Dinner Party Featuring Pork Loin, Potatoes, and Broccoli!

At some point in one’s life, you phase from “hey, let’s order pizza or Chinese” hanging out with friends to “hey, let’s have a dinner party” hanging out with friends. This phase seems to happen at different times for different people. Some people get drug into it kicking and screaming, and for others it happens more naturally. As one who really likes making food, it should have happened earlier for me than it did, but I’m sure it was tempered by the fact that few of my dishes actually match. (You call it “tacky”, I call it “diversity”!) That, and thanks to my particular obsession, the vast majority of times I make food for people I just straight up call it a “sushi party.” In any case, as much as I like pizza and Chinese, I’m noticing more and more “dinner party” circumstances oozing into my life, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

So I had a movie night with my friend Elise recently, and we decided it would also be Dinner Party night as well. I brought a slab o pork loin, pre-seasoned (lemon garlic) as it was on sale and I was lazy. She provided these really awesome tiny potatoes in a range of colors. Purple potatoes, genius! Those suckers got pan-fried along with some chopped onions and a range of seasonings. At some point we realized that raw potatoes + pan-frying is a great big pain in the patootie, so we dumped in some water and let those suckers cook for a bit.

potatoes and broccoli

Broccoli is another one of those things where your appreciation grows as you age. I didn’t really appreciate broccoli until I was in my 20s. Mind you, I had (what in my mind at the time was) a really traumatic incident when I was 5 years old involving broccoli. My parents have always gardened, and I’m sitting there eating some broccoli from the garden when I see a worm sticking out of what was about to go in my mouth. Being a 5 year old (and not at all partial to worms in my mouth) I freak out. One of my parents removes the worm and my dad, not wanting to see food go to waste, cuts up the rest of my broccoli to reassure me that there are no more worms. I am distrustful, and proceed to even more thoroughly cut up my broccoli to look for any more offending invertebrates. Whereupon I, of course, find another worm. And whereupon I refused to eat broccoli for the next 15 years. Childhood trauma is a real thing, folks!

Anyhow, I like broccoli now, especially with lemon squirted all over it. There was no lemon to be had, so we squirted lime instead. Gave the broccoli a nice kick!

giant plates of food

All of the things we ate were pretty low in calories, meaning we heaped giant platefuls of it all and got really full. The copious amounts of wine we drank all evening helped as well. Yay!

Eating My Way Through Richmond, VA

OK, this is less a full coverage of the possibilities of dining in Richmond and more “Hey! I was in Richmond recently and happened to take pictures of these things that I ate! Yay!” (emphasis on the “yay”). I mean, I’ve got my staples that I like to hit in Richmond because I can’t find them anywhere else.

The big one is the mock sesame chicken at Panda Garden.

mock sesame chicken

So I’ve been gorging on Panda Garden ever since I lived half a block away from it back in college. It’s been through a bit of history as well – the original location burnt down and they reopened a new all-vegetarian restaurant called Panda Veg across the street after that. And, just recently it seems, they started serving meat again and reverted back to the name “Panda Garden.” I love meat as much as the next omnivore, but pretty much the only thing I ever eat from there is the mock sesame chicken because it’s so incredibly amazing. I think of it less as “fake chicken” and more “delicious moist balls of joy and happiness in my mouth.” So amazing. Have yet to find anything like it anywhere else.

So, this next one is totally not related to Richmond at all. Go just an hour east of Richmond and you’ll find in the town of Williamsburg, AKA Land of Breeches, Poofy Dresses, and Outlet Malls. And, of course, amazing barbecue.

Pierce's BBQ

I’m sorry that the above picture is so grainy – I was lightheaded from lack of meat at the time, which greatly affected my photo-taking skills. Anyhow, Pierce’s BBQ is freaking amazing. It’s all sweet and smoky and delightful. There’s a bottle of Pierce’s BBQ sauce sitting in my fridge right now, to help me cope with the fact that the real thing is 1,500 miles away. The fries are, well, fries. Tasty, but nothing to write home (or write on a blog) about. Pierce’s sweet potato fries are apparently amazing, according to people who are into that sort of thing. But sweet potatoes and I are still in the early part of a friendship – we brush up against each other in hallways then give each other funny looks – so I cannot truly speak to the alleged deliciousness of the fries.

