Thursday, October 27, 2011

the magical potion part 2

Just a bit ago I wrote about potions, most notably after watching a Bugs Bunny episode.  A friend of mine at work gave me a magic potion.  She also gave me a warning; "It is Nasty!"

Well, that is one person's opinion, right?
There is the Mana energy potion and I was in need of a pick-me-up yesterday.  So, pushing aside the warnings of taste, I opened the lid and smelled it.  It smelled good.  There was a fruitiness to it and smelled like the scent of a Mountain Dew.  I pulled a Zimmerman and took two large gulps to drink it all.  The first one was from the bottle and the second was after I had poured it into another cup, because I was having difficulty drinking from this oddly shaped bottle.

It WAS nasty.  It tasted like someone took some Mountain Dew syrup, added a cup of sugar and a bad tasting B complex vitamin.  I say that it must have had that bad tasting B vitamin because on the back, was a full array of B vitamins:

So, you have 10% of your Daily Vitamin C, 80% of your B1, 130% of your B3, 80% of your B5, 1600% of your B6 ans 6667% of your B12.  Combine this with Glucuronolactone (a detoxicant), Malic Acid (a flavoring agent which is responsible for giving apples their tartness), DL-Phenylalanie (an essential amino acid which helps prevent depression), L-Taurine (an essential amino acid which does about everything for your body), N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine (which helps increase brain activity), Caffeine, Amylase (an enzyme which helps break down starches into sugars and energy) , Lactase (the enzyme which is necessary for the breakdown of milk), Cellulase (which performs hydrolysis), Lipase (an enzyme which helps in the digestion of fats) and Protease (which helps in the breakdown of proteins).

Overall, the mana potion has a lot of good stuff in this shot.  But, most of these acids and enzymes work to help your body breakdown food.  This means that for this potion to be most effective, it must be taken with a meal or a snack.

Its good, as it is your daily vitamin in a drink, but bad since it tastes nasty.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Russian hamburgers or country fried steak?

While in this Russian, Polish and German cookbook, there was another recipe I was trying: Russian Hamburgers.  Now, what makes this interesting is that this recipe looks like it descended from Wiener Schnitzel from Germany.  Wiener Schnitzel and chicken fried steak, which are almost identical, is basically a meat cutlet, coated in flour or batter and lightly fried in a hot pan.  These Russian Hamburgers are very similar.

What started was I switched out some ground turkey for ground beef, which does change the flavor but makes them less calories.  As per the recipe, I had a bowl of bread crumbs, added milk and mixed them with meat.  I then added the egg and mixed it and created the patties.  I dipped the patties in simple flour and laid them carefully in a hot pan with some extra virgin olive oil.
You cook them for a few minutes on each side and then take them out when they are finished.  I actually under-cooked mine so when they are re-heated for lunches and dinners they come out perfect and not too dry such as some re-heated turkey or chicken items.
These should be served with your favorite condiments and perhaps some cooked cabbage, another recipe from the same cookbook, where you bake some cabbage with some tomatoes and chili powder.
Now, as I have listed up there; it is thought that this recipe derived from Wiener Schnitzel.  A theory is that German immigrants brought this recipe to America where it was turned into a Southern favorite: chicken or country fired steak.  Wikipedia suggests that perhaps it had changed names because of the war with Germany.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is it really Russian?

I am hoping that there is a reader who has some Russian in them and can tell me if anything I have made seems even remotely familiar.  I bought a book a few years ago that was Russian, Polish and German recipes.  It was one of those always on sale at Borders $5.99 cookbooks:
I was immediately drawn to one of my favorite dishes, Beef Stroganov.  What is very interesting about this recipe, is that it is different than the Americanized version that we are used to seeing in restaurants, cookbooks and the frozen food or hamburger helper aisle.  This recipe is missing two key ingredients that are fundamental of the average American's idea of beef stroganov: noodles and mushrooms.

With this recipe, you start with cooking cuts of beef and then when that is finished you cook sliced onions in the same pan.
Then when the onions are cooked and tender, you add the flour in to create a small roux, then add a splash of stock (or white wine in my case), the cooked beef, mustard and sour cream.  You also add a squirt of lemon juice as well as a squirt of tomato puree'.  A lightly seasoning with salt and pepper and you are left with something so healthy and flavorful that it makes you wonder why you ever ate the other version.
Now, this is freakin' delicious.  I highly suggest that everyone make this and even more so, if you have a chance, make this recipe and then get a hamburger helper version and see for yourself.  I took a picture of the recipe and I have it below.

It is interesting to note that the earliest written account of this recipe had no mushrooms and onions as well, in 1861.  In 1912, the recipe was changed to have onions and the tomato paste and is very similar to the recipe I have above, which is considered the national dish of Russia. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Niche, best of luck because I'm your niche market!!!!

