Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Just grin and eat it...

I'm going to be in a wedding this weekend. This evening was the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. This dinner was held at a Chinese buffet. A strange sort of Chinese buffet that has more than Chinese food. Pizza, and salmon, and crayfish, and macaroni and cheese, and a salad bar. It's an odd mix. But my point is that there are a lot of options.

Far the most part, this was an enjoyable experience. Except for one thing.

Throughout most of the meal, I had to listen to a member of my family complain constantly about the available food, listing, in great detail, the variety of foods that this person refuses to eat.

Sausage. Asparagus. Green beans. All seafood. Pepperoni. Spinach. Broccoli. And on and on. Chicken? Yes, but "only white meat" (Chicken nuggets are apparently considered as white meat). Turkey? It depends on a wild array of unreasonable criteria.

I simply despise people of this nature. They are the prime example of everything that is wrong with the eating habits of modern day Americans. Spoiled, shit eating morons.

I'm not going to say that there are absolutely no restrictions concerning what I will eat. There are a few. This is the entire list:

1. Bivalves. This includes clams, mussels, and oysters. I've tried. It's a texture thing. I just can't swallow them. Oddly, I will eat scallops however. For that matter, I'll eat a lukewarm scallop cooked mid-rare.

2. Durian fruit. I tried it in culinary school. I immediately threw up in a trash can. It tastes like dirty salt and rotting onion, with the texture of snot. It's terrible. Google it. I dare you to try it. If you are brave enough, have a trashcan nearby.

3. Certain parts of shellfish. I refuse to eat the head of anything, or the tomalley from a lobster. I also refuse to eat fish eyes. I will gladly eat the cheek or collar however. And if it's fresh, I'll eat any fish, raw. Anything. Happily.

4. Bugs. I don't eat bugs. Correction. I won't eat bugs I have to chew. I've actually swallowed many insects like pills in my life, mainly as the result of drunken dares. I guess if I absolutely had to, I could just swallow bugs like aspirin.

I realize that not everyone is as adventurous of an eater as I am. That isn't why picky people piss me off though. They piss me off because they are spoiled, ungrateful, and close-minded.

Throughout a majority of the world, people have very little choice in what they get to eat on any given day. They eat whatever is available, and they learn to cook whatever is available. This is why the cuisine from India, southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa is so dynamic and wonderful. If 12 people get to split one old rooster on a Saturday afternoon, those 12 people are very happy. They'd also be happy to split a turtle, or a rabbit, or anything they could pull out of the water. And most likely, they know how to make it taste good.

But not here in America. Not anymore. When I worked in the grocery store, we ran out of microwavable chicken nuggets once. When confronted with this news, I actually heard a woman angrily ask "You're out? How? What am I supposed to feed my son?!"

I wanted to say, "With a mother like you, perhaps you should just let him roam free and scavenge. He can't do any worse." But I just said that I was sorry, and moved along.

I say piss on frozen food. I haven't had a microwave in my home for a year, and yet somehow I am alive. Never buy a "lunchable". To hell with Oscar Meyer as a whole. "But I'm in a hurry" you say? You don't have time to cook? Bread+lunch meat+cheese+apple=meal. They sell peanut butter and jelly in the same jar now. You can't drive a mile across suburbia without passing a produce stand. It's never been easier.

Just learn how to cook. Insist on doing it as frequently as possible. If you don't have time, you need to loosen up your schedule. FEEDING YOURSELF is a basic human responsibility. Like bathing, or getting dressed, or not shitting in your pants. You wouldn't say "I just don't have time to use the toilet", would you? There are no excuses.

Look, I like hot dogs too. And we all love an occasional glass of Kool-Aid. But I suggest that many of us really need to re-think our dietary habits.

And to that certain family member of mine... Just stop bitching and eat some actual food. It isn't going to kill you...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The bacon resistance...

I read today about a small community that is considering barring it's restaurants and entertainment venues from serving many items that contain high fructose corn syrup.

A large metropolitan area has already legally forbidden the use of trans-fats by it's food service industry.

There are entire counties in the south where alcohol is forbidden.

