Is it noshworthy?

Archive for March, 2010

Pickles!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

There are few things as wonderful as the pickle.

If you ask a group of people what they think of when you say “pickle”, you’re likely to get a range of answers. Perhaps they’d talk about those sweet, little gherkins that you find on deli plates at parties. Anyone who’s lived in the South would talk about that amazing creation known as the Fried Pickle.

To me, the first thing that comes to mind when I say pickle, is the classic, Kosher, deli pickle. Actually a very specific one. The ones I get at my favorite San Diego deli, DZ Akins.

DZ Atins is one of the best delis anywhere, and even better since its not in New York or Chicago.

You see, DZ Akins not only has some of the best pastrami, but on each table is a crock of Kosher dill pickles. And not just any Kosher dills, but incredible ones! If the rest of their food weren’t so amazing, I’d just sit and eat pickles there all day.

As a kid, my favorite was bread and butter pickles. There are bunches of people who have no idea what I’m talking about, and those of you unfamiliar with them should join our little club. You’ll be really happy you did. You can still find them in most supermarkets.

Bread and butter pickles are served in slices, and have a slight, yellowish hue. This comes from the mustard and turmeric, which give the bread and butter pickles part of their unique flavor. We used to keep jars of these delicious pickle chips in the refrigerator for snacking.

For a few years, my family lived back in Chicago, where I was introduced to the Polish dill pickle. Imagine a kosher dill with a spicy, garlicy flavor. They’re really amazingly yummy. Just be careful, since no one will want to be around you for a day or two after eating them.

With the exception of pickle slices and relish, most people think of pickles as an ingredient for other dishes. Fortunately, this isn’t entirely true.

One of my personal favorites is the Chicago style, Vienna Hot Dog. Not only does it have this awesome, DayGlo green relish, these classic dogs are served with a complete, kosher pickle spear running the length of them. It makes them a little difficult to eat, but the effort is worth it.

Another surprise came in a Panini the other day. Among the prosciutto, provolone and garlic aioli , was thinly sliced pickle! Not exactly what I expected in an Italian sandwich, but I can’t say I minded in the least. It was clearly a pleasant surprise.

I love pickles. And since they are considered both a fruit and a vegetable, it even counts as eating healthy.

Pickles, our tasty friend. Now where is the nearest Jewish deli?

Who doesn’t like a good cupcake?

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

One of my favorite shows on TV is Chuck on NBC. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Chuck is about an average guy who get’s all the knowledge of the CIA and NSA downloaded into his brain. Like Neo in The Matrix, Chuck can “Flash” and use any of the knowledge and skills in the database, which makes it easy for him to impersonate anyone.

What does this have to do with cupcakes? You ask…

A couple of weeks ago Chuck was pretending to be a Mafia assassin. When told of the location of his next hit, Chuck said, “That’s right near that new cupcake place. Hey, who doesn’t like a good cupcake?”

As silly as it sounds, it made me realize that everyone loves a good cupcake.

Few treats are so universally loved as cupcakes. Their cakiness reminds us of all the wonderful birthday cakes we’ve had in our lives. Their size let’s us indulge our sweet tooths without worrying about over indulgence. And they do some creative stuff with cupcakes!

For example, a few years back the world was introduced to Sprinkles Cupcakes. Sprinkles, for those of us who don’t regularly watch Oprah, is a cupcake only bakery in Beverly Hills. They’re now spreading out to a number of other cities.

The thing that differentiated Sprinkles from supermarket cupcakes or those from your local bakery, is the quality and variety of their cupcakes. Unlike the classic chocolate, vanilla and strawberry varieties, Sprinkles also makes milk chocolate, dark chocolate, lemon, coconut, orange, strawberry, banana, chai, pumpkin, carrot, mocha, ginger-lemon, black-and-white (Belgian chocolate and vanilla), as well as their signature cupcake, Red Velvet!

They use Belgian chocolate, Madagascar vanilla, and other fresh and exotic ingredients, to make what are debatably the best cupcakes in the world.