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the food culture in St. Louis is dead.  But, it is slowly coming back.  Sauce and Feast magazines will push some of the great restaurants in the area as they bring life back to this city, like a small village pushes their tall tales and mythology.  Every media facet has its favorite place, be it 1111 Mississippi, Farmhaus or even Niche.  Who are the customers of these beacons of hope in this St. Louis cuisine? Um, I am one of them.

Sure, I understand that the majority of the clientele, are rich, stuffy people from St. Louis, driving into the parking lot of these places with their Lexus and over-priced autos.  However, after that tier of eater, comes people like me: the foodie.  Over the past 8-9 years, I have been watching shows on foodnetwork and even was so inspired to get a degree in holistic nutrition as well as a certificate in personal chef and culinary arts.  I love cooking and cook whenever I can.  I spend time creating simple things like chocolate chip cookies to complex things like strawberry juice caviar.  I am the very definition of the new foodie.  I am someone who loves food, loves to cook food, eat food and wants to know everything about food.  I am the main demographic behind much of the shows on Food Network and on the Cooking Channel.  I am part of the future and when those rich customers die or stop going to places in the area, these restaurants will have to swoon my generation into going to their spots and spending our hard-earned money.

I've said it before, that sometimes the truth hurts and it is sad for me to say that out of the three restaurants I have listed, Farmhaus is by far the best one there. Eleven-Eleven was a good spot to go to, to get an idea of how people treat the foodies of St. Louis.  At Eleven-eleven Mississippi, they blind you with their open environment and atmosphere and make you believe that all of their Tuscan and Northern California inspired food tastes like their Wild Boar Ravioli.  Unfortunately, that is not the case and some dishes are a far miss from wonderful Tuscan or Northern California food. If they were going for that inspiration, it makes sense that some of the food could not be of the very best to everyone, but you can't run a restaurant with bad service, even though you try to do so.

Farmhaus is by far the best restaurant of that caliber in St. Louis.  Farm to table isn't a new idea, but so many want to do this and fail in doing so.  Not only does Farmhaus do this wonderfully, but they also have perfect service to match.  They can take reservations even same day and sit you within minutes of your reserved time.  Their restaurant was small, maybe seating less than 50-75 guests, but that didn't stop them from seating everyone they could, and still provide enough room for people to stretch their arms out and not touch another person.  The food at Farmhause was inventive, creative and delicious.  As well as reasonably priced.  A perfect place which may be where I go this weekend.

Now, for my rant on Niche, where do I begin....?  I haven't been there.  While some would argue that you can't judge a restaurant you haven't been to, I would argue that I totally can. I write my reviews and blog in such a way that I wish to appeal to the average person looking for a way to feed their mind, soul and stomach all at the same time.  I want to recommend what I think is a great place and one that they will love.  I can't recommend Niche.  It is not that I can't get there, I have a car, or that I can't pay for it, I have the money.  But it is that I cannot get there during a reasonable time.  Well, am I being bratty?  What is a reasonable time for you?  The restaurant is open between 5pm and 10pm, when would you like to eat there? 

Four times now, weeks and even a month apart, I have called up and tried to make a reservation for dinner time, the time I like to eat my dinner. Every time I have called, I have been told that the only opening is after 9:30pm on a night which closes at 10pm.  That's right, they would seat me down, then rush me to order so that they can close down the kitchen and push me out and close the restaurant.  Doesn't seem like a good and relaxing dining experience to me, now does it?  "Can I get any other times?"    I called recently when I tried calling for reservations for this Saturday, when today is Wednesday, thinking that 3 days of notice should be enough.  I was told that before 5:45 or after 9:30 was the only spots they had open.  I then asked about how far in advance I should call for a reservation.  My answer: 2-3 weeks. 


Who do you think you are?  Owners and people of Niche, let me tell you give you some examples: When I visited Las Vegas, near Valentines Day of this year, I called RM seafood, less than 24 hours away from the time I wanted, and got it.  Not only did I get the spot I wanted, but they had a wedding reservation there and was still able to get a seat with excellent service and food.  RM is arguably one of the best, if not THE best restaurant in Las Vegas.  The chef and the restaurant are internationally known and recognized and I could get a spot in less than 24 hour notice. 

Who else can get me a spot on Saturday night, between 6:30 and 7:30, by reserving now?  Well, I could get a reservation for 7:00pm, Saturday night at Morimoto's restaurant in New York.  Yep, Mr. Iron Chef himself.  Perhaps one of the world's most recognizable and skilled chefs and I can get in his restaurant with a 3 day notice.  I saw everything online and only had to click "Reserve Table" and the spot is mine.  But I got to thinking, who is bigger than Morimoto?  Surely it is impossible to get into Joel Robuchon's restaurant with 3 days of notice, right? 

