gastro hounds

Just like your average food blog, but with 50% more attitude!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gastro Hounds PSA #6

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gastro-Independence Day

Dispatches from the front. July 3, 2012.

Food, Fascists, and our Fight for Freedom.

A well known celebrity chef has as his personal motto "Eat free or die!". I liked it so much, I bought the t-shirt. Sadly, the saying has taken on a more earnest meaning of late. The food nazis ( yes I said it! ) are once again on the march, and buoyed by a string of recent victories they are ever convinced that they know what's best for us and are more than prepared to shove their authority down our throats. We can all laugh at NYC's rediculous ban on large sodas, but such gaiety is quickly extinguished when it's known that Cambridge, MA has proposed a total ban on "sugary drinks". Not to be outdone, NYC has fired back with a threat to ban milk based drinks and popcorn. Yes, you read that correctly - ban milk and popcorn. The insanity is far from over. A University of California San Francisco professor has just completed a study and come to the asstard conclusion that sugar is highly  addictive and therefore needs to be heavily regulated and taxed. Whoring for government grants much?

Out here on the West Coast, the forces of darkness set their sites on foie gras, and secured a ban on all sales of the secculent morsel on the grounds that the practice of force feeding is inhumane. It might sound brutal, but when done correctly is not torturous at all. Indeed, any respectable rancher understands that a stressed animal will produce an inferior product and ultimately fetch an usustainably low price. We already have laws regarding humane treatment of animals. How about enforcing those laws instead of crushing an entire industry? Leading the good fight against the food fascisti are a group of local chefs who have come with a novel counter punch: they will give it away. Here's how that works: the dish will not be billed as having foie gras, but will incorporate it as a "garnish". Not bad, but not exactly the cure I'm looking for.

It's easy just to shake our heads, but we need to be clear there are real casualties in this war. A local rancher, a family business that has been in operation for over 20 years is threatened with closure if they cannot find suitable markets out of state. And even more grating is the knowledge that the idiots who put this law in place are in no way bound by it. They can easily hop a plane (at tax payers expense no less) and travel anywhere that still sells the dish should that be their fetish. Foie gras for me, but not for thee.

The stakes couldn't be higher, and the danger cannot be underestimated. The ability to decide for ourselves what we will put on our table is the very essence of our liberty. I declare July 5, 2012 "Gastro-Independence Day", and as a free people we serve notice that our dinner table shall remain free from the tyranny of corrupt government and all those who would impose their will upon our palates. Eat free - live free!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cinco? Why yes, yes I will!

Nothing yells “Gringo!” like Cinco de Mayo. Actually, the Roseland district of Santa Rosa keeps it real, which is great to see. As with so many holidays here in the U.S., we've made it our own and completely bastardized it. But hey, I'm not above using an obscure battle in Mexico to justify having a party, especially if it involves a French defeat. And not just any defeat, a crushing defeat, an ass whipping of the first degree. C'mon, the French force, armed with the latest weaponry, outnumbered the Mexican force 2 to 1 and still got thumped. In tech speak that's C : ### = FAIL. It's also noted by historians that the French defeat also prevented Napoleon III from using Mexico as a base to aid the South in the Civil War. 14 months after the Mexico's ultimate victory, Lee is defeated at Gettysburg. Let's get this party started!

So now that we've got a solid rationalization for anyone looking to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, let's get going. First we'll need to stay hydrated through our prep. Sangria works well. Make a batch and you're set for a good while.
 • 3 1/4 cups (26 fl. oz) dry red wine
 • 1/3 cup sugar
 • 1/3 cup brandy
 • 1/3 cup Cointreau
 • 1/3 lemon-flavored vodka
 • 1 small lemon, sliced crosswise
 • 1 small orange, sliced crosswise
 • 1 small lime, sliced crosswise
 • 1 medium pear, diced
 • 2 medium peach, peeled, pitted and sliced
 • 2 cups (8 oz) sliced strawberries
 • 1 bottle carbonated lemon-lime soda

 Now that we've secured a ready source of hydration, we're ready to prepare some food – in this case guacamole and grilled tequila-lime shrimp. When it comes to guacamole, I like to keep it simple and let the avocado do the talking. In its basic form, it's really just avocado mashed with pico de gallo.

 • 3 avocados, cut into ½ in cubes
 • 1 plum tomato finely diced
 • ¼ cup finely diced onion
 • 2 tbsp minced cilantro
 • 1 serrano chile minced. Yes I use the seeds, besides most of the heat is actually in the ribs of the chile.
 • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
 • 1/4 tsp sea salt

 In a medium mixing bowl, combine the avocado, lime juice and sea salt. Mash together until just lumpy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. There still should be some small chunks of avocado. The key is to know how long to mash the avocado and you want it just to the point that the flesh is releasing its oil. Not enough and it will look pasty.. Too much and you've got sauce (which is actually how I've had guacamole in Mexico). It should have a nice sheen but still be firm in texture. During a recent stint training for Kitchen Manager with Chipotle restaurants, I got to the point of being able to turn an entire case of avocados in to some killer guac in 25 minutes. Bust out the tortilla chips!

