Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chicago: Where in the World Wednesday!

It is amazing that after all this time, I STILL haven't been to the wonderful food city of Chicago (although slightly ironically, on this day I'm actually three hours west of Chicago).  Luckily, we have not one, but FOUR Chicago tour guides today to offer us some insight into what the city has to give us!  Thanks so much to Silvia, Neena, Becca, and Jason!

Silvia and I lived in neighboring "houses" in the freshman dorms and have been friends ever since!  I've been sad ever since Silvia moved away from DC, but can't wait to visit her in Chicago!  She currently lives in downtown Chicago in a neighborhood called Old Town.

Neena is the fabulous sister of one of my best friends, Anjali (check out Anjali's WWW of NOLA!).  Neena is a senior at Northwestern living in Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago. Before moving here, she grew up in Union City, a small town in northwest Tennessee.  Her top three food cities are New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago.  Her favorite dessert is key lime pie (yum!) and if comfort food is where it is at, then Neena goes for mashed potatoes and cornbread.

Jason and Becca are showing us around jointly around Chicago!  Becca and I went to grad school together, but actually met when we worked at the same office one summer and have been friends (and coworkers!) ever since.  I met Jason through Becca and have heard about their Chicago eating adventures since Jason started school at Northwestern. 

(1)  How would you describe the food in Chicago in 10 words or less?
Silvia: There's truly something for everyone's taste!

Neena: All over the place - in the best way possible!

Becca: Either huge and hearty or trendy and innovative; Jason: Filling, diverse. Consistently exceeds my expectations.

(2) If you were bringing back a food gift basket representative of Chicago for a friend, what would you include in it?  (Feel free to include perishable items!)

Silvia: A pizza pot pie (the kind with the meat sauce and mushrooms) and the Mediterranean bread from The Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder; a Chicago-style hot dog; Garrett Popcorn (CaramelCrisp); Portillo's Italian Beef; Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale; Bobtail's Signature Sunset ice cream (it's Merlot ice cream with chocolate chunks); and Vosges Haut Chocolat's Exotic Chocolate Bars (e.g. Sweet Indian curry + coconut; milk chocolate + bacon; Mexican ancho & chipotle chillies + Ceylon cinnamon dark chocolate)

Neena: Deep Dish Pizza- preferably original cheese from Giordano’s

Chicago Hot Dog- no ketchup, poppy seed bun, mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish, dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers, celery salt…from Hot Doug’s

Italian Beef Sandwich- wonderfully seasoned roast beef on an Italian roll that is often dipped in the meat juices and topped with giardiniera or sweet peppers…you can’t really make this badly, so I would say from anywhere

Metropolis Coffee- best coffee, no discussion

Vosges Chocolate- based out of Chicago, this chocolatier has some of the most exotic truffles and candy bars including bacon chocolate and Indian curry chocolate…sounds scary, tastes amazing

Becca: Steak, Roasted nuts, sausages. Jason: Agreed - maybe also throw in a hot dog.

(3) Do you find that food in Chicago has been greatly influenced by certain ethnicities/religions?  If so, which ones?

Silvia: Each neighborhood is uniquely influenced.  There are the traditional ethnic neighborhoods like Greektown, Chinatown, Little Italy, but then there are the more unique neighborhoods like Boystown (think The Hardy Boys), Wrigleyville (for the Cubs fans), and Andersonville (Swedish influence), all with their own unique tastes and flavors.

Neena Absolutely. Polish, Greek, Ukrainian, and Italian influences are the first that pop into my mind.

Becca: I think there is good ethnic food in Chicago if you seek it out, we've had good indian there. There is good italian, and Rick Bayless has his line of mexican restaurants that are very popular. I think there is some polish influence too. Otherwise I would say Chicago is a meat and potatoes American midwestern town.

Jason: Chicago is a city where different neighborhoods are still dominated by the ethnic groups that have historically inhabited the neighborhoods (i.e., not very well integrated). As a result, while I don't think that one ethnicity has so much influenced the cuisine of the entire city, I do think that Polish, Ukranian, Indian, Chinese, Italian, Jewish, Puerto Rican-centric influences dominate certain Chicago neighborhoods.