Of course, success always fosters imitation, and soon the world was flooded with new, cupcake only bakeries. Personally I love this trend, although many of these bakeries pale in comparison to Sprinkles.

When the lovely and talented Cianna Stewart created the Bacon and Beer Happy Hour, we were all asked to bring our favorite bacony treat to share with our fellow baco-philes. My solution was one of those cupcake bakeries that rivals Sprinkles, the Cups and Cakes Bakery in San Francisco.

You see, Cups and Cakes makes a “Pancake breakfast” cupcake, that consists of maple bacon cake, maple butter cream frosting, and a piece of bacon.

You might mock me, but it’s delicious! Bacon cupcakes, who knew?

Yesterday we celebrated my friend Michelle Carter’s birthday. What did she want to celebrate? Cupcakes and to watch the latest Twilight movie. You can question her good taste about movies, but once cannot dispute the brilliance of cupcakes for a birthday. Everyone gets the flavor they want.

So next time you’re passing a place that makes cupcakes, just ask yourself:

Who doesn’t like a good cupcake?

Soup’s On!

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

When I was a little kid, a blustery day meant bundling up, and a lunch made up of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup and a sandwich.

It was the simplest thing, but in those perfect moments all was right in the world.

As I got older, the soup choices evolved. From Cream of Tomato to Cream of Chicken. Chicken Noodle was the obvious choice when I was under the weather. Then Italian Wedding, French Onion, and Baked Potato. And how could I ever have guessed that I’d come to love lentil soup and butternut squash?

To this day, soup is an effective way to put myself into a happy state of mind.

Maybe it’s the nostalgia of it all. Remembering the warmth spreading across my chest, while I was still bundled up like an Eskimo. My mom’s smile as she ladled the soup into my bowl and cut my sandwich in half.

In high school and college I was introduced to the classic Cup Noodles and Maruchan instant noodles. They had the benefit of being really cheap, quick to prepare, and pretty filling. We used to buy this stuff by the case!

Years later when I moved to the Bay Area, I learned that ramen wasn’t solely in the realm of starving student food. My friends Edwin and Steve introduced me to a Japanese noodle house called “The Ramen Club“, and the ramen was incredible!

Ramen Club led to Santa Ramen, then Himawari. Japanese ramen has very little in common with its Styrofoam encased cousin.

For those of you who haven’t had ramen the way God intended, they start with a big bowl of rich, pork broth, seasoned with salt, soy or miso. Then you add a pile of noodles, and a choice of a variety of other mouth-watering options like corn, egg, roasted pork slices, scallions and butter. Lots and lots of butter!

Speaking of contributions that Asia has made to the art of soup, my friend Matt Weeks introduced me to one of the best soups, ever! It’s called Wor Won Ton, and you can get it in most Chinese restaurants, regardless of whether its on the menu.

Wor Won Ton is when they take everything left in the kitchen and turn it into a soup. It has won tons, ham, chicken, shrimp, pork, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and broccoli, depending on what ingredients are in the kitchen. Of the many positive things I’ve gotten from my friendship with Matt, Wor Won Ton soup is one of my favorites !

As winter turns to spring, there will be a lot less soup. Sadly, most people think soup is only appropriate when the leaves start to fall and on blustery days. (How come there aren’t any mentions of soup in Winnie the Pooh?)

I don’t need a blustery day for my thoughts to turn to a bowl of savory yumminess. Although a bowl of chicken noodle is the cure to most ailments, it’s just as wonderful when I’m feeling perfectly fine.

It’s even worth a drive to Solvang, CA, to Pea Soup Andersen’s, just to taste their take on the classic. (And drive my MINI!)

Soup is happiness in a bowl.

Mmmmm… Sweet, delicious cow…

Friday, March 19th, 2010

I can never be a vegetarian.

It’s not that I don’t like vegetables. And even for my women friends who tell me that potatoes and corn don’t count, they at least need to acknowledge that they are not meat.

