Friday, February 27, 2009

Review: Carl's Jr. in Cedar Park, TX

I visited the Carl's Jr. located at 1315 E Whitestone Blvd. in Cedar Park, TX 78613 on yesterday. I had driven by it a couple of times; however, I never stopped for lunch or dinner. I wish I had stopped sooner. I was impressed. Very impressed.

As soon as I entered Carl's Jr., I was promptly greeted by the person behind the counter. I gave the menu a quick look and one hamburger stood out over the rest. It was the Guacamole Bacon Six Dollar Burger. The burger is a charbroiled 100% Black Angus Beef Patty with guacamole, two Strips of Bacon, two slices of melted Pepperjack cheese, lettuce, two slices of tomato, red onions and Santa Fe sauce on a toasted sesame seed bun. So, I decided to give it a whirl.
If anyone from Carl's Jr. is reading my blog, I would like to say thanks for creating a very tasty burger. The spicy guacamole paired up nicely with the beef and bacon. Although the burger is a little messy to eat, I highly recommend trying it out. For me, if a burger isn't messy, there is something wrong with it. I like a burger that is juicy and hard to pick up. To me, that is a sign of a great burger. I had ordered the meal and the natural cut fries were delicious. Perfect for this burger.
My entire experience at this Carl's Jr was wonderful from the beginning to end. The staff was wonderful. I was greeted by a very friendly and helpful individual. I observed that the staff helped customers with their choices and were very knowledgeable on the items on the menu. To the management staff, I say, "GREAT JOB!" The staff constantly checked the dining room and were always cleaning. They would stop to check on the customers. I had 2 different individuals drop by my table to check on me to see if I needed anything and how my meal was. As I made notes for this review, one of the employees asked if she could take my tray to give me more room to write. Very nice! Two other things struck me about this particular restaurant. One, it was fully staffed for lunch. I waited only a few minutes before I received my order. I had just enough time to fill my drink cup and find a table. I sat down and in less than a minute I had my meal. Two, managers were visible at all times and they helped as cashiers at the counter as well as the drive-thru. GREAT JOB!
The inside of the restaurant was absolutely clean and ready for customers. The staff, as mentioned earlier, stayed on top of things in the dining room. They cleaned the tables quickly and made sure everything was perfect. They regularly checked on customers and chatted with them.
To be quite honest, I really enjoyed the burger and will be ordering it again. Yes, the prices are higher than your average burger place, but that is the point. Carl's Jr. is not your average burger place.
To the staff and managers of the Cedar Park, Texas restaurant, thanks for making my first wonderful and I look forward to my next visit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pace Black Bean Burgers

I got this recipe last week from Campbell and tried it out. It went over BIG with the friends I cook for. I think you and your family will enjoy it, too. This is wonderful for backyard cookouts.

1 jar (16 ounces) Pace Black Bean & Roasted Corn Salsa
1 1/2 lb. ground beef*
6 sesame hamburger buns

Mix 1 cup salsa and the beef thoroughly in a large bowl. Shape the beef mixture firmly into 6 patties.
Cook the patties in a 12-inch skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until they're well browned on both sides and cooked through. Or, medium-high heat on your grill. Cook until the burgers are medium to medium well.
Serve the burgers on the buns with the remaining salsa.

*Substitute 1 1/4 pounds of ground turkey for the ground beef and combine with 3/4 cup salsa.

Tip: Top each burger with 1 slice Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese during the last 3 minutes of cooking. Top with sliced avocado, tomato and lettuce.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: 101 Things To Do with Ramen Noodles

When I was back in college during the 1980s, a part of my diet was Ramen Noodles. I could buy a lot of packages for a small amount of money and they were quick to prepare. The other thing about them was that they were so versatile. You could add eggs, hot dogs, a little meat, some vegetables or just about anything else you can think of.

I was browsing and ran across this book. Since I'm unemployed and have some time to work on recipes and reviews, I decided to give this book a whirl. Needless to say, I found a couple of recipes quite wonderful and it gave me some ideas for other ones as well. One of my favorites is the egg drop soup recipe. A very simple dish and quite good. I spice it up with a bit with some hot chili sauce. My favorite chili sauce is Sriracha. I love this sauce. It is spicy and has a great garlic taste.

With the problems in the economy and having to stretch the food dollars just a little more, you should consider this book for some ideas during the week. I enjoy eating Ramen Noodles during lunch. The dishes are not only quick and easy to prepare, but also you get a nice hot meal out of it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jam and Bread Pudding

I saw this recipe on Food Network's show, "Boy Meets Grill", with Bobby Flay and had to try it out. It is absolutely wonderful and I highly recommend it.