(4) If I were to visit you, where would we go for breakfast?  For late-night eats?

Silvia: For breakfast, I'd definitely take you to Yolk or Orange.  For late-night eats, we could not miss The Wiener Circle!!!  YouTube it and you'll know what I mean (just don't watch it in your office!) =P

Neena Breakfast at Toast- Their pesto scramble is perfection. A close second is their Mexican chocolate stuffed French Toast…seems like a sin so early in the morning.

Late-Night Eats at Ian’s Pizza- A toss up between a slice of chili cheese fritos pizza or a slice of steak & french fries pizza…both sound a bit disturbing/overwhelming but believe me when I say it’s not a good night out in Wrigleyville unless you snag a slice of Ian’s.

Becca:  For breakfast, either West Egg Cafe or that huge place on Michigan Avenue whose name I forgot. Jason: Agreed. Good brunch place called Orange in Lakeview too.  For late night eats, Tempo Cafe. Place is a scene late at night, good food though.

(5) If I were to visit you, what is one food-related destination or outing that we would visit/do?

Silvia: If you were here during the summer, we would definitely visit at least one of the many food festivals that take place here from May-September! There's Taste of Chicago (a definite must), the Guinness Oyster Fest, and all the neighborhood tasting festivals.  My favorite is Ribfest :)   

I would also take you to Table Fifty-Two, whose chef and owner is Art Smith, the former personal chef to Oprah.  Art personally came to greet our table and the tables around us when we dined there.  I felt like I was only 1 degree separated from Oprah, and I'd want you to have the same experience too ;)

Neena: Chicago Hot Dog from Hot Doug’s- It is absolutely an outing with the line streaming out the door daily.

Becca: We would probably go to Ginos/Giordanos for deep dish. Jason: Agreed.

(6) Was there anything that particularly surprised you about the food in Chicago?

Silvia: I was definitely surprised by how much good food and how much variety there is here in Chicago!  When I first moved to Chicago, I made a long list of restaurants that I would try during my first year living in the city.  After 4.5 years in Chicago and having tried hundreds of restaurants, that list has turned into a BOOK and still continues to grow!

Neena The concept of comfort food in the Midwest is not far from that of the South’s concept. This is a good thing.

Becca: Maybe not the food, but Chicago has a serious foodie scene, and it's hard to get reservations at a lot of places, we've called for a res at places that wouldn't necessarily be considered special occasion only and been told there was a 6 month wait list. Jason: I agree with Becca. I think because it is so cold people take their restaurant excursions very seriously, and as a result the Chicago dining scene is really taken seriously. I've met more foodies in Chicago than anywhere else. I've also been surprised by how diverse a selection of restaurants Chicago has to offer. You can get any type of food in Chicago.

(7)   What is your favorite “local” restaurant and why?

Silvia: I have so many restaurants on my favorite list--it's hard to pick just one!  I would vote for Chilam Balam as my favorite "local" restaurant.  Their chef (who was the Sous Chef for Rick Bayless) practices a farm-to-table mantra and as such sources local produce and ingredients for all the tasty food.  Plus it's BYOB!

Neena: Bistro Zinc. Simple French food. Never a disappointment.

Becca: Red Rooster Cafe in Lincoln Park. It's a really cute little French restaurant that's dimly lit and quiet with great food and great prices. We tell everyone to go there. Jason: Agreed.

(8)   I admit, I’m a junk food junkie… where is your go-to place for deep dish pizza?  For a hot dog?

Silvia: I love Edwardo's deep-dish pizza, Hawaiian style (ham with pineapple). 

I usually reserve my hot dog eating for game day at Wrigley Field.  But if I had a bad craving, I would hop down the street to Five Faces in my neighborhood for a Chicago-style hot dog.  I've heard great things about Hot Doug's hot dogs and duck fat fries, but I haven't tried it--I would love to try it with you, Jackie!