Don't even try to smoke a cigarette. Anywhere. Not in a bar where you are relaxing and chugging down poison. Not even at an outdoor sporting venue.

I won't mention the remainder of a long list of things that the government deems inappropriate for you to consume. It's pretty lengthy...

How about I'll just be responsible for myself? Perhaps, just perhaps, businesses can decide for themselves which behaviors will and will not be tolerated? Aren't there enough rules already? Will sorry ass suburbanites refuse to be happy until every tiny aspect of their lives (and everyone else's) are regulated by some bureaucratic arm of the government?

I know what to put in my body and what not to. I've educated myself. The information is available to everyone. But sometimes, I must use lard to get the results I desire. I want to smoke in a bar. And in the morning, I love nothing more than an ice-cold Pepsi, filled with sickeningly delicious high fructose corn syrup. I NEED a few slices of bacon a week. I refuse to live otherwise.

They're my internal organs. I'm aware of the consequences.

I don't need any assistance with my lifestyle choices...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

No tolerance for the Intolerant...

I know I'm going to catch some heat for this one...

But I can't bite my tongue.

A dam in Iowa suffered a catastrophic failure today. Record rainfalls and river levels overwhelmed the structure, and a massive quantity of water has now rushed downstream, causing quite a bit of property damage and suffering. Terrible circumstances indeed.

So I was reading various news about this online. Looking for the most recent information and such. And then I made a mistake. One I've foolishly made before.

I decided to look at the "reader's comments" section.

While there were a few educated and compassionate responses, the majority were filled with racism, political hackery, and my least favorite of all, religious fanaticism. Insane, babbling, nonsensical fanaticism.

Armageddon. The book of revelation. End of times. People being casted into lakes of fire. Soon nobody was even talking about the catastrophe at hand. The conversation spiraled into the evils of homosexuality, God's wrath, and Barack Obama's status as the anti-Christ/king of all socialists. An endless plethora of sheer madness.

A few brave ones tried to argue. But logic and reasonable thought were no match for God's word. A total verbal bloodbath ensued. The religious right exploded into a seething frenzy. Insults were tossed about liberally, and people were condemned. The world of sin was exposed for all to see. Thankfully, some of God's warriors vowed that they would indeed pray for the souls of the lost and Godless dissenters.

God will apparently rest easy tonight as the rebellious hordes lose their earthly belongings and watch their neighbors drown.

I'm so DONE with these people. They drive me absolutely insane. I've heard enough of that ignorant shit. And frankly, I tire of their vengeful God.

Allow me to be clear about a few things. I am not an Atheist. In no way do I condemn religion as a whole. I'm actually respectful and very tolerant towards peoples beliefs. I realize that these crazy bastards do not represent the majority of those who share their particular faith. At least I hope. But I am finished with tolerating the intolerant.

Noisy, foolish, and bigotous, they lack a basic understanding of their own theology. All arguments fall on deaf ears, being as God is supposedly on their side. They exist in a world filled with righteous indignation, and vote for whoever the church news letter advises. There exists no hesitation in pointing out perceived sin in others, while the desire to legislate their morality upon the rest of us is mighty. And meanwhile, they claim to be persecuted. Somehow oppressed, yet I can't seem to get through a single day of my existence without hearing someone parrot-speak their vile brand of idiotic horseshit.

I know I'm boiling over a bit. But it's time. I can't cope with this faction any longer. I didn't spend two decades painstakingly educating myself so I can waste any more time arguing with half-wits who bastardize a religious text. I'm finished with these people.

God is not a Republican. God is not an American. God has no more interest in your nation than any other. God doesn't care who you marry, or what your kids read. God is not on your side, and does not oppose your so-called opponents. You are not persecuted here. God does not punish the Earth like some spiteful passive-aggressive teenage girl. You people are crazy. Flat-out insane.

And finally, God is not responsible for aging flood-control infrastructure...

Friday, July 23, 2010

The consumers...

I recently found myself eating breakfast in a local restaurant that I frequent. I'm familiar with many of the service staff. One lady, in particular, has waited on me several times. On my last visit, as I was leaving, she stopped me...

