Random Appetites: What’s for Dinner?

That’s got to be one of the most hated questions ever (right up there with the 10th ‘why’ from a child), right? Even if you’re only asking yourself.

When I was first married I had the brilliant idea to comb through my cookbooks each week, pick out recipes for supper and make out my grocery list so I only had to buy what I needed. I even categorized my list by the sections of the store to make shopping easier. And, really, this was a great idea–too bad the 1st husband never looked at the list I posted on the fridge and insisted on asking me, every day, what was for dinner. Sigh…

Amusingly enough, just before the dissolution of marriage #2 I found out someone else had the same idea I had 10 years ago but took it a few steps further, turning into an online service. That service? The Saving Dinner Menu Mailer.

Leanne Ely, the Dinner Diva [great name!], puts together 6 entree recipes with serving suggestions every week and makes them available to subscribers as a pdf file complete with a categorized, itemized grocery list. Nice, huh? And it’s really affordable, too, starting at $9.95 for a 3-month membership and only $29.95 for a full year. The Menu Mailer comes in three styles: Regular, Heart Healthy and Low Carb/Body Clutter, with vegetarian and kosher alternatives listed for most, if not all, recipes, plus breakfast and lunch suggestions.

I’ve used this service for several years and the only reason I didn’t renew last time is because I had over a year of menus saved to my harddrive and still hadn’t made it through all of them. (I cook 4 servings at a time so I only have to cook every other night and still have 2 dinners and 2 lunches for each night spent in the kitchen.) Overall, the recipes are easy, tasty and healthy with several fan favorites showing up often but enough variety overall that you really get a variety of dinner options week after week.

So if you’re continually stumped by that age-old question, there is help out there, if you know where to look.

Rounding Out Year 2

Wow… only a month left of the second year of Random Acts… It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long!

On deck for April is my take on that 25 Things meme that’s been going around the webbernets for a while. I was tagged at least once on Facebook and decided it might be fun to put that in comic form. Since we’ve got 14 updates in the month of April, 14 of the 25 will be illustrated in one way or another with the other 11 items found in the blog section throughout the month.

This works well, for me, because these tend to be a bit less intensive art-wise which means I have time to get them, my articles and the ‘Geeks’ strips all done with time to pack because I’ll be moving house at the end of April. This is a very good thing, but it also makes for a hectic month! In addition to all of that, I’ll be preparing to roll out a new site design that first weekend of May so that’s going to take some time, too. It’s gonna be a busy April!

On deck for May and Year 3? Well, in addition to site revamp, Random Acts… is getting a new name and a new update schedule along with even more additional blog content! I’ll be shifting Random Appetites (under a new heading, you’ll have to wait and see) to Mondays, the comic itself will update Tuesday through Thursday (still 3x a week!) and then on Fridays I’ll be adding another blog feature, more of a tidbit really, that sorta goes along with Random Appetites but is it’s own entity.

That’s right, folks, you’ll find new content here 5 days a week starting May 4th. And, yes, despite the name change for the strip, Random Acts Comics is still going to serve as the company name for all of my projects so you won’t have to change your feeds or your bookmarks, at least for the forseeable future.

Random Appetites: The 2-Bite Rule

I feel almost certain I’ve mentioned this once before, but it relates to recent events so maybe it’s worth going over once more.

Passed hors d’oevres or buffet foods should not exceed 2 bites-worth when ample table seating is not available.

This past Friday Todd and I attended the Florida Wine Festival. The event was very well-attended and certainly worth the price of admission for a few hours entertainment (and lets not forget the “endless glass of wine”). The catering was handled by Klassic Katering who, make no mistake, offered a variety of nibbles that were quite tasty. It was rather novel, actually, to see a “Slider Station” (you know, those little mini-burgers, served up with sauteed onions and your choice of sauces), entire chicken tenderloins (in teriyaki sauce, if I’m not mistaken) and trios of shrimp on sugar cane skewers. Do you know why it was novel? Because it violates the 2-bite rule.

Picture it, if you’ve never attended this sort of event: You’re walking around with a big ol’ wine glass (very nice, large-bowled tasting glasses that, if they had the little tulip-lip, would match my pinot noir glasses exactly) in one hand and a plate of something in the other. There are very few tables scattered about, certainly not enough for everyone to have even a bit of elbow room, and you’re faced with how to eat the morsels you’ve selected.

