Friday, July 31, 2009

This is Why I'm Not a TV Chef Personality

Man, I suck ass on camera:

In directly related news, this is my entry for the Vincent Giordano Video Chef contest. My entry, as you'll see, is a delicious "fajita" sandwich I made by putting VG cold cuts on the grill and topping them with sauteed peppers and onions, pepper jack cheese, sour cream, and homemade (housemade?) salsa. If there was online voting, I would ask for your support, but there's not, so merely enjoy it/hate it/poke fun at it/link to it. And if you're feeling inspired, hurry up, because the contest ends today. Buen provecho.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

The real question here is, "Why didn't I buy fifty more bags?" Herr's just threw an artificially flavored haymaker and it landed smack in my mouth. These things tasted EXACTLY like ribs (but not my ribs because my ribs are life-changing; more like something you'd get at a chain restaurant). I'm amazed at the leaps and bounds the food scientists have made since creating something that was supposed to taste like oranges. The only other chip closer to the real thing that I've tasted was a bag of pollo-flavored Lay's in Bogota that might as well have been chicken skin. Buen provecho.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Shoulder to Cry On

With the arrival of Baby Gastro on the immediate horizon (3 days!), my plan was to lock myself in the home office this past weekend to tie up any loose ends hanging over my head from the 9-5. Instead, I sort of went to Rice's Quality Meats in the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market and sort of bought a pork shoulder. And then, I sort of had to make a dry rub and sort of had to keep an eye on it for 4 hours, which--when you figure in sitting down to dinner--left little to no time for the loose ends. A big oops, but procrastination is sure delicious sometimes. Buen provecho.

I used this recipe from Mark Bittman (I would up the salt by a teaspoon or two):

2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons mild chili powder, like ancho or New Mexico
2 teaspoons paprika
1 pork shoulder, about 5 or 6 pounds

1. Start gas grill, using burners only on one side to achieve a heat of 250 to 300 degrees. Put a couple of handfuls of wood chips in a tinfoil pan, and set it over working burners. While grill heats, mix together dry ingredients, and rub them all over pork, including under skin as best you can and in any crevices.
2. Put pork on cool side of grill and cover. Check about 15 minutes later to make sure chips are smoking and heat is below 300 degrees. Check every hour or so in case heat escalates too much or chips need replenishing.
3. Pork is done when it reaches an internal temperature of about 190 degrees, about 4 hours later (less time if you used a smaller piece of pork, more if larger). Meat will be very tender. If you like, raise heat and grill meat to crisp it up a bit. Serve immediately.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Vacation

"This is the perfect hangover food." - Mrs. Gastro

After I got the email on Thursday, I wondered if there was a catch. "You and a guest are invited to try the new menu at PYT. Regards, Tommy Up." I also wondered how Mr. Up happened upon my name. Then there was the bit of trepidation that I'd show up today to some sort of shit show and not even get to eat, or worse, it would be like the dream where you're walking through the halls of your alma mater without pants. Thankfully, all of it was unfounded (and I remembered to wear pants), and in place of the anxiety was a straightforward meal that could work at any hour of the day.

Feeling a bit off from the car ride (if you're coming from Northwest Philadelphia, take note: there's a section of Germantown Avenue closed in a section where you don't really want to have to take a detour, so take Lincoln to Kelly, even if it's a bit longer of a ride), I was pleasantly surprised to see two words that pair better than a porterhouse and a cabernet, "free" and "parking." Having not yet been to the oasis that is the Piazza at Schmidt's, this was an added bonus, especially since we were running a bit late. An immediate seating awaited us, followed by a short delay, followed by a very apologetic and attentive server that completely made up for said delay. A Stone IPA and a coke spiked with cherry soda helped us wash down a simple cheddar burger (I haven't tasted a burger cooked that perfectly since my honeymoon) and a 'shroom burger, whose inspiration I had assumed came from Danny Meyer's Shake Shack (this was later corroborated by Mr. Up himself); you take two portobello caps, layer some cheese in between, batter and fry it, then top it with some special sauce and tuck it into a toasted bun. It's the alpha dog of veggie burgers, or maybe the funny fat kid. Whoever you're comparing it to, one things for sure: somehow it belongs with the meats, even though it showed up under the Bogus Burgers section of the menu. On the side, a sack of fries and a sack of onion rings. While I wasn't much for the fries (hard to get a handful with my mitt-like hands), the onion rings were in my top 3. Sturdy after the initial bite (I hate it when the onion slips out), well seasoned, and well battered. A chewy and sweet success.