"Are you a waiter?" She asked. "No. I'm kitchen staff... What makes you think that?". "Well," she said, "You always tip 25%, you pre-bus your table, and today you collected all the trash, placed it on the plates you stacked, And wiped the table off with a napkin. I also saw you clean the top of the ketchup bottle." I started laughing. I explained that it was just my habit. She was very busy. In fact the entire staff was very busy. When a restaurant I'm eating in is slammed, I get a nervous feeling. I find myself wanting to do something. I can't relax. As if I were working, I switch gears and start hurrying.

She laughed and told me that she experiences the same thing. "I can't go out to eat during the busy times." She said. "I find myself scanning the tables for drink refills." Just then, a lady two tables away snapped her fingers in the air and yelled "Ma'am? Ma'am?" in a loud voice. I smiled, the waitress quietly let out a sigh of despair, we nodded at one another, and we parted ways.

She's a very good server. Fast. Efficient. Friendly, but not fake. She doesn't blow any smoke, she doesn't make mistakes, and she deals with peoples bullshit like a champion. Her ability to work with the public is far superior to mine.

The experience got me thinking...

You see, I have worked face-to-face customer service, off and on, for about five years of my life. Most of that time was spent behind a meat counter, later I started cooking breakfast and lunch in a cafeteria type setting. I know what the customer is. Terrible, rude, and stupid.

Not all of them, of course. About 75% of people are decent. Some are very kind, funny, and loving. But the remaining 25% are so vile and idiotic that they seem to disprove the theory of evolution.

I would like to give this small percentage of the public a few tips for how to behave when dealing with any member of customer service, anywhere. Read these tips closely, any of them may just save your life someday...

1. Get off the phone! Seriously. Society has gone too far with the communication devices. If you want someones undivided attention, be prepared to give them yours. If I have to repeat myself because you're busy listening to the person on the phone, I'm going to start fantasizing about stabbing you. And the level of service you receive begins declining immediately. Trust me, it isn't just me who hates this. Your gossipy conversation about soccer-mom bullshit can wait. It's disrespectful, and generally, whatever conversation I'm overhearing makes you look stupid anyway.

2. As referenced above, Don't snap or whistle to get someones attention. We aren't dogs, and we aren't slaves. I have nearly attacked people for doing this before. Learn some manners.

3. Tip appropriately. Especially in restaurants. If the service is even decent, that's 18%. If excellent, I'll tip 30%. Servers live off that money. They often don't collect a paycheck at all. If you think that's too much to tip, then stay at home. Learn how to cook for yourself. It is to your benefit to do this. Servers have very good memories. Especially the women. If you leave them 8%, they will remember your face if you come back three months later. And many of them will do just enough to not get a complaint. If you stiff the pizza guy, he'll remember the address. And the next time you order, he'll be in no hurry to get to your house. Be polite, tip the server 30%, and they'll treat you like royalty. That's how it works.

4. Be an informed consumer. Avoid stupid ass questions. Don't ask the butcher what the difference between beef and pork is. Don't ask the server if the cheeseburger has meat in it. Read the menu description before you order, and if it clearly states there are caramelized onions, don't complain about said onions when the food gets to the table. It's your job to be literate.

5. Get that ego in-check. Never treat the people serving you as if you are better. You aren't. Assume nothing about our level of education. The people of the service industry are often intelligent, highly skilled, and very hard workers. The average white-collar who pulls in 100k a year wouldn't make it through a Friday night on saute station anywhere, ever. The Mexican dishwasher would work circles around said white-collar.

It may seem like I'm being harsh, but I guarantee 99% of service industry workers agree with every word I've said. If you routinely receive poor service, your probably guilty of many of these offenses. It isn't them, it's you. I obey all of these rules, and guess what? I receive good service 99% of the time. That isn't just a coincidence.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chile Colorado and cilantro-lime chicken enchiladas...

This isn't anything too crazy. You don't need to go to culinary school to master this. Ultimately, it's an enchilada. It isn't rocket science. But it's a damn good enchilada.

Holly would like everyone to know that they are her favorite enchiladas. She also says she wants them right now.

