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!