Friday, February 27, 2009

Before They Were Iron Chef America Chairmen (Double Dragon Edition)

What a pleasant surprise to see the ICA chairman fight alongside the douchebag alcoholic from Party of Five in the 1994 movie adaptation of the video game that helped me squander so many precious hours of my youth and so many quarters intended for Big League Chew. Not as surprising, the movie was a pile of poo.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The 400 Calorie a Day Diet

I had been feeling very virtuous during a moment of reflection last saturday: the week before I had been working out a lot, cooking a ton and I would cap of the week by running a 10-mile race on Sunday. To prepare for my race I had made a healthy amount of pasta with parmesan, butter, black pepper and chives. It's simple and it's delicious. I went to bed at a very reasonable hour, with a self-satisfied grin, basking in how good I was being. Then apparently, while I slumbered, the Karma Fairy came and made me his prison girlfriend, because I woke up at 1:30 AM and preceded to puke for a good couple of hours. Pre-race jitters, right? Wrong, it's the fucking flu.

So, instead of burning off my beer gut the honest way--by giving my kneecaps and feet the kind of pounding that will make me need a HoverRound when I'm older--I dropped weight by puking so much that I cut something in my throat. Every time I eat or drink it feels like I'm trying to swallow glass, but I also fit into some old jeans, so, yay sickness! I think the last time I threw up was in the bathroom of a fancy restaurant while in France with Fidel, a robot, and not-yet-bald-but-getting-there artist. Wait, is fancy the right word?

UPDATE: So it appears that there has been a 1-inch piece of pasta lodged in my throat since Saturday night. I found this out by sticking my fingers down  my throat and pushing it further down. Now it's stuck in the lower portion of my throat. Bets on how long it takes to dissolve?

You Know It's Time for a Career Change When...

Before reading this, please note that I am an equal opportunity eater. Furthermore, a good chunk of what I write about is the crap that passes for food on a daily and large-scale basis. BUT, when this guy swings by the cube and announces (with the same authoritative grin that a Kokomo, Indiana teen would have when referencing the Olive Garden) that the goodbye lunch for another colleague will be at TGI Friday's, you might want to reconsider what you're doing with your life. Buen provecho.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Salmone a la Il Dulce

Thanks to our current economic clusterfuck, money is ultra-crappy and restaurants in my hood are getting shut down like a fat kid on a basketball court. On the positive side, I am continuing to hone my kitchen skills, concentrating on quickly prepared meals, since work has me grinding. Mrs. Mussolini being a pescatarian means I cook a lot of fish. A consistent and easy dish is baked salmon with soy-maple marinade:

1 pound of salmon filet (give or take)
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1/4 of maple syrup
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
red pepper flake to taste

Mix all ingredients in a shallow bowl or glass pan and marinate fish in mixture for no more than 45 minutes, flipping once. Preheat oven to 400 and bake salmon skin-side down in middle of oven for 20 minutes-25 minutes depending on desired done-ness. You can take the marinade and boil it down with a little sherry or white wine for a sauce and garnish with scallion and sesame seeds.

In the above picture (my Valentine's recession special) I've served it with a cold soba noodle salad which I tinkered with by using 4 instead of 6 tablespoons of vinegar, no radishes, toasted sesame seeds, chopped scallions and a tablespoon of room-temp, smooth peanut butter added to the noodles just after draining them, but before rinsing them off with cool water.

I like to have 2-3 glasses of white wine while making this, because then everything tastes way better than I think it does, and I'm also easier to get into the sack, assuming I don't pass out after dinner, again.

Slumdinner Millionaire

Mrs. Gastro and I have a tendency to get caught up in whatever craze the television tells us to, so in honor of the curry fever sweeping the nation (thanks to an Oscar-sweeping movie neither of us have seen), we ordered Tiffin, reputedly the best Indian food in Philadelphia. Last night's order of Samosas (stole the picture above from Foodaphilia without asking), Butter Chicken (it sounds healthier when called by its real name, Chicken Makhani. Don't judge me), and Naan was particularly glorious. Firstly, ordering in saves us the guilt and glut of two entrees, and the portions are plenty, even without the vegetable side thrown in at no extra charge. Secondly, a fried pyramid of dough stuffed with peas, potatoes, and the right blend of spices rivals a potato skin (if there were a show called Top Appetizer, these two would be in the final), and Tiffin's is the baby bear of samosas. The size and temperature is just right. Lastly, it's called Butter Chicken, but really, it's a milder version of Tiffin's Chicken Tikka Masala (white man's chicken). The tomato cream sauce is like satin sheets* enveloping every grain of rice and every chunk of tandoori chicken. It puts the "comfort" in "comfort food." The whole meal made us feel like a couple of slumdog millionaires, which is good, because otherwise, I'd be upset at the one drawback, which is that Tiffin charges for raita, a delicious cucumber yogurt sauce you can use to cool down your entrees if they get too spicy for you. Buen provecho.

