Monday, December 20, 2010

Does St. Louis even exist?

St. Louis may have been the location that such great inventions like Dr. Pepper, Cotton Candy or even the Ice Cream Cone could have been invented or were first introduced to the masses.  However, it appears that this city is dead and I am just too naive to know it.  I think that a city that has a diverse culture as well as almost 3 million people can come up with a way to get on the map, nationally, as far as food is concerned. 

Well, what does St. Louis have for anyone to even stop by and see?  Well, Crown Candy was featured on an episode of Man vs. Food for its challenge of taking down 5 large milk shakes.
http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Man_V_Food/Photos/Slideshow_St_Louis?slidevalue=1

But is that all?  With all of the travel shows and cooking shows, St. Louis seems to go by unnoticed.  This is odd because St. Louis, was settled in 1703 and founded in 1764.  It is rated at about the 15th largest city in the nation and for some reason always comes up bottom when it comes to press and people knowing about it.

This makes me wonder what people think is located or happening in St. Louis. I know we have Anheuser-Busch, which still is classified as the world's largest brewery, as well as Brown Shoes, Energizer, Purina and even Macy's-Midwest.  We used to have a huge Chrysler plant just outside of the city and TWA was also here. 

The picture above denotes exactly what I and many other St. Louisans feel.  Anthony Bourdain, chef, writer and TV personality was here in St. Louis 2 months ago to promote and sign his new book.  From what we learned by asking him, during the Q&A part of his show, was that he doesn't view St. Louis as nothing more than an airport hub.  When asked if he was coming to St. Louis, he told us all that he is doing a show based in Missouri, but covering Ozark cuisine, which most St. Louisans find appalling.  St. Louis culture and people are completely different from Ma and Pa Kettle.  What is sad is that I had even contacted a staff person for his company and was assured that when Mr. Bourdain does come to St. Louis, I would be allowed to take him locations.  This was the highlight of my day or even the year, but as the reality starts to set in, I discover that this holds me over about as much as a single White Castle would, on one of my hungry days. All and all though, the whole thing reminds me of a young kid who is such a fan of a superhero and when he gets to go to a convention and meet his hero, he stands face to face with a pot-bellied, drunk, clown in a cheap costumed getup.  Mr. Bourdain was a hero of mine as a chef and writer and while I like the way he talks and writes and while I was a fan of his show, after he basically said that St. Louis is good but not good enough to do a show on and show the world, I lost faith in him. 


What makes St. Louis bad, I wonder?  I know as a food and restaurant critic that St. Louis has a few minor flaws involving restaurants, but that can't be the only reason, can it?  I know that there are great restaurants like The Stable or Mosaic, but do those places outshine the bad places like Mayan Cafe' or Riefschneiders Grill and Grape?  Celebrity chefs come to St. Louis to open their restaurants but don't seem to care about the quality that they produce, as my wife and I experienced when we ate at Sleek, Chef Hubert Keller's restaurant. Maybe they are right in that people only hear about those bad places and not the good places.  If that is the case, then I am sorry about that as my regular full time job does not allow me to go out each night and eat at a different location.  In some cases, when I go somewhere for food, I actually bring my whole family and the location may not be child-friendly.  Also, in some cases, if we get in and wait for more than 20 minutes before someone even talks to us, we skip it.  So, there may have been a diamond under the rough, but we never found out because no one even noticed us.

Hopefully through this new year in less than 2 weeks, I will be able to check out more restaurants for you, get more interviews with some of the St. Louis chefs and try to find more things to place this city on the map. Whichever the case, I hope everyone has a good Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My castle is the white one...

While having a quick discussion at work with an employee, I thought about a food product.  These tasty and small morsels have infiltrated ever level of American culture since their invention in 1921!  The small burgers which have been mass produced and sold out of white edifices, complete with parapets and stone walls, showed up first in Kansas in 1921 where they were first sold for 5 cents each.  Can you imagine paying a nickel for a white castle hamburger now?

The story has it that after the novel, The Jungle, was release and showed how unsanitary the meat-packing industry was, two people set out to bring ground beef back to the tables of so many families.  They tried to make their restaurants look as clean as they could and did so by designing the interior with stainless steel and white walls.  The very first castle buildings were made of porcelain.


The two partners who founded White Castle, Anderson and Ingram, became well known for delivering the same quality of product, in any of their locations, partly because not only did Anderson invent the hamburger bun, but he also invented the food assembly line.  This was the first fast food restaurant and everything that we associate good fast food with, started with White Castle.  They started making their own meat plants and even their own bakeries.  A restaurant could get freshly ground beef, onions and freshly baked buns all for their restaurant.  They soon started to make their own factories to make paper hats, building materials for other castle restaurants and even the boxes and packages.  It was completely self sustained and did everything but raise their own cows and grow their own wheat.

Musicians from Eminem to the Beastie Boys have sung songs involving White Castle hamburgers.  Movies, such as Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, show off how popular the food is with those who smoke pot or do other drugs. 

While things are done a bit differently now, no one can argue that even at the inflated price, White Castle hamburgers are not worth their weight in gold.  I feel like picking up a crave case right now.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Your punishment is to wash the dishes...

I know it sounds like a punishment but I know that other people get paid for it and some people do it for free.  This morning, after 5 years of service, our dishwasher died.  Once a year, we have had to call in a service request and have the pump fixed.  So, it cleans the dishes but cannot pump the water out when it is finished. I know that after spending 30 minutes cleaning the pots, pans and other dishes by hand, that there is someone who will tell me "when I was young we had to wash dishes every day by hand."  This kind of a statement is fine but not one that should be taken seriously when you live in a first world country.  People used to have to dig a hole in the ground for their latrine, but no longer as we now have indoor plumbing.  When a toilet breaks, do we go outside and pee on the side of the house?  No.  In America, air conditioning, heat, indoor plumbing, electricity and a dishwasher are pretty much considered necessary for life.


 So, our 5 year old dishwasher has died.  It was the first dishwasher we purchased when we moved from our apartment to our house. I looked and as a first time homeowner, after 1 year being married, my wife and I looked for the best we could afford.  The Frigidaire was the best we could get at Best Buy for $299.  Thank God we purchased the extended 4 year warranty as this dishwasher had a broken pump or motor, every year that we had it.  Sure enough, the pump broke this year, after the warranty has expired.  I consider us lucky to have used the dishwasher, sometimes running twice a day, and not even using every cycle.  It lasted this long!

The dishwasher was first patented in 1850 by Joel Houghton.  It was wooden and used a hand crank to power the device and spray water onto the dishes.  It didn't work too well.

In 1886, the first real dishwasher was invented by Josephine Cochrane and was the first motor powered dishwasher. She had said that "If nobody else is going to invent a dish washing machine, I'll do it myself!" Josephine was wealthy and had servants that did the washing but wanted to make a machine that would do the cleaning and not chip her dishes so easily. She started by measuring the dishes she had then created a rack that would fit them. She then made a large copper drum where the rack and dishes would sit as hot soapy water sprayed over them and then were rinsed afterwards.  She later formed a company, that would later be called KitchenAid. Her grandfather was the inventor of the steamboat and she had enough money to make many of these dishwashers and show them off at the 1893 World Fair.  She hoped everyone would get them but only restaurants and hotels bought them up.

In 1924, William Howard Livens invented the first dishwasher that was run with indoor plumbing.  It had a front door for loading, a spinning sprayer and even a rack for loading dishes onto. Although rumor has it that didn't work properly and flooded the kitchen floor with water.

By 1970, electric dishwashers were commonplace and in almost all US homes for domestic use.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Man's topic...

Peanut butter and jelly, whether you like them fried or fresh, the PB&J seems to have become a staple for any male's diet.  It could be a tie in with some feeling of a comfort food or a piece of nostalgia, but this sandwich seems to show up in almost every setting and I almost always have seen men enjoy this over women.

While the first recorded mention of this sandwich was in the 1940's, we have a couple of facts that can be seen and laid out here for everyone's view:
1.  We know that George Washington Carver created a peanut butter for culinary uses in 1880, but did not patent it because he thought that anything from nature was a gift from God and allowed to everyone.  But this is the first recorded listing of peanut butter.  The peanut probably was first seen around 950BC in South America.  From there it was sent to places like Africa where it is believed that the Africans did grind it up into a paste.