Neena Deep Dish from Giordano's without a doubt. I have learned that deep dish pizza and regular crust pizza are completely different cravings in my mind. When you are craving one of them, you will never settle for the other.  Hot dog from Hot Doug's is always a safe bet.

Becca: Deep dish: Ginos to sit in and Giordanos for take out (spinach and pepperoni).  I have to confess I haven't had a hot dog in chicago, but I've heard there's a little place way up north that is hands down the best, but requires waiting in line for sometimes hours.  Jason: I like Giordano's deep dish. Portillo's or Wrigley Field for a hot dog.
(9) Given the current economic times, where would you go for a meal and a drink for $15 and less?

Silvia: I would go to Matisse in Lakeview for their daily specials.  My favorite is the $3 burger + $4 beer night on Mondays.  Wednesdays are great with their $4 chocolate martini special!  Matisse is a cute little tavern--it's very cozy in the winter because they have a fireplace inside that people can sit next to and cuddle up.  In the summer they have a great outdoor patio that's awesome for people watching.

Neena: Xoco- Make sure you budget for the churros and dipping Mexican chocolate!

Becca: We'd probably share a pizza at Dan's restaurant Osteria Via Stato but we'd be cheating because he'd probably give us free antipasti to go with it. Chicago is full of great pubs though, pretty much any random spot in Lincoln Park or Wrigleyville is going to have a great burger. Jason: Agree w/Becca. You can get a good meal and drink for under $15 (maybe $20) all over Chicago.

(10) What is your most memorable food experience in Chicago?

Silvia: I have so many memorable food experiences in Chicago; I don't think I can pick just one!

I think the most recent memorable food experience was Chicago Restaurant Week 2010 in February.  Luke and I had a ton of fun going around the city and trying out a bunch of new restaurants we had never been to before.  We tasted and enjoyed so many wonderful dishes!  Some of my favorites included the Truffled Mac 'n' Cheese and Duck Duo from Blue 13, the Mushroom Risotto and Hot Apple Crisp from Gemini Bistro, the Alaskan King Crab from Joe's Seafood, and the cheesecake from Il Mulino.  It was really fun to compare notes with our fellow foodie friends as Restaurant Week progressed!

My overall most memorable food experiences in Chicago would involve the following restaurants: Sunda, The Publican, Hot Chocolate, the Hopleaf, and Japonais.  Jackie--you'll just have to come visit so I can take you to those places.  Then you'll know why they're memorable :)

Neena Too many to list! First one that comes to mind is getting a slice of Bacci’s pizza after a Cubs game. But, let me tell you. This is not your average slice of pizza. For $5 you can get a slice of pizza the size of Russia and a drink.

Becca: Hard to say, we've had a lot. After Jason I associate Chicago with food. Our first breakfast in Chicago (I don't know where) I had this amazing french toast with bananas on it. Jason's friend Dan works at an italian restaurant/pizzeria and we went there one night for an awesome 4 course meal (that ended up being several more courses because Dan's friends just kept bringing things). And of course all our dinners at Red Rooster have been great -- particularly the time we went there during the week and our food was half price (crazy because the food there is already half the price of many other places). We've had great meals all over Chicago though.

Jason: I'd say our first time at Red Rooster. It is just a nice, quaint spot that was wonderful that night and continues to impress us. Also, as was mentioned earlier, people in Chicago take their food seriously so it is hard to "find" a new place. I like being able to say, or think, that we found Red Rooster on our own.

Thank you so much  for your tours of Chicago's eats!  Ok, now I'm starving.  When is the next flight out to Chicago?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thailand: Where in the World Wednesday

Hello everyone!  Welcome back to another segment of "Where in the World Wednesday" :)  This week we jet off to beautiful Thailand with two tour guides -- my friend Jeff and his lovely girlfriend Nim.  Jeff and I have been friends since high school and since high school, his life has taken him all around the world -- he's lived in Taipei, Newport Beach (CA), Houston (TX), and the Baltimore/Washington area.  Nim was born in the northern Thai city, Nan, and she has lived in the southern Thai city, Songkhla, as well as Atlanta and Bangkok.  Nim and Jeff currently live in Hwai Khwang, Bangkok, Thailand.  Thanks to Jeff and Nim for taking part in Where in the World Wednesday! 

(1)   How would you describe the food in Thailand in 10 words or less?

Concentrated & Intense Flavor, Spicy.

(2)   Are there any dishes that you think are traditionally Thai?
(3)   Do you find that food in Thailand has been greatly influenced by certain ethnicities/religions?  If so, which ones?
(4)   Have you found that different regions of Thailand have different types of food?  If so, which would be your favorite region?

We will group these three questions together, and start by answering #4. There are four distinct regions in Thailand - North, Northeast, Central, and South. They each have their own unique tastes. For example, the food in/from the South is ridiculously spicy.

There are many religions/ethnicities in Thailand. There is a strong Muslim influence (kebabs, hookah), Indian influence (tons of curry), Chinese (typical), and Japanese (businessman).

Traditional Thai dishes include: Tom Yum Kung (Soup - Lemongrass, Herbs, Shrimp), Sweet Mango & Sticky Rice (Dessert), Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

(5)   If you were bringing back a food gift basket representative of Thailand for a friend, what would you include in it?  (Feel free to include perishable items!)

Nim says that she would include...Raw AND Ripe Mangoes, Mangosteen, Lychee, and Durian.

I would bring... Kao Niew Gai Tohd (Sticky Rice with Fried Chicken), Kao Meng Gai (White Rice with Boiled Chicken), Ba Mi Giao Nam (Yellow Noodles with Roasted Red Pork + Dumplings in Soup)

(6)   If I were to visit you, where would we go for breakfast?  For late-night eats?

Thais don't really eat breakfast, so to speak, or as we envision what breakfast ought to be. They often have Thai Iced Tea/Iced Chocolate/Iced Coffee + simple fried street food for breakfast. Some people eat Grilled Meat + Sticky Rice, some people eat noodles, some eat nothing. Cereal is an expensive commodity here.

There are tons of 24-hour/late night places to eat. However, I am old, and I go to bed at 10. Most of them are street food though - anything you can think of, I'm sure there is a street vendor for it.

(7)   Where would you take me on a food-related outing?

It depends on what kind of place you want to go... For example, if you wanted to do something with a Chinese influence, we would go to YaoWaRat - China Town. If you wanted to do something "Hi-So" (bourgeoisie), we would go to Siam Paragon (Think Tyson's Corner but even more expensive, Thong Lor (Little Tokyo), and anywhere on Sukhumvit Road (Main road in the business district). There are tons of great places to eat, depending on how you want it, and how local of tastes you want it.

(8)   Was there anything that particularly surprised you about the food in Thailand?

At first, I hated Thai Food. I kept asking myself, with its obvious Chinese link, what happened to the Chinese Food? Thai food has its own tangy, spicy flavor, which Chinese food does not have. However, I've thrown myself into this culture, and am absolutely loving the cuisine. The challenge is in the Spicy food. With Japanese Wasabi, you breathe out to alleviate the pains. With Thai Spices, you soak it and you take it like a man. It is a great challenge to absorb the invigorating sensation that burns the insides of your body. It is actually a wonderful feeling. In fact, chillies and peppers have tons of Vitamin C.

(10) What is your favorite “local” restaurant and why?

I wouldn't call it a restaurant, so to speak; however, it is a storefront. It is family owned, and is extremely old and dirty on the inside. They serve two dishes: Ba Mi Giao Nam (as stated above) and Kao Moo Daeng (Rice with Roasted Red Pork + Boiled Egg + Special Sauce). The special sauce for the rice dish is very sweet and tasty.

(11) What has been your most memorable food experience in Thailand?