Tiffin's Mt. Airy outpost is located at 7105 Emlen St, Philadelphia, PA. The dining room is cozy and BYO. We usually order take away, and for $22 we can get an appetizer and an entree to split.

*I've never owned satin sheets, but the way people describe them, you can imagine how glorious this texture is.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

I bade farewell to Taco Bell in August of 2008. Today, I fell off the wagon like a toothless meth addict (pictured above?). I guess I'm still chasing that first bite. The #1 combo, a beef burrito supreme, a crunchy taco supreme, and a large soda was nothing but a burn bag, and yet another example of my powerlessness against fast food. Buen provecho.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cheesesteak Tally

Pat's: 2
Geno's: 0
Delassandro's: 2
Steve's: 1
Street Meat: 4
Other: 7
Total: 16

I completely forgot about last Friday's dinner with the Gastro-in-laws. Delassandro's is situated a little more than halfway towards their end of Philadelphia, but their lack of cheese fries and a credit card machine once again nudged us across the street to Chubby's, where the fries are kept crispy until you get home by the magic of plastic portion cuppery. Sadly, the processed cheese sauce is not Cheez Whiz (cheap bastards), but I've created a new flavor using a cocktail of processed cheese sauce, ranch dressing, and Tabasco (procheransco). Great for dipping and topping. Buen provecho.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

First (and hopefully not the only) installment of Why Did I Eat This? An assessment of the crap that sometimes gets the best of me, even when I'm not all that hungry. The gloriously artistic camera phone picture above shows Dunkin' Donuts' latest breakfast offering, the not-very-creatively named Waffle Breakfast Sandwich. The verdict, in list form:

1. The waffles are nothing more than McGriddle bread pressed with waffle dents, which means this compact foodstuff was worth a full day of calories (thank you very much, Mr. Spurlock).
2. Microwaved egg product is no substitute for the real thing. The consistency of a marshmallow and the taste of an egg is a horrible combination.
3. Dunkin's bacon is so thin that it could moonlight as dental floss. Delicious dental floss.
4. I spent $4.59 on this?
5. Shame on me (as always) for falling victim to food marketing.

Unless you have the metabolism of a hummingbird (or you could give a shit about heart disease), this one's not worth it. I'll let you know if its siren song dupes me again tomorrow morning. Buen provecho.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So Easy, a (Romantic) Caveman Can Do It

Her heart will melt like chocolate in a double boiler. If you're short of cash next Valentine's Day (or you're unable to justify the ungodly prices charged by Godiva), make your own damn chocolate covered strawberries. It's one of the easiest and most delicious things I've ever made. Buen provecho.

6 oz. Dark Chocolate
3 oz. White Chocolate
1 lb. Strawberries, washed and well dried. If you can find them with stems attached, you're a better man than I.

Float two heatproof bowls in two separate saucepans filled with an inch of water. Bring water to just boiling and turn the heat off. Dump dark chocolate into one, white chocolate into the other, and stir to melt. Dip strawberries in dark chocolate and place on wax paper. After all strawberries are dipped, dip a fork in the white chocolate to create neat looking drizzles. Have tissues ready for when she cries at how romantic you are. Remind her during next football season.

Where Was Your Prix Fixe Meal on Valentine's Day?

Alison Two's gushing review in this month's Philadelphia magazine inflated my expectations to a point where I was convinced that Ms. Barshak's (and Bill Lewis') dishes would be nothing short of fireworks on the palate (that's a good thing). I was also happy that I could substitute the lengthy train ride to Center City with a short drive from Chestnut Hill, and that there was an opening for an early table. Besides, a Valentine's night out was in order after Mrs. Gastro and myself had taken turns wearing the chef hat for the past few years. Put in all in the blender and you get a mighty good Valentine's Day smoothie, but make sure you put the lid on. Otherwise, the whole thing will splatter in your face. Did I put the lid on? Oops.

