This evening we went to see our friend Dave preach at a nearby church. He did very well, thank you for asking. Lindz and I didn’t get a chance to eat supper before we had to leave, so we ended up inviting Dave over for some supper after church. Turns out he was planning on inviting himself over to de-stress anyway, so it worked out well. I had a leek that needed to get used up, so I decided to pan fry it and put on top of the burgers that I was making. From there, I decided to use up some onion as well. And digging around, I found a jalapeno that I could fry up too. That last item is where things went wrong. I decided to skip over the seeding and just slice and fry it. When it came time for the jalapeno’s turn in the pan, I was its first victim. You know how you can tear up from an onion? Yeah. This was ten times as bad. Anytime I got near to the pan to look and see how things were doing I was assaulted with the vapors. Finally, it dawned on me to turn on the fan. Even though it just blows air over my head, it was at least out of my eyes. This was the point it claimed its next victims. Dave and Lindz were sitting in the living room talking and happened to be directly in the path of the fan. They started tearing up and coughing, so Lindz opened the window. That eventually helped and we ate and all was good. However, this wasn’t the first time that I accidentally waged chemical warfare on people with my cooking.
While still living in Decorah, I was making a satay sauce that I’ve made several times. I never noticed the “side effects” of the cooking process until Lindz was there hanging out. At one point she was asking what was going on. This was motivated by the fact that Ophelia (the little cat) was doing her best Bast impression in the door to the kitchen staring at me, eyes watering, squinting, and silently yelling “Dude! What the *$&#@ are you doing?!?!?!?” Again, this isn’t the first time either.
To the best of my recollection, the first time was when I had some people over for a very impromptu after-the-bar-snack. I decided to do a stir fry because it was quick and easy. I wanted to add some heat because this group of friends liked spicy food. In my cupboard, I found a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Not having used it before, I just dumped the whole can in. In my defense, and I’ve said it many, many times, it was a small can. It couldn’t have been more than five or six ounces and I had a lot of things in the wok. By this point everyone was ravenous and started digging in even though the rice wasn’t done yet. Somewhere around the second bite was when it hit everyone. I’m honestly not sure why we kept eating it, it was that spicy. The only thing I can think of was we were just that hungry. I say this because one friend, who shall remain nameless, went down to his car and found a stale loaf of bread and we started eating that with the stir fry to cut the heat. Please don’t ask why he had a stale loaf of bread in his car. I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to know. I suggest you do the same. Those unwilling to try the mystery bread started eating the half cooked rice. Not surprisingly, I received quite a few jabs about my “infamous chipotle stir fry”. I don’t care. They were the fools who kept eating it.
I’m not entirely sure when my love of chicken gizzards came about, but I do know I’ve been eating them since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. When I was growing up we often ate meals over at Grandma Bert’s and Grandpa Nick’s place since they were only a mile down the road. Very often we would have fried chicken because it was cheap and good. Thank you Mom for raising chickens all these years. Given that seven plus people were eating (depending on who showed up), getting the piece of chicken that you wanted made international politics look trivial. Several tried and true tactics emerged though. There was seniority. “Don’t take the pope’s nose (the tail), that’s Grandma’s.” Getting there first, a la “I claim this land in the name of Spain!” This usually applied to the wings. The “let your little sister go first, ” or the baby of the family tactic. The unspoken agreement: “I’ll let you take the heart all the time if you leave the gizzard alone.” That would be me and Chell. Yes, we descended and devoured yard birds like a pack of wild, starving hyenas, but, hey, that’s family. As you may have noticed, the “normal” cuts of chicken aren’t the ones we usually fight over. People “settled” for the breast or the drummie or the thigh.
From last year’s butchering of chickens, Mom separated the hearts and gizzards and froze them separately. I’m not sure why she didn’t save the livers. A month or so ago, I swiped a chicken and a chunk of the heart/gizzard mixture. As usual, I tried to save my home cooking that tends to gross people out for the times that Lindsay is working evenings.
First we begin with the innards:
Again, as usual, I decided to go with a pan frying approach since I knew I was going to be the only one who would be eating this. Though I did offer some when Lindz came home. Because I couldn’t think of a better approach, I went with a simple wash and flour coat.
After a couple of quick dunks, into the frying pan they went.
