Local restaurant reviews

FOODIE : Shame Free Food Resolutions

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that we live on a little urban farmette in the heart of Boise, where we raise chickens, have a garden, and cook from scratch. My husband, Dr. Brown, is not only a chef extraordinaire, but grew up tending to a huge backyard garden. He taught me to love things like curry and was really the first one to teach me to cook complicated meals from scratch when we first met 18 years ago. That, combined with my indoctrination into radical homemaking seven years ago, has resulted in a love of gardening, growing, and spending time making good food for those I love. I also prescribe to the idea of intuitive eating - eating what I want when I crave it and not assigning any sort of moral value to food. I'm also a sucker for taking on big challenges.
My New Year's Resolution for 2015 was to bring back an old favorite. In 2010, I made the pledge to cook every single recipe in the Pioneer Woman's brand new, and first, cookbook, a la Julie & Julia. I've been a fan of Ree Drummond since way back in her beginning blogging days, and now she's a full-fledged celebrity chef. Six years ago I was super successful in making all fifty-something recipes in her book and it was a treasure and a treat. Many of those recipes are now mainstays in our culinary repertoire. I'm a bit of a Food Network Fangirl (see: the Food Network Cookoff I've hosted every year for the past six years). I'm also a bit of a cookbook hoarder. Combine the two and you've got a kitchen revolution in the making.

For 2015, I decided to take on the challenge of making every single recipe in one of my newer cookbooks. I lobbied for Smitten Kitchen, or maybe Paula Deen's classic, but Dr. Brown won me over with his profound love of PW, so I just completed making all the recipes in her second cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier (2012).

 You guys, there are 109 recipes in this book. ONE. HUNDRED. AND. NINE.

But I did it. It came out to be about 2 recipes per week, which wasn't too difficult to keep up with. What I didn't do well on was the promise to continually blog about our favorites and nopes each month. I did it for a few months, then summer happened, then fame happened, and, well...while I continued to cook, I did not inform you all about it.
Ultimately, this cookbook was not as good as PW's first. There were a lot of recipes that we just thought were okay, not great. Admittedly, we're pretty picky with our rave recipe reviews, but still. Our favorites include the three prize winners I made for my annual Food Network Cookoff this year, Billie's Italian Cream Cake, her spicy Asian Hot Wings, and her Herb Crusted Roasted Pork Tenderloin with cornmeal cakes, roasted root vegetables, and preserves. Additionally, we just busted out the final recipes on New Year's Eve, making her homemade donuts for the very first time and OMGYOUGUYS. I highly recommend it if you haven't ever done so. So time intensive, but delicious.
A few weeks ago I read this great article by food blogger Lindsey Leahy titled "10 Food Resolutions that Don't Involve Shame."  Her ten ideas are so spot on and simple and things that we've done in our house for the past two decades. They've made our lives richer and eating more fun. Here are just a few, and the ways I've incorporated them into our home.

Eat locally.

Leahy writes about easing into local: Choose one item you love and frequently buy—maybe it’s milk, eggs, chocolate, honey, or coffee—and commit to buying a locally-produced option in the coming year. To make the experiment even more meaningful, resolve to learn more about the artisan or farmer whose food you’re buying and consider visiting his or her farm or shop. This is such a great idea. We love buying a few new vegetables that we don't grow ourselves, like corn, from the kids produce stand at the Boise Urban Garden School (where Arlo loves to smell the flowers in their Pollinator Garden). Trying out restaurants in your town who make burgers from locally sourced beef (like The Skyvue Grill here in Boise did before they shut down) is another way to support local.

