Let’s Talk about Food

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Mulling it over here today and I feel confident about this as a draft menu.  There’s somethings here I’ve made before and some that I haven’t.  Will definitely need to do a few test runs before I commit to a few of these.

Main Dishes

Soy Ginger Glazed Sliders – Beef sliders glazed with a soy-ginger-citrus reduction and served on toasted buns with triple cream brie.

Cheddar Pretzel Sliders – Beef sliders with mustard and ale cheddar cheese served on pretzel buns.

BBQ Marinade Mini-dogs – Mini hot dogs braised in southern style bbq sauce

Carolina Slaw Dogs – All beef dogs served with Buffalo style blue cheese cole slaw and onions and mustard

Pulled Pork – Spicy braised pork shoulder, slow roasted in classic BBQ style

Sides

??????????

I really don’t know what to do for sides. A huge batch of slaw to go with the carolina slaw dogs and the pulled pork, but what else…. I guess we’ll see.

One thing I really, really, really want to attempt is cheese fries, preparing the fries McDonald’s style a la this recipe. But that could be too time consuming. I just don’t know yet.

Drinks

And this of course is not to mention my trademark fresh squeezed margaritas. I’ve a reputation for making margaritas that knock people the fuck out. And this is a reputation that I intend to live up to.

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So I’m falling into the same trap that I fall into every year at this point: lack of planning. Not that I’m being a slouch, just that I’m spinning one too many plates. The holidays aren’t even here yet, and already it’s one thing after another.

First issue is a Halloween costume. Every freakin’ year I do this. Put off Halloween ideas until it’s too late to do anything elaborate. And so I’m left scrambling for a last minute costume. Generally speaking I manage to pull it off. I come up with something fun, and Halloween’s always a blast. But this year… this year… man I’m not so sure I’m gonna pull it off. Like, almost a little worried. I might end up as that slacker without a real costume at the Halloween party.

There’s also the complication this year of the Jon Stewart rally, which I and a number of friends will be attending. Here’s to hoping we make it back from DC in time for the evening’s many Halloween parties. I mean, even if I had an elaborate costume, I probably wouldn’t have much time to put it together.

So yeah, there’s that.

And the other thing is food. And here the problem is an overabundance of ideas. I finally set a date for my much belated house-warming party. And now I must plan a menu. If you ever make it to one of my parties, rest assured my friend you will be well fed. And it’s all about the savories: burgers, dogs, cheese, cheese, and more cheese.

Just last night I came home with an armful of cheeses from Eddies. I found this cheddar called Red Dragon, which is an English cheddar with whole grain mustard seed and ale. It’s tasty stuff on its own, but it begs to be melted into a soup or dip. And I’d like to try it on a burger as well. I’m thinking cheeseburger sliders on pretzel rolls–the hearty mustard seed being a perfect compliment for the pretzel dough. Of course, where am I going to get pretzel roll slider buns?

I also brought home a savory, soft taleggio. I’d had an amazing taleggio this weekend at one of Baltimore’s finer restaurants, and it had me craving some more. I’m not entirely sure what to do with it though–eating it over bread and crackers aside. It would provide some delightful gooiness to a risotto or similar, but that’s not exactly party food. I might have to save this cheese for some non-party preparation.

Anyway.

The main thing I’ve been thinking about is dogs—hot dogs! Baltimore has been graced lately with two absolutely amazing hot dog establishments: Stuggy’s and The Haute Dog Cart. The Haute Dog Cart is tucked away in Mt Washington and is very low key–really just a lunchtime hot dog stand. But the dogs are A-MAZ-ING. I stopped by last week or so and had a bbq mustard cheesy dog that blew my mind. I will definitely be attempting to recreate that dog for my party. It’s preparation isn’t that different than a bunch of other BBQ I’ve done before–I’d just never thought to do it with hot dogs.

Stuggy’s on the other hand is fast on its way to becoming one of the city’s venerable savory meccas. It’s on the square in Fells, and it specializes in a number of regional dogs, all of which are amazing. Things like Chicago dogs and Carolina slaw dogs. The kinds of dogs you see here. I find myself raving about this place constantly, and if I lived down in Fells Pt, I swear to you I’d be twenty five pounds heavier by now.