2. Jelly can likely be traced back to the Middle East, where sugar cane grew naturally.  Mixing some macerated fruit with the ground sugar cane and cooking it down, reducing it, could have produced a very simple jelly if not a fruit spread.  Scientists believe that this happened before the Crusades, as it was likely Crusaders who brought the idea of jelly in to Europe.  Modern jelly probably did not exist until much later, around the 16th century when the Spanish used sugar cane syrup to preserve fruit. Pectin was not extracted from apples to make jelly until the late 17th century.

3. While some could point out that South America had peanuts and the India actually had the first sugar cane, then  could the two have collided at some point and created the sandwich?  I guess this comes down to the bread.While the Middle East and India may have had sugar cane or sugar first, their bread has been a thin bread not made with any yeast, so it would have resembled a rolled or very skinny and flat sandwich. While the more leavened bread would have required grains and yeast to rise and would likely have originated in the Scandinavian countries, it could be noted that Spain did have a grain bread like what we are familiar with now, in America.

This being said, thanks to help with wikipedia, by looking up different histories, it could be seen that the Spanish may have invented more closely what we refer to as peanut butter and jelly. The Spanish Conquistadors brought peanuts over to Spain and if Spain already used honey and sugar by then in their fruit preserving, then the love of the peanut and jelly could have kindled. If Spain had access to honey or sugar around the 16th century and had access to peanuts or ground peanuts and bread, then they could have sliced it in two and created the first peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Now, whether you prefer grape, strawberry or another flavor of jelly, wheat, white or another kind of bread and chunky or smooth peanut butter, that is another story.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What is the one thing you could live on for the rest of your life?

Are you asking me?  If so, that is an easy question to answer: chocolate milk.  If you are among the others who are left in the dark about how something that they give children in pre-school could possibly be good for adults, let me enlighten you. 

While chocolate milk is nothing more than chocolate and milk, it is filled with important fat calories, protein and calcium.  Let's look at some important factors and notes about chocolate milk:

*The chocolate flavoring is one of the more important elements and now, for the first time, chocolate sauces are being made without high fructose corn syrup.  These taste more like the dark or unsweetened chocolate and add a rich flavor to the milk.

*Chocolate flavorings have been in a powder form for some time as well, with everything from Nesquik and it's sugar-free version to Ovaltine and it's inherent nutritional drink mix.  Ovaltine started off by making a healthy nutritional supplement-type of drink that gave people the vitamins they needed with a glass of milk.  Well, how do you get kids to drink your product? Make it chocolate.

*Most people continue to use whole milk to help the solution have a silky and rich consistency as well as a richer taste.  Whole milk gives the drink a taste like one is drinking pure melted milk chocolate.  There is a push to make chocolate soy milk, but that ruins the purpose of the original thought.

Lately there has been some scandal because some doctors believe that milk has been contributing to childhood obesity.  They blame that milk has natural sugar and fat in it and think that these natural things which your body deals with naturally are the causes of the fat and overweight children.  These same doctors refuse to believe the findings of the latest research against high fructose corn syrup.  Think of this; you have some pretentious idiots who think that milk is what is making kids fat.  What is really making them fat is likely the large doses of high fructose corn syrup that is in everything they eat or drink.  You know, these are the kids that get McDonald's for lunch, get their mcnugget happy meal, filled with high fructose corn syrup and sugar, then wash it down with a soda, also filled with high fructose corn syrup and sugar.  Then when their kids get fatter, because they go home and play WOW or other video games and don't move off of their butts for a few days, they complain that it is the milk.

Science finally proves the dangers of high fructose corn syrup

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I don't give a Puck....

First of all, the word 'puck', in culinary circles is synonymous with Wolfgang Puck. That chef, has done wonders with fusion foods and also has kept his feet on the ground to create master works of culinary art that still tastes like the foods mom used to make. However, if you are in st. louis and you were thinking of going to get his brunch menu at the st. louis art museum, skip it. My wife and I attended this hot brunch a few months ago.  You can find better food for the $25 a person.

There was a hot foods buffet line, with things like egg, cheese and spinach quiche, freshly cooked bacon, sausage, waffles made on the spot, chicken marinara, a carving station with roast beef and other smaller details. There was a cold bar with fresh fruit and some small pastries and salads, like a fresh spring green salad with walnuts, dried cranberries and a oil vinaigrette.

There was a desert bar as well.

For $25 a person, I was expecting a bit more: 2 out of 5 stars.

The cold food was too plain. The melons were sliced almost paper thin, so you had to stab 19 on your fork to fill the same space one normal chunk of melon would take. The croissants were good, but taste like pillsbury made them at the store. I doubt that there was a pound of butter in that batter for those rolls. The hot food was normal and mediocre at best. There was no awesomely sublime ideas presented to us, like fresh salmon and eggs or rich buttery and creamy waffles or pancakes (flapjacks, griddle cakes, etc). After working at a buffet most of my life, I know that you need to change out the meats because they tend to dry out fast under that heat lamp. The carver would sometimes leave his station and the beef looked like it was dry as a bone by the time he came back to it. Dessert was things like what seemed to be flourless chocolate cakes that were small, like 2 cm each way and then chilled, so there were almost frozen solid. Or there was peanut brittle that was rock hard as well. Cookies, which seem rather safe and chocolate covered strawberries.

Here's the thing: the brochure says that they have an "incomparable Sunday brunch". Well, it is, because I don't know what to compare it to. It didn't have the complexity that a more high priced brunch should have and didn't have the regular feel to it that normal places have. It is like if you wanted to go to Mesa Grill but only wanted to eat their baked goods, like the jalapeno bread or blue corn muffins. While blue corn bread is something strange, it is still something that you can make at home. I guess this is slightly biased because as I become more and more skilled some things are easier for me to cook at home. So, here is my standard: if I can't do it, and it tastes great, I pay a lot for it.

So, the cooked foods at Puck's brunch, sadly, I could do it all myself. I should have saved me from the $50 and just cooked breakfast for my wife in bed. I would pay $50 for the two of us for fancy french food at Chez Leon, in the central west end, and that gets me a grilled chicken with a black truffle risotto and my wife some soft shelled crab with a desert. (we always go prix- fix)

What was the most comical of all, when my wife and I did do this art museum brunch, which was actually several months ago, was that the restaurant area was filled with a large assortment of pretentious and snobby individuals who felt that the best way to judge the food was how easy it was to cut with a knife and fork and for them to place in their mouths and chew: hoping their dentures didn't crack or fall out. My wife and I are foodies, so when we sit and try food we comment out loud sometimes as to what we think.  I remember the looks of someone at the table next to us act like we were horrible people because after the meal I had stated what I thought of everything.  I'm sorry ma'am, that the eggs that my wife makes at home don't taste as good as the ones your butler makes every morning for you, but we still have a right to an opinion.  I think we received the most stare-downs that we have ever had at a restaurant in a long time.  (Which was odd, because I had a full suit on, my wife had a long dress and we were perhaps the two most well dressed people there.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The falling leaves....fall past my window....the falling leaves of red and gold...

I will admit that in my limited cooking education, seeing how I have had no real formal classes and work, very little has been instructed to me on what to do when you have something with an open cavity and something that can be cooked inside.  Much like the stuffing inside of a turkey, many great things can have a great stuffing and therefore make for some delicious food.  I decided to take a risk and in doing so, tried to make some Lebanese food, probably the most tricky Lebanese dished to make, for those not familiar with the style, technique or the cuisine.  What dish could this be?  It involves leaves and a filling.


I know it looks like we just pulled some leaves off of any old deciduous tree but these are in fact pickled grape leaves.  You take these leaves and stuff them with a mixture of ground beef, rice and cinnamon. 
Make sure the rice is uncooked.  Now, you take out a single leaf, place some stuffing in it and roll in up.  Then carefully place them in the bottom of a pot.
How weird is that?  It looks like a pot of leaves.  While the grape leaves do have a leafy flavor, overall, they take on the flavor of the filling, as well as the garlic and lemon juice that you place in the pot, with the water to cook them.  They are delicious and as weird as the leaves are, it was definitely worth trying to cook with them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can you make it at home?