To top it all off, the bartender came out with a special mojito that was more Lucy than Desi (that's good thing): strawberry infused prosecco in lieu of simple syrup, arriving at the latter end of the meal and offering a delicious palate cleanser. Another added bonus? Mrs. Gastro being with child meant two of these for me, and since I also ordered a Kenzinger after the Stone IPA, I gave myself a healthy buzz. Since I'm in agreement with her that this would be amazing hangover food, I guess I'll just have to head back to PYT tomorrow, non-gratis, but it's so good, I'd pay double what they're charging. Buen provecho.

PYT is located in The Piazza at Schmidt's. It's pretty hard to miss the three giant letters in the window, but if you're blind or just more interested in fitness, it's next to the running store. The food's cheap, and it's a great place to hang out. If I didn't have to drive home, I probably would have sat there all day cranking brew doggies. I'd also like to offer my apologies to our waitress. I would have left a bigger tip, but I only had 16 bucks on me. More photos here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Cure for the Summertime Blues

There was some serious backlash regarding the last WhyDIET? post, but that's the intent, people. I eat the heavily marketed crap so you don't have to, thereby saving you both calories and your dignity. However, I have said on more than one occasion that I am an equal opportunity eater, so when I'm not chasing the fast food high, I like to slow things down.

At this other end of the spectrum (the non-shitty end), sweet and spicy takes on a whole new meaning with this barbecue chicken recipe from Serious Eater Joshua Bousel. It turns out that the sauce slathering should be an afterthought, so I focused on creating a zinger of a rub instead, and also made sure that my drumsticks were given at least as much attention as Mrs. Gastro gives to the Jon and Kate saga. Buen provecho.

Rub Ingredients (for 6 lbs of chicken)
2 T Ground black pepper
2 T Chili powder
1 T Brown sugar
1 T Cumin
1 T Dried oregano
1 T Smoked paprika
1 T Salt
1/2 T Granulated garlic
1/2 T Granulated sugar
Cayenne pepper to your heat tolerance

Mix ingredients together and toss with chicken in a couple freezer bags. Refrigerate at least a half hour and up to twenty-four. Follow the recipe in the link above. More pictures can be seen here. Full disclosure: I used Kraft barbecue sauce, but that shit was bangin'.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

"I'm hot, sticky sweet; from my head to my feet." - Def Leppard

I'm pretty sure the guys from Def Leppard were not referring to Wendy's new Asian Chicken Bites when they wrote "Pour Some Sugar on Me," but I suppose that's neither here nor there. Curious to taste another failure at reinventing the fast food wheel, Mrs. Gastro and I made a small detour on our way to the movies for me to try this drive-thru disaster. Let's break it down like so many stomach acids:

1. I'm pretty sure the acrid taste of the breading was due to the fact that the teens behind the counter would rather smoke marijuana cigarettes than clean the fryer grease, but there's a slight possibility that this whole sauce thing might be Wendy's trying to hide the fact that they're using low(er) quality chicken.
2. The sauce, while not as brown as what you get at the Chinese food carts, had the same corn starchy consistency and stickiness that you pray won't leap from the container onto your hands or clothes (especially if you've got your swag on).
3. More on the sauce: the spice catches up to you, the sweetness makes your teeth hurt, and the red pepper flakes are made of tissue paper.
4. Fries and Sweet & Spicy Asian Chicken is a terrible combination. Sprite doesn't help the cause.

If you've ever put sweet & sour sauce on your chicken nuggets, then these boneless wings are nothing new. The processed chicken is molded a bit differently to replicate breast meat, but that's about it. In addition to the flavors of the Far East, Wendy's also offers Bold Buffalo and Honey BBQ, two flavors that, sadly, I'll be stupid enough to try in the coming weeks. Buen provecho.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Baby Got Back (yes, two rap songs in two posts)

Michael Pollan said that somebody else said that meat will kill you, but as a newly minted Philadelphian, I'm quickly learning a meat bender is the least of my worries. Case in point, the shithead brandishing a lit roman candle amidst the post-fireworks crowd on the Ben Franklin Parkway this past Saturday, or the guy I just heard about on the news that's running around robbing Hispanics at gunpoint. Wading through all this bad news is certainly enough to make you use Pollan's eater's manifesto as kindling for the charcoals and fire up the grill, but since mine's gas and I actually have a profound respect for Mr. Pollan, I'll just open up the valve, pray that my eyebrows remain intact when lighting it, and grill my face off.

After I torched some of Tom Mylan's choicest cuts of pork last summer (sniff), I had to redeem myself. Stumbling upon a Cook's Illustrated recipe a couple weeks back gave me my opportunity. It was your typical gazillion-step process Cook's Illustrated recipe (bad), but it was also the first one I've seen that offered a smoking method for the gas grill (good). Having a Friday at my disposal, I undertook the lengthy process--a brining, a rub, a rest, preparing the wood chips, preparing the grill, and finally, a four hour smoke bath for my baby backs.

