Friday, November 4, 2011

Bubba Gump Shrimpin' Dippin' Broth

Shrimpin' Dippin' Broth

Sometimes I am just horrible about posting recipes and restaurant adventures in a timely manner. However, better late than never, I suppose! Especially since this time, I actually want to pass on a recipe I happen to have for one of the most popular dishes at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company -- the shrimpin' dippin' broth.

My dad was in town recently and we've sort of made it a yearly tradition to have brunch at Bubba's, since appreciation for the bounty of the sea really runs in the family. Seth and I usually try to order different things and then share so that we can experience twice the yum when we eat out. Since it's autumn time, he ordered the shrimpin' dippin' broth while I got my favorite "bucket of boat trash". 

This broth is so delicious and savory without being overly filling. It's also relatively easy to make at home if you so desire. Earlier in the year when I was still writing for Examiner, I got my hands on a home version of the recipe and shared it. However, I have yet to actually share it here and really feel it's time to rectify the situation so those of you not lucky enough to live near a Bubba Gump can enjoy it as well -- especially since this is my blog where I care the most about my readership and keeping a proper record of the things I discover.


Ingredients for Add-Ins

  • 1 lb of medium-sized shrimp (already peeled and deveined -- frozen is fine!)
  • 1 cup of cooked white rice 
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of your favorite Cajun seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper

Ingredients for Broth

  • 12 ounces of clam juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 cube of chicken bouillon

- Begin preparing your broth by sauteeing your garlic, Cajun seasoning and black better in the butter over medium heat. This shouldn't take long -- 5 minutes tops. 

- Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Immediately bring it down to a simmer and get to work preparing your shrimp.

- Melt your butter in a decent-sized sauce pan. Immediately add your shrimp, Cajun seasoning, garlic, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Cook until shrimp are not quite done. This should only take a minute or two.

- Add broth and heat until entire mixture is simmering nicely. At this point your shrimp will be cooked perfectly and ready to eat!

- Pour into a generous soup bowl. Serve alongside the white rice.

Serving Suggestions

- Although you're welcome to enjoy this simple and delicious broth all on its own, the true Bubba Gumps Shrimpin' Dippin' Broth experience is about eating it alongside bread that's made for dipping. A nice, crusty baguette cut into generous slices is best. 

- The tang of lemon compliments this dish perfectly! Provide diners with a couple of lemon wedges each to really bring out these classic flavors.


Bucket of Boat Trash
And because everyone loves the bucket of boat trash at Bubba's almost as much as the dippin' broth, here is my picture of my plate (or bucket) as well. Spicy lobster claws, battered fish, fried shrimp, and crispy French fries with lemon -- yum! It went in my belly a good week ago or more at this point, but still. It was too good not to share.

Come to think of it, I still need to post the write-up and pictures of my birthday dinner at Cafe Stravaganza from way back in March at some point. I can't live with myself until you all know how tasty the Mussels a la Greque dish is there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pumpkin-Butternut Lasagna With Italian Sausage

Normally Halloween isn't really one of those holidays where I'm sitting there trying to think up something really awesome to cook. It's normally for eating pre-packaged sweets and other junk foods that are terrible for you. However, every so often I get presented with an idea I just can't resist trying. 

This time, said idea came from silly old Cafe World on Facebook of all places. (What can I say? I do like to game and really don't have the time or attention span to do it properly anymore.) Some of the little virtual foods they came up with for us to cook this year were actually really cute... and sounded tasty to boot. They included pumpkin lasagna, something that I'd never heard of in my life, but that sounded interesting enough to try cooking nevertheless. I hadn't made a lasagna in a while anyway, so we were about due.

This was actually pretty easy to make, as are a lot of filled or layered dishes. You know how I hate to measure and nitpick and how much I like to just throw things together willy-nilly to see what I come up with. Lasagna is one of those things where I do that, at least with the filling. If I have extra filling leftover, it's all good. I just save it for use with something else. I made a ton of it this time, because I really wound up making two lasagnas -- a normal one that included Italian sausage for Seth and me with another smaller vegan one for my mom. However, you can certainly play things by ear and make less... or more. Whatever you happen to need.


Pumpkin-Squash Filling
  • 1 can pureed pumpkin
  • 2 cups chopped butternut squash
  • 1 medium-sized white onion (chopped)
  • 1 medium-sized jalapeno pepper (chopped)
  • Several cloves of minced garlic
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Olive oil
  • One large jar spaghetti or tomato sauce
  • One can Campbell's yellow tomato soup
  • Plenty of chopped garlic
  • Freshly chopped cliantro
Other Ingredients
  • One package Italian sausages (or a package of vegan chicken strips for vegan version)
  • Shredded cheese of your choice (vegan cheese shreds were used for the vegan version)
  • One package lasagna noodles
  • More freshly chopped cilantro

Pictured are some of the ingredients that went into the pumpkin and squash mixture. We had a can of Seville pumpkin. We also happened to have a couple of cups of pre-cut butternut squash that needed to be used up, so I decided to include it along with a medium-sized white onion, as well as some chopped garlic and a jalapeno that didn't make it into the picture. It was all sauteed in a pan with a little olive oil until the butternut squash was tender. Then the mixture was set aside to cool  a bit while I prepared everything else.

The Italian sausages were chopped into 1/4-inch pieces or so and sauteed until fully cooked, as were the vegetarian chicken strips (in a separate pan). They were then set aside in bowls. An entire bunch of cilantro was cleaned, chopped and set aside. The lasagna noodles were boiled ahead of time, rinsed thoroughly to prevent sticking, and allowed to drain and cool. The sauce ingredients were added to a pan and allowed to simmer until nice and warm. Basically, I just prepared all the different components separately and laid them out nicely for myself so that they'd all be ready and close at hand when it was time to assemble the lasagna.

For layering, you should have the following things set aside in separate dishes:
  • Squash mixture
  • Meat (sausage or vegan strips)
  • Cheese (regular or vegan)
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Sauce
  • Cooked lasagna noodles
Cover the bottom of a baking dish with a thin layer of sauce. Then layer some noodles followed by one layer each of each of the above. Repeat until your dish is good and full, making sure to cover the top layer of noodles with sauce and cheese respectively. It's pretty easy, really. Then bake at 400 degrees in a pre-heated oven until warmed through. I believe we baked ours for a little over an hour.