It is a basic truth: if you make something at home, chances are it can be more healthy than if you buy it commercially.  So what did I make?  My kids love the mall, mainly because every time we go, my two young sons both get a pretzel.  I forget the name of the company, but it is the blue lettering on white back. The pretzels are sugary and dripping, yes dripping, with butter or oil.  Well, I swear that each pretzel has a thousand calories and while it may taste good, it isn't that good for young children, or anyone for that matter.  I made my own pretzels at home, twisted them, brushed them with egg yolks, sprinkled some Kosher salt and had some delicious alternatives made.

What is better than pretzels? Doughnuts or Donuts, however you spell it.  I found a recipe online and will the switch of Truvia for the sugar I produced a good sweet dough and then made some shapes, cut them out, let them rise and here ya go.

The recipe was here: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Bread/BakedDoughnuts.htm

Only thing I would suggest as a change, roll the dough thicker than 1/3rd inch.  Maybe 1/2 inch, as they don't rise that much.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Your rights as a customer


I was thinking about this the last time I was at a restaurant: I was ordering a steak and requested that it be cooked a certain way and while doing so, my wife indicated that if it was cooked incorrectly, I should send it back.  It was an interesting thought:  When was the last time you have ever sent anything back to the kitchen?

I have never done so, myself as I always thought it was just something that they do on TV or in the movies.  Furthermore, I figured that if I did send some dish back to the kitchen or even complain more to a manager or waiter, it would only further infuriate a chef or cook and they may sabotage my food.  It can happen and I sometimes worry about it.

Think of it like this: a menu is a list of offers. When you chose to order something, you are agreeing with the offers that are on the menu.  When you agree, you are saying that you will pay so much money as long as the restaurant keeps their side of the offer, which usually is that the food is served as explained and cooked the way you suggest.  When you order that item, you are confirming that you have accepted an offer and when the restaurant takes the order and bills you for it, they are further agreeing to the offer, making a solid agreement or verbal contract.

But, just as celebrities and business people can break contracts, restaurants can as well. If you order a steak, a 9 ounce before cooking weight Angus steak that is cooked medium well and you get something different, you are allowed to send it back.  I have had several dishes that were bad enough to send back but wanted to point out that the server or cook did something wrong when they chose to serve it.  If it wasn't even made from an Angus cow, you technically have a right to send it back.  If it tasted bad enough that it was not cooked right or made you spit it out, you could even ask for your money back.

Now, how would I feel in the same situation? If I was in a restaurant and I had did something wrong or prepared something not as I had displayed it as such, I would be at fault for it and if someone had sent it back to me after I had sent it out, I would have taken full responsibility for it.  While I worked at Old Country Buffet/Home Town Buffet, I came across several instances where people would complain about different dishes.  Maybe they said that the fried chicken was still raw or the soup was too salty.  I had to know how everything was supposed to taste and every once in a while, the food was too salty.  I'd go back to that complaining customer and let them know that the food was bad or wrong and we are fixing it now.  If they were really complaining, sometimes we would have to give them their money back or even offer free meal passes.

In conclusion, you have a right to pay for what you want.  Remember, the customer is always right.  I know that most restaurants don't announce this motto but it is true and still true today.  If you order something and it tastes off, most restaurants will take it right back and serve you up another one, they will call a 're-do' and get it to you without complaints.  I will even learn from my own advice and the next time I take a bite of a dish that makes me spit it out, I will send it back, before punishing the restaurant as a whole.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An explanation of ME, 101

As a new introduction to these next 100 posts, I'd like to talk a bit about myself, my experiences and my rating system.
I'm 32 years old, possess a certificate in Catering, a B.S. in Holistic Nutrition with a concentration in Herbalism and a B.A. in Literature and Language Arts with a minor in Computer Science and Business Administration.  I went to college for 6 & 1/2 years because I was undecided for so much of it.  It also was because for 4 of those years, my adviser changed each year: the first became the Dean of students, the next was promoted elsewhere and the other two left the college.  I feel as though if I had an adviser that stayed long enough to know me, I could have made better choices.  However, had I not stayed as long as I did, I would not have met my wife, so it was all okay.

I've always enjoyed cooking and when I was younger, my brothers and I were often sent, one at a time, to 'help' my grandmother at her house, prepare family meals. I was always amazed at how one person could make so many people happy, just be food.  So many of my fondest memories of passed away loved ones have been related to food and with food prepared in similar manners it does give me a moment in which I feel like I have been transported back in time to those moments.
I used to work for an all-you-can-eat buffet called Old Country Buffet/Home Town Buffet.  It was when I was thrown on the cook's line that I started to enjoy the cooking and the control and freedom that I had while back there, no supervisors and just me following the recipes to create good food. People and fellow employees always make fun of the food and in some cases the cooking habits of some of the cooks, but it most cases, as was the case of at least the Lindbergh location, the food was healthy and clean.  While there cooking, I was also fulfilling my requirement as the Dining Room Supervisor and learning how food was supposed to be prepared and taste.  After 8 & 1/2 years of working in this environment, I think I know how a restaurant should operate.

If you combine my work experience with my catering certificate, that composed of no less than 40 hours of coursework, it brings together a shape and scope of what is needed and how food should be prepared.  I know how food should be prepared and how long it takes to be prepared. I know that if I order a chicken strip and fries basket for my son at a restaurant that it shouldn't take longer than 6 or 7 minutes.  When I order one and it takes 30 minutes to an hour, then something is wrong.

Now, what makes for 5 stars?
 0/5 is the kind of food that is so bad that I spit it out.  This often happens if the food is too salty or even served with an edible garnish that isn't prepared properly. Undercooked chicken or vegetables are placed in this category as well.


1/5 is the food that is edible but still not good.  It is the food that you take a single bite and think to yourself that you would not, unless under gunpoint, take a second bite.
2/5 is the food that is okay.  This is food that is not even good, but just mediocre. This level also applies to food that is very, very normal.  The standard burger and fries, for example, where it is just okay, belongs in this level.
3/5 is the food that is good.  You are willing to have multiple bites to try and may even eat all of it. This is also the level of foods that are not what they say, so if a restaurant calls a dish a stew and it is a good mix of ingredients but isn't really a stew, then it would be here.  This is my basic starting point as I have the expectation that all food is good.
4/5 is if the food is really good.  This is the food that is good enough that you are happy with it and will recommend it to others.  The food is cooked properly, hot and tasty.  It is above what you had expected as well.  If you had ordered a bacon burger and someone had placed the bacon inside of the burger, it would have been a new enough concept to fit into this category and not be considered the normal standard burger.

5/5 applies to the best.  This rating does change as I haven't eaten in every restaurant on the planet so it may fluctuate.  I have eaten great Lebanese food in Beirut, for example. So, if a restaurant in St. Louis claims to have the best Lebanese food and it doesn't, or doesn't even have anything similar or like the real food, then it would not get this level of stars.  If the restaurant had food that was very similar to the real country and tasted just like the food there, then it could be considered a 5/5.  This is also food that integrates something new. If you were eating a bowl of some noodles with a simple broth and vegetables and the noodles were hand made, the broth just got off the stove from 8 hours of cooking and the vegetables were earlier in the ground right outside, then it would likely classify as a 5/5, as long as it still tasted good. 



My biggest pet peeves:

1.  Food takes too long
The longest it has taken for me to get food after ordering was 1 hour.  I have been to a restaurant, ordered food and it took over an hour for the food to come.  If it was the waiter's fault that the order was not put in for 40 minutes, it is not my nor the customer's fault.
2.  Waiter never comes back
My wife and I are always cursed that the waiter may give us great service and as soon as we are given are final plates, they disappear. We sometimes have to either flag the waiter down or ask another employee to gather the bill so we can pay and leave.  That last bit of service, does weigh into the final tip.
3.  No one greets me
It should be a standard that if you enter a restaurant in which an entree' costs more than $20 someone from the cooking or management staff should greet you.  After all, you are spending your money to keep their salaries or their wage intact.  Some of the restaurants that have received 5 stars from me, have had someone greet me from start to finish and talk to me. Instead of the kind that greet you upon entry and then you never hear from them again.

