Thursday, March 31, 2011

Steve Ells Annoys Me

One of the underappreciated and underutilized aspects of food blogging is to say what you think about the food world in general.  We sometimes get so caught up in sharing recipes and playing photographer that we forget what kind of power we have, the power of the consumer.  So why don’t we use it more often?  Look at Anthony Bourdain; the man made his career by talking smack about a lot of people, restaurants, and practices that are totally true, just no one ever thought to point the finger and say it.

I'm trying to change.  I'm trying to bring more variety to my blog by writing about beer, restaurants, and whatever it is that crosses my mind. Which brings me to my point, Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle, annoys me.  He's a prick, to put it lightly.  I've been watching "America's Next Great Restaurant", which, like all reality shows, it not actually about reality but about a manufactured environment the execs at NBC like to fill with voice-overs and really crappy people who either happen to look good or fit the diversity profile.  I will be honest, I already know that only 2-3 of these people actually have a shot.  The rest are fodder.

Steve Ells is the "investor" on the show along with a few other culinary people.  However, unlike them, Steve just likes to talk about himself and how awesome Chipotle is.  This last week required the contestants to run the lunch counter at one of his precious restaurants.  Now, ask yourself, what in the heck this has to do with opening your own restaurant?  Most of these people simply have an idea and really don't know a knife from an onion.  But sure, let's put them in a fast-food casual restaurant and have them make a bunch of burritos all the while showing cuts to Mr. Steve while he passes a kidney stone in frustration.  Of course they are going to fail!  But what gets me is Mr. pretentious himself, who says things like "shouldn’t mix the salsa with the sour cream" and "we don't yell at Chipotle" and "why aren't they smiling."  Has he ever BEEN in a Chipotle?  They are miserable, hyperactive places.  No one smiles.  Their goal is to get person A out the door as fast as humanly possible.  No smiles, lots of running, lots of slopping, and a lot of yelling.  So please, don't criticize the staff because they are acting just like the minimum wage people you pay right now.

Next point, get over yourself and your restaurant.  Sure, Chipotle is successful and that's a good job done by you, but do NOT try and convince me you're the Rick Bayless of burritos.  You put steak, rice, canned beans, and some cheese and salsa in a tortilla.  That's it.  And honestly, it's not that good.  I know that sounds like a cheap shot, but there are a lot better places for me to go get a burrito in Indiana (Qdoba just for starters) where I don't have to think about what a jerk their CEO/founder is.

So what does this mean to you, oh reader and consumer?  Probably nothing, maybe everything.  It's information, and you can do with it what you like.  But to me, the guy is basically airing an hour-long commercial on himself and seeing how many times he can say "fresh integrity" in 60 minutes.  And that annoys me, a lot.

Image courtesy of

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pasta Carbonara

I'm a simple man. I like good beer, a nicely roasted chicken, and a good book. I like my food to (mostly) reflect that philosophy. Certainly building layers of flavor over time has its merits, but on a weeknight after a 10 hour work day, walking the dog, and picking up the house, do you really want to set in and make a 3 hour dinner (or tour)? No thanks.

To me, Italian cooking reflects this exact sentiment. There are two types of Italian cooking, the "grandmother over the stove all day" type which gives us Sunday gravy, tomato sauce, and lasagna; compare this to the second type, the "just got in from the fields or boats" which involves quick pasta tosses, grilled meat, and simple but delicious flavors. I like, no, love both kinds. But on a weeknight, I'm the fisherman. I'm exhausted and all I want is a simple dish of pasta, garlic, and maybe some bacon.

Enter carbonara. I can make this in the time it takes to boil the pasta. Fry some bacon, add a LOT of garlic, some red pepper flake, and some white wine, follow it with a simple mixture of egg, Parmesan cheese, parsley, and toss it all with the pasta to make a spicy, tangy sauce that lingers both in your mouth and permeates throughout the house. This is cooking at it's purest, simple ingredients allowed to shine on their own, their only purpose to make you smile.

Pasta Carbonara

1 pound dried spaghetti
1/4 pound bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake (more if you want spicy)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
fresh tomatoes to garnish (optional)

Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions, undercooking by 1-2 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta water.

While pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat, add olive oil and bacon. Cook bacon until slightly crispy, about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While bacon is cooking combine egg, egg yolk, parsley, cheese, a good amount of pepper, and some salt in a bowl. Stir to combine. Add pasta water (~1/2 cup) slowly while stirring to temper eggs.

Add garlic and red pepper flake to skillet and cook, stirring often, until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add white wine to deglaze pan and stir up any bits stuck to bottom. Cook until liquid reduces by half, about 1-2 minutes. Add cooked, drained pasta to pan and toss to combine well. Turn off heat. Add egg and cheese mixture to pasta, stirring and tossing quickly to make sauce. If pasta is thick, add remaining pasta water to loosen. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wings Etc- A Review

You can find this and other food reviews from me at Yelp or at

Wings Etc recently opened up down the road from where I live, which made me excited to have a sports bar where I could catch a game with some (hopefully) tasty food and cold beer. It's a chain regional to the Midwest and seems to have somewhat of a following, so what the heck.

