A Memorable Christmas Dinner

Christmas day 1981. I finished my morning show on WMGK radio in Philadelphia. I went home, loaded up my wife and son and we took off in our red Chevette for Birmingham. We went west on the PA Turnpike past Three Mile Island, then turned south on I-81 toward the Shenandoah Valley.

Our plan was to spend the night in Knoxville. We figured we would enjoy a nice Christmas dinner in Roanoke. It’s not a huge metropolis, but it is a decent-sized town, which we guessed would have many dining options, even on Christmas. We were wrong.

We ventured off the interstate into the city. Nothing was open. Not even the Holiday Inn restaurant. Giving up, we headed back to I-81. Just before we hit the on ramp, we noticed a familiar sign beyond the interchange: Waffle House. It was open.

My wife was hesitant to have our family Christmas dinner at Waffle House. On the other hand, she, my son and I were hungry. Plus, our options were limited.

As I recall, my Waffle House steak was delicious. Or maybe it tasted especially good because I had not eaten anything except travel snacks since we left our home in the Philly burbs.

This year we lost our older son. As we remember him this Christmas and recall the happy times we had with him, our Waffle House Christmas dinner will continue to be among our favorite Christmas memories.

—David Craig






No, Really, You Can Make Sushi At Home

Sushi is food you usually get at a restaurant or maybe at the grocery store. It is not food that most of us prepare at home. Maybe it’s time to change that mindset.

Jeffrey Elliot and Robby Cook have collaborated on a new book that tells and shows you how to prepare sushi in your own kitchen!


I was able to interview Jeffrey and Robby about sushi preparation and their book. Here is our Q and A:

In a sentence or two, what is the main message of your book?

With practice and the right ingredients, anyone can start making sushi at home.

For the home cook who wants to prepare sushi, what are the key utensils needed (that he or she may not already have in the kitchen)?

A rice cooker is a great small appliance that guarantees perfectly cooked rice every time. A really sharp slicing knife; western or Japanese. You’ll need a sushi mat for rolling.

 What’s the best way for a home cook to improve his or her knife skills?

Repetition and practice! It’s like that scene in the movie “Julie and Julia” where she goes home and cuts up a 50 pound bag of onions. The more you do it, the more confidence, speed, and skill you gain. Also read Jeffrey’s first book, The ZWILLING J.A. HENCKELS Complete Book of Knife Skills.

jeffrey elliot_0

(co-author Jeffrey Elliot)

Can the home cook obtain all the food product he needs to make good sushi/sashimi at his local chain grocer or will he need to go to a specialty food store?

Most local stores carry a minimal selection of nori (seaweed) and a basic range of Japanese products like rice vinegar and soy sauce. For a broader range of choices you might have to go to a Japanese or Asian grocery, or even shop online. For fish the best fish for you is the fish that’s local to you.

Which fish do you gentlemen personally favor in your sushi/sashimi preparation and for your own palates?

Jeffrey: I really like Hamachi (yellowtail), Otoro (the fattiest part of fatty tuna), Mackerel, and sea urchin.

Robby: I really like clams, sea urchin, Katsuo/Skipjack Tuna, salmon roe when in season in the Fall. As well as fatty snapper, such as Golden Bigeye snapper and Black throat Snapper.


With all foods, but especially sushi, appearance is important. How hard is it to get home-prepared sushi to look good? Can you offer a few hints?

Jeffrey: Build a strong foundation of the fundamental techniques taught in this book and then practice them. Again I’m going to fall back on practice, repetition based on proper technique is the only way to get better.

Robby: Like Jeffrey said, practice practice practice and you and your sushi will become more fluid and refined. Also referring to question below, watch how the chef plates and arranges the sushi. This will help you at home as well.

Where did you guys acquire your sushi prep knowledge? Is sushi included in the training at the Culinary Institute of America?

Jeffrey: When I went to the CIA, ONE day was devoted to Japanese cuisine, of which sushi is a small part. It has expanded greatly in the 20+ years since I went. I took a certificate course at a sushi school in California, and I was the kitchen chef at a Japanese restaurant in Miami, where in my free time I would learn from the sushi chefs.

