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.


PICKLED RED ONIONS

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

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Taste of Summer


It recently came to my attention that many of you have never heard of, much less indulged in, the glory that is the tomato sandwich.


You poor, poor souls.


Growing up in North Carolina, tomato sandwiches were lunch several days a week when tomatoes were in season. (I think my personal record may have been to devour 6 at one sitting. {Hey, I was a growing boy!}). Hardly a 2-week period would pass in the summer months that someone wasn’t stopping buy my house to dump off a load of tomatoes harvested fresh from the garden.


If you’ve never had a fresh, ripe tomato shortly after it was picked from the vine, you are missing out. Unlike those found in your grocery stores (yes, even the ones in your beloved Whole Foods), these tomatoes were not picked while still green and left to ripen on the way to market. These tomatoes were ripened on the vine and in my sandwich within hours after being harvested. The fruit was never chalky, but rather juicy and exploding with flavor. Quite often juice would run down my arm as I ate. This NEVER stopped the eating process, just so you know.


Here in So. Cal neighbors never arrive with bags of free, fresh tomatoes, and thus my really good tomato sandwiches are few and far between. However, I was able to score a few that were quite delicious the other day at a farmers’ market. After throwing them between some good white bread with a dollop of mayo, I was transported back to being a shirtless, sweaty 10-year old in need of a quick lunch while cramming them down my throat as fast as they would go. I suggest you do the same before they are again out of season and your taste buds are forced to suffer another long year without one of the happiest experiences they will ever know.


TOMATO SANDWICH


1 ripe tomato
2 slices of white bread
Mayo
Salt & pepper

Spread mayo on both slices of bread. Cut tomato into ¼” thick slices. Place on bread. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Eat. Repeat.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mama Dip's

A slow and steady drizzle fell down upon Rosemary Street. The lingering chill of winter in late spring’s breeze had subsided making way for the foul breath of summer’s humidity that was only days away.

But people could worry about that then, for now we all just tried to stay dry.

For locals, a spring shower was nothing more than a weekly occurrence which none would look upon with similar romanticism. But having spent the last decade in a state that rarely gets rain, this shower was something of a nostalgic big deal for me. That being said, when my car door opened I sprinted like Usain Bolt to the front porch of Dips restaurant.

I can’t with all certainty say if I was racing to the shelter of the wrap around porch or if I was just simply that eager to eat Mama Dip’s traditional country cooking. Regardless, I made it in record time.

Mama Dip has been fixing food for the folks of Chapel Hill since November 1976. And today was no different. There she was, all six-plus-feet of her, leaning against the kitchen wall and surveying the scene, all the while being interrupted by comments from full and happy customers on their way back to work where they would almost certainly close their doors and fall asleep to the sound of rain pelting down on aluminum a/c units outside their office windows.

After opening a menu, I decided I wanted it all. Luckily, my mother was with me, so between our two orders we got a chance to taste almost all of it (and I knew she would insist on picking up the tab).

We started out with an order of fried green tomatoes. Three thick slices of green tomatoes were fried to a golden brown perfection and served with a side of creamy ranch dressing. Although I had a whole heaping of food yet to come, I believe I would have been satisfied had they told me I was getting nothing else.

But they never told me that.

And because they didn’t, they continued to bring out more food. A basket of hush puppies was immediately followed by our meals. I was having the 3-piece fried chicken dinner. However, our server informed us that Mama Dip had deemed my three pieces too small and added a fourth to my plate. That was good, because I would most certainly need a fourth piece of chicken after finishing up my mess o' greens, gooey mac and cheese, flaky buttermilk biscuit and inevitably the majority of my mother’s BBQ sandwich and her trough of Brunswick stew which I knew she would certainly fill up on before even nearing completion.

Sure, that fourth piece of chicken was necessary.

I ate it.

All of it.

I was so stuffed that food was backing up in my throat simply because my stomach had reached capacity and there was nowhere else for it to go. This was a shame because I longed for a nice slice of pecan pie to top things off.

But pie wasn’t happening today. And that was okay, because I would soon be boarding an airplane for a ride across the continent where I would be in for a five hour nap with all the joy that comes from having a belly full of good ol’ southern cookin’.

Here's a recipe for fried green tomatoes. While they probably won't be as good as the ones Mama Dip is frying up, they sure can't be bad.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

2/3 c all-purpose flour
salt & pepper
3 lbs green tomatoes, cut into 1/2" slices
Oil for frying

In pie plate, combine flour, salt, and pepper. Dip in tomato slices to coat both sides. In 12 inch skillet over medium heat, heat 1/4 cup oil. Fry slices, a few at a time, until golden on both sides and heated through. Drain on paper towels. Repeat, adding more oil as needed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Perfect Bloody Mary


For Memorial Day weekend I found myself visiting the great state of North Carolina. Not because during these hard times I decided to turn paparazzo and shoot fish in a barrel by snagging a few pics of the anything but elusive Kate Gosselin and her 8 children frolicking on the beach, but rather because it is the state from which I am from and I like to visit it every now and again...and my buddy having a place at the beach and a boat may have factored into the equation just a bit as well.

By the time Sunday rolled around there had been two full days o’ sun &
fun with enough drinking to send an Irishman into detox. But as this was a long weekend, there was still at least one more day of no holds barred excitement left. But upon awakening the beers just weren’t going down like they had been the previous two days. This was cause for serious concern within my group and we made the decision to remedy it stat.

There was a place in town that we had visited briefly the night before and were told made the best bloodies in town…as well as out of town for that matter. So that became our destination. A few vodka-tomato drinks and we should be back on the road to debauchery once again. So we packed into the car and headed to downtown Wilmington to a place named the Duck and Dive Bar & Pub.

I never knew there was any true distinction between a bar and a pub, but the Duck and Dive made sure it was both so you were taken care of, no matter your fancy.

I think we were all secretly hoping it would be closed on Sunday just to buy us a little more time in the car where we weren’t expected to be drinking, but no such luck. The bar could have not been more wide open and empty. With that we parked and went inside ready to jumpstart our day with a round of bloodies.

The ever-so-friendly bartender whupped us up a batch and it took no longer than 10 minutes to do so. He even brought the things over to our sorry asses where we were sprawled out on benches in a sort of lazy prayer ritual begging the gods to make our headaches to subside.

Our prayers were answered.

With only one sip of this concoction, we knew we had indeed found something special. Several more glasses and we were well on our way to an encore performance of the previous two nights.

