Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tricks of the Restaurant Trade: 7 Ways Menus Make You Spend

I've long noticed the subtle tricks employed by restaurants to draw patrons' attention from the meal for which they came in and to the extras - appetizers, desserts, expensive beverages - they had no intention of ordering when they sat down. We've all been served by that really pushy waiter or waitress who strongly suggests the potato skins as we're perusing the entrees. Most of us have certainly walked into a fast food establishment intent on ordering a single cheeseburger and nothing else, only to be confronted by the menu board that tells us that for an additional $2.99 we can get two cheeseburgers, plus fries and a Coke - and we can supersize the whole thing for just fifty cents more! Why, we'd be crazy not to!

I came across this article on Yahoo this morning, and found it quite interesting. It probably won't change the frequency with which I eat out, nor will it affect the choices I make when I do; I'm not ordering the potato skins unless I want them - or more likely unless everyone at the table wants them. (Have you seen the size of a standard order of potato skins at a family-dining restaurant? It's practically a meal in itself.) Anyway, without further ado:

I am totally proud. My younger son Ezra recently graduated from the CIA. Not the government spy agency but the Culinary Institute of America. Based in Hyde Park, N.Y., it trains chefs and restaurant managers, and according to its website, is "recognized as the world's premier culinary college with an industry-wide reputation for excellence." I hope so, because, over the years, we paid a lot of tuition.

Ezra's education, however, included mastering some skills almost as surreptitious as those employed by a secret agent. Example: Menu engineering, the topic of his honors thesis.

"The menu is the heart of the restaurant. It embodies the restaurant's demographics, concept, physical factors and personality," Ezra wrote in solid prose that is an obvious genetic inheritance from his mother. But don't kid yourself. A menu, he confided to me in an exclusive interview, is also a sales vehicle, and many restaurants -- smart ones -- use it to get you to eat right. And, we're not talking about your health, but about their profits.

Restaurant dishes generally divide up four groups, says Ez. First come stars -- popular items for which diners are willing to pay much more than the dishes cost to make. Example: penne with vodka sauce. Plowhorses, are popular but less profitable items, like steak. Puzzlers are high-profit items that are tough to sell, say, sweetbreads. Finally, there are dogs that not many people like and aren't profitable. Why they are on anybody's menu, I'm not sure. Clever menu engineering exists to steer you to stars and puzzlers, to spend as much as possible and to enjoy doing it. After all, restaurateurs want repeat business.

There's nothing wrong with any of that. Nevertheless, before you order your next Lasagna Classico at Olive Garden, Crunchy Rabbit at Jean Georges in Manhattan or Egg McMuffin at You-Know-Where, you might want to be aware of these seven common menu ploys.

1. First in show. Many restaurants group their offerings under the obvious headings: pasta, beef, seafood, entrees, appetizers and so on. Testing has shown that if you decide on chicken, you are more likely to order the first item on the chicken list. That's where a savvy restaurant will place its most profitable chicken dish. A really sharp chef might put a puzzler like sweetbreads first in a grouping. "They only cost about $3, so the margin is huge," says Ez. Of course, you've got to hope that enough people like sweetbreads.

2. Menu Siberia. Unprofitable dishes, like a seafood combo plate that require expensive ingredients, and lots of work, are usually banished to a corner that's less noticeable or in a multi-page menu stashed on page five.

3. Visual aids. If you draw a line around it, people will order. That's why many menus box off something they want to promote. Chicken wings are a prime example. They're "garbage," says my son of one of my favorite noshes. "They cost pennies so they're huge profit items." Photos also sell dishes. An album of what look like ten-inch-high pies set on each table at Bakers Square make it hard to resist ordering a slice. Fancy-schmancy restaurants, however, like this one in Westport, Conn., consider photos déclassé; from them the most you'll get is a sketch or two.

4. Package deals. So you stop by McDonald's for a mid-afternoon burger. When you get to the counter, however, what's really in your face are photos of Extra Value Meals. You figure, says Ez, "Hey, I could eat two patties, I could use some fries, and now I'll get a soft drink too." The single burger you intended to buy is off in menu Siberia, on the board far to the right, but you've already spent more than you intended. A small percentage of the chain's 47 million customers dropping a few extra bucks each day translates to millions in additional revenue. Another example: Olive Garden's Bottomless Pasta Bowl ($8.95). "It's very unlikely you're going to eat more than two bowls," says Ez. And, as one whiny diner noted, you're like to scarf so many free breadsticks first that you won't have room for all those noodles.