Robby: I started making sushi for fun on my own during college at the University of Iowa. I later went to the California Sushi Academy. Following that I moved to NYC and went to Institute of Culinary Education, where I basically taught the short sushi class. Then I continued to work at various sushi bars until landing the job that I am at today.


(co-author Robby Cook)

When I am dining at a sushi restaurant, what should I pay closest attention to (to inform my own sushi prep)?

Watch how the chef works, organizes, and arranges his station. Watch how he holds his knife while slicing different fish and makis. As well as how the chef differently handles the rice for nigiri and maki.

If a person gets your book and wants to prepare a holiday party appetizer, what items from your book would you recommend?

Hand rolls are great appetizer, and it’s easy to teach and learn. What we like to do is put out an assortment of fillings, different fish and seafood, vegetables, even meats, as well as garnishes like spicy mayo, scallions, sesame seeds. And then let people make their own after doing a demo of the technique. It’s a great way to get everyone involved and talking.

For those who may be traveling soon, can you recommend a favorite sushi restaurant (other than your own) somewhere in the U.S.?

Jeffrey: There are so many great sushi spots in cities like New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, it’s hard for me to pick just one.

Robby: I really like Ushiwakamaru and KyoYa (not necessarily sushi but great Japanese cuisine) in NYC. On my last trip to Japan these 2 were amazing: Sushi Yoshitake and SushiYA Ginza.

Jeffrey and Robert’s book is available now for a list price of 29.95. Click HERE for the Amazon link.

The hardcover book is published with a “user-friendly concealed Wire-O binding.”

Dine Inside A REAL Gingerbread House

Here’s cool Christmas thing for you and your family to do! Have dinner (or breakfast or lunch or just snacks) inside a real gingerbread house.


The house is set up at River City Casino. It is outside the gaming area, so it is open to all ages.


Take a peek inside the windows and you can see the table and chairs.

For a $25 donation to the Center for Hearing and Speech, you and your group (family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.) can reserve the house for a 90 minute period. You can order the 3-course holiday menu listed below for $25/person. Or you can order from the Lewy’s Nine Cafe menu. (Click HERE for Lewy’s Nine information.)

To reserve a time for your group in the gingerbread house, please call 314-388-7623. Time slots are already getting filled up. (For information about the Center for Hearing and Speech, please click HERE.)



The oddly-angled shot below shows some of the decorations on the ceiling of the house.


The house was constructed by Pinnacle Entertainment employees who put their names on the gingerbread figures on the outside walls.

Gingerbread cookie

On a recent visit to River City Casino, the 1904 Steak House and chef John Johnson introduced new Small Plates which include Braised Short Rib Sliders, Lobster Mac and Cheese, Pan Seared Scallops and Steak Tartar, among others. Of course, the regular menu is also available. Click HERE to learn more about the 1904 Steak House at River City.

Food Network Christmas Specials!

Food Network and Cooking Channel have several Christmas themed shows you might like to know about. Here are some of the highlights with St. Louis showtimes listed for your viewing and/or DVRing pleasure.


Christmas at Bobby’s with Bobby Flay and friends is set for Sunday, December 6, 11:00 a.m. on Food Network. Bobby prepares a prime rib roast. His guests bring dishes for a potluck gathering.


On Sunday evening, December 6, 8:00 p.m., Rosanna Pansino (who has 326 videos posted on Youtube!) will host Ro’s Tasty Treats: Holiday on Cooking Channel. That’s her above with the reindeer pop.

On Monday, December 7, 7:00 p.m., Unwrapped 2.0: Festive Foods features host Alfonso Ribeiro checking out cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and candy canes. On Food Network.

Robert Irvine of Restaurant: Impossible brings Holiday: Impossible on Thursday, December 10, 8:00 p.m. on Food Network. In this program, the makeover is at a kid’s camp in the Grand Tetons.


A Barefoot Holiday with Ina Garten (shown above alongside Giada de Laurentis) will be seen Sunday, December 13 at noon. Ina cooks for her husband Jeffrey and friends. Settings include the Berkshires and East Hampton.

For more info on these shows, plus recipes and other food-related content, go to FoodNetwork.com or CookingChannelTV.com.