Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yikes! What's in the cabinet?

Do you know how Rachael Ray is always telling that stupid story about how she has all of these jars of poultry seasoning (or grill seasoning depending on what she's cooking that day) because she always forgets that she already has a jar so she goes out buys another? (If you don't, you have my unmitigated envy, even if the utterance of that story is a key element of the Rachael Ray Drinking Game).

Well, I suddenly find myself relating to it. I don't buy the same spice over and over again (except for my three jars of cumin), but it seems I do buy quite a few things without looking in the cabinet to see what I already have and end up with duplicates and triplicates.

Look what I found while trying to reorganize last night.

What is all of this stuff? Let's see: (Most measurements are approximate)

1 cup couscous
3/4 pound semolina
1 pound bulk polenta (in two separate bags due to buying twice)
1 pound medium grain white rice
1 pound brown basmati rice
1 cup regular long-grain brown rice (is it bad that I decided to just combine them in one jar?)
Scant cup of bulk barley
Scant cup of bulk orzo
1 pound cornmeal (in two bags, purchased twice)
8/10 pound almond meal
3/4 pound matzoh meal
1 cup arborio rice
1 lb carnaroli rice (I didn't combine these)
1/2 bag coconut (not pictured)

I need better cupboard organziation so I can more easily see what I have before I shop! At the very least, I need to make some checks before I shop.

But for the time being, I won't shop. I have a cabinet full of grains. It's time I put them to use. I intend to use up every last bit of this stuff by the end of the year.

I'm coming up with ideas for how to use all of this stuff. The rice and barley will be perfectly good side dishes for weeknight meals. The polenta will be too. The orzo can go into a soup. I can make semolina cakes, and even make some pasta if I have the time. Coconut will be handy for desserts (I have one in mind for next week). Risotto is a great weeknight meal or for a first course in a diner party. I can make lots of cornbread. I have no excuses for not making my own for the cornbread stuffing at Thanksgiving. Not to mention I just saw a great cornbread variation on the blogs. Cornmeal and almond meal make great breading for chicken and fish. The almond meal can also be used in desserts. The Matzoh meal means latkes for the hubby.

This is going to be interesting. You will be seeing a lot of similar ingredients happening in this blog for a while

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sweet Treat of the Week

I never really wanted to repeat myself this summer. I didn't want to repeat recipe elements (except for chocolate because that's one element that never gets old) or recipe types. I wanted to keep things different and fresh each week. No matter how hard I try, I find myself drawn to certain recipes and I just can't seem to resist making them. That's why I made Peach-Blueberry Galette one week and made Blueberry-Almond Crumble Bars just two weeks later.

Recently I discovered a wonderful recipe at Use Real Butter. URB, is an excellent blog for many reasons. It's quite well written and entertaining. The photography is splendid. Then there is the FOOD. Every recipe and photo looks and sounds exquisite (even the stuff I don't eat looks great). Jen is talented on many fronts. Of course like many of my favorite blogs, the name drew me in. Shouldn't we all use real butter?

The recipe that made me decide that repeating myself if a good thing is her Pistachio Chocolate Chip Blondies. I have made a recipe with pistachios before (repeat of recipe element), and I have also recently made blondies (repeat of recipe type). Still, I could not resist these. Pistachio nuts, chocolate, crispy bits, and lots of sugar and butter are always an irresistible combination.

I hit one slight snag in making these.

Whole Foods carries pistachios already out of the shell - if you're willing to pay for them. (To be fair I can also get them at Trader Joe's for less money, but they're out of the way for me.) I've been having a lean week financially and really need to limit my shopping to my neighborhood A&P. They only carry the nuts in the shells. I had to spend a little time getting the shells off the nuts. That's not an easy task. Doing the actual shelling is easy, but not eating the nuts as I pull them from the shells is not. After I shelled them, I put them in a sieve and shook them for a while to get all of that excess salt off. We were good to go.

The recipe was super-easy to mix up. I think I had the batter together in 10 minutes. This recipe scores a 10 for ease.

I was a little concerned about how little batter there was. The ratio of batter/bits seemed a bit low. I was afraid my blondies would be too thin, especially since the only leavening was a single egg. Would my blondies be substantial? The recipe did include instructions on how to double it. Had I been smart I would have done so, but that would have meant more chips, more nuts, more butter, and more money spent.

Well, they were pretty substantial. They were full of yummy chocolate and the nut flavors were awesome (great idea to use the almond extract along with the vanilla). I made the mistake of underbaking them a bit. I was so paranoid about the "crunchy edge" problem I had with the last blondies that I made that I took them out a little soon. Better underbaked than overbaked though.

