Friday, December 31, 2010

Eating Out The Last Post Of The First Decade

And so as 2010 winds down to a frigid and entertaining finale, we take some time to reflect up on the year that was.  To look back on who we were then and who we have grown to become today.  To assess our triumphs and tragedies and try to put them all into perspective.

It's amazing how much life can change.  Back in 2000 I was living in Los Angeles, a good enough cook to feed myself but hardly worthy of braggadocio.  The lions share of my writing duties entailed editing or entirely re-writing poorly laid out surveys for a telefundraising company.  And the height of my performance skills was being able to lie to a boss or a girlfriend with equal facility.  And if you'd told me that I'd wind up back in Fresno living the life I do today...well let's say that I would have considered it unlikely.

Even just a year ago, Cap'n Scurvy's Apocalypse Hoedown Revival was still a conceptual script.  The majority of my writing were short stories of such a disgusting nature that one reader commented "I can kinda taste poo in my mouth".  I was certainly studying the ins and outs of the foodly arts, but again, I was in my infancy of experimentation.  Learning how to make a roux, developing a taste for shallots, altering a few recipes found online and being brave enough to attempt to serve them to friends and family.

And that brings us to this year.  Which I believe is a rare and wonderful one, personally.  First off, I'm still in love, which is quite nice.  Then, the Hoedown opened to warm reviews and even set an attendance record for the Rogue Festival (no pressure for next year).  And we landed a weekly food spot on Chuck Leonard's Central Valley Talk Live!  Which, besides being asstons of fun, getting to shake my butt on camera while cooking for an appreciative studio audience, I've also gotten to meet some of the most interesting people involved in the Tower District and the greater Fresno art scene.  Hell!  I bartended the opening of an art gallery!  Whodathunk a moment like that would creep into my life? 

And that brings us around to the blog.  We're almost at a full year of depraved food themed nonesense dribbling from my fingers and flung out to an uncaring internet.  It's rather shocking to me that I've been able to keep up in some respectable manner with providing content.  Initially the idea was to focus solely on snarky food reviewing and some insight into where our food comes from.  Alas, not working a "real job" tends to leave us with a few dollars too few to run up to Erna's Elderberry House for the $159 prix fixe menu, or over to Trelio for a 3 hour wine sampling orgy.  So, we've dribbled in those that we could as the meals made their way into our lives.  The other direction got fairly de-railed after the farmers market debacle.  The short lesson being, that a high enough percentage of people are unlikeable enough to make interviews unpalatable.  But a few requests from a kind Canadian couple for some tastier vegetarian type dishes gave me the inspiration and drive to start highlighting some of our favorite dishes that we cook at home and some of the other local sources we get the ingredients from.

And sure there have been lows.  As any writer who has ever whined on a blog has said, some days the words just aren't there.  Or in some cases are too drunk or too trite by the light of day to post.  A couple week to two week breaks, in which I could regroup creatively and muster up a post that hopefully we both find entertaining.  If not, it's often said that I speak merely to hear myself talk, so it's not so odd to type merely to see my thoughts. 

It's been a long and sweet year.  Many triumphs were achieved, many morels were eaten in a brandy cream sauce and many new and odd foods were brought into my culinary balliwhack.  And despite any bumps in the road, this year really made me feel accomplished as a creative, shaved, ape.  Maybe this year I can even connive some of the fancy upper crust bloggy types to link back to the ole EOF in place of pages that haven't been updated since 2008, but probably not.

And thats not so bad.  It was the intention upon creation for Eating Out Fresno to be a crass and boisterous blog.  A place where the only censorship is self imposed and only then when the rambling doesn't serve the subject of the post or the flavor of the writing.  And thats certainly not for everyone.  But I'm overjoyed that you, dear readers believe that EOF is for you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your attention this year.  And I hope that I can remain interesting enough to keep you enraptured for years to come.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eating Out Your Despair

Lee Ving said it best: "Don't despair, just because it's Christmas.  Children they, are so gay at Christmas.  All the toys, at their feet, wanting something good to eat....FUCK CHRISTMAS!"  And you too can fuck up Christmas today, with us!  On....CHUCKMAS!!!!

That's right kids!  A 3 hour Christmas extravaganza on your Central Valley Buzz and stretching into Tattoos and Music Reviews!  But there's more!  The Bullpen Cafe will be turning out some amazingly tangy lumps of hot beef!  There's gonna be bands, bands, BANDS!  And of course that wonderful sprinking of madness that the Tower locals always bring to a live show.  Not to mention, yours truly, who is going to be showing off one of my favorite recipes, romesco sauce!  So strap in, log on and hang out with us from 4pm until 7pm!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Eating Out A Wee Peek

Yes, I’m a naughty, wicked boy. I peeked. I guess I’m supposed to feel guilty, but the only bummer was getting caught. But oh, if you could have felt that sticky warm sense of happiness and gratitude when I realized that the postman had dropped off a rather pregnant looking Airmail envelope. Whatever could this be? Return address says New South Wales, Australia. Wait…NEW South Wales? The same one where stoner pepper maniac Neil of The Hippy Seed Company resides? EEEEEEE! This moment is even sweeter than when I accepted my tiara as Homecoming Economics Queen. Christmas is so much sweeter when it comes early! Besides, it’s not really cheating, I can’t start germinating until around January. Some of these are known to take up to 6 weeks to germinate! And so much to do! Soil to amend and sterilize, space to be cleared, heating and lighting setups to be figured out, a cat defensive perimeter to be devised. Thankfully I’m avoiding gadget fever and so super sexy metal halide megalights just aren’t on my radar. I just want to get them sprouted and stable enough to get them potted and let the oppressive Fresno sun do it’s UV radiation mojo. But onto the stars of our (hopefully) bountiful upcoming pepper garden!