As an avid collector of cookbooks, some of my favorites are from the Moosewood series, where they make veggies into something wonderful, without making something that emulates meat. I’m sorry, if you’re eating vegetarian sausage or chicken nuggets, you’re just fooling yourself! You’re a wannabe carnivore! (I look forward to your emails)

But I’ll cover vegetarianism in a future post.

The reason I can never be a vegetarian is that I love cow. Yes, I know they are cute, but I mean, I love beef. Hamburgers, Kosher hot dogs, tri-trip, carne asada, and the Chairman of the Board, a nice, juicy steak!

Yes, if the doctor said, “Peter, if you eat another steak, you’ll die tomorrow”, I’d seriously consider the fact that I’ve already had a long and happy life.

It’s not a lack of will power, or that there aren’t appetizing alternatives. Life is short, and in the food world, few things bring me such consistent joy. And few things have been prepared in so many ways.

And clearly I’m not the only one. Years ago, McDonald’s used to fry its world class French fries in beef tallow. Thus why they are excessively scrumptious. As they swept across America they tried to switch to vegetable oil, and suddenly the complaints came rolling in.

“They don’t taste as good as they used to.” “When did they become so bland?”

McDonald’s is on the cutting edge of food science, and quickly put their guys in lab coats to work. They came up with a food flavoring that made their fries even better than before, and after assuring vegetarians the world over that their new seasoning was both vegetarian and Kosher, went off to dominant the world French fry market.

What most people don’t realize is what’s documented in the book, “Fast Food Nation“. McDonald’s “reinvented” beef tallow in a lab, down to the molecular level. It tastes like cow, because chemically, it’s exactly like cow.

And there was much rejoicing.

Someday they will make entire steaks in a Petri dish, and as long as I still get a good, marbled, USDA Choice, Filet Mignon out of the deal, I’ll be happy.

I’m old enough to remember a time when steak was a luxury. When taking mom out to a “steak dinner” was a special occasion. The 1970’s were the era when steak became more affordable, and Sizzler, Ponderosa, and Black Angus steak houses started to sweep across America. This turned steak from an annual event into something we can reasonably have every week.

And My God! Look at the variety of cow-based foods! Each nationality and region invents new and innovative ways to make our friend the cow into a tasty treat. Corned beef and pastrami, brisket, ribs, Carne Asada, Beef Stroganoff, chili, and Korean BBQ, all have made the world a better place with their beefy goodness.

Yes my friends. I love me some cow! And this is why I’ll never be a vegetarian.

Salads – The Big Lie

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Whenever it’s time to lose some weight, millions of people resort to the big lie. That salads are somehow low calorie and good for you.

It is theoretically possible to eat a low-calorie salad. But no one ever actually eats one. If anything, the big lie allows us to satiate our hunger, while pretending that we’re being well behaved.

Now I sense that you doubt my completely accurate and correct theory, so let me try to convince you.

Fact: Everything that tastes good is highly caloric.

Let’s face it; the first thing that makes salad tasty is salad dressing. Lettuce is the most boring food item ever discovered by man, and without a pint of salad dressing, it has the flavor of crunchy water. It’s only one step better than tofu (I look forward to your emails)

But salad dressing isn’t enough is it? Yes, sometimes we start with the best of intentions. “I’ll just dress my salad up with some carrots. How about some tomatoes? Maybe some cucumber? But the blandness is the top of the slippery slope.

It begins with the croutons. How bad can they be? Not realizing that the garlicky goodness is glued on with butter and Parmesan, and that they are little chunks of carbohydrates.

And don’t they always say, “everything in moderation?” So a little cheese couldn’t hurt, could it?

Wait a minute! Aren’t I supposed to be eating more protein? Wouldn’t this salad have a lot more protein if I cover it with grilled chicken or that tasty chili-lime shrimp? Are those blueberry muffins to the right of the salad bar?

