Monday, April 26, 2010

Eating Out Sadness

I heard recently that my very first Chef passed away last week. Part of me was shocked at how much anguish I truly felt. One can get close with co-workers in just about any job. I have lost co-workers and acquaintances before. But this is very different. Even though it has been close to 4 years since we last saw each other, he’s always remained in my thoughts and I would check up on him via mutual friends still in the kitchen trenches.

There’s something different with the relationships that one develops in a kitchen. For good or for ill, there’s always much more passion in the feelings you have for your fellow kitchenite. And just as some could completely get my goat, shave it and put mascara on it. Or then you've got Frankie reaching out and trying to teach me how to not be a complete screw up and ruin everyone’s day. A kitchen is a hard place to learn without guidance. To put it plainly, people are dicks until you have earned their respect in some form. That pretty much means being a complete screw up for a month unless someone takes pity on you and explains how fryers work and the methods you need to practice to not burn food. Seems simple. But when you’re in an environment that can be more cliquish than jr. high, where EVERYONE is on their period, ALL THE TIME. Where you can find yourself in the most absurd pissing matches, over the most ridiculous shit. Frankie was my life preserver. “Send the servers to me, they shouldn’t even be talking to you.”, “Don’t even worry about that manager, they’re just like that on Tuesdays.”, “See? That’s how you don’t burn shit!”.

Take that and add a sprinkle of fuckitall humor and you’ve got the guy that you wanted to work with, no matter what shift. When you were in his kitchen, he had your back. And you had his. His kindness and his leadership style made it very easy to want to give him your loyalty. He really understood the meaning of the word. And honor. In a corporate kitchen, some astoundingly stupid things come down the pipe. From unreasonable prep requirements on the line to outright stupid uniform decisions, he’d be in the office giving them what-for. It’s hard to stop the moronic will of corporate, but at least we knew we had an advocate fighting on the side of common sense.

Kitchen families are weird dysfunctional messes. Much like regular families. And we all shared each other’s triumphs and tragedies. I remember the mutual happiness we all felt for Frank when we found out he was going to be a father. And how awful we all felt when he fell ill and found out it might be cancer. I was overjoyed for him when he got well and said he was planning to finally leave the trenches to finish his degree and get a job that involved things like sitting and air conditioning. It was around there that we lost contact as his life decision had inspired me to leave the drudgery of the kitchen-that-doth-not-teach-one-to-cook and continue on my own path to learn how make good stuff to eat.

Though paths diverged, I would still hear from pals about how things were going. Asking after him and his family, wondering if his dad was still the head Chef for the restaurant, if his sister had finally grown sick of the yearly Mother’s Day and all-you-can-eat holocausts in the dining room. But this week, the check-in held no joy. I found out that he had again fallen ill and rapidly deteriorated in the hospital. At that point, it really hit home how much of an impression he made on my life. And how disappointed I was that we’d never have the chance to get together and laugh about old times in the lobster mines.

I know how shallow that sounds in the face of what his family and close friends must be feeling. To me he was a great guy and a great teacher. But to these folks he was a husband, a father, a son, a brother and a close confidant. My heart goes out to all of you for your loss. I really can’t think of warm words of comfort that wouldn’t ring hollow in this moment of mourning.

Frank Peres, you were an awesome man. A big man with a heart bigger than the sky. I shall miss you keenly. And I will think fondly of you any time I’m in a kitchen, sweating, worried and in the weeds. I’ll remember your words of wisdom. "Dude, chill out. It's just food, bro." I'll miss you man.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Eating Out Assholes

Not so much the eating of offal, I’m speaking of the chefs and restaurateurs who are stupid enough to think that their particular brand of “edgy” is going to sell well for television. I’m sure some names jump to mind immediately. Gordon Ramsey right at the top.

In what world does it make sense to slather your restaurant or personal brand with a giant, flaming neon “I’m a huge prick and wholeheartedly believe that you’re all idiots!” sign. Call me crazy, but aren’t these people in the hospitality business? Don’t they charge us anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars to turn their food into feces? Somewhere I like to believe that business owners understand that customers want to like them. Want to like their employees, their building and their style. So why is it that there are so many successful raging assholes flaunting their shitty attitudes who still have jobs, businesses and contracts?

Well, I can wholeheartedly pledge that the following examples of poor parenting won’t receive a single penny from me. Not even those fractional pennies that they get from Google ads. Each day I pray that Moloram and his Thugee cult from the Temple of Doom will kidnap them to work in an Indian rock mine until ultimately pulling their still beating hearts from their chests to be burned as an offering to Kali the Destroyer. May their rectums rot out and drip down their pants leg.

Number one on my list, Michael Chiarello. Well here’s one good reason to skip Napa entirely. This blowhard knowitall is a prime example why a cook should stay in the kitchen and quietly sodomize the dishwashers like a pedophile priest. You just don’t let someone with this guy’s social deficiencies speak in public. He’d be better off having a PR guy with tourettes. Fuck this guy.