So I’m trying to think of some ideas for dogs. Well, okay, I’m trying to pare down many, many ideas to just a few. I’ve got the BBQ dog that I’d like to do. I’d also like to do what I’d call a Mexican mushroom dog, based off of a recipe for Mexican mushrooms that I kinda whipped up (a variation on a traditional Russian recipe actually). There’s the temptation to do a hot dog bar, with fixins for slaw dogs and Chi-town dogs there for self serve. Just so many freaking hot dog possibilities.

And then of course there’s the sliders. I can’t have people over without sliders. The soy ginger with creamy brie spread slider most definitely will return.  Everyone loved those last year.  But what of the others? I feel like doing something a little more interesting than bacon cheeseburger sliders this year. But not sure what. I like the mustard cheddar and pretzel roll idea, but not sure how to make all of that work. Plus that cheese ain’t cheap.

And of course I need to plan all of this without overdoing it. I need to pare it down and figure out what’s workable–what can I preprep the day beforehand so that I won’t be busy cooking during my whole party. It would be nice if I allowed myself some time at my own party to enjoy myself, don’t you think.

Anyway, if you’re a friend or acquaintance of mine, don’t be alarmed if I call you over in the coming weeks plying you for opinions on recipes I’m trying.

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Ah, Philly. I did miss you. It’s been awhile. But I found that not too much has changed. Your downtown is still pleasantly walkable. You still have more punk rockers per capita than homeless people. And you still exalt in your steaks and your cheeses.

I managed to swing by Pat’s at lunch hour. Most of the folks that I know love to rant about how much better Pat’s is than Geno’s, although I have to be honest the difference has never seemed that stark to me. What I do love about Pat’s is the non-assuming David it plays to Geno’s Goliath. Geno’s has all kinds of crazy bullshit going on around. It might as well be a night club. Pat’s, though, it’s just a sub shop. Which is all I want it to be.

It’s gotten me thinking, though.  The cheese steak I had was fine, but as I was eating it I couldn’t help but wonder, “what’s the fuss about?”  I’ve had this moment a number of times while ordering cheese steaks in Philly.  I mean, look at the sub.  Most of those ingredients are canned.  And I can’t honestly say much love went into it.  The meat is cooked in a giant pile and slapped onto each sandwich somewhat unceremoniously turn by turn.  It tastes good.  But does it taste amazing?

Not really.  And it had me wondering about famous hometown foods.  How many famous hometown foods are exceeded by leaps and bounds by their hype?  For Baltimore, this is sort of a hard one.  We have crab cakes, and crab cakes aren’t exactly fast food fare.  If you’re getting one, it’s almost definitely not cheap.  And the quality usually starts at okay.  You have to travel out of the region to get a bad crap cake.

But how do other cities stack up?  I’ve never had Buffalo wings in Buffalo.  Nor deep dish pizza in Chicago.  I’ve had good wings around here, though.  And good deep dish too.

So where is the best place to get a cheese steak in Philly?  Everyone you ask will tell you something different, but I wonder about those folks who swear by places like Pat’s and Geno’s.  Give me some fresh peppers and fresh mushrooms before you tell me something’s gonna blow my mind.  But to Pat’s credit, it is loved by the locals.  Maybe there’s just something there I can’t taste.

Yesterday I threw some steak on the griddle and veggies on the stove and made my own cheese steaks.  These were just kinda dashed together, and I didn’t get fancy with the ingredients.  I mean I didn’t even chop any garlic up, that’s how dressed down these were.  And they were still amazing.  Sizzlin steak and fresh veggies all the way.

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I’m still waiting on the appraisal.  Since the housing market went to shit, all these layers of extra paperwork and second sign-offs have been added that slow everything down.  With the housing credit ending, there’s a scramble on that I think is slowing things down even further.

Sigh.  I just want this part of the process done with, so that I can rest easy.

In other news, I went over to Faidley’s in the market at lunch.  Hot damn.  I wanted to enjoy some seafood, and in particular some crabs, before the price of seafood goes to hell thanks to the BP spill in the gulf.  If you’re looking for crabcakes, this is one of the places to go.  I actually skipped the crabcake today and instead had a steakfish sandwich.  My coworkers are always talking about steakfish, and I’ve been like “what the fuck is steakfish?”  No one has ever really given me a straight answer.  It’s definitely not any old kind of fish served cut up in steaks.  It’s a certain kind of fish deep fried and served on a sandwich.