Well, not really (I just like the blender imagery). In fact, the experience was dangerously close to being perfect. Easy drive, incredible ambience, top notch service, excellent cocktails (best old fashioned I've had, probably ever), everything else but the food. More specifically, my food. Like I said, I expected fireworks. Even the descriptions on the menu had me thinking that this would be a transcendent experience. Three courses fit for a last meal. Instead, the fried oyster appetizer was too large. Personally, having to chew an oyster more than a few times really ruins the idea of it being a delicacy (from the word "delicate," yes? As in, please don't use enormous oysters in this dish). Moreover, the horseradish cream lacked bite. I could have gotten more of a kick from an Arby's Horsey Sauce packet. Moving on to the main, my usual MO is to order based on sides, and the porcini risotto accompanying the filet tugged me in that direction until the waitress recommended the harissa rubbed lamb because of its "nice spice," following up with, "If you're feeling adventurous, definitely go for it." Again I'm expecting heat, but this time around, I didn't even get salt. Not on the lamb, not on the white beans, and the yogurt sauce was a drizzle that got lost in the greens. Even though the lamb was cooked well, the lack of seasoning made for a bland and, dare I say, straightforward, dish. Shame on me for not going with my gut. With dessert being their final chance, I was very pleased with the bread pudding, the love of which I attribute to the bread pudding they sporadically serve at the Lucky Dog Saloon. Alison Two's was beautifully presented, exceedingly moist, and perfectly portioned.

I was definitely not turned off by the experience. Given the option, I'd eat there again in a heartbeat, and it might be entirely different on a night without the high expectations, the need for the waitstaff to rush you along, and the automatic 20% gratuity (I hate being presumed a shitty tipper). And who knows, maybe I'll even get some salt on my dish? Buen Provecho.

Alison Two is located at 422 S. Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, PA 19034. We got ourselves full and drunk for $197 plus tip.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Aprés Ski

The term "Aprés Ski" is non-existent in Utah, but much like the opium dens of Chinatown and the cockfights of the South Bronx, the evils of booze, billiards, and burgers can be found, provided you know where to look, and I'll give you a hint. You won't find it on the slopes. Besides, it's not the best idea to get shitfaced before heading back down the winding roads of Big Cottonwood Canyon (I knew a dude who hit a moose. Fucked up his hands so bad that he couldn't play bass for a month, and he sucked at the bass, so imagine sucking and then not playing for a month. He quit the bass). If you can manage to stave off the alcohol shakes for another 25 minutes, head to the Cotton Bottom, an unassuming structure on 2820 East and 6200 South (if you're not from Salt Lake, take a right at the mouth of Big Cottonwood and follow the road as it winds left. After the overpass, it's at the next intersection on your left hand side. Alternatively, you can roll down the windows and follow your nose). Here you'll find $8 pitchers and $5 garlic burgers, the latter of which will stay with you for the rest of the evening (that's a good thing), each burp reminding you of perfectly cooked ground sirloin laced with what I would guess to be nothing but granulated garlic and a dash of salt and pepper.

No fries here, but the burger's substantial enough that you won't need them. Plus, the beer's so weak that you really don't want to fill up on fried potatoes (besides, your dumb ass ate a huge plate of chili cheese fries on the mountain). If you're staying in the Salt Lake valley and your winter sports travels send you to Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons, I highly recommend making the Cotton Bottom your aprés ski destination. Buen Provecho.


As my world tour continues (due to bad trip timing), I find myself nestled between the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains (that's in Utah), where my parents graciously hosted Che Gruyere and myself for three days of threatening to launch off cliffs, hike to fresh powder, and other extreme activities that sound a lot cooler on the chairlift than they do at the top of the mountain. Between it all, one must refuel, because the even the bunny hills are exhausting when you're as old and fat as I am. Behold Ma Gastro's enchiladas, one of the best ways to replace all those spent calories. Flat layers of corn tortillas flash fried in vegetable oil, each topped with beans, red chile, green chile, cheese, and scallions. And if that's not enough, an over-easy egg for a little extra protein (not pictured). Wash it down with a Dr. Pepper, and marvel at the ambience of a kitchen untouched for years, vinyl tablecloth and all. Buen provecho.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sporadic Suckage

God I suck at consistently posting. With that, you will now be getting the list version of the balance of the Bogota trip:

Day 2: Burgers at Agadon. A self directed menu where you can order burgers by size and trick them out (did I really just type that?) with classic toppings, or a fried egg.

