fighting the lack of good ideas

melting pot – but better-er :)

Earlier this week my wife decided to surprise me with a dinner she thought-of more-or-less on-the-spot.

We are both big fans of The Melting Pot. Tuesday she popped out to Kroger and bought a small package of potatoes, some various broths, and an absolutely AMAZING meat rub spice mix. Also she found some strawberries (on sale – how cool), and “melting chocolate” (no idea how this is different from “normal” chocolate, but whatever).

Unbeknownst to me while I was finishing work for the day, she was busy in the kitchen mixing-up a broth to boil the veggies in, and eventually cook some filet we had in the freezer (which she had also been thawing – again on the sly in the kitchen while I was working).

Her approximate recipe for the main course:

  • 1 small chicken broth
  • 3 small vegetable broths
  • veggies per preference (ours were carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes)
  • small can of pineapple chunks – including the juice
  • spice-rubbed filet

Green goddess (Melting Pot’s ‘signature’ spread):

  • 1/2 C sour cream
  • >1/2 C cream cheese
  • chopped chives


  • ~1 C melting chocolate
  • splash of Southern Comfort (flambeed to remove alcohol content, but leave flavor)
  • fresh strawberries

Cooking method:

  • heat broth to near-boiling (I think this is “simmering” – but I’m not positive on the technical term)
  • add veggies
  • after veggies are between ‘hot’ and ‘tender’, add rubbed filet chunks (15-25 minutes, depending on heat and preference)
  • remove from heat 2-3 minutes later and serve

Dessert method:

  • melt chocolate in microwave- and flame-safe container
  • add splash of SoCo
  • flambe
  • dip strawberries

This was an awesome dinner – not to mention less expensive than Melting Pot by, oh, 70% – and I was very sad I got too full to finish all of it 🙂

Thanks, babe!

BTW – LivingSocial had a Melting Pot special this week (which we have taken advantage of). Not sure if it’s still available, but check it out – it’s half off 🙂

*UPDATE@201107071203* the LivingSocial special has been sold out.


I’ve been a bit lax lately on reviewing places I’ve been to eat.

Since March, I’ve traveled a few times for both work and pleasure, and have gotten to enjoy several local establishments:

  • Foundry Grille
  • Verve
  • Seasons
  • Patrick O’Shea’s
  • Bensi
  • Roots Steakhouse
  • The Cheese Shop
  • Thai Kitchen
  • Food For Thought
  • Captain George’s
  • Tucano’s

Hopefully over the next few weeks, I’ll have the time to do a write-up on each.

square foot gardening by mel bartholomew

Years ago, my mom and I would routinely try to catch episodes of Square Foot Gardening (SFG) on PBS.

Hosted by Mel Bartholomew, a retired civil engineer, SFG was a program whose aim was to enable gardening by the masses in confined spaces (though, naturally, if can be implemented in larger settings as well). Mr Bartholomew’s aim was to take his years of experience as an engineer, and turn gardening on its head: too much focus was (and still is, though less prominently now) given to gardening as miniaturized farming, rather than as a practice in its own right. It also promoted organic gardening and growing years before the current organic marketing wave.

The basic premise of SFG is to plant cooperatively, intensively, rotatively, and sequentially (see the, and sites for even more information).

  • Cooperatively: plant different types of flowers and vegetables together to reduce the likelihood for disease transmission, to ward-off predators, and to give a dynamic look to the garden.
  • Intensively: carrots only needs a few cubic inches of good soil in which to grow – plant them 4×4 in a 1’x1′ square.
  • Rotatively: once a given crop has finished, reuse the plot, but for a different plant type to not overly wear-out the soil.
  • Sequentially: if you want to go with a more homogeneous garden, plant in a cyclic fashion to spread the harvest over a period of time throughout the year

Soil preparation takes a bit of practice, but once you have a garden going, continually supplying compost should become easier (take all garden waste and add it to the pile). The only ingredient you should need to buy on a semi-frequent basis is peat moss, and that only once every 2-3 years per box. Vermiculite refresh is needed less often – closer to every 4-5 years per box.

The program and book had enough of a lasting impact on me that I used it as the basis for a paper in college – Eating Off the Grid (full PDF^*` and appendix).

A second book referenced in the television series, CA$H from Square Foot Gardening (of which I also own a copy), goes into further detail of expanding the SFG approach into a source for local users to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables!) of your labors, in exchange for compensation. In particular, Mel highlights supplying local restaurants and/or farmer’s markets with your produce.

If you are interested in growing even some of your own food, I strongly recommend Square Foot Gardening as the place to start.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Accessibility: 5/5
  • Understandability: 4/5
  • Ease of implementation: 4/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

^Prices accurate as of Jan 2006
*Yes – I know about the typo at the end of page 3 (“there” vs “their”) and on page 5 (“them” vs “the”)
`See also PYOP review for information on windbreaks

menu analysis – burger king

Burger King has a new series of sandwiches called “stackers“. It’s a cheeseburger with bacon (and fairly tasty, as fast-food burger go).

They come in three sizes: single, double, and triple. The single is $1, the double $2, and the triple $3.

What do you get on the sandwich? A bun, patty, cheese, sauce, and bacon. What about on the double? A bun, 2 patties, two cheeses, sauce, and bacon. The triple adds another patty and cheese.