A rapid number two, Rick Moonen. I swear these two have to be related. Your typical cock-centric prince of pissantry. He likes to bellow. Safe in his belief that his experience is vastly superior to your own, he strides into any situation like a monarch waltzing in to take a dump on your coffee table and tell you that it’s gold bullion. He comes across as the type of guy who sees a special order come into the kitchen asking for no onions, but in his ebullient wisdom, purees them and sneaks them into the dish anyway…sending you to the hospital with a severe allergic reaction to the onions that you asked to be omitted. I hope his favorite dishwasher gives him Hepatitis.

Alex Guarneschelli. If there is anyone who has done more than Margaret Sanger to get women out of the kitchen, it’s this furburger. I know it’s considered poor form to use the word “cunt” in conjunction with a woman, but there is no other word in the language that can properly describe cuntyness. Maybe it’s the harsh environment that French trained chefs experience in their apprenticeships. But being a TV watching, slope browed, knuckle dragging, food TV fan, I have no empathy. Sorry that school sucked. But with that attitude, I’d rather eat off the hot dog cart up the street from her restaurant than allow my cash to justify her attitude.

And topping our list, Donatella Arpaia. Man, now I wish I would have saved “cunt” for later. Especially because she’s not even a chef! She’s just a grossly successful restaurateur from Manhattan. What a horrible representative for such a wonderful town! I’ve been lucky enough to vacation for a week in the Big Apple. And in that week, running all over the area, from Rockaway to the Bronx. We never ran into anyone so "obviously" superior, rude or hollow as this sticky vag-gremlin.

Crazy people? For sure! It’s New York! But even the strangest of locals were interesting and kind to we tourists, quite fun. The restaurants we visited, while not being Nobu (we’re poor), were amazing. The food was gorgeous. Tapas, sushi, all very elegant. And the service given was excellent. So I must implore, WHY NEW YORK? Why heap accolades on a woman who would have singlehandedly turned me off of your food scene had I not experienced it before she was released from whatever finishing school that Satan sends his kids to? Ship her ass off to the Jersey Shore with the rest of the toxic waste.

Really, if you’re ever been a judge on Chopped, you should probably rethink your public persona...if you want business from anything other than born-again assholes. But, I guess their demographic is larger than I thought. And it’s certainly the assholes who have the stupid amounts of money to keep their ilk in business. Can’t we just lock them all onto Martha’s Vineyard? Property values would skyrocket there. I’m told that sort of thing makes them goo in their monogrammed silk undies.

Now, that’s not to say that any chef to ever show their gob on the small screen should be sent to the camps. Not at all. This whole thing got out of control because the early TV chefs were so warm and reachable. I remember getting home early from school before the good cartoons were on and sitting down to watch Justin Wilson, the Cajun Cook. That man cracked me up! He’d be red-nosed sloshed before the gumbo was done simmering. And he had the most awesome belly jiggling stirring style that I must admit, I have totally stolen. Julia Child was so sweet she got her own semi-biography in film. And the PBS crew of Martin Yan, the Galloping Gourmet and Rick Bayless all made their particular culinary styles very reachable to neophytes. And there are current TV chefs that don’t engorge my prostate with rage too.

The most picked on would be poor Emeril. I hate his show too. The whole format has that Oprah meets paid programming feel to it. People moaning in wild abandon over a man adding an extra clove of garlic to a dish. Men openly spilling their seed on the studio floor as he pours in twice the booze that the recipe calls for. Women sacrificing their children upon a tastefully created altar so that they can get on the waiting list to purchase his spice rubs. That shit was annoying. But as time marches on, I see an older, more tired Lagasse. You can read the lines of stress and regret on his face as you see him relegated to Food Network’s AAA league channel again. Bandying about “green eating” and other empty headed buzz words that make the aforementioned rich assholes feel good about what they’re pooping. In my eyes, it seems that underneath the TV character, the gregarious, coke snorting, wild man-party hound is pretty pissed at what he’s had to do to turn a buck. Can’t hate a cat for making cash if he knows that he should hate himself, I guess. And really, he seems in reality to be more of a warm character. The type of chef that you’re positively giddy when he comes out to do a round of Hello’s at the tables. Not because he’s some celebrity. Once he was just the guy in charge of the food. But that guy was friendly and funny and warm. He’d tell you a story, or you could ask him a hundred questions about your dinner to have them all explained in detail. Crappy show formats haven’t really knocked that vibe off of him. So, we’ll grudgingly admit that we like ya, ya fat, rich bastard.

I love Anne Burell. She’s chunky, she’s a line cook, she probably can cuss more fluently than an Irish limericist. She’s everything that’s not made for TV. And thank god, she avoided the worst part of reality chef shows. She’s got that tough but caring kitchen mom vibe. She’ll kick your ass all day at work, but let you cry on her during break or let you out 15 minutes early so you can pick up your babies. A good person who understands earned respect. She reminds me of my old assistant manager at the Slobster. I still miss her. And her delivery reminds me of being instructed how to make a new plate on the line. She’s proof positive that you don’t need Hollywood porn-polish on a girl for her to have a great TV persona. I’m looking at you Giada, with your French Riviera look and 10,000 tiny perfect white teeth.

