Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eating Out a Big Shit Sandwich

Hi kids!  I know, I know...slacking on the chili recipe.  Needless to say that it was a layer of cream cheese, shredded cheddar, refried beans and our home made chili spread over the top and tossed into a 400 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.

It totally looked like this

And the non-superhot with olives to mark it as safe for the kiddies (kinda)

The only real difference was in what peppers were used.  The non-superhot was made out of a chili powder made solely from our Aji Lemon and Peter Peppers.  The superhot had some of the chili powder as well as a puree of all of our ripened superhot peppers, which really brightened up the burn and added that awesome chinense flavor that the superhots are know for.

I was quite impressed that the family put a bigger dent in the superhot dip after some friendly teasing from your's truly.  It was certainly warm, but it exploded quickly and was heavily mellowed by the cream cheese at the bottom of the dip.  But even on it's own, I've enjoyed several bowls of the chili by itself with some cornbread and found the heat to be extremely bearable.  Now, I wouldn't recommend having a bowl right before bed....that seems to lead to an excruciatingly interesting morning... 

But on to the reason for the title.  It seems the EOF household has been hit with a recent layoff.  Combine that with the economic downturn and a sudden need for some home repairs and we're at the point where the blog should be renamed Down and Out in Fresno.  Which is essentially enforcing some major lifestyle cutbacks and free time evaporating.

Worry not though dear reader!  For we're not admitting bloggery defeat in the face of adversity.  But we are accepting some of our human limitations and commiting ourselves to not turning a food blog into the FML-The Old Ghetto House blog.  So I'm hoping to only park the blog for the next couple weeks and then get back into it with some of the cheap-ass grub I'll be throwing together on our new, tighter budget.  To quote Lt. Lockhart from Full Metal Jacket: "It's a huge shit sandwich and we're all gonna have to take a bite."

At least my bite will be tastefully seasoned with cumin and oregano!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Eating Out A Thankful GIver

Who has two thumbs and sucks at updates?  That's right, this guy!!  And damn the excuses.  Because this isn't even a full post!  It's a pictoral preview of the the layered chili and cheese dip that we're making tomorrow for Thanksgiving!  So far the chili is made.  And the peppers are entirely from our own back yard!  That's right!  One batch is made with a chili powder made from our dried Peter Peppers and Aji Lemons, the other is made with some of the aforementioned powder as well as every other single pepper that we've grown this year with any late ripened fruit.  The first is a firecracker, the latter is a loving blowtorch, kissing you from the inside.  So here's the preview.

Now to finish simmering, cool, refrigerate and then assemble during my awful hangover tomorrow morning! Yay beer!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eating Out a Big Big Big Big Big BIG Fresnan

Anyone else ever haunted by the number of times they feel they must emphasize how large the Fresno Fair is?  At a certain point, I wonder, who are they trying to convice?  Me, or themselves?  I mean, I'm quite happy with the length and girth of the Fair.  But it's always going on about how much bigger and bigger it is this year than last year.  Really?  At a certain point, we're all going to have to sit down and tell the Fair that we're very happy with it's size and it really needs to stop obsessing about it.  That, or just bite the bullet and go get shaft implants.

It's been a few years since I've last attended our local havest event and quite a few things have changed.  Some are somewhat odd, like moving the gem and mineral exhibits, the giant Disney-esque facades for children to run rampant upon and the apparent disappearance of the photography building.  Although the biggest dick in the ear is the midway!  A buck a frigging ticket?!?  And five tickets to ride the boring as crap rides????  I might love me the Zipper, but I'm not dropping 10 bucks to spray my overpriced corn dogs over an appreciative Fresnan public.  Epicac is cheaper and more thorough.

But I didn't attend the Fair to wonder at the changes in architecture.  Instead I was there to run video for the Diamond Learning Center's band, Diamonds in the Rough.  The DLC is a wonderful local group dedicated to assisting and educating the developmentally disabled community.  Their motto an admirable one: Learning Is For Everyone (LIFE).  Something our school districts could take a lesson from.  And the Diamonds in the Rough are a great group of folks, wailing out classic rock favorites to help promote their message of inclusion and dignity.  They're a fun group to watch, as you find your ears strangely linked to your heart and they both feel quite happy.

And of course there is the grub.  But before I mention the food....$8.50 for a damned beer?  Thats a six pack of any beer at any overpriced booze merchant in town!!!  How about a little lube, eh?  This ain't an Iron Maiden concert at a venue 30 miles from anything, so you've got the crowd over a barrel!  There are probably 50 liquor stores in walking distance from the Fair and with a hand stamp, you can take the same time it'd take to get through the beer line, walk to Johnny Quick, score some 40's, chug them in a paper bag and be puking on the overpriced Gravitron before the stroller bearing moms in the beer line get their 14th butt light of the night.  (It was REALLY creepy to see the number of baby havin', stroller pushing mommas in the beer line)  And besides, Blue Moon isn't exactly my idea of a "premium" beer.  It's good, don't get me wrong, but daddy wants a Guinness or a Newcastle if he's gotta pay a premium.