There are two. 1) When Nim and I were in Nan, along with two of our other friends, we went to this "local" restaurant, which was a Shrimp Farm. We ate our guts out, full of fresh, grilled shrimp. There should be pictures on my facebook. 2) When Nim and I went to Phuket for a short vacation, and to see her friend from middle school, they took us to a "local" seafood restaurant on the beach. We had 10 dishes of fresh, famous seafood, and the cost came out to be less than $40 for 5 people. The taste was fantastic.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cook Club: Cooking Up a Storm

Crab Bisque

Highest Scoring Dishes:  Crab Bisque (above), Bon Ton Bread Pudding, and Warm Potato Salad
Lowest Scoring Dish: Baked Rice Pudding  

In celebration of Mardi Gras (and as it so happened, the celebration of the New Orleans Saints Superbowl win!), January/February Cook Club focused on the cookbook COOKING UP A STORM: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans.  Our Cook Club NOLA-alum, Anjali, selected this cookbook for us this round and it promised to be a good one.  This cookbook, chockful of recipes for nearly any occasion, was created after Hurricane Katrina as New Orleans residents began rebuilding their lives.  The Times-Picayune of New Orleans became a "post-hurricane swapping place for old recipes that were washed away in the storm."  I was so excited about this cookbook that I actually bought one for myself -- and I'm glad I did.  All the recipes come with an anecdote, giving you an insider glimpse into the back story of each recipe -- who requested it, who had it, where it came from, and so forth.

Below are all of our reviews of our dishes!  This is only a small subset of the over 250 recipes in the cookbook, so I hope this encourages you to try it out for yourself.


Crab BisqueAmanda's Crab Bisque
Score: 4.8
I made the bisque the night before, (despite the fact that the recipe recommended serving it immediately) which turned out to be a good decision. What was a bland, so-so soup turned out to be a very flavorful, nicely spiced starter to our meal. The recipe was very easy to follow and make. There was relatively little chopping and prep work, which was nice. I was also excited to make a roux for the first time ever! The only thing that I changed was the amount of black pepper and needed a lot more in my opinion! This was a crowd favorite at the dinner party. I saved the leftovers for my friend Tiffany, who could not be there...she said it best: "I was going to eat some for dinner, and save the rest for the next day, but before I realized it, the soup was all gone!" A definite success, in my opinion...I will be making this recipe again in the near future.

Stuffed PeppersAmanda's Cafe Degas Stuffed Peppers
Score: 4.25 (Amanda's Score = 4.5, Anjali's Score = 4.0)

Anjali, Lisa H, and I threw our dinner party on a Friday night, which was a good idea in theory, but meant that I was extremely tired from the week, and also explains why I chose to cut the peppers in half instead of leaving them whole for stuffing...duh! I very diligently cut and seeded all of the red peppers that evening, then realized my goof. I had no time to get more peppers, and had no idea what to do with nine pepper halves, so I worked with what I had. This silly mistake turned out to be a good decision, as the peppers were quite large, and probably would have been too much to eat whole with all of the other yummy food we had. The stuffing was fairly easy to assemble and had several of my favorite things...goat cheese, spinach, and walnuts, not to mention other tasty ingredients! The recipe also called for kale, which I was not able to find at the Tom Thumb I frequent, so I decided to wing it with extra fresh spinach instead of making trips to other stores. Despite the last minute modifications, the peppers turned out great, and were a hit at the dinner party. This recipe is a keeper! (Anjali also rated this dish with a 4.0)

Blue Cheese Puffs Jackie's Blue-Cheese Puffs
Score: 4 

The blue cheesy puffs were certainly a popular selection!  I managed to lock them up though and was excited to try these.  In the past year, I've been making quite a few dishes out of blue cheese (a certain blue cheese souffle comes to mind, mmmm.), so I was excited to try these out.  The little story that went along with it recommended doubling the batch if you're throwing a party because these would surely fly off the plate.  And even though there were only two of us eating them, they did fly ... into our mouths.  I've actually tried to make cheese puffs before and failed miserably -- those puffs deflated and basically tasted rubbery.  But these were light and airy -- the blue cheese wasn't too overpowering (although our house did smell like blue cheese for awhile afterwards) and reminded me of gougeres that I've had at restaurants.  We paired the last several blue cheese puffs with hot sauce -- reminded us of buffalo wings with blue cheese...but without the chicken of course :).  Definitely will make these again!

