St. Elmo's still delivers

I love St. Elmo’s Steak House. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually ever eaten there mind you, but I love it, and the twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion makes a great excuse to get on down to this granddaddy of Indianapolis dining establishments.

I took my dad to the venerable St. E’s on Saturday night under the pretense of doing research (I got a freelance gig that covered my meal if I was willing to write a report about it and take a few photos). Dad and I hit up St. Elmo’s for Devour Downtown two summers ago as well, if memory serves…

My dad is sort of funny about this sort of excursion. After all, this is a man who enjoys the weekly $1.99 country-fried steak special at KFC without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. To him, any dinner that costs more than about $10 is terribly extravagant. He admitted he didn’t just think he could enjoy eating at St. Elmo’s at regular price. And he’s right, it is expensive, as upscale steakhouses by nature are. Then again, it’s not like we’re eating at these types of place every week. In my book, a $30 three-course meal at St. Elmo’s once or twice a year is a STEAL, and an opportunity well worth taking advantage of.

We didn’t make a reservation during our previous visit and lucked out by just showing up around 5 p.m., getting seated right away. This time around was a different story. Hindered by bad weather, downtown construction and tons of traffic, we rolled in the door around 5:25 p.m. and were told we could expect an hour and a half wait before getting any sort of table. Ugh. Our lucky stars were shining on us again, though, and we were able to immediately snag a bar table from a couple who were in the process of vacating. Unknowingly snatching it out from under another pair, who proceeded to fix me with the evil eye for the ensuing hour, even though they got the table right next to us within a matter of minutes.

The bar scene at St. Elmo’s is actually pretty trendy and happening in spite of its old-school rep, but it did not make a great spot for dinner with pops. My dad has trouble hearing to begin with and all the loud ambient noise precluded any effort at dinner conversation. Our attempts at reading each other’s lips failed miserably, and we resigned ourselves to eating our meals while watching some golf tournament on the flat-screen TV over the bar.

On the upside, the food was fantastic. For $30, the Devour Downtown menu provided us each with a shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with red-skin mashed potatoes and garlic green beans, and a dessert. Everything is a slightly smaller portion than you usually receive, but still more than enough to fill you up. In fact, I took a few bites of steak and green beans home with the intention of assembling a kick-ass black-and-bleu salad for lunch the following day. (Alas, hubby intervened…)

The cocktail contained three HUGE succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of St. Elmo’s signature blow-your-head-off horseradish sauce. Can’t speak for my dad, but my steak was perfectly cooked to medium-well just the way I like it, and tender like butta. Yum. Yum. And yum.

St. E's filet mignon

Dessert was perhaps the only slightly underwhelming part of the meal. My slice of cheesecake was rich and delicious and the accompanying raspberry coulis garnish tangy and fresh, but my dad’s crème brulee wasn’t all that. It was just a tiny custard cup with a barely-caramelized crust. Instead of that satisfying crack you get when you sink your spoon into the first bite of a really good crème brulee, this one only offered a few blackened spots on the surface, much like the cheese bubbles on a pizza. Eh.

Adding up the bill, we spent around $90 all in – two dinners, one glass of wine for me, tax and tip. Great value in my humble opinion, considering you can easily spend this much per head there any other time of year.

So what’s your vote? St. Elmo’s – hotspot that’s held up over time, or just plain over-rated?

For more info:

http://www.devourdowntown.org/

http://www.stelmos.com/home.html

 

 

 

 

 

St. Elmo Steak House on Urbanspoon

St. Elmo’s still delivers

I love St. Elmo’s Steak House. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually ever eaten there mind you, but I love it, and the twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion makes a great excuse to get on down to this granddaddy of Indianapolis dining establishments.

I took my dad to the venerable St. E’s on Saturday night under the pretense of doing research (I got a freelance gig that covered my meal if I was willing to write a report about it and take a few photos). Dad and I hit up St. Elmo’s for Devour Downtown two summers ago as well, if memory serves…

My dad is sort of funny about this sort of excursion. After all, this is a man who enjoys the weekly $1.99 country-fried steak special at KFC without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. To him, any dinner that costs more than about $10 is terribly extravagant. He admitted he didn’t just think he could enjoy eating at St. Elmo’s at regular price. And he’s right, it is expensive, as upscale steakhouses by nature are. Then again, it’s not like we’re eating at these types of place every week. In my book, a $30 three-course meal at St. Elmo’s once or twice a year is a STEAL, and an opportunity well worth taking advantage of.

