Thursday, April 30, 2009

Me and Food Are In a Fight

Dear Food,
Please refrain from being so delicious as to render me incapable of ceasing to shove you in my mouth.

Dear Metabolism,
Please refrain from being so slow as to render me incapable of enjoying aforementioned food.

A very uninspired week for me and food. Buen provecho.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

If eating healthy is right, I want to be wrong. Dead wrong. Faltering once again on the 5 day fast, I tried to keep it a bit healthier with this disaster of a salad from Orewa Deli in Suburban Station, the Tuscan Tuna (Romaine, tuna, tomatoes, red onions, and chickpeas). It was a plastic clamshell full of disappointment and banality (although the onions are definitely sticking with me). They didn't even give me a piece of bread to soak up the unforkable bits of tuna caught in the clamshell ridges. Why I would buy a salad from one of the dumps in Suburban Station is another one for Robert Stack, and now I'm seven dollars and twenty-seven cents poorer, still hungry, and a little sad. I have managed to completely ruin my afternoon. Shit. Buen provecho.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Come for the Wings, Don't Stay for the Burger

Snug pants wishlist:
1. I wish I could wear them with little to no discomfort.
2. I wish I could fulfill that wish without having to resort to the extreme measure of starvation.
3. I wish I didn't belly flop off the starvation wagon last night, but at least I finally got to try the wings at Union Jack's in North Hills (Glenside).
4. I wish I would have stopped at the wings and not continued on with a burger.

I decided that my suit would fit marginally better if I limited my caloric intake to less than one hundred per day. As an alumnus of the Master Cleanser, I was confident that I could manage a 5 day hunger strike with the occasional bite of steamed spinach or gulp of fruit smoothie. And to be honest, after this past weekend, my body could definitely use some respite from the food abuse. I was doing just fine until Mrs. Gastro and I took a trip to USA Baby to test out a few gliders and pick up a toddler rail. To be more precise, I was doing just fine until I realized that Union Jack's was on the way home a little earlier in the day (although the lousy salesperson did absolutely nothing to take my mind off my mounting hunger with her stupid mouth full of stupid rice cakes and her stupid hard sell and empty threats about glider lead times and her stupid annoying voice. Honestly, who gives a sales pitch with a mouth full of rice cakes?).

Our home inspector let me in on this townie secret of a pub and their magical wings a few weeks earlier. After a gaggle of google results whose main theme was "best wings I've ever had," there was little doubt that this hunger strike had precious few hours left, so after Mrs. Gastro punched the USA Baby salesbitch in the face*, we raced there as fast as the traffic lights and our compact SUV would let us. When we arrived, the first good sign was that the parking lot was full. Even better, when we walked in, there was a booth waiting for us. Brief hiccup with the slow service, but understandable with the bartender doing double duty as the waitress. And then the wings arrived. A brief moment of knuckle cracking and expectations lowering (just in case), and then the gnawing commenced. This wing is classic. No breading, ample hot sauce (we compromised with medium), not the puny kind you get during a 25 cent wing night, and definitely not overcooked (as great as these wings were, some of them had a not-so-appetizing pinkish hue). In addition to the standard, Union Jack's also whips up sauces like honey Caribbean and Mexican jalapeƱo. Since this place is only 9 minutes from where we live, there's no question we will be back to try these.

But (big but here), we will most certainly not be back for the burgers. It could be guilt for breaking the fast, or it might just be that burgers are not the strong suit at Union Jack's. Feeling adventurous, I ordered the Big Ben, a bacon cheeseburger topped with HP Sauce, the English A-1. The patty was way overcooked and without salt, and because it was left on the grill too long, it was as dry as the kaiser roll it was served on. I am also a fool for thinking that HP Sauce on a burger is a good idea. Looking over at Mrs. Gastro's turkey burger, it was apparent that the same lack of care was taken in its preparation as well. Two huge disappointments. As an afterthought, I looked around to notice that the other tables were full of wings and nothing else. Maybe I should have taken my cue from the townies. Buen provecho.

Union Jack's is located at 2750 Limekiln Pike in Glenside, PA. Without drinking, we were able to get 10 wings and two burgers for $25 including tip. Cash only, but there's an ATM by the Golden Tee machine that you can use for the outrageous price of $2.00 plus whatever your bank fleeces you for.

