July 17, 2011

The Cooking Idea: Tostones

Hey all.

There comes a time in every blog's life in which its writers become too wrapped up in their own affairs to remember that there's a place on the internet specifically to tell the world (or at least its followers) about said affairs. That time was the past three months. We've been finishing up school, going places for Summer, and spending time wishing the places we went were at least a little closer together.

We've found ways to occupy ourselves and been in constant correspondence with one another. Life has been going well and the Earth has continued to turn, so there's not too much to complain about.

Today I noticed a few banana-esque items in my kitchen. Now, anyone who knows me well enough will instantly look at this post and call BS. "Max, you HATE bananas. Why in the world would you ever make a dish including anything remotely close to them?" Well, yes. I do hate bananas, but, surprisingly, tostones (fried plantains) are among my favorite summer snacks. These plantains sitting on my counter were just waiting to be fried, so I took it upon myself to chop 'em up, toss 'em in some oil, and let 'em get nice and crispy. The result was a salty, crispy, slightly chewy, and barely sweet assortment of fried plantain chips that got rid of my late-night munchies faster than the greasiest of burgers.

The recipe is as simple as they come:

-Plantains, peeled and cut into ~1" slices
-Enough peanut oil to barely cover the plantains during frying
-Salt (to taste)

Bring the oil to about 350º F and fry the plantain slices in peanut oil. I generally fry one plantain's-worth of slices at a time. After about three minutes, flip the slices over and let them fry again for about two minutes. Once they've browned a little bit, take them out and flatten them with a glass or a plate. Once they've been flattened, fry them again for about one minute on each side. Remove them from the oil and toss some salt on those puppies, they're done!

I highly suggest a dipping sauce that my mom and I find delicious:

~3 parts Mayonnaise
~1 part Sriracha (Rooster) Sauce
~1 part pomegranate molasses (From an Asian market)

Mix those together until you find a combination you like (depending on how spicy or sweet you want it) and enjoy!

Happy frying!

March 11, 2011

The Food Idea: Dotty Dumpling's Dowry

Most couples have a song special to them. This is almost universally known as "our song," the song that plays at that perfect moment, striking a mood that lifts the collective spirit and brings about a feeling of togetherness and romance in the duo. While we have songs we like to think of as tailor-made for us, "our song" is slowly being replaced by "our burger joint," Dotty Dumpling's Dowry.

Dotty Dumpling's Dowry (or just Dotty's, for short) is a burger-and-fries style restaurant with a solid foundation in the woodwork of Madison, WI. Based on the extraordinary yelp reviews (I feel like I use that phrase in excess), we checked this place out about three months ago for the first time. Our first impression was that the food was flat out incredible, and our opinion of the restaurant's quality has only improved since. The burgers are, in as appropriate words as I can muster, the proverbial bomb-diggidy. After our three visits, we've begun honing in on our meat-sandwiches of choice: The Melting Pot (a Smörgåsbord of cheese, meat and garlic) and the Gladiator (pretty much the same idea but with onions) for Clara and me respectively.

A cross-section of Dotty's "California Burger"

The food is all reasonably priced as well, leaving money in our university-standard budgets for other essentials, like food for the other six days of the week. A burger will generally run you about $7, and the fries (or any other side order) tends to be around $4 for enough for two or three people. Oh man, oh man- the fries. I haven't even mentioned the fries yet! Okay, so, brace yourself. I might just geek out here a little bit.

Dotty's. Fries. Are. Great.

Not just good, these fries are 110%, giant tiger mascot-worthy Great. Crispy but not without substance, always freshly fried, and good with whatever you want to put on them (we've had great success with the English Garlic sauce they prominently advertise). Furthermore, as an amateur chili-cheese-fry connoisseur, I will gladly place Dotty's chili-cheese-fries among the greatest ever to grace my taste buds.

Look how legit those fries are. Just look at them!