I feel as though I cannot be bought or sold. I take the review of a restaurant very seriously as I want people to have the same experience, if it is good, as I have had. I am just like you in that if someone asks you what is a good place for dinner, you tell them your favorite place or a place where you have had a good time.  You may also tell them the places to avoid.  I do the same thing.  I know that if I have a good time (good food and good service) at a location and I talk about how good it was, someone else may try it out.  I am technically bringing new customers in with free publicity. The same however, goes for if the location is bad or rated poorly as if I think a place is downright awful, it may stop people from going there.  Skills are not inherited. If your family owns a restaurant, it does not mean that you have instant knowledge of how a restaurant should be run and how food should be done.  I have an issue dealing or even talking with people who say 'my father owns so and so and it has been in business for over 20 years, which is why I opened my restaurant'.  I want to say to them, 'your restaurant sucks' and leave it at that.  My father works as a credit manager for some St. Louis owned corporations, does this mean that I could start a finance company and demand instant success and fame, because of his past and his professional resume'? Not everyone is cut out to be a chef or not everyone is cut out to be a restaurant owner.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The un-celebration of the 100th post

 100 posts ago, I started with just a simple restaurant review.  The restaurant was The Stable, in St. Louis and this restaurant became one of my family and friend's favorite place.  My review was from a date with just me and my wife and after my honest review, no less than 10 others had since been there.  All of these others have told me how great the restaurant is and plan on going back again.

Since then, I have done about 18 restaurant reviews, about 7 recipe or cookbook reviews and the rest have mostly been articles dealing with food or food science.  I enjoy eating and going to restaurants and equally enjoy writing about my experiences. I did want to try to get something special, like an interview with Rick Moonen or even a local chef but have been turned down as a result.

During these past 99 posts, there are a few things that I have learned about food and restaurants and chefs:

 1.  Anthony Bourdain will never come to St. Louis.  In a bit of a sore topic, Mr. Bourdain was asked no less than 3 times, while he was speaking about his book at the Fox Theatre, this past October, if he was coming to St. Louis.  He responded that he was coming to the state to do some time in the Ozarks but not coming to St. Louis.  Once again, another person who thinks of St. Louis as nothing but an airport hub. We may not be as big as a city as New York or Vegas, but we have great food, great restaurants and great farms.  We have the oldest outdoor market West of the Mississippi and even one of the best chefs (Chef Larry Forgione).
 
2.  Most of the St. Louis area people have no idea what good taste is.  If you are reading this, then you are some of the few people with good taste.  I have been to at least 2 bad restaurants during these past 99 posts and the strange thing is that the locals around both establishments believe that these places are the best they have ever had.  So, either these places really are bad or I just have bad luck when it comes to restaurants.  Either the food has been way to salty and not enough to match the price or the food doesn't even come at all after an hour and when it does it tastes just like any other regular fare.  The best Mayan food in Maplewood is home to the saltiest and smallest portion of beef ever.  The newest restaurant in Columbia will likely not get your food served to you under an hour.  Both places have full houses and it amazes me that people are willing to put up with bad service or bad food.  If a place has food that you don't like, DON'T go back!

3.    Most celebrity chefs, celebrity since they have been on TV, don't do much cooking anymore.  In most cases, they are pushing their wares or doing book deals or things like that and are not found in the restaurants anymore.  These celebrity chefs, train chefs to be the executive chefs of their restaurants and therefore don't have to do a thing at that location again.  In some cases...  Some chefs, like Rick Bayless, for example, does work at his restaurant.  You can tell who has the love of cooking in them and who is in it for the money. If I had a restaurant and then became famous for any reason, I would wish to stay in the restaurant, because it is what I love.

4.   Most Americans will not or do not wish to try anything new and authentic.  My wife posed an interesting thought this past weekend: how do those bad Chinese places stay in business?  A family wants Chinese food for dinner and instead of going to a place that serves Chinese food like Dim Sum or other regional food, they wish to go to places like China Court or Panda Palace.  The difference is something real from something that is created and toned down for the American palette.  Which would you rather have: steamed bok choy and broccoli with some beef tendons or cashew chicken with fried rice?  This doesn't only apply to Chinese food but all foods of ethnic nature.

5.  Always try something new.  I try to post recipes involving new ingredients or something like the cactus leaves.  As a foodie and chef, I am learning that there are many different flavors out there and instead of hoarding the tastes that only you like, perhaps you wish to open up.  Let's say that someone had a new kind of chocolate out there.  Would you try it?  Chocolate covered bacon?  It's good.  I know because I tried it.  Chocolate is good and bacon is good and together it is good.  Why don't you try it?  A lot of people, older people, want to go to their usual stand-by's and never try anything new. It could be an older woman who doesn't like anything on a salad bar or someone who only gets chicken strips at whatever restaurant it is.  But try something new!  Life is too short to see something new, smell something new and then say "No Thanks" when it comes to taking just a small bite.

6.  Take care of yourself.  Smoking dulls the taste buds, which is why food is too salty in some cases because teh chef is a smoker and most likely cannot taste the real taste of the food.  It doesn't register for him.  Also, try to stay away from unhealthy junk food.  A great food leader in our country is McDonald's and while they have a burger for just 270 calories, that bun and ketchup has high fructose corn syrup in it.  So, in a culture that is just now discovering the dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup, one burger has two doses of HFCS and one dose of regular corn syrup and even sugar!  I suggest a substitution.  Are we that lazy of a society that instead of making food at home that isn't going to cause health problems or kill us we would rather eat the junk food?

What is amazing overall, is that the chefs that come up with food that is actually healthy for us, make far less money than those that kill us more quickly.  A chef that can come up with bacon wrapped bacon and then deep fries that makes more for his recipe than someone who makes sugar free jam without the use of artificial flavors and colors.  My wife always joked at the idea that a a box of snack cakes, filled with fat and sugar costs as much as one pound of apples.  It is almost as if our nation wants us to get fat. 

What can you expect over the next 100 posts? If I am lucky, I will get a local chef to answer some interview questions for me.  I will get more restaurant reviews and more recipes in here as well.  I have had some requests on Facebook for some low fat or sugar free versions of some favorite desserts and have been working and pulling those off. I will get more of those recipes online for everyone to see and try.

What would you like to see?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jeff Ruby's at the River City Casino

This casino has been open for less than a year and here is what is likely the best restaurant in the casino: besides the 1904 Beerhouse, which I have already reviewed.  Jeff Ruby's steak house is made in an early 1900's French style that brings a classy elegance with a nice and non-stuffy atmosphere.  My wife and I had no reservation and walked right in to a nice booth and great service.  Our servers John and Ian helped answer any questions we had and were still very nice to us, even though we didn't look like a million bucks, or at least I didn't, (my wife did).  The room was dimly lit as lights near the ceilings were aimed up at the red walls and shone down a reddish/pinkish light tint to the whole room.  We sat in a nice booth, very comfortable and had some nice paintings of King Louis to the right of us.  I think it was not busy because the Big Game was last night. 

While waiting for everything, we had a basket of bread and butter delivered to us.  The bread was a few slices of rye and white bread and the butter was a side of creamed butter with a side of black truffle butter.
We looked over the menu and after ordering our drinks and had a pleasant conversation with John, we ordered and received the first part of our meals: our salads.  My wife had ordered the Cesar salad and I ordered the Freddie salad.  The Freddie salad was the first ever BLT salad and if you had a piece of bacon, lettuce and tomato on each fork full, it did taste just like a BLT.  Anything with bacon is better and as a salad, it was good: 3 out of 5 stars.