I’ve written the recipe here. It’s not exact, but is bar tending truly ever an exact science (mixologists please save your comments)? Anyway, if you can’t make it to Duck and Dive in Wilmington, NC anytime soon, try your hand at this recipe and alter accordingly. I think you will be happy.

Oh, and yes, it is not a typo. Guinness is indeed included in these bad boys!

Duck and Dive Bar & Pub
114 Dock St,
Wilmington, NC 28401


Best Bloody Mary Ever

Fill a pint glass with ice.
Add vodka to your liking
Zing Zang Bloody Mary Mix
Splash of pickle juice
Dash of Worschire sauce
Emeril’s horseradish mustard (first and only time you will see Emeril’s anything listed in a recipe on this blog), to taste
1-2oz Guinness
Shake well and garnish with lime, olives and a gherkin.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michoacanas Carnitas and the Rise of the Taco Truck


The taco truck is alive and well in Los Angeles. Despite a recent campaign by jealous restaurant owners to shut them down, the taco trucks prevailed. And now, one can find a truck serving tacos at almost any hour in one part of the city or another; if not all parts.

But why do you care about the taco truck? Unless you live in L.A. you probably don’t. So I guess the question is better off phrased, why do I care about the taco truck? I care for two reasons:

1) I like tacos.
2) I want to start my own taco truck…which won’t necessarily serve tacos.

As I am learning, taco trucks take lots of planning and preparation. Not to mention a nice chunk of change to get one up and running. So that friends is why I have taken so long to post another blog; I have been researching taco trucks.

And just the other day I actually did my first ride along on a real-life taco truck. The gentleman I rode along with is named Tito. Tito is a wonderful man who was very open and friendly. He answered all my questions and didn’t hesitate to give me advice. The folks on Tito’s route seem to really love Tito. As they poured out of factories and plants in the greater Glendale area, they all greeted Tito by name and seemed generally glad to see him. Tito would chat with them about their families and their weekend, in both Spanish and English, as if they were old friends.

But while Tito is the face and personality of the truck, Alisia is the heart of it. Alisia is Tito’s cook. And what a cook she is!
Starting at 4am Alisia arrives at the truck and begins cooking beef tongue, tacquitos, al pastor, “grilled” chicken (which may well be the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had…and the most fattening.) soup, oatmeal and a whole host of other things. And it is all delicious. Not just kinda good, but deeeeee-lish-us!

While drooling over all of Alisia’s dishes in the warming box of the taco truck, I was taken back when I saw carnitas! For those of you not knowing better, carnitas is kinda like Mexican BBQ (pulled pork for all of those non-southerners out there). I wasn’t taken aback because carnitas is a hard to find delicacy; in fact, about any taco place worth its weight in Tapatio, has carnitas. But rather b/c I was under the assumption that carnitas needed to be slow cooked in an oven, and taco trucks don’t have ovens. This is when Alisia explained in brokenesque English that she fried the pork.

In case you missed that, SHE FRIED THE PORK! Being that fried and pork are my two favorite flavors I was eager to learn more.

Alisia went on to tell me that the carnitas she cooked was Michoacanas style carnitas. What this means is that this is essentially a pig confit. The pork cooks in its own fat giving it all the piggy flavor one could ever desire.

Should you ever find yourself in the industrialized section of Gelendale, might I recommend trying to search out Tito and his truck. The search for the pig will be well worth your time.
In the future I will develop a southern version of this pig and if it is delicious as I think it can be, well, you can come buy it on at my truck!

Should you wish to try this on your own, here’s a recipe I put together from several recipes I found online.

WARNING: There is very little safe about this process.

Michoacanas Carnitas

3 pounds pork shoulder chopped into 3” pieces.
1 lb of lard
12-16 oz of coke, orange juice or water

Melt the lard in a large pot. When lard is nearly smoking, pour the liquid into the oil. Yeah. The oil will then pop like an erupting volcano. This is no exaggeration. Explosions leapt out of the pot about 4 feet into the air. Take caution because you are going to get burned. The severity of your burns depends one your safety measures. I put a screen in front of my face and wrapped a towel around my arm and thus minimized the blisters on my skin the next day. Give the oil and liquid time to re-heat and then add the pork. Let pork cook in oil that remains at about 250 degrees for 90 minutes. Stir occasionally. When the meat reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees, remove from oil, drain, shred and eat.

As Southern As Mango Ice Tea


Recently, a friend suggested we have lunch at Baby Blues in West Hollywood. Not being one to say no to southern food, I took her up on her suggestion. Not to mention I had only heard marvelous things about the flagship store in Venice and had been wanting to try it for some time.

So last Saturday* my friend and arrived just as they were opening for business. We were promptly greeted and taken through a dining room decorated just like a southern dining room. Well, maybe not exactly, but exactly like the dining room in the head of someone who has read a lot about the south but maybe never actually spent too much time there. Nonetheless, the restaurant’s décor was lots of fun: a scattering of knickknacks, mismatching chairs, bottles of pepper vinegar at every table and even more mismatching chairs hanging from the ceiling (a very wise move I thought to myself for 2 reasons: 1- All southerners have chairs hanging from nails on their ceiling. 2- because those patrons not killed by flying furniture in the next earthquake will need a place to sit and regroup once it’s over).

Within seconds of us taking our seats, we were greeted by our very cheerful and friendly server. So far we had been at Baby Blues for 45 seconds and already had been greeted, sat and then greeted again. I was really starting to like the place.

The bubbly lass took our drink order. I ordered my standard ice tea. And then I heard the phrase that one just doesn’t hear outside of the south (and even then, it is only uttered in select parts of the south), “Sweet or un-sweet?” What? Sweet tea?! Are you kidding me? IT HAS ARRIVED!!! I truly hadn’t been this excited since I saw the giant billboard back in ’98 announcing the arrival of Bush Light Draft to California.

Like any good southerner I ordered it sweet. But to have sweet tea is not enough. I mean, let’s face it, any moron can make the stuff, its just tea, sugar and water after all. But making good sweet tea is an art that takes time and precision to master. Some (my darling mother who I love dearly being among them) never get it right no matter how hard they try. In fact, another common phrase often used when discussing dining establishments in the south is, “How’s their tea?” This is either answered by replying that the tea is good or “get a coke.” Note “coke” is not capitalized. For in the south, “coke” refers to any kind of soda, pop, soft drink or whatever your region of the world calls it, not just that brown beverage made by the Coca Cola Co. But I digress.

