Thursday, June 30, 2011

MiO: all that it is

Okay, at some requests, I thought I would try the MiO water enhancers.  That is what they are called; "water enhancer".  As much as I want to dive in with some super secret issue or dangerous side effects, I can't find any.  The drink is tasty and comes in four flavors:
You have Sweet Tea, Mango Peach, Berry Pomegranate and Fruit Punch.  They are made with all chemicals, it appears and it is sweetened with sucralose (splenda).  Now there are some who claim that this artificial sweetener is bad for you, but only because of the process to make it.  It is bad, if you ingest large quantities of it at one time.  There are no calories in these flavorings so you could use it to flavor anything, besides water.

It reminded me of something else and upon some research I discovered that it was not connected to Pur water flavorings.

Kraft Foods makes so many other things and they are not connected to the flavor enhancers that are inside of the Pur water filters.  As I stated, the flavorings are good and tasty and come out in many colors.  One quirt in 8oz of water will give you a small taste of the flavor.  More squirts can take you from Crystal Lite to that super sweet Bug Juice/Orange Drink that McDonalds used to sell.
Now what would be fun, is to use these for other things.  It wouldn't be difficult, since they are already in liquid form.  They could be used as a flavoring agent in ice cream.   They could be used in a marinade for meats.  They could also be mixed with some multidextrin and turned into a powder to be used in some baked goods.  A friend at work suggested making muffins with the Mango Peach flavoring. 

So, my unbiased and true thought is that MiO is safe and tasty.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What is real?

If you were in the Matrix and you you were listening to Morpheus explain, he would say something like "senses and tastes are nothing more than electrical impulses sent by nerves and translated by our brain as such", which is true.  Things on your tongue hit a specific region that then sends a type of electrical pulse to certain nodes of your brain that reads it as being salty, for example.  So, does this mean that flavors are real?  Furthermore, is there anything that use real ingredients anymore?

I was sitting down for lunch today, having a dish I prepared from scratch and brought to work, when I grabbed a small soda, a 7up, and opened it.  I don't drink sodas that often and tend to use them as treats.  I started to think of some of the original soda beverages, as stated in my earlier post, about how they were originally health tonics and then became soft drinks for regular beverage consumption.  I started to think that 7up, which was one of the original health tonics, may likely still be one of the last ones.  I was wrong.

A Look at the bottle will see that it has "100% natural flavors" and is a "naturally flavored soda".  So, people, friends and smarty-pants, what is the flavoring behind 7up?  The bottle shows a slice of lemon and lime.  So, one would think that if it has 100% natural flavors and it has a lemon and a lime on the bottle, then it must have lemon and lime flavoring inside, right?  How do you get lemon and lime flavoring?  Well, you can get it from the zest of the peel, the fruit or the juice, right? Well, most sodas use the juice, since it is already a liquid or a syrup, it is easy to just add those few drops of juice.  Unless you are 7up.
The back of the label says "contains no juice".  So, where does the 100% natural flavors come from?  Citric acid.  Citric acid occurs naturally and is considered 100% natural.  It fools us because for most people, if you break it down to its simplest form, that could exist in nature, it is alright.  But it tricks us, because when we get a 7up and it says 100% natural flavors, we think that the flavors are in there.  The ingredients read: carbonated water (which does occur naturally in some areas), High Fructose Corn Syrup (which is actually extracted from corn and does not occur in nature anywhere), less than 2% of natural flavors (which could be those juices but they don't say, which makes me think they are not really used or they are in such a small amount that the real flavoring is the High Fructose Corn Syrup and the...), Citric Acid (Basically the tartness taken from lemons or limes) and Potassium Citrate ( a salt that helps acid, along with citric acid it occurs naturally).

So, we figured out that while it has 100% natural flavoring of some sort, it is only less than 2% of the total product so there must be another flavoring agent.  But those other ingredients are natural in varying degrees. 