Since it was Halloween, we also made mummy dogs to go with our lasagna (another nod to Cafe World,  as those were also included as part of game play this year). For those of you who have never had those, they're basically hot dogs or sausages wrapped in strips of crescent roll dough (the kind you get from Pillsbury or some such brand) and then baked until heated through. 

Seth and I had Nathan's hot dogs for our mummy dogs. My mom had vegan Italian sausages. I personally dislike hot dogs or sausages that don't have any bite to them (as in the boiled monstrosities you wind up with at most cafeterias), so we pan-fried ours ahead of time before wrapping them with their "bandages" later and baking. You can use lots of things for the eyes. Most people use mustard. We used hummus for my mom's and little bits of cheese for ours.

This all came out really deliciously! The lasagna was plenty tasty, but not at all heavy or greasy like some versions made with too much ground beef or extra cheese can be. I would definitely make this again at some point and would be interested in experimenting with different sorts of root vegetables or squashes for sure. I was actually surprised at how tasty the mummy dogs were for something so easy, too. I imagine they'd be lots of fun to make and eat with children for sure.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Baked Stuffed Zucchini

I guess it's been a while since I posted an actual recipe for you guys. Plus, I'm always being asked about vegetarian recipes or healthy dinner options that aren't too hard to put together. Made me think that this baked stuffed zucchini dish would be a good one to share! It's easy and it's healthy, but it's delicious and very filling as well. Even people who aren't vegetarians will like it, because it's so hearty and flavorful.

Yesterday, my mom brought home two very large zucchini that someone had grown in their garden and brought to the office. I really like stuffed vegetables (like peppers or eggplant) and these were just the right size for stuffing as well, so I decided to see what we had around the house and come up with something.

I wound up choosing brown rice for the bulk of the stuffing. However, I also added carrot, onion, tomato sauce, and a few fresh herbs from the garden as well for extra jazz. You can see pretty much all of that except for the brown rice and the seasonings in the picture above. You can also see the approximate size of the zucchinis used.

That said, this is pretty much what went into the stuffing as far as proportions go. I really just sort of feel my way through stuff like this -- especially when I'm just messing around and experimenting. You should feel free to adjust, substitute, or whatever you desire as you see fit.

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice (uncooked)
  • 1 cup carrot (diced)
  • 1/2 medium-sized white onion
  • 1 package vegetarian chorizo sausage
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
  • 2 cups water (or broth if you have it/prefer)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic-flavored Mrs. Dash (or a few cloves of fresh garlic)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
  • Several large leaves of fresh basil
  • Several good-sized sprigs of parsley
  • Cheese slices of your choice
While you're prepping your veggies for the filling, you can start by sauteeing your soy chorizo in the bottom of a decent-sized pot. I forget what brand we used, but it's that kind that is already all crumbled up, so you just throw it in there. 

If yours isn't like that or you decide you want to substitute real sausage, ground beef, or something else, just break it down into little pieces and cook through. Then add in your rice, water (or broth). 

Once you have your carrot and onion chopped, add them as well along with your salt, peppers, and garlic seasoning. Bring to a boil and then simmer over low heat while you prepare your zucchini.

Chop off either end of both zucchini and cut into three equal lengths. Then cut each of those lengths lengthwise again so you have twelve half-sections of zucchini. Then use a spoon to hollow out the middles so they look like my visual aid there. Set the middles aside and arrange your zucchini sections on a baking sheet or in a large baking dish.

What you do with the middles of your zucchini is up to you. I just chopped mine up really fine and tossed them into the pot with the rest of the filling. (Why waste it??) If your zucchini turn out to have a lot of seeds or something, you may not want to though. The amount of filling I had sort of... grew on me before I knew it, so you'll have plenty either way. You'll just probably have a bit extra if you add the zucchini middles. 

At this point, you just watch your filling. Simmer it until your rice is just about tender. Then add your fresh herbs, saving just a few aside to use as garnish later. Taste the broth to see if you need or want more salt or pepper a couple of times along the way. If it seems like your rice is going to need more liquid, add some a little at a time. It will probably take around 45 minutes altogether, but it's basically done when it's done. 

When my rice started getting close to being cooked, I popped the zucchini sections into the oven at 375 degrees to pre-bake for maybe 10 minutes. When the filling was actually done, I just took them back out and spooned a generous amount of filling into each one. Once they're filled, they should look a lot like the picture. Once they do, put 'em back in the oven.

If you have extra filling leftover, don't sweat it! Just eat it as a side dish with something else another night or get your snack on by dipping chips in it while you wait (what we did). How long you let these bake is also up to you. We prefer our zucchinis to have a slight al dente texture to them, because none of us like soft squash or well-cooked veggies, so these probably baked for maybe 20-25 additional minutes. if you want yours softer, let them bake longer. Just test the texture of the zucchini with the tip of a knife or a fork once in a while to keep an eye on how they're cooking.

When they're really close  to being ready to come out, you can add your cheese. Seth and I put half a slice of cheddar cheese on each of ours. I put half a slice of vegan provolone on each of my mom's. Then we put them back in the oven just long enough for the cheese to melt.

Once plated, add the rest of your fresh herbs to the tops for garnish. We had lots and lots of fresh basil on ours, but you can choose to use parsley instead if you prefer. I imagine fresh oregano would be good as well. Just experiment a little!

These were a real hit with everyone. Seth isn't the biggest vegetable eater or rice lover. He's not a vegetarian or a vegan either. However, he really liked these! He also thought the extra filling was terrific as a dip with chips (those wasabi ones from my last post) and a little melted cheese. Actually, we may make that again on purpose just to use as nacho topping or something for that reason, it was so tasty.