I did end up having to finish everything off in the oven because my breading was getting close to burning and the gizzards do take a while to cook through. When in doubt, serve potatoes. Especially if you can make chicken gravy.
I know a lot of people can be put off by the idea of eating hearts and gizzards, but they really are good. The heart tastes just like thigh. It’s a little drier, because there’s no fat. But if it is not over cooked, you would never notice. The gizzard I can understand if people don’t like. There is no fat here either, so it can get dry quickly and you definitely know you are biting through something when you eat it. Not that the meat is tough, it is just a really dense muscle. The connective tissue part (the white part in the first photo) is without a doubt chewy. But for some reason that is one of the appeals for me, so I never bother to cut it off. As Andrew Zimmern likes to say, “If it looks good, eat it!”
Yesterday I took a much needed break from the Cities. Unfortunately, Lindz couldn’t come along to Mom & Dad’s because she had to do TA work up at school. It just ended up being a day trip, but it was worth it. I know it sounds weird, but there are time I really miss the smells and activities of farm life. When I finally pulled into the yard, the first one to greet me was the new puppy, Lucy. She has an interesting story as to how she ended up on the farm. After the last dog, Blackie, died, Mom was looking for a new farm dog and she wasn’t willing to spend the $100 for a Sheltie or Border Collie pup (her preferred breeds). My uncle Art (Mom’s brother) really thought Mom should get a Red Heeler, but Mom wasn’t moving fast enough or something. So as you can guess, Art bought a Heeler puppy for Mom. That’s how Lucy came along:
And just for good measure:
You can’t see it in the photos, but Lucy has one blue eye and one black eye. Freaked me out the first time I saw it.
Also, I went to see my Grandma. If you’ve been paying attention, she’s the one who made the headcheese awhile ago. She’s doing good. Though she really, really wants to get out of the house and on her lawn tractor. Dad needs to change the oil first apparently. For the last decade or so, she’s had chickens that she’s always referred to as banty’s. But when I was looking up the spelling, it said that banty’s are a mini version of a larger breed. So I’m not sure what is going on here. But her chickens look like Welsummers from what I can tell.
And one more picture before I go. This one is of Art and his buddy, John, dragging one of the fields with Art’s team of horses.
One of my favorite things that Mom makes is pasta salad. Not even sure where she found the idea twenty-ish years ago, but it’s very tasty. It’s a great dish to make ahead and take for lunch.
The recipe is ridiculously simple. Boil two pounds of pasta of choice (I used farfalle and conchiglie here, but usually use rotini) in slightly salted water. I usually drain it just before it’s al dente otherwise it becomes mushy because it will soak up some of the dressing. Once it’s drained, run it under cold water to stop the cooking. While the pasta is cooking, I prep whatever I want to throw in it. I’ve only done this with a Mediterranean bend, but I don’t see why this would work with other cuisines.
I put the following in: red bell pepper, carrots, hard salami, kalamata olives, capers, cherry tomatoes, red onion, pepperoncini, mozzarella, and green olives. Fresh herbs would also be good mixed in here. When the pasta is done and the veggies are prepped, mix them together along with Italian dressing to taste. I usually toss in a little salt and pepper to taste, as well. Just as a word of caution, two pounds of pasta is quite a bit. This was lunch for a whole week.
[*EDIT* This ended up being way longer than I was expecting. So if you don’t want to read through my ramblings, just skip to the summary at the end. Also, due to the really crappy lighting, I didn’t take any pictures. Sorry.]
To celebrate Lindsay’s very successful defense of her Master of Theology thesis (no revisions!!!) we decided to go out for sushi. She was even willing to go try a place we haven’t been to before, Akita, in Woodbury. For the record, our current favorite place is Osaka in Roseville because they have good food, decent pricing, decent selection, and most importantly are really close. The reason I wanted to go to Akita is because it is an all-you-can-eat sushi place and it also has hibachi. Really, how can one resist trying out an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant? The all-you-can-eat has options are in the following categories: appetizers, sashimi, sushi, maki rolls, Temaki (hand rolls), teriyaki, tempura, Teppanyaki (fried rice/noodles), Udon (thick) and Soba (thin) noodle soups, miscellaneous deep-fried items, and ice cream. Don’t feel too intimidated, there is a lot of width, but not too much depth to the menu. It’s mostly different preparations of the same things.
