This is a lesson on how not to make a lemon meringue pie

For some reason, I just never got the hang of meringues. Everything else - not too bad. My crusts are pretty darn tasty, my fillings always draw rave reviews but my toppings - well let's just say there is a lot of weeping involved.

With the help of the Daring Bakers, I had hoped that this time I would be the victor - but no! I failed again.

First lesson - don't bite off more than you can chew. I had decided that a lemon meringue pie would be the perfect dessert to a baked ham, macaroni and cheese and green bean dinner. Comfort food x 10000000000. Home made pie for dessert! Oh yes! I would score big time on the home front!

Ummmm yeah. Not how it turned out at all. Dinner came out fine - but I was so focused on the main meal I total ruined the pie.

That's the second lesson here - remember to set your timer. First, I took the weights out too early and the damn crust shrunk up. It wasn't deep dish - it was a shallow saucer crust. Then I forgot to take it out and it got a little too toasty. Sigh.

Next - the filling came out great. I loved how tart it was. Nothing like four lemons worth of juice to get your pucker on. Of course since my "tart" (that was now it's official designation) was so shallow, I had tons left over. So I have a couple of custard cups left in the fridge. I plan on eating that out of the fridge as a midnight snack later on tonight.

Lastly - Lesson number three - never rush the meringue. Yes - it looked great but it wept like a baby who wants its mommy. So I got it over with quickly - served it, and let everyone make fun of me. So there!

Humbled again! Ah well - I think I will try the suggestions from the Daring Baker's board about cooking meringue in Cookwise. Maybe - just maybe-I can have a happy smiling pie just once. A girl can dream can't she?

PS Thanks to Jen (Canadian Baker) for giving me the chance to try try again!


Screw the Colonel - I am hanging with the General!!

I want to say this right up front - I love my daughter. love her love her love her. I also love a little peace and quiet with the hubby - and that is a hard thing to get when you are parents. Tony and I joke about how your romantic life gets put on hold the moment the doctor slaps the baby's butt. And every parent out there knows exactly what I am talking about. When our daughter was little, we would hire a sitter occasionally - just to see a movie that didn't star a G-rated animated critter. When she got older, it became a little harder - she liked watching the same movies we did and - even worse - she loved eating out with us as well. No private time for mom and dad. Last year, when Annie finally joined a club that met twice a month - we were so happy! Two and a half hours of face time! To do what WE wanted! Squeeee!!

For a long time, we used to go to Gallo's and get a couple beers, a snack and play gin. Lately, we have been using the time as an excuse to eat out at various restaurants. There are lots of little restaurants here in Columbus - stand alones that offer all kinds of really great food. I think that the average diner is scared of these places - it takes them out of the comfort zone provided by the big chain restaurants. But exploring is all about getting out of that comfort zone and trying something new - and the hubby and I love exploring (food..get your mind out of the gutter!).

This week, we went to General Tso's on Godown Road. Lisa over at Restaurant Widow had mentioned it a long while back, plus it had received a stellar review from Gail - who is very picky on how she spends her dining out dollars. We have purchased carry out from the restaurant before and been very please with the results. This time, we decided to eat in.

I am going to warn you - this place looks just like any other hole in the wall. But it's not. It's in disguise. Once you sit down - you know you are in an excellent restaurant.

To start we picked out beef tendon kikil and crab shu mai. The crab shu mai were good - but the beef tendon was fantastic. It is not your normal kinda dish - the waiter kinda ogled us incredulously and asked "You sure you want the beef tendon?" It a very deep beefy flavor, but the texture is very odd. You ever had jello skin? You know, the stuff that sometimes forms on the bottom of a bowl of jello if you don't stir it fast enough? its kinda thick and rubbery, but melts in your mouth as you eat it. You either like it or you don't - I loved it as a kid. The texture of beef tendon kikil reminds me of jello skin. I know that is kind of a weird analogy - but it is really the best description I could some up with. I mean gelatin is made from the collegian in bones and the tendon is really just cooked connective tissue that eventually become meltingly tender gelatin - but beefy. Well, you have to try it to see what I mean.

For the main course, we chose to order the Shabu Shabu, a shared hotpot for two. A pot of broth is placed over an open flame - danger and excitement!! It comes in beef and seafood - we chose the seafood. The pot of broth came loaded with a variety of different meats (fish cake, squid, shrimp and chicken among others) veggies and other stuff - like bean curd skin. You also got a raw egg and some glass noodles on the side. The whole procedure is to eat the contents of the pot down, then the waitstaff top it off with a little more broth, beat the egg and then add the glass noddles and finish eating the soup.