Don't be afraid to experiment with your filling either! Make it spicier if you prefer. More Mexican and less Italian if you want?  I bet these would rule if stuffed with lasagna type fillings like ricotta, Italian sausage, and possibly some bread crumbs topped with mozzarella as well. This is an easy recipe to play around with, because zucchini are pretty much good with everything. Enjoy!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Adventures in Snacking: Wasabi Doritos

Our bag of wasabi Doritos
So my mom stumbled across this really cool flavor of Doritos that I've never seen or heard of today. They're wasabi flavored, which pretty much means that Doritos has been robbing my thoughts at night in order to create the tortilla chip of my dreams. I did not ask why or how though! I simply accepted and ripped open the bag to try some.

My love for wasabi is unnatural and knows no bounds. I've been known to burn the crap out of my mouth on bags of those little crunchy wasabi peas... and pretty much the best part of eating sushi is getting to have a ton of that green wasabi paste along with it. The idea of a wasabi chip is almost too amazing for me to even wrap my head around it.

I thought the fact that I'd never seen or heard of wasabi Doritos before just meant they were really new. They may be newish, but what I found out after posting the above photo of our chips on Twitter earlier was that these are also actually a little bit rare. My first clue was when people kept asking me if I ordered those from Japan. I was just like: "No, dude. They came from Costco. Why?"

Turns out that this has been a very popular Doritos flavor in Japan for years and it's only available on a limited basis in the US. Doritos doesn't even have them listed on their official website. Most people online who seem to have had these found ginormous bags of them at Costco where we found ours, so that would be a good place to look if you want to try some of your own. However, I am unsure as to whether or not your ability to find these might be locational at all. For what it's worth, we live in California where people are very, very into eating sushi, so it's possible Doritos just figured this was a good area to market these.

Some internet stranger's "Americanized" wasabi Doritos
If you're unable to actually find the bag that says "wasabi" on it like mine though, you might not necessarily be shit out of luck. I guess there are also places in the US where these are sold as Mr. Dragon's Fire Chips.

What that's about, I have no idea. All I can figure is that Doritos figured Americans from areas where Japanese food isn't very popular might not know what the hell wasabi is, so they named the chips something else and drew dragons all over the bag to make sure everyone knows how very "Asian" these are. They're apparently the exact same chip though, so if you can't find the one bag, look for the other.

As for how these taste to a big wasabi lover? They're honestly really, really good and actually do taste like real wasabi. They're not horribly spicy or anything at first, but after you eat a bunch of these, you will start feeling the tell-tale wasabi burn up in your sinuses. Keep eating and you'll also start coughing and sniffling as a preponderance of wasabi tends to make you do. In other words, these are the best tortilla chips I've had in a long time. (Thanks, Mom!)

Of course, I'm sure that means I'll never see them again, because that's always what happens when I find some new snack that's the tastiest thing ever. If you get a chance to try any for yourself, definitely give them a whirl. Who knows how long you have before they disappear from American soil never to return.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bacon: It's Not a Religion, People

So the other day, I think I realized something after reading what had to be the trillionth food-related post all about how bacon is pretty much better than sex. This whole bacon craze that's been going on for the past several years straight has finally jumped the shark.

Don't get me wrong! I actually do think bacon is pretty tasty... but really, people. This is starting to get ridiculous. I didn't flinch when I started seeing people on the internet trying to see just how much bacon they can stuff into a sandwich or wrap around other meats before just looking at the finished product is enough to give you a heart attack. I didn't even bat an eye when I first heard about things like chocolate-covered bacon or pastries that contained real bacon crumbles as topping. (In fact, I thought those were pretty damned creative and even potentially nom-worthy.)

When products like bacon mayonnaise, bacon salt, and squeezable bacon came out, I was starting to think things were getting a little ridic, but I also thought "why not". Food companies and product designers have to make a living somehow and adding the word "bacon" to anything seems to be an easy way to rake in the cash. However, when I started seeing stuff like the following making an appearance, I was seriously just like: "Just let it go already!"

This is something called a Bacon Bloody Mary. I'm not a fan of Bloody Marys myself, because I hate tomato juice with the fire of a thousand suns. However, I can certainly appreciate how well they probably go with a nice frittata or a plate of bacon and eggs. What I can't appreciate are the reasons as to why the bacon actually needs to be in the drink like that. I got used to the idea of seeing bacon in baked goods and candy a long time ago. However, I don't think I'll ever be able to see it in a something like a cocktail and feel like it has any business being there.

This is allegedly a colossal BLT, although I see no evidence of either the "L" or the "T" anywhere. I have to hope for the sake of humanity that this sandwich was created as a sort of joke or for shock value, because the idea of anyone actually eating that makes me sick to my stomach. I understood when people were doubling up on the bacon with breakfast "just because" and hitting Wendy's to gobble up treats like that Baconator thing they have on their menu now. This is just sick though. Anyone who would actually, seriously eat this deserves the heart attack and colon cancer they're going to wind up with. No one that stupid deserves to be alive.

I first saw this floating around the internet years ago, but I can't not include it. I think at the time, I thought the bacon mug was actually filled with nacho cheese or something along those lines, which horrified me. I now realize that the mug is apparently filled with beer instead. I'm slightly less disgusted by that idea, but still. Why do we need to drink beer out of mugs literally constructed of bacon? What do you do with it afterwards? Throw it away? As much as I hate the idea of wasting food like that, I really need to believe that you're not expected to actually eat it. Either way, it just seems so unnecessary. 

Here's where I begin to get thoroughly confused, because I feel like I missed a memo that went out to all of humanity a while ago or something. I mean... we are still popping mints into our mouths at random intervals throughout the day to freshen our breath, right? Wouldn't these just make an especially critical mouth odor situation even worse? Maybe these are a shock value product to whip out in front of our friends just so you can laugh at their WTF faces though. Maybe.

But then what would be the reason for this one?? In what way does this not completely defeat the purpose of toothpaste? When I was a kid, I remember using these really sickly sweet, candy-flavored toothpastes once that were apparently created to appeal to children. I don't know if it was just because I was the type of kid that didn't really like sweets that much or what, but just the memory of how un-fresh those things made my mouth feel is enough to make me gag. I can't even imagine what it would be like to voluntarily infuse my mouth with the greasy, salty taste of dead swine. It's even harder to imagine feeling like it's actually clean after that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bitter Feast: A Grizzly Warning to Us Food Critics?