We got Bhut Jolokias! The original big name of superhots that have intrigued me to the point of near obsession. Trust me, ask anyone about my Peter Peppers, I’m worse than folks with their first child. These are notoriously difficult to germinate and are reputed to not be terribly strong producers. But I figure even 1 or two should be enough for some emergency room quality comedy. And considering how I lost my dignity the other night attempting to make a chili eater vid with a green PP, I expect to be a mewling blob of pain should I deign to eat part of one raw.

Next up is the Bih Jolokia. A kissing cousin of the Bhut, with a similar, deadly, level of tooth melting heat. According to the biology paper posted on THSC, they’re distinct in that the Bih is a better producer and seems to be somewhat easier to grow. I hope that they’ll be a nice backup in case that the Bhuts live up to their reputation for difficulty.

Another of the Indian peppers we got is the Dorset Naga of the Naga Morich family. Rather than the Ghost Chili appellation of the Bhuts (which is apparently the result of a misspelling anyway), the folks of Nagaland where these originate from made damn sure that they got credit for their demonic dirt gems. Very much on par with the above peppers in heat. Although in almost all live descriptions of the flavor, the most I get from the tasters is; “Fruity…HOThothothotHAWT!” But they should come out all bumpy and nifty looking. Maybe I can convince my jelly friends to help me make a weapons grade marmalade!

And now we leap across the supercontinent over to the Caribbean. The funny thing is that these are all still cousins with the Indian peppers, capsicum Chinese. Starting off with the meanest, we’ve got the Trinidad Scorpion, so named for the curled stinger shape of the point of the pod (and their country of origin of course). From all I’ve seen in the pepper tests, this one seems to be the most painful and feared of the pepper types. Chili powder, here we come!

Then we’ve got the 7 pots, sometimes known as 7 pods. The story goes that these living cinders are so hot that you can use one of them to season at least 7 pots of stew (or the Carib equivalent). So we got some of the 7pot Jonah variety, mostly because I’m hoping that a more “bred up” version of the pepper will be a hearty producer. We’ll see soon enough.

Also we got the 7pot Douglah, otherwise known as the Chocolate 7pot, since they turn a deep purplish brown as they mature. This is another that is reputed to be hotter than hot ever hoped to be on it’s best day with a coke hardon. I guess THSC’s are a strain developed by some folks called Alphanerdz, which I think is pretty awesome since I’ll be growing a fairly new subspecies and hopefully helping to spread it to other chili fans after the season.

Haaaaabaneros! Nummy, burny and mean, these be. And we’ve got the exclusive THSC Red Savina Habanero pepper. Rated at up to 580,000 scovilles, it’s around half as hot as the hottest Bhuts and Nagas, but it’s also about double the heat of the average habanero. Pain by exponents. Not only did I go for these because of their heat, but also their impressively deep, red of the pods will add some striking color to the garden.

Next door to these we’ve got the Chocolate Habaneros. While not quite as hot at the Savina, these are still about half-again as hot as your average Habs. And given some of the reactions I’ve seen on the chili tests, this one has a rather special type of burn that comes at you sideways. I’m pondering smoking these and figuring out how to make an adobo style sauce for them for the most evil chipotle you’ve ever conceived.

The one I’ve been most excited about making hot sauces with would have to be the Fatali. Still in the Habanero category, it tends to grow in a more traditional pepper shape and ripens to a vibrant yellow color. Don’t mistake these bad boys for a Hungarian Wax though! Even though they’re not full fledged superhots, they still reside in that nebulous area between the pedestrian concept of hot and the nutjob version of eating pepper spray. These are reputed to have one of the most pleasant flavors for the pain endured.

Another of the flavor favorites is the Bonda Ma Jaques. What? The French colonized the fuck outta the Caribbean. This is also a Hab cousin and seems fairly closely related to the Fatali as well. Almost anywhere I’ve snooped about hot peppers and cooking, the Bonda has come up as a pleasure to eat. So I’m hoping that I’ll be posting bondage humor themed recipes of spiciness ad naseum. Smack My Chix Up, Bonda flavored chicken fingers with a creamy ebil Chocolate Hab chipotle aioli. Oh yes, spring can’t come fast enough!

