Adventures in Customer Service H&D

I’ve been wary about ordering from Harry & David since their bankruptcy last year, but finally could stand the lack of Moose Munch no longer. The local Target used to carry a nice array of H&D products, but I presume the bankruptcy is to blame for the disappearance of my beloved popcornd and chocolate snack.

Using my mother’s birthday as an excuse to treat myself (hey, I was already ordering from them anyway!), I picked out four flavors of yummy goodness and awaited the mail delivery. Opening the package, I couldn’t help but wonder if my fingers were working without conscious thought on ordering day. Why would I have nothing but milk chocolate products? Why did I have two of the same one? This can’t be right… I hit the email archive to see what I’d actually ordered, and I wasn’t crazy – Harry & David screwed up my order. *sigh*

After alerting them, I got an email two days later (which is an eternity in internet time, but they are primarily a fruit delivery company so we must make allowances) which told me they were shipping me the correct set and to please keep the wrong order as well.

So, that worked. I’m still wary of post-bankruptcy H&D, but at least I got some extra confection out of the deal. Oh, and their S’Mores flavor is really good.

Kochu what now?

After finding great success with the BLT & watermelon salad last week, I decided to go old skool, back to my days in the land of the not-quite-right. Like gang jung, some things may be better left in the memory.

Pulled out the kochujang and tri-tip last night, and produced a meal of bulgogi, be kimchi, and pa jun (I hate Romanized Korean – it’s always just a little off). Alex, the boy who claims to love spicy food, found the kimchi too spicy to consider seconds. Kat declared the tri-tip to be a wonderful cut of meat and it should in the future be served with some potatoes and maybe a side of green beans. She also found the pa jun to be not her style – something about steak and eggs not being cool with her or something.

I guess that’s the end of Korean side dishes; the bulgogi was a hit, of course.

Fake Big Mac

Once again, my imaginary friend Kenji has inspired yet another winning meal. If nothing else, he was able to produce a great recipe for the “Secret” sauce for a Big Mac. We only had larger sesame seed buns (there was no way I was going to glue hundreds of seeds to smaller buns), and thus we made 1/6 lb patties instead of 1/10 lb micropatties. Overall, a great success. Who knew that nuking onions on low for ten minutes made them mild? Yay Kenji!

Best Meal of 2011 so far

Kat and Alex both agree – this is the best meal so far in 2011. Sage, shallots, and butternut squash in crispy wontons, all sprinkled with parmesan and toasted walnuts. I have no problem backing this determination, and combined with the return of the In-N-Out burgers just one week ago, I think I may have peaked too early this year.

VDay 2011

[Ed: in case it’s not obvious from the “posted by” tag, this is written by Kat. Gary does not speak of himself in the third person frequently.]

From the red token on my purse from the Winchester museum to my entire left arm commemorating our honeymoon (and in many incarnations in between), I have never wanted to celebrate a relationship so fanatically. The funny bit is, I don’t need reminders of the good times. They are all good times. My behavior simply demonstrates my constant joy. To prove his awesomeness even further, he is making one of my favorite meals tonight: an In-n-Out Double Double animal style with onion rings. Nothing says love like an In-n-Out animal burger. I love you! Go Bearcat! CAn2!

Ruined Forever

You’ve surely heard the phrase, “he/she ruined x for me,” usually in some pejorative food context. For instance, many people are loathe to partake of asparagus or pork chops, because of some long ago culinary disaster. In our house, the phrase has a more upbeat meaning, however. Kat keeps telling me that I’ve made it impossible for her to enjoy various dining establishments, due to her preference for some new meal I’ve pulled out of a cookbook. So far, this has included steakhouses (at least for steaks) and any place that serves ribs. This week, she added another one: Wienerschnitzel. This is problematic for me, as the silly A-frame hut is my go-to destination whenever I don’t feel like making any effort at a meal. They are conveniently located, and I inhale their fries as well as the bbq bacon hot dog (or chili cheese dog).