Another new favorite is Sunny Anderson. She comes from a radio background, but also ran a catering company specializing in soul food. So, she’s not so much an excellent advocate for a specific restaurant, but she is an excellent example of a friendly face that can make people enjoy learning how to cook. She comes across the magic devil-box rays in a confident cookerly manner, but speaks to you as someone who has also struggled with pain in the butt recipes. It’s nice when a good cook knows when and how to explain complicated or obscure techniques in a reachable way. Here’s hoping that she can keep her feet rooted with the rest of us as she’s buoyed by her television success.

And rounding out the examples I place on wobbly pedestals of adoration. The reigning King of American Cuisine. Thomas Keller, chef, restaurateur and a seemingly awesome guy. Any foodie blog, show, etc, simply fall all over themselves to kiss this guy's ass so hard his butt cheeks are a constellation of hickeys. Yet he always comes across as a reserved and modest fellow. Lacking an ATM in my butt, I have yet to taste his food. But people who are actually PAID to be snarky food snobs seem to agree that he’s untouchable in the shit-talking category. Fresh, local foods, on site gardens and outreach programs to budding chefs. Unless this guy likes putting babies on spikes or something, he’s pretty much the most likeable face in food today. And I think he’s a good example to the shittily successful types mentioned earlier, and their Gordon Ramseyan ilk. You can be successful and sought after, with something resembling grace and be rewarded for it.

One thing about all this still weighs heavy on my mind. How in the hell is Gordon Ramsey still alive? Because, if that’s not a carefully crafted TV persona, he’d have gotten himself stabby stabbed in any kitchen I ever worked in. The servers would have found him stuffed into the hopper of the ice machine, to be tossed out with the garbage after the restaurant closed. I’d think that he’d be put in the poorhouse by employees successfully suing him for abuse, using his shows as evidence. This is the type of guy I wouldn’t piss on if he was on fire AND covered with jellyfish who happened to have athletes foot. I hope Jamie Oliver winds up fucking him to death with a Serrano ham on national television in front of obese Midwest 8th graders. Now THAT’S food TV entertainment!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Eat Me Out In The Vineyard for 20 Bucks

Whaaat the hell? No, my blog hasn’t turned into Craigslist and I’m not soliciting anyone to meet me in a dark grape alley for some hardcore bad-touch. No, I’m talking about the wonderful Vineyard Farmer’s Market. The best reason to go 100 yards north of Shaw.

I love the place TOO much. Without thinking hard, I can drop close to a hundred bucks there. And that’s not getting any flowers, plants, cheeses, or grass fed beef. Just bags and bags of fruit and veg. Always too much for me to cook in the short week between the next trip. But can you blame me? Sunchokes and meyer lemons and chocolate truffles oh my!

So, I’ve given myself a challenge (as I stand in the parking lot, sorting through the change in my pockets). Pillage the market for good and tasty things that I love, pull together enough to make a hearty green supplement to our beeftastic existence. And, keep the whole affair within $20. Don’t think I can do it? I’ll totally bet you’re wrong, because $20 is all I gotses in it’s pocketses. Precious.

So, a-shoppin we shall go!

Any wise Farmers Marketarian knows, first round of shopping you always hit the honest to jeebus locals first. Those cats who’ve got MOUNDS of green stuff around them, dirt still on the roots, everything generously portioned and not a damn price or label in sight. Why? Because these farmers are moving greenery as fast and as cheap as it can be done. This ain’t your Whole Foods manicured bunches of coddled greens, lightly pee’d on by electronically controlled angels at 15 and 45 past the hour. They were yanked or cut, howling in pain and rage from the earth at 3am this morning. If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of a vegetable Gettysburg, the freshly wounded, still screaming with strained chlorophyll lungs. Here you get your parsley, lettuce and greens, fat bunches of herbs you have to either dry half of or open up a fresh herb restaurant. Go nuts here. You’ll have fresh and crispy fiber up to your eyeballs. And when in season, an embarrassment of strawberries. Now take a trip back to the car, drop all this off and we’ll move on.

Dang it’s early ain’t it? Well, it better damn well be! You want to get the best pick don’t you? Not to say that I’ve ever been unhappy when I woke up late at 11am and dashed out for the last hour of the market. There is still plenty to love and buy. But I’m a snob and I likes to pick out the best when it’s freshest and when I can steal all of the morels and Kona coffee. Coffee? Thirsty! Need shopping thinking juice. To the Fabiano’s trailer! Beyond their fabulously local roasted, ground to order coffee beans, these lovely people also open up a table side café offering 2 caffeinated and 1 decaf coffee to keep you amped up as you do three laps of the market eyeball shopping.

Yup, that’s the next step. After you nail your basics, take a couple laps and take it all in. Watch what the vendors are fussing over, maybe peep past the table to the bed of their pickup and see what all is goin on in there. Ask some questions, find out what that weird thing on the table is and maybe find out how you cook it. Get some ideas for how you’d like to experience the bounty of the particular season.