And our one and only prevarication from the Chinese variety of capsicums, the Aji Lemon, which is instead a baccatum. What is that difference? Hell if I know. But they appear to be prolific in South America, this Aji coming from Peru. You know it has to be tasty, after all it’s got to, all that coca chewing has got to be hell on the taste buds! This one is off of the superhot radar, but instead lives up to it’s name in more than color and is supposed to have a nice citrus overtone to the flesh. This is the one I’m lining up for some spicy shrimp and other fish dishes. Plus, it’ll also add some nice color contrast to all of those reds, oranges and browns

Plus we got extras!! Who doesn’t love pleasant surprises? And we got two of them! The first was an additional baggy of 10 seeds with a Nagabon tag, but a personal note from the Lead Hippy himself saying that there are 9 Scotch Bonnet seeds and 1 more Bih Jolokia. W00t!! I’ve always been in love with the nifty shape of the Bonnet, but as you’ve seen, I’m up to my eyeballs in species! But it’s a delight to have too many awesome peppers to wrap my head around growing, plus the fun in figuring out which of the 10 seeds was the Bih. And the other, I’m presuming is an additional stocking stuff from our superawesome Bay Area Momma. A packet of black pepper, called Pepper Pepper. At first I thought that they were simply emphasizing the regular nature of the piper nigum, until I looked at the ingredients and saw that the peppercorns are infused with capsaisin! That’ll heat up your Cobb salad something fierce! I’m going to have to get a separate peppermill to keep from burning up Mrs. EOF.

And so there we are! A naughty preview of Christmas joy. And you didn’t even have to wake up early to the sounds of squalling children and clean up 12 acres of wrapping paper while resisting the urge to garrote your Uncle for getting the kids the “loud toy”. And I’ve got the vaguest idea of how much planning I’ve got ahead of me for spring. 12 new species of chili, plus my Peter Pepper project to sow comedy peppers far and wide across Fresno. Next up will the Great Germination Project in January. We’ll get the superhots started first, since they’re notorious for being difficult late risers. Then hopefully we’ll get them transplanted and growing outside once the frosts are done. Given my issues this year with the heat stressing the plants into blossom loss, I want to take as much advantage of the milder spring days for growth and have them fruiting as we edge toward the 90’s rather than watch them struggle to grow and produce in the 100’s.

It’s a spicy ass Christmas! And I’m sure you can tell that I’m already over the moon about it 10 days too early. If you’re lucky, you too can have a badass Mom’n’law who’ll gift you with indulgences for your horticultural habit (and who was probably just relieved that I didn’t ask for nipple piercings again this year). The tone for my season is set. I’m on happiness cruise control until I can start digging around in the dirt and make a general mess of things. Well, and until Christmas dinner, where I’ll have brought my own pepper grinder for dinner and fully plan to giggle when curious family members simply must have a taste…

Happy Holidays dear readers! May you be happy, warm and full. General peace with family members is optional. Warm cockles extra. 20% gratuity for parties over 10 and $19 corkage fee. Mileage may vary.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eating Out What I Want For Christmas

Okay, by show of hands, how many of your child selves would lock yourself in the closet with the varied department store catalogs and a half dead 30lb D-cell flashlight and bask in wonderful covetousness? JC Penny, Sears, Best (anyone remember Best? It was short for Best Damn Toy Catalog EVER!) all of which gave me endless hours of voyeuristic capitalist joy and ensured a short novel for a Wish List that was most often completely ignored in favor of crap AM radio headsets and the corded RC cars that you had to chase around and therefore ran into poles a lot. (It explains a lot, I realize this.)

These days my life is thankfully lacking in bad sweaters and swap meet toys. But I still love the fantastical chase of power window shopping. If you asked me what culinary toys or items I’d like for Christmas, I could vomit out 300 things under $100, most under $20. If you asked me which one I really needed or wanted more than anything, I’d tell you, not a single one. Why? Because as long as you have something sharp and something hot, you can cook. Sometimes that requires some extra creativity or revisiting some neglected techniques, but food can be made and it can taste good.

But that’s boring and preachy! Tis the season to want shit! And so if’n I had my druthers and a warehouse/kitchen to store all this crap in, here’s what would curl my elf shoes under the mistletoe. And damn the price cap!

First off, a good dehydrator. I’m not looking to go all granola Swiss Family Robinson or anything. But since I’m getting into growing hot peppers, it’s the best way to dry thinner peppers like habaneros. Not to mention, I’m a sucker for jerky, which this bad boy can knock out as well.

Knives! After all, who doesn’t want to have a laser in their hand? I’m almost 50/50 on the subject. I don’t believe the old adage that dull blades cause more injuries than sharp ones. Obviously they’ve never cooked while sloppy drunk. I kinda don’t mind a chefs knife that doesn’t shave through my fingernails while I’m chopping. Call it a preference for a margin of error. Still, who would cry about having these babies in your block?

Pickle crock? But it just looks like a ceramic jar you say? Aha! But it is hand thrown by Amish cyber ghosts and fired by the combustive farts of fire toads to magically maintain a fluid water seal at the top to keep out ucky bugs while you’ve got nice bugs turning your cukes into tangy taste bombs. Pluuuuuus, it’s a handy and useful tool in the making of hot pepper mash. Which is pretty much what it sounds like, but it’s also the preferred treatment of peppers for making hot sauce. How badass would it be to make sambal oelek at home?

