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Archive for January, 2008

Empress Court Chinese restaurant at 8307 E Washington St. in Chagrin Falls, OH (440-543-8231) is a great place to get your Chinese food fix.  My family and I have been eating at this friendly restaurant since I was in high school back in the mid 90’s.  It is located in a nondescript strip of stores and provides your typical Chinese restaurant decor.  If you want some tasty and fresh Chinese food from the Eastside suburbs, Empress Court is a great option.

My dad and I really like the Wor Sue Gai.  This is chicken breast that is breaded and fried, placed over a bed of lettuce with a brown gravy poured over top.  It is typically served with white rice.  The chicken is always so moist, not dry at all.  Typically, I am a fan of dark meat, which tends to have more flavor.  But, the Wor Sue Gai, made with breast meat, is perfect.

I have always really enjoyed their wonton soup.  The wontons have a great flavor and always taste fresh, like they were just made.  The wonton wrapper is a nice thick “noodle” with tasty meat inside, these were not just pulled out of the freezer and thrown into the pot.  They serve shrimp chips on the side, which seems to be something offered at only select Chinese restaurants.  I could eat those crunchy shrimp chips all day.  I like to dip them in my soup and listen to them make that “Rice Krispie” popping sound:-)

Early this week, we ate dinner at Empress Court and tried a new dish…the Sweet and Sour Shrimp.  Each piece of shrimp was quite large and the sauce had a perfect balance of sweet and sour.  Even the green peppers had a nice crunch of freshness.  Of course, the Sweet and Sour Chicken is also great.

You can’t go wrong with Empress Court.  The food is fresh, the service is always prompt and friendly and the prices are very reasonable.  I think they do a great take our business, too.  Everytime we are there we notice lots of people stopping to pick-up their dinner.  Next time you have a Chinese food craving, which is like once a week for me, try Empress Court!

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I made beef stroganoff for dinner tonight and it turned out so good (if I must say so myself) that I wanted to share the recipe.  The basic recipe came from allrecipes.com, but I added my own touches.  This one is definitely going in the recipe binder.  In fact, I was so hungry and excited to eat this that I forgot to take a picture.  Ooops!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cubed beef stew meat (my grocer actually had meat packaged as”stroganoff”)
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed golden mushroom soup
  • 1 soup can of water
  • 1 beef bouillon cube
  • 1/2 packet of Lipton onion soup mix
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper to your liking
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • dollop of sour cream
  • 8 ounce package button mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 package wide egg noodles

Directions

  1. In a slow cooker, combine the meat, soup, water, bouillon, onion soup mix, garlic, onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.
  2. Cook on Low setting for 5-6 hours.  
  3. Mix the corn starch and water in a small bowl until corn starch disintegrates.  Stir in to create a thickness to your liking.
  4. Saute mushrooms in olive oil.  Add to mixture within a half hour before serving.
  5. Stir in cream cheese and sour cream just before serving.
  6. Serve over egg noodles.

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My last post about Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential got me thinking about those restaurants that may not be quite so good.  You know those with the high school kid cooking your pizza who just wants to finish his shift so he can go drinking with his friends or the server with an attitude or, my favorite, the crazy lady who owns the place.  Yep, unfortunately, I have a story about that lady.  Specifically, the lady who owns Tay Do Vietnamese restaurant on Snow Road in Parma.

This is actually a sad story, because I really liked Tay Do the first 4 times I ate there.  I remember the day I discovered the restaurant only a little over a mile from my home.  I was so excited to find a great Vietnamese restaurant so close.  They probably would have known me by name there in no time.

It all went down one evening when Joe and I decided to order dinner for pick-up from Tay Do.  I called to order a Pho soup for myself and a beef dish for Joe.  Excited for a yummy dinner, I jumped in my car and drove down the street to pick-up our order.  The lady who owns the place was friendly just as she had been the last few times I stopped in.  She made small talk while I waited for the order, it was ready just a few minutes later. 

What a disappointment when Joe opened his Styrofoam container to find SQUID, not beef.  I called Tay Do back immediately to describe the mix-up and let them know that I would be coming back to get our beef dish.  Unfortunately, the phone call did not go too smoothly.  Once I explained their mistake, the lady owner became quite defensive on the phone.  “No!  You order squid!” she said.  “Sorry, I’m sure that we did not order squid.  My husband does not like squid.” I explained.  This coversation went back and forth a few times.  Finally, I told her that I would come back to get our correct beef dish.  She agreed, but was not happy about it.

I was so hungry at that point that we decided it would be best if Joe drove back up there to make the exchange.  Now, here is where it gets crazy!  Joe took the squid dish with him to show that it really was the wrong order.  The lady took the squid from him and gave him his beef.  Joe thanked her and walked out the door.  A few moments later, as Joe was about to get into his car, the front door to the restaurant opens and it is the lady, with squid Styrofoam container in hand.  She is yelling at Joe, “You eat Squid!  You eat Squid!”  At this point, Joe is quite annoyed.  He looks are her, says, “You are crazy”,  gets into his car and drives away.

How many ways can this situation simply be wrong?  She is acusing her customer of eating half of an incorrect order and returning it.  Who would really go to all that trouble to eat half of their meal, call to say it is the wrong meal, get in the car and drive back just to get a new meal?  But, the scary part to both Joe and I is that we felt like she was angry that there was not enough squid left in the container to throw it on a plate and serve it to the next person who orders that entree.  How about the fact that if she thought we ate some that maybe she gave us a skimpy portion in the first place. 

