourdough bread. You can dry the scraps out in the oven and turn them into bread crumbs if you want, so there's no waste. Then I browned them a little in a pan with some butter, like I would a grilled cheese sandwich, but just one one side each. I set them aside, added a little more butter to the pan, and cooked up some thin slices of zucchini and yellow sqaush, just enough to give them some color, and then set them aside to cool. I also took a piece of red bell pepper, cut out a round with the third largest cutter, and cooked it the same way. To be honest, I wish I had just had some jarred pimiento to use instead.

Then I took one slice of bread and put it on a plate, grilled side down. I added a layer of baby greens, topped that with the thin slices of zucchini and yellow squash, then added the bell pepper. I took the third largest cutter and cut out a round of provolone, and put that on top of the bell pepper. You can save the scraps for pizza, or just munch on them. I topped with the last piece of bread, grilled side up, and stuck a party toothpick in it. Lame, but more photogenic than without.

It was a good sandwich, but there were a couple of things wrong with it. Mainly, there was too much bell pepper. I think had I used jarred pimiento (or a fire roasted red bell pepper, for you snobs out there), it would have been better. Also, there was too much, so I should have gone with half of what I used. And let's face it, using a cutter for something going inside the sandwich was probably just wasted effort. But using the cutter on the bread is definitely not wasted effort. It looks nice. Polished. Fancy. Like you could charge an extra couple of bucks for it.

And why did I call it a grilled fresh veggie sandwich? Well, first of all, there are fresh lettuce greens on it. Second, the veggies should be cold when you serve it. Fine, just call it a grilled cold veggie sandwich. See if I care.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Salt Lake Greek Festival 2006

It's coming. This weekend. You can't stop it. It will come with or without you. And why would you want to miss it?

The Salt Lake Greek Festival is held every year, the weekend after Labor Day, at the Greek Orthodox church downtown, at 279 South 300 West. Of course there's things like dancing, booths, even a carnival for the kids. But the main reason to go? The food. This festival has some of the best Greek food I've ever had. Ever. If you doubt my words, take note: If you get there any time after noon on Saturday, expect to spend a good couple of hours waiting in line for food. It's just that good. Rumor has it this is the largest Greek festival west of the Mississippi. The lines probably have something to do with that too. But mostly, I blame the food. It's so good.

Of course you have to pick up a Gyro. Or two. Definitely some pilafi (Greek rice pilaf). Don't forget the dolmathes. Grab some souvlaki, and don't even think about not getting at least one meatball. In fact, do what I do and just get one of everthing, at the very least. While you can eat a good size meal for about $5 or so, I usually end up bringing $20 (just for food) and a cooler full of ice to bring it home it. It usually almost makes it through the weekend. I also try and bring a little cash for the booths. Last year I picked up a Greek family cookbook, and even a cookbook devoted entirely to phyllo dough.

According to About's Utah event page, admission is $2 for adults, and $1 for children under 12. That sounds about right to me. There's plenty of parking nearby, and it's usually not too expensive. If anyone wants to meet me there, I'm trying to pull together a group of friends to meet in the food line at 10:30am Saturday morning. Email me for details if you're interested (joseph at thatworks dot com).

Monday, September 4, 2006

P.F. Changs

Utah is a land of chain restaurants. There are few places to eat that aren't owned by a corporate entity. PF Changs, a local Chinese restaurant is no exception. But while my cooking school buddies would frequently slam on various chain restaurants, I would hope that this one does not make that list.

My wife and I celebrated our first anniversary this past Saturday at the PF Changs near our home. We had been there only once before, about two months after we were married, and that was at the expense of both of our workplaces. We had both managed to score giftcards there on Halloween, so we decided to check it out. Now, I may have mentioned before that I am not a fan of Asian food in America. Even if I go to a Chinese restaurant, with a Chinese staff, and eat what is supposedly authentic Chinese food, it still tends to taste more like a wet yak. Still, with $65 worth of gift cards in hand, we had no reason not to check it out.

The service was superb. Somehow we got lucky enough to get an entire half of the restaurant to ourselves. The waitresses checked on us often, and our every need seemed to be attended to. I don't think anyone there could possibly be mistaken as being Chinese, and maybe the food wasn't real Chinese, but it was still nothing short of stellar.