Eat seasonally.
One of the new garden spaces at the Boise Urban Garden School last spring when they were just planting baby tomatoes and herbs.
If you eat with the seasons, your food is going to taste so much better, especially if you're eating vegetables. Tomatoes in the heat of the summer in Idaho are divine, and so much better than the tasteless ones you might buy in the winter at Winco Foods that have been sitting on a truck for weeks making their way up from Southern California. In fact, I hate those so much that we don't eat tomatoes in the winter, with the exception of the ones we roasted, canned, and froze from our own garden this past fall. There are many charts online to what food is grown/caught seasonally in your area which will help with this task. And if you live somewhere in a warm climate where fresh fruit and veggies are seasonal to you all year round DAMN YOU.
Learn to cook.
My Alice, rolling out the dough to make 48 Pioneer Woman Sweet Orange Rolls this past Thanksgiving. We recycled old aluminum pie pans and gifted several trays to family and friends.
You can start simple and easy, like with online recipes that your aunt posts on Facebook or with a simpler chef's cookbook (think Sandra Lee's semi-homemade). Or commit to making just three meals at home per week and planning them out ahead of time. We actually plan dinners for each night of the week on Sundays prior to grocery shopping and buy all necessary ingredients then. Lunches typically consist of leftovers from those dinners, which is perfect. Cooking is such an important lifelong skill and can engage your sense of smell and experimenting with flavor. And once you learn a few tricks and tips by trial and error, you'll be brave enough to take up bigger challenges. I promise, it's worth it.

I made Mel's Kitchen Cafe's amazing crustless pumpkin pie cupcakes for Thanksgiving dessert this year and seriously, I don't think I'll ever make traditional pumpkin pie again.

This summer I made simple syrup from seasonal ingredients from the garden - plums and rhubarb both gifted to me from my father-in-law's garden. It made the best ingredient for summer cocktail parties ever.

We love us some homemade ice cream in our house but the more time intensive egg based vanilla from PW proved to be so worth it.
Grow your own food.

While cooking your own food is so gratifying, so is growing it. It's amazing science, really. You drop a tiny seed into some dirt, poor lots of water on it, watch, pick, and eat. Seriously, you can't mess this up, people. And you don't even need a big patch of earth. If you've seen photos of our urban farmette, you'll know we grow in flower beds and large pots and have an herb garden Dr. Brown built on top of our chicken run. Seeds are also so cheap. What a satisfying way to eat, and such an important life skill to teach your kids, how to grow their own food. We don't grow that many crops, but sometimes like to try out something adventurous, like peanuts. Typically, we grow lots of things we love and/or that are really expensive to buy at the store, like tomatoes and herbs.
This year we experimented with pineapple sage, which smells divine, and, as always, grew tons of our own garlic. I entered both in the Western Idaho State Fair and won a third place ribbon for my garlic braid!
Share meals together.

Eating with other people is the best way to eat. Leahy has great easy suggestions in her article:

Commit to sharing at least two meals a week with family, friends, coworkers, or neighbors. Whether it’s a brown-bag office lunch or a three-course dinner party, enjoy your food in the company of people you love.

My favorites are our family dinners each night, which sometimes take place in extraordinary locations like picnic tables atop Idaho mountains outside our remote yurt on camping adventures.

Have a food adventure.

Leahy has some great ideas for a culinary bucket list for 2016:
  • Try a something you’ve never eaten before—a vegetable or fruit, a meat, or a cuisine.
  • Visit a local farm or bakery.
  • Learn a new cooking technique.
  • Learn mise-en-place.
  • Visit that restaurant you’ve heard everyone talking about.
  • Adopt Meatless Mondays for a month.

This suggestion is my absolute favorite of all. I love trying out new things, like mise en place, because it totally jives with my repressed Type A personality need for order in a chaotic life. I got to learn to make these amazing Italian cheese noodles called pasatelli from scratch with my friend Nikki over the holidays. You lovingly feed the dough through a meat grinder and lay them on a cloth tablecloth to dry. It's a day long process that involves lots of eating, drinking, visiting, and sharing stories of Italian grandmothers and traditions and love.

And it brings me to this - my 2016 New Year's Food Resolution to make all 100 recipes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. This is much more intense than PW's so I'm a bit worried, I've made Deb's recipes before, as I've been following her blog for years, and they are always so worth the time and effort. Wish me luck.

In her article, Leahy writes:

We don’t know about you, but we’re tired of shame-based resolutions and the inevitable failure that comes with them. This year, we’re making changes that count—commitments to food as a joy-filled, whole-health promoting lifestyle that connects us to ourselves, our community, and our world.

