Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2011: Salvaged By Sausage

Ever since I was a small child I’ve wanted to spend New Year’s Eve in New York’s Times Square watching the ball drop. It was never something I wanted to do regularly, but rather just once to say that I had done it.

As I’ve gotten older and arguably wiser, I’ve dropped that dream like a bad habit (isn’t that a poor metaphor since bad habits are usually very difficult to drop?). I don’t like crowds, I don’t like aggressive cops and I don’t like cold. All three of which are impossible to avoid if one wants to see said ball descend.

This year was no different, I still had no childhood desire lingering to see the ball. However, since I found myself in Paris this New Year’s Eve what better place to ring in the New Year than the Eiffel Tower?

Every year fireworks explode from the top of the tower illuminating upturned faces of thousands of spectators below. This sounded like a fun time to me…well, that and because I have very few friends in Paris and knew of nothing else to do…so I made the decision to make Paris my NYC for the night.

Armed with a couple of bottles of Champagne, beer and my female companion I made my way to the subway. At the subway station we were quickly accosted by a drunken English speaker asking us if we too spoke English in what I can only assume was bad French. She was most excited to learn that we indeed did speak her native tongue and offered us a swig from her bottle of wine (which we accepted) in exchange for pointing her in the right direction. And with that we muscled our way onto the packed subway.

Let me cut to the chase; we arrived at the Eiffel Tower and everything that had kept me away from NYC on NYE as an adult was right in front of me: bitter cold, a crowd of 100,000+ people vying for the best spot to behold the heavenly explosions and a lot of extremely aggressive cops decked out in shoulder pads and riding horses or toting automatic weapons. But it was too late; we were here so the only option was to begin chugging champagne from the bottle (I never said this was I a classy blogger).

We rolled with that option until 11:59 came round. I was a bit concerned as I had yet learned to count forward, much less backwards, in French, but that did not play a part in the celebration. Midnight came and midnight went. There was no count down. There were no fireworks. There was nothing. Nothing at all.

This was not a good sign. For nothing on New Year’s Eve surely signified a year of nothing to come, I fretted. Dejectedly I began my trek home with nothingness bouncing around in my head.

To make matters worse the subway station was overflowing into the streets with all the other witnesses of nothing attempting to flee the scene. Not only would I now be forced to walk home, I would be forced to ask directions from someone in French.

I scanned the corner looking for an English speaker, if only the young wino from the subway was here, I thought. And that is when I saw it. It was an oasis in the gloomy Parisian streets. It was indeed the end of nothingness! Not any old end to nothingness, but the best kind of end one could imagine; somethingness!

I’m sure you saw this coming dear reader. For had there truly been nothing why would I be writing this blog?

What was this somethingness you ask?

The somethingness was merguez.

Merguez are sausages made of lamb, chili peppers, garlic, sumac and other spices. The sausages are stuffed in crusty bread (French bread, no less) and topped with onions, peppers and tomatoes (unfortunately my tomato fell to the mud covered asphalt and my companion refused to allow me to retrieve it and eat it). After topping this delicious treat with some spicy mustard, my New Year’s Eve was salvaged and I was off to wander the streets of Paris with a strong feeling that this indeed would be a fantastic year after all.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dubba-Double Burger Y'all

This is a double cheeseburger.

No, that is Louise Autry. We’ll get back to her in a minute.

Look to the left. That is a double cheeseburger.

Okay, actually it’s two balls of raw meat. However, I feel that if my pregnant friends can show me an ultrasound of an 8-week old embryo and call it a baby then I can call my balls o’ meat a double cheeseburger.

Not only is this a double cheeseburger, it is quite possibly the best double cheeseburger on the planet.

Why is this the best double cheeseburger on the planet you are probably asking yourself? The answer is because this burger is made the right way. You see, a proper burger starts out as a ball of meat, not a patty. The ball(s) of meat is placed onto a flattop griddle, not a grill and definitely not a flame-broiler (note to self: write Burger King to learn and blog about what exactly a “flame broiler” is), where it is flattened, as it cooks, into an inconsistent shape that doesn’t really resemble your typical fast food burger (nor the one that your bbq crazy uncle has been perfecting since college).

If you wanna know why this is the best way to make a burger, look it up; this blog post is dedicated to the burger and the burger maker, not the process.

Now, back to Louise.

