Best Things I Ate in 2014

31 Dec

It’s difficult to come up with a list of the best things you ate if you haven’t been taking notes at every meal, but this is what I remember really enjoying in 2014 . . .

Pork Chops aren’t your typical Argentinian steakhouse fare, but the ones at Ox are perfectly brined, crisp around the edges and have just enough smokiness from the grill. Their clam chowder, and Argentinan steaks are delicious as well.

Bacon bleu cheese tots at Providence Park. Tater tots with bacon, bleu cheese, onions, tomatos are good, but eating them with a next to you, surrounded by the Timbers Army, all while watching your favorite team in their first home game of the season tastes pretty good.

On the tiny Island of Providencia off the coast of Colombia, are a couple of beach shacks serving fresh seafood. There are only a few restaurants on the island, so the locals come by motorbike, ATV and  horseback to grab their lunch along side the few dozen tourists visiting the island.  The restaurants open for service about 30 minutes after the fisherman drag their boats on to the beach with that day’s catch. After having the beach all to ourselves in the morning, we walked up to El Divino Nino, grabbed a wobbly table in the sand and proceeded to eat fresh lobster, conch, black crab and fried fish all for a few dollars.plato mixto

Lang Baan was not only the best Thai food I had all year, it was probably the best restaurant meal I ate. 12 beautifully structured dishes served over nine courses in the backroom of a Thai restaurant hidden behind a bookcase and a meat grinder. All this for half the price of Roe.

Lang Baan gave us intricately composed Thai food from 300-year-old royal palace recipes. On the more casual end of the Thai spectrum, Marc and Brook threw some rice in a bowl and  covered it in green curry and it was good. Our friends have been spending years perfecting their coconut-based chicken curry. They travel all over Portland to find the ingredients and then spend hours putting it together in what may be a perfect one-bowl dish.  It didn’t hurt that we were there to watch the Timbers play on TV and they won 5-0.

In late November, we flew to Budapest to meet up with friends that are traveling around the world. On our first night in Budapest we stumbled across a night market. There were picnic tables and booths selling beer, grog and food. A band was off to one side covering American pop hits. We grabbed a table and sit down to our first meal together since our friends left Portland in March. We each picked out a food booth we want to try. I went for a cart that’s grilling non-recognizable meat and onions over a charcoal grill and stuffing the meat into folded flatbread. The flat bread was baked in a cast iron oven next to the grill. After stumbling through my order in English (my Maygar is not very good), I chose a goose meat sandwich with cheese and something like sour cream. The goose was rich and moist, the bread warm and fluffy. It may have been one of the messiest sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, but it taste really good enjoyed with friends under the dark cold Hungarian sky.

 

Chocolate Roux – New Hot Chocolate Hack

6 Apr

I tried a new technique tonight for making hot chocolate. The best hot chocolate is done in a sauce pan with a stick blender, it comes out creamy, and frothy. However, most of the time breaking out a saucepan and waiting for the milk to heat up isn’t worth it, so we just stick a mug in the microwave. Microwaving  hot chocolate often  leaves bubbles of powder that never dissolve no matter how much you stir it.

When cooks are blending flour into a sauce, they always make a roux first or a slurry first. Roux and slurries blend flawlessly into hot liquids. So this inspired me to try making a slurry before heating the whole mixture up. It worked out great.

Place the powder mixture into a mug and add roughly  2/3s as much milk. So if you use three TB of cocoa, then use 2 TB of milk. Mix this into a thick paste, until it is evenly blended. Then fill up the rest of the mug and place it in the microwave. When its done, all you need is a quick stir and all the powder will dissolve evenly.

One More Ubiquitous Food Trends for 2014 Post

27 Dec

After a year of exhaustive research, eating somewhere between two and four meals a day,  I can say I’m qualified to develop a list of 2014 food trends.

Burrata
It’s inexpensive to make, it’s stuffed, it’s creamy, it seems exotic. It has all the traits of being a huge hit. You can even bread it and deep-fry it. I expect this cream-filled mozzarella ball will show up on as many Italian menus as fried calamari. This last summer it started showing up as part of caprese salads, but chef’s will find a way to get more creative. Burgers? Deep fried burrata?