We didn’t make a reservation during our previous visit and lucked out by just showing up around 5 p.m., getting seated right away. This time around was a different story. Hindered by bad weather, downtown construction and tons of traffic, we rolled in the door around 5:25 p.m. and were told we could expect an hour and a half wait before getting any sort of table. Ugh. Our lucky stars were shining on us again, though, and we were able to immediately snag a bar table from a couple who were in the process of vacating. Unknowingly snatching it out from under another pair, who proceeded to fix me with the evil eye for the ensuing hour, even though they got the table right next to us within a matter of minutes.

The bar scene at St. Elmo’s is actually pretty trendy and happening in spite of its old-school rep, but it did not make a great spot for dinner with pops. My dad has trouble hearing to begin with and all the loud ambient noise precluded any effort at dinner conversation. Our attempts at reading each other’s lips failed miserably, and we resigned ourselves to eating our meals while watching some golf tournament on the flat-screen TV over the bar.

On the upside, the food was fantastic. For $30, the Devour Downtown menu provided us each with a shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with red-skin mashed potatoes and garlic green beans, and a dessert. Everything is a slightly smaller portion than you usually receive, but still more than enough to fill you up. In fact, I took a few bites of steak and green beans home with the intention of assembling a kick-ass black-and-bleu salad for lunch the following day. (Alas, hubby intervened…)

The cocktail contained three HUGE succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of St. Elmo’s signature blow-your-head-off horseradish sauce. Can’t speak for my dad, but my steak was perfectly cooked to medium-well just the way I like it, and tender like butta. Yum. Yum. And yum.

St. E's filet mignon

Dessert was perhaps the only slightly underwhelming part of the meal. My slice of cheesecake was rich and delicious and the accompanying raspberry coulis garnish tangy and fresh, but my dad’s crème brulee wasn’t all that. It was just a tiny custard cup with a barely-caramelized crust. Instead of that satisfying crack you get when you sink your spoon into the first bite of a really good crème brulee, this one only offered a few blackened spots on the surface, much like the cheese bubbles on a pizza. Eh.

Adding up the bill, we spent around $90 all in – two dinners, one glass of wine for me, tax and tip. Great value in my humble opinion, considering you can easily spend this much per head there any other time of year.

So what’s your vote? St. Elmo’s – hotspot that’s held up over time, or just plain over-rated?

For more info:

http://www.devourdowntown.org/

http://www.stelmos.com/home.html

 

 

 

 

 

St. Elmo Steak House on Urbanspoon

Murder on the Italian Express

Busy few days!

For our last day in Milan, hubby went back to the trade show and the toddler and I headed back downtown on the tram. Through one of the tourist magazines I found in our hotel room, I discovered it’s possible to take an elevator up to the roof of the Duomo for some interesting bird’s-eye views of the city.

Il Duomo

 

The tickets to go up cost a very reasonable 8 euros, and the experience was pretty awesome. You take the elevator up to the back corner of the roof and wind your way among the spires and gargoyles, up and down stairs around to the front. Eventually, you emerge into a flat space in front of the very tallest spire where you can simply breathe and take it all in. I can’t even describe how magnificent it is to commune with all that gorgeous architecture up close and personal. Just put it on your agenda if you’re ever in Milan.

on top of the Duomo!

The last supper in Milan Tuesday night was our farewell visit to Il Pavone. My meal was a delightfully light and pillowy gnocchi with a rich gorgonzola cream sauce and a few toasted walnuts scattered around the plate for good measure.

Il Pavone gnocchi con gorgonzola

I think hubby had a pizza diavolo, but I was too focused on my own food to care much. The three of us split what seemed to be the Italian equivalent of a crème brulee for dessert and bid the beautiful Maria a fond arrividerci.

the lovely Maria

Because I hate to fly so much, we had determined to take an overnight sleeper train to Paris Bercy, departing Milan around 11:30 p.m. Packed up and ready to go, we grabbed a taxi to Milano Centrale train station and waited for our ride. I thought it might actually be, dare I say it, a fun adventure. Silly, silly me.