I couldn't agree more. Food is not your enemy. It is something that can be enjoyable, nourishing, and filled with ritual and ceremony. I can't wait to share more food adventures with my children this year, take handmade meals to new mothers, and deliver cookies to friends for their birthdays. Food can be a way to show kindness and love to yourself and others.

And food can be so fun! Resolve to eat what you want in 2016.

FOODIE: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

I've been a fan of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts for years, well before you could buy them at every gas station in town. In fact, I was a fan of them way back in the day when they were exclusively a southern chain and had to wait until I lived in South Carolina as a college student to taste my first piece of HOT NOW! gooeyness. I remember when people would buy dozens of the tasty treats and carry them home on airplanes from visits in the south. Then they went and expanded and now sell day-old boxes at Target and blueberry donut holes at Maverik. But I still love them, and will buy them there, too. It's a visit to the doughnut shop, however, that is the real treat. I'm thrilled that we have one here near Boise, even though it's clear out in Meridian on the nightmare that is Eagle Road. Because of it's location, we don't visit there are often as I'd like, which is probably a good thing.
On a recent morning adventure, Alice and I took our time at Krispy Kreme, watching the freshly fried circles make their way through the glazing waterfall. We picked out our dozen favorite donuts, including Alice's favorite - chocolate icing with sprinkles.

I tried their newest delicacy, Banana Kreme Pie, and it was as yummy as it's advertising promised. Coffee is always necessary, as is a paper bakers hat for the girl. I love the sun-filled space at the Meridian location, and at 10am, the place was pretty quiet. Alice loved standing on the tile bench watching the bakers at work. As a lifelong doughnut lover, Krispy Kreme still tops the list for me.

FOODIE: Basilio's Taco Truck

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of taco trucks. Every where we go I seek them out, and even have Lucy trained to spot them. Not only do they provide the most authentic and delicious Mexican food in Boise (and most American cities I've been to, to be honest), but the cheapest. I've been to several of them around the Treasure Valley and my favorite thus far is Basilio's on State Street.

Almost always I'll order several soft tacos at $1 a piece, with the carne asada and pollo topping my list of favorites. On this particular afternoon, I also ordered a side of beans and rice for Alice, who couldn't get enough of swiping finger fulls off my plate.

Not only is Basilio's picnic table eating area clean, but their tent also has a cool misting system, which, on a 100 degree Boise summer afternoon, may be a make or break deal for me. That, and their green sauce, sets Basilio's apart from other local taco trucks. Seriously, I'd have bought a bottle of that green sauce had they offered it, it is that wonderful. I recommend everyone stop by Basilio's before they call it quits for the winter, or any of our plethora of taco trucks for that matter. You'll never have more authentic Mexican food this far north of the border.

FOODIE: Capri Restaurant

We have driven by the Capri Restaurant in the Budget Inn on Fairview Avenue near 27th in Boise weekly on the way to my mom's place in the North End. For some odd reason, it took me until this summer to see the marquee signage on this old school diner and take them seriously. Really? You think you have the BEST BREAKFAST IN BOISE? Bring it.
The first time we went was a surprise for Eric on Father's Day, as he loves a leisurely breakfast out and the greasier the spoon the better. As soon as we saw the line out the door and the bright orange vinyl booths I knew the Capri wasn't foolin' around. Their super loyal clientele was surprised to hear it was our young family's first visit and raved reviews as we all stood waiting for a table, reading the paper and chatting outside. The waitstaff was friendly and fun and I got a kick out of their kitschy tee shirt uniforms. Eric really enjoyed the chicken fried steak and I loved my omelet. We've been back a few times since and you always know you've found a good breakfast joint when a foursome of old dudes sit for hours chatting slowly over coffee are seated next to tatted up hipsters with bedhead still reeking of Jagermeister. And the pleasant vibe of the place combined with delightfully full bellies compels them all to say good morning to our little family of four despite our talking baby dolls propped next to their heads and the constant barrage of flying Cherrios. For all these reasons and more, the Capri has made its way into my heart as my favorite breakfast in Boise.