5. Dollar-sign avoidance. Focus groups who've been asked to opine on menus display an acute discomfort with dollar signs and decimals. Keeping money as abstract as possible makes spending less threatening. Many high-tone foodie establishments that charge an arm and a leg for, say, a bowl of lentils and groats now omit such crass symbols from their menus -- like Spoonriver, a place I like in Minneapolis. I almost don't notice that I've paid $12.50 for a rather small chicken quesadilla. Once upon a time, menus used leader dots (... .) to connect the entree with the price. You won't find them much anymore either.

6. The small plate-large plate conundrum. A restaurant may offer two chicken Caesar salads, one for $9 and one for $12. You may think that you're getting a break ordering the small one, but, says Ez, that's really the size they want to sell. And if a diner decides, hmmm, I may as well get the larger one because I'll never get rich saving three bucks, the restaurant will throw on some extra lettuce, making the price differential almost pure profit.

7. Ingredient embroidery. Foodie-centric restaurants practically list the recipe for each dish making each ingredient sound ultra-special. (An item is more likely to sell if it dwells on the fact that, say, the cheese came from cows at the Brunschwagergrunt Farm in western Wisconsin or that the organic mushrooms were raised by a former duchess with an advanced degree in microbiology.) Even at a humble eatery, however, a dish labeled Mom's Special Mac and Cheese or "The BeeBop Bar's Mac and Four Cheese casserole" sells better than just plain old mac and cheese. "It may not be any more special than what you get somewhere else, but you'll start to think you can only get it there," says Ez. And that will keep you coming back again and again.

You won't find these gambits at every eatery. Not all restaurant owners plan their menus as carefully as they should. If they did, contends my kid, maybe they would stop placing entrées in the middle of the right hand page, prime menu real estate, because "most people who go to a restaurant are going to order an entrée anyway." he says. "That's where I'd put desserts."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What's a "food desert"? Hint: It's not something you eat when you've finished your dinner.

Imagine, if you will, a life where shopping for groceries entails paying a visit to a gas station convenience store. For a significant number of Americans who live in "food deserts" - areas of the industrialized world where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain* - this is an unfortunate reality. I've never lived in an area without easy access to multiple supermarkets and grocery stores, and I didn't think anyone in America did. Certainly not in my home state of California!

This article put some things in perspective for me.

Nearly 1 million Californians live in "food deserts" where there is no nearby supermarket or large grocery store, according to data released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Displayed in an interactive map, the data shows that nearly 13.5 million people – 46 percent of whom are classified as low-income – live in food deserts nationwide. Nearly 45 percent of the 976,467 Californians with low access to retail food outlets are low-income.

"The data is a key piece in how we get from the problem to the solution," said Judith Bell, president of PolicyLink, an economic and social equity research and advocacy group. "It will be a great resource for community leaders, for supermarket operators, for policymakers, to understand this incredibly significant and long-term problem."

Still, the information is limited because it's based on 2000 census data and a list of supermarkets and large grocery stores compiled in 2006, she said. The USDA plans to update its map with 2010 census data next year, she said.

"We know there are some places that are food deserts – that if you were actually walking through the blocks or walking through the community, you'd recognize it as a food desert," Bell said. "But that would not show up on the map."

To locate food deserts, the USDA evaluated population and income data in census tracts – relatively small areas within a county – and locations of supermarkets and large grocery stores.

In general, census tracts were identified as low-income if they had a poverty rate of at least 20 percent. People in those areas were considered low-income if their annual household income was 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level – $34,100 for a family of four in 2000. They had low access to a supermarket or large grocery store if they lived more than one mile away in an urban area or more than 10 miles away in a rural area.

Under these definitions, about 10 percent of the 65,000 census tracts in the U.S. contain food deserts.

People in these food deserts may travel outside their neighborhoods to find fresh and perishable foods, or they may end up paying more for the same products at smaller grocery or convenience stores, according to the USDA.