Tough luck Holly...

The first thing you should do is head to a Mexican grocer. You're going to need chihuahua cheese, Mexican oregano, and two types of dried peppers: guajillos and anchos. You can find all these things other places, but usually not in one location.

The second thing you should do is smoke some chicken breasts. Actual chicken breasts, with bones and skin. Bones and skin have flavor, and fat. Boneless-skinless chicken is the devil, and I hate it. But I digress...

So smoke some chicken breasts. Three of them. You can do this a day ahead of time if you like. If you don't have a smoker, you can accomplish the same thing using indirect heat with coals and wood chips on a Weber kettle. Or you can search around online and find all sorts of ways to build a makeshift smoker from household items. A baking pan, a metal cookie tin, or even a cardboard box can easily be rigged. And google is more than willing to teach you.

One more thing about the chicken- cook it to an internal temperature of 150-155 degrees. The temp will carry-over an additional 5-7 degrees, and will be moist and wonderful. I know everyone wants to cook chicken to death, up to like 175 or whatever the hell they tell you to, but it's totally not necessary. Any bacteria still living at 150 will be living at 200, so the hell with it. Just go crazy. Live dangerously.

When your chicken breasts have cooled enough that they are easy to handle, shred them. By hand. And then move on to the sauce.

Here's were the whole thing comes together. The sauce. There are a few steps, so don't get intimidated. It's all pretty simple. Just bear with me here...

Start with the chile peppers. Take four or five each of the anchos and the guajillos, cut the tops off with a scissors, and dump most of the seeds. Cut the remaining pieces into about two-inch chunks, and bring them to a boil in about two cups of water. Once boiling, kill the heat and cover the pot, allowing them to sit for about 15 minutes.

In the mean time, add these items to a food processor: 3 Tomatoes, quartered (Homegrown are best, the higher the quality, the better). 1 medium sized white onion, roughly chopped. A half dozen cloves of garlic. A tablespoon each of fresh black pepper, dried thyme, and the Mexican oregano. A pinch each of ground cloves and cinnamon. One bay leaf.

Now fish the chiles out of the water and add them also. Pour about a cup of the steeping water into the processor, and fire it up. You want this to be pretty liquefied, so keep going until there are no large chunks.

Strain the mix into a pot. Ideally, you want to use a chinois. Now I realize that normal people don't keep a chinois in their homes, so you can also use a fine wire mesh strainer (pushing the mix through with a rubber spatula) or, if need be, a pair of pantyhose. Clean, unused pantyhose preferably. Yeah. I know it's absurd. But just scoop it all into one of the legs and continually massage it until have removed all the fluid and have nothing left behind other than seeds and pulp. You will not be able to re use the pantyhose. Ha ha.

Hang in there we're almost done!

Over medium heat, cook the sauce paste down some, until it's reduced about one-third. Stir it constantly, be careful not to burn it, and don't get it on your skin. It will burn you, and stick to the flesh like napalm. Once adequately reduced, add about a cup of chicken stock and a pinch of sugar. Allow this to simmer for perhaps 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

During this 20 minutes, shred about three cups of the chihuahua cheese. Then put your chicken into a large pan. Add a couple ounces of lime juice and about a handful of fresh minced cilantro. Mix and heat, but don't keep heating, because you don't want to overcook your chicken. Once hot, add a large handful of the shredded chihuahua cheese and a few ounces of the sauce. Stir. Don't add too much sauce or cheese. You don't want the mixture to be soupy, or gooey. Just moist and bound together.

Now assemble. Place about five ounces of the chicken mixture onto a tortilla, roll it up, and place it into a baking pan which has been lightly sprayed. Continue until you run out of tortillas or the mix, placing the enchiladas side by side.

Brush or carefully pour a light layer of sauce over the enchiladas, and top with a generous layer of the remaining chihuahua cheese. Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about ten minutes, or until the cheese just starts to brown. I suggest that you avoid the temptation to eat one immediately and allow them to rest for ten minutes instead. Trust me on that one...

If you have any unused sauce, it will keep in your refrigerator for about a week. Or you can freeze it, and it's good for a month.

