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What’s Bob Eating… » 2008 » August
What's Bob Eating?

Archive for August, 2008

Burnt By An Angel

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

After my last visit to a barbecue place I figured I had nowhere to go but up and I was right. And even though I didn’t exactly climb to the top of the ladder on my next stop, it felt good to know I was moving in the proper direction. Still, I was disappointed to realize that I had not yet reached the place where the view is spectacular and I have to admit that the summit will not be reached in the near future. Look out North Carolina, someday I will return.

I stopped into a fish shop I had noticed a few weeks ago to see if I could find something fish-like to burn on the grill. Salmon is always good and I had not done any tuna since I moved up to Washington so I thought I’d check out this little shop located right next to a Scandinavian bakery. I had visited the bakery on another occasion but I need more pastries in my life like Seattle needs rain.

The fish shop turned out to be very interesting and I got to talking to the fellow behind the counter about food and grilling. Because they also carried some pork and chicken the subject of barbecue and smoked meat naturally came up. I told him I was learning how to use a smoker my wife got me about a year ago and he asked if I had tried the barbecue place across the street. I hadn’t even heard of the barbecue place across the street and he said they were pretty good. They had just opened a couple of weeks before this and even though the sauce they advertised as traditional Kansas City style wasn’t exactly the way he remembered it, all in all, it wasn’t bad grub.

A couple of days later I found myself in the neighborhood and decided I should treat myself to lunch and see what I would see or more to the point; taste what I would taste.

The sign above the entrance read “Gabriel’s Fire” and I wondered as I entered if the fare would be heavenly. The dining area was fairly small and two very young looking gentlemen stood behind the short counter. When I asked, they said that you ordered at the counter and then could sit anywhere you could find a seat. Three taps with no beer labels indicated that they had not yet received a liquor license from the state but had every intention of getting one. The menu consisted of a group of seven different kinds of sauce that you could chose from when you ordered your sandwich or entrée. Fruit juice and the usual sodas were the only offered drinks. The sandwiches included BBQ Beef, Beef Brisket, BBQ Pork, Grilled Chicken, Grilled Flank Steak or a Hot Link Dog. All of them came with your choice of baked beans, Mac n’ cheese, potato salad, coleslaw, cornbread, macaroni salad, green salad or rice. The entrees offered were Pork, Beef, Pork Shoulder, Grilled Chicken, Grilled Flank Steak or Grilled Tiger Prawns and they came with two sides. Everything could be ordered a la carte and they offered some sampler platters as well. In addition to these foods they had Chicken Gumbo and you could order a Hot Link. I assume that this is the hot link from the Hot Link Dog even though I have never had either.

I’m not shy so I stepped right up and started asking questions. What about this sauce you call Carolina sauce? Is that eastern or Lexington sauce? The guy who was doing the cooking looked at me in a funny way so I clarified my inquiry. Is it a tomato based sauce or vinegar?

“Oh it’s tomato, it’s tomato, not many people out here would be interested in a vinegar based sauce.”

I bit my tongue.

Not many people unless they had a brain in their head I thought. Ok maybe that’s not completely fair, you really don’t have to have a brain in your head to like eastern style North Carolina barbecue sauce, just good taste. Moving on…..

I ordered the ½ sampler platter with brisket, pork shoulder, ribs and chicken and I asked for the Carolina Sauce that they themselves described this way, “Think sweet n’ sour with a pepper kick”. I don’t think these folks have ever been to Carolina.

I’ve already bored you enough with the whole menu so I’ll go easy on you with the sauces. They had what they called a Jamaican, a Thai, a Teriyaki, a Chipotle, a hot one and of course the Kansas City and Carolina sauces. Let your imagination run wild.

The food showed up at the counter in a large basket and the portions were more than ample. The sauce was not what I had hoped for but all in all not really that bad. Pretty good but not Carolina sauce. The pork was a little bit dry but really pretty good and the brisket was very tasty. I like ribs and they were fairly juicy. The chicken however was nothing special at all. It had been grilled and was skinless, boneless and pretty much tasteless as well. I should be completely fair about the whole entrée and say that I had no trouble choking it down and would recommend this place to anybody as long as they had never had North Carolina barbecue or at least knew if they had that they were not going to get any here. These young guys were out there hustling and trying to make a living fixing food for people and that is a damn hard way to earn a buck, so I tip my hat to them. The real disappointment for me was in the sides and I don’t know why more people in the food business do not spend more time on side dishes and other basic needs when you are dining out. I got three sides with my sampler so I picked beans, coleslaw and cornbread.

None of these sides are hard to make. In fact, you can make very good cornbread, beans and coleslaw with about the same effort it takes to make mediocre or bad examples. The cornbread was a sweet northern style bread like I used to get when I was a kid and lived in Pennsylvania but it was a little on the dry side. The beans tasted as though they had been taken from a can and then heated without any additional seasoning at all. In fact I have had some baked beans that were taken from a can that were better than these. Just the addition of a couple of kinds of beans, a little garlic and onion and maybe some diced tomatoes can bring the most lifeless canned bean alive. It’s very simple and it really doesn’t involve any real cooking at all. Just a little bit of time. And that brings us to the slaw.

The primary ingredient in slaw of course, is cabbage. I have had broccoli slaw without any cabbage and I’m sure there are other slaws out there that don’t use cabbage but normally that is what we think of as the main ingredient in coleslaw. The good news is that this slaw had cabbage in it so I’ll give them that. But usually you add some onion or carrots to slaw. Some people I know add tomatoes. Some add nuts or apples. Some put marshmallows in them and I am here to applaud variety. This slaw was cabbage and lettuce. Chopped iceberg lettuce. I can’t say as I ever had that before but that’s all that was in the slaw with the cabbage and some sort of of light mayonnaise dressing. Not much to write home about but here I am trying to do just that.

If you remember my earlier post about another barbecue place I visited you have to know that this was quite a leap up the ladder of good taste for me. I never expect to get my precious North Carolina barbecue out here on the west coast but I continue to search for the elusive Holy Grail. But even though I was disappointed by some of what I ate at this new barbecue place, I liked it well enough that I returned today to dine there again and to see what progress they had made in this honest endeavor to feed people and make a living.

I have to admit that the primary motivation in my return to Gabriel’s Fire was to sample the chicken gumbo. I love gumbo and would have ordered it the first time but even I can only eat so much at one time.

I had stopped at the place twice since my first visit and seemed to never be able to catch them open. I was going to write this piece based on my disappointment in the sides and my disappointment in never finding them open but they may have been closed according to schedule. I just realized today that they are closed Monday through Wednesday and I’m not all that sure but that it may have been one of those days every time I tried to eat there, so I will cut them some slack in this regard. One thing I insist on when a person is running a business open to the public is that they keep regular hours. State your hours of operation and stick to them. Unless it’s some sort of emergency you must keep regular hours or you will never be successful. End of topic.

Today they were open and I found a parking place right out front. There was good news inside as well, even though they were still not serving beer, they had several customers sitting at tables waiting on their food. I was pleased they were selling food but I avoided the sides I had ordered previously. I got the gumbo and a BBQ pork sandwich. I was supposed to get a side of rice and when the food came it was plopped into the middle of my huge bowl of gumbo. OK. Not really a problem. I could not help but wonder how they would have served it to me if I just ordered the sandwich but it’s not really a big deal.

I had never had gumbo this dark in color before but the menu stated that it was made from a pecan roux and that is something I am not familiar with so it could very well have been the exact color it should be. I did think it went a little light on chicken and heavy on what appeared to be beef. There was also some fairly good sausage in it but not nearly enough of the Cajun Holy Trinity. If you don’t know what that is then you really don’t know a lot about gumbo. The Holy Trinity is celery, onion, green pepper and it’s used in almost everything they cook in New Orleans. The flavor was pretty good though and the BBQ pork had that Kansas City sauce that is just KC Masterpiece out of a bottle as far as I’m concerned. One other thing I found a little bit annoying were the utensils they gave me to eat with. I can live with plastic silverware but the spoon I got for eating the gumbo had a very sharp edge all the way around the bowl. I swear a person could cut themselves eating with it. It was very uncomfortable using it so I hurried through the gumbo. Actually I almost always hurry through my food but that’s another story.

The bottom line for this place is that the food is fairly good. Good enough that I ate there twice, but nothing I ever ate there was very exciting. I would just as soon have Mexican or better yet Greek. Like my friend the fish monger said, all in all pretty good grub.

I guess that’s supposed to be a compliment.

Posted in The Wandering Barbecue Hound | 1 Comment »

I Love Pie

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

(photo by Sara Tro)

(photo by Sara Tro)

Sometimes I think it’s some sort of primeval geometric thing. It may be an image of an archetype or maybe it has something to do with just plain roundness. Is a circle the perfect geometric shape? Is there nothing in nature that is a perfect circle?

I have preferred pie to cake my whole life. I’m not sure but that maybe my mother made more cakes than pies. Would that make me prefer them because they did not appear on the table as much as cake? Cakes just always seemed easier to make than pies but then I have never made a lot of cakes. It probably has something to do with that eggshell fiasco I wrote about in an earlier post.

Although it has not always been the case, I can’t think of one kind of dessert pie that I don’t like. When I was much younger I did not really care for mincemeat pie. Many people don’t like mincemeat. A lot of folks are just put off by reading the list of ingredients that go into making mincemeat. If you buy prepared mincemeat you can check out the side of the jar for the list of ingredients and it may make you think twice about eating it yourself. I think there’s some sort of beef fat in it. After all they do call it mince “meat”.

My family has a very long history of gathering together for reunions and while I have been unable to attend for several years it used to be that I never missed them. When I was in my twenties and my Grandmother was still alive I remember going to one such reunion and discovering that she had brought a mincemeat pie. I loved my Grandmother and would do almost anything for her. I would never do anything to hurt her feelings. So I ate a piece of the mincemeat pie and then just to put the icing on the cake, so to speak, I told her how much I liked it.

Forgive me Grandma. I am sorry I lied but I just wanted to make you feel good.

In our home we speak of karma dollars. This is a concept that an old friend of mine introduced me to many years ago wherein it is stated that if you do a good turn for someone, you store up an account of karma dollars that you may well need to draw on later in life. It’s a simple accounting system of morals that has no real basis in life but somehow or another makes us feel better. Hum..? I think I better just let that whole idea sit there. Perhaps we can return to it another day.

My Grandmother was glad I had enjoyed the pie. She always liked to make food that I liked. In fact, she was so glad that I enjoyed the pie that every year after that for as long as she lived she brought a mincemeat pie to the reunion because Bob liked them so much.

Do you see what I was talking about when I mentioned the karma dollar theory?

So every year Grandma brought a delicious mincemeat pie and every year Bob ate a piece of the pie and told Grandma how good it was.

It was worth it and I have no regrets. Growing older I have learned to be philosophical about these small funny things in life and in addition to that I have learned to enjoy mincemeat pie. Go figure!

Several years ago I decided I would teach myself to bake pies. Everyone told me that there was no need to learn how to make pie crust because you could buy perfectly good pie crust at any decent grocery store. It was too much work to actually make crust that would probably fall short of what was available in folded, flattened pieces in a box.

But they were not really hearing what I was saying.

I wanted to learn how to make really good pies.

I didn’t want to make really good pies. I wanted to learn how to make really good pies.

So I began to make pie crust and to put together pies. I started with single crust pumpkin pie because I could buy a can of pumpkin pie filling that only required the addition of an egg or two and a little evaporated milk. That was not the filling that I wanted to make, but it allowed me to concentrate on the hardest part of the pie, the crust. I read about pies in cook books and I talked to a lot of people about crust. I also started collecting books about pie because I was and still am a bit of a book nut.

Talking with my mother was very helpful. I still think that she makes the best pie crust in the world and I don’t care if I am a little bit prejudiced. Her crust is always flaky and flavorful and even though the standard recipe I follow is different than the one she uses, her crust is always delicious. She was probably the first person to emphasize to me the importance of not over-handling the dough. One of the problems I was struggling with in those early pie crusts was that I insisted on making pie dough like I do most things in life. I tend to believe that if you are supposed to put X amount of one item in a recipe then if you double it, it will taste twice as good. I also thought that if they said to work the dough for five minutes, fifteen would be even better. I know, not too smart. I think the Grateful Dead summed it up quite well as far as I was concerned, “too much of everything is just enough”.

Of course this is really very stupid, but by making mistakes we learn.

Eventually I stumbled upon a recipe and some advice that truly spoke to me. In my case the epiphany came from Julia Child, God Bless Her Soul. One of the greatest cookbooks in my collection is her classic The Way To Cook. Very simply stated and completely to the point. There is a wealth of information in that wonderful book and the section on making pie crust was very helpful. After following her instructions and using her recipe, I was able to make the best pie crust I had ever made. She advises you to chill all of your bowls as well as the ingredients and even the rolling pin. It struck me like a bolt of lightning that there was much more to cooking, and baking in particular, than heat. I learned the importance of cold. Wow! Cooking is more than just burning things; it also involves cooling things on occasion. Brilliant!

I made some progress and from there went on to make double crust pies and even the occasional meringue or cream pie.

The pies I have made recently have been a bit of a disappointment to me. The crust hasn’t been very easy to handle. Ever since I moved to the west coast I have not been as satisfied with the crusts I make as I was when I lived back east. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I am living closer to sea level or am baking pies further north than ever before. It’s time get back to work on my crust again and see if I can’t return to where I was when I first discovered Julia Child’s recipe.

This doesn’t really bother me though because as I stated earlier…I am interested in learning how to make good pies.

It may be I love them because I was raised on good pies or it may have something to do with the mystical geometric shape of the circle, but I suspect that it comes down to the fact that well made pie just tastes so darn good. Go to a good diner, drop in on a friend that bakes (Hi Mom), or take the time to learn how to make them if you are so inclined, but in any event make time now and then for a piece of pie with coffee or milk or whatever sounds good to you. Life is short and whoever said that we should eat dessert first was right.