I had a sinking feeling when I bought the tickets the day before that this trip may not go quite as planned. I couldn’t get my point across to the guy behind the counter, but he gave me reservations for beds for two adults, so I knew we’d have some sort of place to rest our weary heads at the very least. Or so I thought…

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but having taken very nicely appointed trains elsewhere around Europe, I figured this journey would be fairly similar. Ho ho ho.

The train pulled in and we waited to embark among a large, milling crowd. It looked old and rather run down from the exterior, not at all like the nicer ICE trains I’d ridden before. I grew more nervous with every passing minute.

Finally it was time to board. The narrow passage proved a tight squeeze for all our baggage plus car seat plus stroller plus baby, so hubby lugged it all in piece by piece while I kept watch over the little guy outside. Every time hubby reappeared to grab another item, the looks he gave me grew more and more ominous. I quickly began to realize that this decision was going to be a mistake of colossal proportions.

The toddler and I climbed aboard. Fortunately, our beds were in the very first group of berths, so we didn’t have to go far. Unfortunately, the space was so tight, our largest bag wouldn’t fit into the “room.” We had to leave it in the hallway, and we were warned by the train staff not to leave it unattended. The hallway itself was narrow as well; people literally had to climb over the suitcase if they wanted to get by us.

Tickets are available in various classes — first class for a private section of berths, and peon classes where you may or may not find yourself sleeping with people you don’t know. Which do you think I’d managed to procure? Yep. You guessed it.

Our room, if you will, consisted of six bunks packed in like a sardine can, three on each side with well-worn, not-so-clean upholstery. When we came in, some fellow travelers were already there, two 40-something Asian ladies claiming the middle bunks. Our reservation denoted that we were to occupy the top two. Not exactly smart when there’s a two-year-old in the mix. The women were kind enough to trade us beds and immediately made themselves comfortable in the top bunks. Oh, did I mention the entire car REEKED of mothballs? I found myself mouthbreathing so I wouldn’t gag.

Everyone got settled in and we started to roll. Keep in mind, it was well after midnight by now. The toddler, who so graciously fell asleep in the taxi and stayed asleep right up until we boarded the train was now completely alert and ready to party like a rock star. The Asianettes hunkered down to sleep, yet the toddler was singing round after round of “Wheels on the Bus” and “Old MacDonald” at the top of his lungs. There was no hope of getting him to lie down without an all-out screaming tantrum; we just had to wait him out.

We eventually took the toddler out into the hallway so our companions could get some rest and hubby took a seat on top of our lonely suitcase. The looks he was giving me went from ominous to murderous. The vocal stylings continued as the toddler then launched into an enthusiastic rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” followed by “Farmer in the Dell,” the Wonder Pets theme, “ABCs” and whatever else came into his little brilliant mind. At least the Asianettes didn’t mind, hubby poked his head in to get something and found them snoring like buzzsaws.

Hoping to wear the little guy down, hubby took him for a walk to find the dining car. Service was closed for the night, but at least it was empty and gave the little dude room to run around and play without disturbing anybody. I stayed behind to keep watch over the bag and tried to read. An hour later, they came back, hubby looking utterly defeated and pissed off. The toddler was still singing, and now skipping. Knowing I had some penance coming my way, I jumped up and took my lumps. The toddler and I headed back to the dining car again, weaving our way through six or seven other carriages full of quiet berths. I looked longingly at the private “suites” as we passed and mentally punished myself for not being able to convey that’s what I was after when I bought the tickets. Dammit.