I think if you are looking for good food, besides avoiding those with High Fructose Corn Syrup, I suggest looking to see how much of the ingredients are recognizable or even pronounceable.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Road Warrior

Happy late Father's Day to everyone.  I couldn't get a chance to wish everyone one while I was on the road.  For work, I was driving from my home to Minnesota, in what could be given as the most boring drive ever, or maybe second most boring drive ever.  So, out of STL you have industrial and farmland.  In Iowa you have farmland and a city now and then.  In Minnesota, you have farmland and cities now and then.  No large standing monuments, no Colossus of Rhodes, no Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  Just road; which made the drive that much harder to stay awake and fully aware.

What helped on the drive out was a perfectly placed Monster Kaos energy drink.  The extra caffeine was a great jump start to the day and helped me stay awake for the long drive, which started at 8am.  My wife had also bought these energy snacks of which I ate half of them on the way there.  Those protein bars claim to give you energy, but you are getting little carbs and almost no sugar.  There was no where exciting to stop on the way there.  There is no House of Savoy or Todd English restaurant in the small town of Rudd with like 150 people, so you make do, at the golden arches.

We were staying in some suites, right across the street from the Mall of America, which is a great place for shoppers and kids alike.  Let me give you an idea of what it is like:  For those in the STL area, imagine having one mall in the center of the city, like where Crestwood Mall used to be.  Then make a large 4 story tall mall, with a large open atrium.  The atrium, housed a Nickelodeon theme park.
You are seeing it correctly as there is a winding roller-coaster and other rides and stores.  The area inside is open and there are four large posts which had a/c pushing our to cool the area.  So, imagine the best kid-friendly rides at 6 Flags and put them in a shaded and air conditioned area.  Here you are.  Now, the rest of the mall, had four floors and each floor was 1/4th of a mile long.  It was shaped like a square with a large department store at each corner and just about every single Mid West store available inside, some more than others.  (I think I saw an American Eagle store on every floor at least one time, sometimes two).
But, overall, the best part was the kid's area in the atrium.
Besides the very large mall, we only ate at a few other spots.  For instance, in the mall was a restaurant called the Bubba Gump shrimp company, which was modeled after all the shrimp recipes and ideas from the Forest Gump movie.  I ordered the BBQ pork sandwiches which were small buns with pulled BBQ pork and grilled onions on them.  It was really quite delicious.  My wife's family ordered a helping of the garlic shrimp, which was so salty that they had to have it returned to the kitchen.  If you go there, avoid the garlic shrimp, they likely use garlic salt and not just garlic.  My overall experience there was a 4 out of 5, everything was good.

We also ate at a location in the city called Fogo De Chao, which is a churrascaria.  There are some of these type of restaurant in the STL area but for those who don't know, here is the idea.  The Gauchos, or South American cowboys, these were in Brazil, would take their meats and skewer them on long sticks or long knives and swords, to cook them over the fire.  In this type of restaurant, men dressed as Gouchos, walk around with different kinds of meat, on a sword.  What you get, is a large amount of meats, some like steak, others like lamb, all perfectly cooked and brought to your plate.  The food was great and everything was great as well so a good 4 out of 5 from me as well.

What does make for an interesting try is Tiger Sushi.
There are two locations in the Minneapolis area.  There is one that is part of its own, under a series of apartments, I think.  The other is on the second floor of the Mall of America.  It was tough as this one, was rated with an average of 2 stars out of 5.  The one in the mall had an average of 5 stars.  We thought that there couldn't be that much difference and we tried this one, on its own.  We were wrong.

There were 6 of us, 4 adults and 2 kids, and we were told that there wasn't any seating available by both of the hostesses, even though the sushi bar was empty, in front of us.  We asked if we could sit at the bar, which means the kids get a show and we get food quick.  Within a few minutes, we ordered drinks for the kids when the waitress abruptly left and went to another table to take their order.  A few minutes later, she came back and asked for the rest of the order.  Another 3 of us gave her their orders, for drinks, and when I was about to order a beer, she left again.  Again, taking orders at a large table.  She came back finally with the lemonades for the kids and then asked me what I wanted.  She then disappeared again.  After a long wait, we discovered why this location had a 1 star: for service.  Apparently, after we called over the hostess and asked some questions, this one waitress was watching the entire restaurant.  I thought about it for a bit: there were two girls seating and watching the phones, two more girls wondering the room, not doing a thing, another girl who was cleaning tables and this one girl who was taking orders.  So, why couldn't the other two girls who were not doing anything take orders?  I dunno.  What about having a small restaurant and having 2 girls watch one phone?  I dunno.  