Another little glitch is that Rice Krispies don't stay crispy in milk, nor do they stay crispy in blondies. These were a little chewy. While these tasted awesome, the cereal lost them a few points for texture.

The real flaw in this recipe? There weren't enough of them! I am totally doubling the recipe the next time I make these! They disappeared almost as soon as I brought them to the office.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pasta and the Farmer's Market - A beautiful convergence

I think pasta is one of the most unfairly demonized foods on the market. With all of the hype about "carbs" and "bad carbs" and "glycemic index" (which is poorly understood by just about everyone and is highly overrated as a dieting method IMNSHO), pasta really got a bad rap. When I was a child pasta was considered bad. Then it had a renassiance when I was a teen. It was revered for it's filling and satisfying qualities along with it's lack of fat. Then the anti-carb engine steamrolled into town and pasta became the thing to avoid again.

Although I find Culinate to be a bit elitist at times, I do enjoy many of the articles. The best one I ever read was called The Pasta Myth . The article first reminds us that pasta is not a high GI food. (I never believed it was. Pasta always fills me up quite well for hours.) It is also not nutritionally empty.

This is what the article had to say on the so-called poor nutritional quality of pasta:

A cup of cooked pasta — which contains only around 200 calories — provides your body with the same amount of dietary fiber as a slice of whole-grain bread, as well as more than 15 different health-promoting vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, potassium, thiamin, and niacin. Durum wheat is also one of the most protein-rich of all grains, and a cup of cooked pasta contains more than 8 grams of protein.

And to think they're talking about white pasta.

So I will continue to eat the stuff guilt-free and stick my tongue out at all of the naysayers who insist I'm eating myself to an early grave. You can comment till you're blue in the face on this post and I still won't believe you. My ancenstors have been eating the stuff for years and we all survive well into old age.

So on to the cooking part...

Look what I got at Penning's Farm Market this weekend.

Aren't those juliet tomatoes pretty? I bought some of the yellow ones too for a little contrast.

Pennings claims it carried "The Best Mozzarella in the Country". This claim is also made by Auntie El's in Tuxedo, so I take it all with a grain of salt, but I have to say the stuff is pretty good.

No recipe is needed here. I just sauteed some garlic in olive oil and tossed in the halved juliets and the quartered yellow tomatoes. In went some basil leaves (the part of the dish I grew myself) and that lovely mozzarella. I tossed it with spaghetti and added in plenty of freshly-grated parmesan (my local A&P doesn't have any imported parmiggiano-reggiano, but I'm cool with that for this dish), and some freshly-ground black pepper.

Okay. I admit I used whole-wheat pasta, which I normally shun, but I was thinking I needed some extra fiber this week.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back To Lattanzi (Now with Photos)

I was back the city last night with tickets to see Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy (a show I can only describe as an acrobatic Lion King on acid). We went to our new pre-theater standby of Lattanzi. Once more it did not disappoint.

We sat in the back room this time, which made me very happy. You pass through a stone arch with French doors into a room with terracotta tiles on the floor, warm yellow walls, plenty of greenery, and a skylight for a ceiling. It's like an Italian courtyard (not that I would really know what an Italian courtyard looks like since I haven't been to Italy since 1985, but that's a whole other story). This picture really doesn't capture it, but it's the best I could do.

Dinner began with wine and some decent bread, and then we got our appetizers. Kevin was a good boy and opted for the salad. I went for one of the specials of the day. I had homemade mozzarella with roasted peppers. It was flavored with garlic, basil, and thin slices of red onion (good thing I had no kissing planned for the next couple of hours). (Sorry if the photo is out of focus. I'm still getting the hang of the auto focus on my camera.)

Mozzarella was yummy. It had just enough saltiness to it. Dishes like this with peppers or tomatoes or prosciutto (or all three) are really one of my favorite things in the world.

Entree was a lamb shank with risotto. The lamb was tasty, but not extraordinary. I liked it, but it wasn't any better than similar dishes I've had at other restaurants. This isn't a bad thing. I'm just saying it wasn't exceptional, just very good.

The ristotto wasn't terribly risotto-y. The liquid, as you can probably see here, is rather watery, rather than creamy. This seemed to be prepared by a lazy chef. Rice was just this side of too al dente. However, it was wonderfully flavored. I feared it might be salty, but it was perfect and there was a flavor of beef and mushrooms that really complemented the lamb. I'd say 9 points for taste and 6 for consistency.

My panna cotta dessert was divine. It was nice and firm (I wish I could get my own panna cotta to firm up this nicely), wonderfully rich, and didn't have any tartness to it. (I am so not into tart, creamy desserts. Creamy desserts should be sweet and only sweet in my book.)

