Flavor of the Month: February 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
February may be the shortest month of the year, and it may generally be a month during which people like to hole up at home and eat vast quantities of red meat, but that doesn't mean there isn't time to get out and enjoy a variety of meaningful meals with others. This particular February brought unseasonable warmth, which made it all the easier to go enjoy the food and drink that I'd usually be reserving for late spring or early summer. So what wonderful things caught my attention during these brief 28 days?

  • A surf and turf dinner fit for a king

  • For the winter holiday season, my friend Jeremy's parents had given him an exquisite gift: Four steak filets and four lobster tails. He and Kyle decided to fill out their foursome with Jeremy's sister and 'lil ol me, so she and I set to work on filling in part of the meal with dishes fancy enough to be served alongside such regal offerings. The final result was incredible: Perfectly medium steaks, wonderful lobster, French onion soup, creamed spinach, twice-baked potatoes, salad, creme brulee, and an additional dessert that I'd worked on for basically two days (see below). I'll likely not have another home-cooked dinner as impressive for a long time to come.

  • Baking a French orange tart for the dinner party

  • Baking is my hobby, and though I do plenty of it, I'd still consider myself a beginner. There are plenty of creations I don't dare even attempt, but in anticipation of the dinner party mentioned above, I thought I'd try to ease out of my comfort zone with a recipe out of a cookbook featuring fancy desserts from across the globe. This particular one is called "Scandalous Orange Tart", probably because it used more butter than I ever thought possible could go into one item. Day one was devoted to making the short crust for the base of the tart, while day two was about creating the double layer of almond/orange filling and orange cream topping, then bringing them all together for the final bake. I'm still no good when it comes to dexterous pastry rolling, but fortunately, I was able to hand mold the crust into the semblance of its correct shape and thickness. The final product was delicious, though I don't know how often I'm going to make a recipe that has so many ingredients, takes so much time, and uses so many dishes. It was worth it though, even for the burn mark I'm still sporting a month later from the tart pan.

  • Embracing global culinary culture with Jack and Corey

  • I've always liked eating foods from around the globe, but in this current climate of bigotry and xenophobia, it's become even more important to me to be welcoming to people of other nations, even if it's only by going to their restaurants and stuffing myself. One such place is Sameem, an Afghan restaurant in the Grove neighborhood of St. Louis. In fact, according to their site, it's the only Afghan restaurant in Missouri. It's walking distance from my friends Jack and Corey's place, and it's become somewhat of a ritual for us to wander down there, get a platter of sambosas and pakowras to share, and then delve into our separate entrees. I've become very enamored of the lamb beriani, a dish that involves rice, green peas, chickpeas, garlic, and a zillion spices. Am I solving the immigration crisis by eating delicious lamb? Undoubtedly not. But every time I eat there, it reminds me to do what I can to make our community a better place for everyone.

  • Watching people try the milkshakes at Layla for the first time

  • Not once, but twice over the past month, I've gone to eat at Layla. Their burgers are always excellent, but what has really made these outings special is watching people who haven't been there before try their milkshakes. My favorite is the Couch Potato, a chocolate shake which includes peanut butter and chopped up pretzel bits. Gnat took one taste of it, and promptly stole half. Later, I went for lunch with my friend Pam, and watching her face light up upon her first sip of the Veruca Salt (salted caramel and vanilla ice cream) was worth the price of the entire meal.

  • A cathartic sangria Monday at Onesto

  • Once a week, local restaurant Onesto runs specials on pitchers of sangria. Far from the traditional sangria, Onesto likes to experiment with strange flavors. Sometimes, it's wonderful, and sometimes, it's...not for me. In February, the one we tried was grapefruit-based, and wound up being quite good. The gathering of friends there that night have all had tragedy or intense struggle touch our lives recently, and I can't describe how much of a pressure release it was simply to gather and talk and sip our drinks. Events like this are what Flavor of the Month is really all about; how a simple glass of sangria with friends can change your whole outlook.

  • A traditional candy for a wildly untraditional Oscar night

  • When I was a little kid, my mom used to make Buckeyes - they're those balls of peanut butter candy that are partially-dipped in melted chocolate, and then chilled to harden. As I grew up, my mom stopped making them for some unknown reason. What's particularly weird is that when I talk to other people my age, many of them have had the same experience. Their moms made buckeyes, and then some cosmic signal went out across the universe, and the stream of candy goodness ceased. I have no idea how to explain this societal hiccup, but I knew the remedy, so I went in search of some Buckeye recipes. Tempering chocolate is always a pain, so really the most joyous part of this experience was discovering a shortcut method that requires only chocolate chips, shortening, and a microwave. I've made a couple of batches now, some more successful than others. The most recent batch went to Tiffany's Oscar party, where we were casually enjoying this childhood favorite when all of a sudden, they announced the wrong Best Picture winner. A cultural tremor that big just might link Buckeyes with this snafu in my mind for the rest of time. Situations around Buckeyes just keep getting weirder.