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Applebee’s Linden

Sampling Tyler Florence’s corporate handiwork had to be done. I just didn’t realize it would happen so soon. It was 9pm, Saturday, and we were in a Linden, NJ strip mall parking lot. I’d already eaten at the Chevy’s earlier this year and wasn’t feeling inspired by Boulder Creek Steakhouse (I like lots of little caloric things not one big chain restaurant steak) so it was Applebee’s by default.

Dip We tempted fate and ordered the spinach and artichoke dip. E coli is passe by now, right? I’m all for unneccesary fat but do you really need a huge side dollop of sour cream (not pictured) to accompany a crock of melted cheese?

I lamed out and instead of getting the crispy brick chicken I tried the non-Florence bistro steak sandwich instead (I wanted fries, not a salad). Luckily, James came through and got the bruschetta burger. The thing was like a damn shape shifter, no matter how many times I snapped shots the pesto foccacia creation turned out blurry.

C6_bruschettaburger_det The most remarkable thing about Tyler Florence’s "huge flavors" (next to the giant photo of his beginning to pudge-up mug emblazoned on the front of all the menus. I know I’m not the first to notice his treading into the fat man waiting to happen territory of D’nofrio, DiCaprio and Sarsgaard) that I sampled were the "crispy garlic fries sprinkled with shaved Parmesan," which tasted supremely unhealthy. I grabbed a few out of James's ramekin (yeah, the TF fries come in a freaking ramekin—mine were just scattered on the plate) and was like “those are really good.” They were sprinkled with rosemary (which you’d think they’d mention as it sounds vaguely upscale) and wet like the top of movie theater popcorn.

What the hell did they do to those things to give them that addictive buttery taste? Perhaps those huge flavors are the result of kitchen chemistry, trans fats and food additives. All I know is it worked on me.

Applebee's * 671 W. Edger Rd., Linden, NJ

Sunday Night Special: Spicy Cold Noodles

I could've predicted that the second sick days were no longer a part of my life, I'd get sick. Last week was the first week that I was needed to come every day and I had to stay home Wednesday so I could lay in bed. I didn't even wake up until 12:30pm today and now I'm so exhausted I'm about to temporarily hit the hay and it's only 6pm.

Spicy_tripe I've been craving chewy spicy things like crazy. I think it's because I barely have any taste in my mouth and head's all stuffed up, so burning and chomping give me a boost. Today I've been eating spicy bamboo shoots from the jar and tripe from a plastic container. I'm not a fount of knowledge where Chinese food is concerned but I try and food hobbies keeps me out of trouble. (I'm so irked. This afternoon I wanted to watch the first installment of the new Gourmet show Diary of a Foodie, especially since it was a China episode, but something was wrong with channel 13; the image kept blinking and the sound was sputtering. I DVR'd it and now the episode is totally unwatchable. And to add insult to injury, both channels on either side were fine. Unfortunately, I had no desire Buried Secrets on 12/Lifetime or The Sandlot on 14/ABC Family.) I'm not clear how you're supposed to eat these often-pickled condiments. Do you put a couple spoonfuls over rice? Eat them on the side with other dishes?

Spicy_bamboo_shot_bottleI don't know who makes these bamboo shoots, the only English clue reads Hunan ZhuZhou Aolin Seasoning Foods Factory, which turns up zilch if you Google it. I might just be drawn to this brand because of the cute fire-breathing chile logo. I usually get their spicy radish variety, which comes with a red cap rather than a purple one. The ingredients listed are simply bamboo shoot slice, sesame oil, red pepper and salt but it seems like there's something else in there. The mushy, oily crunchy consistency almost feels like canned sardines.

Yesterday I went on one of my NJ shopping-for-things-I-could-find-in-NYC-but-don't-have-the-patience-to-do-so missions and hit Costco, Trader Joe's, Home Depot, Pathmark, Applebee's (more later) and Kam Man.

There are plenty of Asian grocery stores in NYC, just as there are numerous American grocery stores. And they're cramped and crowded and infuriating. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up in an urban setting nor a third world nation, so the charm of fighting for space and skimming shelves while being jostled is lost on me. Hong Kong Supermarket in South Plainfield is a lovable wide aisled gargantuan, my favorite, but I didn't make it out there yesterday. Kam Man in Edison isn't necessarily more spacious than its inner city counterparts, but it's more manageable by suburban default. It's easy to maneuver and the shoppers are relatively well behaved.