I wish I had taken a photo of Kevin's tartufo. The tartufi at Lattanzi are not like those cheap chocolate balls you get at your neighborhood red sauce place. They are HUGE and covered in a thick layer of chocolate and nuts with excellent ice cream inside.

Service was up to standard. They were very quick with everything as they always are with the pre-theater crowd. We had plenty of time to walk the eight blocks to the theater. Our waiter was pleasant, but a little absent-minded at times. He almost forgot to tell us the specials (which would have been sad considering my appetizer and entree were both specials). He also said that the special dessert of the evening was "canolis". I resisted the urge to pipe up and say, "The word 'canoli' is ALREADY PLURAL."

Lattanzi will definitely continue to be our favorite pre-theater restaurant.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sweet Treat of the Week

You ever see a blog name and just know you're going to love that blog just from the name alone? Well, Sticky Gooey, Creamy Chewy is that kind of blog for me. However, it's not just that blog name that's great. It's a great blog with all kinds of great recipes and Susan is just an all-around sweetheart of a person (and one of the best Top Chef recappers in the blogsphere).

Thanks to my ongoing craving for blueberry desserts, SGCC was my choice this week to steal my weekly Sweet Treat recipe from. These Bluberry Almond Crumble Bars hit the spot. When I started the Sweet Treat concept, I didn't want to repeat recipe elements or recipe type (unless the recipe element is chocolate of course), and I did something with blueberries two weeks ago, but I couldn't resist this recipe.

This recipe was very simple to put together. I just whizzed the crust ingredients in the food processor and mixed up the berry filling. I made one accidental adjustment to the recipe. The crust requires a cup of sugar, and the filling requires a half cup of sugar. I accidentally put a cup of sugar in the filling. I was afraid the bars would be waaaaaay too sweet. When I poured them into the pan, I tried to leave off a bunch of the sugary liquid. It seemed to work, as the berries were just right. When I made the peach-blueberry galette two weeks ago I had some unfortunately tart berries that needed more sugar. I was terribly afraid I was about to go in the complete opposite direction.

I'm very pleased with how these came together. The crust was perfect and the filling solidified nicely. The almonds, orange, and ginger added a wonderful depth of flavor that was just a little unexpected. This recipe is a definite winner.

Fresh out of the overn. Too bad there is no way to smell these through the computer screen

As I indulged in my first piece last night, Sir Pickypants asked me, "Am I allowed to have any of that?" I reminded him, "You don't like blueberries." Man, I love torturing him like that! He had a piece, and enjoyed it quite a bit.

At work one of my friends hoarded a piece to take home for her dessert tonight as the rest of it was disappearing quickly. From the other side of my cube wall I heard, "That's delicious, Rachel." (This is the guy who said the most advantageous thing about sitting betwween me and the kitchen is he's always the first to know when I bake and the first person to get to taste it.) It was gone by 10:45 and not only were all of the bars taken, but it seems they scraped the pan clean of all crumbs. Cool. Mission accomplished.

I know you want one. Who wouldn't?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

When the Cat's Away, the Mouse... Eats Carbonara!

Sir Pickypants and I have been like two ships who pass in the night lately. I returned from a business trip to Denver on Saturday morning (I was supposed to return Friday night, but after two cancelled flights, I made it into bed at 4 AM on Saturday morning). The we had Saturday together before he left for a business trip to Chicago Sunday afternoon.

Being alone has its advantages. It means I can eat whatever I want for dinner without having to cook anything special for him. I can have a pint of Ben & Jerry's or a bag of microwave popcorn for dinner if I feel like it (No, would never do, I never did it in my single really).

However, I was poking around in my freezer, and discovered something really special, something that Sir Pickypants would never let me cook for him.

Rather than cook the stuff up and just eat it all at once, I decided to come up with a way to spread it out a bit. I would make Spaghetti Carbonara.

I'm not all that skilled at making carbonara, and I'm also not a purist. If I were a purist, I'd make a BLT and go buy some pancetta for the pasta dish. I also tend to like to doctor things. I know the classic recipe is just pancetta, eggs, and romano cheese, but goodness knows, everyone in the world has doctored this recipe to one degree or another. I've seen it in restaurants with onions, peas (NOOOOOO), ham, cream, and garlic among other additives, so if they can add a few extra ingredients, why can't I? I included the two things I love the most in my pasta dishes - red pepper flakes and garlic.

Getting the eggs to not curdle on the noodles is the big challenge. I was about 50% successful. I added some pasta water to the noodles before I added the eggs and when the eggs hit the water, they cooked, but they didn't do that so much on the noodles themselves. The next time I will likely temper the eggs with the water, or put the eggs in before I put in the water.