 I like to work my grill into just about any occasion. For Cinco, it's grilled tequila-lime shrimp.

For the marinade:
  • Juice and zest of 6 limes 
  • Juice and zest of 4 oranges 
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic 
  • ½ cup good-quality blanco tequila (such as Herradura silver) 
  • ½ cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar 
  • 2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes  
  • 1½ pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined, washed, and patted dry 
Place the citrus juices and zests, garlic, tequila, vinegar, and pepper flakes in a mixing bowl. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes – no longer – we're not making ceviche though that would hardly be a disaster. Skewer those bad boys up in some bamboo skewers that have been soaking in water for 30 minutes or even better – a fish grill basket. Grill over hot coals for about 2-3 minutes, turn and repeat until just done. Pair with a tropical fruit salsa.

So we're hydrated, we got our snack on, and now we're staring at an open bottle of good quality blanco tequila. It's margarita time. What can I say here? We're all pretty familiar with this libation. I do like Trader Joe's margarita mix to which I add a touch of orange juice. If you want to try all fresh juice definitely opt for sweet limes, not the usual limes you find at the grocery. Get over to the nearest Latino market (Lola's in my case) and stock up. Great, sweet flavor and amazing aroma. Try 2 parts sweet lime juice to one part each of fresh lime and orange juice. Sweeten with agave nectar to taste. Instead of the usual salt rim, try a hot chile salt or chipotle salt. How about muddling a jalapeno into your mix? Floater? Try some Amaretto. Be bold – there's plenty of tequila left in that bottle in case you wind up with a few Mulligans. I mean, what's the point of having a party if you aren't going to experiment on friends and family? Viva Mexico, cabrones!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bacon - The Candy of Meat

Bacon. Tasty, wonderful bacon. The candy of meat. Perhaps the singular "Meat of the People", surpassing even the noble burger. The bacon craze has ben quite evident over recent years. I first noticed when I first had the chance to try Voodoo Donut's Bacon Maple bar. Soon after, it was Mo's Bacon Bar by Vosges Chocolate. All manor of bacon inspired offerings followed. Soon though, there would be the tail end..the nasty bits, such as Denny's Bacon Maple Sunday (which I ordered for breakfast one day) and more recently Jack in the Box's Bacon Milkshake ( heinous, I'm told). It's easy to understand why many who are certified masters on the subject often and loudly declare that the bacon craze is dead..over ...kaput. Even John Stewart, of Sonoma County's Black Pig (who teamed with Duskie Estes of Zazu to win 2011 Grand Cochon) ventured to offer up such blaspheme. Yet, like a determined zombie, bacon marches on. Relentless - unwavering. Case in point: I give you the bacon coffin.

Face it. Embrace the horror. Bacon rules.And, it was fortified with such knowledge, that I set out to make my own. My muse descended upon me when I first took notice at our Santa Rosa Farmer's Market of some blessed folk offering their own ranch raised Berkshire Hog pork products - most notably pork belly. What's so special about Berkshire hogs is that they are a heritage breed, and overall much leaner than the average commercial animal. The price also was quite reasonable: about $6 a pound. Outstanding. A quick online check of curing techniques ( I was already up on the smoking aspect) and I was ready to go. The end result: some kick ass home made bacon! It's so easy, it should be illegal. And if the Food Nazis who currently reside in our assorted govt institutions have their way, it will be illegal in our lifetime. Don't doubt me, and don't get me started. Anyhoo - here's how it went it down.

First up, the cured product. These beautiful slabs were drying, just having been washed of the salt/sugar cure I had put them through for 5 days.

My smoker in action. The cured pork bellies are smoked over hickory for 2.5 hours at about 225 degrees. No higher. We're smoking here, not roasting.

The finished product, ready to for feasting.

It's understandable that one would be nervous at the thought of consuming home made bacon on the first go around. Don't be. I've done this several times over. Even consumed some of the cured but not smoked product and all is good. In fact, it's superior in every way. And again, it's damn easy. The hardest part is finding pork belly. The folks I go to are from Dream Catcher Ranch located around Chico/Redding area. You can find them at the Wednesday Farmer's Market in Santa Rosa and online as well. Oliver's Grocery also has decent pork belly. So now you know - what's stopping you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler!

Yes it’s Mardi Gras, and once again you’re not prepared. Most likely, you’ve not given it any thought. Shame! It’s not too late to snatch victory from the gaping maw of culinary defeat. All that’s required are a couple of key tools and you are well on your way to bringing a bit of ol’ NOLA into your home.

Time is definitely short so we’ll go with 2 ingredients that multi task very well. The most basic is a good bayou seasoning. Most of what you find in the stores are little more than seasoned salt, so why not make your own out of what you already have on hand? Easy, cheap and infinitely better.