Joshua Leonard as food critic, J.T. Franks in Bitter Feast
Offline, I've always been a quiet person who doesn't talk very much or freely offer my input on many things, even when asked directly. Some people make the mistake of thinking that it's because I must not have any opinions to share and oh, how wrong they would be. If anything, I have the opposite problem -- too many opinions that are way too strong and (often) also very hard to hear if they happen to take the form of a critique on another person or their work. I eventually learned the hard way that I'm usually going to be better off going along to get along and keeping what I really think about people, issues, and so forth to myself.

Then... the internet happened. All of a sudden I was part of this world that allowed me to keep blogs and social networking accounts where I was completely free to say whatever the hell I wanted and get away with it more often than not. I could express every last one of my opinions if I felt like it. I could tell all sorts of stories and share artwork with what potentially amounts to the entire world. I could critique things like movies, books, or music without having to get anyone's permission to do so first. It's like I was truly free as a writer and as a person for the first time... well... ever! The good side of that is probably obvious. Suddenly I had a place I could completely be myself.  And the bad side? Uh... well... suddenly I had a place I could completely be myself.

J.T. at the point in the film where he's seen better days.
Part of that "self" is, as I've mentioned, a natural critic. Over the years and thanks to the wonders of the internet, I've discovered that there are actually practical uses to which this can trait can be put. I don't do it a lot or anything, but since I started writing professionally, I do occasionally get to collect a paycheck or pick up a few bylines for writing reviews on all sorts of products, media, and services. Quite gratifying! I not only get to express myself, but I'm basically being asked explicitly by whomever to give my unique and honest opinion of whatever I'm reviewing and really... that's something I could do all day long, little narcissist that I can be.


One of the places I regularly get to post reviews is MoreHorror, Seth's wildly popular, awesome-sauce horror movie site to which I regularly contribute reviews and such. He lets me be as snarky and blunt as I want to be when I write. Hell, he even appreciates it, which I really appreciate in return! Naturally, that is how I knew this must be the person for me. Anyone who can not only put up with my mouth and my ego, but also find a way to appreciate them both is a keeper. 

Recently, I had a chance to review a horror movie that was right up my alley. It was called Bitter Feast and it was all about -- you guessed it -- a snark-bag food critic by the name of J.T. Franks with a big mouth and a blog. However, one day he makes a grave mistake in giving a scathing review to the restaurant of a celebrity chef who turns out to also be a raving sociopath. He winds up kidnapped and tortured by way of a number of deceptively mundane cooking challenges as a result. The point? Teaching people like J.T. to check themselves before they wreck themselves when it comes to this wide, wonderful blogosphere where we can say whatever we want about whomever we want. 

Make me a perfect over-easy egg, bitch. NO RUNNY YELLOWS!
Bitter Feast was entertaining to me for all the reasons I just blabbered through above. I'm a critic. When I actually allow myself to really unleash the hounds while I'm writing a critique or giving feedback on something, I have the capacity to be every bit as harsh and dickish as J.T. Franks was in this damned movie when I'm in the wrong mood. Hopefully no one will ever decide to kick my ass for it as thoroughly and literally as J.T. got his kicked, but still. Food for thought, I suppose. There are downsides to living and working in a world where your opinion actually matters to any extent.

I know that anyone reading this is probably a foodie, but if any of you happen to be horror movie fans as well -- especially if you enjoy reviewing restaurants, chefs, or cooking shows as part of your own blogging repertoire -- you might want to give this film a try. It's kind of made for you; not gonna lie. Still not sure if you wanna? Read my Bitter Feast review on MoreHorror and watch the preview, why don't you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recent Adventures in Candy-Eating

Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas
Unlike a lot of food lovers, I've really never been much of a "sweets person". I don't have much of a sweet tooth at all and I rarely eat dessert. I will maybe decide a cookie or a piece of cake sounds good once in a blue moon, but once I get it in front of me, I'll probably only have a little bit and then I'm pretty much good for months to come (if not years).

I don't really care a lot about baking. I feel like pretty much the only food blogger on the entire internet who doesn't think cupcakes are the most amazing thing ever. I think cakes or pastries with a ton of frosting or rich filling are kind of disgusting. You get the picture. I'm just not about the sweets. When I feel like indulging or splurging food-wise, I'm about a thousand times more likely to reach for something salty, crunchy, cheesy, or all of the above.

However, there is nevertheless this part of me that is kind of fascinated with candy, chocolate, or candy-making despite the fact that I eat candy even less often than I eat cake or cookies. I tend to always stop and marvel at the goods when I pass a candy store when out for an adventure. I never got much into Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a kid, but Wolf introduced me to it as an  adult and we've watched it about a billion times by now (both the original and the Tim Burton remake). Even though every time I watch it, I make fun of the fact that people are foaming at the mouth over the opportunity to visit a chocolate factory and saying I don't get it? There is still part of me that totally gets it and just doesn't want to admit it.

At Carousel Fine Candies on Fisherman's Wharf
The other day, we were taking a walk at Old Fisherman's Wharf and that rare craving for sweets happened to hit me just as we were passing Carousel Candies. Wolf offered to buy me some treats if I wanted, so we stopped for a bit to look around. I hadn't been in there for years -- definitely not since I've moved back to the area -- so I'd kind of forgotten how awesome that place is inside. Pretty much any kind of handmade sweet treat you can think of, as well as this massive selection of gummis, taffies, and jellybeans can be found there. Plus, the whole place smells like this amazing combination of caramel popcorn, fresh chocolate, and fruit.

We've both been doing so well lately with our walking and regular bike rides (in fact, we had ridden our bikes down to the wharf that very day), so we decided to be modest as far as our choices. I chose a modestly sized piece of English toffee and we each filled up a couple of bags with assorted gummis. Wolf was especially happy to see that this place had cinnamon bears, which we've been trying to find ever since we moved to Monterey. I was actually really impressed with how fresh the gummis from the bulk bins actually were. Normally, that kind of thing is hit or miss... but here they were all soft and delicious. None of that chewy shit that you just know has been sitting around since your grandmother was born.

