Monday, January 27, 2014

And..............I'm back

A lot has happened in this past month so far and attempting to find time to even get on here and type things up, is becoming difficult.  I have good news and bad news.  The good news, is that my other hobby, which is playing around with making jewelry, has apparently gotten some people to like it enough that I have items for sale at the Club Tattoo location in Las Vegas.  I did sell things in the St. Louis Curio Shoppe in downtown St. Louis, but the store in Las Vegas means that my items can be sold for more and I will get a lot more people to view my work.  I do know, that this site doesn't pay me at all, so at least the jewelry helps.

Now, as if designing and choosing 30 items, packing them up and shipping them to Las Vegas from the St. Louis area in 3 days wasn't close enough, try keeping the food writing going on while doing that.  So, I think the first thing that I have to spring back is a new energy drink flavor.  I am slightly addicted to energy drinks so when I see a new one, that isn't full of High Fructose Corn Syrup, I'll buy it and try it.  This is one such instance.  Also, since I have had a mojito in my life and have a friend from Cuba, I thought it would be fitting.

So what does it taste like?  Is it good?  No.  It tastes like the regular Monster fruity flavor with a strong fake lime flavor and it has something else.  I know what they were trying for, making a refreshing lime flavored Monster drink, but in the end, don't make new flavors if they are not good.

Now, while wandering the streets of St. Louis, particularly around the Hospital area, I saw a food truck.  It was one called Sarah's Cake Stop and the truck sold pre-made cupcakes, cakes and cookies.  You know, having a truck drive around, selling sweet sugary things from the side of it sounds like a really good idea. This company makes everything in their main location and then packs it up for moving and selling.  I felt hungry so I got a quick cupcake, of each kind they had.

So, the one in the upper right corner was a gluten free one, a flourless chocolate cake, which tasted fine to me.  What I liked about each and every one of these, is that the icing was more of a whipped cream icing.  It was light, fluffy and wasn't laden with this heavy-ness like regular powdered sugar and water can provide.  They were very moist as well.  The flavors were very spot on as there was a carrot cake one and a red devil cake and vanilla/maple flavored and so forth.   Even though I do make cupcakes at home from time to time, I wasn't filled with this feeling of "oh I can do that", which sometimes permeates my mind when looking at other people's versions of baked goods, but I can say that everything tasted really good for what it was supposed to be.  This isn't like another cupcake company in the area whose cupcakes are just not that tasty, because Sarah's Cake Stop isn't all about hype but instead about the flavor.  A lot of some of the best of St. Louis didn't make it to a television show or didn't pay to run giant ads and articles in periodicals.  A lot of the best of this city, is hidden and you have to brush aside the hype and the junk to see it.  This truck, and more importantly the people of the company, make very good cupcakes and for their price, I am happy.  I would give their cupcakes a 4 out of 5 stars, for being very good and if you see them on the street, you should take a stop and try them out.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I like to work out and eat

I will say this, those of you who may have ever met me or seen me years ago, will attest to the fact that I am of thin build.  It is not my fault.  My family, on both sides are thin builds.  My mom's side is Scottish and English and they are all built thin.  My dad's side is Austrian and German and they were all thin as well.  My mom's side was filled with soldiers, workers and businessmen.  My dad's side was filled with cooks, nurses and farmers.  So, playing with the mystery of the genetic paintbrush or the way that genetics make us who we are and what we are, I have to say that I acquired my thin build and lightning fast metabolism most likely from my dad's side.

So for most of my life, I have looked frail, and sick (as my wife put it when she first saw me).  I was 130 pounds when I was in college and the road to gain weight has always been a difficult one.  As recent as 3 years ago, while at work one day, I tracked my caloric intake and discovered that at the end of the day, I had consumed over 7,000 calories.  I maybe gained a few ounces.  My metabolism moves that quickly and burns so fast that if I don't eat something every hour or every other hour, I get hungry.  I have gotten so hungry that I can get nausea because of it.

Now, what does this have to do with anything?

Well, I wanted to share that for the past 7 months, I have been body building.  I have been taking my lessons from a former winner of his state competition in the late 80's.  I have noticed a small trend though, in the way that I operate versus the way he does and I am thinking that it has a more holistic answer.