1 loaf brioche, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons Strawberry preserves
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
Fresh strawberries, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Arrange half of the brioche along the bottom of the dish, and cut or tear the slices to fit. Spread 3/4 cup of the jam on top and cover with the remaining bread.
Whisk the eggs, sugar, 2 1/2 cups of the milk, and the vanilla together; pour over the bread. Press to soak and brush the top with 4 tablespoons of the melted butter. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 15 minutes longer or until the pudding is set. Remove from the oven.
Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon of milk with the confectioners' sugar. Stir in the remaining melted butter and jam until the mixture is smooth. Spread the mixture over the top of the pudding, place under the broiler, and broil until the glaze is golden. Serve hot or warm, garnished with fresh strawberries.

I substituted Texas Toast for the brioche and half and half for the whole milk. It came out just great. There are certain things you can and can't find at a Wal-Mart.
This recipe makes 6 servings.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Free Sample of Starbucks Instant Coffee, VIA

Starbucks is offering a complimentary sample of their new instant coffee, Via. Click here to get your complimentary sample.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Celebrate PREZ-ident's Day with!

Once again, my friends at have decided to offer a special for President's Day.

Starting today, the readers of my blog can save 70% off when you try their new coupon code "PREZ". It can be used on both of their most popular products, Dinner of the Month Club and our $25 Gift Certificates. This offer is valid February 16th through February 19th!

Click one of the links for details and to order.

Take 70% Off with every order of Dinner of the Month Club purchase. Use the code PREZ thru 2/19/09.

Take 70% Off with every order of $25 Gift Certificates. Use code PREZ and pay $3 thru 2/19/09.

I have used this service before to try out new restaurants without spending a lot of money.

Salmon Salad with Potatoes & Asparagus

When I get the chance, I enjoy cooking asparagus. When I was growing up, my parents served canned asparagus. I thought it was great, but then again, I didn't know any better. Now, I enjoy cooking fresh asparagus.

Here's a recipe that combines some of my favorite ingredients, salmon, potatoes and asparagus.

1 lb salmon fillet in one piece
1 lb new potatoes cut into chunks
1 lb asparagus
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp capers
2 tbsp shredded fresh basil
4 cups salad greens salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400°F. Put salmon in a roasting dish and cook 10 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Remove and cool, then cut in 4 pieces.
Meanwhile, cook potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain. Cook asparagus until tender-crisp. Drain
To make dressing, combine oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, capers, salt and pepper and basil. Toss potatoes with a little of the dressing.
Toss salad greens with the remaining dressing and divide evenly onto 4 plates. Top each with ¼ of the potatoes, ¼ of the asparagus and a piece of salmon. Drizzle any remaining dressing over each piece of fish and the asparagus. Sprinkle extra basil over all before serving.

This meal is a great during hot summer months.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Starbucks to sell instant coffee — $1 a cup

Starbucks to sell instant coffee? You have got to be kidding? According to an article in MSNBC business, Starbucks, after 20 years of research and development, has come out with Via which "replicates the taste of Starbucks coffee in instant form" and will be available next week on Tuesday.

When I used to drink instant coffee, my friends looked down their noses at me and said that I was uncultured for drinking instant coffee. My parents had drank instant coffee for most of their lives and I picked it up. Now, after years of brewing my own coffee and only drinking freshly brewed when I go out, Starbucks brings out an instant coffee. I wonder what my friends will be saying now.

Don't get me wrong. I'm open to new things and can't wait to try it out. If the coffee is as good as the company says, I will be buying it for work. When I was employed, I spent $3.36 a day (1 large in the morning and one large in the afternoon). If the price is about $1 per cup and they can make it taste great to boot, I'm all for it.

The other side of me thinks about the smokeless cigarette that R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company tried to market, the Premier cigarette. I don't smoke, but I do remember the marketing campaign. The cigarette cost the company $1 billion in research and development. After everything was said and done, it failed miserably due to the taste. If you light it with a match, you "enjoyed" a nice charcoal flavor and that's putting it kindly. If you have read the book, Barbarians at the Gate, or saw the HBO movie by the same name, you will recall a very funny scene about the cigarette.