Korean
People have been talking about Korean food hitting main-stream America. But thanks to TV, every Iowan knows what a bulgoghi taco is. Next up, Korean dishes making it into non-Korean restaurants and or Korean restaurants making it into non-Korean neighborhoods. On the coasts you are starting to see dishes like bibimbap show up in top restaurants.

Popcorn
Not gourmet flavored popcorn, but popcorn as an ingredient. Popcorn goes great as a garnish on soups. It’s a versatile ingredient that can add texture, crunch or starch. In Ecuador and parts of Peru, it’s the traditional accompaniment to ceviche. Popcorn won’t be a s big as burrata this year, but it will start making more of a presence.

Micro-Specialists
Menus will continue to get shorter. More new restaurants will focus on a specific niche, instead of offering a variety from a given cuisine, chefs will specialize in just one dish, in three to four variations.

Vegetable Entrees
Vegetarian dishes aren’t anything new, but in most places, a non-meat entree is focused around pasta, bread or rice. 2014 will see the move toward vegetables treated like the focal point. Non-meat entrees won’t just be salads and starches.

Prices
People are back to work in the U.S., many are spending money again, tired of penny-pinching and willing to spend a bit more on food. Restaurants will add a 2nd , even a 3rd extravagant item to their menu. Consumers who restrained from luxury, except on special occasions will start to be a bit more open-walleted when it comes to date-night.

 

Favorite Food Hacks

27 Dec

I picked up a few tricks in the last couple of months. Some of them are pretty good, but I’m not sure any meet the cupcake sandwich standard.

Pizza Leftovers
 My wife insists leftover pizza is best eaten cold. I disagree. It’s best eaten with a crisp crust, and just warmed through enough that the cheese is soft. To accomplish this, drop a cold slice of pizza into a cold skillet or frying pan. Set the burner to medium-high. and weight about 3-5 minutes until the cheese has softened and warm. The bottom of the crust will have a very thin crisp layer on it, and everything else will have just the right temperature and consistency.

Char Grilled Streak
 Looking for a nice char on the outside of the steak like you would get if you could get your oven/grill/range to 900 degrees? Try roughing up the surface of the steak. Take a sharp knife and slice dozens of tiny scores, barely breaking the surface of the steak. the rougher you can get the surface, the more great little brown bits you’ll get at relatively low temperatures. You end up with a nice carmelized exterior without overcooking the steak.

Make Anything a Bowl
 For years I used upside down muffin tins to form a bowl-shaped crust for a favorite apple dessert. The recent bacon bowl TV ads inspired me to try a few more items.  You can take Japanese sticky rice, from it over the tin and you get a great rice bowl with a little bit of crispness around the edges. And no, you don’t have to buy the bacon bowl, as seen on TV, a muffin tin works just fine, but be sure to place a hotel pan or cookie sheet or  underneath it to catch the drippings.

Slicing an Avocado
This one seems super simple, but I see people slicing avocados wrong all the time.  Slice the avocado before peeling it. RUn you knife through the meat just until the tip hits the skin. Don’t slice through the skin. Then just peel the skin back or run a large spoon between the meat and the skin.

Peel just About Anything
I’ve only tried this with potatoes and roasted chiles but I bet it works for many other things as well.  Steam or bake the item that you want peeled, then drop it in an ice bath.the peel usually slides off cleanly in one big sheet.

 

Getting Kicked Out of a Vegas Mall and Beer Ignorance

26 Mar

About two weeks ago I was in Vegas for the day — about 7 hours. I had some meetings late in the afternoon, but based on flight schedules I arrived around 10:00 a.m.

It had been a while since I was in Vegas. Last time I was there was just before the opening of CityCenter. Since I had some time to kill before my first meeting I decided I’d go explore. After checking out the basics, I need to go catch up on some work. Vegas being Vegas, the hotel lobbies don’t have easily accessible power outlets, but I noticed a very comfortable bench with an outlet next to it across from Harry Winston inside the Crystal Mall. This was a Wednesday morning and the place was empty.  It probably was obvious that I wasn’t there to buy a $250,000 watch, I was wearing a sport coat and slacks. Not the usual Vegas wear, but not a total slob either.