Even though I rarely go into Carousel and buy anything, I often like to stop and poke the big ice cream outside right in the cherry.
Then the other night, I finally got to try a Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar like the ones from the Willy Wonka movie. I've always kind of wanted to, but I never really see them anywhere when I'm at a store and in the mood to get a chocolate bar. The other night,Wolf found one while he was out shopping and brought it home as a surprise.
Dude, these things are really good! They're really rich and creamy. Plus they're filled with delicious little crunchy bits of things like cookies and toffee (always something I appreciate in a candy). Most importantly of all, I now have an actual food memory I can conjure up in my mind when I watch one of the movies and see Charlie and his grandfather acting like drug addicts getting ready to shoot up heroin because they got their hands on one of these things. 

And now that I've candied myself out so much, I doubt I'll be ready for more sweets for a long while. When I imagine the angel food cake I've been considering bringing home from Safeway that sounded so good a couple of weeks ago? Eh... now I don't really want it. When I see brownies rolling through my Tumblr feed in the afternoon? Not that interested in actually eating them anymore. I do, oddly enough have a nagging urge to bake something soon though, but that will most likely be an artisan bread recipe I found on Amateur Gourmet a while back. Bread is pretty much always welcome on my plate or in my kitchen!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Veggie Garden Project: Version 2.0

Kate the Zucchini
For me, loving something means sooner or later learning more about the elements that make it what it is, as that increases my appreciation of it that much more. This is certainly the case when it comes to my approach to food. For that reason, I got really into learning how to make my own bread, my own cheese, my own tortillas, and so forth at different points over the years. Then recently, I've discovered that I also enjoy growing vegetables.

Really, let me tell you that there's nothing more rewarding than watching something you nurtured grow from a tiny seedling into a flourishing plant. There's also nothing that tastes better than a salad made from freshly harvested greens and veggies that you grew yourself. For that reason, I think every chef ought to at least attempt  to grow their own produce at least once in their lifetime. It gets you in touch with your food and your craft in a way nothing else really can.

I grew my very first veggie garden ever when we were still living in Montana and I really couldn't believe how simple it was to maintain. I also couldn't believe how much produce the thing produced, even though it was literally just a modest corner of cleared land in the back yard. There were salad greens, zucchini, and corn... almost too much garden bounty to even eat it all, but it was amazing. It was nice to be able to know for a fact just how the vegetables were grown, whether or not any pesticides were used, and so forth as well.

Fred the Jalapeño
We didn't get a chance to repeat the experiment last spring and summer, as we were planning our move to California at the time. However, we have decided to grow at least a few plants this year. At this point we have two, a zucchini and a jalapeño. We're going to attempt growing them in pots this time because of the massive gopher problem we have in this area of California, but so far both plants seem to be pretty happy with their little lives.

As you no doubt realize, we've even named them, as their being in pots somehow makes them seem more like individuals. They're actually named after two of the band members of The B-52's, one of my favorite bands. I am sure that if we acquire any other plants, the names will follow suit. I can't wait until these produce their first harvest and I get to share what I cook with it. It seems like it's a really long way off right now, but with the way time flies, I'll be making stuffed jalapeños thanks to Fred and zucchini lasagna thanks to Kate before I know it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Whisky, Sliders and Chowder: Oh, My!

If you're on my Facebook list or know me through Examiner, then you may already know this, but your friend Cat just so happened to have had something really fun and interesting happen to her recently! Based on the strength of my Monterey Chef Recipes column, I was recently invited to attend a sit-down whisky tasting for Crown Royal. Said whisky tasting was actually the 3rd Annual Crown Jewel Tasting that has become the official kick-off to rodeo season here in the Monterey area to boot, so if you live here, you already know this is kind of a big deal. Very cool stuff!

I've been a writer ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil and I've been a professional writer and journalist in one capacity or another for a good six years or so. However, everything I've done for clients or as an official member of the press so far has been on a remote basis via the internet. Local food and spirits journalism that involves events and establishments in my immediate area is a newer venture for me, so this was actually the first time I've been invited to physically be somewhere and partake in the festivities.

The five Crown Royal marques we were invited to taste.
This was also actually my first official whisky tasting. At this point, I know quite a bit about wines, beers and related pairings. I've been to a few tastings in regards to those things as well. However, whisky was definitely a subject I would have liked to know more about, making this an extra fortunate opportunity for me. Above are the five different marques Crown Royal is currently offering. From right to left, they are Crown Cask No. 16, Crown Royal Black, Crown Royal Deluxe, Crown Royal Reserve, and Crown Royal XR.

I've created a pretty thorough journalistic write-up for Examiner on all of these already. (If interested, please see my Examiner article Kicking off rodeo season at the 3rd Annual Crown Jewel Whisky Tasting.) It includes a brief background on each whisky, tasting notes, my personal recommendations for recipe use or pairings, and then also some suggestions from Steve Beal, the Master of Whisky who led us in the tasting and whom I had the opportunity to sit down and interview later in the evening.

Me interviewing Senior Master of Whisky, Steve Beal
In fact, here is a photo of me during the interview. I've done some interviewing before, but this is the first time I've had a chance to actually sit down in person with someone of this caliber and pick their brain. Mr. Beal is not only a Senior Master of Whisky, but he also studied culinary arts in France.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience to get to sit down and speak with someone who was so knowledgeable in regards to not only spirits, but also food. Since I'm a food writer, it was important to me to get the skinny on the best ways to pair these whiskies with dishes or to cook with them and this guy sure knew his stuff. Seriously, check out the article I linked to above so that I can pass on everything I learned to you. It will make me very happy and you'll learn a lot, too.

Clam chowder and roast beef slider 
Of course, no event would be complete without food. After the whisky tasting, we were treated to dinner and dessert. That's mine right there --roast beef sliders on a multi-grain bun and some lovely clam chowder. The slider was juicy and succulent without being so juicy the bun was soggy. The clam chowder was just heavenly. It had rosemary and carrot in it, which I'm not used to in clam chowder. However, I really enjoyed what those things added to this and will have to experiment with that in the future.

I wish for the life of me that I could remember which of the restaurants around here did the catering, but alas... I didn't really catch the name of the establishment. I do know that it was one of the local pubs though, which doesn't surprise me. I love the pub food here in this area and I really missed it while I was away living elsewhere. I will be making it my mission to track down that chowder again though so I can pimp out the people who made it. Seriously... it was A+.