I went with coworkers on two occasions. One, which I will briefly touch on, was to conquer their "Wall of Flame Challenge" which involved eating 16 crazy hot wings with no food or drink. Success! At the sacrifice of all taste for the next day. Worth it? Well, I did get a free t-shirt.

Back to Wings. Having worked in restaurants for a decent part of my life, I am critical when it comes to service. I'm not a jerk by any means, and I understand the concept of being busy, but there should be a good line of communication between staff and customer. Wings Etc does not have this. We waited 10 minutes for our waitress, 15 minutes for our drinks, 30 minutes for our food, and then 20 minutes more for her to bring us the check and then run our credit cards. That's just not acceptable. And the second time I went back, the service was just as bad. Not friendly, and way too long.

As for the food, it's ok. The boneless wings are cooked to death so you get crusty nuggets and the traditional wings are a bit big (because they are jumbo) and have a large skin pocket on them that does not cook very well, leaving you with a flabby, fatty wing to eat. The sauces are ok, much thicker than any other wing place I have been to, and most seem to have a tomato base. So the sauce does not really stick to the wing, meaning the wings are a bit bland. The fries they make are very tasty, but that's pretty much all I found enjoyable about the experience. So sadly I will have to travel further down the road if I want chicken wings or a football game, because this place is just not working out.

1/5 Sheep Dogs

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Chicken Piccata Pasta

I'm over winter. I grew up in the desert, where winter was about 3 days long, and when I moved to Indiana I loved the thought of actually have seasons. Still do. But this winter has been a bit taxing. Between Snowpocalypse and some crazy up and down weather, all I want is 50° and sunny. Just for a few days. Please.

My cooking is starting to reflect this want of change. Case in point I grilled steak teriyaki the other night just because I wanted to cook outside. It was cold, windy, and my wife thought I was nuts, but I was set on having a grilled piece of meat.
Where am I going with all of this? As spring sets in and the weather warms, my food starts to reflect the change. The heavy stews and chili of winter gives way to artichokes and brighter dishes. I found this recipe from Rachel Ray and it fit my mood quite well, it was quick enough to assemble on a weeknight and was not a stretch for ingredients considering most vegetables are out of season right now. I really liked it and only tweaked it a tad (RR dishes tend to come out on the high end of liquid so it takes adjustment).

The good news of course, is that the sun is shining and we have 10 days of warm weather coming. Time to start digging in the garden…

Chicken Piccata Pasta (adapted from Rachel Ray)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
1 pound penne rigate pasta, cooked to al dente
Chopped or snipped chives, for garnish
Salt and pepper

Heat a deep skillet over medium high heat and add a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Brown chicken until lightly colored all over, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and return the skillet to the heat. Reduce heat to medium. Add another tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, and shallots to the skillet. Saute and shallots 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook additional 30 seconds.  Add flour and cook 2 minutes. Whisk in wine and reduce liquid 1 minute. Whisk lemon juice and broth into sauce. Stir in capers and red pepper flake. When the liquid comes to a bubble, add remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter to the sauce to give it a little shine. Add chicken back to the pan and heat through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add parsley, toss hot pasta with chicken and sauce and serve. Adjust salt and pepper, to your taste. Top with fresh snipped chives.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day is my favorite day. Why? Not just because I love pi and pie, but also because I got married on Pi Day. Because my wife and I are huge nerds. Also, I will never, ever forget my wedding anniversary. It's a win-win for me.

But Pi Day is also about pie. And it just so happens I have a recipe up my sleeve! It's also my favorite pie (so now we have my favorite pie on Pi Day, my favorite day. I think I should turn this into a children's book). I'm going to catch some major heat for posting this too, because I have not made one in a while. Oh well, if you make one, please send me a slice.

Chocolate cream pie and I have a strong bond. I used to eat this as a kid on Sunday mornings with my mom while reading the paper. Yes, you read that correctly. And it was awesome for me as a child. It was the only sweet that was ever allowed something like this. So now I treat any time as chocolate cream pie time. Yum!

I also want to mention this pie is gluten free (without the crust). My friend Sarah had me make it for her mom who is intolerant, and she gave it thumbs up!

Chocolate Cream Pie

1 1/2 cups graham crackers (about 8 or 9)
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Crush graham crackers in bag with rolling pin or with food processor until fine. Combine ingredients in medium bowl and mix with hands until the butter is incorporated. Dump into a 12 inch pie pan, pressing down with the heel of your palm and fingers to make a firm, even crust (it should go part way up the sides). Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown, let cool.