I was lucky enough to meet Louise after a fortunate fender bender brought us together. Most people don’t consider fender benders fortunate, but I’m not most people. Louise asked me to come to her place of business so that we could take care of our business; which quite frankly is none of your business. While there I watched Louise press sizzling beef onto a hot griddle and immediately knew this was the burger place for me. Without hesitation I placed my order for a double cheeseburger.

Louise has been making burgers at Pender’s Café since 1956. The café itself has been open for 80+ years. So what does that mean, you ask? It means they are doing something right so don’t go in there telling them about the shit you ate last night at Fudruckers or how they make burgers in Texas. Louise and Pender’s know what they are doing.

To call Pender’s a café is an insult, Pender’s is a diner. A good old-fashion diner. Red stools line the counter; part of a motif that appears as if designed by the Coca-Cola Company. A couple of other friendly folks work the counter with Louise and help give Penders all the charm one would want from a southern diner.

The burgers at Penders are special. They take one back to a time when life was simpler. When a burger was just a burger. There were no special sauces, portabella mushrooms, deep fried onion rings or organic grass fed beef to choose from. A time when a cheeseburger was a meat patty and American cheese on a white bun with lettuce tomato and onion bringing it together as a sandwich to satisfy all four food groups.

The Pender burger, as it is aptly named, is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had simply for its unassuming nature. There is no seasoning in the meat, (culinary sin numero uno for any food put to heat) yet that is part of its beauty. When one takes a bite of the double Pender burger one tastes, meat, cheese, grease and no-frills, white hamburger bun. Top those flavors with crinkled cut fries and wash it all down with a fountain Coca-Cola and you’ve got the best lunch one can have for $6.99.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ed Hardy Beer: When You're Just Not Feeling Douchey Enough

This one is too easy. So I will simply let you come up with your own words for this one. Feel free to post them in the comment section even.

OK, just one: Looks like the UFC has an official beer!

(Dear UFC, please don't beat me up.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Foodie: A Four-Letter Word (with two extra letters)

If you are reading this blog (either of you) then the chances of you going to a restaurant these days without first enlisting the services of yelp, chowhound, citysearch or a similar website are slim. With so many individual reviews, from people just like you, you’d be foolish to risk wasting your hard earned (or stolen) cash staring at a plate of subpar grub in a joint with questionable sanitation practices.

This is 2010 (or 3008, if you listen to Fergie) and for every restaurant you want to visit, someone else has already been there. Not only have they been there, they have told their friends and family about it, they’ve made a Picasso picture album documenting the experience, they have posted images on Facebook with witty captions, posted even more select pics just for those special friends who are not going to think less of them for doing the things they were doing in said pics and, not least of all, published a detailed review of the restaurant on their blog and/or one of the afore mentioned sites (this all happens regardless if the individual tweeted about the place before, during and/or after going there). So for one to go blindly would not only be dumb, quite frankly it seems like it would be next to impossible to do.

Having all this information at our fingertips has created a new wave of experts. These experts get alerts on the hippest restaurants in their inbox every morning from Tasting Table, Thrillist and Daily Candy just to name a few. After patronizing a few of these recommended establishments and padding their vocabularies with the latest ingredients du jour taken from uber-hip menus that boast the latest cutting edge dishes prepared with classic French undertones, these folks feel ready to take on Food Network’s biggest and brightest. They watch Anthony Bourdain and his global culinary misadventures and fantasize themselves in similar experiences. Bobby Flay seems to speak to them as he plucks baby octopus from the sea and grills it for use in a classic paella with a Greek twist. When frying up a batch of chicken, they find words dripping from their mouths with a slight twang `a la Paula Dean. But nothing brings them together like their shared condemnation for Rachel Ray.

So who is this they, you ask? This they is the foodie.

Foodies refer to themselves as foodies. It is, in sorts, a badge of honor bestowed upon them by none other than themselves. However, one must not look for this badge pinned on the foodie’s chest or sleeve, as it is not the badge that gives the foodie away; it is the foodie’s mouth (or fingers if a foodie is typing) that gives the foodie away. For the foodie will surely tell you that he or she is a foodie. All you have to do is wait for it.

Why is it folks chose to label themselves “foodies?” Does by somehow labeling oneself a foodie, give one’s food opinions and adventures more credibility? Does the foodie proclaim his status so that he or she may be thought of as the room’s authority on all future food conversations? Or does the foodie just possibly truly know everything there is about food?