While our server disappeared to fetch my heavenly nectar, my friend and I perused the menu. Ribs, mac n cheese, gumbo, pecan pie and even Po’ Boys immediately stood out. This is one heck of a menu I thought as my smile got bigger and bigger. While everything on the menu looked great, I was here for one thing and one thing only. I was here for bar-b-q. Good ol’ NC style bar-b-q I had heard countless people talk about. And there it was…or was it?

I feel that any southern restaurant worth its weight in fatback must serve bar-b-q. But Baby Blues was serving up “pulled pork.” This concerned me a little. Yet, I overlooked it figuring it was a choice made by the menu writing folks at Baby Blues in order to make it easier for those patrons who could only read Californiaeese. Besides, my sweet tea had arrived making it hardly the moment to waste time splitting hairs. It was probably just an oversight, I thought. And with that I ordered the “pulled pork” sandwich while my dining companion ordered a shrimp Po’ Boy along with a country salad and an order of mac n’ cheese for us to split. Our server disappeared and excitedly I took a great big gulp of my sweet…what in the name of fatback is this! The milky concoction they were attempting to pass off as tea was made even worse by the fact Baby Blues sweetens their tea with brown sugar!

OK, I feel most anyone who has ever made sweet tea on any kind of a regular basis has had the original bright idea of sweetening tea with brown sugar. However, most of these amateur mixolgists only do it only once. You see, brown sugar dominates the flavor of the tea and causes an otherwise splendid beverage to taste like an herbal pancake and maple syrup smoothie.
The tea was horrible. Absolutely horrible. I have consumed oceans of tea. Most of it good, but also lots of bad. And this crap was hands down the worst to ever cross my lips. I flagged down my server and opted for un-sweet instead. Again, with lightening like speed, she appeared with my un-sweet tea. The cloudy mess she then served me couldn’t have been older than 2 weeks. I say this with a fair degree of certainty because the restaurant had only been open for about two weeks (otherwise I would have sworn this tea to have a vintage of 1997). But I was pretty sure this batch had been sitting around in a back closet since the grand opening and only this morning had been re-discovered.

Next out was our salad. While simple and visually unappealing, the salad was not bad for one comprised primarily of iceberg lettuce. Our server even brought us two mismatching plastic plates on which we could split it up (I honestly didn’t know my people were all about mismatching. I mean, at my house we always used plastic plates that varied in their degree of whiteness, but NEVER when company came around. Company got the good plates. And I would like to think Baby Blues thought of me as “company.”)

Just as we were finishing up our salad, our server arrived with our meals. And wow, there it was, a sesame seed bun stuffed with “pulled pork” and topped with a heaping helping of coleslaw. They didn’t put it on the side, oh no, they slapped it right on top of the meat like any good bbq place would do. God bless you Baby Blues. That’s how a sandwich should look no matter how you spell the meat that goes on it.

Wiping the drool from my chin, I glanced over at my friend’s Po’….nope. It was not a Po’ Boy. It was a shrimp sandwich. And albeit a tasty one, to call it a Po’ Boy was a disgrace. For the essential element in a Po’ Boy is the crispy French-style loaf that holds the meat. A multigrain bun is NOT a crispy French-style loaf. Not even close. The shrimp was also grilled opposed to fried. This I could live with in the name of health consciousness had it at least looked like a Po’ Boy, but it didn’t. But that was her problem. I had a sandwich with a slight identity crisis of my own to demolish.

My bun was indeed top notch and perfect for a bar-b-q sandwich. The coleslaw tasted every bit as good as it looked. But the bar-b-q left much to be desired. Slightly old tasting and lacking anything reminiscent of flavor, the shredded pig on my plate made this sandwich fall flat. A little bit of Baby Blues’s extra hot sauce helped the sandwich a lot. And though a little thicker than the typical eastern NC style sauce that I like most, it was genuinely a good sauce. And genuinely a very hot one. The hotness burned away my taste buds and made it possible for me to choke down the rest of the poor pig that was never allowed to reach its full potential.

I also mentioned a side of mac n’ cheese. But mushy noodles void of clinging cheese and an excess of breadcrumbs made Baby Blues’s mac n’ cheese too pathetic to even write about.

Maybe I am naïve. Maybe “bar-b-q” has flavor and “pulled pork” is just its B-team, generic equivalent and the joke was indeed on me for hoping for somethng that I wasn't even technically ordering.

Because I’m a sucker for fantastic service, I’ll probably give Baby Blues one more shot. I can honestly say without a doubt that it is the best service I’ve had in any restaurant in a very long time. But its going to take a lot more than a friendly and attentive server to sway my opinion of this joint.

If you're looking for good southern food in LA, I'm afraid Baby Blues is not the answer. A much better place to start would be Harold & Belles. But if you don't really know better, Baby Blows just might be the spot for you. Enjoy and watch for flying chairs!

*Though I say I was there 2 weeks ago, this post has been sitting in my computer for about 2 months.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Green Garlic (for girls only)

The other day I discovered a Friday farmer’s market in Echo Park. I guess I did not so much discover it as much as my friend, and blogger extraordinaire, Diana took me there.

The market opens at 3:00 on Friday; a very odd time for a farmer’s market. But it was soon made clear to me that it was the BEST time for a farmer’s market. You see, at 3:00 most people are still working and as a result the market is not overrun with people as are the neighboring Silverlake and Hollywood markets during their hours on the weekends. However, there are still enough people present that people watching remains an option as you scarf down a handmade blue-corn quesadilla or a rotisserie chicken from the chicken truck guy. And as it is in Echo Park, the people watching is still top notch.

While any of you that have read my blogs know, I am all about meat. So what you are about to read may shock you. Should you find yourself at the Echo Park farmer’s market ordering a blue-corn quesadilla, opt for the mushroom before the chorizo. I know, I feel every bit as blasphemous writing it dear reader as you do reading it, but trust me on this one. While the chorizo quesadilla still delivers everything one could want with spicy pork blended with melted cheese, topped with homemade salsa and wrapped in hearty blue-corn goodness, the mushrooms used by the quesadilla lady are thick, perfectly sautéed, plentiful and just too good to pass up.

But this blog is not about mushroom quesadillas. It is about something much more serious. It is about sexism! Sexism and garlic! More specifically, green garlic (pictured above).

Let me explain.

After examining the various booths at the Echo Park farmer’s market, Diana and I decided that one stand in particular stood out from the rest. The stand had the most beautiful red leaf lettuce and Swiss chard I have ever seen in all my days of perusing farmer’s markets. Purple kale so vibrant and fresh that I was forced to put my sunglasses back on (Who are we kidding, this is LA so I never took them off to begin with. But you get the point).