*Actual punching may not have occurred

Monday, April 20, 2009

Food Bender

If a stray ninja star doesn't kill me, my diet surely will. I spent an entire weekend asking myself not only, "Why did I eat this?" but also, " Why am I unable to stop eating this?" It was a miracle that I could actually get the words out of my mouth with all the food in it. Here's a rundown of the delicious death that was my weekend:

Friday, lunchtime: Ronny's Roadside. The intern at my office swears by the sausage & peppers from this food truck on Temple's campus. So what do I do? Go for the chicken parm and an order of fries. The reason why I would get an order of fries to complement a chicken parm escapes me, especially when I knew the fries had to travel 20 minutes to get here. Wait, I remember now, because I'm a fat ass. Do you ever eat fries so fast that they get stuck in your throat and then it hurts to swallow? Do you ever make it even harder to swallow by taking huge bites of a foot long sandwich that is bready and cheesy to the point where you actually have to chew 30 times to swallow?

Friday, dinner: Uno Pizzeria. Whatever reserves were left in the tank from lunch were completely exhausted by a crazy stroller lady who derailed what would have been a quick registry run to Babies 'R' Us with an inundation of upselling information delivered in the sleepiest of monotones. Waiting to eat is dangerous, because it usually results in ordering too much (or at least eating too much). I went with the parenthetic option, not wasting a single bite of Uno's Shrimp and Crab Fondue, a cheesy and seafoody glop of deliciousness floating in a sea of grease (that's a good thing). I even topped my pizza with it.

Saturday, breakfast: A healthy break from the madness. Mrs. Gastro lovingly prepared a delicious smoothie and pancakes, perfectly portioned and presented.

Saturday, lunch: Four Red Stripes, leftover Uno Pizza.

Saturday, dinner: A pre-Flight of the Conchords meal at Dahlak. I haven't been here since college. Ethiopian (actually Eritrean) food is great, unless your jeans are already snug and you order a third entree to get some vegetables and then when the second round of injera comes you feel bad not eating it even though you're finished. If I were a tad more shameless, I would have unbuttoned the top button of my Levi's.

Saturday, post concert: Having made it home and into bottoms with an elastic waistband, why not eat the rest of the leftover pizza?

Sunday overall was pretty tame. The one item of note is this: It's not the food at Wendy's that makes you fat. It's your inability to resist the 99 cent value menu that makes you fat. Since when do you need to order a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger to supplement your Spicy Chicken combo? Good lord.

I'm not eating this week (we'll see how long that lasts). Buen provecho.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Am a Mexican Grandmother - The Tamale Marathon

In my formative years, Ma and Pa Gastro spent much of my youth trying to hide my Hispanicity (is that a word?). I'm lucky that it was only on the surface. Behind closed doors, we ate beans and green chile every night, sopping up whatever was left on the plate with freshly made tortillas. Now that it's cool to be Mexican, I've come out of hiding, and my Gastro-in-laws have welcomed me and my culture into their family with open arms. As a gesture of gratitude, I agreed to make tamales, something traditionally reserved for a busy kitchen full of old ladies. Lacking the old lady support, I enlisted the help of a Texan who married into the family, and we began the arduous yet fruitful task.

It all starts with a hefty order of pork and chicken. We used a Boston butt and a whole roaster (6 lbs each) from Haring Brothers, an old school country butcher just outside of Doylestown. The meat preparation is simple. Boil until tender (each took about 2-1/2 hours), cool, debone, and shred (and don't forget to reserve the broth). Mix in some secret spices and corn oil, and you have your tamale meat.

Next, make the masa, a dough made using specially treated cornmeal (sold under the name Maseca in the "ethnic foods" aisle), corn oil, secret spices, and the reserved broth. I mixed this by hand (as a Mexican grandmother should), but next time I may opt for the stand mixer.

The end result will be spread into dehydrated corn husks soaked in water (these are also located in the "ethnic foods" aisle), topped with the meat, and rolled up like one of those herbal cigarettes that the long haired kids used to smoke in high school. This is where things begin to resemble a sweatshop, because you've already logged eight hours, and there's no chance you're going to stop with ingredients begging to meet their tamale destiny. So you roll on and stack up, and just when you think there's a light at the end of the tamale tunnel, you still have to steam them. Another two hours--fueled by Pacifico and Jim Beam--and a silent prayer that your Mexperiment doesn't turn out to be a disaster.

Then, as hour thirteen silently passes, you burn your hands removing the first tamale from its husk, cut into it, and rejoice at your accomplishment. A midnight snack so deliciously addictive that my late abuelita would be proud. One hundred tamales later, I survived, along with my Texan Gastro-in-law, the marathon. Buen provecho.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Special Request

Local Pizza Shop: Hello, Dominick's.
Fidel: Yeah, I haven't ordered it for a while, but a couple months back you guys made me a sandwich that was a cheesesteak with mozzarella sticks, french fries, and marinara sauce.
Local Pizza Shop: Um, I don't think we make that anymore.
Fidel: Well can you make it one more time?
Local Pizza Shop: Hold please. (2 minutes pass. An eternity in this moment) Okay, it's a cheesesteak with what? Mozzarella sticks?
Fidel: And french fries and marin, er, pizza sauce.
Local Pizza Shop: 25 minutes.
Fidel: Thanks.