What caused the dear lady to declare Wienerschnitzel off-limits? The Circus Dog, found in an old issue of Cuisine at Home magazine. Starting with Boar’s Head frankfurters (the only ones I can find in this misbegotten burg that have actual casings), wrapped in parcooked bacon, grilled to perfection, placed in a broiled cheese-lined bun and topped with a honey-mustard cole slaw, they have now been declared the perfect hot dog.

Guess I’ll have to sneak my hot fast food dogs unDER the radar from now on.  *sigh*

Merry Christmas

This has been a great Christmas morning.  I got five new books, Alex seems to like his new skates, Kat and I have been having a blast with her Buckyballs, and breakfast was awesome.  Kat found a great recipe for salmon hash and asparagus.  Served with a fried egg atop the pile, with mimosas (and faux-mosa for the boy) on the side…such decadence!

We wish you and yours a great Christmas and a great new year!

Burger Rot

My new best imaginary friend, Kenji Lopez-Alt, has completed a four-week experiment to determine what truth the “McDonald’s Burgers Don’t Rot” meme has behind it.  Most serious speculators assumed that the burgers and buns dried out in the air-conditioned interior of an average home. Surprise, surprise – that’s exactly what Kenji discovered. There’s nothing magical about it, just small burgers in a dry environment. Science!

Patty Melts Are Awesome

In previous installments of “Gary cooks whatever Kenji does,” we’ve tried the Double-Double Animal Style and some sliders. The latest was the patty melt. I’m a big fan of patty melts, so making them at home with two kinds of cheese seemed like a winner of a plan. They were yummy, and the onions ended up so caramelized they stuck in my teeth like the halloween candy we’re noshing on this week.

In a stunning upset, the sliders remain as Kat’s #2 choice of the three, while the Double-Double of course reigns supreme.  The Boy and I both prefer patty melts over sliders, but agree with Judge #1 that In-N-Out rocks, even in clone form.

Maybe I’ll try that Roast Beef Poboy next, that looks like an interesting sandwich…

Halloween Not Scary

Halloween is this weekend, and with it come all the various modern changes to the traditional Trick or Treat. We have “Trunk or Treat” where kids wander a parking lot. We have “Safe Trick or Treat” where kids make a lethargic loop of the mall, behind a veritable conga-line of hundreds of other children. We have a bunch of sanctioned, known-safe haunted houses. We don’t have the near-universal Trick-or-Treat participation that most of us adults remember from our own childhoods, though. Although to watch any evening news broadcast would lead you to believe we live in a ridiculously dangerous time, the opposite is really true.

The rate of violent crimes is the lowest it has been since 1973, the rate of property crimes the lowest since 1968. Children are almost never kidnapped by anyone, and when they are it’s almost always by a non-custodial parent (about evenly split between women and men). The only time a child has been poisoned by Halloween candy, it was his own father who gave it to him to collect the life insurance money (father of the year was executed in 1984).

If you’re avoiding taking your rugrats out to beg for candy because you think your neighbors are going to try to kill them, don’t worry.  Have fun, try not to eat so much sugar in one sitting, and have a great weekend!

Sliders

Following the success of the faux Double-Double, last night we attempted to duplicate Kenji Lopez-Alt’s slider recipe.  OK, recipe may be overstating things, how about method instead? I thought it odd to make fried burgers last time; you can imagine how difficult it was to get past the concept of steamed burgers. And, 1.2 pounds of meat to make a dozen burgers? That can’t be right.

Anyway, they turned out quite like the sliders you may love or hate – oniony, cheesy, moist, and a little messy with a pretty high bun-to-meat ratio. Although sliders were Kat’s idea, she found them to be not as much to her liking as the In-N-Out style burgers – I wholeheartedly agree.  Alex, on the other hand, ate four of them. The sliders do have the benefit of being much easier to make, with far fewer ingredients to juggle (making your own secret sauce, slicing tomatoes, leafing lettuce – none of those are needed for sliders). But, the D-D have the benefit of being quite a bit tastier.  Sliders are a bit of a one-note song, while a nice Double-Double Animal Style is a near-symphony of ground meat goodness.