No, the foodie usually knows very little about food.

The word “foodie” was first used by New York Magazine writer Gael Greene in a story published on June 2, 1980. How this word came to replace "gourmet" as the word of choice for one-who-likes-food-and-stuff, can be attributed to Paul Levy. Or at least claims Levy in his 2007 article on Levy, co-author of The Official Foodie Handbook, claims he first used the word in mockery and then others utilized it to replace the pretentious word “gourmet.”

Though now the unpretentious "foodie" has taken on the pretentiousness of its predecessor.

Now I am not claiming that foodies are palate-ly challenged. In fact, each and everyone of us has different tastes and for that reason new and exciting dishes are constantly being created. This keeps the food universe, well, new and exciting. We know what we like and what we don’t. And that is good. I would never belittle someone for their tastes (Yes, I would. But for the purpose of this blog I’ll pretend that I wouldn’t….I’m looking at you Marshmallow Fluff lovers), but I would and will belittle them for not making their tastes their own.

Foodie’s know the restaurants they are told to go. Foodies know what they are told is good. Foodies know trendy dishes. Foodies know how to check restaurants and popular dishes off their lists of places to try. Rarely do foodies really know food. And if they do know a thing or two about food, they know enough to not call themselves foodies.

I’m not claiming that restaurant reviews by the average non-professional food critic aren't helpful in guiding a person toward a pleasurable dining experience. Nor do I claim that there aren’t times when that 5 star review by foodlover1975 on isn’t spot on. But please dear foodie, understand that it is okay to not like a place everyone else is digging. Or the opposite is fine too; dig a place that no one likes. You won’t lose your table cred for it, I promise.

When I meet new people and inform them that I am both a cook and author of a nifty food blog, I am often met with, “So, with you being a foodie…” This makes me hurt. If I didn’t rely on cooking for my livelihood and didn’t need these folks to visit my food establishment and oh-so-clever blog (and click on the ads!) I would give them my diatribe regarding the use of the word. But I do, so I don’t.

Though it does make me wonder, does writing this blog and reading countless others, make me a bloggie?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Open Letter To Carl's Jr.

Dear Carl's Jr,

Ever since moving to Los Angeles 12 years ago, I have been a fan of your hamburgers. Almost instantly I noticed your in-your-face television campaigns (because they were, well, in my face, if for no other reason) and knew that Carl's Jr. must actually be the fast food place for the true burger lover.

And I was not wrong, Carl's Jr. Be it the Superstar, Double Western or even that weird concoction with the mushroom on it, a burger from Carl's Jr. has never let me down.

That was true until last Thursday.

Last Thursday I sat in one of your red booths waiting eagerly as one of your friendly staff members brought me my lunch. I had been dreaming of this burger since seeing a TV ad for it the previous night. In fact, I almost informed my dining companion that evening, who was coming over for a delightful plate of shrimp & grits, that plans had changed and we would be dining at your restaurant instead.

The ad I'm referring to first caught my attention because there, on my TV, with a solid white background, sat one of my all time favorites, the Big Mac. But what was this lackluster theme song in the background? That was not like McDonald's. After all, they are kind of like the Disney of fast food; everything they do comes with a song and dance. Just when I was getting concerened, what but a towering burger should fall from the sky and dwarf my beloved Big Mac.

But it looked like a Big Mac.

Only bigger...and macier.

And just like that, the Dodger game was back on.

It took my brain a couple of minutes to comprehend what I had just witnessed. I'm sure the feeling is shared by those hearing the numbers on their lotto ticket called out by that nice woman on TV. It takes a minute to sink in. But when it did, I realized that you Carl's Jr, had taken a good thing and made it better.

Oh, yes, you had indeed made your very own Big Mac. Or Big Carl as you, fittingly enough, like to call it.

Bravo, Carl's Jr. Bravo, I thought, while already making plans to try it for lunch the next day.

That brings us back to the red booth and your smiling employee. The smiling young lady dropped the burger off at my table and I immediately tore into the wrapping. Visions of two large patties with melted cheese and just the right amount of that sauce we all call Thousand Island dressing smeared on top raced through my mind as an eternity seemed to pass before I was finished removing the paper jacket from my prize.