It was about a 25 minute drive out there (minimal traffic), so not great, but not bad as far as the Cities go. My heart did drop a bit when we got up to the door and saw the reception area was packed with people. I was hoping that the supper rush wouldn’t be too bad since we showed up at 7 pm. Once we got the hostess’s attention and got our name on the list, it was a surprising short wait to get our table. Only about ten minutes. I think that was due to the fact that we were only a party of two, because we went ahead of groups that were waiting when we showed up. We were seated in what I would call a less than ideal location. Our table was only about a foot from the next table on one side and the kitchen door was on the other side. The location bothered Lindz more than it did me. What did bother both of us quite a bit was the fact that the table rocked a lot! What took me about half the meal to figure out was that they were having electrical issues (I’m assuming anyway) with the lighting on our side of the restaurant.. Oh, I should back up a half-step here. The restaurant is divided up into different sections. There is a huge, vaguely pagoda style structure that runs down the center of most of the building and this is where they prepare the sushi, sashimi, and drinks. So, as I was saying, they had lighting issues on our side of the restaurant. They eventually did put out a floor lamp and candles on the table but it was towards the end of our meal and I was having a hard time reading the menu when we initially got there. Also, and I understand it was an unforeseen occurrence, they put out scented candles. A big no-no in the restaurant biz. Also a big no-no, in my opinion, was the fact that this wasn’t mentioned to us. It would have taken the hostess less then 30 seconds to tell us “Sorry, but we are having some issues with the lights and we’re working on it.” when she sat us at the table. In general though, the lighting wasn’t the greatest. If you are at a place that you need to refer to the menu constantly, you do want something brighter than the typical “mood lighting” that is so prevalent among restaurants.
Our drink order got placed right away, two Cokes, and the waitress was prompt in bringing them out, as well as taking our orders. We started off with edamame (steamed soybean pods that are salted) for an appetizer. Lindz ordered a dragon roll, salmon sashimi, red tuna sashimi, and Unagi (eel) sushi. At the waitress’s prompting, we figured out that you had to specify how many pieces of each that you wanted. In hindsight, a good approach at an all-you-can-eat place but it did catch us off guard initially. I ordered some sashimi: surf clam, mackerel, and Tamago (egg custard), and some sushi: octopus and Unagi. Our edamame arrived very quickly. We were next to the kitchen after all. But I think it was more due to the fact that they just have batches made in advance. It was a decent sized portion, but a bit light on the salt for my taste. I am a self-admitted salt fiend though. Next came Lindz’s dragon roll. Again this caught us off guard for two reasons, one, that it arrived all by itself, and two, it wasn’t what was expected. As far as I could figure out, they have different chefs working the different “stations” (i.e. sushi/sashimi, rolls, and kitchen) and they send the food to the table as soon as it’s ready. For the second part, Lindz didn’t read the description and was expecting an eel roll instead of one containing tempura shrimp, cukes, avocados, and I think tuna. I stole a bite and it tasted good. Finally, our sushi and sashimi arrived. For the third time were were a bit confused. They sent out our orders on one wooden block. And again, in hindsight this makes sense given the set-up. But it would have been nice if they had separated the two orders. I can live with it though. What really annoyed the crap out of me though was the “arrangement” of sashimi. I really do use the word arrangement loosely. The pieces were all jumbled together on a bed of chiffonade iceberg lettuce. Also, the pieces of sashimi were miniscule! In the past, whenever I have ordered sashimi, one individual piece was roughly the same size as one that is put on sushi. Here, it somewhere around a quarter to a third the size. Really? I have to order 3-4 times as much just to get a comparable portion size? I understand that they don’t want to waste food, but they have their butts covered in two different ways! You order piece by piece and they clearly state on the menu that a 15% gratuity will be added for excessive waste of food. I should have just stuck to my guns and ordered a dozen pieces of each instead of being my normal Mid-Western passive aggressive self and ordering other stuff. My fault, not theirs. What was their fault was the lettuce. A garnish should be edible (it was) and shouldn’t detract from the plate. No matter where you are! With the lettuce and sashimi being close to the same dimensions, it was a pain trying to dig out the fish. That being said, the fish tasted good. It was fresh and clean tasting. The only one I had an issue with was the mackerel. It tasted exactly like pickled herring. Which I love. But I’ve had mackerel sashimi before and it was never pickled. So I’m not sure what to think about that situation. The egg custard was as good as I’ve had anywhere else, likewise with the surf clam, octopus, and Unagi.