After another hour or so of full-on hyperactivity, I managed to get the toddler to sit on my lap long enough to relax. Not sleep, mind you, but wind down enough to the point that when I asked him if he wanted to go lie down with daddy, I actually got a “yes.” Back we went, me trying to carry the toddler and not fall off the train in between cars, when I realized that I had no idea what number our carriage was. I figured we’d see hubby still sitting on the bag in the hall, but he was nowhere to be found. Uh oh. I’d come to the last car of the train and just stood there, holding a weary toddler and wondering what I was going to do. I didn’t even have my phone to send a text; I’d left it in my purse back on my bed, wherever that was. Just as I was contemplating lying down in the middle of the dirty hallway and praying someone would find us in the morning, the interior curtains in the compartment parted right where I was standing and hubby motioned us inside. By some stroke of sheer luck, we were standing exactly where we needed to be.

Hubby had managed to wrestle the remaining suitcase into the middle of the floor in our room and squeezed himself into one of the middle bunks. The toddler went right to him without complaint when I handed him over and settled down to sleep. I climbed into the other bunk across. Thank GOD no other passengers showed up to the claim the two remaining beds on the bottom, I can’t imagine how two more people could have possibly fit into that room.

I closed my eyes and hoped for the best, trying not to touch anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary and praying I still had a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse. The motion of the train was quite lulling, really. The jet-plane decibel snoring emanating from the bunk above me was not. I could not believe the noise this woman was putting out. Seriously, I was convinced at one point she was doing it on purpose. There is no way she could make that kind of a racket without waking herself up or choking to death in the process. I checked my watch. 3:45 a.m. Sigh. I closed my eyes and could literally feel the waves of resentment coming off my non-sleeping husband a few feet away. At least the toddler was depleted enough to get a solid stretch of shut-eye.

The Asian Rip Van Winkle finally woke up around 7:30 a.m., and she and her buddy started jabbering away in a language I didn’t recognize. The train conductor came by to check our tickets again. We knew we were running late, but when hubby asked him how much longer and he said another three hours, my jaw hit the floor. We were originally due in to Paris Bercy station at 8 a.m., leaving us plenty of time to take a cab to the rental apartment, drop our bags and shower before heading to the airport to collect my mother-in-law, who we’d arranged to fly in and stay with us for the weekend. As it was now, we’d be pushing to get there by the time her flight landed at 1:30 p.m. By that time, I was so exhausted, I did manage to fall into a somewhat fitful sleep for an hour or two. Really, there was nothing else to do.

At long last, we pulled into Paris around 11 a.m. I was never so glad to arrive anywhere in my entire life. Hubby told me not to speak to him unless I absolutely had to, which I respected, knowing I was totally in the wrong for this comedy of errors. I’d apologized a handful of times and didn’t know what more I could do or say to make things right, silently pledging to drug myself stupid next time and agree to get on whatever airplane might be available. I asked hubby if  he thought we’d look back on this experience someday and laugh. He said no.

Anxiously keeping an eye on the clock, we cursed some more when we saw the line for taxis extending halfway down the sidewalk outside the station. (And I wonder where the toddler recently picked up “Shit!”) Somehow by the grace of God, we eventually got a cab and made it to the rental apartment to meet the lady from the service who let us in. Hubby dashed off on his own to the airport, arriving with about 30 minutes to spare to meet my mother-in-law’s plane. Whew.

The two-bedroom Marais-situated apartment we’re renting is lovely, small but charming, up four flights of narrow winding stairs that are guaranteed to give me buns of steel after a few days. After a much-needed shower, the toddler and I ventured out for a bite of lunch at the first decent café we came across. Quiche Lorraine, salad, orange juice and a café crème fit the bill quite nicely. We managed a quick trip to the supermarket for a few essentials, then back to l’appartemente to meet up with hubby and MIL.

After a short rest, we all took a stroll around our old stomping grounds near the apartment where we stayed two years ago, stopping in for dinner at Cafe Rempart. Hubby had a traditional French croque monsieur – a devilishly rich open-faced toasted sandwich of ham and cheese with béchamel sauce. MIL enjoyed pomme frites, salad and a delicious-looking burger (which she ate in spite of the cheese. She hates cheese. This does not bode well for her enjoyment of French cuisine, I fear.) I was still somewhat full from my late-lunch quiche, so I went for a lighter dish of entrée Salade Rempart, composed of greens, carrots, tomato, fried potatoes (!), thin slices of proscuitto-ish country ham and cheese toasts. The whole thing was topped very lightly with French salad dressing, which is not at all like the unnaturally orange Kraft stuff you find back home. Here, it’s a light tangy Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

This morning, we headed to another café and partook of coffee served in clever small bowls (LOVE this, I want to find some of these to take home), and stuffed ourselves with all manner of bread and pastries.

the perfect petit dejeuner

 

Gotta love the French… A great way to fortify ourselves for a boat ride on the Seine, a visit to the Eiffel Tower and a walk through Notre Dame. A bientot!