5 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
3 3/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3/4 t salt
3 T cornstarch
3 T butter
1 T vanilla

In large pot over medium heat, heat milk until almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Meanwhile, while milk is heating, in stand mixer or large bowl, combine eggs and sugar and beat until fluffy. Add salt and cornstarch, mix well. Pour about 1/3 of the milk mixture into the bowl (this will temper the eggs), mix and dump entire contents of bowl into pot. Return to heat and stir (constantly!) for about 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla, stir to combine, and pour into pie shell. Let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, and then move to the fridge for at least 4-5 hours. Your patience will be rewarded. Make sure the pie is firm and cool before cutting. Serve with Cool Whip slathered on top.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fiesta Mexican Grill

Next up in my restaurant review files is Fiesta Mexican Grill, a local burrito joint near Purdue's campus.  Somewhat similar in the vein of Chipotle and Qdoba, they offer up a service line of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and salads. The similarities end there.  This place is easily one of my favorite places to eat, and you will quickly learn I'm not a stickler for fancy dining, I just like good food. 

Fiesta prepares their burritos as close to homemade as I have found.  They make their own tortillas and sauces, as well as having a variety of fresh accompaniments to top or stuff in your food.  I've heard the tacos and quesadillas are good, but I order a burrito every single time I come here.  Why mess with something so good?  They let you choose your choice of fillings including rice, two types of beans, and multiple meats (including a great grilled steak or roasted pork).  Then you can choose to have your burrito enchilada style, and let me say right now, do that.  They top it with a sauce of your choice (green tomatillo, green chile, or red chile), sprinkle it with cheese, and bake it.  Then you can add salsa, sour cream and a few other sides if you wish.

This place has become somewhat of an obsession at work, with "Fiesta Trips" happening every other week.  The food is outstanding.  The grilled steak burrito is my current favorite, with green chile sauce on top, which adds just the right amount of spice and lends great flavor.  If you live in Lafayette and have not visited here, you are truly missing out.

5/5 Sheepdogs

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chile con Carne

I have a very bad habit of not taking pictures of food I make when a) I host a party or b) make something delicious.  It's like I have this premonition the food will be amazing, and therefore for some stupid reason I should NOT capture it in a picture.  C'est la vie, I guess.

I made this tasty concoction for the Super Bowl a while back, and it turned out really well.  I'm into braising right now, and I need to get it out of my system before spring rolls around.  I also decided to make two types of chili for the big game, red and white (no blue though, that's just weird).  This recipe popped up in a recent issue of Bon Appetit and sounded delicious.

A few notes on it before the recipe.  It calls for ground ancho chiles, which is NOT chile powder.  If you cannot find the ground chile form in your local Mexican market, buy the whole dried chile, remove the stems and seeds, and ground in your food processor.  I prefer this method because it enables you to add a bit more heat in the form of a guajillo chile to the mix.

Chili con Carne (adapted from Bon Appetit)

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
4 pounds beef stew meat (or chuck roast cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
2 medium onions, chopped
1 head of garlic (about 15 cloves), peeled, chopped
1/2 cup ground ancho chiles
1 ground guajillo chile
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 12-ounce bottle dark beer
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons coarse corn meal
1 teaspoon chile powder
kosher salt
Garnishes- coarsely grated cheddar cheese, chopped cilantro, fresh tomatoes, or sour cream

To grind the chiles, place 3-4 dried ancho chiles and a dried guajillo chile in a food processor and blend until chopped fine, 1-2 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Salt the beef and add 1/3 to the pant. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to a plate lined with paper towl. Repeat with 2 tablespoons oil and beef.

Reduce heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add onions and sauté until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic; cook for 1 minute. Add ground chiles, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beer and stir 1 minute, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Return beef to pot. Add tomatoes (with juice), 2 1/2 cups water, oregano, and a tablespoon kosher salt. Bring chili to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer gently until beef is just fork tender, about 2 hours. Cool 1 hour, then chill uncovered until cold. Cover; chill overnight.

Spoon fat from chili (there will probably not be much). Bring chili to simmer over medium heat. Stir in tomato paste. Sprinkle corn meal and stir, simmer uncovered until thickened and beef is very tender, stirring often, and adding more water if too thick, about 30 minutes.  Season with 1 teaspoon chile powder, salt, and pepper. Serve with garnishes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Beer Files- Bitches Brew

The wonderful thing about beer is the human input to it. While wine does rely on some, the majority of the variety is region. With beer, region does matter for ingredients, but more than that are the additive ingredients the brewery will put in the beer to achieve different flavor profiles. This can be fruit, honey, spices, sugar, and many other varying ingredients that give specific beers such different tastes. One of the breweries on the forefront of this is Dogfish Head, one of my current favorite breweries. They also have a good documentary style show on Discovery called Brewmasters that I have been enjoying.

The other night I tried Bitches Brew, a beer that tributes the anniversary of the Miles Davis album of the same name. The beer is a combination of stout and honey beer (3:1) that is quite aggressive in its flavor and not something to be enjoyed quickly. This is probably my largest appreciation of Dogfish, they make beer because they want to challenge the boundaries of brewing and make you enjoy something truly different.

The beer goes down smooth with a pretty heavy finish, thanks to the stout part, but also remains mild and sweet due to the honey and gesho root in it. Sounds complex? It is, and that's the goal! Just like the album, the beer is different every sip you try. I suggest this to all beer lovers out there looking for something a little bit different and funky.