Diana and I stuffed our bags full of veggies. I was very happy and my mind filled with excited anticipation of how I would prepare all of these vegetables over the next few days. I planned to feast like a vegetarian (if that was even possible to do) week in and week out all thanks to this wonderful man and his Echo Park farmer’s market vegetable stand.

As visions of broccolini with ginger and oyster sauce danced in my head, I stood patiently in line behind my friend as she settled up with the proprietor; a seemingly very nice man who made eye contact when he spoke and did his best to be overtly friendly. After Diana paid him, the man reached down and pulled out a gorgeous stem of green garlic. It was enormous and beautiful and best of all, FREE! He handed it to Diana and informed her she was to eat the entire thing, roots and all. To do anything else, he assured her would be a waste.

Wow, I thought. This could be no better. Great vegetables and free green garlic to boot make for a very good score. With that, the cheery gentleman turned his attention to me and my bag of fresh goodies. Again, he was very friendly and gave me great deals on vegetables that would even justify paying Whole Foods’ ridiculous prices for them. I then handed over some cash and waited…and waited…and waited….until finally the farmer moved on to the next person in line.

But where was my green garlic? I smiled. I was friendly. Why didn’t I get any green garlic?

Perplexed, I walked with Diana to get a slice of pizza from another booth. While she ordered I took a seat at a table and that is when I learned the glory of the mushroom quesadilla mentioned above. In fact, had it not been so wonderful, I think my mood would have even soured the chorizo quesadilla, until now a feat I thought impossible for anyone or anything to accomplish. But as I chomped away I observed something that shocked me to the core; the farmer was giving other customers free green garlic! I was appalled! Why not me?! That’s when I noticed something else: the farmer was only giving green garlic to girls! Not one single male received as much as a second glance.

I understand the whole concept of “Ladies Night” at bars. I understand Moms getting a free corsage at Mother’s Day brunches. I get it. But this was no special event or marketing ploy, oh no, this was sexism at its finest. I am a white male! I am supposed to get everything! Life is easy street for me and my kind. Why not green garlic? Was this the beginning of something greater I thought? Was my elite status no longer enough to secure everything I need and want in life? Would all females soon start getting free vegetables at farmer’s markets? Next time, would ovaries equal free oranges? Or boobies, bananas? What’s a guy gotta do for an eggplant? This was an eye-opening experience that I would rather not have.

Apparently, Diana noticed my sadness at being excluded from the giving of the green garlic. Whether it was the sadness in my eyes or my 10 minutes of complaining/whining, I cannot be sure. But she did notice. And being the friend she is, she handed me her green garlic. Instantly I was taken back to childhood and when a bank teller would pacify me with a lollipop so my mom could finish her business. Guess things really haven’t changed much.

I will go back to the Echo Park Farmer’s Market today. I will give the farmer one more chance to offer me free green garlic. And should he do it, I will accept with a smile and all will be forgotten. After all, green garlic is plucked from garlic fields to give other garlic bulbs more time to grow and develop. So really, it’s just kind of a weed as far as farmers are concerned. But it is a weed I covet.

Because the green garlic was so fresh I wanted to taste it with little else to overpower it. So heeding the farmers call to eat the entire thing, I took it home, chopped it up, slathered a loaf of French bread with butter and freshly grated Parmesan, topped it with green garlic and some crushed red pepper, slid it under the broiler and in a matter of minutes was crunching on one of the best pieces of garlic bread mankind has ever known.

Maybe the farmer will read this blog and realize the error of his ways. If not, sexism will live on at the Echo Park Farmer’s Market and I will be forced to pay for my green garlic.

Oh well.

***UPDATE***
I returned to the same vendor a few weeks later and I was given my green garlic. However, I did not return the favor to Diana and indeed kept my garlic for myself.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dealing


We all deal with grief in our own way. Red meat and haiku are my personal vices of choice.

This was the result of yesterday's grieving upon realizing that CBS would not be broadcasting any of the North Carolina basketball game on the west coast.

UNC's not on
I made hamburgers instead
Happy once again

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mom, Why Are There No Easter Eggs This Year? Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Rabbit

It doesn’t take too much driving around the southeastern United States on a fall Saturday afternoon before one comes across a church, school or volunteer fire department having a fundraiser. The fundraisers are easy to spot, as usually there is a…well, there’s a sign. And that sign usually reads something like, “Brunswick stew $4 a quart.”

Should one miss the sign, a group of people standing around a voluminous cauldron taking turns stirring its contents with a large wooden paddle is another sure-fire sign that someone is trying to raise some money (however, should they be dropping dead bats and kitten tails into the pot, you have probably stumbled across a witching ceremony and it is best to continue down the road). At the very least, it is a sign that folks are about to partake in some good eatin’ and you should try to sweet talk your way into the party.

Brunswick stew is a popular fundraising food because it is fairly simple to make, it’s filling, with a little going a long way and because it is really good stuff. People in the southeast consider it a comfort food and buy the stuff up by the gallon; usually buying a quart or two for immediate consumption and a couple of more to stash away in the freezer for the next snowy day.

Brunswick stew is best eaten with a column of saltines and a bottle of your favorite hot sauce. And though it is a relatively low-fat food, it will fill your belly for the rest of the day.

But what exactly is it?

Brunswick stew is similar to a very thick vegetable soup, with meat. It is cooked slowly over a small fire and stirred constantly for hours until all flavors meld together. Stews usually contain corn, butterbeans, potatoes, onions and stewed tomatoes. Most people usually use chicken, pork and sometimes stew beef when making this delicious regional dish (the region, however, is still not precisely defined as Brunswick County VA and Brunswick, GA each make a claim to being the namesake). Regardless of the meat used, I’ve yet to taste one that is less than phenomenal.

However, it was not until the other day that I tasted one that was authentic. You see, old timers will tell you that a true Brunswick stew contains small game animals such as squirrel or rabbit. While one can find about most anything one wants in Los Angeles, squirrel is not one of those things. I suppose I could have shot my own, but the city tends to frown upon civilians walking around parks with hunting rifles. So I opted for rabbit.