I had a small block of cheese and grated the whole thing. The recipe below calls for 1/2 of grated cheese, but this was my half cup.

Doing the hard part. Eggs into spaghetti. If I hadn't been taking pictures, would my eggs be creamier?

This could have had a little more saltiness to it. The next time I will use more bacon, more cheese, or just add a little salt to it.

Spaghetti Carbonara - My Way

1 pound spaghetti
4 strips bacon, cut in small pieces
1 Tbl olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
4 eggs lightly beaten
Few good grinds black pepper
Grated cheese (I use romano because it's, you know, Roman, but some people just can't resist their parmiggiano. Use what you like. I told you I wasn't a purist)

Put a big pot of heavily salted water on to boil. Cook that spaghetti as the package dictates, or until you think it's properly al dente.

Meanwhile cook bacon bits until crispy and yummy. Drain and set aside. Try not to eat them all before the pasta dish is cooked. (Not that anyone ever does that. Nope. Not me.) Drain off some of the fat in the pan, but not all of it. Fat is flavor, my good friends, and we want some of that greasy, bacony taste in there. There should be a sheen on the bottom of the pan. Add the olive oil. Then add garlic and red pepper and cook till fragrant. Beat eggs with black pepper.

When pasta is cooked, add it to the pan and stir to coat in that bacony-garlicky-peppery oil. Working quickly, stir eggs into spaghetti. Be quick, really quick. Don't let those eggs scramble on your noodles.

Stir in cheese and whatever bacon bits you haven't snarfed and serve.

Come to mama!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sweet Treat of the Week

This week's sweet goes back to the basics. I'm heading out for a business trip to Denver later this week, so I don't have much time to bake. I needed a recipe that was simple and relatively quick.

The perfect recipe came from Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown. I made her Blondies Sine Qua Non I chose this one for three reasons:

1. I have done two sweet treats in a row that didn't contain chocolate. I'm having a withdrawal. This recipe has chocolate chips in it.

2. Michelle has been going through a tough time lately, and I want to give her as much virtual support as possible. She is a hilarious blogger and is also a fantastic cook. This chick has wicked knife skills and tackles recipes I would fear are too complicated to even order in a restaurant. I am a huge dork who breathlessly checks the blog on Friday morning to see what she smacked down on Thursday night. As I recently commented, my blogging world was enlightened the day she came to my blog and alerted me to hers. She is richly deserving of recognition.

3. The recipe just looked really good. (Chocolate+Coconut+Pecans=Superduperyummy!)

I didn't make any real adjustments to the recipe. I probably added more coconut and few pecans, but that's because I was short on the latter and love the former.

My verdict: I need to readjust the racks in my oven. I had a little of that issue with the crispy edges and almost-too-soft middle. Not terrible. Still quite tasty. Not the recipe's fault. Will make again.

Kevin's verdict: "Are you really going to take these to work? Please leave me some."

Coworker's verdict: No verbal feedback. However, they disappeared really quickly. Someone had brought in a german chocolate cake (store bought) and most of it is still there. My blondies were the first to go.

They look oddly shiny in this photo, don't they?

Would you prefer a closeup?

Jamie Oliver and the Ritzy Risotto

I bought myself a new cookbook a month ago.

I love Jamie Oliver's shows and I love Italy (and I die a little more every time my husband reminds me that we can't afford to go there any time soon). When I wanted to buy msyelf a little birthday present last month, this seemed like a no brainer.

One thing I love about this book is the section on risotto. I love making risotto. It's easy and it always makes people happy.

There was one recipe that caught my eye in particular. It was Risotto ai Finocchi con Ricotta e Pepperoncino. I love fennel. I love it. I love eating sweet raw slices. I love eating it roasted and mellowed. I love it any old way. I still carry over my childhood dislike of many vegetables, so it's rare for me to really love a vegetable, but I do love fennel.

I decided to make a batch of this for dinner. The first thing I did was buy my rice. I went to Whole Foods and saw that they had multipe kinds of risotto rice. There was the classic arborio of course, but they also had this.

I had heard of caranoli rice before, but never tried it. The box promised it would be the "ultimate" risotto rice. (Hmmm...isn't the literal definition of ultimate "last". That should have been a warning.) It was two dollars more than the arborio, but I was feeling adventurous. In the end, I'm not sure I'm all that happy with it. I was assured it had a better "bite", which is true, but I think I like my risotto a little softer.