Baking gear. The rather daunting scientific nature of baking has been glaring at me since I decided to get half ass serious about cooking. The above rant still applies, but it seems that with the proper gear, baking is a lot more pleasant. Good, heavy ceramic bowls. There’s just something so very pleasant about a nicely glazed bread bowl. Plus you get good insulation and moisture retention. Hotel pans. Even if you have to go with the smaller ones due to an apartment sized oven, there’s nothing more durable and versatile for your oven. And most certainly Sil-pats! These things blow my mind. You can even melt parmesan cheese onto them and it comes right up. Toss in a couple bread pans and you’re ready to rock!

The only two pans that I lack in my kitchen that I covet in my black little heart are both fairly small ones and both non-stick. The first one being a good egg fryin’ pan. I suck at fried eggs, so in that category I can use all of the cheater-help I can get to keep from busting my delicious yolks. The other would be a nice crepe pan. There’s already enough pressure to get the batter right, the last thing I want to do is learn to despise a dish because my spatula skills are on par with a lobster’s ability to put on a condom.

Ingredients! They’re like the batteries for all the new toys. And the lube! Who wouldn’t love some white truffle oil? Or even better, some black truffles by which to copy Batali’s beef cheek and duck liver ravioli in black truffle sauce recipe! And who wouldn’t love a whole, black footed Iberico ham? You think you won’t finish a whole hog leg before spring…until you taste it. Then you realize that you have to kill! Kill them all, for coveting your magical ham of utter mouth happy. Burn ‘em Ralphie boy! Burn them with demonically hot peppers and sauce from Australia! And then top them with a nice Stilton cheese.

But where are the gadgets, I hear you cry? The whirring and clanging whangdoodles predestined to the time capsule of the hidden back of the cabinet. Well, we are in Fantasy Land, so why not? First would be a nice deli slicer for that sexy ass ham! Not to mention, I could cut steaks thin enough for a proper Philly cheese. A vacuum sealer would do double duty, helping to preserve and portion stuff easier, as well as being perfect for ghetto sous vide cooking (no way I’d ever use an immersion circulator enough to even vaguely want one). What would be fun though is one of those super turbine food mills that can rend granite into a light cake flour. Plus I’m pretty sure you can run dried stuff like peppers and herbs through it for spice mixes. Plus, it’s a fucking turbine!

So here’s hoping that this has inspired a little bit of wish listing in you as well. Not only is it fun, but sometimes you can find some really good deals on stuff you actually want and be better able to nudge friends and family away from the bargain bin at the mall and guide them towards something that will make them happy, because you actually like their gift. After all, let’s face it…your friend’s and family’s tastes suck.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Eating Out the Other White Meat

I'll bet you're already sick of that cloying, slightly farty odor thats rising from that gallon ziplock in your meat drawer.  The idea of another cold (or worse, tepid) cranberry, mashed potato, turkey sandwich is enough to make you disavow the same thing you were eagerly raking in the compliments for, scant days prior.  And at this late stage in the game, does anyone really need a recipe?  They need advice.  Feed it to the cats, if they'll have it and start the harvest feasting anew.  And what cleanses a palate batter than pork and chilies?  So how about some black bean, pork chile con carne?

Black Bean Pork Chile con Carne

2lbs pork steaks cubed
1 shallot minced
3 cloves garlic crushed
6-8 tablespoons of our fresh chile powder
4 cups chicken stock
1 can of black beans or 2 cups of prepared black beans
4 sprigs thyme
3-4 fresh minced sage leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons olive oil

First, sautee your shallots in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Once they're glassy, add 3 tablespoons of the chile powder and cook together for about 2 minutes on low.  Meanwhile, toss your cubed pork steak in the remaining oil half the remaining chile powder.  Once your house smells wonderfully of chile and cumin, add in the pork and bring the heat up to medium.  You can add a little more oil if it becomes too dry for proper browning.  Once the pork has taken on some color, add in the chicken broth and the remaining spices and bring to a simmer.  Allow to simmer until reduced by about a quarter or it appears to be thickening up a bit, then add in your prepared black beans and continue to simmer until thickened to your liking.

Serve up with some cornbread or some heated corn tortillas and you're all set for a deliciously non-nutmeggy change of pace.  Although, I suppose if you're truly, truly deperate, you can always just do the shallots and chile powder, then add the stock and reduce, then add the black beans, and finally add in some of that dreaded bird that's taking up all of your refrigerator real estate.  I won't tell the spouse if you won't!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Eating Out A Brief Pause

Belated greetings and apologies dear readers.  In case you hadn't noticed, I've had a little bit of the writer's block of late.  Coupled with a fairly tight economic situation, there hasn't been as much to write about.  Especially since it's not terribly interesting to read about grabbing fast food on the fly or making favorite, but already covered recipes.  Still, last night's spaghetti was quite nummy.  And here's hoping that you're enjoying your own variations on the recipe.

Just checking in and promising that we're not dead in a ditch somewhere with hobos picking us over for the choicest bits.  Just at a low simmer creatively.  But worry not!  With the colder weather comes soup season, plus we've still got a final garden harvest to look forward to (hopefully soon) before we winterize our pepper plants. 