Nifty. So for the cost of two single burgers, you get less bread and sauce. If you’re trying to cut-down on carbs, or don’t like the sauce much, that’s cool. But if you’re looking to maximize your caloric intake for dollar output, buy three singles and not one triple.

quick coffee

Last year for my birthday, my lovely wife bought me a Keurig coffee machine.

I have used several at different places of work, and had been wanting one for almost a year when she got me one – she’s pretty awesome 🙂

I had had a traditional drip coffee maker for years, but only broke it out infrequently – mostly when company came over – because I wouldn’t finish a a whole pot (even a smallish one) on my own, and I have a fundamental problem with throwing the extra coffee away (it’s the Scot in me).

The advantage of the Keurig, and its associated K-Cups, is that it makes one cup at a time: no muss, no fuss (to quote Ron Popeil).

Prior to the Keurig, I had used a Flavia machine at a customer site a few years ago (and at a prior employer), and it was cool – but a little too complicated: it’s very specific about how the packets need to be loaded, whereas the Keurig just accepts them dropped-in.

There are myriad makers, flavors, and styles of K-Cups that be used with the machine, including one that acts as a reusable filter where you can load-up your own coffee for quick brewing. My wife has become a fan of the various hot cocoas and chais available, while I enjoy many of the flavored and plain coffees and teas.

The output of the Keurig is not quite as good as a traditionally-brewed tea or coffee, but the speed FAR more than makes-up for it, in my opinion. And as a cost benefit, grabbing a ~$0.50 coffee from my kitchen in 60 seconds is better than ~$4.50 from Starbucks in 5 minutes through the drive through or having to walk-in. Do the coffee shops have “better” coffee? I think so. Is it 9x better? Rarely – if ever.

If you’re a coffee fan, but not to the level of “snob” or “picky”, then I think a Keurig would be a pretty cool addition to your kitchen.

melting pot

Normally I don’t like reviewing chains, but The Melting Pot is different. It’s a fondue place, and is a blast to eat at.

The first time I went was with my wife and parents-in-law the weekend before Thanksgiving. We were looking for a “fun” place to eat, and had been thinking about trying a fondue place for a while, so we went. We ordered a pair of their “Big Night Out France” dinners – two four-course fondue extravaganzas that allowed us to mix and match our “cooking styles” (in other words, the broths in which you cook your meat chunks).

So the cool thing about a fondue place is that you cook your own food at your table. The ingredients are brought out raw, and you spear them and set them in the near-boiling broth for 30-90 seconds (as done as you want). The four-course dinner started with a cheese appetizer round with chunks of bread and fruit to dip. Second was a selection of salads for each person at the table, and then came the coup de gras – the meat round! (My wife would say that the best part is the dessert, but she’s wrong 😉 )

The meat comes out raw and seasoned in a variety of marinades (we had duck l’orange, peppered sirloin, marinated fillet, chicken, shrimp, and lobster tail). There are also a host of sauces that can be added post-cooking to the different meats: far more than I could recall in detail 🙂

Our evening out was a blast – while we were worried that it would be hyper-formal or “too fancy”, it was fun. Fun enough that a couple weeks later I took my wife back for a smaller meal for just the two of us. The second time we went there was a small bit of excitement a few tables away from us: a couple on a date got engaged, and left with stars in their eyes.

Melting Pot is not a place I would recommend on a routine basis – full meals run in the neighborhood of $50 a person – but it is a lot of fun, and definitely worth going to for special events.

the julep cup

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a restaurant worth writing about. Last night I finally found one again.

To celebrate the two monthiversary of marrying my wife (since I had to miss the one month one with work travel), I decided to take her out to a nice place that wasn’t a chain (if possible).

After a coupe hours of searching food review in Lexington, perusing various websites like Google local results and Urbanspoon, I finally went to the old standby, OpenTable. OpenTable doesn’t have every possible restaurant listed, only ones that choose to participate. But it does allow you to look over user reviews, link to the restaurant’s menu, etc. (Yes, other sites do this, too, but OT adds the secret sauce.)

After finding The Julep Cup, less then 4 miles from our apartment, I decided that was where we should go. 111 Woodland Ave in Lexington is on the corner of E Main St, on the first floor of The Woodlands building (along with some other small shops, but we didn’t go in any of those).

For an appetizer, we ordered the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes and garden salads. For her main dish, my wife ordered the Linguine and Clams and I had their Ricotta and Pecorino Romano Raviolis. Our server, Truitt, was attentive without hovering (we also think he was new, because he was a little nervous, but he did an excellent job). Water and tea glasses were refilled, the courses of our meal arrived in a timely fashion, and we were able to enjoy our meal on their patio in the pleasant evening shade of a late summer day.

The linguine sauce was light but flavorful, and I’m not sure I’ve seen as many clams festooned across a dish that wasn’t just a pound of steamed clams before. My ravioli was fantastic, and the mushrooms and generous romano shavings on top added a nice contrast to the simple ricotta filling.

The Julep Cup (dinner menu) doesn’t require reservations, but they are suggested. Last night, they had plenty of seating available, but I would imagine that’s different seasonally, and on other nights of the week.

The outdoor seating was pleasant, and my wife and I are looking forward to dining there again soon.