So while I was in Richmond, I heard rumors of a gingerbread stout, made locally by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. It became a mini-obsession while I was there. I had to figure out a place where I could drink it to make my life complete. I got to hang out with my friend Scott on Christmas Eve, and he became my partner in crime in finding a bar that served this stout. This soon turned into just trying to find a bar that was open, period (did I mention it was Christmas Eve?). Just when we were about to give up, we happened to pass by The Camel on Broad St. And, lo and behold, not only were they open, but they carried the gingerbread stout.

Gingerbread Stout

The stout was…OK. I wanted it to taste more like gingerbread and less like stout. But this is my complaint about all beers that supposedly have flavor. The beer is mostly interesting due to the story surrounding it. Seems that Christmas Eve is a rather strange time to go to a bar. We’re sitting there up at the bar, just drinking our beer and talking, when some dude in a Pikachu hat wanders in off the street and gets a water. I compliment him on his sweet hat, whereupon he sits down and starts talking to us. Have you ever talked to someone while they were on acid? Imagine someone who has done so much acid that this is simply how they talk all the time now, due to what I’m sure are a crapload of neurons in their head being fried together. Imagine a New Age guru who learned everything he knows from Pokemon and Avatar The Last Airbender. That was this kid. To be honest, it was pretty fascinating – my luck usually gets me the creepy-crazy types, so this was a refreshing change. Kid had no place to stay that night, so Scott lent Pikachu (the name he went by, incidentally) his couch for the night.

And, in summary, Richmond is renowned for it’s delightful cuisine and bizarre homeless people.

Banana Bread for Great Justice!

So it doesn’t really feel like it to me for some reason, but I nonetheless recently realized that I might make banana bread more than any other baked goods. And it’s not necessarily that I’m incredibly fond of banana bread (though it is tasty), it’s more than I’m not very talented at eating all of my bananas before they get brown and ucky. There’s really two factors at play here. The first is that whole “sold in bunches” thing. It’s just me here, and am I really going to eat 6 bananas before they go bad? Of course, I’m totally that person that’ll rip a bunch down to a more manageable size, but at $.55/lb or thereabouts, I’m generally OK with getting a few more bananas that I might realistically be able to consume.

The second factor is that bananas drastically change flavor over the course of their shelf life. You buy them slightly green, when they’re tangy, and they gradually shift to yellow and sweet, then spotty and ubersweet, then brown and pastelike (mmm…paste?). I’m picky about when I eat my bananas. You see, I like my bananas like I like my men – tangy and not covered in spots. I’ll eat a banana when it’s fully yellow, but for me an ideal banana still has that hint of green at the edges. When the brown spots come in, the bananas start giving me funny looks, and I start avoiding them until it’s too late. And, As I am physically incapable of throwing away food unless eating it might send me to the hospital, “too late” generally translates into, “It’s smoothies or bread for you, sucka!”

Banana Bread

I’m gonna be honest here – I have no clue what recipe I used for this. I don’t have a go-to banana bread recipe. You do an allrecipes.com search for “banana bread” and you pull up approximately 28947234234 variations of banana bread, all delicious. Of course, this makes this post significantly less useful for people who might actually wish to *make* the above banana bread. This is more of an “ooh lookie, I made a thing!” post. But, let’s be honest here: who does food blogs who *isn’t* making “ooh lookie, I made a thing!” posts?

So, instead of a recipe, here’s some practical advice: I don’t care how long the recipe says it has to bake for, don’t start baking your banana bread and then go take a shower. Seriously, what was intended as a 15 minute session became more like 30 somehow (it’s like the laws of spacetime alter when you’re naked in a bathroom), and by the time I got out, the timer had gone off. Bread was still good, I just kinda had to trim off the edges to get rid off that “well done” feeling. Oops!

Oh hey, here’s another piece of advice. Do this. It’s awesome:

banana bread with fudge and blackberries

Many things I eat are the result of “What ingredients are readily available at work?” experiments. So, I had banana bread. A coworker brought in fudge and blackberries. I combined them into a delightfully sugary pile. I ate, I was cracked out for the next 30 minutes, and had the resulting sugar coma for a few hours after. Totally worth it!

Getting my drunk on (and appetizer on) at Linger in LoHi

So I recently got an opportunity to get nice and knackered with some coworkers at a place I’d never been to before, a bar called Linger in LoHi here in Denver. First off, “LoHi” is such a weird term for me. I know it means “Lower Highlands”, but from a taxonomy/linguistic standpoint, couldn’t you just say “Midlands?” And, what’s to distinguish it from “Higher Lowlands?” And then, why isn’t there a “Higher Highlands?” separate from that? I mean, I’m pretty sure the higher area is just called “Highlands”, but then if we look at this from a set theory perspective, would “Lower Highlands” be a subset of “Highlands” or in it’s own class? Naming schemas are important, people!