I remembered the rice, but I forgot to buy a couple of other things that Jamie's recipe called for. He likes to put celery in with the sauteed onions. I never put celery in my risotto, so I seem to have conveniently forgotten to buy it. I also forgot the dried chili peppers even though they were clearly on my list. I adjusted this by using some red pepper flakes. I also added extra ricotta salata to the recipe. I bought the smallest chunk I could, but it was still more than the recipe called for. I didn't want to buy a hunk of cheese I might not use again, so I used it all.

Jamie requires you to use a mortar and pestle to crush the fennel seeds. I don't own one, so I had to mash them up the best that I could. I am not a fan of licorice, but I did love the smell that came off of those seeds as I crushed them. It only got better when I added the fennel bulb slices.

In the end, my recipe was not quite Jamie's, but a recipe that made do with what I had on hand and what I usually do with my own risotto.

Jamie is perfectly happy to use store bought chicken stock. He doesn't poo-poo it like a lot of chefs and home cooks out there. I felt a lot better when he said to feel free to use it in his book. However, this this particular case, I was lucky enough to have a bunch of homemade stock in my freezer. Yay me!

So here is my bastardized recipe. One thing I love about risotto is that while it requires a lot of attention, it's fast. This one sadly isn't all that fast.

Risotto Ai Finocchi Al Breve Cuoco Di(dis)Ordine (Inspired by Jamie Oliver)
1 quart chicken stock, canned, boxed or homemade
2 cups Arborio or other risotto rice
1 diced Onion
4 minced cloves of garlic, divided
1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds (crush them however you can)
1/2 cup white wine
6 Tbl butter, divided
4 Tbl Olive Oil, divided
2 heads fennel, sliced thin, fronds reserved
1 cup ricotta salata
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan

In a large pan, heat 2 Tbl of butter and olive oil and add red pepper flakes. Add the garlic and cook until soft and then add the fennel seeds and sliced fennel. Cook until the fennel is soft, about 20 minutes.

In a small saucepan, heat chicken stock until simmering.

In a saucepan heat the oil and two tablespoons of butter. Add garlic and onion and cook over low heat until very soft and beginning to caramelize. Add rice and cook until it is coated and begins to look translucent. Add wine and stir in, cooking until it is absorbed.

Begin adding chicken stock, one ladelful at a time, stirring until it is absorbed. Once the stock is absorbed, add another ladleful. Keep adding more stock and stirring it in until rice is al dente. This will take about 20 minutes.

Halfway through the cooking process, add the fennel mixture to the rice.

When the rice is cooked, add the remaining butter, grated parmesan to taste, and the ricotta salata. Served garnished with the fennel fronds.

The sauteeing fennel smells so good.

This recipe needs a little less cheese. Too many big chunks of ricotta salata. I might actually use the wet, gloppy ricotta the next time for a creamier texture.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sweet Treat of the Week

Now that I have returned from my vacation, I can resume my weekly dessert stolen from other people's blogs.

This week's Sweet Treat comes from Food Blogga (don't you just love saying that?) Susan grills ice cream and Fruit Loops, which is my kind of kitchen experimentation!

As the host of this round of Sugar High Friday (berry themed), she contributed this absolutely beautiful Peach and Blueberry Galette. As soon as I saw it I told her not to be surprised if it showed up here on TERP. Once again I have made something that *gasp* isn't chocolate.

I love summer so much and one of the best things about it is the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables because all of the farm markets are open. Now that peaches are becoming available here in NY, I have been wanting to use them in everything. I have also been having a huge craving for blueberry pie. This little gem helped satisfy both those urges.

Making it was not difficult. I had a horrible fear that I had overworked the dough. I only had Kerrygold butter in the house and I have never seen a butter that melts faster. When I took my dough out of the food processor, it had a scarily smooth texture. I also accidentally added a little less sugar than the recipe called for. At least it was easy to roll out. I also adjusted the recipe becauseI realized after it ws too late that I didn't have ginger. I just left it out.

The galette came out very nicely. The crust wasn't too tough, as I feared it would be. The tart's only flaw was that it could have been sweeter. This is not the fault of the recipe. The blueberries I bought just weren't that great. They were not as sweet as I like blueberries to be.

Sir Pickypants does not like peaches or blueberries, but he insisted on having a piece. I think that's a testament to how good it smelled while it was baking. Even so, when I reminded him that he didn't like the fruit on top, he said, "Just give me some of the crust." Forget it! This tart is a package deal. He ate an entire slice and liked it anyway.

I took the remains to work and received quite a few compliments. It didn't go as quickly as some of my other desserts did. I came into the office late today and when I brought it in initially (around noonish), people pounced on it, but by 3 PM, there was one piece left. I suspect that piece will be gone before I leave the office.