Lisa H's Artichoke and Oyster Casserole
Score: 3.625 (Lisa's Score = 3, Anjali's Score = 4.25)

For our party (thrown by Anjali, Amanda, and I), we actually made the appetizer of the casserole. I used phyllo shells and the crispy/flaky was good. I used two cans of artichokes and took off the leaves then put them in the food processor instead of fresh. I have never cooked with oysters and didn't realize they come in different sizes (something important to know prior to cooking with oysters;-).  The recipe called for 6 dozen oysters, I used 20 large oysters and cut them up. When making the recipe you need to look at the size of the oysters or I think you might get too much oyster.

I would rate this recipe 3/5, because of the large amount of anxiety I had prior to and while making this recipe. As a side note, I don't know that I have ever had anxiety prior to making anything. The appetizers had a great flavor and everyone seemed to like them. I would make this again. (Miss Anjali also scored this one!  This one for her got a 4.25)


Shrimp CreoleAnjali's Shrimp Creole
Score: 3.75 (Day of results = 3.5; Next day results = 4.0)

So this was pretty much the cookbook's version of a tomato-based shrimp etoufee (check out my Where in the World Wednesday NOLA edition here for more info!).  While I prefer the cream-based etoufee, I wanted to try the healthier kind! The recipe was very straightforward and easy to understand. My critique? Make this the night before!  I made the base several hours before my guests arrived and put the shrimp in just before serving, to avoid them getting tough.  The results were good. BUT, the leftovers the next day were amazing! Serve over rice and with an Abita. ;)

Becca's Meaty Gumbo Over Warm Potato Salad
Meaty Gumbo Score = 3.5
Warm Potato Salad = 5

I made the meaty gumbo over warm potato salad.  The gumbo contained lots of yummy (and hearty) ingredients, including ham, chicken, andouille sausage and pork sausage.  The original recipe called for a whole chicken to be split into cooking pieces, but I am not that savvy so I bought a split breast and two bone-in skin on chicken thighs.  The cooking process wasn't terribly complicated, but there were a lot of steps.  I had to brown the chicken in batches because my dutch oven wasn't big enough for a whole bird, so I just chopped up the veggies while that was cooking.  Once everything was in the pot, all I had to do was let it sit (and fill the house with yummy smells).

The potato salad was also pretty simple.  I had a hard time finding creole seasoning in my grocery store, so I made my own based on a recipe I found online (from Emeril Lagasse I believe).  Though I must confess I didn't write it down, I can say it was basically paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper, cayenne, thyme and oregano.  I didn't have any onion powder on hand, but I don't think the dish suffered.  The genius thing is, you boil the potatoes in the creole seasoning (I cut them into bite size pieces first, though I think the recipe calls for boiling them whole - I like my way, maximum seasoning!).  After that just add celery, celery salt, a little mayo, grainy mustard and eggs.  The potato salad was really yummy on its own, nice and spicy, and when mixed with the gumbo, added a nice creaminess.

I would recommend giving this dish a shot, especially if you're, say, snowed in when DC is randomly getting 3 feet of snow...  I don't know if I would bother with the whole chicken (or the bone in parts even) because the gumbo is rich enough with all the other meats I don't think the chicken skin & bones add much other than the need to pull out skin & bones before you serve it.  This would be great for a non-vegetarian winter gathering.

Shrimp & GritsJackie's Shrimp & Grits
Score: 3.5

I was at a bit of a loss when I saw all the wonderfully tasty sounding dishes up for grabs in this cookbook.  So I put together a list of dishes that I wanted to make and sent them to Mr. J for him to pick out a dish for us ... and his selection was shrimp & grits!  I was excited to try this out because I loooove shrimp and grits, but have never made it myself.  This was quite easy to make, but took some time.  I wasn't expecting to put this dish in the oven, almost like a rectangular casserole --  the grits reminded me of sliced polenta instead of the creamy grits I've had in previous shrimp & grits dishes.  I really enjoyed the flavor of the grits though -- made simply with chicken broth and Parmesan cheese, they were savory but not overpowering.  The shrimp had a great flavor too, although I think next time, I would try to make more of a sauce to pour over the shrimp and the grits as they are baking together.