Moving on to content people might actually want to read, did you know that Linger used to be a mortuary? Pretty crazy! They’ve got that fact incorporated into their interior design. Well, if you imagine a disco morgue or something. But no, it’s really cool! The menus look like toe tags and the bar upstairs is constructed with Light Bright pieces. And there a pile of pool balls in the stairwell, along with a gorgeous sweeping view of downtown Denver. Hmm, so much for my disco morgue theory.

Anyhow, the food! The menu is total frou frou, what with it’s fennel and deconstructed regular food and whatnot. Kinda intimidating at first, so it might be a good idea to point and choose at random, or consult with a conveniently placed waitron. Or just get a beer first (they have Left Hand Milk Stout on tap, w00t!) and let the alcohol decide later on. In any case, we started off with the “organic waffle sweet potato fries.”

fries!

Tasty! They came with chipotle-tomato ketchup, which is just like regular ketchup, except kinda weird! I’m still trying to warm to the idea that I can a.) eat sweet potatoes and that b.) it is possible for them to taste good. I seriously didn’t like them at all growing up, but I’ve had a few good experiences so I’m growing here. Anyhow, if I’m gonna learn to like sweet potatoes, a great method is to deep fry the bastards, which certainly worked for these fries.

poppers

By this point, my camera had had a wee bit too much to drink, as you can tell by the poor quality of that photograph above. Anyhow, these guys were poppers. Or rather, deconstructed poppers. “Popper breakdown”, as the menu called them. Someone was all like, “If Heidegger wanted him some awesome poppers, what kind of poppers would he eat?” and thus this menu item was born. Peppers sitting separate from some breaded and deep-fried cheese curds. Actually, I could totally overlook the pretentiousness of this menu item due to those amazing cheese curds. As I’m not too good at spice, I just ignored the peppers completely and stuck to the cheese. Holy cow, deep fried cheese curds! Genius!

Mussels

So I have mixed feelings about mussels as bar food. They’re slimy and get all over your fingers and are apt to go flying at any moment. However, as this is the same argument I have against eating wings (which, much to my chagrin, is a very accepted form of bar food), I’m thinking I have no real footing on this one. Anyhow, I got over my aversion to the gooey and chomped down on several of these. They were in a flavorful sauce and tasted better than the majority of such shellfish I’ve eaten over the course of my life. So yeah, would totally recommend.

Tiny burgers

And then at some point, these tiny burgers showed up! It’s like at some point I stopped having any input into what menu items actually got ordered, and all of the sudden there were tiny burgers staring me in the face. With bacon! This might have been a better “early on in the drinking” item to get, actually, when the hour is closer to the dinner hour and one’s stomach is not so saturated with beer. But, still pretty good. Came with more of that chipotle ketchup – and it’s not that there was anything wrong with the ketchup, but I think I would have preferred a straight up barbecue sauce instead. This of course did not prevent me from downing a tiny burger (or slider, or whatever the heck the kids call them these days), and then later using my ninja stealth skills to eat all of the bacon off of a second one. Actually, this is the danger in getting such a dish later on in the drinky part of the evening. My Id takes over and is all like “Hmm…why eat the entire thing when I could just fill up on BACON!” Actually, wait, why is this a bad thing?

Anyhow, I’d totally go back to Linger. Place gets kinda packed on a weekday night (a good or bad thing, depending on your feelings on such things). But, pretentious menu aside, the food and ambiance are both pretty awesome.

Whereupon I crack out on Mexican food at Blue Bonnet

So I’m still not sure who decided Blue Bonnet was a good name for a Mexican restaurant. I mean, you’d think they’d at least call it Capo Azul or something? Anyhow, I ended up going to Blue Bonnet over on Broadway in South Denver with a few friends not too long ago, and it was magic and delight all up in ma belly.

Margarita

They have an extensive margarita menu, and the one above is the frozen sauza swirl. Alcoholic strawberry blend in my mouth!