Locally-made cupcakes with whisky baked right in
Then here was dessert. Again, I wish I'd caught the name of the bakery these came from, because they were amazing -- light, fluffy, and very unique. They had Crown Cask No. 16 cooked right in to the frosting, as I was told. However, I was pretty sure I detected some baked into the cake part as well. The ones on the left have chocolate-covered coffee beans on them and the others have cherries. Not being this huge whisky expert prior to attending this event, it had never occurred to me that you could successfully bake it into any kind of sweet without it tasting out of place, but let me assure that you can. I will have to explore this idea more thoroughly in the future.

And that's the story of my first ever in-person event in attendance as an official member of the press! I had the most amazing time and I really hope this is the first of many opportunities like this. I love food and I love food writing every bit as much, so it was hard to believe that I was technically working while I was here. However, that is -- as they say -- the way it should be, no?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Frito Pie: How Does It Work?

Hank and Bobby Hill of King of the Hill
So you will never guess what I made for dinner tonight. Yes, I actually had Frito pie for the first time. Wolf had brought home supplies for making it from the store yesterday after I wouldn't stop talking about taco-in-a-bag and... well... this. I couldn't help it. This type of thing is really mysterious to me... and strangely fascinating.

Technically, I guess Frito pie came up yesterday in the same context as the infamous taco-in-a-bag. As you recall, people in that LJ community of mine were talking about foods that are absolute staples in some regions of the United States, but completely unheard of in others. However, unlike taco-in-a-bag, some of the people who had never seen or eaten Frito pie in real life had at least heard of it thanks to the animated show King of the Hill. It was a staple at their meals on the show, so it's impossible for "Frito pie" not to at least ring a bell if you watch it.

Actually, Hank Hill's love of "Frito pie with Wolf brand chili" brought up a lot of questions for me about this dish that I've had for a long time. How exactly does one go about making a pie out of something like Fritos? Is it actually any good? Why does Hank like it so much? Is this a real thing that people actually eat or is the show somehow trying to crack a joke about Hank's family that's just going over my head?

I ate mine before taking a pic, so enjoy this substitute pie.
I'm pretty sure I must have looked it up at the time or Googled for a recipe, because by the time it came up again yesterday, I actually did know what it was. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't the reality of what Frito pie actually is. Yes, it was a real thing and not just in the King of the Hill universe. However, it was not a pie of any sort that I'm familiar with and it was not really the kind of thing I'd actually consider dinner food either. A guilty pleasure type snack? Yes, absolutely. An actual dinner to feed to growing children or guests? Hell no. It's like the idea of taco-in-a-bag being served as a school lunch. Something about that kind of horrifies me and I just can't wrap my head around it.

So, how do you make Frito pie? Well, I'd write out a recipe for you or something, but I'd honestly feel like a tool even calling it that. You basically just take a bunch of Frito's corn chips and toss them in the bottom of a casserole dish. Then you open up a can or two of chili and dump it over the corn chips. Then you sprinkle the top with cheese and bake until the whole mixture is hot. Then you eat it... preferably with a side salad or some sort of vegetables, I would hope, although I don't think most people do that. That's it though.

Yes, it's Frito-pie-in-a-bag. I can't believe it either.
I didn't actually make my Frito pie that way though. I decided to really ghetto it up, because I was feeling hungry and lazy. I put some Frito's in the bottom of a regular bowl, put one can of chili in over them, and microwaved it. Then when it came out, I stirred it up a little bit and sprinkled some cheese over the top. I guess I didn't really see the point in prolonging the cooking process of something so simple and basically... already cooked? It's made completely out of convenience food, for Pete's sake.

It came out just fine though. Actually, it was better than I expected... sort of like a lazy tamale or enchilada. The corn chips kind of have a way of soaking up part of the sauce of the chili without actually becoming soggy, so that part of it was actually pretty interesting. The chili was this really good low fat beef chili from Dennison's (hey, we have to cut the calories where we can). I imagine this would be a fun way to use up leftover homemade chili and add some bulk to it at the same time as well. I would actually happily eat this again, although obviously not all the time. Like I said, this type of thing is "treat food" to me, not a staple.

And for those of you who are taco-in-a-bag enthusiasts, you'll be happy to know (if you don't already) that people like to make -- wait for it -- Frito pie in a bag, too. Basically you do the same shit you do with taco in a bag, but with a snack size bag of Frito's, some sort of chili, cheese, and I guess whatever else you like to eat with your chili or regular-version Frito pie. Then you grab a plastic fork and hit the road. I recommend just making it yourself at home on "lazy nights" though, as opposed to paying $5-6 for that crap at a fair or stadium though. Sure, it's pretty good for what it is... but I will never see it as being worth paying that much money for.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Food Memories: "Taco in a Bag"

No, this is not my taco in a bag, but I'm sure it was somebody's.
It's times like this that I wish I'd had this food blog up and running while I was still busy living other places besides my native Northern California, because I will tell you something. I've had some of the oddest food experiences while I was living in parts of this country that were so different from what I was used to. Not negative, necessarily, but interesting from a comparison standpoint.

Yes, I'd love to be able to look back on some of those experiences and read my thoughts at the time and I am sad that I don't have any entries here from that time period. Even so, I have this awesome tool at my disposal called a memory. The internet can also be of service when it comes to finding visual aids to help you as readers understand what the hell I'm talking about as well, so I thought... hey. Why don't I just go ahead and write about some of my food memories from time to time? Better late than never and this is my blog where I can do whatever I want. I'm sure one day, I'll be so old that I don't remember these things quite as vividly, so I will be happy to have those things to look back on.

Today I was reminded of an invention called a "taco in a bag" (or a walking taco, as some people call it) thanks to someone else's post in a LiveJournal community I belong to. See, I was actually really surprised to see this mentioned anywhere, because while I was aware that the "taco in a bag" existed because of a chance encounter I'd had with one before, I was actually unaware that it was a "thing" that was easily identified by people who live in certain regions of the country. I figured there was no way it could be, because I myself was so completely flustered by the concept that one time I actually laid eyes on it. I just didn't realize I was having an episode of culture shock at the time.