So, boozeless I am.  But still there's munchables.  Any no, I didn't play Mr. Cliche and go to the Everything Fried booth to find out that fried Koolaid is just flavored batter.  But we did at one point grab one of the 3lb shoestring potato bricks, which was nice.  They don't par cook the potatoes prior to the full fry, which leaves you with a limper, greasier french fry that harkens back to my Dad's favorite fries at Angelo's.  The blooming onion I didn't try, but they appeared to be under-cut and undercooked, so folks had a devil of a time getting the petals off.  The corn dogs looked good, but I just can't bring myself to blow 4-6 bucks for a weenie on a stick.  Even for the comedy value of a footlong Cajun dog to bash my companions with.  The cinnamon roll folks were out in force as well, churning out what are, in my opinion, the finest cinnamon rolls on earth.  Forget your Cinnabon and the spoogey icing at the Cinnamon Roll Shop (reviewed last year).  They're dense, doughy and sweet without the need for icing, but they do have it available for the type 2 diabetes fans.  So good!  And to finish off our gluttony tour, we hit up the Indian taco stand.  After a good friend made some of these for a party, I've been in love with the cunchy chewey texture of the tortilla and the overloaded cornucopia like presentation.  The booth at the Fair didn't disappoint in portion size.  And the beans and meat were quite tasty, though I found myself wishing I had some awesome kiwi salsa to perk up the heat.  But the one downside was the tortilla.  Crispy on the outside it was, but it lacked that cheweyness that I was looking for.  Instead it was light and pillowy inside, like a delicate doughnut.  It certainly wasn't awful.  But it just was a different texture than I was craving.  Still, I'll likely put them on my 'Must Eat' list for the future.

One last shoutout needs to go to the awesome lady at the coffee stand by the new wine garden.  Not only was she serving a very passable cup of joe, she was also extremely pleasant and chatted us up about the Diamonds show.  She even introduced us to some of the kids of the folks who make the uber cinnamon rolls.  I think they may have been a little embarassed at their level of celebrity in my eyes.

And so, as the sun sunk slowly into the West, while the Fresno PD officers change into their stab-proof vests and recharge their tasers.  We decide that it's the best time to beat feet before the Fresno effect kicked in and the Fair got dicey.  Full of pretty good food, eyes stimulated by beautious gems, minds boggled by hard drinking, infant bearing mothers and hearts lifted by a great concert, we bid farefull to the Big Fresno Fair for another year.  But seriously, $1 per friggin ride ticket?!?  Eat me.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eating Out the Hot'n'Creamy

You know what I hate about me?  I promise something totally doable at the end of a post, and a week later I'm all "I don't wanna do a recipe!  Waaaah!"  Which usually dovetails with an utter lack of photos and a week of doing everything but cooking something new.  Or if so, then so burnt out that I can't muster clever words of entertainment to describe what went down.  Plus I whine alot...

But follow through, this time we shall, said Yoda to his batting coach.  Plus you've already got awesome pictures of the dish just 2 posts down!  I'm only kicking out the recipe for the sauce because I was a total cheater and used a chub of polenta from the grocery store.  Just slice it 1/2 inch thick, kick some olive oil in a cast iron skillet and lightly fry on each side until browned and a little crusty.  It's pretty pretty easy to keep an eye on while you're building your:

Basil Garlic and Aji Lemon Pepper Sauce

1 tablespoon AP flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 dried Aji Lemon peppers (or other semi-mild light pepper)
1/2 cup basil chiffonade (finely sliced) well packed
5-6 cloves of chrushed garlic
3 cups chicken broth (more if needed to thin out sauce)
salt and pepper to taste

Start off by tossing your dried peppers into a small, dry sauce pan or pot and heat them through without toasting them.  Then build a thin roux by heating the olive oil on medium heat, then slowly adding the flour while whisking constantly.  Your want the roux to be runny, but milky white all the way through.  Lightly cook the roux (small, slow bubbles) for about 5 minutes, whisking constantly.  Crush your heated chilis after they've cooled a bit and add them and the garlic to the roux.  After they've been well combined, slowly whisk in the chicken broth.  Start with 2 cups and adjust the thickness after you've simmered the sauce for a minute or two.  You want a consistency similar to a thick gravy, but whisking thouroughly will ensure you don't have any lumps.  After you've adjusted to your preferred texture, add in the fresh basil and stir to combine.  Simmer for another 3-4 minutes to finish thickening.  Serve over  medallions of fresh fried polenta.

And there you go!  You too can cook like the Dusty Buns in your very own home.  Just make sure you still hit up Fresno's lovely bistro truck.  We don't want that lovely duo to go the way of the Iron Bird and recent sadiocity of Tower Dog potentially shuffling off it's mortal capitalist coil.

On a lighter note, here's some pictures from a recent trip out to Oakland for the Tourettes Without Regrets show.  It's like the Gong Show was deflowered with a chainsaw by the Jim Rhodes Freak Show and the Def Jam series of shows were shakily holding cameras one handed, while furiously shouting out directions.  It was a real eye opener.  And it reminded me that Fresno has really come a long way, but we've still got quite a ways to go.  A greatly inspiring evening all around.  But with a dirty haiku competition, poetry jam, rap battle on top of sword swallowing, beat boxing, comedy and the wildest audience participation games this side of canasta night at the old pornstar's home.  If you ever find yourself in the lair of the Superdope Homeboy from the Oaktown, go on in and find your own inspiration.  Or just kick it and try to catch hotdogs in your mouth, thrown from 20 feet away for a free drink.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Eating Out A Distinct Lack Of Photos

Changing seasons greetings dear readers!  What a wonderous and amazing weekend it has been.  I have, at last, fed a multitude!  Saturday a good friend of mine and I catered a 100+ participant event called the Estalilla Kabaroan Escrima Subukan.  A gathering of students and teachers of the Kabaroan Escrima style, to meet and greet each other as well as present demonstrations and have some friendly sparring matches.