Wrong.  I am one click away from saving the 6:30pm spot at his restaurant in Paris.  That's right, named the Chef of the Century, last century, no one steps on his toes or says a bad thing about him.  Even Anthony Bourdain, whom loves to say and write bad things about other chefs, had nothing but good things to say about Mr. Robuchon and I can get a spot in his restaurant by reserving 3 days ahead.

So, Niche, are you really that important?  Are you above Rick Moonen at RM? Are you above Morimoto?  Are you above Robuchon?  I'm sorry, but for some of us foodies with kids, it is hard to find babysitting, even 2-3 weeks ahead, as things can change.  I don't even know what I am doing this Sunday or even this Friday.  
So, my suggestion, for anyone looking to go to a nice place, out of what I mentioned, go to Farmhaus.  If you are in Las Vegas, go to RM.  I'm sorry, as much as I want to support and help St. Louis businesses, if the business isn't willing to take the time for me, I'm not willing to take the time for them.  Niche, I will not be going to your restaurant.  With the way your service is run and your "waiting list" I don't see you sticking around much longer.  No restaurant in St. Louis is worth calling and waiting 2-3 weeks ahead of time.      

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A magic potion

I love magical potions, either in video games, literature or in film.  The thought that a mixture of chemicals and ingredients could be infused with the ability of granting something so simple as a caffeine buzz to a whole physical transformation is always a fun idea.  This probably started my interest when I was young and playing D&D.  (Yeah, I'm a nerd, so what!)

As a wizard or magic-user class, I had spells and magical items.  When you wanted something done but couldn't do it yourself, you could drink a magic potion and have a new ability.  In video games, as early as those from the 1980's developers came up with a set number of times that magical spells could be used, using a system involving magic points or mana points.  Now, when those points were depleted, drinking a magic potion would refill those points to be used again.

In mythology, potions were used to make people fall asleep or to fall in love and even as indicated in a Shakespeare play or in Broom-Stick Bunny, any number of normally inedible ingredients are used to create these concoctions.  In Broom-Stick Bunny, which is what I saw recently to make me think of all of this, Witch Hazel is jealous of the ugly looks of Bugs Bunny, while he is wearing a mask and she creates a beauty potion to make him beautiful.  So she can be the ugliest one of all. What makes the episode funny, and so much like most Loony Tunes episodes, is that Bugs is somehow able to trick the witch into ingesting her own potion, making her a into a thin, pretty, red-haired I-Dream-of-Genie type of looking pin-up woman.  (I don't think there are any real potions that do this.) 

Now while that potion is still around the ideas of imaginary and fictional, potions could be created today to do the things the people dreamed of hundreds of years ago.  If you think about making a hot chamomile tea with melatonin in it which would help any imbiber into a relaxing sleep, has all natural items in it. What about the energy drink I have in front of me here?  My sugar free Venom drink has natural chemicals that are found in everyday fruits and items.  It will wake me up and keep my body active for the day, so it is a potion.  I know that invisibility potions do not exist however if a person is an angry drunk, then beer could be like an angry, enrage or Mr. Hyde potion.

I did study herbalism and have been interested in natural potions.  But what I have to see and wish to help push along, is the help of these herbal solutions and potions in everyday cuisine or at least sold at your local gas station as a way to help people with simple ailments that can be treated with simple ingredients.  I just think that maybe some day in the future you will be able to buy non-magical potions at your local gas station that do the effects of what people dreamed of as magic potions.  Can't sleep?  Drink a potion.  Can't relax? Drink a potion.  Can't wake up? Drink a potion.  Can't remember where you left your car keys...?  Well, with the ways that vitamins and minerals are being discovered to be helpful to the brain and memory, you could one day drink a memory potion and remember where you lost your car keys.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sugar free doctoring...

Okay, let me get one thing straight:  If you are thinking of making your favorite dessert or baked item into a sugar free item, be warned.  It is difficult! I spent a whole year trying to make a sugar free Peach jam and was able to do so, with many trials and errors.  I know that some have been working on this and have and easy time but for others who claim that it is no big deal and easily done, it is not the case.

For instance, this is my process, sometimes:

I look at the original recipe, then flat out and omit the sugar and replace it with something else.  Most of the time, if I know how the end product is supposed to be, I'll replace the sugar with a mix of other things to get the same ending.  After I get it all together, I'll cook it or whatever needs to be done to finish it.  While testing and going on, which means that everyone tries it and tells me what needs to be fixed, I take notes and add them into my recipe book.  Then I put a big "#1" or whatever attempt it is, next to the title and look at doing some research as to how to fix the problems before.

There are some simple things that you can learn.  It is nearly impossible to make brown sugar flavored sugar free material.  It is also nearly impossible to make a caramel or a sugar syrup sugar free.  There are ways and I have ideas.  I remember talking with a coffee shop owner last year and through some confusion on their end, they only were interested in sugar free syrups.  Sure, you can find sugar free syrups but look at the ingredient list on the back.  I tend to think that the less and more natural the ingredients; the better.