For our main course, we both ordered steaks, as what else do you order at a steakhouse?  I ordered the Steak Collinsworth which was a 9oz fillet topped with two very large pieces of asparagus and 3 pieces of crab meat.  There was a Bearnaise sauce on top of it all as it was stacked high.
I had given the crab meat to my wife, who enjoys it.  Let me tell you about this steak:  I had asked for it to be cooked medium well and it was perfectly cooked.  Not only that, but it was so tender that even though I had a wisdom tooth taken out this past Wednesday and this meal was on Saturday, my jaw still hurt and I couldn't eat anything pretty much at all on the right side of my mouth, the steak melted like butter, in my mouth.  I didn't have to struggle or hardly even chew this steak.  I had to cut it, but once it was in my mouth it fell apart like a very good pot-roast.  It was juicy, had a nice salty crust and I even had the Bearnaise sauce to dip it in.  It was very good and was easily the best steak I had ever eaten.  Even better than the steak I had at Delmonico's in Las Vegas. The sauce was a bit too rich and salty for my taste and about half way through the steak, I had to stop using the sauce.  The asparagus was a tiny, itsy bit, undercooked, but still good, as they were likely just blanched in some salt water.  I had a side of mashed potatoes to go with the dish and while they were mashed potatoes from Jeff Ruby's, there was nothing special about them at all.  No secret spices, no flavorings, no truffles, no garlic or rosemary; nothing but potatoes, a pat of butter and some milk.  It didn't even have a creamy consistency that my wife enjoys so much, but still could stand on its own.  I started to dip the steak into the mashed potatoes as I ate as I love my potatoes.  Overall, the dish was great, for the best steak I have ever eaten, it garnered a 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars from me.  What robbed it from the 1/2 star was the rest of the plate.

In the Midwest, we tend to cover everything in sauce or gravy and this was no exception. The dish had too much sauce and I actually started to grow tired of the dish and wanted to stop eating it as there was too much sauce and it was a bit salty.  Had there been only a few drops of this sauce, instead of  1/2 cup of it, the dish would have been perfect: in everything.


  My wife had ordered the Queen's cut, which isn't on their online menu, but was also a 9oz fillet.  It was also served with a side of mashed potatoes and neither one of us could figure out why the mashed potatoes were served in small skillets when it obviously was not cooked in them.  A bad plating choice, in my mind.  My wife had remarked that it was a perfectly cooked, in her medium rare request.  She had suggested that it was perhaps a 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars as she has had better tasting steaks.  She complained that the crust was too salty, as did I, and as you can see there was a bit too much oil on her plate; as you can see in the yellowish tinted liquid on her plate.



What made-up for most of the bad parts of this meal was the great service.  Our server, John, was knowledgeable about some of the cooking methods and answered any and all of our questions.  I would definitely go back and recommend this restaurant.  Try to get in John's section, if you do.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is cooking an art or a science?

I love to cook, I really do, but cooking every day can get a bit boring and tedious when you are a father of two young boys and half of your cooking time involves keeping tiny hands away from the stove/oven and the counter top where you are cutting and working. However, as one who failed chemistry, the first time, will tell you, science is hard at first and then easy on the second run.

What am I dribbling about?

Molecular Gastronomy is the fancy way of saying 'art of cooking' without the art part but meaning more of the science of cooking.  With cooking you learn how to boil and egg and how to make ice.  But, with the science part, the molecular gastronomy part, you learn why the egg cooks and how the ice is formed from the water.

In a container pour 250 grams of H2O and submit to sub-freezing temperatures of 32 degrees F or below.

Why does ice form?  As the water becomes colder, the liquid condenses to the point where it becomes a solid.  Knowing this, and knowing that each crystal that forms in ice is important to its structure can give someone the information to play with it; perhaps by making ice cream or sorbets.  Once you have the science down, you can do whatever you want within the rules of the formula and therefore use art and creativity.  So, perhaps the art could follow the science.

On the other hand, inventors over time pretty much decided to do things through trial and error and not cared about the science, in a way.  If I mix chocolate sauce and milk together and create chocolate sauce, I am not trying to come up with a new balance of chocolate particles swimming in the immersion.  I will not measure the chocolate down to the gram and the milk as well as try many different experiments to see which one of which amounts I like the most.  I will simply squeeze the bottle a bit longer for more chocolate.  Its not science, its creativity and fun. 


Now, my wife decided to cook a chicken this week.  It is simple science: you clean the chicken, cook it on all sides in a hot pan to get the skin done a bit.  Then you place it in a Dutch Oven for about 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees F and then an additional 15 minutes after that.  Our 7 pound bird was stuffed with some fresh herbs, from our garden, along with a mix of vegetables that were cut and placed inside here with some water. A bit over two hours later, this is what came out.  There is a science behind it and we know that if we place it in the oven for this long that it will come out cooked, filling the whole house with that indistinguishable smell of roasted chicken, and any liquid in the pot as well will be the best tasting broth we have ever had.  My wife knew this, she knew this would happen, so after she had the science down, she went on with the recipe, her way, by adding her own mix of herbs and vegetables.

Is my wife and expert scientist?  No, but she can cook well and that shows you that art can come after the science.  I am thinking of only our examples in this case, but am almost certain that art follows the science when cooking, just like the form follows the function.

Does anyone else think the same or different?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Video games and food, my two great loves

If you have played a video game in the last 20 years, then you most likely have come across this concept: food gives you health.  Whether it was the older games like Pac Man or the most recent games, like my favorite, Bioshock, then you are aware that food is used to either give you more points or more health. 

I remember playing the original Gauntlet games with my friend and while playing as the Wizard, if your health was low and you walked into the food, it would replenish some health and give a sound bite :"Food is good".  I believe that it was the easiest way to represent health and the replenishment of health besides using a white item with a red cross on it.  For us, as humans, we know that our health will grow or replenish if we eat food.  Even a 3 year old knows that if you eat food, your stomach doesn't hurt and you can give your body the nutrients to fight off infections and other things.  If you don't eat, you get hungry and your body loses the nutrients that it needs.  In fact, if you stop eating, your body still tries to go through the processes and will cannibalize your own body to keep it going.  For example; if you don't have enough calcium in your body, your body will start to leach it from your bones.  If you don't have enough proteins, your body will start to break down your muscle and use it for other things.

For instance, we will look at one of my favorite games: Bioshock.  In Bioshock, when your character needs to replenish health, this can be done so with the normal medical pack or with a box of bandages, but this can also be done by eating food or taking other consumables.  Taking in vitamins, canned food, pep bar, potato chips and creme filled cakes, will raise your health back just a bit. 

Another one of my favorite games is the Castlevania series and in this game, finding things like a chicken leg or roast beef will replenish health.  Let's be honest though, if you were traveling for a day in some dark, cold and wet forests in Moldavia hunting after a werewolf, there is probably nothing more tasty than a nice roasted chicken leg or a giant plate of roast beef.  Think of the amount of good stuff in one of those dishes: a minimum amount of fat, tons of good proteins and filling as ever.  Besides, when was the last time that you have eaten a plate of roast beef or roasted chicken and not felt 'goo' afterwards?

My 4 year old, first started playing video games when he was 2 & 1/2 years old.  He picked it up all by himself, when he noticed that his character could eat food that he liked.  So, his guy walks over and grabs the cake or the carrot and he feels better.  Besides, my son loves carrots and cake.

Now, a history of video games would reveal that as the games first started out, food was shown as a way to acquire points.  It wasn't until games started with actual characters with a life bar or a health percentage, that food helped bring back that health. While this information isn't anything else that you couldn't find on your own, I do like to point out that it is only something that occurs in video games.  When was the last time that you saw Bruce Willis scarf down a burger and fries while shooting up terrorists on the silver screen?  Food is just food in the movies, as if characters do get hurt or injured enough, they can't instantly heal, as it is more attuned with real life.  Honestly, if a character in a game had to rescue his love from an evil winged devil, and he had 12 hours or less to do so, finding food would not help him.  Reminds me of another thing that they omit in movies even: potty breaks.  In a great movie, like Die Hard, you never see anyone use the bathroom.  But in the movie True Lies, you see Arnold use the toilet.  That makes the movie a little more realistic, as opposed to video games.  Imagine if your mage had to take a piss while on a fast raid through the Arthas' throne?  You would be there forever.   

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Unleashing the monster

 I have to admit it, though I have given up soda, or strongly carbonated beverages that have no nutritional value, I do support and drink the lo-carb version of the Monster energy drink.  Now, most energy drinks contain sugar and caffeine and while that may be the norm for them all, the low-carb Monster energy drink seems to be at least somewhat healthy and good for you.

Unlike other energy drinks, Monster actually has vitamins and other chemicals that are considered antioxidants.  One can of Monster gives you twice of your RDA for B12, for instance.  This chemical is essential to your immune system and your health.  Taurine is listed as an ingredient and this chemical has been shown to act as an antioxidant and help the body run better.