First off, we had to come up with a menu.  Thankfully desserts were already in the safe hands of the family matrons.  So, we started off with the big 3, beef, chicken and pork.  So we settled on bbq chicken legs and thighs, half dry rubbed and half marinated, pulled pork sandwiches and grilled tri-tip in wet and dry rubs as well.  Then the plethora of sides with fresh made punset, a Filipino pork dish reminiscent of chow mein, grilled peppers and onions, grilled marinated zuccini and fresh made pasta salad, as well as some buckets of potato and macaroni salad and some bagged salad mix.  I know, I know, but there had to be SOME effort saving dishes.

Whyzat?  Well, because we started prepping at around 5pm the night before our 10am deadline!  Whee!  So it was an all hands on deck panic call to friends and associates to assist with the prep work of chopping and bagging veggies, defrosting and breaking down industrial hunks of meat and preparing whole storage bags of custom rubs and marinades.  And seriously, we couldn't have done it without all of their help.

By around 11pm we were finally able to get cooking.  Pork shoulder in a low oven, wok and hot water stations ready for the punset, scads of storage bags to hold marinating meats, pasta boiling pots, the whole shebang.  And so did the coffee and beer begin to flow in earnest.  It's a special thing when you discover that not only is your buddy a kickass friend, but he's also a pleasure to work with in the kitchen.  And even with the motivating juices and smooth running efficiency, it took until 9am for the last dish to be bagged, tagged and ice chested for the trip to the park.  Barely enough time for a quick cat shower and a frantic search for a sober driver.

Flying across town, cocooned in my happy fugue, we came upon our spot and got everything offloaded lickety toot.  After a bit of a quest for the lifeblood of a bbq, frozen H2O, we got the mesquite fires going and banged the propane grill to life.  And it's happily at this point I was able to happily (if nervously) shift the chef's hat to an actual trained chef with 30 years of experience under his belt.  Of course, I had to linger and mince from foot to foot as I watched my hard work tried by fire.  But my babies were in excellent hands and I was at last escorted off to go run video for the demos and sparring (which was some amazing stuff, I must say).

Service went well.  And everyone seemed very happy with the dishes.  The pulled pork was a little strong on the coriander for western tastes, but I'm told the folk from the Phillipines found it quite nice.  The dry rubbed chicken was too salty, which was totally my fault.  Using full salt Pappy's as a base for your rub is a bad idea, but we lacked the low salt version.  Otherwise, everything else came out as close to perfect as I dared hope.  The peppers, sausage and onions were insanely sweet, 6 whole tri-tips disappeared like they were never there, the pasta salad was crazy herby and moist without being wet.  And dare I say, the true experts of Filipino punset, declared our puti punset to be allowable to be served to polite society.  I was quite proud that we pulled off a very specialized and unfamiliar dish.

And I certainly learned a few things.  First being, start shopping a week early and make damn sure you've got an entirely vacant kitchen to work in.  Second, the rule that you get 3/4 of a pound of meat per person is a fallacy if you can't control portion size.  Especially when you're feeding martial artists.  Folks who work out are heavy meat eaters.  Plan for a pound per at least.  Third, don't even try to compete on the dessert tip with a Filipina, their coconut mojo is most strong.  And lastly, it's hands down brilliant to secure a loving substitute chef to step in and cook so you can enjoy chasing gremlins in the grass for the rest of the afternoon. 

All in all I was extremely happy with how everything turned out and was most gratified to see so many people happily eating our food.  And the avalanche of compliments from friends new and old didn't really cause my ego much injury.  And of course I have to happily share those with all of the great guys and gals who stepped up to help out and pull it off.  It was an amazing day, with great people, having alot of fun together.  I feel quite thankful to have had the opportunity and more than a little pride that we all pulled it off with something resembling style.

Next episode...maybe some recipes!


Friday, September 23, 2011

Eating Out On The Run

Argh!  Crazy week of craziness.  So I leave unto thee a piccy postly thing of pan fried polenta with garlic, basil, aji lemon pepper sauce.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Eating Out the Staycation

Howdy folks!  Hope you all have had a wonderful heat-tastic Fresnummer.  As you might have noticed, I took most of the flamethrower months off to be broke and watch my front lawn crisp up like a cruton.  There's nothing like 100 degree temps to mash your apathy button until at least the evenings are tolerably cool.

But though I did not write, I did still eat!  And being me, I forgot to bring my camera pretty much every single time.  But that doesn't mean I still can't give a shout out to the Taj Mahal on west Shaw for their amazing naan selection and heating up their chicken vindaloo past the usual "white boy" level for a delicious meal that was wonderfully spicy, but not so much that I couldn't finish my meal.  But it did help a bit to chase it with a couple high powered Indian lagers.

And my favorite restaurant that I discovered during my "blackout period", Luby's Chinese.  Now, before you all grab torches and string me up for eating north of the Shaw border into Mordor.  Let me preface this by noting that his original location was in the old Bullard loop and that it's owned and operated by the same awesome character known only as "Tom".   And Tom is the shit.  He still remembers every regular he's ever had from his original location and he remembers exactly what they want and how they want it. 

I was brought across the DMZ by a friend and chef to experience what he called "The best goddamn Chinese food ever".  And since he way buying, I was down.  After the personal greeting, we were promptly seated and had cold beers in our fists.  Without evening opening the menu he asks "Mongolian beef, extra hot?" to which we both emphatically say YES!  And then he has a wicked gleam in his eye, to which my culianry guide says "Please Tom, edibly painful", to which Tom laughs and acquiecses.