It was a blast. I love interactive food - I never got over wanting to play with my food despite my mother's best efforts. I like searching out little morsels, trying them, then finding the next bit to share with the hubby.

The staff was very friendly and helpful - even giving us instructions on how to tackle our hotpot.

So - yeah - We'll be going back to the General's very soon. If you get a chance, grab a hotpot with someone you love and share away - it's a great bit of food romance.
General Tso's on Urbanspoon


Making Dough!

A couple fun things have been going on - the first is I got to meet lots of new friends at the The Columbus Food Lovers Meetup Group. We met at Lee Garden for Dim Sum. I love meeting new people - it was fantastic! If you don't believe me -check out what the good folks in our group have to say ! We are thinking of meeting up at Anna's Greek Restaurant next time - if you would like to join us and have restaurant suggestions for future adventures, let us know.

I also wanted to let people know to keep tuned to Lisa's Blog - she should be announcing her fundraising event soon. I know that money is tight this time of year, but please remember that people need assistance every part of the year - not just at holiday time!

I hope every one has been having a happy new year! Did you resolutions involve learning something new this year? (I also hope all my readers are avoiding the evil flu that is going around. It's had our house incapacitated for over a week now. I love missing three days of work! Yes yes I do!)
Being boring old people, we had people come over to our house for New Year's Eve. We had a couple of beers and I made pizzas from scratch. Ever since I made potato bread with the daring bakers, I've really rekindled my love of working with yeast raised dough. I made a multi-grain bread recipe from Cook's Illustrated and then the pizza dough.

The Multi-grain bread - sorry I was a total slacker and did not take any pictures of it. Mostly because I was pissed off. I usually have good results with the recipes from Cook's Illustrated. True, I think their recipes can be a bit too "fiddly" at times - requiring too many steps to achieve "perfect" results. Sometimes I might settle for less than perfect if it will save me a hour of time. I was intrigued by this recipe for multi-grain bread because it called for using a multi-grain hot cereal. I thought I can afford that! I really hate buying 5 or 6 different ingredients for a recipe, only to be stuck with lots and lots of leftover materials and no idea what to do with them. It crams my already full pantry to bursting and even worse, it deflates my pocketbook.

Being as I am going to discuss specifics, I can't really reprint the recipe. While the list of ingredients isn't copyrighted, the instructions are. You can obtain a copy by cruising over to the Cook's Illustrated site and getting their 14 day free trial. Look for Multi-grain bread in the search engine. However, I can tell you a little bit about how the recipe works. The recipe calls for a natural multi-grain cereal that is combined with boiling water and then allowed to cool until it reaches about 100 degrees. Then the rapid rise yeast is added along with the sugars. You then mix in AP flour and whole wheat flour and proceed with the kneading and rising from there. This is the part that didn't work for me. The whole raising part. Yup - it just sat there mocking me. Damn yeasts. It could have been a couple of things - the rehydrate cereal could have been too hot. I did measure the temp with an instant read before throwing the yeast in - so I do not think that was the problem. The yeast could have been bad - but the other four packets I purchased from the same lot have been fine. So I thought that was probably not it either. My suspect was the AP Flour. The dough just didn't have that smooth glossy feel you get when you are producing gluten during the kneading process.

To confirm my suspicions, I went and got Shirley Corriher's book, Cookwise. She is my go-to gal when things go bad for me in the kitchen. Reading up on her recipe for multi-grain bread, she mentioned that small rough particles can puncture the gluten strands during kneading. True, in this case the grains were pretty finely ground, but AP flour may have been so low in protein that it didn't take much to sabotage the whole mess. So according to Shirley, I could make a batch of new yeast with added flour and knead it back into the mess to salvage the bread. To insure the whole gluten structure, I added a couple of cups of bread flour when making up my "salvage dough". Whoo hoo! victory over microbes achieved! The bread was OK in the end. I think the whole recipe has potential, but will require me to re-work it so I know it will work every time. I will let you know if anything develops.

The pizza dough on the other hand is a tried and true winner - it came from my favorite book "Bread in Half the Time". However, instead of doing their micro-rise system that turns you microwave into a proofing oven, I tripled the batch of dough and did everything the old fashioned way. The reason I love this dough so much is the cornmeal - I know that is kinda nontraditional, but I like thin crisp crusts under my toppings and this crust fits the bill. Of course having a pizza stone helps a lot too.