Now the first energy drink was likely Irn-Brew, which was introduced in 1901 in Scotland.  Iron Brew, as it became known as, contains as many as 32 secret ingredients and while I would love to find out why it is so popular and what it did to become the first 'energy drink', it has such a large secret that only two people know of it at any one time and they cannot be at the same place at the same time; for safety.

Now, what are some issues with the other drinks?  Well, in particular, the largest competitor with Monster is Red Bull.  What is in a Red Bull and can it really give you wings.

Red Bull is adapted from a Thai energy drink that when the name is translated into English, gives you "Red Bull".  It was introduced worldwide in 1987 and is considered the most famous energy drink of the world.  Red bull contains Taurine, caffeine, B vitamins, Glucuronolactone, Sucrose and Glucose.  There is 110 calories in a single 8.3 oz can.  It has 27 grams of sugar, 100% of your daily Niacin(B3), 80% of your B12, 250% of your B6 and 50% of your Pantothenic Acid(B5).

Taurine is an antioxidant which has been shown to also help lower bad cholesterol levels in the blood
Caffeine is the thing that gives us that buzz
B Vitamins are important for a healthy metabolism and immune system
Glucuronolactone is a sweetening agent that helps to detoxify the body
Sucrose is your basic table sugar
Glucose is the simple sugar that is produced by plants during photosynthesis
Pantothenic Acid is vitamin B5 which is important for a healthy metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins

Now a Monster drink, in particular, the regular Monster drink, since I looked at the regular Red Bull, is 2.5 servings in a single can.  Red bull only lists but a small number of ingredients on their site or anywhere else while Monster lists as many as 15-20 ingredients.  A serving size of Monster will let you have 27 grams of sugar, 100% of your B2, 100% of your B3, 100% of your B6 and 100% of your B12. Also, it is not listed on the Nutritional table, but Monster does list Pantothenic Acid(B5) as an ingredient.  So, it does in fact contain the B5 that Red Bull has as well.

So, Monster has more B12, less B6 and B2 and some B5.  So, what is the difference?

B2 is important in the creation of energy from metabolism.  So, having this is ideal.  Monster wins.
B6 is a major co enzyme for reactions that help with the metabolism.  Red Bull wins.
B5 is for metabolism of fats, carbs and proteins. There is a tie.
B3 is for DNA repair. Tie for both.
B12 is for the brain and nervous system.  Monster wins, as it has more.

From what it looks like, B2 is actually more powerful than B5, so having the ability to get a greater amount of energy from foods is better than being able to metabolize the foods at all, I think.  Also, with the additional 20% of your daily B12, Monster seems to take the win.

Again, I prefer the low-carb Monster which doesn't give me the sugar and gives me the vitamins and nutrients that my body needs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The party, this Saturday night, starts at 7:00pm


I know that this is not my usual bunch of banter, my collection of innocuous facts and figures and formulas about ingredients found at the back of the shelves at the store or some sugar free dishes made out of 3 things that taste like it was made of 30; but this topic in particular needs a place and that place is here.  Whether one knows it or not, St. Louis has a large presence of burlesque performers.  These ladies show their stuff while doing dances and acts that are reminiscent of the old days.  These women are not all "average" or "large" women but women in every size that show that all it takes is a bit of tease to drive any man wild; while not having to strip completely naked.  When most people hear of the word "burlesque" they are thinking of the girls whom in the past few years have made the art of tease into nothing short of a strip show. However, the girls of burlesque ion St. Louis, do a great job keeping up with the traditions of the skill and keeping it sexy without being dirty.

Ariana Bauer started to photograph these burlesque girls earlier this year, in positions that show the art and skill of burlesque and the beauty of the women.  These pictures that show the art and the time that Ariana spent editing them are up for show during her gallery showing, October 2-9th.


Even though it has nothing to do with food of any kind, nor anything that I am cooking or preparing, I highly suggest that anyone who likes seeing pictures of girls, to check out the gallery.  The prints are all moderately priced and most of these will be signed by the girl that is featured in the artwork.  Not only could you buy the limited edition, one of a kind signed print, but then you can meet the girl in the artwork at the gallery show!

While the 2nd through 8th is open to everyone and you can see and buy these wonderful works of art, the real fun is the closing party on the 9th.  Starting at 7pm, all of the big name burlesque performers of the St. Louis area will be present.  So, if you have a thing for Lola van Ella, not only can you buy a brilliant piece of artwork with her as the main feature, but you can also meet her!  Why would you miss your chance to meet these sexy performers?

Featuring Images of:
Lola van Ella
Foxy La Feelion
Faith McQueen
GoGo McGregor
Jeez Loueez
Gravity Plays Favorites
Roxy Rockets
Dewy DeCamille
Dimples Divine
Bella Sue DeVianti
Angel Saint-Marie
Fiona Flame
Moxy Malicious
Honeysuckle Rose
Sammich the Tramp
and more



Soulard Art Market
2028 S. 12th Street
Saint Louis, MO 63104
(314) 258-4299
SoulardArtMarket@gmail.com
Corner of 12th and Russell, across from McGurks Pub

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thank you Mr. Bourdain

Through a gift to me and my wife, I was lucky enough to come within throwing distance of Mr. Anthony Bourdain; writer, chef and world traveler.  Now, I will admit, that while he is a celebrity chef, I don't tend to get star struck. I know that there were many women there wearing slutty outfits in the hopes of getting hit on or looked over by him.  After a long wait, at 8pm exactly, Mr. Bourdain took the sage, nervous, fidgety and talkative.

He shared with us his life story, his thoughts and his feelings about the way the world treats him and others like him.  His talk reminded me of the time I saw Bill Cosby give his talk.  Comedy mixed with undertones of truth.  Mr. Bourdain talks and writes with such truth and such common vernacular that you realize that as he said, this man, has no special skills: he has been lucky. He said it himself: he was lucky enough to write something that originally he thought was crap and no one would read.  But his story was one that explained the real world of cooking and revealed what was behind that romantic view of a chef.  He split the facade open and showed the world what life was like, working behind the grill at a fancy restaurant.  His uncensored language broke the mold on how a chef should behave and earned a nickname of a bad boy chef/writer.  He was lucky and I only wish to be so lucky.  Not so much with my writing or cooking but maybe just a little of both.

I can say though, whether you are hearing him and seeing him speak or sharing a quick 30 second conversation with him while signing his book, he's not a snob.  This is a piece of truth that you must know about him and he probably wants to hide forever.  No matter how long you talk to him or who you are, he is genuinely interested in what you say.  Its not like other celebrity chefs who just push everything through.  Anthony Bourdain arrived in St. Louis a few hours before his show, stayed for an hour or so afterwards for book signings, then left a few hours later.  I can't imagine that amount of jet lag that this father would be feeling and the sight of him coming home and just crashing onto his bed like a tree being felled in a mighty forest. 

Maybe he was drunk or high on Jesus but whatever it was Mr. Bourdain took the stage and commanded such a presence that everyone didn't land their eyes off of him.  As I said, he didn't laugh at anyone during the question and answer part and even a simple view of pain and hope could be seen in his eyes, when the young child stood up and after announcing that he was diagnosed with leukemia this year, wanted Anthony to suggest the place with the best seafood.  You could tell that unlike the bad-ass that he presents on TV, Mr. Bourdain is an honest and caring guy. 

Even though our meeting was brief and short lived, I would like to enjoy meeting him for a few more minutes, or even let him allow me to buy him a Guinness.

Shout out: to all other chefs, I want to meet you!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's better than food? Women.


I know that this is not my usual bunch of banter, my collection of innocuous facts and figures and formulas about ingredients found at the back of the shelves at the store or some sugar free dishes made out of 3 things that taste like it was made of 30; but this topic in particular needs a place and that place is here.  Whether one knows it or not, St. Louis has a large presence of burlesque performers.  These ladies show their stuff while doing dances and acts that are reminiscent of the old days.  These women are not all "average" or "large" women but women in every size that show that all it takes is a bit of tease to drive any man wild; while not having to strip completely naked.  When most people hear of the word "burlesque" they are thinking of the girls whom in the past few years have made the art of tease into nothing short of a strip show. However, the girls of burlesque ion St. Louis, do a great job keeping up with the traditions of the skill and keeping it sexy without being dirty.