I still remember how it went down. I was at the Montana State Fair during the brief period of my life when I lived in Great Falls. We were walking around in the sun. We got hungry. We immediately started looking around for something tasty to eat and spotted a taco booth selling something called "taco in a bag". Now, naturally I was curious about what this might be, because I'd never heard of such a thing. Of course we ordered one, because... why the hell not?

I seriously don't know what I was expecting the mysterious taco in a bag to actually be, but I suppose I was thinking of something along the lines of maybe... a paper bag with nachos or a taco salad inside? Possibly a normal taco in some kind of handy, bag-like wrapper. No clue. All I know is I was not prepared to see the chick who made it for us actually slit open a snack-sized bag of nacho cheese Doritos, start spooning taco fillings into it, and hand it to us with a plastic fork after we gave her something like five bucks for the privilege of trying this mysterious concoction. Seriously, I would love to see a photograph of how my face looked at that exact moment in time. It was probably pretty funny.

Now... here's the thing about that taco in a bag. It was actually pretty good in a guilty pleasure, trashy eats kind of way. It's definitely the kind of thing I would consider myself a genius for thinking of if I were really hungry late at night and felt too lazy to actually make myself a proper taco or quesadilla. However, this really isn't the kind of thing I can see being served as actual food anywhere, even at a fair where guilty pleasure type foods are what it's all about. I mean... seriously. It was actually a bag of Doritos like I was used to getting with an inexpensive sandwich somewhere and a spoonful or two of taco filling. I'm sure I'm going to come off as one hell of a food snob saying this, but come on. That's ghetto!

More taco in a bag for your viewing pleasure.
I think at the time I really did think it was just a Montana thing. At this point in time, I'd lived there long enough to know that there are a lot of people there -- not everyone, by any means, but a lot --who consider fast food to be actual food that's suitable for eating on a regular basis. There are even more whose idea of gourmet cooking is literally a bag of cheap noodles mixed with ground beef, a couple of sticks of melted butter, and whatever flavor of Campbell's condensed soup suited their fancy at the time. That said, I wasn't exactly surprised to see a taco in a bag being sold at the fair for almost five dollars and revered like it was ambrosia or something.

I couldn't find much information on where exactly the whole thing started, but of this much I'm certain. It wasn't just a one-of-a-kind encounter of the sort never to be repeated. Apparently people in a number of regions are all about the taco in the bag, especially at places like fairs. The person who made the LiveJournal post I mentioned above said this was something kids were even served on a regular basis as a school lunch where she's from. I'm not even going to get into how I feel about this being served to young, growing bodies in lieu of something actually nutritious, because that's a whole other type of post, but you probably get the picture.

If taco in a bag exists in Northern California, I have personally never stumbled across it myself, even at the fair or similar venues. However, revisiting the whole concept of it kind of made me aware of just how different various parts of the country really are when it comes to many things. Here in America, we speak one language, have one president, and all of that good stuff. However, from region to region, Americans might as well be from different countries for the similarities we actually share when it comes to much of how we think, eat and live.

Like I was saying about the type of stuff that was eaten in Montana on a regular basis -- a ton of beef, butter, high-calorie foods, deep-fried items, and pre-cooked things out of cans. It's pretty much the exact antithesis of what I grew up thinking a person ought to eat in Northern California. We eat a lot of veggies here. We're all about the low-cal meals and cutting back on our cholesterol to the greatest extent possible. We may not all eat fresh all the time, but many Californians will probably at least say that that's what they believe in to the greatest extent possible. Of course, you know I was all too happy to order the occasional bacon cheeseburger with fries myself, but I always did so to the tune of disgusted looks and cries of "how can you eat that" from all of my friends, so you can probably imagine that that's not really the socially acceptable norm. We also are collectively really into shit like jogging, vegetarianism, animal rights, recycling and near hippie-level acceptance of diversity, just like you see in the movies.

It wasn't just the food in Montana that was a mystery to me either. The way of life there was like night and day compared to what I was really used to as well. I'm not going to get into all the specifics, since I don't want to go off on too big of a tangent, but people had completely different definitions of concepts like achievement, family, commitment, religion, "correct" political leanings, and so forth as well. Again, not saying that was wrong, per se, but it was very different to the point where it was actually baffling on a personal level.

I'm sure the confusion -- especially about food preferences -- probably went both ways though. Yeah, I may have been shocked at taco in a bag, the fact that "vegetarian" was practically a dirty word, or the widespread use of actual lard being used to make French fries, but I'm sure your typical Montanan probably looks at my sushi, vegetable pizza with whole wheat crust, or clam chowder in a bread bowl and thinks the exact same thing.

It's just interesting to think about what different experiences we can have living different places and what a wonderful barometer things like favorite local foods really make. I'll have to think more about this and revisit the idea at some point -- or several -- in the future.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cat's First Sushi Rolls: New Foodie Adventures for a Brand New Year

I've been wanting to try my hand at making my own sushi rolls for a really long time now. However, I lacked the proper materials and the know-how to actually do so. At least that was the case until I got some really nice sushi-making supplies and plates for Christmas from my mother! Then my only excuse was not knowing what the hell I was doing. We all know that never stops me though, so I naturally was eager to generate some sushi rolls as soon as possible

That brings me to the first of many firsts this post represents. I actually followed the directions in the sushi-making book I got with my supplies to avoid potentially disgusting results. I've had pre-made sushi rolls a few isolated times in the past, but I honestly had no clue how they are made, so I figured it would be better not to start playing around with the recipe just yet. 

You know that was hard for me, you guys! I never, ever look to directions to figure out how to do something new. I might do some research or something, but honest-to-God directions are usually something I don't bother with unless I'm really stuck. Recipes especially are typically something I consider to be guidelines and nothing more. Good thing Japanese cuisine intimidates me so much!

The first order of business was to make the rice. In case you don't know, you can't just use any old rice to make sushi. You need short-grain Japanese sushi rice (also known as "sticky rice"). You make it pretty much the same way you make normal rice to start with -- one part rice to one part water. I made 2 cups worth of rice, so I added 2 cups of water. I wound up adding more water periodically to keep my rice from burning before it was actually done though.