I had never cooked rabbit before. Not because I had an ethical problem with it, but rather because it just never seemed all that appealing. You see, fat equals flavor. Rabbits live on vegetables and exercise daily which results in a very lean meat. And if I wanted tasteless meat, I would eat free-range, grass-fed beef (For the record, I don’t support inhumane treatment to animals…unless, of course, it makes them taste significantly better). But I was cooking my annual southern feast and everything must be authentic. So in the words of Elmer Fudd, “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”

But where could I find a cute and cuddly bunny rabbit that was ready to eat? Actually, I was not opposed to gutting and skinning one myself just to say I did it. In fact, after a little help from the World Wide Web, not only was I prepared to disembowel one of the fuzzy creatures myself, I was ready to try my hand against the best of ‘em. I had visions of catching a rabbit with my bare hands, breaking its tasty little neck and hanging its dried out ears from my rearview mirror as a warning to all other rabbits who dared cross my path. The one problem was that I could not find one. There were a few at the pet store, but I decided that would only be my last resort.

Eventually, I found the above beauty frozen in my favorite butcher shop. And I guess that was for the best. After terrorizing a few pre-schoolers with inappropriate Easter bunny jokes, I made my way home where I chopped up Bugs and threw him in my pot along with my veggies and everyone’s favorite bird, the chicken. Although I was forced to cook my stew on the stovetop, instead of on a small fire outdoors (the same city that frowns on shooting squirrels also frowns on building cooking fires on the sidewalks. I thought CA was supposed to be sooooo liberal?), the end result still looked and smelled similar to the stew I knew and loved as a child. But how would it taste? I was concerned that the rabbit might lend a gamey flavor to my stew. Then what would I do? It’s kind of hard to flush 19 liters of stew down the toilet (not to mention I’m sure CA has some kind of law against it). So I held my breath and tried it. Not too bad. Not gamey at all. In fact, it taste just like…well, we all know what it taste like because every meat seems to taste like this. Yes, friends, my rabbit tasted just like chicken.

Nonetheless, I was proud to help keep alive a dying tradition of using small game meat in Brunswick stew. Even if rabbit did cost me $5 more per pound than chicken, the experience was worth it. But now that I have done it, look for all future stews made by yours truly to contain 100% domesticated meat.

Puppy anyone?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Squirm

video

I know the video is small, but it’s the best I had since a still photo really wouldn’t do this story justice. Do read on to understand.

The building was certainly unassuming enough. Just another windowless, hole-in-the-wall nestled in a corner under a white sign with blue lettering in the heart of Los Angeles’s Koreatown beckoning for those in the know to stop by for a meal.

If one was truly in the know, one might be aware that this was one of the oldest Korean restaurants in Los Angeles. And then one might give it a second glance. If one was observant, one might notice the name ‘Masan Restaurant’ spelled out in English underneath the same name written in a much larger Korean font. If one was a little intuitive, one might reason that unlike the neighboring restaurants whose signs bore no English at all, that this restaurant may well have become sought out by those other than the immediate Korean speaking community. And again one might give it a second glance. Most others would simply pass by, on their way to stuff their faces with all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ, not knowing the jewel they were overlooking.

Nothing against all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ, but that is another blog for another day.

Inside Masan patrons are given menus and sat at tables with doorbells on the wall. The table doorbell is quite possibly the best restaurant invention since the fork. Ready for your order to be taken? Ring the doorbell. Need another beer? Ring the doorbell. Ready for the check? Ding-dong. But at Masan, once you ring that doorbell, you better be ready to point to your order as English is spoken at a minimum here. If you are lucky, you speak Korean and have nothing to worry about. If you’re even luckier, you’ve gone with someone else who speaks it and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy.

Upon figuring out that continually pressing the doorbell is not nearly as much fun for your server as it is for you, one is left with only two real options. Option 1; go look at the fish tanks in the front of the restaurant. Or Option 2; look at the menu. Seeing as how the menu is in front of you and the fish tanks are a full 8 paces away, a glance at the menu is usually the logical progression.

Next up in this progression is to look around the room, back down at the menu, around the room again and then back to the menu. You see, all dishes at Masan are priced above $20. While this is Los Angeles and overpriced menus are nothing out of the norm, one cannot help but feel a little confusion when coupling these kinds of prices with Masan’s ambiance that is created by fluorescent lighting and Korean beer posters.

But Masan is full of the unexpected.

It was mentioned a couple of paragraphs up that Masan is best navigated with a Korean speaker. I was lucky enough to have such a speaker in my group. But as was mentioned even earlier, English is on the sign in front for a reason. Without it, non-Korean speakers would not flock here. But it is and they do. And while the servers may not know much English, they do understand at least 3 words. And those words are, “Live octopus, please.”

I knew what I was getting myself into, for I had been searching out a place to try this dish for over a year. However, the extent to which I was getting into it caught me completely off guard.
I was not expecting an entire octopus as depicted in the movie “Old Boy”. I was expecting a couple of tentacles served still moving and possibly on a bed of rice.

Nope and nope.

Imagine an average size plate completely covered with gray and white tentacles chopped up and squirming around (think chopped up slugs). That’s what we got.

The best way to relate to what was going on before me was to think of earthworms. I’m sure most all of us as children either ripped apart a worm, or watched an older brother do so, just to watch the multiple parts wiggle around as if living separate lives. The main difference was that those earthworms never made it to the dinner table. These tentacles were also much thicker than the quintessential fishing bait…and they had suction cups. The main similarity was that these guys, like the mutilated earth worms, did not want to be around curious humans and were going to fight ‘til the bitter end.

Moving like inch worms, a few tentacles wasted no time making a break for it by inching their way off the plate. In a moment of complete and utter sadism, I found it quite entertaining to let them get to the cusp of freedom at the edge of the table before seizing them between my chopsticks and returning them to the pile where they would await their dismal fate.

While the rogue tentacles were easy to pick up, due to them having exhausted most of their energy on their plight for freedom, the others knew what was in store and reserved their energy for the final battle. If chopsticks weren’t tricky enough to use, try using them on something that really doesn’t want them used on it in the first place. The tentacles would contract making themselves appear very small. Perhaps the tentacles had the anti-survivor of the fittest mentality; they thought that the big guys would go first. And they were right. However, some of the smallest tentacles, once trapped between two skinny pieces of wood, elongated and thrashed wildly to avoid what was now the inevitable…or at least what this opposing thumbed mammal thought would be the inevitable. You see the fight does not culminate once the tentacle has been grasped between chopsticks, rather it continues until gastric juices finally win out deep inside the stomach (and even then I think there is probably still a “Toxic Avenger” like tentacle in my stomach waiting for the just right moment to rise again). Once in the mouth, tentacles hold onto anything and everything they can to prevent becoming part of the food chain. Immediately, the first tentacle I placed in my mouth sucked onto the inside of my cheek and refused to let go. Not knowing how to react, I fought back, trying all the while not to think of the leaches scene in “Stand By Me.”