Now, generally, I’m pretty good at balancing my small plate on top of my wine glass and going from there but these plates were especially slippery and wouldn’t cooperate with my usual v.o. (victuali operandi). So, instead, I turn the fingers of one hand into a multi-level stacking system, hooking the stemware between two digits and the plate (along with napkin and program) on the others, balanced precariously with my thumb. At this point I’m grateful for the large glasses only because it alleviates the potential of spilling my wine.

The mini burgers are cute and tasty, but messy to eat and since this is a glorified cocktail reception and not a tailgate party, it’s more like 3 or 4 bites to your average consumer. The chicken (stretched out on a skewer for even cooking and “easy handling”) is only secured at each end and, about halfway consumed, loses it’s grip on the bamboo portion in my hand, bounces off my chest and hits the ground. How unfortunate. Finally, the shrimp. Now, I love the trend of using sugar cane skewers for seafood, it’s truly wonderful, but when you have to (one-handed, remember?) scoot the shrimp off the sugar cane and still have to divest the crustation of it’s remaining tail, eating this dish becomes a bit of a production!

So, how to fix it? Leave the sliders for more informal gatherings and serve up more varieties of meatballs, always a hit and easily a single munch each. Serve the chicken in cut-up chunks with plenty of toothpicks. (Forks were provided, and did come in handy, but it was still a lot to juggle as presented.) The shrimp, while cumbersome, really only needed to have the tails removed prior to serving, then it’s a more simple matter of scooting them off the sugar cane with your teeth (though I’d probably reduce the portion to 2 shrimp per skewer).

Other things I would have appreciated seeing would have been better signage on the dips and items in unmanned chafing dishes, just to know what it was supposed to be, before putting it on my plate or in my mouth!

Really, though, we did enjoy ourselves at the event, those few minor critiques aside, and do not regret the ticket purchase at all. We tasted a very yummy Argentinian Malbec that I’ll have to find some of because the spicy notes were really fun and a beautiful Grant Burge, 10 year oak aged Port ( looked tawny but tasted more like ruby) that totally made up for [Premiere Beverage] running out of Pinot Noir in the first hour or so of the event.

One final hors d’oevres tip: when dishing up dips and spreads put the chips, crackers, etc. on the plate first and then add the schmear to them… it certainly beats chasing a bit of artichoke or seafood dip around that tiny little plate!

Random Appetites: Slainte!

Happy St Patrick’s Day, folks! The day where even if you’re not Irish, you are!

When you think Irish food, most people think of corned beef and cabbage. Did you know, though, that this is only eaten in 2 counties (Dublin and Cork) and more a modern association at that? Be that as  it may, it still tastes awfully good so you might as well indulge whenever you’ve got a reason. And, according to a recent Iron Chef America episode, if you’ve got a pressure cooker you can have a very tender corned beef brisket in about an hour! (So there’s still time if you didn’t set up the slow-cooker this morning–my preferred way of “roasting” a brisket with a minimum of fuss.)

An unfortunate trend in many places, on St Patrick’s Day, is to serve unnaturally green beverages. If you want to drink beer today, avoid the cheap, food-colored stuff and have a Guinness or Killian’s Red or something that’s at least remotely Irish and tasty. If mixed drinks are your bag, have a good shot of Bailey’s over ice as you toast your neighbors “Slainte!” (pronounced, at least so I’ve heard, SLAN-tah and means “[to your] good health”) But please, for the love of Mike, stay away from the green creme de menthe!

Random Appetites: Sources of Inspiration

While some people are true wizards in the kitchen, throwing random ingredients together and, more times than not, ending up with food that is edible and yummy. But even those people–most of ‘em, I’m convinced–had to start off with training wheels: a few good cookbooks.

Now, I can do my fair share of positive-outcome experiments (though, as Todd can attest, more than once he’s come over for dinner and I’ve said: Just in case, there’s always pizza!) but I also have a _huge_ collection of cook books that I pull ideas out of regularly. Sure, Culinary School helped with the collection a lot but I actually had a good starter set going before then. My rate of acquisition may have slowed in the last few years but those stained and wrinkled pages stand out from the others with barely-cracked spines. Here are some of the books that I reach for when I don’t feel like cooking solo.

The Kitchen Companion Great all-purpose kitchen reference book. This one has basic recipes for a lot of simple things and base mixes you can do yourself but the thing I love the most is the amount of charts in this book! For each cooking method and each type of food that can be subjected to it you have charts showing how long it will take to cook, what temperatures it should be done at and so one and so forth. It’s a gem of a book and out of print, but used copies are pretty easy to find.