Next on my burger hit parade?  Maybe patty melts.  I love me some patty melt…

Messy Burger Experiment

Although I consider myself a West Coast guy, somehow I’ve always made and most appreciated East Coast style, thick hearty flame-grilled burgers.  These meat bombs require a little attention to ensure they get seared on the outside yet don’t have a cold uncooked center – a combination of direct and indirect heat and a lot of watching.  Patience is a virtue.

I recently came across the Burger Lab on Serious Eats, and was inspired to duplicate Kenji’s Double-Double clone.  Tonight was burger night. I’ve got to say, I’ve never made such THIN burgers before. It’s a different approach, requiring not patience but a quick spatula. I’m sure they could have burned very easily. I put together some blanched and double-fried potatoes to go with the burgers, and we ate them so quickly there is no photographic evidence – sorry.

We learned very quickly the reason for the paper wrappers at In-N-Out; those things want to disintegrate and drip all over the place.  Kat and Alex agreed that they were amazingly yummy and almost replace going to In-N-Out. The dogs wanted to know why we don’t make them burgers and fries.

I highly recommend reading through some of Kenji’s posts – that man is obsessive about his food, particularly burgers.

We All Scream For…

Newegg had an entry-level ice cream maker for 25 bucks last week (refurb Cuisinart ICE-20), so of course I got one.  My first attempt, a sugar-free chocolate custard-based base with peanut butter cup chunks, was really good (although apparently lacking in chunks). So, I made a few batches this weekend. The Boy and I whipped up a simple vanilla base (eggless), and made two variants.  One, chocolate chips and toffee bits, is very yummy and creamy and must be kept away from me for its own safety. The other, Alex’s choice, involves toffee bits and chopped gummy bears. This may seem like a good idea, but when you freeze gummy bears they lose the gummy.  So, toffee and teeth-chipping bear ice cream.  Yeah, that’s all his.

Finally, to finish up the weekend, another sugar-free custard-based ice cream, with blackberry puree added. Alex tasted it and claimed it had “too much flavor up front” and I tried it both before and after it solidified in the freezer – meh.  Fortunately Kat likes it, so I guess she can be secure in the knowledge that her blackberry ice cream is safe from the menfolk in the house.

Maybe a cheesecake base with strawberries next.  Mmmm…

Bread is easy

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this great book my baby got me for Xmas – Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  We’ve had cheddar bread, sun-dried tomato bread, brioche sticky buns, pizza, naan… Good stuff, and not remotely difficult.  Alex made a couple loaves without assistance (guidance sure, but I never touched his dough!).  Here’s the most recent, a chocolate ganache-filled brioche loaf.

ChocoBread_1ChocoBread_4

Gross Soda Fountains

When I’m on a road trip, or even just going to the park with The Boy, I grab a bottle of soda from a convenience store. I know that the fountain drinks are cheaper per ounce, but I justify this by telling myself I don’t actually need a half-gallon of any drink, and they seem to taste funny at times. There was this Arby’s my coworkers and I went to in Arizona – I’m sure the Mountain Dew was laced with some sort of detergent there.

Anyway, there is now a study which makes me glad I’ve been avoiding fountain drinks: they’re laced with bacteria. 48% have some form of coliform bacteria in the beverages. So, I’ll just keep getting my bottle of Vault and leave the e.coli for someone else. Ew.

Good Environmental News

To prevent anyone from thinking that I focus only on things to be pissed off about, here’s a piece of good news from the journal Science. Some fisheries are beginning to recover from overfishing, due to more stringent regulation from governments and more public interest in fishing practices. I’ve been a big proponent of sustainable fishing for as long as I’ve known the term (thanks, MBARI), so it’s nice to see that there’s some good news out there. Of course, there’s a bit of bad news as well – Europe, for all its vaunted “better than America” rhetoric, is demonstrably worse in managing their fisheries. We’ve had Alaska as an example for decades, with their seemingly neurotic obsession with sustainability, and we’ve been expanding that down the coast now.  It looks like Europeans aren’t learning from the mistakes of the past, and they’re gonna kill off the bluefin tuna population if they aren’t careful.

Check out the map with the NPR article – all of the North American fisheries are either healthy or recovering; none are declining. We’ve got something to be proud of there. Regulations can be good.