Food deserts can be found in 371 California census tracts, according to USDA data. The vast majority – 85 percent – are in urban areas. More than 1.9 million people live in these census tracts, and about half of them have low access to retail food stores.

Yet in 70 census tracts in the state, the entire population – more than 300,000 people all together – do not live near a supermarket or large grocery store.

"There are a lot of locations across the state of California where a grocery store would be viable," Bell said. "And then there are some places, in particular in rural communities, because this is a rural and an urban problem, where a full-scale grocery store could not be successful. In those communities ... we need to look for alternatives."

A bill by Assembly Speaker John Perez that would expand access to healthy foods in underserved communities calls for ending food deserts in seven years. AB 581, the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative, is pending.

The next time you find yourself looking for a parking space at your local supermarket, bemoaning the crowds that showed up to buy groceries at the exact same time you did, and cursing the shopper who got into the express lane with more items than the store allows, be thankful that you have the opportunity. It sounds like many people wish they could be in your shoes.

* Definition courtesy of Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sal's Seattle Dining Guide

We were supposed to be in Seattle last week. We'd planned to fly up Saturday morning and stay until Thursday. It was to be our daughter Gianna's first flight. However, since my dad worked for United Airlines, we fly standby and for the first time in twenty years we missed our flight. It's our own fault, since we neglected to determine that the week in question is quite possibly the busiest week of the summer in which to fly. Needless to say, we were disappointed, as much for the fact that we're missing out on a long-awaited opportunity to visit with family and friends as for the fact that Seattle is an awesome town of culinary wonderment.

Here's what we planned to eat while in the Emerald City:

Marination Mobile

I admit to being a newbie to the food truck scene. I think my only experience with them prior to trying out Marination is the seemingly dozens of roving trucks that patrol Redwood City, California, doling out awesome and inexpensive "street tacos"; and the catering truck that parked itself at my junior college in the foggy summer of 1996, where I occasionally purchased the unhealthiest of foodstuffs between my evening class and my night class. Neither of these compare, however, to the high-end eating establishments on wheels that are currently all the rage in cities like Los Angeles and New York. I don't live in a sprawling metropolitan area where such trucks are prominent, and I tend to prefer to eat with my rear end touching a chair of some sort. Of course, given the opportunity, I'd gladly eat standing up if the food was as good as the delicious offerings found at Marination, easily the best venue in Seattle for Hawaiian-Korean fusion. Recipients of an award for best food cart in America courtesy of Good Morning America, Marination serves up spam sliders, rice bowls, and (my personal favorite), tacos packed with kalbi beef, miso ginger chicken, kahlua pork and, according to their website, sexy tofu (the one variety I've not yet tried). I was lucky to stop there during my previous Seattle trip in December, and I can say without hyperbole that I've craved these tacos every day since.

I suck at embedding video. Click this link to check out video from Good Morning America's website, and try not to be tempted to book a flight to Seattle just to visit Marination.

Uli's Famous Sausage

Of the many reasons to come to Pike's Place Market, Seattle's famous public market - flying fish, local handicrafts, the world's first Starbucks location, an array of quaint shops and eateries - Uli's Famous Sausage is the one that keeps me coming back with each visit. Uli's probably carries more different sausages than you've heard of, beyond the standard bratwursts, hot links and Italian sausage (of which they carry mild and spicy "Vesuvius" varieties). At Uli's, the spectrum includes boudin blanc, boerewors, English bangers, and several kinds of chorizo, as well as almost twenty others. They ship to the continental United States in five pound increments up to twenty pounds, though the extent of my experience with Uli's consists of ordering sausage from their Pike's Place Market storefront. For a low price, especially considering the touristy location, you get a delicious, cooked-to-order sausage of your choosing, on a roll topped with mustard, onions and sauerkraut. Oddly, they have no relish, but I never miss it.