Remembering our previous experience at PF Changs, I decided to take my wife there again for our anniversary. I decided to make it a surprise, and she had no idea until I opened the door for her. We were promptly seated, and we had scarcely opened our menus before our waiter showed up and asked us for our drink orders. He offered to get us an appetizer, and I quickly agreed and ordered lettuce wraps. By the time I had decided upon the rest of our order, our drinks and lettuce wraps had been delivered. The lettuce wraps were okay, but just okay, until we added the sauce at the side of the table. Suddenly they were properly seasoned, and had been elevated to nothing short of magnificent. I had wanted to save plenty of room for dinner, but I couldn't help myself from finishing off all of them.

Once our appetizer plates were cleared, it wasn't long before the rest of our meal showed up. Now, I had been saving for this meal for some time, and I had a strategy in mind, albeit an expensive one. We would order a lot of food, and then take a lot home with us. The concept at PF Changs is that each dish is meant to be shared around the table. They each come with serving spoons, and each diner gets to pick and choose. The more dishes you order, the more selections you have to put on your plate. We ordered four dishes: kung pao scallops, orange peel beef, beef a la sechuan, and due to my southwest-tuned palate, blean bean chicken.

Now, believe it or not, I had never had kung pao anything before. But as I may have previously mentioned, I have decided to start ordering things that I'm not used to. Unfortunately, kung pao did not become an instant favorite. It was good, but I will probably not rush to order it again anytime soon. And sadly, the chicken in black bean sauce, while tasty, was not as good as I had expected either. And that had been my "safe" dish. Amazingly though, both the scallops and the chicken were perfectly cooked. In fact, the chicken had found that sweet spot, thoroughly cooked, yet juicy and tender, like a rare tenderloin steak.

The stars of the show were the orange peel beef and the sechuan beef. I was intrigued when the menu described the sechuan beef as being cooked twice, which gave it a "unique" texture. And a unique texture it had: crispy, but not leathery like overcooked meat. The flavor was amazing. It was served amidst a bed of julienned carrots and celery which were also tender, juicy and flavorful. The celery was not stringy, and while both flavors complimented the beef, neither overpowered it. It was definitely my favorite dish.

A very close second was the orange peel beef, which tasted almost exactly like I had imagined it, and yet so much better. The orange peel was chewy, but not in a bad way. It had a slight bitterness to it, and yet it was slightly sweet too. It was like they had candied it before adding it to the beef. The beef itself was sliced thin, coated in an orangey goodness, and flavorful. It looked like it was going to be tough, but it wasn't. It was just about perfect. I'm not a huge fan of beef, but I would gladly order either of these two dishes again in a heartbeat.

Impressive though the food was, I'm not sure it could have matched the service. Rather than stop by every twenty minutes to ask if we needed refills on our drinks, our waiter would deliver refills before our glasses ever became empty. This is the sort of anticipation that the staff at Charlie Trotter's strives for. Both our regular waiter and the one who delivered our entrees were friendly and willing and ready to answer every question and serve our every need. There was only one mistake that I caught: our waiter initially brought me raspberry lemonade instead of the strawberry lemonade that I had ordered. When I informed him of this, it was quickly remedied.

Speaking of drinks, I had an odd revelation while I was there. This was largely inspired by my lemonades, both of which tasted fake, and the raspberry far more so. While considering this, I thought about my wife's root beer. I thought about how odd it really was to drink American soft drinks at an expensive Chinese restaurant, and yet how common in our country. And then I considered how poorly my drink matched with my meal. What in the world was I thinking? When was the last time you saw strawberries served with steak? There's a reason you never see them together. Straight lemonade would have been better, because a hint of lemon can compliment beef. Why in the world did I order a flavor to drink that I would never cook anything in my meal with? That was just a bad idea.

When our waiter brought us our check, I gladly added a generous tip to the bill. As our waiter put our food into chinese take-out boxes, we talked about the food, and which dishes were our favorites and his. All in all, we were in and out of there in about an hour. We took our time eating, and didn't feel the least bit rushed. The service I am used to in normal restaurants might have taken as long as an hour and a half, and might have made me feel rushed at that. If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend checking out PF Changs. It may be a chain restaurant, but it's an oasis in a sea of "just okay" or even substandard food and service.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Burgers and Jello

My dear friend Anita said it best when she told me that "fry sauce alone is reason enough to avoid Utah." For those of you who have been spared this atrocity, fry sauce has been described as "thousand island dressing without the islands." More simply, fry sauce is nothing more than ketchup mixed with mayonnaise, with the occassional addition of pickle juice. This concoction was brought to us by a Utah-based restaurant named Arctic Circle.