My advice is not go to that location.  Go to the second floor of the Mall of America and eat Tiger Sushi there.  The food was good and everyone was happy.

One last note on Tiger Sushi: Like this restaurant, The Drunken Fish in STL keeps winning awards as best in STL for sushi.  There is one consistent problem with The Drunken Fish: warm foods.  Sushi is made from fish and seafood, kept cold, not on ice, not frozen, but cold, like the sea.  It is supposed to be made fresh and served fresh and cool.  At The Drunken Fish, the last time my wife and I went, the sushi and sashimi took so long to get to us, that it was warm.  Raw fish should not be served warm, ever.  That is a ripe place for bacteria and other nasties to live and they regularly serve this.  At the Tiger Sushi location with the one server working, if she put in an order and didn't pick it up yet, it would have been waiting on her.  We saw whole orders finished by the Sushi Chefs and waiting on the counter, going warm.  Imagine getting sick from warmed sushi or something worse with this waitress.

The savior of the drive, as I mentioned earlier was a bar:
It was a peanut butter, banana and chocolate protein bar and it tasted awesome.  We bought them at Target and I give them a 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Have we gone lazy?

I was thinking about this the other day when I was making my own ice cream.  But, have we become so lazy of a society that we don't make anything ourselves anymore?  People know that bad things like artificial colors, artificial flavors and sugar substitutes can be found in all sorts of store bought items but is it really so difficult to make something at home?  People are willing to go and shell out $10 for a quart of freshly made ice cream but yet with about $5 of ingredients, you can make this all at home. 

I even thought about the work that goes into getting some fresh corn to eat.  I bought a selection of white and yellow corn for 50 cents each at Dierburgs.  I then shucked them, which means to remove the stalk and the silk, and then trimmed them and boiled them in water for 10 minutes.
After I cooked them, I let them cool off and then held them on their ends and trimmed the corn off of them.  The corn will get mixed up in some fake butter and salt and taste like sweet, sweet corn.
I also planned on making some chili and any chili you make your own, is better than canned.  So, the hardest part of chili is perhaps the soaking of the beans.  These beans soaked for almost 24 hours.
I took this, added some chopped up steak pieces that were marinating in some Budweiser, and then cooked it up with some garlic, onions, tomatoes and other goodies.

Also, I know that most people can't do this, but a good ice cream machine is totally worth it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to train your dragon.....fruit

I always used to think that the fruit called "Dragon Fruit" was a fictitious name and fruit.  There can't be anything that is named that cool.  It made me think that of Dragon Fruit really did exist, then there must also be a Falcon Punch Peach or perhaps a Cuthuluh Carrot or something cool as well.  But, the Dragon Fruit really does exist and has been recently found in drinks and health tonics.  I remember seeing it in a SOBE drink and remember seeing it in another drink a while ago.  The fruit though, is held high for its fiber and other nutrients, while looking as strange as it can be.
Now, I do have to say that it looks like the coolest thing ever.  It has that dark pink, light red color to it with green on the edges of the skin as well as what looks like a green tail.  The leaves, petals, or skin has a roughness to it that reminds me of large reptile scales which could be how it was given the name of "Dragon Fruit".  When I sliced through it, it revealed a rich and creamy inside, which resembled a cherry flavored kiwi fruit.
Now, while it is filled with nutritious antioxidants and other yummy things, I think the thing is what can be done with it.  I didn't do much, which is odd for me, as I merely scooped out the flesh using a soup spoon and then ate it all with a sprinkling of Truvia.  I would imagine that it could be turned into a jam, or even used as a soap exfoliater.  I think the list is endless for this mild tasting fruit.   

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Let's hear it for jam!