I did a little Googling, and it seems that steakfish is uniquely a Baltimore thing.  Essentially, it’s a poor man’s fish filet sandwich.  People swear up and down that it’s not hake, although I think most of the steakfish you get these days is in fact hake.  I guess there is a steakfish of yesteryear that was made from some other fish.

In either case… it was alright.  It was sorta good-bad.  Like aweful, but sorta likeable.  I think Faidley’s knew how to fry it up right and get the most out of it.  That it’s totally local colored my opinion.  I’m eating it and even if not totally enjoying it, wondering what could be done to spruce it up.

I’m wondering if steakfish tacos might be a workable dish.

Anyway.  I was tempted to make this post a rant about the oil spill, which would devolve into a sort of rant about being a bit unhappy with Obama (he just approved more offshore drilling), but at the same time being unwilling to admit it publically because, as much as I might have some complaints, I don’t for a second want to sound like the Republicans speciously crying bloody murder on the right.

I’ve got some concerns about Obama, and I fear that in the next election I won’t be voting for him, so much as I am voting against the Republicans again.  I am sick of this.  I wish I could consider voting for a third party candidate without worrying about the Republicans taking over and getting another eight years just like the Bush years.

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Alright, so back to posting on here…. I spent yesterday entertaining a funk.  I usually hit some kind of funk sometime around New Year’s.  This year, though, it came earlier and left quicker.  It was almost as if Funk was one last holiday guest that I had to entertain.  “Oh, come in, Funk.  Let me get you a drink.  Oh, I see you’ve already made yourself at home…”

Anyway.

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a movie theater style hot oil popcorn popper.  So today I put it to the test, and in the process learned a lot about popcorn popping.

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One of the first things that I had to figure out was what kind of oil to use.  The preferred oil is coconut oil, but I couldn’t find any.  Alternatively, one can use any high burn point oil.  Canola oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, etc.  A lot of people probably use peanut oil, but I wasn’t in the mood for that.  Decided instead to try out the Orville Redenbacher brand.  It promises to add movie theater quality butteriness.

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It was okay.  There was a hint of butter to it, but not very strong or even noticeable.  It certainly didn’t make the corn come out all splotched in yellow, like the popcorn at the theater.

I did find that the Redenbacher oil was pretty useful as a topping.  I didn’t pour it out straight.  Instead I cut it about half and half with melted butter.  One thing I hate about using real, straight melted butter on popcorn is that it kills the texture of the popcorn.  Popcorn just wilts with butter all over it, and the texture is half the point when it comes to popcorn.  Oil, however, is able to make peace with popcorn.  The end result was a buttery coating that’s not unlike the synthetic (or semi-synthetic) butter oil that they have in those hot dispensers at the theater.  It’s a technique I’ll use again.

The other thing I was missing was the industry grade butter salt.  The good stuff.  I found most popcorn suppliers online selling this stuff:  Flavacol.  I’ve seen it before, at the theater, so this is what I want to try.  I only found one place online that sells it individually.  All other places sell it by the case, and that is enough to salt all of an individual’s popcorn for the rest of their life (at least I hope!).  One quart of this stuff will be enough.

In lieu of the Flavacol, I was forced to use regular salt.  Regular salt just does not cut it.  Popcorn salt has to be super refined, or it will just not stick.

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The end result was still pretty delicious.

I’ve got some other stuff I’ve been meaning to post.  Maybe I’ll do that now, or maybe I’ll sit around and munch popcorn while watching movies all night!  We’ll see…

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It challenges a deeply cultivated sense of luxury to consider a roasted chicken as a delicacy.  I suppose there are plenty of top notch chefs out there whose roast chickens are by their very nature the finest of meals, but I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about a Sunday, make it at home yourself roasted chicken.  Just a regular old Perdue roaster.

I roasted a chicken tonight.

I really, really wish I had taken a picture of it, but I was so blind with hunger that I tore into it immediately.  I prepared it with this Hungarian chicken rub that I found, along with potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic.  It was simple, never meant to be more than simple.

