The Big Bear Chili Cook Off!

The Big Bear Chili Cook Off was one of my favorite cook-offs to date. Actually, scratch that – it IS my favorite cook-off.

One of our friends is a performance artist, and she built a bear a while back. Just go with me on this, ok? She sewed everything by hand, no bears were harmed in the making of it, and it is awesome. Trust me. In a nutshell, imagine a brown cloth tee pee lined with satin and topped with a very believable looking bear head.

I’ve been enamored with the gigantic bear since first sight.

It was fitting to have a bear themed food night. I’m not sure if bears eat chili, but I bet they would eat these chilis, because they were vegetarian/vegan. And our hosts encouraged us to bring Big Bear 40 ozs, because, hey, when in Rome, right? (Since I am not a beer fan, I opted for a classy 22 oz bottle of Zima)

And oh, the food. A bear could have gorged itself and hibernated happily with all the food present. Chilis, cornbread muffins, and excellent desserts with cool names (like from the movie Waitress).

Albany John’s Chili Recipe (in a nutshell)

1 package tempeh
1 large can of tomatoes (I think 28 oz)
~2 cans of beans (or make your own)
spices and seasonings

I really like Albany John’s chili recipe because it’s not the least bit greasy. You can make it as spicy as you like, and I promise – meat eaters will also like it. This dish definitely made me realize tempeh was worth eating. He puts it in the crock pot on low overnight to let all the flavors marinate, and then we have chili breakfast! Let me tell you, a bowl of chili with an egg on top is quite a tasty breakfast.

Veggie 100

(Yes, it’s one of those days…)

The Vegetarian Hundred
1. Real macaroni and cheese, made from scratch and baked

2. Tabouleh
3. Freshly baked bread, straight from the oven (preferably with homemade strawberry jam)
4. Fresh figs
5. Fresh pomegranate
6. Indian dal of any sort
7. Imam bayildi
8. Pressed spiced Chinese tofu
9. Freshly made hummus
10. Tahini
11. Kimchi
12. Miso
13. Falafel
14. Potato and pea filled samosas
15. Homemade yogurt
16. Muhammara
17. Brie en croute
18. Spanikopita
19. Fresh, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes
20. Insalata caprese
21. Stir-fried greens (gai lan, bok choi, pea shoots, kale, chard or collards)
22. Freshly made salsa
23. Freshly made guacamole
24. Creme brulee
25. Fava beans
26. Chinese cold sesame peanut noodles
27. Fattoush
28. New potatoes
29. Coleslaw
30. Ratatouille
31. Baba ganoush
32. Winter squash
33. Roasted beets
34. Baked sweet potatoes
35. Plantains
36. Chocolate truffles
37. Garlic mashed potatoes
38. Fresh water chestnuts
39. Steel cut oats
40. Quinoa
41. Grilled portabello mushrooms
42. Chipotle en adobo
43. Stone ground whole grain cornmeal
44. Freshly made corn or wheat tortillas
45. Frittata
46. Basil pesto
47. Roasted garlic
48. Raita of any type
49. Mango lassi
50. Jasmine rice (white or brown)
51. Thai vegetarian coconut milk curry
52. Pumpkin in any form other than pie
53. Fresh apple pear or plum gallette
54. Quince in any form
55. Escarole, endive or arugula
56. Sprouts other than mung bean
57. Naturally brewed soy sauce
58. Dried shiitake mushrooms
59. Unusually colored vegetables (purple cauliflower, blue potatoes, chocolate bell peppers…)
60. Fresh peach ice cream
61. Chevre
62. Medjool dates
63. Kheer
64. Flourless chocolate cake
65. Grilled corn on the cob
66. Black bean (or any other bean) vegetarian chili
67. Tempeh
68. Seitan or wheat gluten
69. Gorgonzola or any other blue veined cheese
70. Sweet potato fries
71. Homemade au gratin potatoes
72. Cream of asparagus soup
73. Artichoke-Parmesan dip
74. Mushroom risotto
75. Fermented black beans
76. Garlic scapes
77. Fresh new baby peas
78. Kalamata olives
79. Preserved lemons
80. Fried green tomatoes
81. Chinese scallion pancakes
82. Cheese souffle
83. Fried apples
84. Homemade frijoles refritos
85. Pasta fagiole
86. Macadamia nuts in any form
87. Paw paw in any form
88. Grilled cheese sandwich of any kind
89. Paneer cheese
90. Ma Po Tofu (vegetarian style–no pork!)
91. Fresh pasta in any form
92. Grilled leeks, scallions or ramps
93. Green papaya salad
94. Baked grain and vegetable stuffed tomatoes
95. Pickled ginger
96. Methi greens
97. Aloo paratha
98. Kedgeree (the original Indian version without the smoked fish, not the British version with fish)
99. Okra
100. Roasted brussels sprouts