Market stalking over, move in for the kill. Or the purchase. Just doesn’t sound as predatory though. First off, I always like to buy something strange or new. I wasn’t crazy about the asian broccoli I got that one time, but I learned about it and no longer fear it as an ingredient. This time I sorta punked out due to the cost self constraint. But baby pattypan squash and kumquats (say it slowly, out loud. Someone came in the room didn’t they? Fun word!) count enough for the experiment. We’ll get to the squash merchants in a moment, but first a kind word about our Kumquat Lord. The citrus prince. The man, who for one week, left me in meyer lemon heaven. I don’t know how one farm can turn out so many fabulous citrus fruits. Blood oranges, navels, valencias, clementines, mission lemons. Too much good orange and yellow stuff. Must learn to make marmalade.

Next vendor! And my favorite vendor. Sun Smiling Farms. The shroom girls. The Ladies (in the British sense) of the market. Not only do they grow their own assortment of mushrooms, but they done got the hookup for the beloved morels. And as much as I hate the idea of you grubby unwashed masses muscling in on my beloved wild fungi, so too would I be enraged if but 1 tiny cap went to waste because there wasn’t an eager mouth to stuff it into. And as we jostle and jockey for position on their conical cappy goodness, there are other great finds like daikon, taro and a big handful of traditional Japanese ingredient I am still learning how to use. Like shiso leaves. Love these girls.

Ding! Change seats! Next we head over to the folks with the BIIIIG table. These folks rule the world of root veg. Taters, turnips, beets, OMG BEETS! And a hearty backup of a rainbow of greens, with a random sprinkling of nuts and fruits. Missing my beloved sunchokes, I do see a sweet little tender bunch of fresh cut asparagus. And there are some nice looking young fat leeks and some skinny little baby sweet onions. Yes, onions are the food-devil, but even a seasoned curmudgeon like myself can’t hate on babies. Onion souls are condemned to food hell after their first onion communion. Next!

Now it’s browsey time. I like to try to spend a little of my remaining cash at each of the vendors that I can afford to. They all have good stuff and are good folks. I want to help make sure they all come back each week. So, first I dash over to the organic greenery folks and splurge on a pound of their tiny wee baby pattypans, then across the way to my beloved tomater and garlic purveyors to grab a half pound of maters (2 in total) and a bunch of their super red-ass radishes. Then scooting over to the best damn sproutinista ever for a wee mixed bag. Which, along with the carrots, peas, basil and lettuce round out our $20 challenge.

Did I cheat? Hell yes I did! I totally bought morels on the side, as well as a habanero plant, a Cherokee purple tomato plant, 4 peter peppers (they grow into penis shaped peppers!!!) and a pot o’ cat grass for the pusses. But! The actual items, minus morels and plants, all really did come to a final total of $20. My choices might not get a household of 2 through the entire week, but that’s why there’s the Wednesday afternoon market there as well to supplement anything you forgot or are craving since the weekend.

Were people nice? Amazingly so. And charmingly enough, most folks mistook me for a proper photographer, rather than a smelly blogger rooting around for some flash to tart up my tawdry views of masticatory ecstasy. And dare I say, in a few instances I might well have mistaken myself for a paparazzo. Now show me sassy. I SAID SASSY YOU DIRTY ENGLISH CUCUMBER! Good thing security showed up late to work this morning. But everyone was equally as kind to me with a camera today as they have been in the past when I simply showed up with cash. It really is a lovely place and a fun experience. There is even an amazing purveyor of chocolate truffles, an on-site knife sharpener, fresh bread and pastries from La Boulangerie and the single most intimidating bee-guy/honey merchant I have ever seen in my life. It’s not like he’s mean or anything. Just looks like he can kick some serious ass. Bee or otherwise.

So concludes our twenty(fifty) dollar trip to the Vineyard Farmer’s Market. So I have no self control? Where better to lose one’s dignity than amongst those with the gumption to wake up ass early every day to tend to the wee groundly green things. I’d rather a foolishly spent dollar burn a hole in their pocket rather than some shareholder vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. Our Vineyard, just a scant 100 yards north of Shaw, with morels and sunchokes and fine Kona coffee is far more precious to me.

Check out the remaining pics on our Facebook page here.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eating Out My Uncle Vin's Ribs n Eyes

I sit before you, dear readers. Full to the gills, simmering in a fabulous gut stew of well wrought culinary artistry and not a little bit of the vintnery, distillation and brewery arts. And though the booze doth drive me to write out the insanity that dwells in my brain, the food is what gives me a subject by which to humble myself.

So has Veni Vidi Vici made me this evening. As Tower jewels go, this is the Star of India of the district. We all hear about it, but far too many people have never seen it’s beauty. I mean, we’ve all had drinks with friends on the most awesome patio in the entirety of the Tower. But how often do you eat there? I’ve studied the menu many times and for some reason the dishes never seemed to fire my imagination. They’re certainly not lame, boring, same old same old. But somehow it lacks the WEIRD that most “gourmet” restaurants have. No smashed duck livers or baby cow cheeks or artfully sautéed buttholes in a fabulous doo doo sauce.

What a fucking pretentious dick I have become. By reading a few French cookbooks and figuring out how to make a not-ass cream sauce, I have somehow joined the ranks of “holier than thou who dost not watch Alton Brown” set. If it doesn’t have the stench gland of a Micronesian weiner beetle in it, it’s not cuisine, right?