Friday afternoon and evening was a great time for me.  To sum up; what happened was I was working at a charity event.  I had 7 jars of sugar free mango and 7 jars of sugar free peach jam for sale.  All the money, 100% of the money, would go to the charity and I even had samples out for people to taste.  While maybe 30-40 people walked through the doors only, I was happy knowing that everyone who bought a jar liked what they had purchased or just tasted.  It was good.  I'm used to having friends and family tell me something is good, but sometimes I think it is just them being nice, because they are family.  Hearing complete strangers telling me something I made was delicious, is another story. 

I was selling the 8oz jars for $3 and when I did some research at the local grocery store, I discovered that the least costing sugar free jam was $3.53 for a 10oz.  This way, I figured that people would be willing to pay for the increased quality.  Even the best sugar free jams at the grocery stores have more than 6 ingredients and mine still has four.  So, a good test of customer feedback, as it was, as it was a good idea of how these jams may go over if I go commercial next year.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thanks Heather...

One of the fans of my facebook page: Heather  posted that she wanted chocolate cake, with pretzels and caramel.  Interesting combination, but it did give me an idea.

What if I made a chocolate cake, with crumbled pretzel pieces and then make a caramel cream cheese frosting?  Would that work?  Let's try it.
 I know it looks bad, and it is even worse for me to admit it, but I'm not that good at baking cakes.  What I did was make a regular and moist chocolate cake from a recipe here:  which that woman got from other places as well.  Then after I poured it into two cake pans, I sprinkled pretzels on top.  I took them out, let them cooled and made the cream cheese frosting and added caramel flavoring instead of the vanilla flavoring.  When that was done, I used the frosting between the two, and still sprinkled crushed pretzel pieces on top and did it again.  It delivered what it was supposed to: salty caramel and chocolate.

Thank Heather.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

where is the culinary culture in Saint Louis?

This isn't an anti-Saint Louis bash, but more of how people can take such a great city and destroy it.  I lived most of my life in Saint Louis and I have to say that it is a great place to live.  It is not as violent as people think as only a few areas are the gang warfare areas but outside of those areas, it is safe and quiet.  It is hot in summer and frigid in winter and nice in between.

St. Louis is home to a multitude of farms and great foods and livestock.  As early as 1779, the Soulard Market allowed farmers to bring their fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products to the city to sell to anyone at rock bottom prices.  Some of the foods now are also organic and others are regular and all are for sale there.  Soulard Market is also the oldest food market West of the Mississippi.

Now, with what is there above, I have some issues with how people are treating Saint Louis:

1.  Saint Louis is not a food-mecca.  There is no super fancy restaurant in STL that requires many months of phone-ahead reservations.  I have tried to make reservations twice now, on a day or day before of a Saturday and both times I was told that the earliest seating I could get would be as early as 9:30 or even 10pm.  I'm sorry, but if you have a restaurant with only enough seating to sit 20-30 people, and you cannot seat anyone in before 9pm, then you need a bigger restaurant.  This is not Las Vegas, New York or even San Francisco.  No foot writer, foodie, blogger or critic is going to recommend your restaurant when they cannot get in.  Two times attempting to make a reservation at some restaurants in town, makes me think that I may not want to even review it.  I'm sorry, but of course the food writers of the RFT or Feast can get in, because they tell them ahead of time that they are a food writer.  There is an idea of being secretive about this job or you get different treatment.

2.  I've been a to a couple of restaurants in STL and the good ones have great food but the big issue is: I have only been to a very small group of restaurants in STL that have good food AND good service.  STL is not a food town, as much as everyone likes to think it is.  (Including me).  There are no restaurants making headway and doing anything so mind-bendingly impossibly new and shocking that it is changing the way food is served or cooked.  I have noticed that in these restaurants, there is a balance.  The balance is this: if the food is great, the service is not.  If the service is great, the food is not.  There are the few that have both great service and food and the other bottom few that are bad on both.  But, in Saint Louis here, people treat working at a restaurant as just a summer job or a college or high school job.  It is no big deal and they just deal with the masses and the food and such, until they get off so they can get on with their social life.  There is no passion anymore in food or serving food.  Likely because there are too many restaurants in STL.

