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