I sat down to work and after about 10 minutes a very large man in a black suit that was nice enough to have been purchased at the mall and not JC Penney approached me and said “Our electricity is not for public use.” This caught me as a little odd since their Wi-Fi is public.

I decided not to mess with the man, walked downstairs and found a coffee stand. I grabbed the cup of coffee and sat down on another bench just outside the coffee stand and opened up my laptop. As I finished my coffee and tossed it in the nearby gold-plated trash can, a different security guard approached. Similar black suit, but also an earpiece in his right ear. “We already told you that wasn’t allowed. I must ask you to leave the premises.”

I was then escorted out by the man in black, with a second equally well dressed UNLV lineman following behind us about 20 paces.

Rather than test my luck again. I hopped into the Todd English gastropub and taphouse for a sandwich and a beer, where I heard the waitress tell the table next to me that an IPA was just like an amber.

Random Food Observations, Part 23

27 Jan

Micah Camden’s catsup mixed with a little horseradish and a squeeze of lime makes a fantastic cocktail sauce.

 

Crinkle cut fries are the worst fries. The best fries, in order, are shoestring, regular,  steak, home, waffle and then crinkle cut. And, if you widen the fried potato spectrum, many other items come before crinkle cut fries.

 

Bacon ground up in a hamburger patty or sausage is a waste of good bacon. Bacon should be crisped and accompany or surround the primary meat object, not be ground in it. Same goes for bacon in chocolate. I’m ready for that to no longer be a thing.

 

The quality of coleslaw in BBQ shacks, fish shacks, chicken shacks and dive bars has really declined in recent years. Coleslaw should not just be the Sysco shredded cabbage and carrot bag with some bland mayonnaise mixed in.

 

The more reviews on Yelp, the more likely the place will have four stars. The aggregate review score seems to be more related to the number of reviews than the quality of the food.

 

We might not have to sneak as many Koi Fusion burritos into JELD-WEN Field this season. Rumors have it that the food cart program is coming back and at least one permanent concession stand behind section 108 will offer bacon and bleu cheese tater tots.

Thanksgiving Leftovers Experiment, Day 4

26 Nov

Day 4, and I belive I have developed the perfect hot turkey sandwich. Over the last four days, I’ve conducted a series of experiments to determine the proper order, layers and ratio of turkey, dressing, potatoes, cranberry, vegetables and gravy in the classic Thanksgiving leftovers open-face sandwich..

Key learnings:

  • The base-layer bread should be toasted to provide a different texture from the stuffing.
  • If using dark meat or a part of the turkey that doesn’t lend itself to thin slices, chop the turkey in to 1/3 of an inch chunks otherwise the sandwich will fall apart when you try to cut or bit through a big piece of turkey.
  • Do not apply cranberry sauce directly to the sandwich, instead use it as a side relish. If applied directly to the sandwich it liquefies as it heats and saturates everything, overpowering the other flavors. The alternative, is to mix a very small amount of cranberry with mayonnaise and apply the cranberry mayonnaise to the bread.
  • Order of ingredients is critical. The order ensures proper texture and flavor variation.

The optimal sandwich ingredients in order:

  1. one piece of toasted sandwich sliced sourdough bread
  2. thin layer of cranberry mayonnaise
  3. blend of light and dark meat, thinly sliced or chopped
  4. thin layer of stuffing gently pressed down on to the turkey
  5. lettuce leaf to separate the stuffing from the potatoes and provide just the slightest crunch
  6. scoop of mash potatoes
  7. a few green beans of brussel sprout halves sprinkled over the top
  8. a generous portion of gravy, enough to lightly cover the entire sandwich with some spillover to the plate

Heating:

I examined three heating options. The classic, throw it all into the microwave method, resulted in loss of textural integrity of the bread with some mushy parts and some unpleasant chewy parts. I also tried heating all of the components separately, but it was time-consuming and I failed to achieve the synergy desired. The best option was to assemble all of the ingredients except the bread on a plate, microwave them to the desired temperature then with a spatula lift the hot ingredients, and slide the toasted bread with cranberry mayonaise under the tower of turkey, dressing and potatoes.  This method resulted in the best texture and blending of flavors and just enough gravy under the bread to help flavor it without becoming soggy.

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