 

Paris, part deux

Last night’s dinner came courtesy of a bistro right next door to Miss Manon (alas, I was remiss and forgot to note the name. Duh.) It was a dark, cozy little place. Really, all Parisian bistros are dark, cozy little places… Little being a key word. People here must not dine out with their kids very often. In fact, I haven’t seen any in the past few nights that I can recall. Hence the lack of stroller parking space. We wedged the baby in a tiny spot next to our table, the poor man behind us couldn’t have gotten out if he’d wanted to.

Fortunately, what the bistro lacked in space, it more than made up for in cuisine. Hubby proclaimed he wasn’t very hungry and ordered a tomato mozzarella salad, which turned out to be very generous in size. I was pretty famished and ordered half a roast chicken that came drenched in a delicious oniony jus. It also entailed a side of crispy and perfect pomme frites (that’s fries to you and me).  

Hubby did his best to balance baby-wrangling and eating dinner, and did a fairly good job. I’m sure he was ready to call it quits as soon as I finished, but I couldn’t resist dessert and requested a creme brulee. Hubby swears he doesn’t like sweets and could care less about creme brulee, but even he pronounced it tasty. It was an ideal version – a crunchy crust of burnt sugar that belied a deceptively light custard beneath. Even the baby got a taste, and quickly opened his mouth again as soon as he’d swallowed, anticipating more.

Hubby took off early this morning on an overnight business trip to Norway, leaving baby and I to fend for ourselves today. We slept in until 8:15, then made our way back to Miss Manon for a repeat of yesterday’s petit dejeuner. I figure, why mess with a good thing?

I braved a visit to the produce stand on the way back to the apartment, purchasing tomatoes, apples and some gorgeously ripe strawberries to round out the stash of baguette, cheese and yogurt back home. Lunch ended up being a bowlful of said berries and a small yogurt-ish hazelnut mousse hubby had stocked in the fridge from a previous shop.

The afternoon consisted of walking, walking, and more walking. Nearly two hours worth nonstop to be exact. I got a little lost on the way back, but knew I was headed in the right direction and eventually found my way back into familiar territory. Paris is really not that hard to find your way around. Sooner or later, you either run into the Seine, or come across a convenient arrow pointing you toward a major attraction. 

At dinner time, I ventured round the corner to see what I could find on the Place de Bastille, having gone only the other direction thus far. The first cross street I came to served up Cafe des Phares, looking busy and vibrant.

I snagged a perch just inside the door in the corner and was supremely proud I managed to handle the entire transaction in French (including asking if they had space to accommodate the stroller – right on!) The crowd at the outdoor tables looked fairly young, but at the table next to me, I eavesdropped on a sexy shaggy gray-haired man having some sort of business meeting with a quiet, polite Japanese man, conducted in English. Turns out shaggy is a pianist (I had gathered he was some sort of musician based on the conversation), a native of Denmark living in Paris, but moving soon to Los Angeles. The manager of the cafe also stopped by my table to flirt with the baby, and we ended up having a nice little chat about the American and European economies. God, I was grateful to have not one but two actual conversations with the locals that centered on something other than ordering food! 

Speaking of the food, my dinner at Cafe des Phares was a glass of red wine, a small complementary dish of black olives dusted with what appeared to be herbes de provence, two hot-off-the-grill crepes filled with ham and cheese, and a small mixed lettuce salad. All tasty and just the right amount of food.

No sooner had I placed my order than a suspicious odor wafted my way from the stroller. Baby has had a hard time adjusting to the French food or the French water or something. In any case, I realized he’d just shit himself for the fourth time today. Seeing as how I was there by myself and didn’t want to leave my belongings unattended, I had no idea where the restroom was or if it would even accommodate a diaper change, and I was starving, I was a bad mommy. I simply covered baby up with his blanket to muffle the smell and hope the nice gentlemen next to us wouldn’t notice. 