Until then, we hope that November finds you well and that you're all getting your waistlines stretched out for some seriously hedonistic Thanksgiving type celebrations.  Remember, the pro eaters expand their stomachs with water a couple days before and take a light fast before the debauchery begins.  I know I'm showing up this year wearing elastic.  Bringing sexy back to the dinner table!


Friday, November 5, 2010

Eating Out Your Words

Man! So I’m guessing a lot of you heard about the plagiaristic whirlwind surrounding Judith Griggs and her magazine the Cook’s Source. I’m not sure where the story popped up first, but I’m stealing my lead from an NPR story link on Facebook (feel free to check against other articles for theftery). What a slap in the gob for poor blogger Monica Gaudino! Sure, you can say it’s supposed to be flattering to get your typery into a published magazine, but when you realize they’re turning a dime on your skull sweat, you might get a tad indignant. And it was a fairly classy move, rather than seek actual damages, she just asked Mad Madame Griggs to print a bit of a confession and make a donation to Columbia’s journalism program. But the BALLS on ole Griggsy! That’s like a burglar not only snatching your big screen TV, but leaving you a note criticizing how messy your house is! If you haven’t checked out the preceding articles, it boils down to: Not only did she lift the blogger’s article wholesale, after being confronted about it, Griggs essentially said the article was crap and needed heavy editing and that Gaudino should be happy for the free edit! THE BALLS!

To steal from Bill Hicks, this lady has Officer Stacey Koon class balls. Giant, iron clad, need two tractor trailers to get them to market, sized balls. How big you ask? So big that she’s even tilting at the internet windmill of popular opinion on Facebook. It seems that their initial fan page became so inundated by new, angry, “fans”, posting their good wishes and general admiration for her savvy A&R style, that they may have decided to abandon it entirely for another, with stricter posting guidelines that only allow fans to comment on existing posts. That may seem less ballsy on the surface. However! I would point out that this wild internet hero has been making sure to rattle the Facebook cage with regular updates, screeching at the world wide wubby hourly and tossing around fun words like “libel” and “hackers”, surely with the intention of whipping up a Class 4chan drama llama storm of epic proportions. And it coming to light on Guy Fawkes day? Maybe she’s just planting gunpowder under her own Parliament; for Great Justice! Yet, is it possible that all of the latter fan flaming came from a faux Griggsian impersonator? Only the interweb knows.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eating Out A Dead Relative

Feliz dia del los muertos!  Or All Saints Day or whatever reason you employ to extend the costume and makeup wearing season.  And a rather busy season it has been!  (These are what I call excuses to prevaricate on why I don't have a well thought out foodly post)

Indeed!  So we're fresh from the festivities at the beloved City Arts Gallery in the Tower.  Fresh off of several hours of standing and slinging of drinks.  And I discovered a new and interesting aspect of recipe making and general taste creation.  You're only truly creative when you are lacking in the optimum components for your art.

It's something I have been experimenting alot with on the Central Valley Buzz with our food segments and other types of culinary endeavors.  I grab or invent on the fly, entirely foreign recipes or dishes, that I read up on the style and technique, but have never attempted before except NOW on live webish TV.

I guess in a way, that's my own special cheap thrill.  Lacking the urge to break many bones attempting to ape the Jackass crew, instead I offer up my ego should I ultimately fail in making a fairly simple, yet new dish in my given 15 minutes.  So far, I'd say I'm 50/50 on ultimate success.  Of course, you keep smiling for the camera, but I often notice a forgotten ingredient or the rare outright screwup that I have to backpedal quickly from, since I don't have "back up food" or one of those handy dandy proper chefs to cook offscreen for me.

And really, where I am now in my foodventures, I wouldn't want all of that theatrical artifice.  This is where the actual fun lives, in these moments of discovery, while you're still trying to produce banter.  Gabbling madly about this or that, that you know by rote while your upper brain is going "FUCK!  I'm burning this!  Crap!  The other burner is too cold!  Shit, do I add the cumin now?  What fucking camera is on screen at the moment?"

Oh yeah.  I promised to kick down that coconut green curry soup recipe.  Well, I'm thinking it's time to make it again sometime this week, so not only can we enjoy it again and not waste all of the green curry paste, but I think it'll be mighty tasty again once we snag some lemon grass and figure out what galangal looks like.  If we're going to rant about it, might as well fake it as right and proper as possible.  I hate to make promises, since they're easily broken.  But expect a double post this week, I need me some Thai penicillin.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eating Out Brandy On A Sunday Morn

Gordon Ramsey is the type of boss that, if I was at a pub and was on my way to take a painfully monster piss and he was on fire, directly in my path to the pisser. I would pinch the end of my wiener and stop to look soulfully into his eyes, so he could see my teeth floating behind my corneas. Then I would doff my hat and walk quietly to the pisser while I listened to his fat sizzle outside the door.