While we wait, I peruse the menu and notice that there are vegetarian options for almost every single dish.  My host noted that in each case, Tom is able to flavor and manipulate the tofu in such a way that even seasoned meat eaters would swear that there is beast in their meal.  And thats a big compliment considering how delicious the Mongolian beef was!  It was tender slices of seared beef, bathed in a cauldron of simmering pepper flavor.  And oh brother was it hot!  It rode right along my tolerable heat line.  But it tasted so amazing, and yes you could totally taste the beef and the sauce around and through the heat.  But the "Aha! moment" of the dish was when I mistakenly took my first break from madly shoving beef and rice into my gob.  About 30 seconds after I began resting my jaws, the heat suddenly started to take off!  Building to a sweaty, nose running cresendo that could only be put off by eating more of the dish.  Poor me!

And as we reclined in our fullness, me fairly certain that flames were licking out of the corner of my mouth from the final bonfire in my talking hole.  I found great love and respect for Luby's.  I got exactly what I wanted in my meal and my heat level.  I like to be challenged with a spicy meal, it tells me that the chef is paying attention to ALL of their dishes and care enough to tailor them to make the eater happy.  Not to mention that we were stuffed to the gills on 1 dish a piece and a split order of eggrolls.  Top it off with what a warm, fun and genuine character Tom is and I think my buddy wasn't exaggerating when he said that Luby's really was the best Chinese food around.  And don't think that Luby's is just some sort of heat merchant.  I like my hot stuff, but Luby's menu is less than 10% spicy.  So don't fear that your fried rice will fry your tongue.

I know we're all broke as hell these days.  So do what I did!  Find some lucky schmuck rolling in dough and get his money-bag ass to take you out to Luby's!  Hard times don't mean you can't find a way to hustle up a grand meal. 


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Eating Out Waldo (Wherever he's been)

Top left: 7-pot Jonah, top right: 7-pot Douglah, bottom right: Trinidad Scorpion, mess in the middle: Peters, Aji Lemons, Mystery tutti-frutti peppers, red Fatalis, yellow Fatalis and a Nagabon or two.  Plus a couple bags of dried Peters and Ajis!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Eating Out A Slow Economy

Hidey-hailey-hello!  Y'all broke too?  Man!  Lack of gainful employment has really crimped my ability to pick on perfectly innocent restaurants of late!  It's been basic rice'n'stuff dishes at home and maybe a cheapie burger or taco at the local choke and puke, if we eat out.  My most exciting meal out has been a double burger and banana malt at the Los Banos Fosters Freeze.  Which, by the way, was orgasmically good, considering it was my first meal of the day at around 5pm.  I was so hungry that my body gave me a little dopamine cookie to reward me for not starving it.  Thats pretty hungry!

Although there was one fabulously funny event of note during the week.  I finally got my first raging hate-chat on Chuck's show last Friday!  I was overjoyed!  Although given how conversations can ebb and flow while we're cooking, apparently it's not my stance on Israel or police brutality that garnered scorn.  Nay!  It's my opinion that Rachel Ray is a fatty batty boombalatty!  As if a multi-millionaire needs emotional protection from a mean ole blogger in Fresno!  Tee hee!  And they said my fruit salad was amateurish!  Try this baby on for size and tell me that the flavor profile is for amateurs.

Stoned Fruit Salad

3 plums
2 nectarines
4 apricots
1/2lb strawberries
4 kiwis
2 oranges
4 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 aji lemon pepper
1 bonda ma jaques pepper
1 peter pepper
1 tablespoon light rum
6 cherry slice jelly candies

Pit and slice the stone fruit into bite sized pieces.  Hull and slice strawberries likewise.  Peel and dice kiwis.  Use a knife to cut the peel from the oranges and using a sharp paring knife, slice wedges from the orange and squeeze the juice from the remaining pulp into a chilled mixing bowl.  Place the fruit into the bowl and toss with the brown sugar.  Place in the refrigerator and allow to macerate for a half hour.  Remove from the fridge and drizzle with the honey and rum.  Then seed and dice the peppers and toss together with the fruit mixture.  Allow to rest together for another hour.  When serving, dice up some of the cherry candies and sprinkle on top. 

Now, I see what you're saying.  Hot peppers and candy from a gas station?  And to you, I say YES!  The acid from the oranges adds an amazing sourness that melds with the candy to give a bright, tangy chewey element that binds the flavors of the stone fruit and the strawberries.  All the while theres a mild fruity burn lingering in the background without it grabbing centerstage.  Alas, aji lemons and bonda ma jaques are hard to come by if you don't garden them yourself.  But I'm sure there are a few sources out there on the interwebs.

One taste will make the quest for ingredients worth it!  I'm as sure of it as I am that Rachel Ray is a piggy little butterball of hunka-hunka burning junk in the trunk.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Eating Out...Awww Crap!

We interrupt your commonly late blog with a news update!  Pook is an idiot and needs to back up his data on a regular basis!  That's right, I've had my second hard drive blow out in the old EOF tower of power.  That's 1.5 terabytes of heartbreak.  The first was a Panasonic drive and this last one was a Hitachi.  So my words to you dear readers, stick with Western Digital if you want a drive that will last longer than 2 years, and back up your creative data at least once a week!

Sadly, all of my pics from the Fresno Chile Festival were sacrificed upon my altar of laziness and bad luck.  But nonetheless, I really enjoyed my experience there last weekend.  The car show had some gorgeous T-buckets, a post apolcalyptic VW Beetle, a few sexy muscle cars and some really wild conversion vehicles.  There was even a Tesla over by the Solar Cooking demo and competition.

Speaking of the solar cookery, I was also lucky enough to get jumped into the judging for the dishes these heliocentric pioneers were creating.  It was a wonderfully sunny day and the delicious dishes kept rolling out.  There was a currant banana bread and an apricot cobbler that were excellent.  Warm, moist, sweet and each highlighted the flavors of their dessert wonderfully.  The topper was an Indian rice dish with jasmine rice, fresh veggies and whole hunks of fresh spices like cardamom and strips of actual cinnamon bark.  You know you're eating something boldly flavored when a whole cardamom pod explodes in your mouth.  Each dish was delicious and I was extremely flattered to have the opportunity to try them out.