Anyways, sugar free lemon bars is what my wife wanted to try and so I produced it.  Again, this was attempt #1 as they have their faults.

They were a bit dry coming right out of the oven and after a night in the refrigerator, they seemed less dry and more lemony flavored.  Everything was natural used and even omitted about  2 & 1/2 cups of sugar.  So, I removed about 1,900 calories out of the finished product. 

I haven't given up on the sugar free gooey butter cake or the sugar free chocolate chip cookies. I did make a sugar free apple pie, but that was easy.  As for the lemon bars, I will try again and see if I can do a better attempt tonight. 

As with any of my recipes, if you are interested in home use of any of them, just let me know and I'll make up a recipe for you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An even simpler recipe for BBQ pork

Okay, I want to stress how easy this is to cook.  VERY EASY and VERY TASTY.  You will need at least one large jar or bottle of BBQ sauce, 1 regular sized Crockpot, 1 medium flavored beer and 1 4-5 pound pork loin. (You probably could use some pork chops or pork steaks even as a substitute.)

Now, this is how easy this is:  You take the loin and chop it into half-fist sized chunks.  Then add the chunks to the ziploc bag and add the beer.  Close and leave in the refrigerator for about 12 hours or overnight.  First part done.

Now, the next part is that you plug in the Crockpot and get it ready.  Then empty one corner of the bag and drain out the liquid.  You then pour the rest of the contents into the Crockpot.  Also add about 3 cups of water and 1 large jar or bottle of BBQ sauce. Set to low and leave for about 10 hours.

When you get back to it, after those 10 hours, it will be very tender, it will wall apart, and will be flavorful.  It could be served like that, or since we like extra sauce in my family, we even added more sauce to if afterwards.

Let me also stress that this recipe only has in it what is put in.  I don't salt the pork at all and the alcohol is only used as a tenderizer so there really isn't any in the finished product.  The quality of your BBQ sauce is the key so I would recommend getting one that isn't full of Sodium or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Speaking of the latter, it took my 5 minutes to find a BBQ sauce that didn't have HFCS in it. Every brand from Jack Daniels to Budweiser, has High Fructose Corn Syrup.  So, either make your own sauce or find one like Guy Fieri's brand, that does not have it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My fall-back recipe

For anyone who reads this site and wonders when I will ever post a recipe, this is for you.  I have here, my favorite recipe.  It is my go-to or fall-back recipe.  It works every time and with about 5 ingredients and that is it.  You most likely have all 5 of these ingredients in your kitchen right now, or at least 4 of them.  I dare you, take a look now.  Leave the computer for a minute and take a look.....

This is like a scavenger hunt in which you should win, knowing you most likely bought everything and placed it in your kitchen in the first place.

Find me.....

some rosemary
some salt
some pepper
some red wine
a plastic bag like a ziploc bag
some beef

Okay, so what do you do?  Or what did I do?  I took two thick, 1 & 1/2 inch thick steaks, and placed them in a large ziploc bag.  I then sprinkled some rosemary, about 2 tablespoons, some salt, about 2 pinches, some freshly ground pepper and then poured in about half of a bottle of red wine.  Seal the bag and let it marinate in the fridge for about 1 day.

The next day, you take out the beef, place it in a pan on high heat.  You want to sear the sides of the beef so that they are brown and then when they are done, place in a dish and  set the oven to 350 and cook for 45 minutes to get pink in the middle, about 30 minutes for red still.

I admit, this isn't a great picture, but you get the idea.
You end up with a peppered and rosemary mixed with wine flavoring on the outside of the beef and tasty beef on the inside.  Simple recipe for any cut of beef that you are clueless as to what to do.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Let us eat soap?

I don't know where it came from, but my wife had come into the possession of a soap, shaped like a donut.  Not only shaped like a medium sized donut, but it also was colored like one as well.  It had fake icing on the top and smelled of vanilla.  It was like a dense, non-edible donut.

I know it looks good enough to eat, but it is more likely to clean your insides out than taste good.

Well, my 3 year old had been running around work with this fake donut so all week I have been seeing and smelling this donut.  What was I to do?  Last night, I made donuts.  Going back on my recipe book, last year for my birthday, my wife had bought me a book and a baking pan for baking donuts.  While they may not be the light and fluffy donuts that we can buy anywhere, they are also not fried in oils which I tend to think can make them a wee bit more healthier.

Now, I had to post this because besides making awesome cinnamon and vanilla flavored donuts with complimentary icing flavors, that were totally awesome, they looked like the soap.  I can't walk away from anywhere that sells soaps or bath products that look, smell, or generally resemble foods and desserts.

My donuts by the way, the icing colors were chosen by my sons.  So, the pink icing was banana flavored and the green icing was coconut flavored.