Blue Fire Mongolian Grill

I've been a fan of Mongolian barbecue for years. My first experience with it may have been at Toucan Charlie's, the award-winning buffet at the Atlantis Casino and Resort in Reno, Nevada; where I ate before I was old enough to legally gamble. For some reason, the blend of crisply-cooked vegetables, juicy meats and exotic seasonings has always electrified my palate. Blue Fire is located in Monroe, about an hour's drive northeast of Seattle. While visiting friends last December, we went to lunch there, and although there are Mongolian barbecue restaurants where we live, we were hoping to come back with our friends. In retrospect, there really wasn't anything notable that set Blue Fire apart from other Mongolian places, but as long as the guy working the grill washes his hands and switches from your original bowl to a clean one to avoid cross-contamination, I can't imagine any Mongolian BBQ restaurant not being worth a visit.

(Note that the above link is for the Maple Valley location, as I couldn't find a link for the Monroe location.)

Pyramid Alehouse

My love of beer knows no bounds. I'm not much of a pilsner drinker; in my opinion the fizzy yellow stuff that passes for beer in this country is a joke. No, I tend to stay away from your big name brewers as much as possible. The smaller the market share, the better the chance that I'll like the beer, and Pyramid is right in the middle of the scale between the big guys and the tiny microbrewers. Theirs is one of my favorite hefeweizens, and in my opinion nothing I've had there is bad. And yes, I know that there are no fewer than three locations in California, including one a short drive away in Downtown Sacramento, but for some reason I'm more likely to visit the Seattle location. This brewery, in the shadow of Safeco Field, is a must-stop. The menu consists of burgers, sandwiches, and other all-American favorites, and it's pretty good - I just don't happen to go there for the food.

The Lockspot Cafe

Walking distance from the Hiram Chittenden Locks, where tourists and locals alike come to watch watercraft transfer from salt water to fresh and vice-versa, this hole-in-the wall offers a menu featuring seafood, as well as burgers and the like. I haven't been there since 2005, but upon my last visit the food was good, the service was prompt, and the place was fairly quiet. Then again, they charged for refills, and the parking lot was packed, necessitating that we park at a meter. Now that I think of it, we probably would have skipped the Lock Spot, which I remember not so much for the food, but for their salmon chowder, which was so good it nearly drove my aunt Lindy insane. (Buy me a round sometime and I'll tell you the story.)

The Burger Express

Having planned to spend some time with family in nearby Federal Way, there was no way I was going to miss out on a trip to this small but awesome restaurant, where I've been eating since the early 1990s. One of the first independent burger joints I ever ate at, Burger Express features a fairly complicated menu that includes not just numerous variations of the hamburger and cheeseburger, but also shrimp, chili dogs, and deep-fried mushrooms. During my last visit I was dismayed to find that the burgers weren't quite as huge as I remembered them, and the service slower than I'd have liked, but everything tasted great, and their milkshakes were somehow even better than they were on previous visits. Burger Express makes them with honest-to-goodness milk, ice cream, fruit and/or syrup, in flavors including cherry, pineapple, banana, root beer, peanut butter, and apple. I'd normally never use a cliched expression like "Heaven in a cup", but it's the only one that fits.

You'll notice the lack of higher-end, upscale dining choices like The Capital Grille, Rock Salt, and The Met. Even though I love these establishments - can't go wrong with a good steak - the truth is that when I'm in Seattle I am far less likely to find myself at a dressy, upscale restaurant than I am a casual, lesser-known dive. I can get a delicious medium-rare steak and a baked potato in San Francisco, Sacramento, or any of a number of cities to which I travel more often than I do Seattle. But Marination, though on wheels, doesn't travel to me, so I must travel to it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The (Belated) Month in Food

I should have posted this about a month ago. My bad. Hopefully the June entry won't be a month late!

Pollo asado burrito from Taqueria Sinaloense in San Mateo.

Cochinita pibil. It's a delicious slow-roasted pork roast you might have heard of if you've seen Robert Rodriguez's film Once Upon a Time in Mexico. I cooked about ten pounds of the stuff for Katie's side of the family on Mother's Day.

The pibil was followed by strawberry shortcake.

Double Doubles and fries, from In -N- Out. I only ate one, though I was tempted to eat the other.

Hand-carved pastrami dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, salad and a wheat roll from Harry's Hofbrau in Foster City. I absolutely love Harry's food, moreso because, in my younger years, my Dad and I would eat dinner here frequently when my mom worked late. Fifteen or so years later, it's still awesome.