Crawfish BreadAnjali's "Jerry's Crawfish Bread"
Score: 4.5

I have had my share of crawfish bread when I lived in NOLA, and I always loved it, so I thought having this in my arsenal would be a good idea. Unfortunately, I am not a baker, so it made me very nervous!  The base of this dish was again very straightforward.  It was the construction, with putting the filling into the bread and then carefully closing it and putting it into the oven that was a little difficult! The dish calls for cream cheese, presumably to make the filling thicker, but I think the water from the vegetables still made it runny. Plus, I used a more natural version of cream cheese, so maybe this affected the texture?  Either way, once this finally came out of the oven, it smelled amazing and was a hit at the party! Add a little extra hot sauce for a nice little kick. :)


Praline CookiesAmanda's Praline Cookies
Score: 3.65 (Amanda's Score = 3.8 and Anjali's Score = 3.5)

I'm not sure where my thought processes were when I was grocery shopping for this cook club, but they were clearly absent (see stuffed pepper review). The recipe called for pecans, which I quickly grabbed while shopping a few nights before our dinner party. I got home and realized that yes, I purchased pecans, but they were olive oil and sea salt roasted (quite yummy, but not for pralines). Yikes! I called Anjali in a panic, and she saved the day with regular pecans. Once my pecan issue was solved, I quickly assembled the cookies. The recipe was very simple, and required few ingredients. The final product was good, but I was expecting the cookies to be a little more...something. Sweeter maybe? Perhaps I had higher expectations because I love pralines, so I wanted these to be similar. As a cookie lover, I'm sure I will make these again in the future.  (Miss Anjali also scored this dish with a 3.5)

Baked Rice PuddingBana's Baked Rice Pudding
Score: 1

Can I give this recipe a negative score?  Because, truly, this was the saddest excuse for a rice pudding recipe I've ever encountered.  Rice pudding is one of my favorite desserts and there are two basic ways to make it - baking or boiling.  As it turns out, I much prefer the boiling method (the only way I've made it up until this failed experiment).  The flavor itself was lacking and the pudding never really set, resulting in a semi-sweet rice soup, as opposed to a creamy custard.  For the first time in a long time (maybe ever?), I can say that I definitely won't be trying this recipe again.

Elaine's Eggnog Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce 
Score: 2

I am used to bread puddings that are much thicker than this recipe (maybe it's English Bread Pudding vs American? not sure) so I would definitely double the recipe next time but use the same size dish. I soaked the raisins before baking in the hopes that they wouldn't dry out like rocks in the oven (this usually works when I make oatmeal raisin cookies) but that didn't work. The flavor of the pudding was good and not too sweet but there just wasn't enough of the pudding to have a creamy bottom and a crusty top. Next time, I would also maybe try cutting the bread up in smaller chunks instead of just halving the bread slices and overlapping them according to recipe. For the rum sauce, the recipe called for corn syrup but in the UK they have golden syrup so I used that instead. The resulting sauce wasn't very rummy but very sweet so maybe next time I'll use one big glug of rum instead of 2 tbsps!

Bon Ton Bread PuddingLisa H's Bon Ton Bread Pudding
Score: 4.75 (Lisa's score = 4.5; Anjali's score = 5)

I changed some things in this recipe as well. I added an additional two egg yolks and combined all of the wet ingredients together. I combined the wet ingredients because I was worried the milk and egg solution would not combine. I also added an additional 2 cups of bread. When making bread pudding I think it should be soupy, but not all custard and there was a little too much wet so I added the extra bread. So, I would 'eye' it. The pudding baked up well with crispy on the top and soft on the bottom.

Moving on to the Whiskey Sauce. I made the sugar/butter mixture three times because the sugar would not dissolve as the recipe instructed.   I totally abandon the double boiler, because it didn't seem to get warm enough. The third attempt I decided to try to go ahead with the recipe and see how that went was perfect.

I would rate this a 4.5/5. I liked this and I think everyone else did too. I would make this again. (Miss Anjali also rated this dish and gave it a big 5 (with lots of exclamation points, hee hee))