Once your rice is finished, you add it to a decent-sized bowl that can be made of pretty much anything but metal. Why? Because sushi rice has vinegar in it apparently and vinegar interacts with metal to produce foul flavors that no one wants in their food. No, I did not actually know about the vinegar previously, because sushi has never tasted like vinegar to me in the past. Like I said -- I've eaten it, but had no clue about the ingredients or anything.

That's why the amount of white vinegar the recipe wanted me to add to that rice scared me a little. They wanted me to put a whole 1/2 cup in there for that amount of rice and that seemed like a lot to me, especially since some of the recipes I'd seen online only called for a few tablespoons. I can eat vinegar under special circumstances, but I really don't like it as a rule and let me tell you that 1/2 cup of vinegar blew me away smell-wise when I was adding it. 

I was sure that rice was not going to taste good and I was sure I would live to regret not cutting the amount of vinegar down considerably. I resisted the urge to do so though. I successfully stuck to my conviction to actually follow the recipe instead and added all of it despite every bone in my body telling me not to. Then I mixed it in with my little bamboo paddle just like I was supposed to.

Once your rice has cooled off to room temperature (under a towel to keep it moist), you're ready to start rolling. Now, I'm going to warn you. This part is not easy and I'm not really going to attempt to tell you how to create a sushi roll here. You'd be so much better off finding a YouTube video or a picture tutorial to help you instead. Suffice it to say that you arrange your bamboo rolling mat, nori wrapper, rice and fillings like you see in the picture above. Then you attempt to make rolls that actually stick together properly. Then you watch your self esteem plummet when your rolls look like something a first-grader made.

I had a couple of fail rolls for sure, but surprisingly all of the rolls stuck together regardless of how much fail they may have had. They were certainly all edible if not the most beautiful sushi rolls I'd ever seen. Our fillings were cucumber, carrot, imitation crab meat and spicy tuna. Each roll had some combination of those things except for the one we made that had spinach in it. Don't do spinach, you guys. It sucks as a sushi filling and makes it that much harder to shape your roll. It doesn't add anything flavor-wise either, so I'm never doing it again. The amount of rice I made plus five nori sheets (each cut in half) was exactly enough to create ten complete rolls. Each roll yielded six pieces of sushi. 

Once all the sushi was rolled and cut, we put it all in a Tupperware container to chill in the fridge and eat later on. (This was our New Year's Eve dinner, actually.) Once we did it eat though? Oh, my God!! It was just... amazing. Seriously, this sushi tasted perfect and was literally the most delicious thing I can remember putting in my mouth in a long time. It didn't taste vinegary or sour at all and I honestly can't see myself making sushi rice any other way in the future. It was that good, balanced and amazing.

Actually, I am still reeling at how good this meal was. It was such a simple food -- just vinegared rice, nori, vegetables and seafood. Nothing else. No fancy seasonings (except for the wasabi and soy sauce we ate with it as condiments). Even so, it had an amazing amount of flavor and was very, very satisfying and filling. I see myself making and eating a lot more of it in the future for sure. And to think I got a result this incredible from following -- *shudder* -- directions! Don't tell anybody, OK?

What We Ate for New Year's: "Hoppin' John" for Luck

If you read my Monterey recipes column at The Examiner, then you may already have seen me talk a little bit about Hoppin' John. However, I actually wound up making a very different recipe from the one I posted there when I went to make my own New Year's dinner. The Examiner recipe was meant to be a quick and easy last-minute dish people could make in a short amount of time while this one is actually a vegan recipe meant to slow-cook for several hours.

It is still incredibly easy to make though and I like to think it's true to the original spirit of the dish. For those of you who don't know, Hoppin' John is a Southern dish that consists of black-eyed peas, rice and tomatoes. It often also typically contains greens and pork of some sort. Quite a few recipes call for a ham bone or ham hock, but I've seen some that revolve around sausage or ground pork instead.

Over the years, this dish has become something many people eat on New Year's because black-eyed peas, greens and pork are all considered to be symbols of luck and prosperity. Pigs traditionally represent progress while greens and beans are chosen because of the way they resemble money -- paper dollars and coins respectively. 

The following is the recipe I actually used and it was excellent. If I were to change anything about it, I'd swap the minced onion and cayenne for freshly chopped white onion and jalapeno, but I was out of those, so I made do.

  • 1 package dried black-eyed peas
  • 1 cup dried rice (a combination of brown and wild varieties)
  • 1 cup green salsa
  • 2 tablespoons salt-free garlic herb seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • Vegetable broth
You can either pre-soak your black-eyed peas overnight or quick boil them in water for 20-30 minutes to get them semi-hydrated before you assemble the rest of your dish. I quick-boiled mine, just FYI. Then I added a generous amount of vegetable stock to get them cooked most of the way before I added the rice and other ingredients. I don't really recall how long I let mine simmer, but it was something in the ballpark of an hour.

Next, add your rice along with another cup of vegetable stock. Also add your seasonings, but not the salsa. Then just simmer the mixture on low until your rice and beans are tender. Watch it to make sure it's not getting dry and burning though. If it is, add more vegetable broth in small amounts at a time to keep everything moving along. When you get to the point where it's finished, add your salsa and fold it in gently. Let stand for 10-15 minutes and serve.

As you can see in the picture above, I tried a little as soon as it was done and ate it over a bed of raw spinach to make it like a little bowl full of good fortune and money symbols. I was making pork chops to go with it and they weren't done yet. However, I was hungry anyway and couldn't wait to sample some.

After the pork chops came out, I ate some more along with some reheated squash medley leftover from another meal. The chop is one of the thick-cut pork chops they carry at Costco like the ones I featured in my grilled pork chop post from over the summer. This one isn't grilled though. It was seasoned with garlic pepper and baked in the oven at 350 until done through. That's it!

If there is anything that I really like, it's simple, comforting food that is still incredibly tasty and delicious. This meal totally fit the bill, too. I heartily enjoyed snacking on the leftovers today... probably a little too much. Fun fact: leftover Hoppin' John eaten the next day is called "Skippin' Jenny" instead. You've really got to love the witty names!