It seems like a lot of work, but it's worth it. You won't be disappointed. With a little experience and some proper planning, it can be done in less than an hour. Be warned, however... If you aren't a very experienced and tidy cook, your kitchen will be ABSOLUTELY DESTROYED.

That's ok though.

Just clean it tomorrow....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The cop, the breakfast burrito lady, and the spiteful She-God...

Today had a rough start for me. God, in all of her infinite wisdom, decided to send a severe thunderstorm my way as soon as I left the house. I'm terrified of lightening, and being as God is aware of this, I assumed it was a personal message from Her telling me to stay at home. Or a direct attempt to smite me. With no way to be sure, I went to work.

The breakfast shift was rough. Corporate horse-shit, customers on cell phones, and orders like "Breakfast burrito, with only egg-whites, three jalapenos (minced), onions (sauteed) and diced tomatoes (but diced smaller than the brunois-cut you already have)" were the norm. "Wait wait! Do you have whole-grain tortillas?"

Seriously lady, go play in traffic.

By 9:30 my spirit was crushed, but in typical style, I rebounded during lunch and was feeling somewhat hopeful about the universe by the time I was headed home.

And then I had a run-in with the police.

Pulled over. The bastard had me! I won't say what I was doing exactly, but suffice it to say I was indeed violating a few municipal and state laws. Nothing serious. Just misdemeanors. But being as I feel I am entitled to have certain rights as a grown adult, I frequently bend minor laws. The risks are merely financial, so I consider it a gamble. But this time I had lost. I knew it.

Official reason for being pulled over? "Following too close" and "improper mounting of front license plate". REAL reason for being pulled over? Driving a $400 car through suburbia while having an unruly beard and screaming friendly (though admittedly sarcastic) greetings at pedestrians. Not exactly probable cause in my book, but I'm not the guy with the badge either.

The good news? After 4 minutes of playing dumb, saying "yes sir" and "no sir", making wild excuses, and doing my best job to act friendly and respectful, I drove away a free man with no citations. It hurt my soul a bit to be so insincere and phony, but it sure didn't hurt my wallet. As I lost sight of him in my rear view mirror, an evil yet somehow joyous laughter rose from my belly. I felt happier than I had been all day.

Score one for the proletariat.

My blog today was supposed to be about food. I was going to share my recipe for a smoked chile-based red sauce that I've perfected over the years. It pairs fantastically with pork (lean or fatty), chicken, and shredded beef. It also makes the world's greatest enchilada sauce. But that will have to wait until tomorrow. The cop, the breakfast burrito lady, and the spiteful She-God just seemed more important to write about.

I'm always happy if I can give people good advice. Some sort of helpful pointer that has worked in my life. Today's lesson is this...

Challenge God early, and lie to authority figures later. Sure it sounds bad, but it's hard to argue with the results, right?

At least until tomorrow that is...

Monday, July 19, 2010

How did I get here?

I went back to work today. It was really kind of a downer. There were good points, and bad ones, but most of the feelings I experienced today were negative.

I work for a very large food-service provider, which in turn is contracted by a very large corporation. What I do is, well, glorified cafeteria work. And I really am not all that fond of it. There are some perks. It's a Monday thru Friday gig, I have health insurance and paid holidays, and the pay is decent. Yet every day, a little piece of me dies. I have sold my soul to the devil.

I lack the ability to explain how depressed I was, clipping through traffic on westbound I-70, at 5:30 this morning. As I approached my exit, I started fantasizing about just skipping the ramp and continuing to drive. First I envisioned myself in San Francisco, selling quesadillas in the park. Next I considered sitting in a lawn chair on the beach down in Baja, cooking raw fish over a small fire, and feeding the carcasses to stray dogs. This was a pleasing vision which kept me happy for 90 seconds. If I didn't have a woman at home waiting for me to return in the afternoon, I swear I'd have kept on driving.

But I didn't. I exited, went to work, and performed well. I usually do.