Above all else, Dotty Dumpling's Dowry is reliable. It's casual (but not too casual), it's consistently delicious, it's fast, and it's cost effective. In the end, though, all these factors are nothing compared to why I really love this place: because it's ours.

The Concert Idea: GIRL TALK!!!

Wow. Just wow. About a month ago, I bought Max and I tickets to the Girl Talk concert (for our 3-month). It was originally scheduled at the Majestic, but was later moved to the Alliant Energy Center to accommodate a larger crowd. This past Monday was the concert and Max and I went with our friend Alex. This was my first electronic/techno/rave concert and it was insane. So much fun. So many people. So much sweat.

The concert started at 7:30 pm, but we got there around 8:30, and Girl Talk came on stage around 9:30. We caught the end of the second opener (Max Tundra I believe?), who was alright, but I was not feeling it. I was pumped for Girl Talk though, and same with everyone else in the venue. Boy, did he not disappoint. I was dancing the entire time (with Max), Max kept nudging us closer to the front, Girl Talk improvised (and didn't just play everything straight off his albums), I was smushed against the crowd, people smelled like butt, I was too short to see everything on stage, everyone was drenched in sweat, and the list goes on. It was crazy. I had a blast.

Definitely going to more raves in the future! If you get the chance to see Girl Talk, I would highly recommend it. Insist, even.

Check out these pictures I took at the concert:

There were large balls bouncing around above the crowd. (Really!)

There were screens hanging above the stage and the effect was amazing.


We were pretty close to the front...

My favorite picture of all. Not taken on a camera and taken on my iphone, surprisingly. (Apple continues to amaze me everyday.)

January 24, 2011

The Music Idea: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (or, a letter to Mr. West)

Oh Kanye, I'm so glad that you take the time to make music when you're not making a d-bag of yourself in the public scene. Your music (like your ego), is polarizing (I know for a fact that Clara really doesn't like your stuff), but even though I've never thought too highly of you in the past, I've decided to accept you for who you are because of your latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Now, normally I like to think of myself as a nice person who condones nice person things and nice people who follow nice person goals, but your latest album has made me appreciate your abrasive ways with (almost) every song. With this album, you have surrounded the quintessence of Kanye with a chrysalis and given it time to mature, utilizing your media stunts of the past few years as silk. Like a fine wine, your douchebaggery has aged from a pungent, unappreciable state to a refined elixir that bathes every piece of your work in an eccentric, pseudo-satire, forcing a constant “Oh Kanye, you so crazy.”

I can't tell if this is intentional. Maybe you're a genius (for all I know, everything you've said so far could have been for this album), or maybe you're just an eccentric musician with too much time on his hands. Is POWER nothing but a constant stream of braggadocio, or is it a commentary on the socioeconomic status of the United States (and the world for that matter)? Is it both? I have no idea, and I'm fine with that. What I do know, though, is that your latest album has (almost exclusively) been playing on my iPod since its release. While I'm not sure whether I should think of your work as that of a power-crazed madman or spawned of a brilliant manipulator of the public eye, I see its merit nonetheless, and hope that my readers will take my suggestion and give your album a chance.

Keep doing what you're doing- whatever it may be.



January 23, 2011

The Food + Travel Idea: Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate. These two words in unison invoke thoughts of cozy, wintry nights spent huddled around the fireplace- a traditional scene. Chicago's chic, new-age inspired Hot Chocolate takes this old, family-centric image, covers it in underground art, gives it a cow-skull hat, and a single strong spank. Based on a high Yelp score and the desire to find out how remix-ready a staple of my winter diet is, we spent an hour or so at Hot Chocolate.

Clara and I met up with her brother and his wife, both of who live in Chicago, and got a large shared table in the back of the restaurant. If you're one who relies heavily on first impressions,

1) Let me know so I can prepare if we ever meet, and

2) You'll agree with everything I've said so far upon setting foot in Hot Chocolate.