FOODIE: Summer Reading with Sizzler

At the beginning of June, Lucy joined the Boise Public Library's Kids Summer Reading Program. They win prizes and gift certificates for reading a certain number of minutes, and since we read every night, she quickly filled out all her "tickets" and claimed her prizes. One of them was a free kids meal at Sizzler. It may be embarrassing to admit, but we had NEVER BEEN TO A SIZZLER BEFORE. We were excited to give it a try, because I have been lusting after their all you can eat seafood commercials for some time. Much to Eric's delight, but my chagrin, we were surprised to find it was also a GIGANTIC BUFFET.

I am not a fan of buffets, but do love me a nice salad bar, so decided to give it a try. You order at the front counter, and of course I got the all you can eat fried shrimp and steak platter; it comes with a beverage and salad bar trip for only $15. Eric got the all you can eat buffet, which included the salad bar, a taco bar, soup, desserts, ice cream, and a drink for around $10. Lucy's $6 kids meal with the buffet and dinosaur chicken nuggets was free, and Alice, being just one-year-old, also ate for free.

I meant to take more pictures of the food but forgot before we devoured it all. We all enjoyed our meals; I thought the steak was delicious as were the unlimited amounts of shrimp. The buffet offered enough variety to satisfy my picky kids and was clean and fresh.

The highlight for Lucy was, of course, the ice cream station. It was here that I noticed the large amount of senior citizens that had just joined our dining atmosphere. Granted, we were eating dinner at 5pm, as we had skipped lunch and were starving. The folks were friendly and loved chatting with the kids, and one particular gentleman told me all about his diabetes and his beloved Toyota Tundra while we stood in line for the sugar-free ice cream.

All in all, our first experience at Sizzler was a good one. It's a great place to take families, as your kids have unlimited options and will find the buffet style eating fun. You can get your adult "steak on" at the same time and the all you can eat option seems to be almost orgasmic for most men. I have to admit, we probably wouldn't have ever tried Sizzler (at least until we were 55 or older) without the incentive of Lucy's summer library reading benefit. Our experience was a good one, though, and the bill wasn't outrageous. We'll definitely keep it in mind next time we have the great-grandparents in town or a crowd of especially picky eaters to satisfy.

FOODIE: The Idaho Fry Co.

A couple of weeks ago our dear friend Michele from Oregon came to visit for the weekend. Our times together are always filled with laughter, relaxation and good food. After a long morning of walking through Julia Davis Park and all over the BSU campus, we were starving. We wanted something simple, quick, and kid-friendly, as the girls were getting pooped at this point and needed naps. We had heard mixed reviews about the newly opened Idaho Fry Co. but are suckers for burgers and fries (um, who isn't?!), so decided to give it a try.

The place is located in a nondescript strip mall on Broadway Avenue in Boise, in between an Avon shop and a new Middle Eastern restaurant. The decor is modern and the art of a local artist, Ben Wilson, covers the walls, which I always like to see. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon when we arrived, and the small, hip shop was pretty busy. The staff was sweet and helped us decipher the confusing menu and ordering process. We decided on three bison burgers and 5 different kinds of fries. The Idaho Fry Co. prides itself on promoting the fry to the head of the class, featuring it as the main dish and the burger as the side. I can't remember all the names of the types of potatoes we ordered, and they don't have a menu on their website, probably since their fry options change almost daily. We had some russets, blue potatoes, and a sweet purple Hawaiian potato fry. The fries are dished up in fancy paper cones, and the burgers on a minimal restaurant platter. They also offer almost 20 different dipping sauces, from black bean to molasses. I have to say, after trying them all, we agreed that the traditional fry sauce was our favorite. Our bill totalled around $40 - not really a cheap lunch for three.

I really wanted to love this place, as I wholeheartedly support local businesses, especially those using organic, local, and fresh ingredients. I can forgive the confusion of the servers (they were slow and messed up our orders), as they, too, are just learning the tricks of the trade. I have to say, however, that the food wasn't as wonderful as I'd hoped and the limited menu is bit gimmicky and not quite diverse enough to make you want to come back again. There are a lot of burger and fry joints in Boise, and I'm not sure their fancy take on the fry is enough to keep them in business, especially with their high prices in this difficult economic time. I do wish them the best and hope they keep experimenting and expanding their ideas. If you live in the Boise area, give them a try - your burger and fry palate may be more sophisticated than mine.