Alas, the invertebrate was no match for years of training put in by my molars which had honed their destructive skills on much tougher competition like beef jerky…and public school lunches.

Eating food that doesn’t go down without a fight is one way to thoroughly appreciate a meal. It creates a sense of primal accomplishment by making a person feel as if the playing field was a little more even during this dining experience (I'm pretty sure no one is holding out for free-range octopus after eating a plate of the stuff). One’s pride may even swell a little knowing that yet again the two legger was victorious. Try getting that feeling with an apple Danish.

For those who consider the true sign of a more advanced creature to be an intelligent brain opposed to brute mouth strength, Masan supplies sesame oil. When doused with oil those suction cups don’t stand a chance.

In the end, the three of us cleaned the plate. The octopus and 2 large beers came out to a total of $38 which wasn’t too bad. But considering we followed that up with 6 tacos, 2 tostadas, al pastor nachos and pitcher of beer from a taco stand down the street, for only $25, live octopus isn’t the most economical choice to fill your belly. While it is a worthwhile cultural experience to have, I compare it to being on the plane that crashed in the Hudson; it’s a lot of fun to say you did it, but you don’t really care to do it again.

Oh, but how did they taste you may ask? Imagine having the flu and hocking up a cold, aggressive loogie that you just can’t seem to spit out of your mouth. That about sums it up.

Try it for yourself at Masan Restaurant located at 2851 W. Olympic Ave.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It Is Not Wrong to Be In Love With The Sardine


Eric B and Rakim may have said it best in their song, ‘Paid In Full,’

“Fish, which is my favorite dish
But without no money it's still a wish.”

But fear no more as these bad boys pictured cost only about $1.19 per pound (only they come with the meat still on the skeleton)!

These are fresh sardines. Many may remember sardines as stinky, oily fish in a can that less than comforting old-timers used to munch on back in the day. Well, they are. But they were not always that way. Before that creepy old man who talks to himself outside the liquor store while dropping them in his toothless mouth got his hands on them, they were part of much larger schools swimming around in the ocean.

Today, fresh sardines can be found on many restaurant menus and cost a lot more than the canned version. But that is when they are prepared for you. Preparing them yourself results is a cheap, healthy and satisfying meal.

Contrary to popular belief, sardines do not stink. Like any fresh fish, if they smell, then they are old and should be avoided. They are, however, oily. Not as oily as those that get come from a can full o’ oil, but oily in the good way that makes them packed full of Omega 3 fatty acids which help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper B vitamins and calcium. In fact, 3oz of sardines contain the same amount of calcium as an 8oz glass of milk!

In addition to the goodness they contain, it’s also what they do not contain that makes them even healthier. Since they are small and low on the food chain, sardines contain a very small amount of harmful toxins, like mercury and lead, that are found in significant amounts in larger fish like the popular tilapia, mackerel and tuna just to name a few.

Yet another benefit with sardines is they are currently not in danger of being over fished. Thus, you can eat them with a clean conscious. The same can’t be said for that mercury-laden tuna you dig on either at the local sushi bar or from a can.

So in these tough economic times, why not explore new horizons while doing your body some good and keeping some money in your pocket by trying the simple recipe for sardines listed below.

Oh, and if you are still looking for a restaurant that serves the old-school sardines in a can, might I guide you to the best salad bar in the world located at The Old Country Club Steakhouse, in Roxboro, NC. There, next to the homemade dressings and fresh bacon bits you will find a jar full of sardines just waiting to be the piece de resistance on an already fantastic salad.


*Warning: While these fish are tasty, I would not recommend eating 1.2 pounds of them at one sitting as I did. Not that they are bad, but considering the average fish portion is just 4oz, 1.2 lbs is a whole lot of fish to eat.


Grilled Sardines with Lemon

12 fresh sardines (about 2 to 3 ounces each)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
fine sea salt
teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


De-bone and rinse sardines. Pat dry with paper towels. Spread sardines on a plate and drizzle with about 1 Tbl of olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Heat grill pan over moderately high heat until hot. Grill sardines (may require cooking in two batches) turning over once, until just cooked through about 4 to 5 minutes total per batch. Remove fish from pan and put on a clean plate.
Stir together lemon juice and 2 tablespoons oil. Drizzle mixture over sardines and eat.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All Over But The Angioplasty


After months of talk and speculation, Baconfest: Dine on Swine in ’09 commenced in an inconspicuous apartment in Atwater Village on Saturday 2/21. The following is an account of that night.



Outside, chants rang out like a steamship attempting to gain speed on concrete. A prayer gathering of sorts was in full ritual and was making itself known. Unfortunately, the group’s grunts were in vain for it appeared they were the only other illuminated window on the block. It was Saturday night after all. And Atwater Village was out to party.

And that was fine. Party on, Atwater Village.

However, the other action on the block belonged to a group of 11 which resisted the tempting fruits offered by Atwater Village on a Saturday night and gathered in apartment B. For doing so they would be rewarded on this particular evening. And they knew that.

Some arrived to apartment B brimming over with wonder and excitement. While others arrived using brave faces to hide their apprehension. All arrived committed to the task ahead of them.

Earlier in the week the participants had been instructed to come prepared to eat or to not come at all. Whether or not any of the 11 was intimidated by the instructions is unknown as well as irrelevant. For no one backed down and all receiving the message arrived on time (or at least close enough to on time given the group’s low expectations on promptness).

Of the 11 gathered in apartment B, only 9 were to participate in the eating of the bacon. Since no one had ever participated in such an event as this before, no one could be sure of any possible side effects that ingesting copious amounts of bacon might have on one’s physical and/or mental state. Therefore, 2 witnesses were required should the other 9 fall victim to any form of bacon intoxication previously un-experienced by anyone in the group. It helped that these witnesses were vegetarians. Thus, the probability of them falling victim to bacon intoxication was nearly half that of their more carnivorous brethren.

Never doubt the power of bacon.

One of said witnesses dwelled full-time in apartment B. To hold Baconfest in apartment B was a brilliant plan thought of by one of the original 5. For who would think to crash a pig party at a vegetarian’s place? No one, that’s who.

And no one did. Bacon sizzled and drinks flowed while the 9 indulged with little worry of interruption. The night was filled with many laughs and possibly a few tears. Ladies barked for joy and men begged for mercy. There was plenty of overindulgence and a fair amount of satisfaction. And yes, there was some doubt at times. But no one had gone into this alone. All would finish, or none would finish. And all did finish.