Kam_man_ingredients It can be painful trying to read packages or even stand still at the Hong Kong Supermarket in Sunset Park. No matter how you position yourself you're invariably in someone's way. Like I said, I'm no Chinese pro so I appreciated being able to leisurely scout out all the items on my list in peace. And almost everything I needed was strangely in a one foot radius: dried tsao-ko, which I'd never heard of but need for a red-braised dish, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chiles, Chinkiang vinegar and sesame oil.

I originally had plans to make a bunch of Sichuan dishes tonight but ended up solo this Sunday and hate making tons of food just for myself. Mondays I work till midnight. So, the beef and lotus roots will have to wait. Tonight I went simple made a cold noodle recipe from Land of Plenty.

Spicy_cold_noodles I suspect these noodles might be the dish pictured on the cover of the book. If so, mine don't resemble that aspirational model in the slightest. I tossed mine which gave them a murkiness instead of sheen and used a full 16-ounce package of noodles instead of the suggested half-pound so the overall appearance was dry, not that slick, chile oil Sichuan style. But hey, they still tasted good.

Spicy Cold Noodles with Chicken Slivers
Ji Si Liang Mian

About ½ pound fresh Chinese noodles, Shanghai-style, a little thicker than spaghetti
1 ½ tablesppons peanut or salad oil
3 ounces bean sprouts
1 small cooked chicken breast or some leftover chicken meat
4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons sesame paste, thinned with 1 tablespoon water
1 ½ tablespoon dark soy sauce
½ tablespoon light soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
2-3 cloves or garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper
2-3 tablespoons chili oil with chile flakes
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling water until they are just al dente-take care not to overcook them. Rinse with hot water from the kettle, shake them in a colander and quickly spread them out to dry. Sprinkle over the peanut oil and mix it in with chopsticks to prevent the noodles from sticking together.

Blanch the bean sprouts for a few seconds in boiling water, then refresh in cold water. Drain them well. Squash the chicken breast slightly or whack it with a rolling pink to loosen the fibers, and tear or cut it into slivers about ¼ inch thick.

When the noodles and bean sprouts are completely cold, lay the bean sprouts in the bottom of your serving bowl or bowls. Add the noodles.

To serve, either combine all the seasonings in a bowl and pour the mixture over the noodles, or just scatter them over one by one. Top the dish with a small pile of chicken slivers and a scattering of scallions. Allow your guests to toss everything together at the table.

Serves 4 as a snack, 2-3 as a main lunch dish

The Food Chain

Rico There is almost nothing quite so awesome as scary beings eating themselves. This anthropomorphic ice cream eating ice cream, cartoon cow devouring slices of its own hindquarters concept is my new favorite Flickr pick me up.

Ah…Autophagia and Cut Me, Wicket Servant also tread into this tasty yet terrifying realm.

Chicken cannibal photo from bunchofpants on Flickr.

Food 411

Tylerflorence_foodnetwork500 The new and improved incarnation of Chowhound has carved out a board dedicated to chain restaurants. I'm sure it was a separating wheat from the chaff move, as many foodies take the topic as a personal affront. I just love that there's a forum with such focus.

Apparently, Ruby Tuesday is coming to Times Square next spring. Currently, the nearest location is in Elizabeth, NJ, also home to NYC's closest Ikea. I don't have particularly strong feelings about Ruby Tuesday, it's not a restaurant I grew up with or have any emotional attachment to. On my first ever visit just a few months ago, I threw up in the bathroom (not due to their food but now the connotation between RT and puke is hard to erase). I've always thought of it as an oddball chain, kind of outside the Olive Garden, Applebee's canon, people are very fond of their burgers.

Speaking of feeling good in the neighborhood, Tyler Florence and his "huge flavors" is Applebee's new gimmick which doesn't surprise me in the least. Did Tyler ever strike anyone as highbrow in the first place? I'm not clear on how much name and face recognition he has, though. Is he even in the Rachael Ray/Emeril eschelon? No matter, that bruschetta burger speaks for itself.

I realize the time is long past to mourn the loss of favorite (or even not-so-favorite) songs to commercial jingles. When Of Montreal's "Wraith Pinned to the Mist" gets turned into an Outback Steakhouse shill, nothing's shocking. But I was mildly put off by Kohl's appropriating Big Country's only U.S. hit to advertise mediocre clothing (I've only been to Kohl's once and it wasn't very memorable) with this ad campaign using catch phrase signage like Transformation Road, Transformation Place and Transformation Trail interspersed with a pregnant woman making a bed and marriage proposal from some guy in a velvet blazer. God rest poor Stuart Adamson's soul.