I'm sorry I only have a photo of a slice. Sir Pickypants, for all of his dislike of the fruit involved, insisted on taking a piece right away, before I could remove the cooling galette from the parchment (Sorry Sue) it was sitting on. I didn't want to photograph a tart with a piece missing, so I photographed a single piece instead.

This is a perfect summer farmstand treat!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Adventures in Chincoteague - A Landlubber in a Seafood Town

What is there for me to not love in Chincoteague? There is the pristine beach of Assateague, the abundant and beautiful wildlife, the talented artists, and the friendly people. It's a paradise for me.

I have just one problem with Chincoteague - the food!

Chincoteague is hardly known for five-star cuisine even among the seafood lovers, but if you're not a seafood lover, eating can be tricky. Chincoteague is famous for its oysters and its proximity to Maryland means plenty of good crab as well. When I see big steaming pots of shellfish coming to someone's table, I really wish I did like the stuff, but I don't.

So I have to find ways to survive. I am thankful there is something in every restaurant to try, so I am covering every place I ate at during the week along with my family's impressions of the seafood.

(My husband has been a bit slow to post the non-food photos on our website. I will post a link to them once they are online, if anyone is interested. If you would like to read about my non-food adventures, go to my MySpace blog. You can read about drama at the Pony Swim and my heroic sea rescue.)

(I forgot my camera some of the time, so I don't have photos of every meal. Sorry about that.)

(You will note that I didn't cover certain lunches and that I never covered breakfast. That's because every morning I partook of the free breakfasts offered at the Hampton Inn where I stayed. If I didn't mention lunch, I went to Subway where I took a veggie sub to the beach.)

Sunday: I had my first dinner in Chincoteague with my whole family at Saigon Village. A one-horse town like Chincoteague seems like a strange place for a Vietnamese restaurant, but it's quite popular. It does a thriving takeout business with the NASA guys on Wallops Island. The owners are a typical Chincoteague story. They took a vacation there, fell in love with it, and decided to retire there and opened the restaurant. It's a family run business, which is cool.

The cuisine probably skirts the rules of authenticity a bit (I haven't eaten at many Vietnamese restaurants, I must confess) and tends to lean in the Chinese/Thai direction. I guess they don't want to scare people with anything too exotic or unfamiliar.

Decor is bland. My mother's boyfriend Don has settled into it nicely.

Kevin ordered these curry noodles, which he loved. One thing they do that people who are sensitive to spices really appreciate is they ask you on a scale of 1-10 just how spicy you want your food to be. The delicate widdle tum-tum generally requires a low number, while I always say SEVEN.

Mom had lemongrass tofu, which I neglected to photograph. I had a bowl of classic noodle soup with lettuce, pork, and little wontons.

I think it was pretty. Yes, it also tasted quite good.

Service at Saigon Village is quick and efficient, but not always friendly. I'm not saying it's unfriendly, but the family is not your typical sunshiny-happy "Tigger" population. By New York standards, they were positively bubbly.

No booze served here, but BYOB is allowed.

After dinner we wanted some ice cream. The nearest ice cream parlor to Saigon Village is Mullers. It is not my favorite ice cream place on Chincoteague. The decor is charming, as it is located in a historic building with a pretty Victorian motif. But one can't live on atmosphere alone. The ice cream is not homemade. It also hasn't always had the best service. I call it the Nazi Ice Cream Parlor. There are just too many rules for standing online and no one is particularly friendly.

We lucked out this year as it wasn't crowded and the guy serving us was super-nice. Maybe they heard some complaints and took them to heart.

I had an ice cream called Muddy Sneakers that consisted of white chocolate ice cream with peanut brittle and two kinds of chocolate chips. The ice cream had a weird taste and the bits were small and insignificant.

Here is the ice cream. As you can see, the setting is lovely. Nonetheless, there is much better ice cream on Chincoteague, so read on and you will soon learn about it.

Monday: There is a new restaurant in town. It is called the Sea Shell Cafe. It's Chincoteague's latest attempt at fine dining. Although the menu tries to be creative and they are all about being politically correct with the organics and the local produce, I'm afraid the effort falls a little flat. They try, but they miss the mark. At least I felt they did.

I was dining with my mother and her boyfriend Don along with my aunt, Su Mei who lives in Ocean City, and one of Su Mei's friends. Su Mei's friend Annette had a "crab martini" and a grilled ceaser salad. She was happy with both. Mom had a seafood pasta that she enjoyed. Kevin had a rockfish pasta with some kind of herb sauce on it. Don had chicken marsala and loved it.

