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Sunday, November 30, 2008

L'Ortolan




Jesse sends this photo in response to my last post. L'Ortolan doesn't actually serve ortolan. That would be illegal.

I bet if Jesse knew the secret handshake he could get a face full of ortolan under his napkin.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

By request - Tastee Inn

Jesse and Elizabeth are still in Europe, probably somewhere near Avignon by now, but they've apparently grown tired of horse meat, forcemeat and Ortolan. Jesse emailed this morning requesting a Tastee Inn review and since I was going to be in the north 48th area anyway, I was happy to oblige.

The only rule of Tastee eating, and this must be observed, is you have to get your loosemeat sandwiches to go. Either use the backwards drive-thru or go in and get them. Do not eat them in the restaurant. This cannot be stressed enough. Tastees need a good ten minutes in the bag before they're ready to eat. Go ahead and eat your onion chips while you're waiting. That's what they're there for.

While waiting for 10 minutes is good, the best way to judge when your Tastees are ready is to hold the bag about a foot above a table top or counter. If your sandwiches fall through the bottom of the bag, they're perfect. Don't remove all your sandwiches from their wrappers at once. Spending more time in the wrapper only enhances the taste so your last one will be, at minimum, at least 40% tastier than the first assuming you eat at least three.

I haven't had a Tastee in about three years and I really didn't realize how much I missed them. They're so simple - ground beef cooked until it breaks into little granules, a thin layer of mustard on the bun, and a dill pickle chip - and so delicious. They're not as greasy as you'd expect since most of the grease is either cooked out or at the bottom of the bag, but the buns get nice and soft from what they've soaked up.

Most of the recipes on-line call for extra seasonings and mustard and ketchup mixed in with the beef but I prefer the Tastee way, beef, salt and pepper. Anything else crosses the line into sloppy joe-hood, which is a different, but still delicious sandwich in its own right.

My only complaint about Tastee Inn is the price. At $1.45 each, those little sandwiches are a tad pricey. Of course, much more labor goes into preparing Tastee meat than in making a regular old hamburger. As a firm believer in rewarding good labor, I'm willing to accept the increased cost.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hungarian Beef Stew

I borrowed this recipe from the December 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated. According to their experts this dish, aka Goulash, was originally made with just three ingredients, beef, onions and paprika so I went with that. I did follow the recommendation of the magazine and blend the paprika with some roasted red peppers to cut the grittiness of using so much paprika (this doesn't really interfere with the integrity of the dish since paprika is merely finely ground dried red bell peppers).

1 3 lb. chuck roast cut into 1 inch cubes
6 cups of chopped onions (about 5 medium onions)
1/3 cup of sweet (Hungarian) paprika - the regular store-brand paprika will not work. Open Harvest has good, fresh Hungarian paprika available in bulk.
12 oz. roasted red peppers
2 tsp. white vinegar

Preheat your oven to 300°. After chopping the beef, salt it evenly and set aside and blend the paprika, red peppers and vinegar in a food processor until smooth. Cook all the onions (chopping this much onion will definitely have you reaching for your hankie and taking many breaks) over medium heat with just a little oil in a Dutch oven (I used my extra big antique cast-iron skillet) until soft but don't let them brown (about 10 minutes). Add the paprika mixture and stir for a couple of minutes then add the beef cubes and stir until the meat is coated. Put the lid on your Dutch oven/big pot and put it in the oven for about 3 hours. Enjoy with potatoes or egg noodles. Add other veggies or sour cream if you must.

What's amazing about this dish is how so much liquid is produced from the beef and the onions. The Cook's reciped called for adding beef broth late in the cooking process but it wasn't necessary.

I remember the "goulash" served in my school cafeteria on a semi-weekly basis. It was just hamburger and tomato sauce with overcooked elbow macaroni. That had kind of colored my perception of goulash for years. It's still made dozens of different ways with many additions to the basic recipe which will always include cubes of beef, onions and paprika. Mine is below. I added some delicious little canned white potatoes (the most underrated canned veggie available in every grocery store) after snapping the pic.



You might notice that this goulash looks eerily similar to the chili I made a little over a week ago. There's not that much difference. Tomatoes and spices. One could argue chili is just a busier version of traditional goulash. If I had a lot more time to research the issue I might even find a connection.

Really, meat stewed with various vegetables and spices is probably one of the most universal dishes on earth. Once Neolithic man figured out how to make a fire and keep it going it was only a matter of time until he discovered applying the heat from that fire to the tough raw meat he had been eating made it more tender and added flavor. It must have occurred, once boiling water was mastered, that adding meat to liquid over heat cooked it, made it even more tender and could keep cooking for a long time as long as the fire was kept alive. Every culture has its own version, from the beef stew of our western European ancestors to east Asian beef and potato stews flavored with ginger and anise to Goulash to west African peanut and chicken stews to lamb vindaloo.

The one thing about stew of any kind, it's easy and it's always good.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Tennessee

Spent a week in Tennessee, not anywhere near Memphis or Nashville but in a small group of towns (when you're in the hills all the towns sort of run together due to the limited space) about an hour northwest of Knoxville right in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Here are a couple of pics from my hotel room balcony:





As far as food goes...everyone in eastern Tennessee can do a good dry rub BBQ. I knew that from previous visits to the region so ribs weren't an issue. A couple of nights I just got salad and sandwich stuff from the grocery store because no matter how much I like Krystal I can still only eat there once on each trip to the South.

One thing that was kind of odd: In this almost 100% white sort of backwoods county in the Smoky Mountains there were 3 Japanese restaurants. I scoffed at first but then realized Knoxville is no more remote via airplane than Lincoln is. Knoxville has a way nicer airport, too.The word from the locals is that Japanese food is a recent fad and that most of the restaurants serve sweet and sour gummy gloppy Chinese food to pay the bills.

Speaking of the Knoxville airport...It's the first airport with a Ruby Tuesday in it complete with salad bar. The manager told me there are others going in around the country. I had some time to kill so I had lunch there on Friday and they actually use the same menus they do in their regular restaurants. The prices are even the same. I had a 22 oz. glass of Stella and the bartender told me it was $4.99. I told him that glass of beer would cost me at least $8 in Dallas or Chicago or Minneapolis. He said it was Ruby Tuesday corporate policy to charge the same prices in airports as their regular locations.

That's all well and good considering that was the only Ruby Tuesday in an airport in the world. I wonder if they'll stick to that policy when they try to compete with the awful Chilis and Applebees franchises that infest every other airport?