Wednesday, May 2, 2007

My Favorite Restaurant

Last year when I was about to get married, I had a bridal shower where we played a mini version of the Newlywed Game with me and my fiancĂ©e—now husband—as the contestants. They asked me a variety of questions, and then got him on the phone to see if he could come up with the correct answers. The questions were pretty simple, but one gave me a little trouble.

“What is your favorite restaurant?”

My favorite restaurant? That depends on the way the wind is blowing that day. Do I want sushi, fried chicken or fine dining? Am I on a date or out with my girlfriends? Do I need comfort food or am I feeling adventurous?

I finally settled on the Oceanaire. I am a total freak for seafood, and this place is the mecca of the sea as far as I’m concerned. I know it’s not cool to pick a chain, but the oysters, fresh fish and key lime pie I’ve had here can’t be denied. I also love the old-fashioned, clubby atmosphere and the service has been outstanding on each trip.

When my husband gave his answer, however, it was clear to me that he was right, and I was wrong. “Well,” he said, “Robin probably said something fancy like Nana, but at the end of the day, her favorite is really Chipotle.” Although he was wrong about Nana, he was right about one thing—clearly, Chipotle is my favorite restaurant.

I am going to say something that you might find quite shocking. I love Chipotle so much that I’ve eaten there twice in one day. By choice. I don’t think that I could say that about any other restaurant. I love Oceanaire, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I would eat there twice in one week—let alone twice in one day.

That’s the beauty of Chipotle. It’s so simple. Rice, beans, meat, veggies. All prepared to perfection, all fresh and all consistently delicious. Although some people consider it a fast food restaurant on par with McDonald’s (who happen to own Chipotle), I think that’s an unfair comparison. What dish at McDonald’s can you get served with bell peppers, chopped tomatoes, corn and guacamole?

Yes, the serving sizes at Chipotle are enormous. We all know it’s not health food, but it’s certainly a healthier alternative than a Big Mac and a large fry. And for the record, on the day I ate there twice, at lunch I had the chicken over lettuce with black beans—no rice and no tortilla.

So yes, I’ll admit it. Chipotle is my favorite restaurant. And as long as they keep turning out the barbacoa and guacamole, I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Indulgence vs. Penance

I have a confession to make: On a weekend night I have been known to consume an entire dinner of, oh, say, roasted salmon in lemon beurre blanc with fingerling potatoes and baby beets, then after spending a few hours with friends, turning right around and eating another meal from the drive-thru on my way home. All right, so maybe this wasn't some randomized example...maybe it actually happened last Saturday. Maybe it happens a couple of Saturdays a month. And maybe a Friday or two thrown in for good measure. Point is, though I prefaced this as a “confession”, in reality I go out of my way not to feel guilty about such things. Guilt is a useless emotion fraught with the peril of obsessing over that which cannot be changed.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah – instead of getting down at the mouth about what a horrible person I am, wrecking my arteries with clarified butter and (oh, so delicious) deep fat fried fast food, I try behave myself for a couple of days. I developed the recipes below for when I'm in a mood to purify...they are sinfully delicious but entirely virtuous. That way, I can enter a new weekend feeling light and free and clean and ready for action. Yet again.

Homemade Granola Bars

1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
pinch of salt

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup Rice Krispies (or other crispy rice cereal)

1/2 cup raisins*
1/2 cup chopped almonds*

Directions: Line an 8” square or 8 x 11” baking dish with wax paper – enough to hang slightly over the sides. Spray paper with non-stick spray.

Combine butter, sugar, honey and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.

Meanwhile, combine oats and remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Pour butter mixture over oat mixture and stir to combine. Working quickly, turn out oat mixture onto prepared sheet, spray hands with non-stick spray and press firmly into the pan. Fold excess waxed paper back over the edges of the rectangle and press, to help form even sides and uniform thickness. Cool in refrigerator 1 – 2 hours before cutting into bars.

* Replace with any combination of nuts, dried fruit or chips that floats your boat.

Reduced Fat Whole Wheat Brownies

1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly
4 oz. low-fat or non-fat vanilla flavored yogurt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8-inch square pan with parchment or foil and spray with non-stick spray. Combine butter, yogurt, sugar, vanilla and eggs in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well-combined. Add cocoa powder and pulse until combined. (a mixing bowl and electric mixer can also be used)

Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add cocoa mixture and stir gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes.