Saturday, December 28, 2013

Closing Out 2013

How refreshing it is to read a professional food writer's opinion on the ubiquity that permeates Tampa Bay restaurant food offerings. In today's Tampa Bay Times, food critic Laura Reiley took a newly opened sushi joint in downtown St. Peterburg to task by stating, "In short, the [...] menu is so similar to a number of others downtown that it begs comparison."

I seriously doubt that Ms. Reiley looks to the Oracle for inspiration, but that is just what I have been ranting about in a number of my restaurant reviews. Reiley referenced a similar restaurant on Kennedy here in Tampa, "...which boasts the same menu at almost identical prices." This mimics the question that I have been asking, "Why travel across the bridge to dine at a venue almost identical to one closer to home?"

The restaurant in question doesn't have to be a sushi joint though, because from one side of the bay to the other the sameness is stifling. Imitation krab, avocado, cream cheese? Give me a break! Even my son-in-law, who is relatively new to the sushi scene, commented the other day that it would really be a treat to dine at a traditional sushi restaurant instead of the plethora of those serving nothing but Americanized...for lack of a better word...crap (my word, not his)!

A restaurant that rocks! As an aspiring food writer and critic, I find it challenging at times deciding how to rate restaurants that I review. Some reviewers use stars, others rely on numbers - one to five or one to ten. When my reviews are picked up by Urbanspoon, my rating choices are FAVORITE, LIKES IT, (leave it blank), DOESN'T LIKE IT.

Just the other day I was watching a television bio of Nigella Lawson during which she described her method of determining a restaurant's worth. Nigella, who is an untrained chef like me, said that if she could go home and replicate a meal or a dish served at a restaurant, then that restaurant would get very low marks in her review. Bravo, Nigella!

I have been told that I am a very good cook, and it offends me to dine at a restaurant that can do no better than what I can do at home. Sadly, the Tampa Bay area is loaded with just that kind of restaurant and they have the audacity to charge exorbitant prices for what I can do for pennies on the dollar in my home kitchen with menu items purchased at my neighborhood Publix.

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of a Tampa Bay restaurant that rocks.

Speaking of Nigella. The season premier of the ABC program, The Taste, debuts this Thursday, January 2nd at 8 PM. “The Taste features no-holds barred chef Anthony Bourdain, British food star Nigella Lawson, expert chef and author Ludo Lefebvre and restaurateur Brian Malarkey. Each of the four culinary superstars and “Taste” mentors – Bourdain, Lawson, Lefebvre and Malarkey – will coach a team of four competing pro and amateur cooks chosen from a nationwide casting call as they vie to create the best tasting dish."

I am looking forward to watching this episode because my blogging friend Rebekah of Some Kinda Good out of Stateboro, Georgia auditioned for the program. I don't know if she made the cut, but I have crossed fingers that she did. Rebekah is a charming and talented food writer and critic who deserves national acclaim.

To all: Feliz Año Nuevo.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tasty Treats From Statesboro

Just the other day I congratulated my blogging friend, Rebekah, on her blog's second anniversary. Some Kinda Good is located in Statesboro, Georgia, and Rebekah is a most talented food blogger, food columnist, and TV personality in that city and beyond.

Anyhoo, when I read her birthday blog, I didn't pay much attention to the part about thanking her readers with a chance to win food products from one of Statesboro’s own gourmet businesses. I am not the kinda (just for you Rebekah) person who wins stuff. The last time I won anything was 25 years ago when my bride agreed to put up with me "until death do us part." To my great surprise I received an email from Rebekah telling me that I am the big wiener, or was that "winner?"

Either way works for me.

Said Rebekah, "Braswell Food Company has been making specialty preserves, condiments and sauces for almost 70 years. Valued at $35, the set includes an assortment of Braswell’s most popular fruit butters and hors d’oeuvre jellies. And, to compliment that gift basket, winners will also receive one fresh baked loaf of bread from Sugar Magnolia Bakery & Cafe."

Click picture to enlarge

I am all a-twitter with excitement, and I can't wait to dive into my goodies. Thank you Rebekah, Braswell's, and Sugar Magnolia. The shipment arrived just a few minutes ago in great condition.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Pig In A Fur Coat

To stay current on trends and happenings in the restaurant industry, I try to catch as many cooking programs on television as I have time for. I rely primarily on the Cooking Channel and Food Network to keep me up-to-date on unique and innovative offerings to be found in restaurants around the country. Not here in the Tampa Bay area, of course, where ubiquity and lack of originality have found a home, but that brings me to the point.