Homemade pasta. You read that right; homemade pasta. Who's got the energy to make pasta from scratch? This was part of an unbelievable four-course meal (salad, pasta, entree and dessert) served to Katie and I by our gifted-in-the-kitchen friend Mary. (No, I didn't take a picture of the salad.)

The chicken parmigiana that followed the pasta was phenomenal.

Dessert was apple crisp with vanilla ice cream.

Beef and lamb shawarma from Tannourine in San Mateo. I've been on a huge Mediterranean food kick lately, ever since eating at a Zankou Chicken in Anaheim during our most recent Disneyland trip.

Eggrolls from King Eggroll in San Jose. King Eggroll was highly recommended by Mr. Manuel and Miss Sassy Pants, and after eating the bounty of eggrolls we had ordered, I was immediately regretful that we hadn't ordered more. I'm not sure how it is that I'd never been there, but I will be back.

Oatmeal with cranberries and almonds. It was very healthy, but I ate it anyway.

Tacos (carnitas and chicken) from Plaza Jalisco (not to be confused with Jalisco Grill) in Roseville.

Fish and chips from Lil Biscuit House in San Mateo. Went here on a lark, and wasn’t disappointed by the food, though frankly their selection left a bit to be desired.

Barbecued hot dog, tri-tip, baked beans, bean salad, corn and cornbread. This is from a Memorial Day barbecue at my parents’ house.

Finishing the month off right, we have an awesome array of food consumed by yours truly for Mr. Manuel's birthday. Carnitas, chicken mole, rice, and salsa, all homemade. It bears noting that I prepared a batch of cochinita pibil for the party, but didn't touch it, opting instead to devour a couple plates of delicious food made by his mom and dad. For me, the highlight of the day was when his dad complimented me on the pibil. That's some very high praise!

Mr. Manuel’s birthday cake, which was not only a work of art, but delicious too. I picked at the fondant that made up the exterior well into the night, and I’m not sorry I did.

You may have noticed that the majority of my May photos were from establishments in the Bay Area as opposed to the greater Sacramento area. This is because once Katie returned to work after her maternity leave was up, I was priveleged enough to spend the month of May being a stay-at-home dad in the Bay Area. I had a blast bonding with my daughter.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Caryn's Awesome Buffalo Chicken Party Dip

As requested, here's the recipe for my sister-in-law Caryn's Awesome Buffalo Chicken Party Dip, which I first enjoyed on Superbowl Sunday.

3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
3/4 cup bleu cheese dressing
4 oz cream cheese
8 tablespoons Frank's Hot Wing Sauce

Layer above ingredients in 8x8 Pyrex dish
Top with shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Bake at 350 until cheese is melted

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Coconut Basil Chicken Burgers with Thai Peanut Pesto

A couple weeks ago I found myself craving a burger. Not just any burger, mind, but the sort of burger I'd never had before. Something gourmet and unusual, the sort of burger you might find in a high-end eatery. The sort of burger about which a purist might say, "That's not a burger." Not something that called for overpriced, trendy ingredients, necessarily, but the sort of burger that I wouldn't in a million years think to order. Or, more accurately, make. A challenge, if you will. And the most challenging part? I was going to invent this prodigious burger myself.

At our local Winco grocery store, I picked up ground chuck, ground chicken, and a variety of other ingredients - pepper bacon, gorgonzola and brie, and various seasonings and condiments I'd never used before. Bear in mind that I still had no idea what I was going to do with all this stuff; I had only the most rudimentary plan of putting some of them into my creation. I felt like a filmmaker who goes out on location without his shot list. I knew I'd have a lot to work with, but despite my best efforts I wondered if I would be able to put together anything of value without a real plan.

My afternoon grocery shopping trip cut short by a time-sensitive errand, I ran my purchases home and proceeded to fulfill my other obligation. Once it was complete, I headed home, aware that it was too late to do much in the way of kitchen experimentation. I called Katie and asked if she could look up a recipe online, and as I had to stop to pickup hamburger buns, I would also pick up whatever ingredients I didn't already have.