Day 3: Steak at Salto del Angel. The Bogota equivalent of Rosa Mexicano, a behemoth restaurant specializing in local fare, including aguardiente, a digestif that's a lot less syrupy (and a lot more drinkable) than Sambuca.

Day 4: Appetizers at 1492. While the apps were delicious, they couldn't compare to the basil ice cream at the end of this finger food meal.

Day 5: Burgers at Agadon. I still couldn't bring myself to order the fried egg.

Wow, this post is lousy. Buen provecho.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trial Run: Chocolate Mussolini

The latest addition to Fidel Gastro jumped the posting gun (twice!) before I could give a proper introduction. With Che Gruyere back among the guerrillas (nary a post in years, literally), a new Brooklyn/Manhattan/Home Cook correspondent has risen to the occasion (I could say "like pizza dough," but that's just way too contrived). Welcome aboard, Chocolate Mussolini. And no, he will not be specializing in desserts. Buen Provecho.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

These Eggs Be Poached

Breakfast may be my favorite meal of the day. I mostly do quick stuff during the week, but try to make up for it on the weekends. This Saturday I made a variation of Eggs Benedict that were pretty gangster (sorry for the lousy picture). I'm trying to get back into fighting shape, but still wanted the dish to be somewhat creamy, so I put thin slices of ripe avocado on top of the english muffin and used good smoked salmon instead of ham. I  topped the eggs off with some fresh chives, which I also used to flavor the roast potatoes. I'll be fucked if I can figure out how to poach two eggs at once though. Is that even possible? In any case, these eggs be poached.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Like a Rainbow in The Dark...

Recently I visited Stretch, AKA Marfie, in his new hood, next to Greenwood Cemetery (a brief note to Marfie: living next to a cemetery is pretty evil; living with a dude who bakes you cookies is less-so). There aren't many options for the living in this desolate neck of the woods, so we munched up at Toby's Public House, which serves pizza, beer, Metal and hockey. I could give a shit about hockey, but pizza, Guinness and Dio are an impeccable combination.

Let me get the bad stuff out of the way: Toby, your Caesar salad was like an anchovy taking a dump in mouth. There weren't actually any anchovies in the salad, so I'm both impressed and amazed at how you accomplished this. I'm pretty sure the Parmesan was the Kraft, pre-grated variety, which has all the texture and deliciousness of Coney Island sand. Your pizza, however, was spot on. My pie had a bubbly and burnt thin crust, topped with a sweet tomato sauce, creamy buffalo mozzarella, and sopressata. I can forgive the crap Caesar after tasting the special hug of the buffalo mozzarella and the slightly smoky sopressata. I'm also a sucker for exposed brick, so you had me at brick oven.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dia Uno: In the Atlanta Airport, It's Always Friday

I apologize in advance to anyone who actually thinks Guy Fieri is a cool dude (and also disown you), but I can't seem to get around that mid-90s-Offspring look. I'd like to see him separated (Hey! Come out and play!), you know, like drawn and quartered? Spikey bleachy hair notwithstanding, my options for food and drink in the terminal were limited, but who am I kidding? Even with the spokes-douche* on the cover of the menu, I'm a sucker for chain restaurants.

As my wife and I have learned time and again, chain restaurants are only good for appetizers and desserts. Heeding that sage advice, I went with the pork ravioli bites, stuffed, breaded, and fried pasta with a BBQ dipping sauce (note the impeccable presentation). The pork filling has the texture of Totino's pizza rolls, although possibly a bit more stringy. It's kind of an unknown foodstuff that you take at face value, like babies with baby food. The ravioli shell is almost there, but the hint of freezer burn takes it down a couple notches as well. Thinking it couldn't get much shittier, I was rather rather surprised at the tang and spice of the BBQ sauce, although it had the texture of the assorted sauces slathered atop a styrofoam tray of Chinese fast food (too much corn starch). But I ate every last one. Why the hell not?

*To be perfectly honest, my audition tape for The Next Food Network Star was not well received, and I'm a tad jealous of Guy's meteoric rise, not to mention the fact that he gets to travel cross country and eat shit on camera, aka my dream job.

Monday, February 02, 2009

I Spent a Week in Bogota and All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post

Stay tuned for an overview of culinary delights from the land of FARC bombings, coffee, and coca. But don't expect much. I wound up eating burgers (hamburguesas, burguers) half the time I was there (but holy shit they were good). I think A Hamburger Today would be quite impressed.