That’s not to say that I hate pro chefs or successful restaurateurs. Just that flavor of knowitall, the "so much better than thou", types. I know why the idea sells in the U.S. It’s the same reason that NASCAR does. We’re all waiting for the eventual assassination of Gordon Ramsey. And all I can be is thankful, that I didn’t graduate culinary school to wind up on that bastard's show to eventually become America's culinary Dick Trickle and metaphorically wreck a wok of boiling sea uchins up his rectum.

Normally it would be hard to identify with Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. But deep in your heart...picture having a deep, dark, unscaleable well, in which you kept Gordon Ramsey. And you would just lower some basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil, then bellow “Put the pesto in the basket bitch! Or else it gets the hose again!” You just got a little orgasmic shudder down your spine, didn’t you?

And that’s one thing that I don’t get at the end of the day. From Mel’s Diner on Alice to today’s modern food reality shows, the resplendent bastard of small mindedness is allowed, nay, expected to rule the kitchen with a cocksucker’s hand. It’s the law that the slower and weaker elements in the kitchen be marginalized and mocked in favor of the self proclaimed “Ferraris of Fire and Grease” jealously hiding simple techniques and skills, to play at back of house politics; letting talent go to waste rather than train them properly.

In it’s own sick way, working in a crappy chain kitchen is like running for local office. Better hope you never dated the head Chef’s daughter but didn’t have the good graces to knock her up. The mid-range, quasi chains are even moreso, in that you need a resume AND a hookup with someone more prestigious than a 3 year dishwasher. And then there are the tippy tops, where you’ve essentially got to be either a legitimate culinary genius at the right cocktail party/cocainestravaganza, or the middle child of a financier who is a 52% shareholders of the restaurant’s LLC and the last head chef got fired for OD’ing at the Christmas party right after he got his profit share.

So what does that leave for the wee, short order cook, with a gleam in his eye and a small down payment? Fuckall. Why? #1, it’s a rare bird that can afford to own their own restaurant space anymore. Why again? Because, it’s easier to rent the space to a succession of failing restaurants, rather than try to make it on your own. So the only way you’re buying a place with seats and a stove is in the least likely to succeed of areas where humans live. Why tertiarily? Because they can wait it out for another desperate sucker with a dream to tank his savings and happily burn his credit to cinders while feeding it into their commercial black hole (with a roof leak).

Those places from the days of yore? The one’s that your parents and their parents loved? Businesses that were started on property those plucky go getter’s were able to buy and finance with their average and modest business?  Gone.  Today, there is next to nothing to own for the less than uber-rich without entering into high risk, shady deals with financiers from “now legitimate enterprises” or have part of the local government in pocket for whatever reason. Permits, permits, permits! What’s right changes by the inspector and whom you’ve “made friends with” versus those you can’t afford to socialize with because you can’t support your overhead and the racket too. Conditional use may well have conditions depending on your yearly donorship, if youse knows whats bein implied.  Per se. 

It’s to the point where you’ve gotta suck a long dick just to have a roving hippymobile lunch truck, because fresh ingredients don’t jibe with the “City Plan”. But at the same time, in high school I was eating off of one of the most non-NSF trucks around and it was approved to feed young Fresno Christian minds at $4.00 per tepid, mayo laden, chicken sandwich, sitting in a 90 degree warmer for 2 lunch hours.  And I never saw the health department show up to ensure our youthful culinary health(s).

Wait…what’s that you say? Because it’s sexy and on Food Network, the city thinks it can generate some REAL income off the backs of penniless grub slinging hopefuls, struggling to make a small business work in a hostile economy? Yeah, that sounds like the Fresno I grew up in. Small industries can’t afford to make Bubba the mayor. But if they’re fashionable and making a buck, we’re gonna make sure we get our’s, motherfucker! Who cares about stifling new commercial potential?

Better to pick a corpse now than wait for it to grow full term and attempt some type of mutually beneficial symbiosis. Suck the bastard dry today, because it might not be there tomorrow. Now there’s a platform a politician can win with! 

Vote bipartisan this year.  It's the right thing to do for Wal-Mart, McDonalds and people richer than you could ever imagine becoming.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eating Out My Asian Secret

I suppose that the R-N Market on Herndon and Cedar isn’t so much of a real Fresno secret, in that I see their weekly ad all the time. But what their sales in the paper have failed to reveal to me is that the R-N Market is a treasure trove of obscure and interesting Asian ingredients! Don’t get me wrong, I love Central Fish for their Japanese section and the Korea market for their obvious offerings. But R-N market seems to be all over the Pacific Rim with their stock.

Want some fish sauce? They’ve got 4-5 different varieties. Need some sambal oelek? How about 2 freaking gallons?!? Not to mention dozens of different and interesting tinned items, from pickled shallots to tamarind sauces to fearsome fermented fish concoctions. There is a veritable rainbow of new, interesting and downright frightening items available as potential ingredients for kitchen madness.

Their most pleasing section had to be their produce area. It’s a little bit tumbledown in appearance, with some packing boxes doubling as floor displays. But with prices so low and such good looking veg, it’s hard to ding them on presentation. Almost everything was less than a buck a pound, with only red bell peppers edging that out at $1.50 per lb. Which is still insanely better than a buck a pop at the regular supermarkets. Plus they again have an interesting variety available including taro root, daikon radish, varied greens and fresh sprouts. We definitely hit this area so hard that our crisper won’t shit right for a week!