Woah! 76! Not too shabby! Hell, if I could have freshly baked bread every day, I sure would.

Om-nom-nom-nivore’s Hundred

Everyone’s seemingly done this one so far. You know the drill – bold for the things you’ve eaten, and a line through anything you’d never eat.
1 Venison
2 Nettle tea
3 Huevos rancheros
4 Steak tartare
5 Crocodile
6 Black pudding
7 Cheese fondue
8 Carp
9 Borscht
10 Baba ghanoush
11 Calamari
12 Pho
13 PB&J sandwich
14 Aloo gobi
15 Hot dog from a street cart
16 Epoisses
17 Black truffle
18 Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19 Steamed pork buns
20 Pistachio ice cream
21 Heirloom tomatoes
22 Fresh wild berries
23 Foie gras
24 Rice and beans
25 Brawn, or head cheese
26 Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27 Dulce de leche
28 Oysters
29 Baklava
30 Bagna cauda
31 Wasabi peas
32 Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33 Salted lassi
34 Sauerkraut
35 Root beer float
36 Cognac with a fat cigar
37 Clotted cream tea
38 Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39 Gumbo
40 Oxtail
41 Curried goat
42 Whole insects
43 Phaal
44 Goat’s milk
45 Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46 Fugu
47 Chicken tikka masala
48 Eel
49 Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50 Sea urchin
51 Prickly pear
52 Umeboshi
53 Abalone
54 Paneer
55 McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56 Spaetzle
57 Dirty gin martini
58 Beer above 8% ABV
59 Poutine
60 Carob chips
61 S’mores
62 Sweetbreads
63 Kaolin
64 Currywurst
65 Durian
66 Frogs’ legs
67 Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68 Haggis
69 Fried plantain
70 Chitterlings, or andouillette
71 Gazpacho
72 Caviar and blini
73 Louche absinthe
74 Gjetost, or brunost
75 Roadkill
76 Baijiu
77 Hostess Fruit Pie
78 Snail
79 Lapsang souchong
80 Bellini
81 Tom yum
82 Eggs Benedict
83 Pocky
84 Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85 Kobe beef
86 Hare
87 Goulash
88 Flowers
89 Horse
90 Criollo chocolate
91 Spam
92 Soft shell crab
93 Rose harissa
94 Catfish
95 Mole poblano
96 Bagel and lox
97 Lobster Thermidor
98 Polenta
99 Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100 Snake
Woo 58. Ok, I will probably never order a bowl of mouth searing phaal, but I would really like to try some of the things I haven’t, just to try them.

Sweet Hundreds!