As we were pregaming for a party here, I decided to *try* going light on the food, and got a vegetarian burrito. This baby is what showed up to greet me!

vegetarian burrito

SO MUCH CHEESE. Really, cheese is very important to me. And this sucker was coated with the stuff. This is the sort of burrito where I’d like to fill a bathtub with a bunch of them and just roll around in that pile for awhile. Melty in my mouth! Stuffed with rice and beans and pure unadulterated Joy. And totally the sort of burrito where you suddenly realize that you only have 3 bites left and your stomach is attempting to annex other parts of your body due to it’s overflowing status. I was actually pretty good about that this time around – I started from one end and managed to cut myself off at just over half done, leaving the rest for the next day. Well, except for the part where I totally left the leftovers in my friend’s car. Oops! I swear, more restaurants need to rent out carrier pigeons to forgetful fools like me. I’d get home later and there’d be a pigeon waiting for me with burrito deliciousness. Crap, I’m not really sure what you’d tip a pigeon though (cause you know they wouldn’t work for free). Not even sure they’d accept US currency. Shoot dang!

Practicing the Fundamentals: California Rolls

So when it comes to sushi, I’m a total plate presentation whore. Well, I guess if someone paid me for sushi I could call myself a plate presentation whore. But since I’m generally giving it out for free, I’d be that other thing. You know, um, generous? Yeah. Anyhow, usually when I have the opportunity/urge to make sushi, I try to figure out at least one thing I’ve either not done before or am still struggling with. Lately, it’s been wrapping the outside of rolls with thinly sliced fish and avocado, as well as color combination experimentation and interesting bonus ingredients (can we say “mango?” Yum!). However, I recently just made a big ole pile of California rolls for me, myself, and I, and it was a good reminder that sometimes you just gotta work on the sushi-making fundamentals.

California roll  platter

I’m pretty pleased that grocery stores now sell mini-packs of fake crab (or “krab with a K” as I call it). Four tubes of krab is the perfect amount to build out a nice serving a California rolls. I also used half a cucumber and a varying amount of avocado.

On a related note, the state of avocados in our grocery stores is tragic. I mean, $1 an avocado is considered a sale? For realz? Not to even go into how much those poor suckers that buy organic are paying. I mean, you go to any major Latino market out here and they’re 3 for a buck. Unfortunately for me, there is no Latino market in walking distance of me, and parking around here is way too hellish for me to justify driving to a market and back just for avocados. So, my solution is to complain about it on here instead. Yay!

Anyhow, I rolled out these awesome tubes.

California roll tubes

One thing I’ve figured out from making sushi is that, in a multi-ingredient roll, it’s important to balance out the hardness and softness of your ingredients. Too many hard ingredients and the roll might not get as tight as you’d like it, which can result in pieces of filling threatening to fall out after you slice up the rolls. One way to help with this is to slice harder ingredients (i.e. cucumber, carrots) super thin. Too many soft ingredients and you’ll risk your roll oozing all over the place when you cut it (this has happened to me more than once when my spicy crab involved a little too much “spicy” and not quite enough “crab”. California rolls are a great balance though – hard cucumber, medium firmness krab, plus soft avocado.

California rolls closeup!

OK, so I threw in some fish roe for good measure. I’ve got a little container I just keep in the freezer all the time and pull out for sushi-making purposes. Great for adding a bit of salty zing, as well as a really nice orange color, whether inside the roll or outside. Tim Tebow approves of fish roe!

Best Thing Ever #4: Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s

As awesome as living in Denver is, there are a few of life’s necessities that it lacks. I mean, if I woke up tomorrow and was all like “Hot dog! I’ma swing by Trader Joe’s then go take a dip in the ocean!” it’s just not gonna happen. Well, the ocean’s easy to fake – as any Hunter S. Thompson fan knows, enough mescaline and a bathtub will take you anywhere you want to go. But Trader Joe’s? No way, no how. The nearest one’s a long ride down over the New Mexico border. So sad! Especially since, when I was in California recently, I got the opportunity to swing by one and grab a jar of cookie butter.

Trader Joe's cookie butter

This stuff is some serious gingerbread flavored crack right here. Like, if I ever wanted to go on the Most Delicious Weight Gain Diet ever, I’d just eat a jar of this stuff a week. So far, my preferred method of intake is to smear it all over bananas.

banana smeared with Joy

Bonus chocolate never hurts. If you are going the fruit method, might I recommend melting the cookie butter first for delightful dipping purposes – this works especially well with apples. I want to try this stuff with bananas and ice cream for glorious Banana Split Action. I can also see high hopes for spreading this on a sandwich with, well, a banana, plus marshmallow spread. It’s not your uncle’s fluffernutter!