Thank god for Veni’s showing up on the set this evening to remind me what a high-falootin’ jackass I am. Their cuisine isn’t boring or plain by any means. But despite the many compliments that wiser Tower goers than I have offered, I always looked at the menu outside and felt that it just didn’t challenge me. Dinner tonight taught me beyond any doubt that familiar ingredients can be used in new and fabulous ways. Foods you know can turn into amazing nutritional chameleons of flavor.

Kicking off dinner we had the goat cheese appetizer. A nice little pond of olive oil, with a modest tower of peppered chevre and a flotilla of calamata olives in attendance. Tasty and nicely spicy from the coarse black pepper. Good amount of acid and tang from the olives, smooth creaminess from the cheese and a bit of girth from the olive oil. Smash some of the garlic confit into the bread and you’re in heaven.

Middle course was the absolute weirdest! This was the first lesson. I knew each ingredient fairly well. But what they became in combination in my gob was astounding. We ordered and split their pear salad with arugula, spinach, bleu cheese and candied pecans with a mustard vinaigrette. I swear to you, with the whole affair in your mouth a’chewin, it tastes just like a strong cumin pork. Not a lick of meat in the salad obvious. For a neophyte still learning what food means as an art form, it was a big epiphany.

Ok, touchy feely hippy crap over. Main courses are on and it’s animaltastic. First there’s the juniper crusted pork chop. Sweet! Crusty, the flavor of fire mixed with spice and the flavor of sweetness. Juniper didn’t leap out at me, but it blended well with all the other players. Then there was the portabella ravioli with andoulli sausage and cherry tomatoes. Lord how I hate un-pureed tomatoes. But this rocked! Earthy and shroomy as hell. The evil woman stole all the sausage goodness, so I assume it was fabulous. And I scored on their rib eye.

A quick aside about the eye o’ the rib as it was described. I was thinking it was going to be a rosemary and blue cheese with maple syrup affair. How pleasantly and non-advertizedly surprised was I going to be! It’s still on it’s roasted new potatoes (CRISPY! Look burned, but that’s the caramelized spices on the top) and broccolini. But my toppings were a crust of goat cheese with a ribbon of Guilden’s Brown mustard and stripe of Sriracha, or as I prefer to call it, Cock Sauce (there’s a rooster on the bottle!). Food snob says, “I can totally tell what’s on here, this is therefore crap!”. But fortunately, people I consider wise have given Vin’s food much praise, so I STFU and saw some meat into my face. And….dare I say?? Toppings made from shit I have at home can actually taste so hella good I won’t whine about it being served at a restaurant! Ok, doesn’t hurt that a friend was comping dinner…but still! I’m a huge pain in the ass about restaurant meals and this shit tasted good as fucking on a school day! I'm totally stealing their recipe and plating. Now I just need their meat vendor and I’m set!

So, I’ve picked on my foodie-wannabe ways for a bit. Time to pat myself on the back. For, you see, my dinner mates had no stomach for attempting to further stuff their frames with the wonders of dessert. But there’s friggin bananas foster out there! Braving the first step, we also score some of their white chocolate ice cream. The foster was fab. Nice caramel sauce, ripe sautéed bananas and a filo crisp for a bit of crunch. The white chocolate ice cream was really subtle, maybe a tiny bit icy-crunchy but really nice. But the (raspberry?) sauce at the bottom was hard as heck to taste outside of the vanilla base.

Hands down, great experience. We had all psychically decided on goat cheese for the appetizer, and from there we ate nothing but recommendations from our server. Everything was damn well made, my steak done to actual medium rare perfection and even then, rested properly. And the one taste I got of the pork chop was a huge reminder that swine can be divine when well cared for. Veni’s rep is safe and even well deserved in my eyes. There might not be fois gras on the menu, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not turning out meals that are well worth the ticket price.

At first I was a wee bit worried being the Eating Out Fresno guy offering to show a good friend where to eat well in town. Especially since I had my own worries about the lack of oddities on the menu, but I wanted to take them where it’s easy to relax and have fun. In the end, it couldn’t have been a better call. Erna’s Elderberry might have been fancier, Trelio might have been more haute cuisine. But Veni Vidi Vici perfectly fit the bill for friends to enjoy wildly delicious food and to feel able to be very casual and catch up on each other’s current lives. Right now, Vini’s is holding the trifecta top spot in my heart with Cracked Pepper and Tower Dogs. Odd combo, but to me it means love.


P.S. and special shoutout to friend of EOF Tracy and her magical Italian stallion.  Many heartfelt thanks for a wonderful mealsperience and fun ass evening of draining the local watering holes of all of their booze.  This must occur again in your neck of the woods.  So it is written, so it must be!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Eaiting Out Originality

Thanks to Joan Obra from the Fresno Beehive for bringing something awesomely unique to our attention.  Apparently Fresno has just gotten it's very own Casa de Tamales!  A strictly tamale-centric restaurant.  It's everything tamales!

No longer do we have to wait for our wonderful friends and neighbors to begin the Christmas orgy of small business and family tamale construction.  Or suffer through the poor little frozen tamales microwaved and drenched in sauce that you get at Biff's Authentic Taco Shack and Surfboard Waxeria.  At least thats what we're hoping for.  Fresh steamed masa goodness.