1) Copy this list into your site, including the instructions!
2) Bold all of the sweets you’ve eaten!
3) Cross out any of them that you’d never ever eat.
4) Consider anything that is not bold or crossed out your “To Do” List.
1. Red Velvet Cake
2. Princess Torte
3. Whoopie Pie
4. Apple Pie either topped or baked with sharp cheddar
5. Beignet
6. Baklava
7. Black and white cookie
8. Seven Layer Bar (also known as the Magic Bar or Hello Dolly bars)
9. Fried Fruit pie (sometimes called hand pies)
10. Kringle
11. Just-fried (still hot) doughnut
12. Scone with clotted cream
13. Betty, Grunt, Slump, Buckle or Pandowdy
14. Halvah
15. Macarons
16. Banana pudding with nilla wafers
17. Bubble tea (with tapioca “pearls”)
18. Dixie Cup
19. Rice Krispie treats
20. Alfajores
21. Blondies
22. Croquembouche
23. Girl Scout cookies
24. Moon cake
25. Candy Apple
26. Baked Alaska
27. Brooklyn Egg Cream
28. Nanaimo bar
29. Baba au rhum
30. King Cake
31. Sachertorte
32. Pavlova
33. Tres Leches Cake
34. Trifle
35. Shoofly Pie
36. Key Lime Pie (made with real key lime)
37. Panna Cotta
38. New York Cheesecake
39. Napoleon / mille-fueille
40. Russian Tea Cake / Mexican Wedding Cake
41. Anzac biscuits
42. Pizzelle
43. Kolache
44. Buckeyes
45. Malasadas
46. Moon Pie
47. Dutch baby
48. Boston Cream Pie
49. Homemade chocolate chip cookies
50. Pralines
51. Gooey butter cake
52. Rusks
53. Daifuku
54. Green tea cake or cookies
55. Cupcakes from a cupcake shop
56. Crème brûlée
57. Some sort of deep fried fair food (twinkie, candy bar, cupcake)
58. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting
59. Jelly Roll
60. Pop Tarts
61. Charlotte Russe
62. An “upside down” dessert (Pineapple upside down cake or Tarte Tatin)
63. Hummingbird Cake
64. Jell-O from a mold
65. Black forest cake
66. Mock Apple Pie (Ritz Cracker Pie)
67. Kulfi
68. Linzer torte
69. Churro
70. Stollen
71. Angel Food Cake
72. Mincemeat pie
73. Concha
74. Opera Cake
75. Sfogliatelle / Lobster tail
76. Pain au chocolat
77. A piece of Gingerbread House
78. Cassata
79. Cannoli
80. Rainbow cookies
81. Religieuse
82. Petits fours
83. Chocolate Souffle
84. Bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake)
85. Rugelach
86. Hamenstashen
87. Homemade marshmallows
88. Rigo Janci
89. Pie or cake made with candy bar flavors (Snickers pie, Reeses pie, etc)
90. Divinity
91. Coke or Cola cake
92. Gateau Basque
93. S’mores
94. Figgy Pudding
95. Bananas foster or other flaming dessert
96. Joe Froggers
97. Sables
98. Millionaire’s Shortbread
99. Animal crackers
100. Basbousa
52 down, 48 to go! (although I have eaten a ton of apple pies in my life, they’ve never been topped with cheddar, only ice cream)

Wedding Menu

I have the blogging bug and couldn’t stay away for long!

Here’s the wedding menu, just off the top of my head:

Cheeses & Crackers
Meatballs (made by my Dad’s girlfriend! I am so excited for these. She is making them today, so sweet of her.)
Thai Chicken Skewers (they are currently taking up most of the real estate in my freezer)
Marinated artichokes and mushrooms

Spinach and Artichoke
Velveeta dip (it is the same neon yellow goodness made by my neighbors)

Leafy green salad
Greek Salad

2 kinds of pulled pork
smoked brisket
mashed potatoes (I begged my mom to make these because they taste just like my Nana used to make)
Albany John’s awesome German potato salad (this will probably be vegan)
Green beans (or some other green)

3 layer fresh-fruit cake

Woo! Last week I was basically freaking out about the whole thing, but now I’m actually excited. Our menu is mostly going to be home made, with the pork and brisket getting delivered from a local awesome company ;]

We’re planning on 60 people attending, and hopefully everyone will leave stuffed.

We’re also getting some beer, and will have a pour-your-own station for liquors and vino.

Tomorrow Albany John and I are going to run around like crazy people and buy as much of the goods as we can. We are going to have one full fridge!

Do rentals include washing? & The Great Shrimp Debacle

So here’s the situation:

The impending nuptials are coming up soon, and we’re renting tables, silver wares, plates, etc from a company near our venue. I really liked them because they had a price list available when you first walked in, and got kind of sketched out by other rental companies in the Cap. District since they refused to give me prices without knowing the exact details of my event (and y’all know that I only know exact details, oh, a week before any event, especially a wedding).