On the way back, I made a quick pit stop into the boulangerie for a treat. After roughly three total hours of walking today, I figure I’ve earned one, and I wanted to get a croissant for breakfast tomorrow. The selections were all tempting, but I finally chose a small chocolate tart that looked positively sinful. It was so rich, I could only eat half of it.  

People visit their local boulangers here pretty much daily to stock up on fresh bread and pastries. You’ll see folks of all ages and social status toting their baguettes under their arms throughout the day, readying for the next meal. And tonight, I was one of them!

Chocolate sex

Hey ladies – I’ve found it. The ultimate chocolate dessert. I told my husband last night that this dessert is so good, I could have sex with it. Like many husbands (I’m sure… I hope), mine is always complaining that we don’t have enough sex. I fear he might have been slightly pissed off about my contemplating sex with a dessert as opposed to seeking opportunities to have more sex with him.

I’ve always been a fan of creamy, custardy foods (see my previous post about Zest’s French toast), and am currently exploring a creme brulee/pots de creme fixation. I’ve downloaded a bunch of different flavored versions to try, but the chocolate pots de creme recipe below is my favorite thus far. They aren’t hard to make, they just take a little bit of time and, be forewarned, you will dirty some dishes in the process. I made my first attempt in ramekins; last night, I got creative and used little espresso cups. Very cute presentation, and it pays to make these in small portions because they are sooooo rich. Trust me, a little goes a long way. Don’t pay any attention to the calorie count. When you need a little slice of chocolate heaven, give this a try.

I’m open to other pots de creme or creme brulee recipes or suggestions… Feel free to send a comment!

Dark Chocolate Sex, er, I mean, Pots de Cremes

This makes about 6 ramekins or 10 espresso cups worth of chocolaty goodness.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 c. whole milk (or, I’ve just used 2 1/2 c. of Half and Half instead of the milk and cream mixture
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 7 oz. really good quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 tb. white sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Bring the cream, milk (or Half and Half), cinnamon and vanilla to a low simmer in a saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate pieces until they are completely melted. (It will look like an outrageously good hot chocolate at this point.)

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together with a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Ladle a scoop of the hot chocolate cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper, then pour all of the egg yolks into the saucepan and whisk vigorously to fully blend. Whisk fast, or you’ll end up with chocolate scrambled eggs!

Pour the whole custard mixture through a sieve into a bowl and let cool slightly, stirring occasionally to get rid of as many air bubbles as you can. Pour the custard to fill 3/4 of the way up your ramekins or bakeable espresso cups.

Place the filled ramekins or cups into a glass baking dish and carefully pour enough boiling water into the baking dish (not the ramekins) to come about halfway up the containers and create a water bath for even cooking. Cover the whole thing with aluminum foil and poke a few holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Transfer it to oven and bake at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes. Custards should look set around the edges, but still be slightly jiggly in the middle. (Kind of like your thighs after you’ve just eaten five or six of these in a row.)

Uncover the custards and let cool to room temperature (about 30-45 minutes), then cover with foil again and refrigerate for at least 3 hours until well chilled.

The pots de creme look lovely when served with whipped cream and topped with a chocolate-covered espresso bean, or dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a fresh berry.

It even looks a little bit like a boob, which I suppose is appropriate in keeping with the sex theme...

It even looks a little bit like a boob, which I suppose is appropriate in keeping with the sex theme...

Happy new year!

New year, a new resolution – 2009 finds me making a career change. After nearly two decades of toiling away in one form of journalism or another, I’m now embarking on a new pursuit – gainful employment in the field of culinary arts. Since moving around and motherhood have curtailed my plans for a formal culinary education, I’ve decided to wing it and trust the training I’ve had thus far (combined with a passion for all things food) will carry me through.