3.  Two things here, aimed at a certain food writer.  First of all, he is only famous because he wrote a book describing his experience in the food industry form his point of view.  Yes, his story had drama, drugs, and rock and roll.  But, it was an isolated incident and not every chef does drugs, smokes or is full of drama.  This idea gives chefs a stereotype.  Combine that idea with the cost of cooking schools and you give chefs the same idea of doctors: coming out of school with more bills than they can handle.  So, chefs then try to make it and open restaurants that make money to pay off the bills.  But they make bad choices, like making cupcakes and selling them for more than $3 a piece.  Or deciding to spend their life in a coffee house making desserts while wondering why the coffee house has erratic hours and is closed most of the time. If someone would open a cafe making the cool stuff I make, then it would work.  (Are you an investor looking to open something new and different in STL, contact me).

4.  I am not complaining or ranting about the current food society and culture magazines for the metro area, but not everyone can afford winery trips.  I know that you have a periodical that reaches over 5,000 people and out of those people, maybe 100 can afford the high prices stuff you write about.  So, which is better: Is it better to write to those few people who are either retired or millionaires living in STL about food and culture?  Or is it better to write to the millions of people under the age of 60 who don't live in Clayton or Ladue and are interested in what restaurant has the best grilled cheese or the best BBQ?

5.  No one uses anything local.  A few years ago, my wife and I went to Sleek, in the casino and on the menu, with each dish was a description as to what is in it as well as where the food came from.  The waiter was also good at describing the process of cooking and also where the food was from.  What got me was that none of the ingredients came from St. Louis.  Not even a single pea came from Soulard Market.  As mentioned up there ^, you have a huge outdoor market with the best farmers in the area.  You also have small community farms and other gardens in the area and here you have a restaurant, preaching how it uses local ingredients and the closest to STL that it could find was from Eureka!?!  The dish with the ingredients from Eureka, used baby potatoes and carrots.  I am growing carrots on my front porch right now!  Why couldn't the restaurant grow them?  Or why couldn't the chef grow them at his house?  On the other side of the river, in Columbia, surrounded by farmers selling food at their stands on the side of the road, I am perplexed at why restaurants use food that is delivered from California.  I know that there is some mark-up in cost and so forth so if a restaurant doesn't buy local they can buy from Florida and raise the cost of the dish to make up for the cost of the food.  But, wouldn't it be better if the food was bought just down the street and then that same dish could be sold for a few dollars cheaper?

6.  In Saint Louis, for some reason, food is tied with entertainment, although it is not.  In Saint Louis, there used be a section of the city called the Gaslight District, where people would get entertainment at restaurants while eating.  This type of restaurant that combined the both of them died out and was replaced by night clubs, which served food.  For instance, I had a friend who worked at a Vodka bar that was supposed to serve food but didn't until a year later because they had problems with their kitchen.  Their classy and designer interior was buzz-worthy and in food articles by local periodicals, their food was reviewed, but yet it was not available to the general public.  This meant that this bar and many others like it, while serving food, didn't really want to.  People in STL don't go to a night club to eat, they go to dance, or take pictures and tweet and foursquare or facebook each other.  It is even so much that across the river in Sauget, the strip club called The Penthouse Club, has a full kitchen in their VIP area with good food.  Nothing fancy, although it considers itself a steak house, but you get food and the entertainment of a nice girl walking by or sitting and chatting with you for a bit.  This type of dining with entertainment doesn't work everywhere and sometimes works in Las Vegas, but not always.  Now, I know that there is a new spot opening soon which is supposed to be bringing a Vaudville-type show with a dinner course of food.  Although, according to what I have seen so far, the prices resemble those of Las Vegas.  I remember seeing advertised around Facebook that tickets for a dinner show would be as much as $100 a person, not including drinks.  The issue with this place in general is this: it is not really a supper club.  Supper clubs became famous during the 30's and 40's as a one stop shop where someone would come for cocktails and stay through dinner with nightclub entertainment.  It wasn't for the rich though and everyone could afford going as they were mainly tourist attractions.