But this is the gateway salad. Soon you’ll be ordering Taco Salads, or salads covered in Tritip steak. Hey! This salad comes in a taco shell bowl, that I can eat! I can eat the bowl!!!

Now after reading all this, you may think I’m anti-salad. Not true! I just think we should be honest with ourselves, and realize that the veggies are just an excuse to mix our favorite things in a big bowl, and cover them in blue cheese and bacon bits.

When I worked at Akimbo, we used to go to lunch at this great little place called the Railroad Cafe. My friends took great glee in mocking me over my love of their Chef Salad, which may be one of the best lunches, ever!

The thing that made it so wonderful were the cubes of turkey, ham, cheddar and swiss cheese, which could be used to make fun shapes. Just like Legos, only delicious! And I built many a lunchtime structure.

Yes, I did make little toys out of meat and cheese, and ate the lettuce last (occasionally), covered in salad dressing.

The most wonderful of salads is made at my favorite Micro-brewery, Callahan’s. It’s called the Karate Chop salad, and it starts by bathing every square inch of lettuce with both Ranch and Italian dressing. Then they cover it with shredded mozzarella, pepperoni, turkey, and toss in some olives and tomatoes to keep up the pretense that it has vegetation.

It has to be at least 2,500 calories!

So what I’m saying is this: Salads can be tasty, whether or not they are covered in grilled chicken. But let’s admit to ourselves that if they’re tasty, they’re caloric!

Julian-Land of Apple Pie

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

The best thing about motorcycles is swooshing. Anyone who read my Four Corners blog has heard this explanation before, but for those of you who haven’t, here it is.

Swooshing is the fun, enjoyable sensation you get from swerving your motorcycle back and forth on the road. It’s surprisingly relaxing, and actually a lot of fun. Especially if you say “Swoosh! Swoosh!! Swoosh!!!” as you do it!

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “What does swooshing have to do with a blog post titled, ‘Julian – Land of Apple Pie’?”

Julian is a teeny town about sixty miles East of San Diego, which can only be reached by driving on twisty, turny, mountain roads. So when I got my first motorcycle, Julian was the natural destination.

So now to the second part, “Land of Apple Pie”?

You see, the tiny little town of Julian, CA, serves but one purpose. To make the world’s yummiest apple pies. (Okay, I’m sure its serves some other purpose, but to foodies, the pie is the important thing).

Every year, the month of October is dedicated to the Julian Apple Festival, where you can get everything from apple cider to caramel apples, and the population goes from around 1,600 to 30,000 each day. The other eleven months of the year they still make a mean apple pie.

I recently bought a Mini Cooper-S, which is basically the world’s coolest Go Kart. And not surprisingly, it’s also a very a very satisfying swooshing experience.

So ever since I bought the Mini, I’ve been looking for excuses to drive twisty, turny, mountain roads. Travelling to the land of apple pie is a great excuse to hit the road!

Of course, once you get there, they don’t make it easy on you.

Classic apple pie or Dutch Crumb? (Dutch Crumb, of course!). Ala mode, plain, or with cheddar? (Ala mode!) Vanilla ice cream or cinnamon? (Vanilla, as if that’s a serious question!)

And then there’s the biggest question of all. Where do you get your pie?

In a town so legendary for pie, there are many, many options. Mom’s Apple Pie, Julian Pie Company, Apple Alley, Julian CafĂ© and Bakery, all make a pretty mean pie.

Personally, it almost always comes down to Mom’s or Julian Pie Company. And that comes down to whether you want to eat it there, or bring it home. Mom’s always smells of baking pies, its aroma wrapping around your cerebral cortex, until you find yourself at the counter ordering a slice.

Julian Pie Company does a great job of making pies that travel well, going so far as selling “bake at home” pies. If you’re bringing dessert to a friend’s for dinner, you can’t get much better than Julian Pie Company.

Of course, it helps that they are next to Dudley’s the worlds best bread bakery. But I’ll save that for another posting.

Julian CA. Land of Apple Pie. Well worth the drive.