Best Thing Ever #3: The Double-Double from In-N-Out

So, from my experience at least, when you get a burger somewhere, you’re often stuck with two choices: moist or substantial. Moist can be very luscious, and it’s that greasy moistness that causes most of the cheap fast food places to thrive. A McDonalds burger is not a burger so much as a pod o’ grease, but it’s satisfying and slides down well. At the other end of the spectrum is substantial. There’s more substance to the bread, the meat is thicker and there’s actually vegetables involved. I’ve had too many of these where they didn’t seem to mesh, however. A good burger is better than the sum of it’s parts, and too many giant burgers just seem to be a giant pile of parts without the cohesive whole. Part of that problem might be that you’ll never experience the burger as a cohesive whole if you can’t fit it into your mouth. Maybe it’s a reaction to the undersized fast food burgers. Maybe some people genuinely like eight inch tall burgers. They just frustrate me, and I usually try mashing them down with my hand. Oh, but substantial burgers often confuse “a quality bun” with “an overtoasted bun”, so even after squashed to mouth-height, you bite into that burger and half the sandwich squirts out the other end.

Which brings me to In-N-Out. I’d never eaten at one before, but have had them aggressively recommended to me. So, finding myself in Southern Cali not too long ago, I took it upon myself to seek one out, and got a double double.

double double

Freaking magical. Moist, succulent and cohesive, yet having plenty of substance (and decent vegetation). And, I could successfully squish it to fit in my mouth! Score. Not too much on the menu, meaning they’re focused on this one thing that they do extremely well. I do know about the “secret menu”, but a straight burger was good enough for me!

There seems to be a trend towards burgers that are actually awesome. I wonder if maybe places like McDonalds used to be better than they are now, and then they started lowering the quality of things to be cheaper, meaning other restaurants could jump in. I dunno, my education in burger history is pretty lacking. But, the In-N-Out burger is reminiscent of a Five Guys burger, which is reminiscent of a Shake n Steak burger. Is there a town that contains all three of these restaurants? I totally want to get a double whatever from all of these places and have the Best Taste Test Ever. And then go lock myself in a gym for like 3 hours (one for each burger). Hah!

Best Thing Ever #2: Freaking Latkes Fried in Oil

First of all, there’s a good chance that half the things that fall under this fabulous new category of mine will involve being fried. This is because everything becomes 20% more awesome when fried, it’s simply how the world works. Second of all, every time I worry one of my photos might turn out poorly, I’m just going to use Instagram to take that picture. This is because Instagram makes even awful photos look awesome!

Latkes

Yeah, latkes are freaking awesome as well. I just sorta improv them when I make them, recipe schmecipe I say. So you grate a bunch of potatoes into a bowl, and try to avoid grating your fingers as well. I totally failed on that latter part, much to the chagrin of my thumb, ugh! Dump in an egg, some flour. A bit of pepper. Think I added some garlic as well. Chopped up some green onion for bonus festiveness, mix. Boil oil, plop potato blobs in and fry until delicious. Yay!

Traditionally you’re supposed to eat them with sour cream or applesauce (which tastes a lot better than you might expect it to) but as I had neither, I went the “hash browns” route here, and doused these bad boys in ketchup. Yum!

Best Thing Ever #1: Acorn Squash

There’s a lot of foodstuffs that I will, for the next minute or hour or week, depending, declare to be the Best Thing Ever. So, I figured I’d start a category called that, and start recording them as I think of and eat them.

Acorn squash has managed to completely grow on me as of late. I used to eat it pretty regularly as a kid, but was pretty ambivalent about it, and found it mediocre at best. No more! I recently had a craving for it, so I got me a squash from Ye Local King Soopers. I hacked that sucker in half, baked it for a good 50 minutes or so at 350 degrees, and plopped a blob of butter and a spoonful of brown sugar inside a half.

Acorn squash

Mixed it up, ate it all, so freaking good.

I wonder if my active desire for things I found to be rather boring as a kid is a strong indication that I’ve hit Taste Bud Adulthood. Like seriously, my 6 year old self would be disgusted by how small the amount of cake frosting I can consume before I start feeling nauseous. Next thing you know, I’ll be loading up on butter pecan ice cream and Metamucil or something. But you know, I crave what I crave. And holy cow, acorn squash are apparently freaking awesome.

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