When I was young, my family lived down the street from the national headquarters. We grew up on food from the AC, and fry sauce was common in our household. As I grew older, and I began to grow chest hairs and tastebuds, I realized that I really didn't like fry sauce. In fact, I thought it was absolutely disgusting. I still liked the burgers, especially the bacon double cheeseburger, which is no longer on the menu, though you can still get a double cheeseburger and ask them to add bacon.

Back to the fry sauce. So I don't like it anymore. Big deal, right? The theory is that when they ask me if I want any sauces, I either say no or just get ketchup. This doesn't happen at Arctic Circle. You get fry sauce no matter what, unless you actually reach in the bag, pull it out, and give it back to them. I have done this on a number of occassions. Then I ask for ketchup. I always have to ask for it. Every other fast food restaurant I go to (not that there's many these days) asks if I want ketchup. In Utah, most of them ask if I want ketchup or fry sauce. Kudos to them for actually bothering to ask.

Several years ago, Arctic Circle got the bright idea to start selling burgers made with Angus beef. Just about any burger on the menu could be requested with Angus beef. Now you don't get the option. You get Angus beef or you go to another restaurant. Here's the thing about Angus beef: when was the last time you met somebody that could tell it apart from regular beef? Especially considering the charcoal that they have to turn the beef into in the first place just to be safe. While the taste may be no different, I did notice early on that the texture did suffer. Let's face it, Angus beef just isn't meant to be used as burgers.

Arctic Circle's new thing is their new yukon gold fries. We stopped by today because it was time for my yearly craving for an Arctic Circle burger. My wife ordered a combo meal, and was asked if she wanted to upgrade her fries to yukon gold fries for free. They told us that yukon gold potatoes had a naturally buttery flavor. Now, this is true, if you get "yukon gold butter potatoes", which I have only seen a couple of times in the grocery store. This is not true of regular yukon gold potatoes. Still, we went for the yukon gold fries. They did have a slightly buttery taste, and had a little more yellow to them than regular yukon golds. Apparently they're using the right variety. They also tasted largely undercooked and undersalted, even for me, and they were of course soggy.

Arctic Circle is largely located in Utah and Idaho, which are not two states that are known for their cuisine. The highest score a restaurant can receive on the Zagat Survey is a 30. Three restaurants in Utah (the whole state) have a food score of 27, and none higher. Compare this to New York City (just the city, not the whole state), which has ten restaurants with a score of 28, and thirty restaurants with a score of 27.

It makes me sad that what was once an occassional treat from my parents has taken it upon themselves to convince themselves that they're improving their menu, while they continuously allow it to degrade. It also makes me sad that this seems to be perfectly okay with the majority of the locals.

As I'm typing this, I have the Travel Channel turned on in the background. I just happen to glance up in time to see footage of my beloved downtown Salt Lake City. As I turn up the volume, I see the host standing in a very Utah-looking kitchen, talking to a very Utah-looking woman. I blame my wife and her hairstyling training that I take note of the woman's bad hair. What is the focus of the segment? Jello. This women has made lime Jello, filled with carrot shavings, inside a pineapple mold. This is wrong on so many levels. The combination of green mixed with orange is entirely unappetizing. The host is gushing about how limey it tastes. I'm thinking, "she made it from a box of lime-flavored Jello! Of course it tastes like lime! They sell the stuff in every other state in the union!" As if that isn't enough, the women has invited several friends and family members to bring their own Jello dishes, so that they might have a Jello fest. There is a line of people outside her front door, and each one describes their dish to the host as they walk in. One of the Jello dishes has spinach mixed into it. The host is acting as if he has just walked through heaven's doors and still can't believe it. Something about him seems just a little fake, but everyone else seems to be buying it.

Utah, you're giving yourself a bad name. Knock it off. Yes, I like Jello. It definitely comes in handy whenever I have oral surgery and have to stick with soft foods. But I don't make it every day. I don't even make it every month. In fact, I have only made it once in the past several years. There are so many foods out there for you to explore and enjoy. Maybe you should think about trying them out occassionally. Go check out that Thai restaurant sometime. Maybe you won't end up liking that tom yung kung soup. At least you will have tried it. And who knows? Maybe you will like it. And maybe, just maybe, when you expand your culinary horizons, you can break out of the molds that you have convinced yourself are good enough, and maybe your standards will go up just a little. And maybe, just maybe, some day I'll be able to proudly declare to my out-of-state friends how great the food in Utah is.