Ariana Bauer started to photograph these burlesque girls earlier this year, in positions that show the art and skill of burlesque and the beauty of the women.  These pictures that show the art and the time that Ariana spent editing them are up for show during her gallery showing, October 2-9th.


Even though it has nothing to do with food of any kind, nor anything that I am cooking or preparing, I highly suggest that anyone who likes seeing pictures of girls, to check out the gallery.  The prints are all moderately priced and most of these will be signed by the girl that is featured in the artwork.  Not only could you buy the limited edition, one of a kind signed print, but then you can meet the girl in the artwork at the gallery show!

While the 2nd through 8th is open to everyone and you can see and buy these wonderful works of art, the real fun is the closing party on the 9th.  Starting at 7pm, all of the big name burlesque performers of the St. Louis area will be present.  So, if you have a thing for Lola van Ella, not only can you buy a brilliant piece of artwork with her as the main feature, but you can also meet her!  Why would you miss your chance to meet these sexy performers?

Featuring Images of:
Lola van Ella
Foxy La Feelion
Faith McQueen
GoGo McGregor
Jeez Loueez
Gravity Plays Favorites
Roxy Rockets
Dewy DeCamille
Dimples Divine
Bella Sue DeVianti
Angel Saint-Marie
Fiona Flame
Moxy Malicious
Honeysuckle Rose
Sammich the Tramp
and more



Soulard Art Market
2028 S. 12th Street
Saint Louis, MO 63104
(314) 258-4299
SoulardArtMarket@gmail.com
Corner of 12th and Russell, across from McGurks Pub
Gallery Hours
Thursday - 6pm-10pm
Friday - 6pm-10pm
Saturday - 12pm-8pm
Sunday - 12pm-6pm

Monday, September 27, 2010

The elephant in the corner...


This Saturday night, my wife and I went to the Elephant Bar, which is a restaurant near the West County mall.  This restaurant has food that is inspired by the co-owner's trips around the world and his time in a kitchen in Hong Kong.  Basically, everything is pan-Asian inspired.  They want everyone there to have an enjoyable dining experience, with a jungle/safari atmosphere and just a relaxing and casual experience. 

Well, I have had my doubts on this dining location, especially since it is located behind a large parking garage and the 40 spots that are in front of it are always taken.  My wife called ahead a reservation for myself, her and our two kids for 7:00pm and we walked a bit in the mall.  We had come out at just 5 minutes till, found a nice and close spot to the restaurant's doors and walked inside.  My wife told the hostess that she had made reservations for the 4 of us for 7:00 and she told us 'just one moment' and handed us one of those coasters that lights up when it is your turn for seating.  Well, we waited and waited and figured out that when you call for reservations, it doesn't actually save a table for you, but just puts your name on the list.  I also saw a few booths that were clearly available, but no one was seating anyone in those spots.

I will admit that they finally got to us about 8 minutes after our supposed reservation time, sat us at a booth that I had seen empty since we walked through the doors, and completely ignored us every time we went up to the hostesses, but they did get a server with us, almost immediately.  The thing about the menu is that it is supposed to reflect the travels that this main executive chef had taken throughout the world.  These travels meant eating things like bland food and overly salty sides.  If this was the case, I would hate to travel where this chef went to. 

Is that a harsh thing to say about a chef and his restaurant?  Yes, but it is also the truth.  There is no way around it.  I thought the food was about as good as the food at MacDonald's.  For the same price, we could have gone to the Cheesecake Factory and had incredible service, food and a great dining experience, even with the kids!

My wife and I were hungry, but also thought that ordering a larger dish and each of us having a side would be good.  So, we ordered the Kona BBQ Pork Ribs.  We had a choice of white or brown rice and we picked brown.  We ordered a half rack and this is what came:
Um, if you look on their website at the great picture: http://www.elephantbar.com/Menu/Menu.aspx, and click on the Global Grill, their picture of the same dish had different items, like french fries, for instance.  Now, let's get right in. The BBQ ribs were okay, it tasted like your usual store-bought sauce, as they were tender enough to fall off the bone also.  We had a scoop of coleslaw, which tasted like your general coleslaw.  There was a skewer of grilled shrimp that tasted fishy, even to her, which meant they were not fresh at all.  The BBQ chicken breast was tough.  It was good and cooked fine on the thinner side, as it was a half a breast, but the other side was hard on the bottom, so it was not cooked evenly.  The brown rice that we asked for was in fact arborio rice and it was vastly under cooked.  It was not hard and crunchy but hard and chewy, like gum or a gummy bear that was stored in the refrigerator. The biggest thing that didn't fit on the plate was the small cup of brown beans, just like your basic pork n' beans.  However, these had no pork in them and instead tasted like they were cooked in the Taco Bell hot sauce packets, then someone sprinkled some cheese on top.  Besides this, the plate was $16.95!  I give the plate a sad 2 out of 5 stars.

How could this have been fixed?  Well, it was supposed to be inspired by something. Most of the time, anything with the word 'Kona' in the title is supposed to have something to do with Hawaii.  I find it hard to believe that the food in Hawaii is served like this.  The boring Southern style cole slaw, Mexican inspired beans, and undercooked Italian rice.  Nothing went together on this plate at all.  I think before they fix the plate, they should have decided what culture or cuisine were they trying to copy or play with.

My wife and I each ordered a small side to go with our main dish.  My wife ordered a pear salad.


I ordered the Fresh Sauteed Spinach and it was good.  It had just the right amount of cheese and spices on top and I actually ate the whole thing and was happy.  A 3 out of 5 for me, chef.  It was just your basic cooked spinach, still crunchy but still tender.

The kids got a great deal as we ordered a chicken quesadilla for one and the other got the hamburger.  I can honestly say, that my son's burger was tastier that my grill platter.  The bun was brushed with butter and grilled with a bit of garlic on top: perhaps even with Whirl. The burger was as thin as a MacDonald's burger and it came with some simple french fries.  I ended up eating most of my son's burger, as he was not that hungry anyway.  His burger was a good 3 out of 5, it really was.



What did I learn from this?  Well, the higher the food prices, does not relate to how good the food is.  So, it was possible that the $39 that we spent on the four of us, did not deliver to us $39 worth of flavor and tastiness.  Now, one of my biggest issues was this:  Our server handed me the bill, at $39.06.  I didn't have enough small cash to give her the standard tip we do, which is about 18%.  So, I gave her $50 and asked for change back.  So, math people, work with me here: If I give you $50 and the bill is $39.06, how much should be delivered back to me?  Say about $10.94 right?  Guess how much she gave back to me?  $10 in ones.  That's right, she did not give me back the 94 cents.  Why?  I don't know, but I found it unsettling that instead of giving me back the full amount that was not on the bill, she kept the 94 cents.  Now, was it an accident?  Maybe, but she should have noticed it when were leaving the table and she took the money.  She could have remembered, 'oh, there are no coins, what happened, oh, I didn't give him the change!' Instead, I gave her just her a tip and even so, I counted that 94 cents which she already took, as part of her tip. Moral of the story, don't steal from the customer.  I had a feeling that she was actually going to expect that I tip her another 15%, from $40 or even from $39 which would have meant that she received $5.85 as she already pocketed the 94 cents.  The total would have been $6.79, which was likely closer to a 17% tip. I don't play that way and in this case, her % tip did count the 94 cents she stole.  So, did she get less than she may have expected?  Yes, because I didn't see that money. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's what I do....

People may think it is easy, but it is not.  The only people who think it is easy are those who have no baking skills and don't really understand how food works. It is something that requires patience, the knowledge of science and the ability to not give up. What is it that I do? Recipe creation and experimentation. 


So, your favorite dish is a flan, which is traditionally made with such ingredients like a can of sweetened condensed milk and a few cups of sugar.  With enough tries, I was able to adopt someone else's recipe and create this flan, sugar free, low fat and with a sugar free caramel sauce.


I have been told that with enough time, anyone can make sugar free desserts out of anything.  Well, I'm sorry but you can't.  Anyway, can make these sugar free desserts if they have the time, the patience, the understanding and a bunch of other good stuff.  At one time a cafe said that they were interested in my desserts and then when I told them that they would have to pay me for these recipes, they replied that what I make "is not special and anyone could do it."  I'm sorry but let's be honest, has anyone who is reading this, been able to take their favorite dessert and make it sugar free? 