So I booked the nearby place. Paid the rental amount in full, and asked about how we handle plates, etc for returning. Like, put them in a box, leave them stacked up in certain amounts, things like that. The person there said that they expect them back clean. As in, we’re just renting the food serving items and need to wash them before we return them.

So this threw a bit of a wrench in the plans, since I’m not even sure if this venue has a sink to wash dishes off in. I wanted to rent plates (etc.) so we wouldn’t have to do dishes. After talking, they essentially wanted a fee that Albany John and I thought was really off the mark to include washing. Now it’s “only” 27% of the total things needing washing, but still, this is a 27% mark up I was not expecting. The fact that this news is coming so soon to the wedding, and after we have fully paid, well, it leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth about the company.

Now, to be clear, they don’t sound like they’re trying to add another fee because they hear “wedding”. It sounded like everyone somehow forgot to tell us their policies on rentals, even though Albany John and I made it clear when we first walked in that we’d never, ever rented plates (etc.) from anywhere, and they showed us all around their store.
In later talks they have explained that this fee was because of an unfortunate experience with someone returning a large rented piece of equipment (IE, maggots in something left with gobs of food in it). I can completely understand that, but at the same time, I feel we might be getting the short end of the stick because this policy is not listed on their price sheet, nor anywhere in the store. A friend who has worked in the rental field in the past has said this is not normal in her experience, and has also brought up the idea of hygiene. How clean can these be if someone else is left to clean them? This of course has made me concerned about cleanliness as well.
I also understand that washing does include time and effort by someone else, and if it’s not included in the price, well, yea, it would cost someone something. I’m kind of just chalking this up to the ‘meh’ mentality that some places can have. They slipped by not telling us, and thankfully I remembered to ask at the last minute.

But of course, the show must go on. We are going to be married, and we are stuck with this company at the moment. Hopefully we do not get the plates that someone let their dog lick off to “clean” them. heh heh

On another note, though – my father had started what I am calling “The Great Shrimp Debacle” where he was adamant that the party would not be festive if we didn’t have shrimp. Shrimp simply must have been had, or else the wedding couldn’t properly be celebrated.
We’d talked about this before. About how I hate those shrimp cocktail rings in the store that taste like coldness and little else. Or about how much a pain in the ass it would be to make sure the shrimp wouldn’t get overcooked if served warm.

But no, Albany Jane. NO. We must have shrimp. SHRIMP. SHRIMP. WEDDINGS NEED SHRIMP!

In wandering around the ‘fjord (Hannaford) I actually bought some of the pre-cooked, peeled shrimp to test out.

And my goodness. They will do.

I am not going to sing their praises like I would for some salt and pepper shrimp, but holy crap. They’re better than a lot of other cocktail shrimp I’ve had. They weren’t mushy, weren’t bland beyond belief (a little cocktail sauce wouldn’t hurt either) and actually had a shrimpy flavor.

And best of all, this makes me not have to go crazy worrying about shrimp. Now our guests won’t have to worry about peeling shrimp, the only prep they need is keeping them cold, and The Great Shrimp Debacle is closed.

Now I’m off to go let my local ‘ford know that I will need a deluge of shrimp.

How much are we getting? Right now it looks like we’ll have 60 people and we’re getting 20 pounds of shrimp. For appetizers. We are going to totally stuff our guests.

I will let you know in my next post about our planned menu, and all the awesome people helping us out.

Cheesecake Machismo

I wound up eating a slice of PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY cheesecake($5) for lunch. Oh, Lynn, you make the best cheesecake ever. It was perfect. A layer of peanutty goodness hid beneath the jelly. I couldn’t even finish it all.

And have ya heard? They’re moving location up the road to where Mezzo was. And Lynn’s even offering to honor half the value of mezzo gift certificates. She is awesome.

Do not resist the call of the cheesecakey goodness. Go forth to Cheesecake Machismo. Disregard the $300 you’ve spent in dental bills this month and bite into it.

