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.