Also there were the TasteFresno sponsored salsa making contest and chili eating contest.  I skipped out on entering the salsa contest mostly because I had already done a guest blog for them and didn't want there to be any potential conflict of interest.  But I did certainly hover around the judges table to see what the Fresno folks were throwing down.  There were a couple fruit salsas and a more traditional style pico, but the winner was the Anaheim Amor green salsa.  Sadly the judges were so impressed with each of them that there were no leftovers for me to try while I was signing up contestants for the chili eating contest.

Fresno really impressed me with their ability to consume rather hot peppers without breaking a sweat or needing a paramedic.  It was a little early in the year to find any superhot peppers like bhut jalokias without ordering them from Australia, so the roster went: 3 Fresnos, 1 jalapeno and then a straight habanero race.  The folks in the first round were so tough, I had to run over to the green grocer at the event and buy another half pound of pods to see the contest through.  In both rounds, folks seriously dove into the habaneros.  So next year you can be sure that they're going to have to add a superhot variety or two to the contest to thin out the herd a little quicker and have folks diving for a milk fire extinguisher to ease their oral infernos.

And then of course there were the food vendors.  Everybody had some form of spicy offering available.  But alas, with limited cash funds and lacking enough local rep to Prima Nocta my own free samples, my sampling was limited.  One favorite would have to be the aguas frescas.  I wish I had thought to catch the name of their cart, but their watermelon fresca was out of the world.  Not too sweet, wonderful fresh watermelon flavor.  Absolutely perfect refreshment on a hot day.  And then there is the pearl of the day.  A Regina's Native Cafe fry bread taco with their kiwi mango salsa!  First off, it's HUGE!  I saw the uninitiated trying to eat it like a taco salad, but not this boy!  I folded that monstrosity up and unhinged my jaw for the first chewey spicy bite and fell in love.  The ground beef was lightly spiced, tasty and still moist.  The fry bread was nicely crispy on the outside and oh-so chewey inside. 

I can't say enough about how awesome their salsas are.  The kiwi mango has a great, sweet front with the cilantro and spices coming in right before the heat.  To the non-chilihead, the salsa would be about a medium hot, to myself it was a wonderful medium that I'd be giddy to put over ice cream.  I also tried their hot salsa, which I've got to say has an excellent heat.  It won't choke you or send you scrambling for a glass of milk (or Tuck's medicated pads), but instead spreads a life affirming warmth throughout the mouth.

So, even though I'm extremely bummed to have lost the pictoral history of the day, my memories of the event are still enough to salve the wicked pain of data lost.  And I was really happy to get to meet some fellow chiliheads and discuss the merits of superhots over at the Manchester GATE School's hot pepper display.  Folks were suitably impressed when they got to see 3 of the plants that will produce the world's hottest peppers and I got to turn them on to some of the resources that helped to fuel my own obsession with heat. 

If you didn't make it out this year, for shame!  But don't worry, I'm quite sure that you'll be hearing all about the Fresno Chile Festival mk. II next year.  And expect them to pay a little more attention to your favorite pepperfiend's advice when it comes to making sure that the pepperfans can come to feel the pain!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Eating Out The Fresno Chile Festival

Did I say well before the festival?  Well, it's before the festival!

As I'm sure you've heard, the Fresno Chile Festival is this Saturday June 18th at the Fulton Mall in Downtown Fresno.  There is going to be a ton of spicy insanity going on!  Like the salsa making and chile eating contests, performances by Cerro Negro, Patrick Contreras and Lance Canales, as well as tradtional dancers from extremely spicy cultures.  And food, Food, FOOOOOOD!  I'm told Regina's Native Cafe will be onsite, slinging, what I'm told, are some mind numbingly good fry bread tacos and a rather impressive kiwi salsa.  And topping it all off...ME!  That's right, they couldn't dredge up any other weirdos growing superhots around town.  So I'll be displaying a few of my backyard beauties and answering questions as well as a first year grower can.  Come by and kick me in the shin!

Speaking of my backyard bounty, I went a bit shutterbug happy in the garden today.  So far I've got a fair number of Aji Lemon and Bonda Ma Jaques pods coming up.  The Peter Peppers are going wild and a few of my experiments are yielding some interesting results.  Alas, the superhots seem to be waiting a bit before they start converting their blossoms into rainbows of pain.  But I do have one Nagabon pod that will be on display at the festival as least.

And with no further delays, on to the pepper porn!

First the bounty of hot Peters all over my back porch

Marvel at the bounty of the Aji Lemons!

The Bonda Ma Jaques

And finally, the first superhot to set pods, the Nagabon!
A few blossom pics?  Why not?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Eating Out A Blogging Break

As I'm sure you've noticed, your irregularly scheduled program has been rather interrupted.  Being slathered in genius as I am, I have successfully knocked my back out of whack and have been somewhat less than cookeryness.  Although I'm sure you'll be happy to know that I've been able to cook some pretty awesome Korean ramen at my bedside with a lighter and copious amounts of flop sweat.  Thank goodness for the extra spicy boullion packets!  Expect our ignominous return well before the Fresno Chile Festival and in the meantime check out our guest post over at Taste Fresno on the subject.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Eating Out A Shortie

Hi gang!  What a series of adventures the past week and half have been!  After a year I think we're past the point of apologies and you all understand I'm a naughty blogger flake when the real world starts a' knockin' at my door.  Between taco adventures in Coalinga (I finally am able to order entirely in Spanish!), meeting some awesome local martial artists and the usual scramble to get to Central Valley Buzz! in time for the show and remembering all of my ingredients.  Your forbearance is much appreciated! 