But what was this? This looked nothing like the commercial. I realize advertisers spend tons of money on food stylist for TV, I get it. But this wasn't even close.

Look at those photos Carl's Jr and tell me they look anything like one another.

I know, you cannot.

Sure, I ate the burger. But it was not good. I expected more from you, Carl's Jr. I expected something, if not superior to the Big Mac, at least superior to the Big King, Burger King's weak Big Mac imitation attempt back in the 90's. But I got neither.

Never fear Carl's Jr, for you have not lost a customer in me. I will still show up at your drive-thru window, order my superstar with cheese, remove about 1/2 of the lettuce and devour it with a large fry with a smile on my face.

But I will never quite be able to look at you the same, Carl's Jr. It's kinda like watching that college football star who decides to leave school early and ends up not getting drafted only to be forced to come back to school to find out the bravado he used to strut around campus with has left him. You decided to battle the giant, and the giant won. You definitely lost some of my respect, Carl's Jr.

Yours Truly,

Guy with the burger blues

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Hot Summer Night

Last night my local market had chicken wings on sale. Chicken wings are never on sale. I guess because chicken wings sell themselves and don’t really need to be marked down. But what did I know?

I knew this: These wings were on sale.

And that was all I needed to know.

I bought them.

That's where it all began.

Upon returning home, I dropped the raw wings into the deep fryer. While the wings spattered hot oil all over my kitchen, a classic wing sauce was concocted with Texas Pete hot sauce, butter and a few other flavorings. It was good. It tasted like wing sauce. It was not nearly as wonderful as say Ye Rustic's, but it could hold its on with about any ol’ average wing place like a Wingstop or whatnot.

But for some reason last night, I wanted some spice. A little something extra, I craved. Dare I use Emeril's moneymaker and say I indeed wanted to kick it up a notch. So I opened the spice closet only to learn that I was fresh out of cayenne. Fortunately, a full bottle of spicy chipotle powder, with a flirtatious gesture, raised its eyebrows at me. This would certainly bring the heat, I thought, as I removed the vixen from her perch.

Two tablespoons later, I was still unsatisfied with my sauce’s piquancy.

Now, let it be known that I was not attempting for some kind of manly, ego boosting heat here. I like things hot, but not scorching. I don't enter hot wing eating contests or order things extra hot when I go to Thai restaurants just to prove I can eat them. I don't aspire to get my picture on the wall-o-fame at wing joints across the land or to have a crowd gather round as I attempt to scarf down that wing at the bar & grill that has been soaking in jalapeno juice for 3 days, which at 1:45 am has suddenly become a great idea. That's not me.

But last night was different. Last night I wanted it hot. Very hot. Maybe it was the lackluster chicken-fried steak I ate for lunch or maybe it was the case of Miller High Life (longnecks) that sat in my fridge seemingly begging for a fire to extinguish, but whatever it was, I was ready for some burn. And since they were my wings, in my kitchen, I would get that burn.

But how?

With my cayenne supply depleted and fearing the smokiness of more chipotle would only clash with the flavor of the Texas Pete (not sold in TX by the way), I needed to add something else. Garlic wouldn't create the heat I wanted, Sriracha would give it plenty of heat, but would add unwanted flavors, while dried chilies would take too long to render their spiciness because I was looking to eat immediately.

I was going to be forced to settle for medium wings. There could be worse things to settle for, I suppose.

Suddenly, out of nowhere I was hit with a revelation. A revelation that could have only come from…see, I’d like to tell you, dear reader, that this revelation was sent from God, but I cannot. God would have nothing to do with these wings I would later learn. This revelation was hand delivered from Old Nick himself. Yes, it could’ve only been the devil that reminded me that I possessed a hot sauce on my shelf that I had only used once. It was called Magma.

I received a bottle of Magma while writing a story on another hot sauce, made by the same company, named Frostbite (the first ever white hot sauce that goes great in margaritas {if that's your thing}). I once threw a couple of tablespoons of Magma into a chili I was making…You know in movies when the witch has a pot with some bubbling liquid in it and someone dips in a spoon only to watch the spoon instantly dissolve with a poof of smoke? That pretty much sums up what I had done to my chili.