Marcella Cucina Authentic Italian cuisine and the source of my most favorite Risotto recipe ever. This is one of those cookbooks that can also be read cover to cover because the little anecdotes make it read like a foodie novel of her travels through the Italian regions of food.

The New Orleans Cookbook and River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine are where I turn when I want some home-style comfort food. The latter is a Junior League cookbook so features the names of all the contributors or and some duplicates versions of the same dish and always heavy on the butter and cream. The former includes touches of culture notes and a few stories here and there, but is a good city guide to New Orleans food.

The Cake Bible Dude. This woman (Rose Levy Beranbaum) wrote her thesis on the science and chemistry of yellow cake; talk about hardcore baking! The recipes are great and the techniques so precise (down to how many seconds you need to beat each addition of egg or flour) that, if you follow them, you can’t make a bad cake. I especially like her “Chocolate Bread” (which is really a perfect chocolate pound cake).

Martha Stewart’s Menus for Entertaining Say what you (or I) want about to woman, herself, this book is one I reach for when I need a little nudge about party menus. I don’t think I’ve ever used a full menu of hers all at once, but the balance she strikes between the various elements is a good jumping-off point and the food photography is stunning. That’s enough for me.

Podcasts, Store Page and Biscuits, oh my!

So, a few things from the “state of the comic” report this Monday:

  • While at MegaCon, the charming JT Shea of NightGig Studios and The Gigcast interviewed little ol’ me and that 3 minutes and 29 seconds can be found on the latest episode (#183) of the The Gigcast, right here.
  • Oh, look, up there, in the sky! No, wait, little farther down, just in that menu bar there… see it? It’s a new link! A Store link, even, and following that link you’ll find how to order the dead-tree version of Random Acts… Year 1: Party in the Handbasket! Over time there will be more items available there but I’m having a bit of an issue getting the PayPal cart to fully cooperate.
  • Finally, because I like things in 3s, a funny from this weekend. Just the punchline but, hey, with the lag between real-life and comic-life, by the time this makes it into a strip you’ll have forgotten all about it. Ready? 3 words: Biscuit Protection Program.

Random Appetites: Pasta-rific

A recent Italian dinner reminded me of the following anecdote:

On one of many blind dates in my younger years I was taken to a chain restuarant infamous for servings various types of pasta from a variety of different cultures. Basically, you chose your style and then among a choice of actual pastas, depending on your order. I ordered the Pasta Florentine [florentine means spinach, no matter where you are] and requested farfalle for the pasta. “I’m sorry, we don’t have farfalle,” the waitress replied. I thought this was odd since it was pictured on the menu, but gamely I asked what pastas they did have. “Spaghetti, fetuccini, penne, bowtie and rotini.” With my best attempt at a raised eyebrow I ordered the “bowtie” and shuddered at what restaurants weren’t teaching their staff.

In case you don’t see the problem with the above exchange, farfalle is the correct term for the pinched rectangles with the ruffly edges that are also known as bow-tie pasta. The fact that the server didn’t know this is, to me, just as ridiculous as the (possible urban legend) McDonald’s employee not knowing that half a dozen nuggets is the same as a 6-pack.

What reminded me of this was dinner Sunday night: we found (thank you, Google) a family-owned Italian place with a fairly broad menu not too far from our hotel and gave it a whirl. On the menu were some unknowns: bucatini (which feels like a thick spaghetti but is really a tube, there’s a tiny hole in the middle) and tortelachi ( large tortelini–makes sense if you think about it). Thankfully, though, our servers had no issues with the menu and the food was excellent. I’ll be doing a proper write-up about it at some point in the future.

Until then, if you’re curious about pasta names and shapes, check out this handy page from the National Pasta Association.

News From the Con, Day 3

With the Con wrapped up and my merchandise in the car waiting for the ride home tomorrow, only time will tell if this trip will actually “pay out” or not. The proof will be in my stats–will I see more steady traffic to the sites? Yes or no, I made some people smile, others laugh, and I guess that’s what really counts when you get right down to it.

More flyers handed out today, no sales, but it’s all good. Got to meet an online acquaintance, gave an interview to the Gigcast (the NightGig Studios gang is awesome, btw) and froze my fingers off trying to get some drawing in. It was fun! Called my brother (whose a local here) for dinner and had a good chat with him before coming back to the hotel. One more night in our temporary home and then it’s back on the road tomorrow morning. Now to finish those drawings!