The end result was something I want to make every day for the rest of my life. They were quite possibly the most succulent and sumptuous ribs I have ever tasted, and I'm not just saying that because I made them. The brown sugar in the rub gave them a beautiful glaze and sweetness that was the perfect complement to the spice mixture, and the smoky flavor of the meat had me gnawing at each rib for every last piece of protein. If you've got the time and the equipment, I highly recommend using both to make this magical meaty music. Buen provecho.

Barbecued Baby Back Ribs for Gas Grill (stolen from Cook's Illustrated)
Serves 4

1/2 cup
table salt or 1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 racks baby back ribs (about 2 pounds each), or loin back ribs
Spice rub
1 tablespoon sweet paprika plus additional 1/2 teaspoon
1 1/2 teaspoons
chili powder
1 3/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons
dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon
table salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon
dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon
ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. To brine the ribs: Dissolve salt and sugar in 4 quarts cold water in stockpot or large plastic container. Submerge ribs in brine and refrigerate 1 hour until fully seasoned. Remove ribs from brine and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.
2. While ribs are brining, cover two cups wood chips with water and soak 30 minutes, then drain. Combine spice rub ingredients in small bowl. When ribs are out of brine and dried, rub each side of racks with 1 tablespoon spice rub; refrigerate racks 30 minutes.
3. To barbecue the ribs: Place soaked wood chips in small disposable aluminum pan, (or homemade container as illustrated below); set pan on burner that will remain on. Turn all burners to high, close lid, and heat grill until chips smoke heavily, about 20 minutes. (If chips ignite, extinguish flames with water from squirt bottle.) Scrape grill grate clean with wire brush; turn off burner(s) without wood chips.
4. Arrange ribs on cool side of grill and cover (grill temperature should register about 275 degrees on grill thermometer). Cook for 4 hours, until meat easily pulls away from bone, flipping rib racks, switching their position so that rack that was nearest fire is on outside, and turning racks 180 degrees every 30 minutes. Transfer ribs to cutting board, then cut between bones to separate ribs; serve.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Daddy Mac'll Make You

Pete's Famous was a perfect pit-stop on the way home from the Parkway festivities this past weekend, especially after wading through a crowd of ne'er-do-wells and drunken revelers with two pregnant ladies in tow (no easy feat). We managed to get one of the last tables of the night, and ignoring any sort of physical cues that I should have gone with something a little lighter, I ordered the Mac Daddy Burger Platter, not only because it was called the "Mac Daddy," but also because it was a cheeseburger topped with corned beef and Russian dressing.

Sandwiched between a home-grilled burger dinner and a home-grilled burger brunch, this overachieving middle child of a burger might be more aptly named "The Reuben surprise." I'm left to wonder (and possibly experiment on my own) what it might be like with kraut instead of pickles, but I was very pleased with how the pickles were used here; one lazy cut lengthwise, giving them a thickness that says, "Fuck you people, it's late and I'm sick of cutting pickles." Whether or not that was intentional, the two pickle halves stood up well next to the rest of the burger, which was an opulent mess of surpisingly fresh ingedients. The patty was a little overcooked, but the russian dressing (whether from a jar or house made, it erred on the mayo side, which is certainly preferable) saved the day. And even amidst the chaos of the teenage clientele in the place, the service was excellent. I'd definitely go back for the Mac (Daddy burger Platter). Buen provecho.

Pete's Famous is located at 116 N 21st Street (at Appletree). Mrs. Gastro got the pizza and gave it an OK. I think four of us got stuffed for $44 including beers for the non-pregnant eaters. Ordering the Mac Daddy Burger Platter will probably not make you a Mac Daddy, but it's still pretty damn good.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

Another relapse with Taco Bell. I needed a fix after finally getting my PA drivers license (it took months to do so, but the story is real boring and makes me look lazy, so forget I even mentioned it). This time I fell victim to a bunch of sweaty groomsmen and a sockeye salmon colored shell, both of which elevated my expectations regarding the heat factor. And since the portion control section of my brain shuts off under such duress, I ordered the Big Box meal, which comes with a Volcano taco, a regular taco, a Volcano burrito, and cinnamon twists.

Unfortunately, the Volcano offerings didn't really erupt with flavor. The mayonnaise that T-Bell tries to pass off as cheese sauce zeroes out any potential heat. There were other eruptions, but we're talking food here, so I'll spare you the details. Buen provecho.