They said that not enough of their business is requesting sugar free and while that may be a good point, you should always have at least one sugar free option at anywhere that serves food.  Also, that sugar free item should taste good.  Which is my crusade.

When I worked at Old Country Buffet/Home Town Buffet, over the whole menu, there was perhaps 3 things that were sugar free.  There was an apple crisp, a jello mouse and an awful cake which I remember as a bad chocolate mousse.  Well, the jello cake had a flavorless crust on the bottom and a bright pink cherry jello flavored mousse with some sugar free whipped cream on top.  I tried it along with the other sugar free things so as a manager, I could tell when something was wrong or cooked incorrectly.  The apple one is the only one that tasted good, since you cannot screw up apples.

While I was there, I was once asked why the sugar free things tasted like crap.  Well, they don't have to.

So, for future desserts we should be expecting a sugar free tres leches, a gooey butter cake and some chocolate chip cookies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A strange fruit...

This ingredient may not be as strange as cactus leaves or other interesting plants but I thought about the strangeness of this fruit, while I was preparing them for a tamale' sauce. The tomatillo is a round, firm, green fruit that is usually found still wrapped in its casing.

This green fruit is found within the tomato family and is often a bit tart and used in most, if not all, of Latin American green sauces.  The fruit ripens and grows within the husk, and then it splits it open finally at the end. 

The tamale sauce, requires that you peel off the husk, wash them, chop it in half and then bake them till they are good and roasted (375 degrees F for 45 minutes.)  You then blend them in the blender with some tomatoes and some peppers and it makes for a very nice sauce.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The mighty and powerful flan

A flan is a rich custard that normally has a caramel sauce on it.  It is rich and is the prime dessert for those south of the US border.  The flan, usually is made from a lot of fat and a lot of sugar.  I had requests to try to find and make one that did not have the bad stuff in it.  After searching, I found a good recipe.

From www.gastronomie.kalys.com

You needed:
3 grams Agar
750 ml whole milk
50 grams cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
30 grams of sugar

You take everything and place in a pan to bring to a boil.  When a boiling point is reached, you add the flavoring.

You then let boil for a bit longer and pour into rimekins or muffin molds.

Now, I have them all done and they taste good, using the agar as a gelling agent.  What I have to do now, is come up with a sugar free caramel sauce and make this sugar free.  I think once that is finished, I will post a follow up on here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Top chef insanity

Like most cooking shows, Top Chef has sustained itself by showing the world how chefs in America cook their food and what is the newest way to prepare dishes.  It has become a media goldmine as it is a Bravo network creation but other networks try to copy it with their own cooking reality contest shows.  Although none of them come into comparison with the Top Chef series.  Even though the first season was still the best, like any series, it is still fun to watch.  The thing about contests is this: these chefs have been hand picked.  So, when the best group of 20 or so signed up, they were the best at that time.  What I think is that the chefs from this past season and so forth seem to get lesser skilled each season.  That is why during this last episode, Hung was able to do almost all of Angelo's work and still have enough time and energy to help final preparations with Angelo. 

Now, what I find to be very humorous on the whole deal is the start of the new show: Top Chef desserts.  I didn't think there was the need for one until I remembered that some of the best chefs in the world, cannot make simple desserts.  I remember reading that Bobby Flay could not even make a cookie.  What gets me is that next year will we see a Top Chef Sugar Free or a Top Chef Cocktails?  A chef is a chef and the Top Chef should be one who can execute a dessert and a savory dish.

So, Top Chef desserts episode one:  We are introduced to the challengers in what reminds me of a group of challengers from Project Runway.  The group is so ego centered and filled with the Queen of the Universe attitude that it makes me wonder if I should ever pursue a baking degree as to be thrown in with this lot.  The head judge is a James Beard award winner in pastry and he has some delicious looking food. Johnny Iuzzini, is the head judge and his skills are what will make him perfect for judging the challengers.

The first challenge, the quickfire, was one that had me puzzled at why the producers picked these people.  The challengers had to make their signature dish and then twist it into a cupcake.  Easy right?  Well, you had a guy who eventually won, who had last made a cupcake in Home Ec, a woman who decided to make a meringue piped in the shape of a cupcake and a guy who only makes frozen or cold desserts.  You had some normal dishes turned into cupcakes with things like strawberry puree's inside and other good flavors.  The woman with the meringue didn't turn on her oven and so she didn't even finish.  The guy who calls himself the Snow Queen, I think it was, didn't make a cupcake but a gellato in a glass and called it his version of a cupcake.  So, right off the bat, you have at least one person who cannot bake, in a dessert competition.

The next step, is to work and make something that can be described as chocolate decadence.  What comes to your mind when that is spoken?  They had a table covered in every type of chocolate, well maybe not every type, but dark, milk and white.  What would you do?  A lot of people did simple things and didn't use that much chocolate.  I know what you are thinking now.  It is a chocolate challenge, so the idea would be to use as much as possible, yet people did not do so.  The loser was sent home for making a flour less chocolate cake with a broken mousse on top.  She screwed up as the mousse  didn't set and broke and instead of making another, she just left it be.  She lost for bad decision as they tell everyone on the regular Top Chef show: if you are not happy with it, don't serve it.

Does this show look good?  Well, the first challenge was nice, making what looked like a good start.  But with the preview of this show, what took place and was shown was nothing but crying, screaming, and drama.  Which is why I said it reminded me of project runway.  I don't know if I will be watching as I know that shows like this do keep the most drama -causing person as it makes for good ratings, but for people like me, I won't watch anymore.  So, I may watch an episode here or there, but overall, the tone that it set was one I could enjoy, but not with those contestants.  Should I be on the show?  Yes. 

What would I have done?

Well, maybe a coconut flavored cupcake with a vanilla cream icing on top with pie crust crumbles.
Elimination challenge would feature a flour less chocolate cake selection, maybe 3 of them stacked on each other with a nice raspberry spread on top, to help bring some moistness and bold flavors in.  I would do a dark chocolate layer, with a milk chocolate one on top and then a white chocolate one.  That much chocolate is great and should differentiate itself from one another.  The raspberry topping gives a burst of bold contradicting yet complimentary flavoring to the chocolate dish.  Just like a dollop of whipped cream would do also.  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Food porn part 3

Bacon, bacon, bacon.  Homer Simpson would agree with me that there is no way that there is a magical animal that gives us ham, pork chops and bacon all at once!  I am a fan of bacon and here we have a picture of candied bacon.  It looks like they covered bacon with brown sugar before cooking it.

 

A lot of people love chocolate.  Some people love the taste and the flavor and others take their obsession to new heights and LOVE chocolate. I know at some spas, like Mist Spa, they even have a chocolate massage.  From their website: "Feed your skin with your choice of four delicious flavors of chocolate oils: Chocolate Raspberry, Chocolate Cherry, Chocolate Mint, or Chocolate Cake. Your first treatment is a Chocolate facial, using Eminence Chocolate Mousse hydrating masque and moisturizers. Next, our therapist will give you a one hour massage using the chocolate oil of your choice. Following your massage, you will move to our exclusive Oceana spa capsule where you will enjoy a Chocolate Oil Salt Glow Exfoliation. Then, chocolate oil is mixed with Moor Mud for a detoxifying and hydrating 30 minute session in the Oceana. To complete the experience, Chocolate Oil is lightly massaged over your body so you can enjoy the flavors for hours."
 
Whether you want to wear it:
http://oygirl.wordpress.com/2008/04/18/chocolate-shoes/

or eat it:

http://www.newsandreviews.in/index.php/KnowNow/?title=eat-chocolate-improve-your-maths&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

Chocolate is a wonderful thing to have.  Dark chocolate has been shown to be good for you, containing certain antioxidants that help rid your body of free radicals and toxins.

Butter is one of the most natural fats that is actually good for you as well and the best for cooking.  Don't let people fool you.  It adds a flavoring that nothing else can replace and in the long run is better for your body than other oils.  It is a natural dairy fat and things from nature are the best.  By the way, who doesn't like butter?  Here we have a statue of butter, a life-size Marilyn Monroe statue of pure butter.

http://echostains.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/melt-in-the-mouth-sculpture/  
So, these are examples of my idea of food porn.  What do you like?