And beyond the usual and obvious fillings (shredded beef, chicken mole, chorizo and potatoes) they're also doing a selection of sweet tamales that look rather interesting.  I'm insanely curious as to how a chocolate cake tamale will work out, or a blueberry and cream cheese.  Theres even soyrizo(an invention of the Devil) and potatoes for them veggie eating folks....still can't understand how y'all can survive without vitamin Beef in your diet...

Anyway!  The prices look reasonable at around $2.50 per tamale, so assuming 2 makes a decent meal, you're looking at a $5 lunch.  Sounds better than a Micky D's combo any day.  And if you're feeding an army, they sell by the dozen anywhere from $22 to $35 depending on the filling.

I love the premise and I love tamales.  We've still yet to find out if they can make GOOD tamales, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.  It's a pretty bold business move in my opinion.  Fresno does love South o' the Border cuisine for sure.  But many also know the burnout of having tamale stew for the 20th time in February, cursing your cousins for not taking more of Mom's tamales home during Christmas.  But then again, Mom didn't make spinach and artichoke tamales either.

Here's hoping that they're good and they succeed.  If you'd like to beat us out to try them first you can find them here.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Eating Out My Hoppity Hop

So, Easter has come and went. I have sacrificed the sacred chocolate bunny to my confectionary lust. But after crashing into a sugar k-hole, I need nutrition of goodness to feed my hunger to make bad religious allegory. An herbal hiccup wound up keeping the whole rib roast in the freezer. So, it’s a pick up game dinner. To the cupboards we go!

The Sam’s run has us awash in good sausage, so we’ve got to make the cervelatta the centerpiece. It’s good enough to stand on it’s own. And we’ve got tons of tomato product, so we might as well dive into our newfound bounty of pasta and put together something there. Top it with some garlic bread and we’re golden! So here we go!

The sausage portion of the show is pretty self explanatory if you’ve cooked sausages before. It being a coiled sausage, you can’t cook it at too high of a heat, or you’ll burn the outside and leave it raw in the middle. I like to give it a good sear on one side, maybe 3-5 minutes depending on your stove. Give it a flip, turn down the heat to med-low and slap a lid on your cast iron. Did I mention the cast iron? It’s my favorite. You should have one, but it’s not a law. Cook until done, I give around another 8 minutes. If grilling, I recommend uncoiling the sausage so that it’ll cook quicker and evenly. Grills be HOT y’all! You can slice and portion out the sausage for plating, but we’s hungry up in this mug! So we serve a full coil per plate. And love it!

Another tomater sauce for tagliatelle
(No basil because it ain’t in season yet)

½ lb dry tagliatelle
1 can diced tomatoes
½ cup water
1 can tomato paste
2 tablespoons dry oregano
2 tablespoons fresh torn sage
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pinch sugar
1 dash red wine vinegar

Pretty quick and dirty. Take all this mess except the bay leaf and tomato paste, and toss it into the food processor. Spin until smooth. Add your olive oil to a small sauce pot and heat on medium. Before fully heated, add your tomato puree and the bay leaf. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Slowly add in the tomato paste until sauce comes to the desired consistency and simmer on low for another 5 minutes. Have the water for your pasta ready and cook to the directions on the package. About 7-10 minutes. Drain and pour into a bowl, then add sauce and toss together carefully. The tagliatelle is a delicate pasta. Grate some of your favorite hard cheese over the top and serve!

Cheese ridden garlic bread

5 slices of sourdough French bread
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
4 tablespoons of minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup grated fontina cheese

Again, easy peasy. Take garlic and butter and salt and mash together. Spread over bread. Top with cheese and place on a cookie sheet. Toss in a pre-heated oven set on broil for about 3-5 minutes or until toasty bubbling and golden. Not on fire and burny and stinky and call the fire departmenty.

Quick, simple, yummers and…holy crap? Did we accidentally throw down another vegetarian recipe of yummyness? I think we did! I hope I don’t tear a rotator cuff patting myself on the back. Really though, the prince of the plate for me is the non-veg sausage of pants-wetting goodness. Some achievements of culinary excellence are still far beyond me and I thank the reclusive god of fat guys that blesses these folks with their meat tube expertise. And big shout out to Mrs. Eating Out Fresno for throwing down on the bread and taking over pasta making duties. She’s the gritty drill seargent to my fruity aristocratic general who believes he’s the reincarnation of Auguste Escoffier and uses pearl handled boning knives. How she can resist throwing a pot of lava-hot tomato sauce in my face while I’m elbowing around to take pictures is beyond me. Truly, I are a lucky protein jockey.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Eating Out My Buddy Sam

No, not friend of EOF and our buddy’s wife Samantha. Ewww! She’s pregnant! That’d be like Turducken or something, right? No, no. Sick, dirty, people. We’re talking about Fresno’s own, Sam’s Italian Deli and Market! Where they actually do stuff things into other things. But, with a much more pleasant and delicious surprise.