Today we did a very special appearance on the Friday show since we get broadcast all over the Valley via channel 43.  And in true Pook style, I was able to singlehandedly knock the entire feed off the air with but one twist of my toaster oven's dial.  Who's got the skills to pay the bills?  You know it.

But with too many lovely ladies and alot to catch up on, my recipe today didn't really get hollared out as loud as some viewers would have liked, so I promised to post the recipe for today's Creamy Cheesey Spinach Dip of Doom, so that all you party feelin people can wow 'em this weekend at your Memorial Day get togethers. 

Creamy Cheesey Dip of Doomheesey and Spinach
(serves 2)

Two cups of fresh spinach steamed or 1/2 cup of frozen spinach (chopped)
1/8 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup greek style yogurt
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated)
1/4 cup asiago cheese (grated)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon homemade chili powder
1 pinch white pepper
1 teaspoon dried dill weed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  First take your steamed or defrosted spinach and squeeze all of the water out of the leaves.  It's suprising how much water you'll wring out.  Then roughly chop the spinach and add to a mixing bowel.  Then, simply add in and throughly mix the remaining ingredients.  Then spoon the mix into an oven safe ramekin or pyrex baking dish.  If you like you can sprinkle a little more parmesan over the top for a nice looking crust.  Place in a 400 degree oven and cook for 20 minutes or until the mixture is starting to bubble a little and the top begins to brown.  Remove and let rest for 5-10 minutes, so as not to serve pure lava hot napalm dip. 

Surround with tortilla chips, pita chips, torn hunks of bread, fresh veggies, old ceiling tiles, a car tire.  It won't matter what folks have to put it on.  They'll start eating their own fingers to make sure that they're able to get their share of this insanely good dip.  Although in that case, I'd sternly forbit double dipping.

Happy Memorial Day y'all!  May it be fun, fabulous and free of harm.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eating Out Another Spring

Isn't it amazing how quickly things pick up during springtime?  Days are warmer and the evenings more mild.  The rare days in Fresno where you can decide for yourself whether shorts or pants sound comfy today without fearing some temperature extreme striking you dead before the fun is over. 

So what's been up?  Well for one, I've been Iron Birding it a bit more lately.  Mighty fine coffee, but a little shakey in the sammitch department.  Not only did they get my order wrong, the amount of meat they give you borders on diet food.  I wasn't expecting a half pound of salami or anything, but it's disheartening to almost chip a tooth as your teeth speed through the bread and only meet the resistance of one paltry slice of meat.  On a $7 sandwich, I'm looking for better than I make at home.  Better bread, better cheese, better meat, in some combination.  This did not happen.  Also, a pickle spear is nice.  The coffee was still excellent, if rather tardy and laden with excuses.

Another drop in spot was over at the Lamp Post for a few brews and the most delightful bite of pickled pork skin on a tostada.  I love any place that is serving Tioga-Sequoia brews.  Partially due to loyalty to the superior brews of Butterfield's, but also because that style and quality still shines through.  And the 'Post is a nice mellow spot to relax with a brew and maybe order some old school Chinese food from Lum's.  You'll notice I didn't say "authentic".  No siree Bob!  Fried shrimps in ketchup harken back to the days when the spiciest condiment in the cupboard was black pepper, meatloaf and gravy blue plate specials and nickel coffee.  And I knew then that I could get my favorite off-menu Chinese item...plain pan-fried noodles!! 

I know it's weird and there are other awesome classics that just won't taste the same elsewhere in a more "fusion-y" spot.  But I love what subtle flavors weld themselves into pristine, unflavored noodles.  Just a bit of oil in the pan and from there the noodles soak up anythig and everything that has been seasoning their woks since the MSG days.  And damn it is good!  Crunchy, chewy, a little dry in spots, a little moist in the center.  All I need are chopsticks, no mustard, no bug juice (my Okie family nickname for soysauce), or chili oil.  Just me and my noodles.

Add in to that a little behind the scenes work for the upcoming Fresno Chile Festival, which is looking like it's going to shape up into an extremely exciting celebration of all things capsicum.  If the weather and pests oblige, I might even be able to get some superhots off the vine and into the chile eating contest!  And we had a wee bit of a fundraiser for our dear friend RJ of Dusty's World fame to help out with some medical bills that resulted in a much needed spare hole in his head.  A racously good time was had by all and I was rapidly reminded how quickly their porter can kick your ass when you're not looking.  Much music was made and many laughs had and a good guy got a hearty dose of love from folks who feared for his wellbeing.  And I didn't even vomit!


Friday, May 6, 2011

Eating Out Your Sweet Dusty Buns Mi Corazon

Boom!  Two reviews in a row!  I'm as shocked as anyone.  But with it being 92 degrees in my apartment due to my outrage at starting up the A/C in May, there was no way I was firing up the stove or the oven.  It was too hot for microwave popcorn up in here!  So when the Mrs. comes home and asked about dinner, it was obvious that we were going out to Art Hop and brave the legendary lines to try out the Fresno phenomenon and scourge of brick and mortar restaurants, Dusty Buns Bistro truck.

Upon arrival I was pleased to note that the line was only about 10 yards long out in front of Wishon Row.  That's The Frosted Cakery, The Voice Shop, The Hashtag, Twee Boutique, Ancient Pathways and Cafe Corazon (more on them later).  10 yards doesn't seem like a long wait, but I am the biggest bitch when I'm hungry.  Hence the whole snarky blog thing... 