I had chicken saltimbocca and was disappointed. The accompanying rice was flavorless, as were the vegetables on the side. For the first time in YEARS I found myself reaching for the salt shaker in a restaurant. The chicken seemed to have no flavor other than tomatoes and parsely. I couldn't taste the ham or the cheese.

Kevin did not enjoy his pasta at all. He enjoyed it even less later than evening when he began having stomach cramps. He was in the bathroom all night and was still queasy the next day. It's not a restaurant we will return to.

Service was very friendly and the bar was well-stocked. Drinks and desserts were good (Mom just looooved her baybreeze). I just wanted to give the sweet waitress an Italian lesson. It's pronounced "saltimBOHca, and not saltimBAHca.

Tuesday: We had to go to bed quite early that night as the Pony Swim was the next morning. That means being on our boat at 4:30 AM. We wanted to go somplace fast and casual. I suggested the very informal Mr. Baldy's Family Restaurant.

Mr. Baldy's looks ugly on the outside and the view inside doesn't improve much. It has yellow cinderblock walls, ugly wall-to-wall carpeting, and vinyl booths with green tablecloths. Fortunately, we didn't allow ourselves to judge the proverbial book by its cover.

Their specialty lemonades rock! This raspberry one was delicious. I could have drunk a gallon of it. (I apologize to Mom for getting her making that weird face in the photo.)

Kevin and Mom both enjoyed some broiled flounder.

Don had crab cakes (I am so bad at photographing food that I forget to wait until people move their hands). Crab cakes are a big theme for the week.

I went for fried pork chops with applesauce. They were simple, but quite well prepared and not the least bit dry.

Don't they look "shwell"?

Our server was friendly and we were served very quickly and efficiently. I guess it was one night they had to be quick. Every tourist in town was likely going to bed early.

Wednesday: Pony Swim Day! The highlight of my year. I viewed it from the deck of Captain Barry's boat, which I have done almost every year since 1995. He likes to get out to the swim site before most other people, hence the 4:30 AM sailing. Captain Barry serves a rather strange combination for breakfast. We get egg sandwiches on white bread and mimosas to drink.

The Pony Swim was over with quickly and left us with plenty of time to nap before lunch. For my lunch this day, I tried another new place in town, Woody's Beach BBQ (Since 1946-Just Kidding). I could kick myself for forgetting my camera for this one. Woody's is on the road to the beach, and is run out of a trailer with the big smoker behind it. It is decorated with clotheslines that have tropical-print clothing hanging from them.

Woody's serves chicken, ribs, and pulled pork with the traditional accompaniments such as baked beans and colse slaw. They claim they interviewed three grandmothers for the bean recipe. They have a few different types of pulled pork sandwiches. They have their signature one, which has the "almost famous" red barbecue sauce and onion rings. They have the Memphis one, which is red sauce and cole slaw. They also have a Carolina style one with a vinegar-based sauce. I had the Memphis one and some of their AWESOME homemade fries on the side. The sandwich was really delicious and I am determined to have dinner at Woody's (carry-out only) the next time I go to Chincoteague.

Wednesday night Kevin and I went off on our own and had dinner at the Fireman's Carnival. This is a place almost untouched by time. If you ever rent the 1961 movie Misty of Chincoteague, you will see how little the place has changed over the years.

I would like to take a moment to tell everyone just how wonderful the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company is. They are some of the hardest working men I know. These guys are responsible for so many ways for the good citizens of Chincoteague, and on top of that, they are responsible for that beautiful herd of wild ponies who have made the island famous.

These are people who have full-time jobs as it is, but give their time and energy to being firemen, as well as running this famous event. They have to conduct the roundup, the swim, the parade, and run the booths at the carnival as well. Thank you, CVFC. You have my utmost respect and admiration.

Enter the carnival and the distinctive smell of Chincoteague Fireman's Carnival Grease hits your nose. There is nothing like it in the world. Where does the smell come from? I think it's owed mostly to this booth.

The oyster and clam sandwiches are the most popular food at the carnival. Our volunteers are hard at work making them.

Kevin and I opted to get our dinner from this booth.

I went for a classic cheeseburger, but Kevin went for his all-time favorite food.

Kevin believes the carnival crabcakes are the best ever. No crab cake compares. Not only are the carnival crabcakes his favorite crabcakes, but they are his favorite food, period (except for the things I cook for him of course).

The carnival sells homemade cakes and pies (CVFC Ladies Auxiliary) and funnel cakes, but we opted once more for ice cream. This time, we headed for the Island Creamery which is the best ice cream on the island. It's really one of my top ice cream places anywhere, second only to the Bellvale Creamery.