I have seen a lot of people work out, at gyms or by themselves and have seen what they put their bodies through.  What I have noticed, is that their diets consist of large amounts of proteins and very little fats and antioxidants.  Yeah, I know you don't want fat while working out, but 0 fat is not a good thing.  You nerves and brain tissues are made from fats.  Having some sort of fat, will replenish those cells and keep your brain going and active.  Have you heard the terms "DHA" or "Omega-3" lately?  Those are healthy fats that come from things like eggs.  You have no idea how many times I have heard someone say that they are eating healthy and working out so they omit eggs from their diet.  Eggs have a good source of DHA and do help your brain grow and keep its function.

What I also notice, is while you may survive while working out by drinking your protein shakes and eating your steak and protein bars, the rest of your body may not be having a good time.  I wonder how many body builders throw their backs out because they don't have enough calcium?  I wonder how many body builders get sick frequently because they don't eat vegetables or fruits?

I am still eating.  As a nutritionist, ever since I learned so much about foods, vitamins and herbs and what they can do for your body, I have been watching what I eat.  I work out, then drink my protein drink (mixed with milk) and then live my day like normal; eating snacks, fruit, vegetables, meats and even cookies or bakery items.  I have noticed that as long as I stick with a normal healthy-like diet, while doing the protein shake, I feel better.  I still take a multivitamin, but I just feel better.  I don't complain about how many calories are in a banana or how much fat is a cup of milk, as those are needed for my body.

Especially when the cold sets in, like the 7 degrees that it is currently outside, I would say that while eating a steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner may warm you up and keep you full of protein to build more muscle, I don't think you should negate a doughnut or a banana or something fattening as well.  As long as you make better choices, I think you can still work out and eat whatever you want.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Best food in a mall....?

So last weekend, we took a trip to West County Mall, to walk around and try to get over all of this cold weather and snow.  When we finished shopping, we had to think about what we were going to do for dinner. We avoid the Elephant Bar outside because of the lack of seating space and the dim atmosphere.  While California Pizza Kitchen has good pizzas and a good kid's menu, it is near impossible to get a seat within 30 minutes, around dinner time.  So, anyways, we start looking around and end up walking into the Food Court.

Generally, we try to avoid the Food Court like the plague for two main reasons:

A: Teen girls
B: Food quality is bad chains or just bad.

When the Asian food restaurant of randomness has their bowl of noodles and meats where the second ingredient is MSG and 3rd ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, we tend to avoid those for their unhealthy foods.  The kids don't want Subway every day and so we looked around.  I was looking around until I saw this:

This place is like a breath of fresh air in a dimly lit mall food court.  This place is great and the food is delicious.  Taco's & More does have tacos and all sorts of things and out of everything there, I order the gyro and the falafel.  The gyro platter was huge:
It was also deconstructed to allow for the buyer to make their own sandwich.  Every part of this, everything on the plate tasted great, like I had gone to a Greek restaurant and ordered it or went to that cool Greek food truck, in St. Louis.  Everything was really good.  I liked it all.  I'd say a good 3 out of 5 stars on this one.

The falafel plate was good as well.  They were properly sized, seasoned and cooked.  Sometimes when you get falafel at other places, it can be dried out on the inside and basically taste like sawdust.  This was the complete opposite.  These were moist on the inside and the moistness was not oil from the frying.  These were good, and definitely better than any food I had expected in a food court.  I'd give them a 3 out of 5.

Now, if you are in the mall and want to try it, then go visit them.  They are a local company, they are just now getting ready to open some locations in the city and will get more of their shops out there in the area.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dominique's U.S. Senate Bean Soup

I have to say, that when I want to try something weird, I tend to visit international markets like Global Foods in Kirkwood or Jay's International Foods on Grand.  But, the Dierburgs that we visit, is the same one where I found the canned bread.  This time, I passed this can of soup, in the soup aisle at this Dierburgs store and had to place it in the cart.  It seems a strange item with a strange name so I had to give it a try.