I look at patience as a currency that you pay out in expectation of a compensatorily enjoyable experience.  An emotional loan on fun, if you will.  And with the Dusty Buns experience, make sure that you have an excellent credit rating.  It's just two folks to handle lines that I'm told stretched around the block initially.  Which also made me glad we were as tardy as we were, as I might have lost my hungry mind in 90 degree heat.  As it stood, we were easily in line for 45 minutes to an hour as they served my line mates in ones and twos.  But as with most Tower events, there were friendly and interesting folks to help while the time away and keep me from having a hunger hissy.

As darkness starts to set in and the temperatures dropped, we at last found ourselves the next lucky contestants.  Given the wait, I'm not gonna screw around.  It'll be days and sweaty hours before I get to order again from Ms. Buns.  So it's two of their signiature Dusty Buns chipotle chicken sandwiches, fried fingerling potatoes, broccoli raab and spring onion soup, an entree sized polenta with confit garlic and summer squash, with chocolate dipped strawberries for desert.  All this for $28.  Not bad for 3 entree items, plus sides and dessert.  And to top it off, you can take your ticket into Twee for a free Dusty Buns pin!  And given that they're so cool, we made sure to pick up a couple extra Fresnocentric pins.

And speaking of cool, Cafe Corazon is so nice that they're happy to let you cruise in and grub down on your Dusty fare.  And what is a better compliment to bistro eats than a wonderfully hand crafted cup of iced coffee?  They roast their own beans in the cutest little compact roaster and have coffee by the pound if you want to take some home as well.  The coolest part is how un-cafe it is.  No espresso maker, no blended mocha chai pumpkin monstrosities.  They just serve coffee.  And they'll brew it for you in a myriad of manners that you don't often see.  Vacuum brewing anyone?  It's an older method than you'd think and it makes a fabulously robust cup of joe.  Although, sadly, they had run out of cream right before our arrival, the quality of the iced Columbian with a dash of Yemeni espresso was able to make up for the powdered creamer.  That, the general ambience and some very mellow reggae made for a superlative environment and headspace to enjoy an epic feast.

Another great thing about the Dusty Duo is that Ms. Buns knows that her customers don't wander far and she's not afraid to track you down to hand deliver your precious order.  That was one heavy bag!  And everything was packaged well for travel, so that you can ferry your treasures home safely to mock your roommates as you devour every morsel in front of them.  Truly we had an embarassment of culinary riches as the odors of our dinner vied with rich aroma of the coffees for dominance in my starving nose.
Enough with the lead up!  My stomach already thinks that my throat has been cut, so it was high time to dive in.  First up, the signiature Dusty Buns chipotle chicken sandwich with a sesame, carrot, lime slaw.  The bun itself is really quite good.  It's warm and fairly soft to the bite, but has the ability to stand up to the fairly moist slaw without becoming sloppy.  The chicken is amazing moist and tender and most importantly, well butchered.  There's nothing I hate more than getting a nice fat bite of gristle in my sammitch.  However I have to say that I was a little disappointed in overall flavor.  The chicken really didn't carry any of the smokey flavor I expect when I see chipotle, and zero spice.  And the slaw too was very mild and didn't seem to have either sesame or lime as dominant flavors.  It was tasty enough, but I think it's a poor example of their culinary ability.  But then again, being their flagship sammitch, they might be secretly sick of it to the point that they're not taste testing them anymore.

Okay, with my one general criticism out of the way, I can dive into the stuff that I fell in love with.  Highest on that list would be their broccoli raab and spring onion soup.  Topped with a little sour cream and smacking you in the tongue with a bright, sour, opening flavor that opens up to reveal the raab and onion and further unfolds into a strong chicken boullion and citrus finish.  I know it'ss odd to fall in love with hot soup while it's still 90 degrees outside.  But the refreshing spring flavors in the soup cool the soul in a way that defies physical temperature.  This baby was so good, I made sure not to finish it, so I can reheat and renjoy it in the morning.  It's that friggin' good!

The other $3 side that we picked were their fried fingerling potatoes with a smoked cayenne mayo.  The potatoes were about as perfect as you could want.  Nice and crispy on the outside, fluffy and earthy on the inside.  The smoked cayenne mayo was savory and seasoned, but again far too subtle for me.  When I see that a smoke hot pepper is part of the ingredients, I expect it to have a noticeably smoke flavor and some vague hing of spiciness.  This tasted more like a very mild chili powder was whipped into the mayo.  Perfectly allowable, but I hoped for a bit more in the sauce.

The favorite in the $6 entree range would have to be the polenta.  Now here's a dish that is supposed to have a milder, comforting flavor.  Topped with confit garlic and some roasted summer squash and a creamy sauce to bring the ingredients together over 2 cakes of fluffy, moist polenta.  It was lightly savory and not too heavy on the dairy.  The garlic set a pleasant mellow flavor throughout and the squash added a nice al dente texture to contrast the pillowyness of the polenta.  I'd have tried to get some of this home for a later snack as well, but the Mrs. was having none of that.

And finally we come to dessert.  I had been hoping that they were still serving the chocolate dipped tangerines that they are advertising on their homepage, but who is going to cry over chocolate dipped strawberries?  Especially when you get 3 for $3!  They're not the redonkulously huge berries like they serve over at Spinner's Records during the Toast of the Tower, but they're still of a nice size and pleasant to the eye.  The chocolate is a much darker version of milk chocolate than common, which I really liked.  Not so bitter that it took over the berry, but make for a nice game of flavor peek-a-boo in my mouth.  Very simple, but simply good.