Bayou Seasoning
2 ½ tbsp paprika
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried thyme
Combine all the above ingredients and you are locked and loaded. Use to blacken chicken or fish. Add a couple of tablespoons to a creamy pasta sauce or toss with roasted baby red potatoes. Whatever you want to do, it’s your show and definitely feel free to change the above ingredients and proportions to suit your taste.
Next up is a classic Creole condiment: remoulade. Remoulade goes best with fish, but this is so good you won’t hesitate to lick it off an old boot. And again, you already have most of these ingredients on hand.

Remoulade Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp finely chopped celery
1 ½ tbsp chopped Italian parsley
2 ½ tbsp prepared horseradish
2 tsp minced shallot
2 tsp ketchup
2 tsp Dijon mustard (whole grain Dijon if you have it)
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp cayenne pepper.
Combine all above ingredients. Serve with crab cakes, grilled shrimp, oysters..whatever you want. Already looking for that boot aren’t you?
So now you have some key building blocks for a suitable Mardi Gras soiree. All that is missing is the proper libation, and here’s the classic:

The Hurricane.
2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
3 oz orange juice
Juice of half a lime
1 oz grenadine ( I prefer the syrup from a jar of maraschino cherries)
1 tbsp simple syrup, agave nectar or 1 tsp sugar
Squeeze lime juice into shaker filled with ice. Pour remaining ingredients into shaker and shake well. Strain into hurricane glass (or reasonable substitute) filled with ice. The original Pat O’Brien’s recipe called for 2 parts passion fruit juice to 1 part OJ, but again who of us keeps that on hand? No rum on hand? Then crack a beer – it’s Mardi Gras and it goes well with whatever you’re making. C’est si bon!

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Year's Food Finds

We’re well into the New Year, and off to a great start, gastronomically speaking. The holidays saw some fantastic food and beverage, as well as a few misses. Aperitifs are a usual starting point to let’s visit the subject of potent potables. At the top would have to be a limoncello that I participated in with Gastro Gal aka Debs. We used a pure grain alcohol, Everclear, along with the zest of Meyer lemons, homemade simple syrup and water. The result was a dangerously tasty quaff. So tasty in fact one has to remind themselves that it’s still booze. The batch of holiday hooch was crafted with the intent of distributing as gifts. The first reviews came in quickly and went something like “…holy @#%@#$ that is @#$%@$# good!” I think you get the idea. A miss on the beverage side would have to be the cocktail service at the Slanted Door at San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Now I’ve had decent service in the past but I’ve observed that it has always been spotty. I had the opportunity to stop in at The Slanted Door during a recent outing specifically targeting the farmer’s market that takes place on Saturday’s in and around the Ferry Building. The service was off-putting to the point of rudeness. Our party of 5 was gone within 5 minutes. A better bet is Market Place Wine Bar. We went with a couple of bottles of a nicely dry prosecco whichat $20 bottle was very reasonable. Be sure to check on their website as offerings are rotated monthly. On your way to score your beverage, be sure stop by Chris Cosentino’s Boccalone salumeria. Grab a few meat cones and then head a couple of doors down to the wine bar and tuck in.

The food over the holidays was of course great, as it simply has to be as people are putting their very best efforts forward. A personal revelation was my first try of truffle honey. Unbelievably good. Any attempt by me to describe it would be an injustice. It’s definitely a splurge but one of those curios that must be indulged in at least once in one’s life. Pair it with a soft farmer’s cheese. Locally, both Whole Foods and Oliver’s carry this decadent condiment. Something on the bizarre foods list of holiday experiences was an ice cream made with candy cap mushrooms. If you’ve never had candy caps, they feature a pungent aroma of maple. The flavor is more subdued and earthier. The ice cream itself mirrored these characteristics – sweet maple syrup with an earthy almost musty background that made it hard to wrap one’s brain around. Still, it was GOOD. A definite miss was a “meat in tube form” known as cotechino. An Italian dish traditionally served around the New Year, it signifies the prospect of good luck and fortune for the coming year. It is also easily double to triple the girth of most sausages. Its menacing appendage like appearance did not dissuade me from acquiring some at the local farmer’s market from Franco’s Sausages. All of their products to date have been top notch so I was very confident of my purchase. What I didn’t know ‘til later was that cotechino was developed during a prolonged siege somewhere in 16th century Italy. A pork product formed of secondary cuts, skin and fat, there is both a tactile and audible squeak as one bites into their medallion of mystery meat-a result of the rubbery bits of pig skin, no doubt. Again, it did actually taste good but the texture was a definite challenge. While I finished my porcine behemoth, others could not bring themselves to approach even a second bite, having been cowed into submission and defeat by the monstrous meat offering.

As I like to end on a positive note, I should also say there was bacon…my homemade bacon and I have to agree that it is pretty damn good, and will be the subject of an upcoming post.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas wishes from all the gang at Gastro Hounds.