7.  Star power?  Where is the STL star power or celebrity chef?  Most likely not in STL, since STL's idea of a culinary school is one that is less than 10 years old.  On top of that, as I expressed earlier, it looks like the Associates in cooking is about $37,000.  Who has that kind of money?  Also, if you are opening a restaurant or wanting to star on Top Chef, no one will know where you learned unless you went to the CIA.  The other issue being that being a celebrity chef in STL is different than being a celebrity chef in other cities.  Here, the local news anchor is a celebrity.  For all I know, since I write a food blog, I could be a celebrity.  When they had celebrities vote for the food competition at Iron Fork, they used writers for the RFT and local news anchors.  So, what I am suggesting really is that there are some famous chefs that should choose STL as their spot.  When you go to NYC, you don't eat at Joe Smith's restaurant down the street.  You eat at places like Bobby Flay's, Morimoto's or even Joel Robuchon's.  What is there in STL?  The last celebrity chef, Larry Fargone, left and closed his restaurant a year ago.  So, what is there left?

Maybe, one day, me and a bunch of investors will change the way Saint Louis is viewed by foodies and food experts.  Maybe one day I'll have my small cafe where I serve fried sage leaves with bacon ice cream or a wine bar with small and tasty sugar free appetizers.  Who knows.  I just know that as I grow older, I see more and more restaurants open and more and more of them close after a few years because they are guilty of a few things like the above.  St. Louis, is not a big city.  It may have been until the 1960's, or even until the 1950's, but now it seems that it is just a spot for restaurants and night clubs to open up one year and close the next.  Investors move their restaurants further and further away from the downtown areas and make you drive further and further to get to anywhere.  I just wish St. Louis would do something with their culinary culture.  Perhaps start an Iron Chef or Chopped competition once every year or so. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stuffed grape leaves

Ariana Bauer is my guest cook today, and she shows you how to roll stuffed grape leaves....

These are made with grape leaves, which you can buy in most supermarkets. The filling is a mixture of ground meat and spices as here:


1 medium onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 pinches of good salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of allspice
1 and 1/4 cups of rice, washed and drained
1 pound of ground meat, in this case 86% ground beef

Cook the onions until they start to brown and get that wonderful smell with the olive oil.  Then turn off the heat and add that into the rice with the spices and salt and pepper.  Add the meat and mix by hand.

It is a fairly easy recipe, as shown by Ariana.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A sage is a sage no matter how wise....

I don't know if that is a real saying or not, but I vaguely remember it as being so.  If you look up sage sayings on google you get things like "that which does not kill you, makes you stronger" and I frankly don't want that in my blog.  (Until now, Conan).

Sage is a great plant and herb.  I have had a sage plant in front of my house for almost 5 years now.  The Romans and Greeks used this herb to ward off evil and eventually it moved to culinary uses.  It has large green leaves and even has purple flowers that grow up from a stalk.  It is an incredible plant and when used, can add flavors to anything.


I did something new to it.  I invented something.  Like all good recipes, I am calm in knowing that if anyone wishes to recreate this recipe and do what I did, that simple nod back or a credit to me would suffice.  First of all, it was a spin on an old classic.  Fried sage leaves are all over the internet as a new and healthy herb-y snack, but what they are missing, is that it is sage leaves cooked in oil.  That's not the right way to do them.  My way of doing them is wayyyyy better.

I did this using some bread crumbs, pepper and 1 egg.

I whisked the egg in a small bowl, and then poured the crumbs into another bowl with the pepper.  I then set the oven to 400 degrees.  Now, technically, they don't get fried in the oven, they get baked.  But also if you cook sage leaves in a bit of oil in a pan till they are crispy, they are not fried either: they are sauteed and then burnt.
So, you coat them with the egg, then make sure all the globs fall off and then dip in the crumbs.  Place them on a greased,  foiled baking sheet and toss in the oven at 400 for 10 minutes.  Out they come like this.  The crunch is a great mix with the sage flavor that is actually not to overpowering.  It does taste awesome with Ranch.

They were so good, that my dad told me that if he ever opened a restaurant, they would go on the menu.  I know that doesn't mean much, but I can say that I did this version of fried sage leaves first.