I did try to make this same dough into calzones – but the cornmeal dough was just not right texture.So back to the drawing board on that. Here are some pictures of the calzones in progress.

A note - I made too much dough for New Year's Eve so I stashed it in the fridge for a couple of days until I could use it. It still rose like a champ. Next time I am going to try and freeze it in small amounts to see if it is something that can be made ahead then thawed for the next evening's dinner.

Cornmeal Pizza Dough

2 C. bread flour
1/2 C. cornmeal

1 t salt

1 T nonfat dry milk

2 t olive oil

3/4 C. hot tap water (120°-130°F)

1 1/2 -2 t. 50% faster active dry yeast

1 1/2 t. sugar

1. Place the pizza stone in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 500°F for at least 30 minutes before baking.

2. Mix the bread flour, cornmeal, salt and dry milk in the bowl of your mixer fitted with a dough hook.
3. Mix the water, yeast and sugar together and let proof for about five minutes. It should look all bubbly on top.
4. Slowly mix the yeast/water mixture and oil into the flour with the hook. The dough should start to come together into a ball. If it stays crumbly, add some warm water little bit at a time until it comes together. Knead until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl.

5. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead by hand for a few minutes until the dough feels smooth and elastic. Form into a ball and put into oiled bowl; cover with plastic wrap or tea towel. Rise until doubled.

6. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand a few seconds. Then roll out into a circle. (Here is the tricky part. The original recipe made one 14” pizza. I roll mine so thin it makes two 10-12” pizzas. ) Place this disk on a pizza peel or a cookie sheet with no sides that has been heavily sprinkled with cornmeal. The cornmeal should act like little ball bearings and slide the pizza off the peel/cookie sheet with no problems. I will “test” the dough before I put the toppings on by shaking it a little bit to see if it will move freely.

7. Apply sauce and other toppings. (Be sparing with the sauce, too much will make the dough soggy. For a 12” round I will use 3-4 tablespoons.) My current favorite topping is fresh mozzarella, crispy bacon and finely diced onion, Yum Yum.

8. Lower the oven temp to 425°F .Carefully slide the topped dough onto the stone in the oven. (Please be careful – I still have burns healing from New Year’s) Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the crust is nice and golden brown on the underside when you peek.

9. CAREFULLY!!! Slide the peel/cookie sheet back under the finished pizza and pull it out of the oven. This is tricky – it took a couple of tries the first time I did it and I messed up the pizza. Trust me, it gets easier with practice.
10. Let cool briefly before cutting and serving.

Ok - enough boring stuff!!!
Went to Thurn's this past weekend to stock up on bacon and lo and behold! They had awesomely cool hats that said "oink" on the back. Go buy one - NOW! I command it!
Here is Tony representin'


Lincoln, Lincoln I've been thinkin' - What in the World have you been drinkin?

I have always been interested in Absinthe. The mystery, the history - the name of it just conjures up images of sitting in a cafe in Paris hobnobbing with the artists and writers of the Belle Epoque... The thing that has always stopped me is the fact that it was impossible to get here in the states. Recently, the rules have become more lenient and I figured I would order a bottle to share with my friends Tate and Moose, who has expressed an interest in it as well. So when the folks who run Buy Absinthe asked me to review their site, I said yes. As part of the review, I ordered a bottle of the green fairy and had it delivered to me. For free. Yup, I received remuneration for the text that is about to follow. So take that as you will.

Buy Absinthe consists of the website for ordering, plus a blog that extols the virtues of drinking the product. The website offers a limited selection of products from Spain and France, but does not stoop to offering some of the lesser products from Eastern Europe - which are basically grain alcohol with flavoring and coloring included. Absinthe is made by macerating herbs into grain alcohol which is then distilled. After the distillation, the product can be left clear or colored with either a second maceration of herbs or artificially colored. The best liquors use the all natural approach.

Buy Absinthe Alcohol does offer a FAQ on their product, which discusses how to serve the liquor, the possible side effects of drinking absinthe, as well of the legality of purchasing said beverage. The site is easy to navigate and gives a brief description of each item along with the cost and a button to add it to the shopping cart. The cost of shipping is the same or cheaper as many of their competitors.

After looking at all my options, I elected to purchase Bitter Abisinthe 72°, which seemed to be a fairly traditional product. However, several of their products were out of stock - all of the Lemercier brands plus some of the absinthe spoons, which I had planned to purchasing separately as part of the "ambiance". I ended up purchasing a bottle of Versinthe la Blanche - which has the same flavors as the green variety, but does not have the second infusion of herbs that give the drink it characteristic green color.