The item is called Dominique's U.S. Senate Bean Soup.  Without any exact date of invention, the soup has been served every day, except one, in the restaurant of the U.S. Senate, since the early 1900's.  The one day that soup was not served, was actually September 14, 1943, during World War 2 when the beans were rationed off.  The next day, on the 15th, there was enough beans to make the soup and serve it that day to continue on.  There are several claims of when it was invented and first served, but like most events and things that happen in our wonderful American Government, there was no documented or record-keeping evidence.

The "Dominique"  in the name of the soup, belongs to world class chef, Chef Dominique D'Ermo, who became famous with his restaurant, located in Washington D.C. and his variations of this classic recipe, sold everywhere.  His restaurants have earned 5 stars and his knowledge, is in many cookbooks from pastry to Southern-style cooking.  He had experience working in the hotel and restaurant area since 1962 and opened his first restaurant in D.C. around 1974.  He garnered such praise for his new and interesting French cooking that he recreated the famous traditional soup.

He had a brand, with his name, that was made to can the soups and variety of other things he created.  This soup, is just one of the many variations that you can find anywhere.

The soup is great.  You open it, pour it into a bowl, warm up and eat.  There is no need for added salt, pepper, or even hot sauce.  The soup is perfectly seasoned and tastes like a well-balanced bean soup.  The beans are cooked perfectly, considering I had it in the microwave for only 2 minutes.  The broth is thick, rich, creamy and flavorful.  It is s a surprise as I would never had thought that a can of soup could actually taste this good. If you have a few bucks, I highly suggest buying it the next time you see it anywhere.  It gets a 4 star rating, for a can of soup, in my list.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

From the Golden Arches

So, as my son was eating his once a month Happy Meal, he asked me where hamburgers came from and to be honest, I didn't know.  I thought that there is a place in Germany named Hamburg and it was thought of at one time that frankfurters came from the town of Frankfurt, so perhaps hamburgers came from the town of Hamburg.  But, having some remedial knowledge of other cuisines and cultures, I find it highly unlikely that a town in Germany was the only place in the world where someone had the idea of making a ground meat patty and placing it between two layers of bread.  However, what we call a "hamburger", being ground beef and placed on a yeast risen bread bun, may only come from a culture that A: has cows as one of their food sources and B: has access and use of yeast to rise their bread.  These two factors rule out the possibility of Asia and Africa as being sources of the origin. I also refuse to believe that much of anything traditional such as a hamburger, was really invented in America, like ice tea...

Still, most places, including the Library of Congress, do believe that a man in Connecticut in 1900 was out of steaks at his shop and instead stuck the ground up pieces and trimmings of his steaks together to create a hamburger. While that may be the first time this meat item had shown up in America, it isn't the first time it was ever invented.  (In fact, like the creation of Buffalo Wings, I doubt the above claim.)  Although a Governor in Oklahoma, claimed that the first hamburger on a bun was eaten in Tulsa in 1881.

But what about other parts of this meal?  What about French Fries?  Well, let's get one claim out of the way that it either was invented in France or Belgium.  Both countries claim to have invented it.  The fact we know, is that potatoes are native to Central America and therefore, did not show up anywhere else in the world until after 1735.  What is interesting though, is that Spain, would have been the first European country to get the potatoes and therefore could have had the ability to invent the French Fry.  It wasn't until Thomas Jefferson was at a dinner at the White House, where he was served a dish called French Fries, which meant "potatoes served in a French manner".  This part makes sense because it was the French who helped America during the Revolutionary War, so of course it would have been France who had had close relations with America and therefore if any cook from a country would have delivered fried potatoes first, it would have been France.

So, we doing alright?  Is your mouth watering yet?

Now, while ketchup seems to always be paired with hamburgers and fries, remember this: tomatoes are native of the Americas also, so no other place could have tomatoes before the 1730's as well, like potatoes. In fact, the earliest mention of tomato ketchup, was in 1801.  Things resembling ketchup, without the tomatoes, had existed in India and China as early as the 1600's, but the tomatoes are New World products and this means that ketchup is as well.

I think the last thing that goes well with hamburgers, may have been the oldest one yet.  Mustard, is historically connected with the ancient Romans, who created a spread grinding mustard seeds with grape juice vinegar and then cooking it to give it a musty taste.  A recipe has survived from the 4th century.  It is amazing that we still use the same item today on our food.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It finally died...

