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So, being Catholic really has its upsides. One of them is that for every holiday/feast day/conferral of a sacrament, there’ s a party with food. Baptism? Party! Confirmation? Party! Last Rites? Party! Even Lent, a time of somber reflection, penance, and fasting gives us cause to throw pseudo-parties in the form of a fish fry. I’m not sure how our Catholic guilt gets around that one, but I think it involves the thoughts “we’re eating fish. Jesus ate fish. And he turned water into wine at a wedding, so he’s clearly fine with celebrations. Let’s go.” Sort of along the lines of my Nana making shrimp scampi and crab cakes for my grandfather on Fridays: the sacrifice thing is thrown out the window, but by golly, they aren’t breaking any rules!

So, being a newbie to St. Louis, my question to all of you is simple. Where are the best fish frys (fries?) in the city/county? And while you’re at it, take a look at the St. Boniface blog, which brilliantly features fish fry reviews each week.

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Being a regular coffee drinker myself, many news items in the past few weeks have made my ears perk up (pun absolutely intended). Starbucks changed the face of a daily American ritual, changing how we think about–and drink–our coffee; as the pendulum of collective tastes swings from the $5.90 cup of hyped and hyper-personalized cups of joe, a few diverging trends seem to be emerging.

First, a New York Times article (somewhat misleadingly) reported the $20,000 cup of coffee.¬† A few days ago, I came across an NPR story on the $22 dollar cup of coffee, highlighting the price people in LA are willing to pay for a gourmet cup. Can’t say I’m too surprised, its about time someone felt the need to push the beverage to the elitist heights usually reserved for wines and microbrews.

But what makes this trend really interesting are the other coffee-related stories hitting the newswaves.¬† Starbucks, fighting declining same-store sales and falling stock prices, decided to test-run a $1 cup. McDonalds is even getting in on the reasonably-priced coffee trend, building coffee counters and hiring baristas in an effort to give Starbucks and other dominant franchises a run for their money. (I, for one, would be glad to see one open up in my neighborhood. I avoid Starbucks as much as possible, not preferring over-roasted, highly bitter, burnt drip coffee, and I’ve actually enjoyed the coffee I’ve had at McDonalds.)

I wish I had some profound insight to offer on the two disparate trends named above, but, I think its pretty evident what’s going on. Per usual, some people feel the need to rise above the Starbucks-gulping proletariat, spending their money as connoisseurs. Good for them. I, however, will follow the other path, happy to have a decent caffeine fix for less.

Or, I’ll just make it at home, with the lovely Bodum french press I got for Christmas, with my trusty mini-grinder and a canister of Trader Joe’s beans.

Now that I’m grown and out of the house, I can’t think of anything better to get for my 11-year-old brother for his next birthday. Mom will kill me, as might my other siblings that still live at home. But I say, what’s the point of being a “adult” older sister if you can’t spoil the younger ones?

P.S. Please note the formal place settings and table arrangement that serve as a backdrop for a gadget billed to “launch your lunch.” Interesting.

Thanks again to Geekologie, and World Wide Fred.

Burrito, chicken, black beans, mild, both, lettuce.

Take out, please.

Then (and this never gets old):

Look at my burrito baby!

(said while miming rocking motions, holding the foil-wrapped hunk of deliciousness)

I’d hate to see what would happen if someone gave Emeril this gadget.

¬†Designer’s own words: “spice gun is different from the other casters,it has more fun! when you pull the trigger to compress the air in the air bag. The handspike will push the bottom of the seasoning bottle to make the nozzle in the turntable to retract and spray the seasoning.”

More fun is darn right.

From Designboom, by way of Geekologie.

Ash Wednesday, no meat.
Rice, beans, mac-n-cheese, fish sticks.
Thinking about steak.

For the past four years (not including the semester I studied abroad in London), I have cooked some great food for my Super Bowl Parties. Freshman year in college, I took it upon myself to orchestrate a spread feeding about 15 of my closest friends. I made two lasagnas, completely from scratch (no canned sauce for me, I had to make my own!) in my dormitory kitchen, along with about 5 or 6 other side dishes. We crammed all the food and people into a room only slightly bigger than my office cubicle and watched Janet Jackson’s nipple while eating.

So I really had no excuse this year not to cook. I’m in my own apartment, I have a decently well-stocked kitchen, and I should have kept with tradition. Instead, we ordered pizzas, bought chips and already-prepared dip, frozen buffalo wings, some 2 liters of soda…

…And I felt really guilty. Sometime around noon on Sunday, I realized that I was making nothing from scratch and a legitimate wave of guilt washed over me. I blame three things: Saturday’s Soulard Mardi Gras, my Catholic faith and my mom–who wouldn’t even buy pre-made french onion dip, preferring to mix her own.

But I forged ahead, the Tostitos-queso-buying rebel that I am, the party was a success, and all bellies were satisfied. At least my friend Angie made some of her amazing (from scratch!) spinach artichoke dip and chocolate cake, and Susan brought veggies, so not everyone was damned to culinary hell. But anyways, who cares? I can’t think of anything better than Ruffles and French Onion Dip on a rainy Sunday Superbowl Afternoon.

Not a bad combination, right?

I’m a fan of impromptu dinner parties. My mom was the queen of them–many a weekday night saw her “adding more water to the soup” and a few more places set at the already full table if friends stopped in on their way to somewhere. Actually, a few children who were frequent attendees announced to their mothers that our house was their “favorite fast food restaurant” in town. Ironic, considering mom’s meals were always made-from-scratch, and her menus weren’t always classic American fare (Nana’s Slovakian Halupkis, anyone?).

Last week I turned my apartment into my own “fast food restaurant” for my roommate and good friend. I ran home after a good post-work gym session, and had a great meal whipped up in about 20 minutes (or as long as it took the pasta water pot to boil). The shrimp scampi was simple and very easy, I bought a nice baguette the day before and popped that in the oven to warm it up, and roasted some asparagus.

The asparagus was very easy…easy enough to not even warrant its own recipe. Just toss together some garlic, olive oil, fresh ground black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, drizzle over the spears arranged on a cookie sheet, throw a few kalamata olives on top (a little drizzle of the olive juice is never bad, either) and roast at a high temperature.

This meal is even better accompanied with that tall glass of deliciousness, Jude Law (we watched Alfie while eating).

Shrimp Scampi with Angel Hair Past (adapted a bit from my favorite cookbook ever, The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cooks Illustrated)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

shrimp (the cookbook calls for 2 pounds of uncooked shrimp, but I bought a bag of the smallish, already-cooked frozen ones, and that was OK for an inexpensive, weeknight meal)

6 tablespoons butter (the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons, but if you are serving with pasta, you need more juice)

4 medium garlic cloves, pressed

2 tablespoons lemon juice (use fresh! better!)

1 tablespoon dry vermouth

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

pinch cayenne pepper

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan, then throw in half the shrimp and cook quickly. If you are using raw shrimp, cook only about 2 minutes. If you are using already-cooked shrimp, defrost beforehand and keep them in the pan long enough to warm them up. You don’t want to overcook them. Transfer the cooked shrimp to a holding dish and put aside.

Return the saute pan to the heat, and melt half the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds (never, ever, EVER overcook or burn garlic. You’ll regret it when you have little bits of burnt bitterness). Take off of heat, stir in lemon juice and vermouth. Whisk in the remaining butter, parsley and cayenne, add salt and pepper to taste. Throw in the shrimp, toss with angel hair pasta, and serve!

Pretty, yes? Almost as delicious as Jude.