A family owned and operated Fresno landmark for roughly 3 decades, Sam’s is your go-to spot in Fresno for all things involving lovingly preserved meats. Oh yeah, they sell a lot of Italian foodly goods as well. Not to mention fresh bread, wines, cheeses, frozen homemade pastas, fresh made sauces, olive oils, fine vinegars. Pretty much anything you can think of to make a delicious Italian meal. Easy way, hard way, Sam’s offerings and service just give you a warm sense that they want you to eat well, no matter how much effort you want to put into the meal.

Want to make life easy? Pick up a bag of their frozen handmade raviolis, a pint of their marinara sauce, a half loaf of their pre-prepped garlic bread and a little parmesan and you’re golden. Boil the pasta, heat up the sauce, toss the bread in the oven. Mix, slice, serve. Done! Or, you can pick up some fine canned San Marzano tomatoes (4 different styles, 13 different brands), fresh or dried herbs, your choice of several different romano or parmesan cheeses, 3 different styles of Italian sausage, a mind blowing selections of pasta or everything you need to make your own, and a robust selection of different olive oils…see what I mean?

So let’s split it up a bit and tackle the grocery area first. The first thing you notice on your way in the door is their wine section. Not being much of a vino fiend, I can’t really speak with great authority about their selection. I can however say that their selection includes a large rack of Under $10 wines. Which always works for cheap ass, wine-ignorant me. But I also noticed that they had a few vintages that were climbing well over $75. I assume that makes it really great, bad grape juice.

Moving on! They have a nice, compact area for pickles, preserves and canned fish. Great selection of capers and anchovies. Plus, numerous toppings and spreads involving red bell peppers, eggplant and the like. Then we scoot around to the wall of tomaters. I’m pretty sure they stock enough to arm an entire Jr. High for a Spanish style tomato street war. Pretty much all San Marzano plum tomatoes, concasee’d whole or puree’d. And some of the nifty toothpaste tube Euro style tomato paste, so you don’t waste a whole can if you don’t need a whole can. I wonder if those will ever take off here.

Then we come to their frozen section of mass awesomeness. Here you can buy just about any delicacy that their kitchen can turn out. Soups, pastas, sauces, desserts and even 1 serving meals. Onto the cookie rack! If you like amaretto, you will lose your freaking mind over these little amaretti cookies by Lazzaroni. And shuffle next, to the wall of olive oils and vinegars. Pretty impressive! Much like the wine selection, there are decent olive oils priced just a low as anywhere else and there are very fine olive oils that one would use when you’re not just frying some veg and chicken. Some good looking basalmics and even some reasonably priced truffle products. I might have to hit these up to ease my morel withdrawls soon.

We’re ever so tempted to peek at the meat counter…BAD! No! Bad monkey, no sock for you. Next is produce! Got it? Ok, produce…kinda sad. But it’s understandable, with folks either shopping at farmers markets and organic hippy joints or just buying the cheapest stuff they can find, with little middle ground, a small grocery store’s fresh produce section just isn’t going to make them money. Sad little packets of sliced mushrooms were testament to this fact. But hidden in sadness is joy! For, a safe distance from the ‘shrooms, there were dirt cheap end-pieces of prosciutto!! Happy dance! Don’t get me wrong, I like fancy as much as the next guy, but this stuff was like 1/3rd the price of the full sized shank pieces. And, if one were INSANE, just the right size for a pot of beans…hmm maybe cassoulet? Cheese island is nice as well. Small hunks of parm and romano, a few other sliced bits and some odd looking little salamis.

Along this wall also, is the cold beverage case. Chilled wines, champagnes and beers. Strange as hell to watch a guy pull a 6 pack a Corona out of the same area there is Peroni and Moretti and other interesting Italian brews RIGHT THERE! No accounting for taste I guess. Once, I knew a full blood Irishman who loved the asshole right out of Budweiser. Still makes me weep on rainy Sundays. A Pelligrino Orange soda will make me happier. And so does the pasta section. We’ll just call it robust as hell and point out that they’ve got 3 different choices for risotto rice too!

Deli Counter!!!! I’ve been yearning for this for an hour of power shopping. The little indulgence (ok, huge, expensive indulgence) that’s gonna make me titter every time I open my meat drawer. Well, after I’m done tittering at yanking open a “meat drawer”…sounds like a rude title for an extendable vagina. Excuse me miss, could I put my prosciutto di parma in your meat drawer? It’s sliced very thin.

Oh yeah, they got prosciutto, and Spanish Serrano ham, and pancetta. Tip o’ the iceberg. So many kinds of salami’s that you mystically find yourself rubbing your bum bum on the glass like an pants wearing baboon in heat (they frown on this by the way). Next door is the cheese zoo. Many kinds, several countries, all tasty. Sitting above them are more traditional luncheon meats like turkey, a few different hams and fabulous baloneys like their mortadellas and a new, nifty, smoky, Weaver's Lebanon bologna that tastes, hands down, just like a Slim Jim. Just without all the grease, bone and skin. Must try it! Just don’t think about my description when you do.

Onto the salad portion! They’ve got a really nice selection of olives. All kinds, various preparations. Nifty little deli type dishes like bruscetta topping, tortellini salad, marinated mushrooms (fuggin GOOD!) and a nice selection of single/dual serving fresh entrees that you can whisk off to home or office and reheat. And bless ‘em, they’re truthful about their seafood salad being made with surimi. I still think it’s more elegant and truthful than calling it krab.