A little about me – I’m a 38-year-old, sane (I think) wife and mother living in Indianapolis. Married to a wonderful Irishman for three years (Patrick the Paddy), I have an adorable stepson named Isaac and Michael, my gorgeous baby boy. Patrick works in auto racing and likes to move around. A lot. We have lived in Indiana and Sonoma CA, survived a 12,000-mile road trip together across the U.S. and Canada, completed a six-week trial cohabitation in Germany, made several journeys to visit my in-laws in Ireland (the site of one of our two weddings), and taken short trips to England, Wales and Scotland. Whew. It makes me tired just writing all that.

But back to the food… I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love to write about it. Outside my passion for writing, the only other thing I could see myself pursuing careerwise is something related to cooking. With the current state of print media, my freelance writing clients are dropping like flies, so here I am. Ready to get this cooking party started. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty good at it. My catering business cards are in the works and my first recipe sampling/networking party is in two weeks, at which time I will attempt to harangue my friends into hiring me for business lunches and bridal showers. In the meantime, I will amuse myself by chronicling my thoughts on a variety of food-related issues as I wait for those lucrative cookbook contracts and/or television deals to start rolling in.

So, let’s get started. The other day, hubby and I had brunch at one of my favorite Indianapolis eateries – Zest! Exciting Food Creations. Four words. Crème brulee French toast.

Now, let me preface my review by saying that I’m a sugar-in-the-morning kind of gal. Muffins, donuts, pancakes — bring it on, and Zest’s French toast is an ideal way to get my sugar buzz up and running for the day.

Zest snuggles into an unassuming little strip mall just off the Monon Trail on 54th Street. We ambled in around 11:30 a.m., baby in tow, just in time to beat the post-church crowd. Each table is covered with sheets of white butcher paper and holds a small glass cup of crayons, allowing hungry patrons and their kids to a chance show off artistic skills while waiting for their food. A charming touch.

I’m in the middle of sketching what I consider to be a rather disarming self-portrait when it arrives, looking and smelling absolutely decadent. I give Patrick’s quite respectable breakfast panini a courtesy glance and a “hm, that looks good,” but really, all I want to do is get a bite of that steaming French toast into my mouth as quickly as possible.

This isn’t like any griddle-cooked French toast I’ve ever had before, rather, it’s two slabs of pillowy, custardy bread pudding-like confection. A shatteringly thin glaze of burnt sugar gives the whole thing a crunchy crust to offset the creamy mouth-feel of the dish. A couple slices of thick bacon come alongside and, as if any more sugar is needed here, a small cup of maple syrup to really gild the lily.

Patrick’s fork sneaks its way toward my plate to see what all the fuss is about. Then again. I swipe a bite of his eggs to get even, but he’s too busy savoring my food to notice. (When we were dating, Patrick insisted on making me order for him in restaurants because he said whatever I got usually turned out to be better than what he’d chosen on his own.)

Patrick always eats faster than I do, then freely helps himself to whatever’s left on my plate, whether I’m finished or not. He polishes off his sandwich, then reaches over and cuts off a large wedge of my remaining French toast for himself. I give him a dirty look as I proceed to polish off every remaining crumb. He looks at me with a somewhat sheepish expression.

“I didn’t think you were going to be able to eat that much,” he says.

It’s not so much that I’m that hungry, it’s just that it’s that good. Try it and see for yourself.

The evening marked an experiment in bread making. Pizza dough, more specifically. There are several food items I would like to perfect my skills in making, bread being one of them. I kneaded out a batch of dough by hand (no bullshit bread-o-matic machines in my house, thank you very much!), let it rise in a bowl on the warm stove, then punched it down and rolled it out. There’s something wonderful about the sight and smell of rising bread dough. It’s reaffirmation that things are naturally working the way they are supposed to and all is right with the world.

The pizza turned out well, in spite of me rolling out the crust a little bit too thin, which turned it soggy under the weight of the sauce and other schwack. (Next time, I’ll precook the crust a little before adding the toppings.) I attempted to recreate the pizza salamis we enjoyed while living in Germany… thin-crusted pies with a scant coating of tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, crispy salami slices broiled on top and torn fresh basil. Although my version didn’t quite look like what we got abroad, it still tasted pretty darn good.

Happy 2009! Cheer and bon appetit!

memories of Germany...

memories of Germany...