I finally got my hands on red lentils today, and the first thing I did was whip up a batch of my ever mutating lentil soup recipe. I decided I’d add bulgur into this one as well, but not a lot of it (ca 2 oz). And I increased the proportion of garam masala, coriander and cumin by 50%. Got the soup going, waited a bit, tossed in the quinoa and bulgur, added spices, added water, let it get to a simmer again and took stock of what I made.

Good looking and tasting soup, but the lentils have fallen apart.

Good looking and tasting soup, but the lentils have fallen apart.

It’s a good tasting soup, but the red lentils, purchased split, are dissolved into the broth, and because of my liberal use of Indian style spices, even the color of the soup has reverted back to a greenish hue. It tastes really good, but I do like actually seeing my lentils after I’m done.

On a totally different front, found two new food links that I really like. The first is a recipe where lentil soup is topped with cilantro, and the second is a red quinoa-white quinoa pilaf. Both look really delicious.

Applebee’s is a moderately trendy restaurant, and by that I mean they have fully embraced the ethic of “change is good”.  They change their menu often. There are good reasons for doing so, one of which is by having seasonal menus, they can take full advantage of the freshest produce (and the modern American style is all about fresh produce). There is also the observation that new menu items bring in more traffic to a restaurant.

Applebee’s isn’t the only restaurant embracing the new ethic. I see it in force at TGI Fridays (Pleasant Hill), at Chilis (124 and Webb Ginn House Road), at Burger King (Oak Road and Five Forks), at the English pub in Norcross, at most well-run mid-priced chains. This is, of course, entirely opposite of the approach that an old traditional restaurant would use. The counterexample coming to mind right now is Matthew’s Cafeteria in Tucker, still going strong with its stock menu.

I’ve eaten at this Applebee’s several times, but the always changing menu presents a problem. I could recommend a dish, but it might be gone next week, next month, next year. They have specials by Food Channel celebrity chef Tyler Florence, but I’ve had indifferent luck with those specials. Sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are not. I’ve had especially good luck with Applebee’s riblets, which are a fatty juicy meat cooked in the barbecue style. I can’t tell you the cut of the meat. I can tell you a riblet basket with fries is a totally incorrect, delightful, guilty pleasure.

I like the wings, in my memory. The salads are fine, and the burgers reliable. This location isn’t as packed as other trendy restaurants up and down Scenic Highway, though it can be crowded and you can have to wait. As the Snellville Applebee’s is very well located (in the same mall area as Target, near the 124, Ronald Reagan intersection, and near to the Border’s bookstore), location and convenience to nearby shopping may make your choice. This isn’t a bad one. Just be cautious when dealing with the food special of the moment.

There was a long and interesting post in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution blog that people answered for days and weeks, giving their opinions of what the best barbecue in Georgia is. I took some time, read every post, scored every favorable comment, every negative comment, and every eh, it’s ok comment. Coming up with a score based on the comments, I rank the best of Georgia as so:

Fresh Air, Jackson GA and Macon GA                 55.0  93.7%
Harolds, McDonough Blvd, Lakewood GA               23.0  82.9%
Sam and Daves BBQ1, Marietta, GA                   16.5  88.1%
Fatt Matts, Atl                                    14.5  67.1%
Fincher's, Houston Ave, Macon                      13.5  86.1%
Fox Brothers BBQ, DeKalb Ave                       12.0 100.0%
Two Brothers BBQ, Ballground                       12.0  87.5%
Swallow in the Hollow, Roswell                     11.0  91.7%
Dean's, Jonesboro                                  10.0 100.0%
Hudson's Hickory House, US 78, Douglasville        10.0 100.0%
JJ's Rib Shack, Campbellton Road                   10.0  91.7%
Sconyers, Augusta GA                               10.0 100.0%
Vandy's, Statesboro                                10.0  85.7%

The first number after the name of the restaurant is the score, which is a point for each positive vote, 1/2 point for a ok vote and -1 for a negative vote. The percentage is the percentage of favorable votes, expressed as a point for a positive vote, 1/2 point for a negative vote and that total divided by all votes for the restaurant. We would have simply left this as the top 10, but 9-13 were a tie, so far as we were concerned, so we’ve posted the top 13. If you want to know more about individual restaurants, please read the accompanying link.

What people want  is as individual as a fingerprint.  For now, however, these sites and links have caught my eye, and I’ll let others have a go at them, if they wish.

This is a good looking soup.

More notes on the super grain quinoa, and how to use it. Quinoa is so easy to make, I suspect it goes mainstream in a few years.

Some brief links on food blogs I’ve enjoyed reading. This is a good looking tabouleh salad.  This is a quick article on cooking pearled barley (yum!). And Modern Domestic has a pound cake series that leaves my mouth watering (her comments about food shows are also very amusing).