Yesterday on the Cooking Channel I caught America's Best Bites host Natalie Forte as she discovered "a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin you won't soon forget called A Pig in a Fur Coat! Natalie learned where the name comes from and how it is perfect for Chef Dan Bonanno's small plates filled with big flavored food!"

What I discovered was my newest foodie hero, Chef Bonanno. When asked how he decides on menu offerings for A Pig in a Fur Coat, Bonanno replied, and I paraphrase, that he looks at the menus from competing restaurants and if he sees something on their menu that is on his, then that item is removed.

My brain exploded! What a novel idea, a restaurant not offering the same stuff offered by every other similar restaurant within a fifty mile radius. Chef Bonanno said what I have been harping on for months. If a restaurant wants to attract patrons from across town, let's say, then don't offer the same stuff that can be found just down the street...and up the street...and over there...and there.

I challenge local restaurateurs to do the Bonanno Test, and show some originality. As a restaurant patron, I also use a variation of the Bonanno Test. If I see seared ahi tuna, mussels any way, and fried calamari on the menu, I generally eschew that restaurant. Those dishes are so old they have grown whiskers.

Carpaccio is also getting a little long in the tooth around these parts; however, Bonanno has a dandy one that he shared with America's Best Bites viewers:

Lamb Carpaccio with Salsa Verde, Pea Shoots, and Egg Yolk
© Recipe courtesy Daniel Bonanno

    6-8 servings

    3 pounds of lamb loin
    6 ounces parsley, chopped
    2 ounces chives, chopped
    2 ounces tarragon, chopped
    1 ounce thyme
    1 shallot, chopped finely
    1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
    4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
    Zest of one lemon
    6 egg yolks
    1/4 pound of pea shoots
    Block of Parmigiano Reggiano

Take the lamb loin and trim off the fat and silver skin. Then wrap the loin tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Once frozen, use a deli slicer to slice the lamb 1/8-inches thick. On a 9 x 9 plate, lay slices starting with the middle. Only cover 1/3 of the plate.

Make the Salsa Verde. Place herbs in a medium size bowl. Add shallots, garlic and lemon zest. Slowly add olive oil and add salt to taste.

Spread the salsa evenly on the sliced lamb. With a peeler, shave 3-inch strips of Parmigiano Reggiano and place on top of the salsa verde-covered lamb. Garnish with fresh pea shoots, salt, black pepper and lemon juice.

Crack the egg carefully separating the yolk from the whites. Discard whites and clean off the chalaza. Place the egg in the center of the plate and finish with salt and fresh cracked pepper.

NotesCook Notes: Ask your butcher to slice the lamb thinly on the deli slicer. Any combination of fresh herbs may be used in your salsa verde.

What an exciting recipe! But, with a raw egg yolk and raw lamb I am thinking that might be too adventurous for Tampa Bay diners, many of whom consider Taco Bell, 5 Guys, Burger King, and Wawa to be haute cuisine. Still, hope springs eternal. Maybe, just maybe, Tampa Bay may one day become a culinary destination.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Popcorn Stuffing

Thanksgiving is done, but if you are thinking of stuffing a bird for next year's gluttonous feast, I.C. Sharks has a recipe for you.

Popcorn Stuffing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use your favorite stuffing recipe, omitting all bread products. Replace the bread crumbs with 3/4 cup of unpopped popping corn. Mix the ingredients, and stuff the mess into your turkey. Tent the turkey with foil as desired, and place in oven.

Bird is done when its ass blows across the room.

This is a re-post from the I.C. Sharks newsletter, so don't blame me for any mishaps. 

Easy Tex - Mex En Su Casa

I was talking with our daughter last night on the telephone when she asked what we were doing for dinner. I told her I was whipping up my quick and easy enchilada recipe. She inquired as to the ingredients and method.

So, for you Mish, here is especial del chef:

Click to enlarge

I don't normally endorse any particular brand, but Wolf seems to have the best canned chili, both with and without beans. This brand can stand on its own, but certainly you should feel free to adjust seasonings to suit your taste. I do.

Here is what I wound up with last night:

Your Mom likes them with a dollop of sour cream on top along with some chopped raw onions. I always add hot sauce to mine. These enchiladas even taste good the next day. My bride took a couple of them to work with her to have as her almuerzo today.

Speaking of the Belle, she compared these enchiladas with those from a local Tex - Mex eatery.

Buen provecho.

Editor's update at 2 PM, 12/6/2013: I had the rest of the enchiladas for my lunch today and I am going to suggest they were even better than last night. Five minutes in the microwave on high and they developed a delightful crust around the edges. Mierda, eso era bueno!