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!