Posted in A Piece of Pie, General | 5 Comments »

Red Meat and Red Wine

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Steak and Wine

Steak and Wine

I don’t really eat a lot of flashy foods or gourmet dishes. My general eating revolves around plain food and simple recipes. I guess you could say I like traditional American style food most of the time. I love a good burger. I love my Mom’s potato salad and my mother-in-law’s coleslaw. Good fried chicken or hot wings with just the right degree of warmth make me very happy. Occasionally I will venture into something a little more challenging or unusual and I love Greek, Mexican, Italian and Chinese foods just to name a few, but basically I eat fairly simply. I have a peanut butter sandwich and a banana almost every day.

Last night I fixed one of my favorite meals and although it was nothing too exotic it really hit the spot for old Bob.

I love a good steak and ever since I saw Alton Brown cook one in an iron skillet I have been a firm believer in that method of preparing them. Burning meat on the grill is another passion of mine, but I seldom cook steaks that way anymore. I would advise anyone interested to check out this method on the Food Channel web site for the details but basically it goes like this.

Paint your steaks with canola oil and salt and pepper on each side. Heat up a cast iron skillet in a 500 degree oven. Be very careful handling this pan in and out of the oven because it is going to get very hot. When the pan is thoroughly heated turn your stove top burner on high and give it time to heat completely as well.

Place the skillet on the hot burner and lay the steak on the hot skillet. I give the meat 60 seconds on each side and then place the whole thing, skillet and all back into the 500 degree oven. Here is where you have to adjust things for your own preference depending on the thickness of the steak as well as how well done you like yours cooked. For a fairly thick steak, about an inch and a quarter, I cook mine about three minutes and then pull it out (very carefully with oven mitts) and flip it over for another three minutes on the other side. Once again, you may have to experiment with just how long you cook it on each side. This will depend on how rare you like your meat. I like mine a little rare, but my wife will be happy if it’s almost raw.

The last step is probably the most important. Mr. Brown says to plate the steak and cover it with aluminum foil for ten minutes. This resting is very important for most meats. It allows the juices to settle and gives you time to finish any last minute side dishes you want to serve with it. I will admit that I usually don’t wait the whole ten minutes. I find seven works fine for me and besides, at this point I am usually ready to eat it with my bare hands. Grrrrrr!

Last night’s meal was even better than usual for me because I took the time to make a small plate of sliced mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. I sprinkled some fresh sliced basil over them and then drizzled olive oil over the whole dish. After a couple of shakes of salt and pepper all I needed was a fork and I was ready. I opened a bottle of wine and sat down to enjoy the cheese and tomatoes while the oven was heating my pan.

I tend to get a bit passionate about things I am interested in. An example of this might be the two years I spent reading nothing but baseball books. Recently I have been reading about and tasting new kinds of wine. Red wine with meat or spaghetti has always tasted good to me but for the past month I have been talking to the folks in the wine departments of my local grocery stores and reading books about wine. I have tasted a variety of wines and listened to podcasts on my computer about wine. I am even considering going back to school to study food and wine pairing.

The most amazing thing I have learned is that there is this whole huge world of wine out there and that there are probably more wine options for people today than any other time in history. This is particularly true if you are fortunate enough, like me, to live in the United States. The other good news is that there are a lot of very good wines you can purchase at relatively inexpensive prices, meaning less than ten dollars a bottle. Of course if you have the funds and the desire you can also purchase unbelievable wines at higher prices.

Yesterday morning I bought a half bottle of a red wine from the Rhone Valley region of southern France for eight dollars that although I did not know it at the time, was going to blow me away that evening. The label read Domaine De L’Ameillaud, Cairanne, 2005 with Cairanne being the name of the small village it came from. It was extremely rich and smooth. The color was a ruby red and when I tasted it I could pick up traces of dark cherries and a faint chocolate aftertaste. I just got lucky on this one.

I plated my steak with some chopped spinach that I had “seasoned” with butter and wine vinegar as well as salt and pepper. Not too fancy. Just frozen spinach heated up. I love green vegetables with steak. Sometimes I do green beans and sometimes I do Brussels sprouts but what I love the best is fresh cooked collard greens. Collard greens are a subject I will fully discuss at another time. The spinach and the moist flavorful steak were the perfect complement to the dark, velvety richness of the wine. All in all it was a heavenly experience and one that you could enjoy yourself. Just ask your local wine person for a good dry, red wine to drink with steak and don’t be afraid to try several. Eventually you will find one you like.

So that is what I ate and that is how I made it and you can learn more about making steaks this way by visiting www.foodtv.com. I did a rib eye steak last night but I have done sirloins as well and one time I even cooked boneless pork chops this way. You do want to make sure that you cook pork thoroughly. Be careful with the hot pan and remember that this only works with a cast iron skillet. NEVER use a non-stick surface pan or any other type of pan with a plastic or wooden handle. Just cast iron.

If you love steak you will love this and if you love red wine with your steak, invite me over.

Posted in General | Comments Off

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