Now I need another slice. Who wants to split one with me?

Golden Choice

Sometimes being a jerk can be a good thing. Primarily when you are a jerk chicken lunch special.

Golden Choice on 228 Washington Ave has some lunch specials, and the one I got was the Jerk lunch for $6. There’s also fried chicken and stew goat for the same price; or curry chicken, stew beef (and one more dish that I can’t remember) for $5.50.

I was at a standstill between the stew beef or the jerk chicken and asked the nice man behind the counter. He said he ate both, and gave me a toothy smile, saying they’re both good, if you can handle the heat of the pepper (in the jerk).

I lied through my teeth and said I could handle the heat. You guys, especially those who have met me, can attest to my complete inability to handle spicy hot dishes. Entering a habanero eating contest is nowhere in my future. But everything at Golden Choice smells so good, so well rounded and delicious. I had to go for the jerk.

That’s why I love ‘em at Golden Choice though – so friendly and personable. And the food. Hee hee. How do I not go there more often?

You get a take out box with rice and beans on the bottom (aka peas and rice to some), then some veggies on one side, and that devilish chicken on the other side.

LOOK AT IT! Do you SEE how black those pieces of chicken are? HOLY CRAP! That’s seasoning you can see!

Warily, I dug in. It’s like going to grab that crazy dog in your neighborhood knowing you’re going to get bitten, you know? The heat is going to happen.

I think I may have eaten a bit of bone, but it doesn’t even matter because it MELTED IN MY MOUTH.

I was blinded by the sheer tastiness of the chicken for a whole 1 second before the heat came on and washed over my taste buds. But in that second, oh, I tasted a wash of flavor – no flat one spice seasoning here! No sirree! After the heat passes, you just get this warm, cozy feeling in your mouth.

I went for the veggies next. I really like these veggies – they’re simply cooked and still have a lot of crispiness to them. They help take the edge off of that jerk.

Sorry to yell. But it’s excellent rice. It’s soft, fluffy (as are the beans), and absorbs the juice from the jerk perfectly. I could just eat the rice and beans with jerk sauce all over them.

After continuing to eat the chicken, I began to build up a bit of a tolerance to the heat, meaning I could eat a bite every minute or so.

This dish is so comforting. If you’re having a bad day, or maybe just a crummy day, head over to Golden Choice. It’s like a bite of sunshine. Spicy sunshine!

O’Brien’s Garden Grill

Where do you go when you’re not sure where to go?

O’Brien’s. It’s located on 2nd Ave in Albany, NY and has just right menu for when you’re not sure what you want, but you want it to be good.

Albany John ordered the wings with BBQ sauce. $5.50 gets you 10 of them. He loved the sauce. I would totally get them again, but maybe ask if they could get the skin a bit crispier. I liked that they were meaty and not of the puny, skimpy variety where you see bones peeking through at points on the wing. They weren’t the least bit greasy or rubbery, and were sauced perfectly – not too much, not too little.

My sister-friend was also in the area and ordered the half pound burger for $5.50, done medium. It was cooked perfectly to order. I’ve never had an overdone burger at O’Brien’s. They’ve always come out exactly as ordered. If nothing else, get the burgers if it’s your first time at O’Brien’s. The sister-friend doesn’t eat pickles, so I did. Still super good and crunchy.

I got the fries. $2.50 for a bowl of the shoestring variety. They look a sickly shade of pale in this picture for some reason, but I assure you, they are pretty tasty in person. One of the staff came up and she was asking if I liked them, and I said I really did, and were they made there? They tasted like they were. She said no, and that she wasn’t a huge fan of them and they were thinking of changing them and making them home made, since they do have down time at lunch. Man, I just love the casualness of everyone at O’Brien’s! Just chatting, seeing how the food is, talking about their plans to change things up.

Definitely check them out. It’s a short menu written on a whiteboard above the bar, but everything I’ve ever ordered has been great.

O’Brien’s Garden Grill:276 Second Ave., Albany, NY 12209 Phone Number: 518-462-0571