It was a cold January day, ninety-nine years ago, when a man named Joe had opened his first restaurant called Garavelli's Cafeteria, on Chippewa Street, in St. Louis.  The world of St. Louis was so different in 1914.  In fact, the City of St. Louis signed in the first charter of the city, in June of 1914.  The landing was called Hooserville, because the poorest people lived near the riverfront.  There was no arch there and the buildings down Washington Avenue were filled with factories and factory workers.  The world of St. Louis was a very different place at that time.  Then, along a lonely stretch of Route 66, in the Southern end of St. Louis, Joe Garavelli opened his restaurant, which was a small cafeteria serving home cooked food.

While never having been there myself, I can say that when I lived in Affton, this place was near just about everywhere I went.  I remembered driving past with my mother when she took my brothers and I clothing shopping at the only JCPenny store, located at Hampton Village, in the 80's.  I also remembered it being close to a row of old and very "Mayberry" looking buildings along that set of small streets that intersect with Route 66.

Many articles, writing on this restaurant closing, are calling it a death by marketing.  I saw one author claiming that had the restaurant spent some money on marketing, they would have lived a bit longer.  Another author was complaining that they died because the menu was as old as the restaurant.  While I may see that while both may seem as valid excuses, I would argue that neither one was as important as updating the building.  One of the new owners was quoted at saying that in summer of 2012, the cost of cooling the restaurant was $6,000 a month.  So, figure there are 4 hot months in St. Louis, and at $6,000 that comes to $24,000 spent that summer alone.  That is a lot of money spent on cooling a small building.  While not knowing how large exactly, I would estimate that the restaurant is no bigger than 2,000 square feet.  Now, I know from personal experience, from when our home AC united under unknown causes in 2012, for $6,000 you can get a new AC unit and blower that can work properly for a 1,600 square foot house.  This restaurant, could have used some of that money to put in the most modern, green AC unit ever.  I'd also go so far as placing some solar panels on the roof as added power creators.  But to no avail...

Now, it is a solid complaint that the owner says that whenever they did change the menu, the clientele complained, and it would make sense that they did so.  With over 80% of their customer base over the age of 65, then of course they would get in a pattern and routine of always eating the same thing and no be okay with change.

I do wish that it lasted a bit longer and I had a chance to check them out.  The thing is like so may of these mostly old-person eateries, is that they are uncomfortable.  Have you ever eaten at any of these very old catered restaurants?  I grew up and worked at an all you can eat restaurant for almost 8 years so I have seen it all when it comes to the old and their food.  But, when you are the only person under 60 in a room filled with old people eating, sometimes I just get a little uneasy.  Also, as far as home-style food is concerned, my family and kids and even I, get home style food at home, so why would we pay for that elsewhere.

Still, like many other places or even historic landmarks in St. Louis, it is sad to see it go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Christmas present

A few years ago, I was interested in the technique of Sous Vide cooking and purchased a small cookbook with instruction and recipes.  Mind you though, that I had purchased this book before I had a sous vide machine.  My thought process was that I would read up on it and then see about getting a machine or even just the circulator.  (If you have questions, just raise your hand and I will answer what I can.)

Sous vide cooking, is a process wherein food is prepared, in a vacuum chamber in water.  It is science to know that the best conductor of heat is water.  So, the most efficient way of cooking something is to put it into water and cook it.  The main pro of cooking with sous vide, I think, is that it is scientifically accurate.  When you want to cook a pork roast, you set the oven to 425 degrees F and then cook for an hour in hopes that the internal temperature gets to at least 150 degrees, right?  Doesn't that sound strange when you think of it now?  You need to place something, for an hour, at 425 degrees in order for it to just get to about 150 degrees.  It sounds as if there is a lot of wasted heat, right? (About 275 degrees worth.)

So, what sous vide does, is cook the item in a vacuum sealed pouch, which means that there isn't anything to interfere with the cooking, like air.  The lack of air, means that everything in the pouch is sealed in and can only interact with each other, producing more flavorful items.  The sealed pouch is placed within a water bath when cooking.  The water bath is the conductor of the heat and is what really cooks the food.  Because the pouch is sealed, it also means that the contents of the bag do not leak out.