Then, I think, here she is hanging out the door, yelling at a customer, while she has a dining room of customers.  What were those people thinking?  So, this whole experience was wrong on so many levels.  Who treats their customers like that, especially when it was your fault in the first place!

So, I am sad that I can’t go back to Tay Do, becuase their food really is very good.  But, how can I support a restaurant who treats their customers in such a crazy manner?

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kitchen-confidential.jpgI just finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential – Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.  But, before I give my opinion of the book, I need you all to know that I am always incredibly entertained and fascinated by Anthony Bourdain.  I started watching his show, No Reservations, on the Travel Channel over a year ago and have been completely hooked.  In fact, sometimes I’m even mezmerized by the places he goes, people he meets, food he eats and just about everything he says.  I think that’s it, I am just so enthralled by the way Tony speaks.  As Daniel Halpern says in the interview with Tony in the back of the book “It’s a voice that is completely seductive…”.  It is the way he speaks, his narratives, I simply find everything he says to be so intriguing.  He is a great storyteller.

Anyway, now that we have that out of the way.  The book, Kitchen Confidential, was originally written by Bourdain with his fellow chefs/cooks in mind as the audience.  He never thought the book would become so main stream, it’s even a New York Times best seller.  But, for anyone who enjoys food and dining out, you will really enjoy Bourdain’s behind the scenes look at the restaurant industry.  The book provides a background on Bourdain and how he got into the business of being a chef in the first place.  It then follows the path through his life cooking.

The book was originally released in 2000 (I have the updated edition published in 2007).  In 2000, Bourdain was still working as a line cook.  Some of his stories are just crazy and could only happen in the restaurant industry.  It is the real lives of cooks and restaurants.  He admits that a lot of what he experienced throughout his 25 years in cooking and in restaurants has changed.   Today, people regard cooks and chefs as more that just menial labor.  We are so much more interested in food and trying new food and cooking methods these days than they we were even 15 years ago.  I was just reading an article about how Americans go out to eat now more than ever in history. 

One of my favorite chapters in the book is called From Our Kitched to Your Table.  In this chapter, Tony warns us about all the “what not to do’s” when you go out to eat.  For example, never order fish on Mondays, especially if it is a “Special”.  By Monday, the fish is already 4 days old.  The chef places his fish order on Thursday, it arrives on Friday.  He hopes to sell most of the fish during the busy Friday and Saturday dinners.  He assumes that if he has any left on Sunday he can get rid of it on Sunday and as a “Special” on Monday.  Of course, he can order more fish for delivery on Monday, but the fish guy is doing the same thing, delivering his weekend leftovers to the restaurants on Mondays.  So, most likely that tuna you plan to order on Monday night has been hanging out in the restaurant’s reach-in cooler, with the doors opening every few minutes during the dinner rushes, for at least 4 days.  No thank you!  Of course, this is probably not typical of every restaurant, but still makes you think, huh?

Kitchen Confidential is a great read!  Bourdain’s life is full of off the wall and interesting stories.  He provides great insight into the restaurant industry and what might be happening to your food before it is placed in front of you.  I can’t wait to read another one of Bourdain’s books.  My next read will be either Bone in the Throat or Gone Bamboo.  So, stay tuned for my thoughts on more of Bourdain’s books.

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I have to tell you all about my very favorite Italian restaurant….Conte’s Italian Cafe in Brook Park.  If you are looking for the real thing, that is an Italian family cooking homemade noodles and sauces, then Conte’s is it.  Joe and I crave this place! 

Conte’s is a cozy little storefront restaurant located at 15266 Sheldon Rd., Brook Park, Ohio 44142, (216) 898-0281.  The family that owns Conte’s is always smiling and ready to greet you as you walk in the door.  The restaurant is small, only about 5 booths and maybe 5 tables, so it can get a little crowded.  You do not go here for the ambiance.  You go for the amazing food. 

Lets get to the food.  Joe and I went to Italy on our honeymoon and we say that Conte’s serves up some Italian dishes that certianly rival those coming right out of Italy.  Our favorites are the pasta carbanara (pasta in a creamy sauce made with eggs, with onion and pancetta) and the fettucine alfredo.  These two dishes are to die for and you will certainly have left overs for the next day.  I swear they serve you like a pound of pasta as your entree.  The pasta carbanara and fettucine alfredo are so creamy and rich, with the most amazing taste of homemade. 

I also really like the chicken marsala.  The chicken is so tender that you do not even need a knife, it just melts in your mouth.  I heard that the Frutti de Mari is out of this world, if you like seafood.  I want to try it someday, but I always end up getting the pasta carbanara or fettucine alfredo, becuase I have such a craving for it.  There is also a wonderful veal dish I had once, but cannot remember the name of.  It is veal and eggplant with tomatoes and it is delicious.

So, for true Italian food that is homemade with love by the most adorable and friendly Italian family in Cleveland, give Conte’s a try.  I think you will be hooked just like me and Joe:-)

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Peanut Butter Noodles

peanut butter noodlesWhen I have a craving for Pad Thai, but don’t feel like driving to the closest Thai restuarant, becuase a good one is at least 20 minutes away, I make this delicious recipes at home.

  
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter (use the all natural kind, like Smuckers All Natural)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons hot chile paste (optional, if you like it hot)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces rice noodles
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
Directions
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook until tender according to package directions. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, combine chicken broth, ginger, soy sauce, peanut butter, honey, chili paste, and garlic in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until peanut butter melts and is heated through. Add noodles, and toss to coat. Garnish with green onions and peanuts.

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