And so as I sat back with my iced coffee, with my guts alternately cursing me for overstuffing them so, yet also giving me a nice little endorphine award for no longer starving them, I felt the music and the art on display and the ambience of happy mellow start to really alter my conciousness.  A feeling of being transported far far away from dreary reality.  Like Cafe Corazon was somehow a million miles away from anything.  The coffee house on the edge of tomorrow, watching as soft orange sun sinks below a purple sky and the universe joins you in a long sigh of satisfaction and pleasure.

Yup.  The Dusty Buns' food, it'll get you higher than a mug!


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eating Out A Phriday Night Pho Phreakout

I realize I'm pretty late to the show when it comes to finally trying pho.  It has come well recommended from just about every social circle I stumble through.  The restaurants have been popping up in ever increasing numbers and the dish is now seen on the menus of a few fancy pants eateries as well. 

Recently some good friends raved about Pho 75 #2 on McKinley and First, so that seemed the logical choice when the lovely lady expresses a want to go out.  Ok, maybe it seems like a sketchy scene to hit on a Friday night.  But in all honesty it was fairly mellow, with kids riding bikes.  The most frightening note of the evening was a homeless lady with the biggest sweet tooth I've ever seen.  Seriously, I've never seen someone give such a hard pitch to get their hands on some sweet bread at the local panderia.

So, my terrors put to bed, we stroll on into the 75.  Immediate upon walking in, I notice the total lack of partitions.  You don't realize how common they are in Western restaurants.  It gives the place a nice open feel that I didn't realize I had missed.  It's all pretty straightforward though.  The usual booths and longer dinner table style seating.

Service was quick and polite, having us seated almost immediately upon entering.  Their menu is nicely informative given my general lack of experience with the cuisine and some of the ingredients.  Sure, pho is a beef broth made from cracked beef bones simmered and seasoned for several hours which is then poured over rice noodles, varied veg and your meat.  Like shabu shabu, your beef is sliced then and added raw to the soup, allowing the heat of the broth to cook the meat.  Although I believe other ingredients like the beef tendon and tripe would likely have been pre-prepared and added to the soup. 

Yup I said tendon.  Being that I'm out to try new stuff, I like to hedge my bets and try one or two new items, rather than go whole hog.  So it was a toss up between the tendon and the tripe as my challenging buddy to the regular beef.  The waitress indicated that she loved the tendon, so tendon it is!  Aaaand it was probably a bad choice.  Yes, it's a collagen rich part of the animal and is supposed to be good for skin and hair, but it's got the texture of gummy bears made out of fat wrapped around unmelted cartilage.  It tasted fine, but the texture just hits my barf button. 

Seriously though, having one new ingredient I wasn't crazy about did nothing to take away from the awesome flavor of the soup.  Pho is one of those soups that comes with tons of condiments to fine tune the flavor to your liking.  But like any good human, I at least taste something before slathering on the sauce.  And the first taste loudly declared that the 75's pho is excellent all on it's own.  Beefy, savory with a nice blend of cilantro and ginger flavors.  This one is going to be high on my list of recipes to reverse engineer for personal use.

But, when in Rome, put more weird shit into your soup!  Or in this case there is Thai basil, lemon, mung bean sprout, hoisin sauce, sriracha, pickled and fresh jalapenos, fish sauce, shrimp paste and soy sauce.  I opted for some lemon, Thai basil, jalapenos and a little fish sauce.  Later I kicked in a little sriracha to up the heat to my preferred level.

All together it evolved from a great beef soup to the most wonderful beef soup I've ever had!  There just aren't enough complimentary things to say about the broth.  And add in a nice fat nest of al dente rice noodles and a light sprink of spring onion and cilantro and I know for sure where I'll be spending rainy days when I need a pick-me-up!

And the pho is so good I completely forgot about our appetizer and drinks!  The appetizer was their fried meatballs...which I almost don't want to mention.  If the meatballs themselves are made in-house, they have an amazing way to beat meat into pasty submission.  They were fairly rubbery and not incredibly full of taste.  The peanut sauce they come with is tasty enough to help you ignore the texture and the lightly pickled vegetables they come with certainly help the flavor. 

But my favorite discovery, second only to the pho would have to be the avocado milkshake with boba.  Once I saw it on the menu it immediately struck me as odd, but upon thinking about it, it makes some sense that a creamy tree fruit would play well blended with some milk and sugar.  And damn right it is!  The avocado flavor has the perfect level of prominence, it doesn't fully dominate your mouth with it's creamy greeny flavor, but it sort of weaves in and out the milk and vanilla flavors.  And of course, boba makes anything better.  Ironic that I like chewey tapioca gummy balls in my shake, but not beefy gummy balls in my soup.  But their shakes are off the hook.  The chai tea and watermelon varieties were well recieved by my dinner mates as well.

Overall the Pho 75 #2 experience was wonderful.  It's a delighfully casual room with decent, attentive service.  The food is excellent and cheap!  The only tip I'd offer to newbies would be to make sure to pick what size bowl you want.  The default size is a dwarven wading pool of soup.  A medium will meet most hearty appetites and certainly outstripped mine.  Also, you pay at the register.  I'm not sure how they match you up to your ticket, but by the time we had walked up, a totally different waitress knew our entire order and had our total.  I dig mystical efficiency!

But if you've been afraid of pho, defeat that fear!  Pho 75 #2 has a wonderfully informative menu that will ensure that you're eating exactly what you want to eat, in any number of combinations.  And they're good with special orders as well.  So put on your adventure pants and go out and discover some new cuisines!