I hope that Via doesn't have the same problems with taste and smell like the Premier cigarette. As soon as I get some of the coffee, I'll try it out on my friends and let you know what we think. Or, if you happen to try it first, you can add comments to this entry. I'm sure the readers of this blog would enjoy reading your comments.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Flat Iron Steaks

This past weekend I did flat iron steaks, sauteed mushrooms and onions, pan-seared green beans and bake potatoes for dinner.
One of my friends, Robert, loves this cut of beef and managed to talk me into trying it awhile ago. I have grilled the steaks a number of times, but didn't write about it. This time I did.
The first thing you need to know that it is a relatively new cut of meat. The flat iron steak comes from the blade roast of the beef shoulder or chuck. There is a thick piece of connective tissue that runs through the center of it, and this connective tissue was the very reason that nobody had ever really tried to market it as a steak. But once this piece of connective tissue is removed, researchers found that there was a steak almost as tender as a tenderloin laying underneath.
Once you do some clean up work to the steak, you have a very tender cut of meat. Since most butchers don't do a lot of work on this cut, you can get it very cheap and do the work yourself. The cut usually goes for a couple of dollars per pound. At some meat markets, the cut is referred to as a top blade steak. Some butchers will remove the connective tissue for you if you ask. Your best friend at the meat counter is your butcher. Talk to him and get to know him. He will never steer you wrong when it comes to meat. (Did you catch the pun? Steer. Cow. Oh, well. I thought it was funny.)
You can cook this steak just like any other steak. Marinate it for a couple of hours minimum and then place it on a hot grill and cook. I like my steak medium-rare. No further, please.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Barbecue Chicken in a Pinch

When I was growing up in Gatesville, Texas, my dad, brother and I would be out in the backyard grilling and barbecuing. My dad made his own sauce, but used Kraft Barbecue Sauce as a base for his delicious sauce. I have to admit I enjoy the sauce. I know. I know. There are people out there who just cringing and saying, "Jesse, say it ain't so."

Well, I happen to like Kraft's barbecue sauce, because it does remind me of home and the fond memories of cooking with Dad. So, I like it. Plus, it is a very versatile sauce and can easily be combined to make other sauces. I add red pepper flakes to my sauce to give it some heat.

Last night, I cooked up some chicken legs and thighs with my favorite "go to" sauce and added the red pepper flakes and some garlic. Simmer it for a bit so the flavors come out and mingle with the sauce. It is totally different from the original. I recommend that you try it out and tell me what you think.

When I do have time, I like to make my own sauce and it is great. However, if I'm cooking for dinner and just need to get something started. I reach for a bottle of Kraft Barbecue Sauce and work some magic on it.

I have attached a picture of the barbecue chicken legs I did. They were delicious and once again, I have leftovers. When you cook 10 lbs at a time, you will definitely have leftovers.

Monday, February 9, 2009

McDonald's January same-store sales up 7.1 percent

I guess when you can't afford the fancy restaurants, you eat at McDonald's.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Cash-strapped consumers kept buying McDonald's burgers and breakfast items in January, helping the fast food company post a 7.1 percent worldwide increase Monday in same-store sales for the month.

Considering that McDonald's has been eating into Starbucks coffee business with their new McCafe and their coffee products, I think they are filling that void in family dining. I have noticed more families eating at McDonald's and enjoying their time together. The children play on the playscape while the parents enjoy a latte and talk. Inexpensive food, cheap entertainment for the kids and quiet conversation for the parents. You can't ask for more than that.

When I was growing up, we would have lunch at McDonald's and we enjoyed the meal and the family time. With the economy the way it is, people are learning to cut back and make the best of a bad situation.

Starbucks launches cheaper coffee-and-food combos

I just saw this on Reuters regarding Starbucks and creating cheaper coffee and food combos. I think McDonald's is starting to cut into their coffee market share. When you consider the price and the increasing quality of McDonald's coffee, Starbucks has to do something about it.

Here's part of the article.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp will start selling coffee and breakfast foods together for $3.95 next month in its first combination discount, to lure consumers into its coffee shops during the recession.
Starbucks said on Monday that the new breakfast "pairings," available on March 3, could save consumers as much as $1.20.

For the entire article, click here.

Review: Sushi Nini

A couple of friends, Jeff and Kim, and I had lunched at a new sushi restaurant that opened up in Round Rock, Texas. It's called Sushi Nini Japanese Restaurant. They just opened and we had to try them out. Kim had eaten there with his girlfriend and they loved the rolls there. With that recommendation and a sense of adventure, I decided to try them out.

We got there around 11:30 and went inside. We are greeted by a friendly host and taken to our table. The decor inside of the restaurant is modern and hip. They had big screen televisions and a projection screen television going as well. Our waitress came over and took our drink order promptly and that gave us time to look at the menu.

The menu is very extensive and had a lot of things to try. Kim and his girlfriend had the Godzilla Roll and The Rock & Roll. He said that both very tasty. Jeff ordered the Hawaiian Roll and order of Ikura (Salmon Roe). Kim ordered the Crunchy Dragon Roll. I ordered lunch special, 6 piece sashimi and California Roll. When we asked the waitress for her recommendations, she didn't know much about the menu and just tried one of the rolls. We were a little disappointed by the lack of knowledge, but we think our waitress did a good job of finding things out of us.