Then we moved on, threading through the aisles and nosing through each section like Indiana Jones, looking to steal cultural artifacts from their native peoples to “preserve” them in a London museum. Ok, maybe not quite that obtusely misguided. Afterall, this is a funtime weekend shopping romp that started out as a quest for green peppercorns so that I can finally make proper Steak Diane, that exploded into a full blown culinary adventure. Certainly more entertaining than going to the movies.

We found a lot of other fun items, green tea mochi, various flavors of shrimp chips (the cheese are actually pretty tasty!), a bunch of different sambals and hot sauces, cookies, wafers and the coolest looking peeler/finger-mangler/lockjaw delivery device I’ve seen in a while. Plus we grabbed some items for curries, udon, rice and some fresh Chinese noodles. AND! We found my guilty pleasure…the Pepsi Throwbacks! And a buck cheaper per 12 pack than anywhere else in town! So, we certainly cleaned them out of those.

The final lap was through the meat and freezer areas. First off, the butcher was fairly well stocked. Not so much in the New York steak area, but more along the lines of stew meats, a few basic steaks and simpler cuts. One big plus is that they carry uncured pork belly, otherwise known as bacon before it hits the smokehouse. I’ve been looking forward to experimenting a bit with this in the future. And of course the fish area was delightfully fresh. And I say that without irony. Too often a fresh fishmonger ruins your appetite with the less pleasant odors of the sea. But their whole meat area smelled like…nothing! Just like a clean butcherey should. Their fresh fish included the usual catfish, shrimp and also bass and a few trout that looked from around these parts. One of them had a bulldog tattoo at least.

And the frozen area was even more insane. Fishcicles from waters all over the world. Some of which I’ve only seen on National Geographic much less on a plate. And a wide selection of varied quick frozen Asian specialties, like dumplings, spring rolls and tons of frozen ingredients, side dishes and desserts. Not to mention here is where they keep their sho jou, which I’m told is pretty much the widowmaker of blackout drunks. We even saw a jug labled: Cooking Liquor; NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION! Which sorta blew my mind, since if you’re cooking with it, wouldn’t it be consumed by a human? But then again, I’ve tasted a few bottles of booze that probably should have carried the same label. Lucky Lager anyone?

Anyway though. After our deep and thorough rooting through their stock, we finally pushed our overburdened cart to the checkout stand. Scant minutes before they were preparing to arm themselves to chase us out so they could finally close up shop. Here’s where I’m really impressed. Not so much at the checker, who was fairly cool, all things considered. But the bill total that she handed us. We exercised nothing resembling restraint. We grabbed anything that appeared shiny or interesting, including medieval vegetable torture devices and new teapots. But after all of that and 3 hours of shopping, our total was only about $150. In a regular market we would have easily been out double that amount and came out with less actual food.

If you’ve been searching for a 1 stop shop for all your Asian cooking needs, or if you’re looking for some obscure ingredients for your favorite dish, you can do a lot worse than stopping into the R-N Market for a minute or 180. Not only do they have a wide and varied selection of Asian dishes and ingredients, they also carry a decent selection of regular Western market items like cereals, bbq sauces and all that. And even if you’re not an adventurous cook, their fresh produce alone is the perfect excuse to find oneself north of Shaw.


P.S.  Oh yeah, and the green coconut curry soup we made for dinner that night curled our toes in Tom Kha Gai rapture. (recipe to come)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eating Out Mr. Fishy Pants

Mmmm mmm! Choked chicken of the sea over sticky alabaster mouthfuls. So, this past Humpday we wound up opting out of Pub Quiz after meeting Manhole on the very day that KRZR died. Don’t even get me started on that mess. I just hope y’all will avoid listening to any Clear Channel stations in the future. Nevermind all that mess though, it’s dinner time and Mr. Sushi has Ki-rin Iciban, so kampai!

It was raining a bit out and a little chilly, so naturally we’ll start off with a couple bowls of miso soup. It was a nice robust red miso rather than the milder white miso I run into most often. A fairly nice start. So we moved on to our opening roll, which I think was called the White Dragon. Either way it was crab salad with tempura shrimp and cucumber inside and topped with yellowtail and dotted with eel sauce, fairly light in flavor and tasty. Though there’s that tendency with the rolls to be a challenging mouthful, even for a bigmouth like me. Thankfully it wasn’t over sauced and rather picturesquely plated.

Next up, we attempted to order their beef ta-ta, which I have to guess was a riff on tartare. It pretty much sounded like the beef sashimi that we get at Yoshino’s. But alas, they were beefless. And there was sadness. But we rallied around a plate of regular tuna sashimi. Really nice and clean tasting, however the daikon or whatever it was that they used as a garnish, smelled like it had lightly brushed some unwashed orangutan balls before being shredded as a platform for our fish. Not overpowering, but there was a mild, noticeable funk. So, onto their rainbow roll. It’s pretty much a cali roll with a random selection of fishes on top. I got the bit with a bit of tuna and a bit of whitefish on top. Again, nice tasting, the fish tasted really light and clean.