She texted me a list of ingredients for one recipe, and a moment later another, longer list for a more complex recipe. The longer list called for coconut milk, cilantro and Thai curry paste. It sounded like a challenge, for certain. At the Save Mart mere blocks from our house, I decided to look for Thai curry paste, the most obscure ingredient - to me, at least - and if I could find it with no problem, I would make the second recipe. Sure enough, after a trip to the Asian foods aisle, I found it with no trouble. They had both green and red curry paste, and with no further information in the text sent by Katie, I attempted to call her, to no avail. I grabbed green, later to find out that I needed red. Oh well.

At home, I looked up the specific recipe Katie had found, and began to work. As I perused the recipe, it became clear that I should have read it beforehand. Case in point: The list of ingredients Katie had texted me included shredded coconut and coconut milk, so I just bought a coconut. The website made it very clear that I could just as easily have bought a can of coconut milk and a small bag of shredded coconut. Not to worry; I'd never cracked a coconut before, and it was kind of fun.

Coconut milk looks an awful lot like water.

Here's the text of the recipe, found at Food Network's website.

Prep Time:
45 min

Cook Time:
8 min

6 burgers

For the Asian Pear Slaw:

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Asian pear, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks

For the Thai Peanut Pesto:

1/2 cup roasted and salted peanuts
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons roasted peanut oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

For the Patties:

1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 lime, zest grated
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
2 pounds coarsely ground chicken thighs
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 teaspoons sea salt
Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
6 seeded hamburger buns, split


Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

For the slaw:

Whisk together the lime juice and sugar in a medium-sized bowl to dissolve the sugar. Add the pear and carrot and toss to coat. Cover and chill until serving time.

For the pesto:

Place all of the ingredients except the tomatoes in a small food processor; process briefly until the mixture forms a coarse paste. Transfer to a small bowl and gently stir in the tomatoes. Cover and set aside.

For the patties:

Combine the coconut milk, lime zest, and lime juice in a 10-inch fire-proof skillet. Place the skillet on the grill rack and bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and reduced to 2/3 cup, about 15 minutes. Add the curry paste to the mixture and whisk until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled coconut milk mixture, basil, panko and salt. Using a large fork, mix the ingredients together gently but thoroughly. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and form the portions into patties to fit the buns, making a slight indentation in the center of each patty.

When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook for 4 minutes. Flip the patties, cover, and cook an additional 4 minutes, or until the juices run clear from the center of the patties when pierced. During the last few minutes of cooking, arrange the buns, cut side down, around the edges of the grill to toast lightly.

To assemble the burgers:

Distribute an equal amount of the slaw on the bottom buns. Top each with a patty and a dollop of the pesto. Add the bun tops and serve.

Note that, rather than preparing this recipe on an outdoor grill, I prepared them in a pan on the stove (as evidenced above). Also, I omitted the Asian Pear Slaw. Although it sounds great, Katie didn't text me the ingredients, probably assuming I'd have my hands full with just the Thai Peanut Pesto and the burgers themselves.

The burger turned out great, incidentally. The chicken was flavorful and bold, the fresh herbs complementing the perfectly-seasoned meat. The coconut added a tropical freshness I've never tasted in a burger before. And the Thai Peanut Pesto, though not quite what I was expecting, was a natural condiment to top a coconut chicken burger. I don't know what, if anything, I sacrificed by getting the wrong kind of Thai curry paste, but I'll be sure to get it right next time.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Month in Food

Here's what I've been eating:

One-third pound burger from The Counter. That's melted brie crossing the top of the patty.

Breaded chicken, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms and macaroni and cheese, all tossed into a bowl.

Fried catfish and loaded sweet potato from Texas Roadhouse.

While in Disneyland last week, I enjoyed a cup of strawberry ice cream topped with hot fudge.

Thai Chicken Pizza from California Pizza Kitchen.

Lobster ravioli topped with crab from McCormick and Schmick's.

Katie's cousin Roya invited us over for a delicious dinner of catfish, roasted potatoes, and collard greens.

Dinner was followed by banana splits.

To wrap up, a couple of excellent burgers I've enjoyed this week. First is the coconut pesto chicken burger, lifted and adapted from a recipe at foodnetwork.com

And finally, the green apple brie burger. Neither was truly my own invention, but I know I will make both again.