I ordered my bottle of "the white fairy" on December 12 - and received notification that it was waiting for me at the post office on December 29th. I did have to go and sign for it as a registered package. And no one came out and interrogated me about importing alcohol - honest! The bottle was well packed and survived it trip intact.

So that's it! The site has a limited number of products, but for a novice such as myself, it helped me narrow the field. The blog and the FAQ were useful for provided basic information on the product and the ordering process was painless. I had a very positive experience with Buy Absinthe and would use them again to purchase some of the Lamercier products should they become available.


The best $15 you will ever spend in a restaurant...

That's what Moose told me.

No kidding.

Here is the tale of how we discovered Anna's Restaurant. We have a friend called Moose. Yes. For real. That's his nickname. Moose loves to eat. He had mentioned Anna's to us a couple of times, but our schedules being what they are, we never had a chance to go. Then our friend Eric called us up and said "It was the best Greek food I've ever eaten." So now we were suitably intrigued.

Anna's doesn't look like much from the outside. It sits in a strip mall on Sawmill road just south of Hard Road. If you know where Sunflower Chinese restaurant is - then you know where Anna's is.

Two weeks ago, we stopped in for their Sunday Buffet. We stopped in again this past Sunday. Yup - it is that good.

Most of the internet sources for this restaurant list the place as being closed on Sundays, but this is not true. They have a awesome Greek buffet from 11:00am to 2:30pm every Sunday and have for about a year.

Anna's offers a full menu the rest of the week - So why am I recommending the buffet? A couple of reasons.

1) Try it before you invest: Let's say you you never had patstisio before. Would you want to order a whole plate of it just to discover it sucks? Heck no! ( not that their patstisio sucks-far from it - but you get my meaning)
2) Grazing: I would rather eat a small amount of multiple items than a serving of just one or two items. It allows you to discover foods that you would not have ordered a full portion of. Think of it as a tasting menu - poor man style.
3) You can have it all: soup, salad, entree and dessert - and multiple choices for each.
4) Price: Buffets definitely give you bang for your buck. Especially if you have a family. Anna's reduces the buffet prices for kids from 5-10 yrs and free food for kids under 5. A sure way to get your kids to try something new without wasting a bunch of money or food.

The buffet starts off with appetizers. Two salads - a lettuce based "Greek salad" and another type that is chopped tomatoes with onions, cucumbers, olives, and feta. It is lightly dressed with a vinegar and oil dressing. They also have bread rounds accompanied by big bowls of hummus and tzatziki sauce. The tzatziki is definitely homemade with Greek yogurt, and lots of fresh garlic and cucumber. Greek yogurt is really thick and tangy and makes this the best tzatziki sauce I've ever had. The hummus was good - but I can't tell if it is homemade or not.

Soups- there have been two: avgolemono and lentil. The lentil was good, but if I had to choose - I would go for the chicken egg and lemon soup.

Omelet station - yes - you can have omelets cooked to order. With veggies, feta and gyro meat. I admit, the hubby was skeptical, but it turned out to be a great combination. He wouldn't even let me have any - bastard. And best of all - the eggs were cooked corrected - moist and set but not dry and flavorless. Don't like your eggs cooked moist? I am sure they could ruin the dish if you ask.

Entrees and side dishes - Wow. Here is an embarrassment of riches. There were several dishes that were on the buffet both times: Pitas and gyro meat (for those that insist), pastitsio and moussaka, Dolmathes in avgolemono sauce, baby squid and cod (lightly battered and fried), lemon potatoes, green beans, spanokopita and tyropita - it is a pretty extensive list. The first week we went there were the best meatballs I've ever had. No kidding. Light, flavorful...hmmmmmmm

And lastly, Dessert - Yeah they had baklava. They also had several other dishes that were great - such as rice pudding and Greek yogurt with honey and fruit.

I also have to mention the staff. Friendly! Right on the spot with service despite that we were eating a buffet. An example: My hubby got a bad creamer for his coffee. The waiter noticed it from across the room and brought him new coffee without having to be asked. That's service!

So yeah - it was a pretty great way to spend my $15. I am very interested in eating from the regular menu soon. I would like to try more seafood dishes - I mean Greece is made up of islands....

Anna's Restaurant
7370 Sawmill Rd
Columbus, OH 43235
(614) 799-2207

Anna's Greek Cuisine on Urbanspoon