The details of that night may never become public knowledge. Even those who participated may never clearly comprehend exactly what went down. But 5 hours after the soirée began, the door of apartment B opened and the participants trickled out as inconspicuously as they had entered. The chanting had stopped and the chilly night air was refreshing. Almost purifying.

It was getting late. A few more lights were now on, and it was obvious that Atwater Village would be soon calling it a night. But before Atwater Village would close down the social gathering places and stumble home with a bag full of tacos, the participants would be gone and apartment B would once again become animal flesh free.

BACONFEST MENU

Pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres

Brie stuffed with brown sugar, walnuts and bacon in puff pastry

Scallion peanut butter canapés with bacon

Deep fried bacon with chipotle-lime aioli


Dinner

Course 1 – Almond stuff dates wrapped in bacon with a garlic-butter sauce

Course 2 – Celery root soup with bacon, Granny Smith apples and celery

Course 3 – Grilled pear salad with bacon, walnuts, Gorgonzola and ruby port vinaigrette with crackers wrapped in bacon

Course 4 – Cantaloupe sorbet with candied bacon

Course 5 – Chicken breasts stuffed with caramelized shallots, bacon, sage and Parmesan, topped with fried sage

Course 6 – Pan seared sea scallops over bacon lentils with a cider reduction and Mascarpone cream sauce

Course 7 – Peanut butter and bacon chocolate truffles

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dying Delicacy Or Appetizing Amphibian ?


While on a recent trip home to North Carolina, I was stunned to see a collection of flours like none other in the local Food Lion. Here in Los Angeles, when I go to buy flour, my choices are limited to a very small selection. So you can imagine my delight when I counted over 10 brands of flour to choose from!

Why does flour excite me so? Because I am on a crusade to make the best biscuit ever known to mankind. While I do enjoy the exotic treats my local L.A. grocery stores provide, like dragon fruit and tamarind pulp, either of which would be near impossible to find in a southern grocery store, they are lacking in the basics needed to make good southern food; in particularly biscuits. And there before me seemed to be the Mecca of biscuit flours (I’ve come to expect a wider pork product selection then anywhere else in the land, but never anticipated an abundance of flour).
I snatched up about 20lbs of flour and headed home for a biscuit-making extravaganza that would ultimately turn my mother’s kitchen into what would look like a winter wonderland (luckily she was out of town and therefore could not ground me for making such a mess).

But this blog is not about making biscuits. It is about what I ate while making biscuits. While I do love biscuits (There is little better than a warm flaky biscuit just out of the oven with a pat of butter (or, of course, a few strips of bacon or fried chicken and melted cheese {see previous blogs below}), I’ve been making about two batches a week and have grown a little numb to them for the time being. Thus it was necessary for me to pick up another item to nibble on for lunch.

After forcing myself away from the pork section of the store, I stumbled across the delicacy known as frog legs and knew they must be prepared.

If you’ve never had frog legs, it is true, they do taste a lot like chicken. And they are as every bit as simple to fry up as fowl.

But what alarmed me upon closer inspection of the package was that these frog legs were not yanked from a local creek, but rather were shipped from China??? Now seriously, Food Lion, is there some shortage of local frogs and local frog killers that you must have them shipped in from the other side of the world? I would like to think not. Shame on you Food Lion (but please keep up the good work with the flour and swine)!

Nevertheless, I ate them and they were very good. But my conscious really did ache ever so slightly (but that pain was replaced with overwhelming joy when I shortly thereafter nailed the master biscuit recipe! {And you can hang up any ideas that that recipe will EVER be appearing here.}).

But to my chagrin, said conscious again took a beating when I read an article released only 2 days prior claiming that frogs are rapidly disappearing due to human consumption.

We can blame the dwindling population on, well, the Frogs. Not the one’s on our plate, but the ones in Europe. For it is the French that consume the most frog legs in a given year and we will label them the bad guys (yet again. {Hmm, should we call heretofore call refer to them as ‘Freedom Legs?’}) for doing so. However, the US is a close second while Indonesia leads the world in frog leg exports.

Almost 11,000 tons of frog meat is consumed annually. That’s about 200 million – 1 billion frogs! In fact, Indonesia quit exporting frog legs after the country was so overrun by the flies and mosquitoes that were left to multiply exponentially without their #1 predator.

Years ago when I heard Chilean Sea Bass was dwindling away, I quit eating it (yes, that does make me a better person than you). It wasn’t easy due to it being the daily special on every Applebee’s & Cheesecake Factory menu between here and the moon. Yet I have successfully stayed away from that delicious fish for many years now…and so should you. I can make no such promise to the frog. While I will stay away from all frogs that had to buy a transpacific ticket just to get here, frogs that are killed by a good ol’ boy with a frog gigger are still fair game.

In the meantime, should you find yourself with your own dead frog on the end of a sharp homemade weapon, try this recipe for a crunchy treat. There are many gourmet recipes for frog legs, this is not one of them. But it is good eatin’ nonetheless.


Fried Frog Legs
Serves 4

8 pair frog legs
1 cup veg oil
1/2 cup flour
3 cups buttermilk
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1 dash oregano
1 dash rosemary

Frog legs from the store should be already skinned. If using fresh frog, skin legs and parboil for 3 min in one part lemon juice or white vinegar to four parts water before continuing. Cover with buttermilk and garlic in a mixing bowl, refrigerate for 1 hour. Pat dry, season with paprika, onion powder, cayenne and S&P. Add oregano and rosemary to the flour. Heat oil in a skillet. Lightly flour the frog legs and fry until golden brown.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bacon Fest '09


On February 21, 2009 a festival to end all festivals will be held in Los Angeles. If all goes well, it will become an annual occurrence. I am talking about Bacon Fest '09.

Now, don't book your tickets to L.A. just yet. For one, Bacon Fest is very exclusive (and you can't get in). For another, Bacon Fest is less like a festival and more like a dinner I'm preparing for a few friends. (But seriously, what looks better on a t-shirt: "Dinner at my house" or "BACON FEST '09?")

It all started with a harmless email sent from a fellow bacon lover to a small group of other bacon lovers. The email was sent to praise the ingeniousness of a new invention called Baconaise. A bacon flavored mayo that this dear blogger has yet to try.

Who would've ever guessed that this simple email would have started an exchange of fried pork anecdotes that would last for months? While light and airy at first, the emailers (heretofore known as the Bacon 5, or B5 for short) began to take on a demanding tone. You see, it was just too much to talk about the tasty meat day in and day out; the B5 wanted to be fed bacon. And lots of it. That is when the B5 demanded yours truly prepare a bacon tasting menu.