I have an interest in lamb, since it’s generally available in more reasonable portions than steak and tends to be cheaper. I also like the taste. Three lamb links that caught my eye are these. Steve Raichlen has a nice post on a lamb rub (looks like a curry to me *^^*), The Real Epicurean gets down and simple with lamb steaks, and this post on lamb curry looks worth picking up and trying sometime. Well, that time when I buy a six pack of spice mills and toast my own seeds (gotta be a cheaper way)..

Hackerette has some nice quick ways to cook pasta. More on pasta: if it’s made right, it’s made from hard wheat. I spent a summer in a grain elevator, and the rule of thumb is, the harder the wheat, the higher the protein content (up to 15% in the case of some hard wheats). I don’t know why pasta, made from hard wheats, tags in at a mere 10% protein content, but I suspect it’s because the US of A sets up grades and 10% is the minimum to get to the best grade, with regard to pasta.

I like this blogger’s style. Can’t tell you why. Maybe it’s because I come from a family of Texans, and he’s in Texas. But I enjoyed this post.

When I buy some guava paste (I’ve seen sticks and tins so far, not sure which is best) I have to try this guava pie.

Finally, my wife has a life long affection for Cracker Jack. So, sometime, I’ll have to show her this caramel corn recipe.

I wasn’t expecting to touch amaranth until breakfast, and there are no photos, just some fast comments. I came home and most of my dinner was already cooked for me, but I needed a side and didn’t want to bother with a frozen entree. I had tried quinoa before and it worked just fine, light and nutty. I had a bit of lamb, still warm, so I made a red wine reduction (cabernet sauvignon this time, better than shiraz), and got out the amaranth.

I used 3 ounces (by volume) of amaranth in 6 ounces of water, in a 2 quart saucepan with glass lid, heated to a boil, and reduced to a simmer. I started with the pot covered, and uncovered it around 14-15 minutes because it was looking watery. It was visibly different within 12 minutes, but I cooked it a whole 20 minutes, to get rid of as much water as I could. Sources I’ve seen say it takes 18-20 minutes to cook.

Amaranth is mild, has a nutty flavor, I’ve heard others write of malt overtones. That’s possible. The superior protein content (also here) of amaranth makes this an interesting alternative to rice, or corn. The seeds are tiny, much smaller than quinoa or barley, and so it doesn’t have the satisfying chewiness I get with cooked quinoa and barley. I can’t decide whether it reminds me of cream of wheat or malt-o-meal, but it’s reminding me of one of those. Of the two “super grains”, I think I prefer quinoa, but wouldn’t turn this down.

I ate all of it. I don’t regret it one bit.

I’ve been promising I’ll test both quinoa and amaranth in terms of their breakfast cereal appeal. I didn’t want to cook for 5, just 1, and the guiding principle was KISS (keep it simple, stupid). So, I started with 1/4 cup of quinoa and 1/2 cup of cold water. Put it on the stove and heated. Started with cold water, turned up the heat, waited till it was boiling, reduced temperature, trying to get it to simmer. Never did really succeed in finding an optimum temperature, was playing with temperature throughout. After 15 minutes it was done.

Plain cooked quinoa makes a fine breakfast cereal.

Plain cooked quinoa makes a fine breakfast cereal.

It smelled good when taking it out of the pan. I was concerned I would have to add something to make it palatable, but I shouldn’t have been so worried. It smelled so good, some of the quinoa never made it into the breakfast bowl. It has a nutty flavor, sufficient to stand on its own without any additives. If you were to make a regular routine of the grain, however, you might want to add things, like fruits or nuts, or a little brown sugar, to vary the flavor of what you eat.

I enjoyed it immensely. If you have the patience to watch the pot over the 15 minutes it cooks, you should be able to succeed.  Should work well in a bachelor kitchen. Should work well as a side dish.

Issues? It’s a small grain. That makes it hard to wash, hard to handle. There will be transfer losses.

It have nothing against oatmeal per se, I’ve eaten a ton of it and if I were a regular breakfast eater, I’d probably eat more of it. It’s a grain, it’s cheap, it cooks fast. If you look at the nutrition profile for plain instant oatmeal on the nutritiondata site, you’ll see it’s pretty good for you. However, as we enter the 21st century, there are two whole “grains” that have an excellent nutritional profile, and equally important, they cook fast. These two are amaranth and quinoa.

Amaranth is on the left. Quinoa is in the middle. Pearled barley is on the right.

Amaranth is on the left. Quinoa is in the middle. Pearled barley is on the right.

For now I’ve been using them as part of the grain component in various soups, and Deborah Madison has suggested soups using the mix of corn, amaranth and quinoa. I’m curious if either of these can be used as a direct substitute for oatmeal in the morning meal. Yes, there will be more cooking time with these two than with instant oatmeal, but not too much more, and they will cook faster than pearled barley, for example.

Looking for people who have traveled this path, I find a recipe for breakfast quinoa here, and one for amaranth here. The Blogger Reforming Daily notes that both amaranth and quinoa are gluten free.

I intend to try both over the next few days, and I’ll report the results for quinoa here, and eventually amaranth here.