Having learned from my mistake, I added only a couple of dashes of Magma to my wing sauce. Bingo. It was nice and spicy without being too over the top. I knew my brow would bead with sweat, as would that space just below my bottom eyelids, but my tongue would be able to handle these wings until my plate was clean. After all, I had 18 of theses bad boys to scarf down (Shut up! I'm a growing young man.)

I tossed my wings in the sauce, took a few snazzy photos for the blog, sat down, picked up a wing and....

First, let me tell you a little something about Magma Hot Sauce. It's not really a typical hot sauce. Long story short, the folks at CaJohn's Foods found a way to extract the hottest part of the pepper and bottle it. They call this Extract de Lucifer, oleoresin of Capsicum. The sauce is called Magma, because the oleoresin separates from the vinegar and when you shake the bottle it resembles a lava lamp.

Did you get that? This shit is so hot that even vinegar, just like God, wants nothing to do with it.

Just to give you an idea of the heat we're talking about here, Tabasco is rated at 2,140 scoville units (unit of measurement for heat in chili peppers). Magma is rated at 500,000.

...I bit into the wing and tasted a complex smoky and vinegary taste that was out of this world delicious. The wing had all the heat I wanted and a little bit more, but nothing too off the charts. I had done good.

I had another. And then another. My forehead was damp and I was refraining from rubbing my eye sockets with my oleoresin covered fingers; exactly the mild pain I had hope for.

But then something else started going on. That smoky, sharp, spiciness that had been deposited on my tongue with the first wing was rapidly morphing into something much hotter. Though I've never seen one in person, I'm imagining what was going on in my mouth looked kind of like one of those obscenely large Texas high school pep rally bonfires.

My worst fears were soon confirmed when lava poured from my mouth. This was no small hiccup like the one the cute, fire-breathing baby dragon makes in cartoons. No, there was a river of fire pouring from my mouth. At one point, my mouth was simply not large enough to allow for all the molten liquid to escape so it began coming out of my ears.

Never being one to stop while I’m ahead, I ate a few more wings. I felt my breath could melt buildings. I looked at my face; I was redder than an Asian after a six-pack. Yet I would continue until all 18 of the wings had been consumed.

The High Life was no help. Lemonade was a waste of time. Even milk boiled on my tongue. I was in pain.

It was a long night, in fact, the next 90-minutes in many ways resembled the opening scene from Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen breaks down in a Saigon hotel room. But when the smoke cleared there were 18 cleaned wing bones stacked in a pile. And if you looked close enough, you would almost say that pile of bones looked like a volcano.

I highly recommend Magma Hot Sauce, but consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Move Over Mayonnaise, There’s a New All-Purpose Condiment in Town

When most people think of pickles, they think of…well, pickles. But not only can pickles be pickled, about most anything can be pickled. From carrots to eggs to hogs’ feet to cat embryos (you remember the ominous glass jar in biology class), pickling is a great way to preserve foods (or pets) while also adding a zing to already great flavors.

Recently, I was in need of a vibrant garnish to spruce up a dish I was preparing. The dish was mostly shades of brown with a little green thrown in and it screamed for something red-ish. Unfortunately, the trusty roasted red bell pepper just wouldn’t work for this one. That is when I realized that the purple hue of the red onion would be just the splash of color I was looking for. However, the bite of the onion was overpowering and did not fit well with the dish at all. That is when I wondered what would happen if I first pickled the onion. I hoped this step would dull the onion enough so that it would not overpower the other flavors yet it would still add a nice tangy zip to the meat.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Not only did the pickled onions turn out to be the perfect accompaniment for the dish at hand, but also I have put them on everything from grilled beef to tacos to bbq. I have yet to try them on ice cream, but I’m sure they can’t hurt it.

Until now, mayonnaise has been my fall back condiment. Because really, what doesn’t taste better with a dollop of mayonnaise on it (that fat-free stuff doesn’t count)? The answer is ‘nothing,’ of course. And I will still use my beloved mayonnaise to make food happier. But in order to give my arteries a break from time to time and to reward my taste buds, pickled red onion is the new condiment of choice for this cook.

They’re easy to make. Give them a whirl and let me know what you think.


1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise

1-2 c white vinegar

½ habanero, seeded, deveined and diced

1 tsp dried Mexican Oregano

Mix all ingredients in a jar, vinegar should just cover the onions, and let sit for 12 hours. Yeah, only 12 hours. Enjoy