I have been working on this menu for the last several weeks and have discovered gazillions of bacon recipes. I have found battered deep-fried bacon, bacon bowls, bacon wrapped pork, pig candy, bacon cupcakes, sausage rolled into a bacon like burrito and many more. All of them appear exquisite, but alas I can only make so many. That is where I need your help, dear bloggies. I need help whittling down my choices. Do you have a favorite bacon recipe? You wanna share it? Leave a comment and tell me more! I'll even exchange ideas with you. If you give me enough good ideas then you, yes you, will receive a hard to come by invite to Bacon Fest '09! After the fest, all recipes will be posted here (and yes, with credit given where credit is due).

Until then, I will leave you with a recipe for making your very own bacon.


Bacon

2.5 lb of pork belly, with skin on
2.5 tbl kosher salt (oh, the irony)
1.5 tbl sugar
1 tbl black peppercorns
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic

(Quite frankly, along with the salt you can use about anything you want for the rub).

Rinse pork and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Grind spices and garlic and rub all over both sides of meat. Seal meat in a 1 gallon size resealable plastic bag and place in refrigerator for 7 days. Flip the mat over every other day. After 7 days, remove the meat from the bag and wash thoroughly in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Place meat on a sheet tray and cook until the center of the meat reads 150 degrees on a thermometer, about 2 hours. Transfer bacon to a work surface and slice off the skin and allow to cool to room temperature. Pat dry, wrap bacon in wax paper and refrigerate until chilled through. The bacon is now ready to be sliced and fried. Bacon will hold for about 10 days in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer.

Stuff It



Sometimes words simply mess things up.



Southern Stuffing

1 1-pound loaf crusty country-style white bread
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced


6 Tbl (3/4 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 lb. peeled shrimp, chopped in half or thirds, depending on the size
1/2 lb. sliced bacon, chopped
1 lb. collard greens, coarsely torn
1 3/4 cups low-salt chicken broth, divided
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley


Preheat oven to 375°F.
Cut bread into 1” cubes. Toss with olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and spread on a sheet tray. Bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Stir at midway point. Put cooked bread in a large bowl.

Over med-high heat, melt butter and sauté onion, celery and red pepper until soft, about 10 min. Add shrimp and sauté until just pink. Transfer to a bowl. Sauté bacon until crisp. Transfer bacon to bowl with vegetables. Pour off all but 1 tbl fat from skillet. Add greens and broth to skillet, cover and sauté until greens are just soft, about 5 min. Drain liquid and add greens to shrimp. Add parsley.

Place mixture in freezer for 5-10 minutes to rapidly cool. Or let come to room temperature naturally.

Add shrimp mix to bread along with remaining ¾ cup broth. Stir and put into a greased 13x9-baking dish. Cover with foil and cook for 25 minutes. Remove foil and cook until top starts to brown, about 25 minutes longer.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Reunited And It Feels So Good


On January 1, 2009 I ate French fries. This may not seem extraordinary to you, but to me it was like Christmas all over again. You see these were the first fries to cross my lips in nearly five months.

After thinking I might have a heart problem, I decided to quit eating fries for the rest of the year. That day was August 15, 2008. A few months later when I learned I had the cholesterol of a koala, I decided to keep my promise just to see if I could do it.

It was not easy, because I absolutely love fries! I feel that a hot fry is divine. A warm fry is still pretty darn good. A luke-warm fry can be overlooked, as long as there is plenty of ketchup. But a cold fry is a disgrace. And I forced myself to do without any of them for what seemed like an eternity. I mean I could eat fries every day of the week. On several occasions I actually have. But despite the pain and a few near misses, I succeeded in my goal to finish the year fry free. But now the year had been over for nearly 13 hours and I wanted my fries.

Because these were to be very special fries I had to choose them carefully. I couldn’t risk some hung-over fry cook half-assing my French fries. I needed a name I could trust. That name was McDonald, Ronald McDonald.

McDonald’s fries are hot, crispy on the outside and soft in the inside; the three requirements for any French-fry to be worthy of time in your mouth. For those of you who are rolling your eyes in disagreement, I have two words: Shut It.

McDonald’s fries are not the best fries I’ve ever had, that honor belongs to Fergburger in Qweenstown, New Zealand. Nor are they the best fries for sopping up Heinz ketchup (anything else is just a waste of tomatoes), that is what one does with Bojangles’ season fries that are salty enough to give a dolphin high blood pressure. And fries cooked in the ever so trendy duck fat have no equal when it comes to richness. However, McDonald’s fries are the most consistent on the market.

Even some of my favorite fry makers have off days. When I eat fries that are a bit overdone or the oil in the fryer is a couple of uses too old, it leaves me feeling a little cheated at the end of my meal. Not Ronald. His fries are always perfect and I knew my risk of disappointment was nil. One can’t be sure the sun will rise in the morning, but one can sleep well knowing McDonald’s fries will taste the same as they did the last time, every time.
My recent obsession with French fries led me to attempt to learn of their origins. After hours of research I know only one thing: people everywhere like them.
While France, Belgium and even Spain like to lay claim to the fried potato, it is Thomas Jefferson who gets the credit for popularizing the fry in the US. After returning from a stint as the Minister of France in 1789, the US President-to-be brought back a recipe for his chefs called “potatoes fried in the French manner.” But even this is a mystery as it is debunked by several fry researchers (dare call them, “fry-sci’s?”).

Cooking French Fries seems simple enough: cut potatoes, drop in oil, salt and eat. And truthfully, that’s all there really is to it. But if that’s true, why then do all French fries taste differently? And to that I say... I haven’t the slightest idea.
Whether you call them chips, papas fritas, pommes, frytki or картофель фри, here’s a method to make great fried potatoes every time.



Heat oven to 200.
Heat oil in fryer or pot to 325. (True bad-asses use horse fat).
Slice an old Russet potato into wedges or fries. (Older potatoes have less moisture resulting in a lighter and fluffier fry).
Place fries in a bowl of ice water while cutting remaining potatoes.
Drain fries and dry off extra water with paper towels. (Water breaks down cooking oil making burning more likely).
Add fries to hot oil in batches. Adding too many at once will drastically lower the oil temperature and leave you with a greasy, soggy mess.
Cook fries for until tender and barely golden, about 4-5 min.
Remove fries from oil and drain on a rack or paper.
Cook remaining batches.
After final batch is removed from the oil, increase the temperature to 375-385. Once at temperature, add fries, again in batches, and cook until golden-brown and crispy, about 2-3 min.
Remove from oil, salt and place on rack in 200-degree oven to hold until ready to serve.