And at last, my favorite punctuation to every trip here and the only spot that wars with my undying love of the salami/prosciutto section…fresh meat! As wide as the salami section is, the fresh area is much more focused. Check my earlier rant about produce, so they’re not slinging every cut from cow or pig. In truth, it’s chops, good lookin’ chops I might add. Chuck steak and ground chuck. But I’m not here for a barbeque. I’m pre-moistening my undies over their amazing sausages! Each of their Italians are awesome. Sweet, med-hot and Red-Hot-Italian-Stallion sausage. Good on their own, with some sautee’d peppers or as a foundation flavor for your favorite sauce. And then we come to the Prince of Sausage. He’s thin, long and coiled…ready to strike…your taste buds. Cervellata sausage is a thin, fairly long coiled sausage with a handy skewer for turning. I’m told it’s just a little salt and pepper in the meat. But it is addictively delicious. I could grill and eat these babies all day.

The final note on Sam’s should be the most definitive. And that’s certainly their sandwich service at the deli counter. Wonder what that weird sausage tastes like? Ask the guy for a taste! Like it? They’ll make it into a sandwich! Oh, and they do actually have a menu too. Great meat combos, hot sandwiches, sauced and not. Even braggable pastrami and steak sandwiches.

I’m sure that I’m preaching to the choir here for a lot of you. But if even one person who lives around the ‘No and hasn’t heard of or tried the wonderous wares of Sam’s…because of living in a religious cult deep in the wilds of Clovis, led by a one eye’d buck toothed prophet named Pepper… Anyway! If you haven’t tried them and then you do, you’ll like, thank me or something. Or try to kill me because I blew yer shot on The Biggest Loser. Whichever it is, prosciutto is more delicious than fame any day.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Eating Out Mr. Greenjeans

Okay, so he’s really hella dead. So it’d be more like eating old grandpa jerky. Gross right? So instead we’re going to take a cue from a friend of EOF Kattra and attempt a…oh god…I think I might have yarfed a little in my gob. A vegetarian recipe. Oh god! I’m sorry, I’ve gotta empty my sorrow into my porcelain Lord.

Ok! Upbeat again. So vegetarian right? Well crap, I guess I do have a bunch of farm fresh produce, I can turn out at least one semi vegetarian meal. But god damn it, I’m keeping my butter you bloody hippies! You can use your precious olive oil instead… Grumpily moving on.

Veg-gasm time!! We’re gonna make ourselves a tomato vegetable pasta soup with friggin barley! Cuz grains is good.

EOF Veg-gasm Tomater Veg Soup

1.5 pints canned or concassed tomatoes
2 cups water
2 table spoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely minced leeks
3 ribs celery chopped
4 medium carrots chopped
3 stalks of baby garlic minced (or 2 cloves)
6 fresh sage leaves ripped a new one by hand
1 table spoon dry oregano
1 table spoons fresh thyme
1 big pinch cayenne pepper
3 table spoons of violated parsley leaves
¼ cup barley
2 cups sliced zucchini (Italian sausage…SHHHH!!!)
2 bay leaves
¼ lb shell pasta
1 squeeze o’ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste (catching onto a theme here?)

Prep: Cut up shit like I said. You’re golden.

Firstly firstingham. You drop your butter in the soup pot, let it foam up a wee bit and add your minced leek. Cook until translucent and add your baby garlic. Cook for another minute, then add your carrots and celery and/or sundry hard, rigid veg. At the same time, have a food processor on standby and beat the living shit out of those tomatoes. Feel free to add half of your herbs and all of the parsley at this stage to be beaten into a horrible red slurry of yum. Hey, this is how the big boys make their tomato sauce. Keep up!

 So we’re beating our tomatoes for all the world to see. Then take your tomato whip and run it through a strainer. Get all the thyme twigs and machine missed tomato skins stained out, mash everything else past the wires and on top of your hot veg in the pot. Once all the tomatoes are mashed in, toss in your bay leaves and the remainder of your herbs and spices along with the barley and that squeezy lemon, then set to a simmer. Allow to slowly cook down for at least a half hour, adding water as necessary to maintain the consistency of the soup.

At this point sauté the “zucchini” in a little butter and dill. Once they’re just a little under done, toss the slices into the soup as well. For green zucchini, do it close to the end of cooking, for “meat” zucchini, much earlier. And for a more meaty taste, just add some fennel and paprika. Once the barley is al dente, add in the remainder of the water and the pasta and bring to a low simmer. Once the pasta is done, so is dinner!

So there you go. Eating Out Fresno turned out a vegetarian recipe with local ingredients and not so much as a whimper….ok more like a random substitution of zucchini for Italian sausage and some goat cheese on top. But what can I say? I love cylinders in my tomato and the randy smell of goat in my nose. All day.  Besides, zukes aren't in season yet.  But pigs totally are.

And with that we drift slowly off the cliff. With a sultry wave we bid you adieu, auf wiedersehen and who the hell stole my pants? Pants don’t go with soup! But an Irish soda bread with walnuts sure would.