The waitress came back and checked on us regularly to refill our pops and take more orders. By this time I was getting a feel for the rhythm of the place. For our second round, I got some shrimp tempura and some more sushi: squid and Tobiko (flying fish roe). Lindz got a rainbow roll and some Unagi sushi. If you haven’t figured it out, Unagi is by far our favorite. Once again, the roll came first. The rainbow roll had crab (not sure if it was imitation or not) on the inside and different slices of sashimi layered across the top to give it a “rainbow” look. I ended up eating over half of it because Lindz was getting full. The place must have slowed down because shortly after getting the roll, our sushi arrived. Normally, I don’t order raw squid because it’s been a really hit-or-miss item with me. But I ordered it by accident and I was very pleasantly surprised. The last time I had it, it tasted chalky and not a very good texture in the mouth. This time, it tasted fresh and clean, and was very tender. I’m thinking that I’ve been getting some questionable cuts in the past. The Tobiko was great as usual. With Lindz stuffed to the gills (ha-ha! bad pun!), I placed my last order because I was determined to eat so much that I left there feeling uncomfortably full, but not quite so full that I was going to hurl in the car on the way home. I got some more surf clam sushi and some Unagi sushi. These I decided to eat the way I wanted, so I took the fish off of the rice, ate the rice and then thoroughly enjoyed my newly created sashimi. With that, I had reached my goal of getting my monies worth.
One last thing before I get to the summary. The thing that I definitely did not like about the decor was all of the Daisho sets around. The set behind cash register in the reception area didn’t bother me too much. It was a full, albeit kinda cheap looking, set of a katana, wakizashi, and tanto in a traditional stand. Granted they were stacked in the wrong order and upside down (from the top it should be katana, wakizashi, and tanto, all of which should curve upwards in the center). But it looked like it was in a place of respect. The one over the display of alcohol did not look respected and really just looked out of place. The ones on the wall really, really annoyed me. First off, they were not even in a stand. Secondly, they were hung by a quasi-sword belt which the Japanese never used! After seeing the swords on the wall it was very clear that all of the swords were there just because someone thought that is what the customers expected to see. Giving no consideration to the tradition or respect that these swords have in the Japanese culture.
Service: A solid 4/5 Our waitress was friendly, prompt, and checked in regularly. Not much in the way of any kind of conversation, but that was ok. There was some waiting for a table and initially for the food, but we were still in the supper rush on a Friday, so understandable.
Selection: 3.5/5 They have all of the basics you would expect for an sushi joint in America. Nothing wild and really out there, but nothing to complain about either. The big plus is that the all-you-can-eat is a lengthy menu.
Atmosphere: 1/5 This may be harsher than they deserve, but I’m basing it on our experience there. The table and location were close to terrible. Even if it was an abnormality, the lighting sucked! Finally, the decor wasn’t the greatest.
Pricing: 5/5 Great! Our bill came to $57 (plus tip) for two meals and two pops. If we had eaten the same meal somewhere else, it would have been an extra $30-40. Also, there was the freedom to try as many things as you wanted without costing an arm and a leg.
Food: 3/5 Everything tasted fresh and clean. Even though the mackerel wasn’t what I was expecting, it still tasted great. The only reason this score is this low is because of the size of the cuts of sashimi.
Overall I give it a 3.5/5
Am I dying to get back there: no. Will I visit it again: yeah, probably.
I was “exploring” the options for WordPress yesterday (read: stroking my own ego by looking at the visitor stats) and I noticed something. At least one person from every continent has been to my blog! At this moment I don’t care if they were on for 0.02 seconds or read the whole thing. In my head, I’m the king of the world! If you haven’t noticed, I’m excited / egotistical about this turn of events. 🙂
After I had calmed down a bit, I took a closer look. It’s a really odd mix of countries. Bah, don’t care. I made it (virtually) to every continent!!!