While cooking breakfast to-order for the white-collar masses, a series of thoughts hit me like a ton of bricks. Why the hell am I here? How did this happen? Why is a competent kitchen professional with a culinary degree serving Philly-cheese steaks and eggs over-easy to these bitter assholes? Why won't a third of my co-workers stop pissing and moaning, and playing their passive aggressive back-stabbing games? Why don't I just go on a rampage with a ten inch chef's knife and a pan of screaming hot clarified butter?!

As these thoughts consumed me, I continued to smile and nod, and wish people good morning, and ask how their weekends went, and smiled and said positive things to my chef bosses and assorted corporate masters. "If these people knew what I am thinking right now", I said to myself, "not one of them would be standing here requesting an omelet. Much less an EGG-WHITE omelet." And suddenly I laughed out loud. A few people looked at me strange, and I felt strange, and that made me happy again. At least for a bit.

But I realized today, finally and definitively, that the pros do not outweigh the cons with this gig. At least for me. I hate corporate America. I hate waking up at 5am. I hate face-to-face customer service. I miss my old semi-maniacal boss who would scream in my face during the rush and then send me a bourbon and coke moments later. I miss the sheer madness of Friday night dinner service. I'd prefer to work all evening, drink with the other cooks at night, and sleep until Noon.

I'm 30 years old. I know I'm not a kid anymore. But I'm not some old guy lifer type who wants to work some 9 to 5 and watch my life pass by. I still have a tiny bit of fire left in me, and I'll be damned if I watch it burn out while I slug through the days in corporate purgatory.

My hook is officially in the water, and the clock has now been wound. Tick tock, tick tock....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In the beginning....

I'm a little worn down today. I've lived wildly this weekend. If I behaved this way all the time, I'd be dead inside of a month. The human body is not designed to take in this quantity of food, strong drink, and cigarettes.

But it's been a blast.

Saturday started with a prompt 2pm wake-up, followed by some internet searching for new food. For some reason, I wanted goat. A local Indian restaurant had it on the menu. Problem solved. But I didn't get in the car just yet. I kept looking around, and soon found a Jamaican place down on Olive. Jamaican food in the Asian district? It had my interest. Then I saw the menu, and to my pleasant surprise, they had goat! I couldn't get there fast enough.

The place looked promising as soon as we got there. It was in an old strip-mall. The dining room only had seven tables. The entire room was about 300 square feet. One guy had a scar from a bullet wound. No air conditioning. Real Jamaicans. This is extremely important. Ethnic foods, as a general rule, must be made by people of that ethnicity. Who wants Jamaican food made by the staff at Applebee's? Nobody.

We had fried plantains, chicken wings, curried goat, more chicken, rice, beans, and stewed cabbage. And everything, EVERYTHING, was absolutely perfect. Both cooking technique and flavoring as well. Shockingly good. Next time I'm trying the pickled fish. Why not?

There were a few drawbacks. It was 100 degrees. Be careful eating the food, because they don't remove bones. You don't want to bite into a chunk of goat bone. Plus, it takes a while to get the food to the table. They aren't in much of a hurry. There's one cook, and he takes his time. But that's not a bad thing. I'll wait if I know things are being prepared correctly. Overall, it was fantastic.

Today I was more responsible, and woke up at noon.

A friend told us about a new joint on the Delmar loop called "Cheese-ology". A quick online search revealed that they sell nothing but Macaroni and cheese. I was hung-over and my blood sugar was low, so it was perfect. I was wildly excited. And ultimately, we were not disappointed.

We had three offerings from the menu: "The Hill", which featured provel cheese, Italian sausage, and a little bit of red sauce, "The beef Philly", cheese, onions, peppers, and beef, and the "Bacon-bacon", Gruyere cheese and a ton of bacon. All are served in small cast-iron skillets. All of them were awesome. We ate until near sickness. "The Hill" was the winner though, by a slight margin.

So now it's Sunday night. And the fun is over. In the last two days, I've had enough calories for two weeks, an entire bottle of 100 proof bourbon, and about ten million cigarettes. So although the thought of returning to work tomorrow is quite depressing, in all reality, it's probably saving my life. Another few days of this binging, and I'd surely collapse.