When I was a child we ate broiled chicken breast most nights of the week.  Never in my life have I learned to loath a dish more than broiled chicken.  This was my mother’s lazy standby for my two sisters, me, and my parents.  It was a daily test of endurance, and I soon learned to stock up on other foods during the day so as to avoid an appetite at dinner.

Roast chicken, to me, tastes more or less like broiled chicken.  I want to note that.  My instinct is instant distaste.  Sometimes when I’m eating out, I’ll get a chicken dish and the chicken will turn out to be roasted (esp, for example, when ordering chicken enchiladas).  I have to pause and remind myself that I’m not at home.  That my mom did not make this.  It is mine.  And it is delicious.

I absolutely do not need to eat a whole roasted seven pound chicken all by myself.  I should have called some friends over (and, truly, I considered it).  But this was the first time I’d roasted a bird, and I just had to have it all to myself.

There’s something wonderful, wonderful in the truest sense, that occurs when one pulls that bounty out of the oven and beholds it, overcome by its savory redolence and weak in the knees from a well earned appetite.  A bounty.  A giant bird, veggies, trimmings, whatever else you made with it (tonight: rice!).

There were two things commingling in my mind:

One, a sense of ability.  The ability to provide a bounty.  To take $7.00 worth of chicken and probably $3.00 worth of veggies, some spices, and to make a feast appear.  It’s a small miracle, and as many times as I’ve witnessed it, I’m not in the habit of performing it.

Two, a sense of…. this one’s more complicated.  It’s a sense of my mother.  It’s a reproach against the resentment the became ingrained in me over those disgusting, execrable chicken dinners.  It struck a chord as a failure to me, on her part, but this is because my sense of providing a home and her sense of providing a home are so very disparate.  To her meals were sacred, but not for the food.  Her food was always slapdash.  It was for the sense of company.  To me, the company is imminently critical, but nowhere near as paramount as providing for that company.  Just this weekend I had the chance to make breakfast for someone, and the level of care exercised on my part was considerable (I have at long last discovered my personal secret ingredient for omelettes!).  We didn’t even finish the breakfast, and that’s not the point.  I don’t care if some of the food was wasted.  The point is that when I play host, whether for a friend, a lover, or my family, it is important to me that I perform.

And somehow that brings me back to… chicken.

I guess this was just one of those places where Mom and I differed, and differed dramatically.  And man, oh man, oh man did I learn to hate that fucking broiled chicken.

Tonight I roasted a chicken, and it was fucking awesome.

I can’t wait to have my mom and her husband up here for dinner, so that I can roast one for the both of them.

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Because apparently five days isn’t enough.

It was a pretty full weekend actually.

I managed to catch the Caleb Stine hosted event at the Creative Alliance on Saturday, and it was waaaaay more amazing than I thought it would be (and I thought it was going to be really amazing). I mainly wanted to see this local country musician named Arty Hill.  I caught Arty Hill first a few months back.  I hadn’t been to the place I saw him in years, but apparently in the intervening time it’s become something of a local country hub.  And when I say country I’m not talking about country music top 40 stuff.  No.  We’re taling old Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, June Carter Cash, Bob Wills, George Jones.  That sort of thing.  Old country.  The good stuff.

But Arty only played a few songs at the show, and that turned out to be more than okay.  Got to hear some old gospel songs, old Confederate murder ballads, good old fashioned Irish jigs, and some surprises.  Wish I had some photos and sound bites, but this little mention will have to do.

I was hoping to spend some time reading and maybe doing some writing today, but that didn’t really happen.  This is the sort of thing I need to start being selfish about.  I spent too many hours today running errands and cooking dinner.  It’s not like I’m cooking for a family or anything, so why do I need to go all out just cooking for myself and spend so much time at it?  There are other things I’d like to do.  I guess it just wasn’t meant to be today.

Also I wanted to lift weights today.  I only lifted once last week.  At least I jogged a bit.  But this week I’m looking for some more discipline.  I’ve done a good job of toning up from last spring’s junk food indiscretions, however I have some goals to reach before the end of the year and, time, it is a runnin’ out.

Anyway.

I have a kitchen full of food, and I’m looking forward to doing some cooking this week.  I’m thinking about ginger and lime this week.  Ginger and lime.  That is the sort of tone that I wish to set.

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