The crowds know best. This is everyone's favorite ice cream place. What's not to like? The ice cream is fresh and homemade (a claim Muller's can't make) and the service is friendly and efficient (usually Muller's can't claim that either).

It's not fancy or gimmicky, but all of the ice cream flavors are on clear display and there are plenty of counter people ready to take your order quickly.

One of my favorite things about the Creamery is their hot fudge. It's really delicious hot fudge. It's the best hot fudge anywhere. It's even better than (dare I say it?) the hot fudge at the Bellvale Creamery. Because we love their fudge so much, Kevin and I had sundaes. He had his with butter pecan, while I had mine with cookie dough.

Would you believe this was the small size?

Thursday: In the early morning Kevin and I watched the pony auction. If you need proof of how bad the economy is, look no further than this year's auction. Ponies, which normally sell in the $1500-$2500 range, sold for less than $1000 this year. For the rest of the day Kevin and I headed to the charming nearby town of Onancock. (Doesn't that name sound slightly naughty? It makes me think of schmenkes and masturbation.) Kevin collects wildfowl decoys (He doesn't hunt. He just loves the art form.) and he wanted to meet with a carver in Onancock. After spending a couple of hours with the guy, we had lunch at a very charming restaurant in town called Bizotto's. It's a much hipper restaurant than any place in Chincoteague.

I really liked the feel of this place. Had it not been 45 minutes away from Chincoteague, I would have returned for dinner.

I took a few bites of this yummy smoked turkey, bacon and cheese sandwich before I realized I needed to take a photo of it. It tasted freshly made and the honey mustard on top was great. The accompanying orzo salad was nothing extraordinary, but it was tasty and it's not often that I see tricolor orzo.

Kevin had a (surprise!) crab cake sandwich, which he liked very much (although not as much as the one he had at the carnival).

It wasn't so much that I forgot to take a photo of this delicious creme brulee` as much as I just couldn't wait to dig into it. Kevin felt the same way about the restaurant's signature key lime pie because it was reduced to a few crumbs on the plate before I whipped out my camera.

It was a late lunch and I got the impression that the waitstaff wasn't thrilled to be serving people at that hour, but they covered it up well and were nice to them so they warmed up to us.

We had dinner that night at AJ's on the Creek in Chincoteague. This is Chincoteague's most established attempt at fine dining. The food is about as upscale as Chincoteague gets, although the decor is a bit tired both inside and out. It needs some sprucing. It does have a very nice screened-in porch overlooking a creek.

AJ's has great cocktails. Too bad I can't remember what this one was. I know it was good. Maybe it was too good if I can't remember it.

My appetizer was nice fried duck breast strips with chili dipping sauce. They were crispy and not overly greasy and I was secretly grateful no one wanted to share them with me.

Mom and Kevin both had broiled flounder again. They both agreed that Mr. Baldy's was better, although AJ's wasn't bad at all. It goes to show you that cost doesn't mean a thing when it comes to taste.

Whenever I go to AJ's, I usually get the lamb chops for my entree. They are tender and perfectly cooked there. I also can get the option of a smaller portion. That allows me to get an appetizer, because I think AJ's has some of the best appetizers on the island (read: "non-seafood" appetizers).

Friday: My final dinner in Chincoteague was at Bill's Seafood Restaurant. This place is my entire family's favorite Chincoteague restaurant. Considering how crowded the place always is, I'd say it's everyone's favorite restaurant. At 9 PM (which is a very late dinner hour considering Chincoteague is a real family destination) I still had to wait a few minutes even with a reservation.

Bills looks very ugly from the outside, but over they years they have really improved the interior. Back in the early days they only had a couple of different wines (we're talking 3 varieties of Sutter Home). Now they have a full bar and a full wine list. Even though they're always busy, the waitstaff never loses that friendly Chincoteague smile and attitude one comes to expect on the island.

I forgot my camera again. I ordered the fried chicken, which is the best on the island. Kevin had stuffed shrimp. Mom had soft shell crabs. Don had crab cakes yet again. Don said the best crab cakes were the one's a AJ's (he never tried the ones at the carnival), but found Bill's to be more than acceptable. Dinner is always preceeded by their delicious honey-covered wholewheat bread and the salads are best served with their famous honey mustard dressing.

I had a delicious lemon-blueberry cake with mascarpone filling for dessert.

Saturday: Head home and stop on the road at the Waffle House for lunch. Mourn the fact that vacation is over.

I highly recommend Chincoteague as a vacation destination. Don't just go for the food. Go for the beautiful wildlife, the famous wild ponies, the stunning art galleries, and most of all, the warm and friendly people. Spend a day in Chincoteague and you will forget what stress is.