As part of my meal, she brought a bowl of miso soup. I have had a lot of miso soups in my day, but this one was, by far, absolute wonderful. It had a wonderful taste to it and depth. Normally, it is just a quick broth with bean curd thrown in. Not so here. It had a complex taste to it and was delicious. I would go back just for the soup.

It took a while for us to get our meal and it came in batches. We shared our meals with each other so that we could get a different perspective on the food. The sashimi was cut more like a piece that you would put on nigiri. Very thick. Don't get me wrong. If I'm hungry for fish, I would prefer it this way. But, sashimi is cut very thin. So, if you are purist, you would have sent it back. It came with salmon, tuna and white fish. Very fresh and excellent. I tried the Hawaiian roll and it was delicious. It had mango in it and a the sauces was a pineapple mixture and set itself well with the roll. Perfect combination.

It took a while for Kim to get his roll. The kitchen wasn't really backed up. Just very slow. If you are trying to get in and out quickly, forget it. It just won't happen. The Crunchy Dragon Roll was delicious. It had a spicy sauce that was wonderful. It had an ebb and flow to it. Just as the spiciness would would pass, it would creep up and hit your palate again. I really enjoyed that. Not too spicy, but had that ebb and flow and finished off nicely on the palate.

Jeff and I ordered the Godzilla roll and love it as well. It was another great example of a roll perfectly balanced with its ingredients. The one thing that Jeff and I had to use was the pepper on the roll. Even if they are marked spicy, they are very tame on the palate. Kim told us that he and his girlfriend noticed that as well.

Overall, the meal was delicious. The low marks are the service due to lack of knowledge of the items and the slowness of the kitchen. I think if they work out those two items, the place will be wonderful. Special note to those who may have a problem with the outfits. The waitresses wear Oriental mini-skirts. The original tops that are shown on their flyers and website were put back in the lockers. They were a little revealing. However, the mini-skirts stayed.

Location: 117 Louis Henna Blvd; Ste 160; Round Rock, TX 78664
Cash and Credit Cards only.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Making Pancakes from Scratch

From time to time usually on the weekends, I enjoy making a big batch of pancakes for the family and friends who like to drop by when I start to cook. I think they must have the house bugged. As soon as I announce pancakes, I get phone calls from friends. They all ask the same thing, "I'm hungry for pancakes." I respond the same way, "So am I and am cooking up some pancakes. Wanna come over?"

Well, making pancakes isn't hard at all. You just have to start out with a good mix and then you can add different things to it. Depending on my mood and what fruits I have available, the additional ingredients could range from chocolate chips to strawberries. Sometimes, I make a fruit compote with apples and raisins. Just be creative. But, start with the following recipe for the basic batter.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

You can add the additional ingredients (chocolate chips, etc) to the mix or just sprinkle over the batter when you pour it on the griddle. The heat is the key. Medium high heat is highly recommended. When you see bubbles form in the batter, you are ready to flip. This is a good tip. You don't want pancake dropping all over the griddle.

I'm off to breakfast.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Introduction to One of My Favorite Kitchen Appliances: The Slow Cooker

One of my favorite kitchen appliances is the slow cooker. It saves me a lot of time and provides a wonderful hot meal for the family.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Roasted Chickens for Dinner

I purchased a couple of fryer chickens for dinners this week. At $0.88 per pound, you can't beat that very easily. Two chickens can easily carry us through to Thursday for dinner. My wife loves lemon pepper on the chicken, but I think it is too tame or tastes to lemony. So, I looked around and found something that works perfectly for us.

Weber Grill Creations Zesty Lemon Seasoning is absolutely perfect on chicken and fish. I have used it on tilapia, salmon, trout and shrimp. It also works well with chicken and turkey. So, I highly recommend it.

Preparation is a breeze. Just remove all of the organs from the cavity and wash the bird under cold water. Pat it dry and then apply some olive or vegetable oil and liberally apply the seasoning. I use then place the chicken on my Weber Chicken roasters. You can pour some liquid into the cup and infuse more flavor into the chicken. I will sometimes mix lemon juice, water and some whole peppercorns and pour it into the infusing cup. Cook for about 90 minutes at 350 degrees F. and you are set for the meal. The chicken comes over moist, tender and tasty. What a meal! Add a pasta salad or a tossed salad to it and you are set. Leftovers are delicious as well. My wife takes half a chicken breast to work for lunch.

If you would like to look at the Weber Roaster or the seasoning, I have included links to them for your convenience.