Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dining Out and Dining In

We eat out a lot.

Like, a whole lot.

Usually, I try to plan for a week's worth of dinners when I go to the grocery store, knowing that we will likely have dinner out on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And possibly any other week days when I am too tired or when there's an after work activity.

Which is a lot.

Lately, we've not been feeling warmly towards the fast-food and fast-casual dining establishments in our area.

Last week, for example, when I picked up AJ, I told her what I had planned to cook for dinner, using my carefully designed menu that would use up leftovers while making something new. I felt terrible from my lingering cold, and really didn't want to cook, even as minimally as I had planned. She said, "Aw, I was hoping to go to Bojangles." So we picked up Ben and went, knowing as we headed out that he does not like the place. The service is spotty, the drink selection is terrible, and the food is not that great. AJ chose some sort of all-carb vegetarian fare and I ordered the same thing I ordered every time I went out to eat when I was a child: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. I thought it was great - comfort food in the highest, with a biscuit to boot. None of us was impressed, although I think AJ was glad she got what she wanted. So we're putting Bojangles on the no-go list for a while.

Then, at some point, we went to Zaxby's. They had mailed us coupons, and I planned to use them. Of course, when we got there, what we had to buy to use the coupon was more expensive than what we normally buy, but, still not feeling well, I would not be deterred. The cashier confused me. AJ complained the whole time and barely ate. The place was piping in contemporary Christian music like it would fool us into thinking it was Chick-fil-A. So, this is also on the no-go list, or at least the do not go with Anna June list.

I am always up for adventure, and, when it was my turn to pick, I wanted to try the new Shark's Fish and Chicken in our neighborhood. It's a chain, which is not new, but I had never been. I realized it would be soul food, but I happen to like soul food, so we went, over loud complaints. Everyone was behaved well while there, but Ben did not get what he expected when he asked for his chicken fingers to be dipped in buffalo sauce. When he asked for sauce on the side, he got hot sauce. He went back and asked again, to get the real buffalo sauce. What I ordered was fine, but since they hated it, we will not be going back (or at least I will not be going back with them).

Evidently, we're systematically eliminating all of the places in the neighborhood that serve fried boneless chicken breasts that are not Chick-fil-A.

Honeybaked Ham is usually one of our favorites, and since we had to go to Home Depot, I suggested it for lunch yesterday. This was not a great plan, as it turns out. First of all, there was one employee. Just one. He had to take calls, take lunch orders, take the money, and fix the food. I guess it should have been OK - they're not typically overrun with business. But this guy, although he was polite, did not get an A+ from us. We ordered a "kid's meal with a ham sandwich," which is not on the menu. Often, employees will ring this up at a lower price, and the child can choose either chips or a cookie, in addition to a drink. Instead, we were charged for (and given) a full-price ham sandwich and a full-price drink. And AJ wanted only meat and lettuce, but got the works. To her credit, she ate it all, but this is back on the no-go list.  This is how bored she was waiting for the one guy to make her sandwich.

Also recently, we ventured out of the neighborhood to Chili's, as Ben had a gift card there (thanks, Grandpa!). We like Chili's in general, but the ones in our area seem to be pretty bad. Once, we waited forever at the Fultondale one, where we went after some kind of car repair in the area, I believe. At the one in Trussville, which was already the worst in our opinion because of the food poisoning incident many years ago, we waited so long we complained. I decided we would try the Homewood location, as I remember it having been OK many years ago. It's not anymore. The wait for food was long (although it gave us the opportunity to practice spelling words with AJ), the staff member seemed to pass by our table every few minutes only to ignore us and our empty glasses completely, and our bottomless chips and salsa were, in fact, not bottomless if they don't get refilled. Chili's is on the no-go list now, too, since we've ruled out all three in the area.

I'm not saying all chains are bad. I'm not saying all places to eat in our neighborhood are terrible. I'm not saying that we're entitled to excellent food for a low price with fast service at every single place in town (in fact, at most places, you can only get 2 of those 3 - it is dang near impossible to be fast, cheap, AND good.)

I am saying that we've had a run of bad luck lately, and will be trying to eat at home more.

Here are some of our very recent adventures in eating at home!

First, on Saturday, Ben asked if I could make some Ro-Tel dip for us to eat while we watched the Packers game. I fell asleep at halftime, but here's how to make the dip: it is 2 ingredients. The photo shows the author using Velveeta's "queso blanco" but I use regular Velveeta. Either way, not real food but really good. 

We had also decided that Ro-Tel dip did not qualify as dinner, so AJ and I made Greek Flatbreads in our new toaster oven. It's the first "idea" in this article about 5 things to make in your toaster oven. AJ brushed the olive oil on the pita and assembled the ingredients on top like a pizza. She liked it, and it even included vegetables, so I consider it a keeper.

Another success from this weekend: Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup. For me, we had to do this on a weekend because it cooks for 5 hours, and on weekdays, we're gone way longer. Drawbacks - when I was shredding the chicken Ben said it smelled like dog food, because evidently his grandmother used to boil chicken specifically for dogs. To me, it just smelled like boiled chicken. He had two helpings, and AJ took some in her new thermos to school for lunch today. Winning all around.

Yesterday, on the holiday, AJ and I tried to make this chicken, green beans, and potatoes dish. It went great and tasted pretty good except for one thing: I had made my own Italian Seasoning for an earlier recipe. I looked up how much is in a packet, and tried to use the exact amount to make it equivalent (I even weighed it)! But it was way, way too much seasoning. Evidently, those packets use something as filler to weigh it down. That's another reason not to use seasoning packets in general, but next time I'm following random people on the internet to eat what they eat, I should probably just invest in being correct by doing what they say.

One other recent near miss has been these sloppy joes. I thought they were fine, but no one else would eat them. Good thing there were other alternatives available. I froze the rest...I will have some good lunches in the future.

And with all of that, I am hungry and off to lunch.


Annie Gallitz said...

BAD luck , lately , for real !!!You must be hungry........ I liked the chicken ./ green beans / red potatoes dish!! Sounds like MY KIND of easy!! ( Except, that I do not like my chicken pale like that I like it BROWNED, ( how would I do that? I finally bought some asparagus; I'm about to try your baked recipe for that; ( I;m a little behind.......)

Laura Gallitz said...

I don't think you can brown it in this scenario. To brown it, you'd really have to sautee it for a while in hot oil. If you added that step, it would be done before baking and probably be burned.