Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Challenges, Diets & Favorite Foods

I am, by nature, optimistically cynical, which means I am willing to give something new a try but I don't really expect it to work.

That was my frame of mind a few weeks ago when, in an effort to lose a few unneeded pounds, my Lovely Wife and I decided to take the Special K Challenge.

If any of you have ever taken the Special K Challenge, you'll know the most challenging part of it is figuring out how the Kellogg's marketing department managed to pull this scam over on us. To be fair, they never refer to it as a diet, just a challenge.

And it's only for two weeks, so they're not proposing a dramatic lifestyle change. It's more a brief exercise in caloric intake control that just happens to fill the Kellogg's coffers along the way. I flaunted my radical contempt for authority by substituting Honey Bunches of Oats.

If nothing else, I expected the massive increase of fiber intake to either benefit my wastline or take a toll on my colon, yet even that lingering promise/threat went unfulfilled. I lost all of of three pounds for my trouble, and I didn't drop a jean's size, like the model on the back of the box -- who probably has never struggled with weight issues -- implied I would.

Am I surprised? No. But it did get me thinking about all of the things I would rather be eating that are worth the calories and fat they carry with them.

Along with spicy chicken wings -- which are a natural goodness and really should be considered health food based solely on how content with life they make me feel -- there are certain meals that hold a special place in my heart. Some are home-cooked and others are from restaurants. For the sake of keeping this post from rambling on forever I've limited myself to a Top 10, presented in no particular order.

1. Lobster Pizza from Red Lobster: I ordered it for the first time recently because I've been meaning to try it. While certain menu items at Red Lobster never seem to live up to their promise, I can strongly recommend the Lobster Pizza for its great combination of sweet lobster and sauce, salty cheese, and crunchy crust. Not a substitute for real pizza, mind you, but a wonderful appetizer.

2. Pepperoni & Mushroom Pizza from Vito's: I grew up in New York on Long Island. There are two things you get accustomed to growing up in New York on Long Island. One of them is outstanding bagels, piping hot in the morning with cream cheese piled a mile high. The other is great pizza. It's almost impossible to find a bad pizza on Long Island, so you can imagine my culture shock 20 years ago when I moved to the middle of North Carolina and experienced the dreadful monstrosities passing for pizza. Thin cracker crusts, bland sauce no better than ketchup, and cheese that looked like plastic shavings and tasted about as good. Then, in the heart of Southern Pines, I found Vito's Ristorante and my tastebuds were saved!

3. Sauerbraten: I was a fussy eater as a kid, which, as George Carlin pointed out, is just another way of saying "huge pain in the ass." But this was one meal that my grandparents served a few times each year that always made me belly up to the table. My Grandmother would blend the perfect flavors together, cooking and simmering them for just the right length of time. Then my Grandfather would carve the meat like a surgical machine, all the slices the same thickness and fork tender. Smother some mashed potatoes or potato pancakes in the thick brown gravy and you have a perfect meal.

4. Sesame Chicken w/ Pork Fried Rice: Anyone's from any restaurant will do. I discovered this combination during college when a dumpy little Chinese restaurant in downtown Plattsburgh offered the chicken for $5 and a bathtub-size portion of fried rice for $3. You could make it last two or three days, providing you avoided those late night college munchies.

5. Spare Ribs and Rice: My Mother used to prepare some unconventional spare ribs in a slick red sweet & spicy sauce and serve it with plain white rice that soaked up that sauce like a sponge. She was convinced they were the favorite meal of my brother, Steve, but I always looked forward to them.

6. Braised Short Rib w/ Gnocchi at Eliot's: Sticking with the rib theme, my Lovely Wife and I enjoyed a special dinner earlier this year at Eliot's on Linden in Pinehurst. She had Elk, which was great, but my braised short rib was astounding. It fell apart in its light gravy that also soaked into the gnocchi. I traded out the collard greens for sautéed mushrooms and enjoyed a rustic, earthy delight.

7. Lobster & Filet in Puerto Vallarta: During a trip to Mexico, the concierge at the resort recommended to us and another couple to try Felipe's in old Vallarta. A 20-minute deathcab ride later and we were sitting on the back veranda overlooking the bay and dining on a meal for two that consisted of two whole lobsters, two small filet mignons, and several shrimp each. Perhaps the most spectacular meal I've ever eaten -- and the company wasn't bad, either!

8. Bread Bowl & Soup at Panera Bread: Okay, I know it's a chain, but they do have amazing bread bowls and some excellent soups to pour in them. The bowls soak in the broth and turn into delectable flavor sponges.

9. Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at Dugan's Pub: I've eaten at Dugan's quite a few times over the years, and it's been a long time since I've needed a menu. Every time I go, there is only one item I want. For starters, they give you an enormous breast of chicken soaked through with the tastiest buffalo sauce I've ever experienced. Then they top it with a thin slice of cheese, put it on a tasty soft bun, and serve it up with beer-battered french fries. Give me an extra cup of the buffalo sauce, a diet coke, and a bib, and I'm a happy man.

10. Grandma's Meatballs: Shortly before she died, my Mother-in-Law taught us how to make her highly-coveted meatballs and sausage in tomato sauce. Apart from the fact this flawless meal satisfies on many different levels, the kids love digging their hands into the raw ground beef and pork to mix it with the eggs, cheese and chopped herbs. The kids and I mix and shape the meatballs, my Lovely Wife browns them to perfection, and we build the sauce together in our biggest pot. Throw in some sweet Italian sausage for added flavor and I could eat it every night and twice on Sundays.

I could keep going but I've got to stop or I'm going to lose control and completely ruin my diet. Even though the Special K Challenge has now gone the way of the dodo, I am trying to behave myself and get back to the low 180s where I feel most comfortable. I only need to lose another five pounds, so it shouldn't be too difficult.

On the other hand, we have a big container of Grandma's Meatballs in the freezer...

What are some of your favorite meals?

© 2010 Mark Feggeler


  1. If I were to list my top 10 meals, it would go something like this:

    1) Dolsot Bibimbap from the Korea House for it's wonderful mixture of Bulgogi, ride, vegetables and hot chili sauce.

    2) Chicken Marsala made by my wife. The melt in your mouth flavor and texture is happiness for my palette.

    3) White Pizza from Pontillo's Pizza. This unique combination of Mozzarella, and garlic oil takes my honors for top pizza flavor.

    4) Duff's wings from Duff's in Amherst, NY. The wings that I compare ALL other wings to. Crisp skin, meaty grade A sized wings and a HOT sauce that will make you cry from the heat.

    5) My Father's fried pork cutlets and white rice. My dad used to trick me when I was a kid telling me it was a veal cutlet and like a kid who didn't know any better, I believed him. Glad I did because the breaded cutlet fried to perfection went perfectly with the white rice side.

    6) Beef Ho Fun (thin strips of flank steak stir fried with wide rice noodles and vegetables). This has been a favorite of mine since I was 4 years old and my folks took me into Chinatown in NY.

    7) Hangar steak from Les Halles in NYC. One of the most succulent steaks I've ever sunk my teeth into. Prepared at Anthony Bourdain's location.

    8) Country Fried Steak from Chili's. The combination of the sawmill gravy and the mashed potatoes with the butter dipped corn on the cob is comfort food to the extreme.

    9) Loco Moco from the General Store on Maui in Kapalua. This simple breakfast dish of white sticky rice, fried egg, hamburger and brown gravy was a gem find during our 3rd trip back to Hawaii. Where else could you get what felt like 5 lbs of food for $3.00 and sit on the 18th hole of the Ritz Carlton and over look the ocean while chowing down?!? $3 meal with a Million dollar view.

    10) Cheeseburger Garbage plate from Nick Tahou's. So bad for you, but so good. 2 cheeseburgers over macaroni salad and home fries smothered in hot meat sauce.

    - Ben C.

  2. So being a southern girl, I would stick with the home cooked, fried variety of almost anything (exclusions include, but are not limited to - deep fried snickers bars, chocolate covered bacon or the now, the infamous Krispy Kreme cheeseburger which seem to be three of the most artery clogging items every indulged upon)

    1. Anything made at my Granny's house on a Sunday afternoon qualifies, but most missed are fried chicken, potato salad, fried apples, whipped potatoes and homemade gravy.

    2. Prime Rib from Gibson's in Chicago - the most amazing, cut it with a fork, melt in your mouth experience ever- I would still be there were it not for the need to come home and raise the children.

    3. My mother, bless her heart, was not a cook, but somewhere along the way she learned to make a German chocolate pound cake that would knock your socks off.

    4. If I had to choose a last meal, whatever I may choose, as long as it ended with a piece of Tripps New York Cheesecake drizzled in caramel, I would die with a smile on my face.

    I do have to agree with Vito's pizza and anything ever to grace Teri's mother's table was a treat (except for the grilled chicken one night when we were about 7, but that is a story for another day, right Teri?)

    Thank you for the trip down memory food lane, I just got off work, it is 809 am and I am STARVING for cheesecake I can't possibly get for hours yet!

  3. Can't believe I forgot this - Granny's fried okra....could eat it like popcorn right out of the pan...and fried squash...oh and fruit salad...and Chocolate pies with real meringue piled mile high with little dew drops on them from the oven...oh geez I just gained 10 pounds! and 7 layer coconut cake and her rum cake (for a woman who never drank she could take you out with a rum cake)....