I noticed that their prices for nigiri sushi (just fish on rice) was like $4.50 for two pieces. That’s a bit high considering the portion size and simplicity. The fancier rolls were $9.00 and had quite a bit more ingredients and complexity, not to mention were just generally more food. So, I hop off the sushi train and try out their Japanese ramen bowl. At $5, it’s about the same price as 1 order of sushi and it’s HUGE! I got a giant steaming bowl of dashi, noodles, carrots, bell peppers and a mild cabbage (probably Napa). The broth was excellent, there was that nice smoky flavor from the bonito flakes, with the carrot and bell pepper adding a little hint of their flavor to it all. That was the dish that put me down, I barely got halfway through it before waving the surrender flag.

One thing I have to compliment for sure was their service. Their greeter had us seated immediately and had our drink orders, which arrived promptly. The sushi chef introduced himself and pointed out a couple specials and let us peruse through the menus. He was never far off and all it took was eye contact for him to take another order. Plus as we were rapping up, a couple of the guys stopped by and chatted with us a bit and ribbed me for not finishing my ramen. They really made us feel welcome.

All in all, I really had a nice time at Mr. Sushi. The service and piscine quality really went a long way to outshine some funky radish and slightly high sushi prices. Plus their menu is fairly widely varied, with some Korean and other choices besides their Japanese and sushi items. And with the streets down for repairs in the Tower, just about everybody could deal with us stopping by to try something new. So grab a sake to ward off the early chill of autumn and enjoy a jaunty jaunt in the Tower.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eating Out A Bad Habit

Lordy, it seems like it’s been an age since we’ve last reviewed anything restaurantish around town. A mean economy can subconsciously make one a little less experimental in their eating. I’ve been hitting a lot of familiar and favorite places. And while it makes for boring blogging, I’m glad to do my part to keep the places I love, open. But that doesn’t preclude us entirely from trying anything new.

Case in point was the other night, we wanted hamburgers, but didn’t want the usual drive thru at the local choke and puke. When I suddenly remember that there was that new chain’s test location over in Fig Garden. At first I thought it was EurekaBurger!, but alas, they’re on the other side of Fresno’s Mason-Dixon Line. It was The Habit, a Californiacentric chain based out of Santa Barbara. Not as local as I was hoping, but heck, it’s something new.

So off we scoot for a to-go order that we can snarf down in the warmth of our own living room. I go for broke and get their double burger with bacon, plus fries and a strawberry malt. Everything was still a nice temperature upon arrival at the Hobbit Hole, which is a pretty good sign that they actually made the food to order and it was all able to come out at the same time. Although, I’m told they were rather camera shy. Tsk tsk tsk. Can’t a blogger get some visual material and not be looked at like someone preparing a lawsuit or have to kiss the ass of the manager prior, creating the very furor that a food blogger is looking to avoid? This town needs an enema!

On to dinner. First thing I notice upon unwrapping the burger is that the bottom bun is very soggy. Either thin mayo or sweating lettuce or both were to blame. Halfway through the burger it had entire disintegrated, so I was forced to hold that last bit by the patty itself. A big downside of shredded lettuce, besides it giving up water like no other, it also wilts rapidly and therefore loses all worthwhile texture. Gross. The patties were a bit dry and overdone. Not that you expect medium rare, but a burger can be done all the way through and still be moist. The other problem is that I order mine without onions, but their grill is so inundated with their flavor that I spent 5 minutes picking through the lettuce looking for the offending shred of onion my nose declared MUST be in there. And sadly the bacon was overdone as well, what wasn’t dental bill boostingly crunchy was pure rubber and lacked flavor. Overall, an edible burger, but far too expensive to be that unimpressive and have that many faults.

The French fries, which I’m told many consider the bar by which a burger joint is judged, were also sadly lacking. The seasoning wasn’t anything special with no distinct flavors, with a chewy yet gummy texture. It’s odd for French fries to stick to your teeth like taffy. At least the malt was enjoyable. Although if a place screws up ice cream with malt powder and milk in a blender and topped with whipped cream, they should probably have corks on their forks, if you know what I mean Rupert.

Alas, I can’t really recommend them to a discerning public for either flavor or value. But I can always beat the drums of my favorites like Yoshino’s, Cracked Pepper Bistro, The Landmark and Don Pepe’s. Plus there are plenty more nooks and crannies of the Fresno foodiverse for me to probe. I’m thinking with the change of the seasons I need to snoop around for some soul food and barbeque. To the streets!


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Eating Out An Assfull of Alligators

Whew!  Day late and a dollar short again!  Many apologies and excuses dear readers, it's been a busy and somewhat banal week.  Adventures in vehicle repair and varied handymannery abounded.  And although I have been a little too distracted to conduct much in the way of culinary experiments, I have been dragging my camera out that last few times I've gotten out of the Hobbit Hole.  So I give to you, the week in photos.

(In order) Tower reconstruction x13, my version of tortilla soup, my little garden buddy x2, iconic alley cat is iconic, closeup of the basil forest, okra blossom, baby radish bassinet and my purty flowers x2.