With regards to my statement up there ^, about the loss of degrees, sous vide is more accurate because it keeps with the temperature. The cooking time may take longer, and in fact be several times longer, but it gets an item that cannot be overcooked and will always be juicy and moist.  My pork example up above, from a recipe I had found online, suggested that I cook it at 425 degrees for one hour to get the internal temperature to at least 150 degrees.  Now, while in an oven, at 425 degrees, the first thing it will do is heat the house.  Yeah, my 1,600 square feet of living space raises a few degrees when the oven is that high for an hour.  So, what the sous vide machine would have me do, is vacuum seal the pork in a bag, so there is no air and nothing to interfere with the cooking process.  Then, if I wanted it to get to 150 degrees, I set the water temperature to 150 degrees.  This way, the water gets to the temperature that I want the meat to be at.  Makes sense, right?  Also, at 150 degrees, and in a vacuum packed bag, submersed in water, there is no way that it can dry out or even overcook.  It probably would take about 4-6 hours, but what you have is a full proof cooking method that just takes longer.  Got it?

Also, in terms of bacteria growth, when food is cooked it should be eaten fairly soon afterwards.  Cooked food has a countdown timer, of when it becomes unsafe to eat.  Placing the food in a hot bath for a long time, can actually pasteurize the food and kill all possible bacteria, making the food safe enough to cook and leave out for a longer period of time.

The circulator is just a larger version of the heating element that goes in a sous vide machine.  You used to just get your own water bath in a container and then place this circulator in it and it would do the work for you.  This machine though, is all in one (and quiet), so you can cook food without the extra heating of the house or noise.

So, I thought I would spend the next few days, testing it.  Some things that can be cooked, are carrots.  Normally if you want really tender and juicy carrots, you throw them in a pot of boiling water and cook them for say 15-20 minutes.  Well, think of the heat required to bring water to a boil, then keep it a boil with the carrots in it.  The house I live in wasn't the best build.  So, with the gas stove on, say for about 45, then it starts to heat up the kitchen, which in turns heats up the house. I always cook on gas and with our pots and gas, it takes almost 20 minutes to bring the pot of water to a boil.  So, you then have to get the carrots in there for another 20 minutes and there is steam and heat and everything to warm up a house.  So, with the machine, you put everything inside and close the lid.  Now, I would have to figure out how much energy is required, exactly, but I would be safe to say that at this point, we are saving on electricity or at least heat, by cooking the food that needed to be boiled, in the sous vide.

So, the sous vide machine works basically just the same way as a pot of boiling water does.  You can take a bag of vacuum packed carrots and place it in the water bath in the sous vide for 50 minutes at 185 degrees and after those 50 minutes, you take the bag out, let it cool a bit, cut it open and take out the contents.  I also stuck some butter and brown sugar in with the carrots. Now, that gives you perfectly tender but not too mushy carrots that are sweet and tasty and juicy.  On the other hand, to get that same butter and brown sugar sauce with tender and juicy carrots by using a stove top, you have to boil the carrots for a bit, I'd guess for about 20-25 minutes.  Then, in a separate pot, you would need to melt the butter and mix it with the sugar, being careful not to spill, get yourself splattered with melting sugar and so forth.  Even, if you were very lazy and microwaved the carrots, they would have taken about 5 minutes on high.  Then, if you steamed them, they may still be a tiny bit dry, not juicy and such.  Then, if they were different sizes you would have some cooked fine and others still hard or raw.  Then, you could get the butter and sugar and place in a nice bowl and microwave them, but then you need to stop every few seconds and stir it.

Not only does the sous vide machine cook them accurately and correctly, but it is also safer and you can forget about it.  You place the food you ware cooking inside of it, set a timer and leave it.  EASY!  Also, of note, is that I cook pears at 185 degrees also.  This means that for that same 50 minutes, I could also cook some vanilla and cinnamon pears, in a separate bag, in the same water.  I'd have some savory carrots and sweet pears done in the same time, in the same cooking space and I don't have to watch, mess with or fuss about either one.

Pretty impressive, eh?