The walls of the small, dimly-lit restaurant are covered with odd, progressive artwork and surround an environment fueled by loud, pulsating ambient music and the constant chatter of the hipster elite.

In order to better understand the restaurant's allure, the four of us ordered the following:

-Two hot chocolates (Mexican and Affogato)

-Warm Brioche Doughnuts

-Chocolate #1

-a banana-themed dessert (I don't remember its exact name, but it was good)

Our initial reaction was that all of it was extremely rich, and that the amount we ordered was perfect for four people to share. The hot chocolate was (appropriately) excellent, and even though the anti-cinnamon activists at my table rejected my Mexican Hot Chocolate, that just meant that there was more for me. The accessory elements in each dish were there for a purpose: the super-salted thin pretzels with the Chocolate #1 complemented the semi-sweetened chocolate-lava that filled the souffle, and the Warm Brioche Doughnuts' chocolate dipping sauce made a soft, warm delicacy even warmer and more gooey.

Oh, and I almost forgot- they do brunch, lunch, and dinner as well (but I have no experience with any of these things, so look elsewhere for info!).

If you ever feel like releasing your inner hipster but just can't shake the hot chocolate blues that come with the bite of midwestern winters, I heartily suggest Hot Chocolate for relief.

The Food + Travel Idea: Piccolo Sogno

Piccolo Sogno, originally Italian, when translated to English means “little dream-” the perfect descriptor for this marine blue star of a restaurant. I made reservations for the two of us here for our night out on the Windy City, and would jump at the chance to eat here again. This restaurant sets itself apart from the mafia meeting-place, family-run Italian restaurants generally associated with Chicago in a few big ways.

From simply browsing the website, you can safely assume that the restaurant is fairly invested in its own style and outward appearances (it's got a really refined, web 2.0 kind of setup- kudos to whoever designed it). This assumption holds true on-site as well, as all the design aspects contribute to a cozy, comfortable vibe that's perfect for romantic outings and dinners with family.

How about the food? Well, if you like seafood, you're in luck (I feel like all I've written about is fish). Piccolo Sogno specializes in food from Southern Italy, serving up a fishing village's worth of the sea's fruits. Clara ordered the black (squid-ink) spaghetti Frutti del Mare, and I got a similar dish with more seafood and no pasta- their seafood stew. Both dishes were delicious, and I can only assume that most other seafood-inspired dishes on their menu are of similar quality.

Our waiter was helpful, if not a bit passive in helping us decide which entree to order. At first we thought he had a fake Italian accent, but it wasn't until we took our time and listened to the wait staff's conversations with one another that we realized it was probably just an over-eccentric Spanish accent. Nonetheless, he helped make the dinner successful, and for that he gets my stamp of approval.

For more information, or if you simply want to see the website's cool, refined design, check out Piccolo Sogno online at piccolosognorestaurant.com.

The Movie Ideas: No Strings Attached & The King's Speech

Yesterday, my friend Mary, Max, and I went to see No Strings Attached in theaters. It stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman as two bests friends who use each other for sex. The question is: can two friends be sex friends? Although this movie was rated 49% by rotten tomatoes, I thought it was a very witty and funny feel-good movie. I would suggest this movie if you need a pick-me-up.

Afterwards, Max and I stayed for the King's Speech. One word: brilliant. I couldn't imagine a better cast and Colin Firth's acting was superb (he won best actor in the Golden Globes). Geoffrey Rush, the actor who plays the king's speech therapist, was also remarkable (I believed he should win best supporting actor). For those of you who are unfamiliar, this movie chronicles the life of King George VI and his stutter. He decides to hire a therapist who eventually becomes his best friend. This movie was beautifully written, touching, and awe-inspiring. And the soundtrack, composed by Alexandre Desplat, was marvelous. I can only say good things about this movie - definitely one of the best movies of the year. I highly recommend that you see it; it's worth every penny. (P.S. Max agrees).