Believe you me, it's worth the extra effort to get a Fat Knight without having to drive the hour and a half up to New Brunswick. Buen provecho.

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Of the many options available to soak up the $3 Bud Light drafts at Drinker's Pub, their Buffalo Fries take the blue ribbon (probably because they were the only option sampled). The perfect storm of fried potatoes, Frank's Red Hot, shredded cheddar, and a blue cheese sauce fit for both sipping AND dipping was an excellent pre-Pub & Kitchen appetizer, but I couldn't tell you the reason why, aside from the fact that it gives me a nice segue into my review of the much buzzed about gastropub. What I can tell you is this: from the bar snacks to the mains, two out of three in each category ain't bad.

Bar Snacks:
Winner: Duck liver on toast. As smooth as meat butter gets. A schmear so perfectly schmeared that you didn't lose any with the inevitable toast crumble after the first enthusiastic bite.
Honorable Mention: White anchovies. Cured to perfection, with a wonderful vinegar finish that was an excellent complement to the Riverhorse beer special.
Loser: Potato pancake topped with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. I know it's passover and all, but much like the angel of death (great Slayer song), I would have been just fine passing over this one.

Winner (tie): House made French style gnocchi. Everything about this dish (even the hint of mint) made me want to jump in a vat of it and eat my way out. The preparation was brilliant. The little pasta peeps were pan seared and tossed with olive oil and queso fresco, and every bite was a bittersweet reminder that eventually the bowl would be empty.
Winner (tie): Scallops in a rich sauce that made me wish I was at home so I could lick the plate clean (no joke). It's hard to fuck up a scallop, but I think it's even harder to elevate it past being just a scallop. The latter applies here.
Loser: Mussels. Shame on me for thinking, for whatever reason, that the advertised beer and sausage broth did not contain whole links of sausage.

Winner: Steak with hotel butter, roasted potatoes, and arugula. I normally don't like to order steak outside of a steakhouse, but this turned out to be a great call. Expertly seasoned and cooked, the melt-in-your-mouth texture was only made richer by topping it with hotel butter.
Honorable Mention: Oysters on the half shell. Rhode Island sent a great batch of oysters over to Pub & Kitchen. As mild as the calm just before Saturday's storm.
Loser: Fluke with roasted asparagus and risotto. The mint from the gnocchi showed up again in the risotto, but it didn't work this time. The fluke needed salt, and the asparagus was a sad few limp spears.

An excellent meal from start to finish. The service was of the "your-water-glass-will-never-be-empty" caliber. The soundtrack was current, loud enough to sing along to (if you're cool enough to know the songs), but not too loud so as to drown out the conversation. Mrs. Gastro would definitely approve, and we plan to eat here in the very near future. Buen Provecho.

Pub & Kitchen, if you don't already know (meaning that you should) is located at 1946 Lombard St. in Philadelphia. Budgetwise, I'd wait until you have an out-of-town guest or other similar occasion where you'd like to show off. If you're still into that whole debt thing, they take major credit cards, but not reservations.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cocktail Guide

The placemats* at Oscar's Tavern in Philadelphia provide this handy little cocktail guide in case you're in the mood for a Planter's Punch, Gin Rickey, or any other assorted cocktail your father used to drink before he switched to Popov straight from the plastic handle.

*My apologies for the crappy B&W scan. It's the best I can do at my office.

Why Did I Eat This?

I wholeheartedly regret having an egg roll for lunch for the second day in a row. This one was a greasy mess of overcooked cabbage stuffed into a chewy shell (that's a bad thing). Buen provecho.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cheesesteak Tally

Pat's: 5
Geno's: 0
Delassandro's: 2
Steve's: 1
Street Meat: 4
Other: 8
Total: 20

Mrs. Gastro and I refilled our culture tank last night by taking in a documentary screening at Philly Cinefest* Being in West Philadelphia, and being that we were a block away from Abner's, the night really wouldn't have been complete without stopping in for my on campus classic from back in the day: cheesesteak with fried onions, American cheese, and mayo (yes, mayo). I don't do whiz here because it's not really whiz. It's a pretty standard steak of the chopped variety, albeit much greasier than others. What used to set this steak apart was the cook manning the flat top. Such a nice (and stoned) guy. I recall one evening when he was willing to deep fry a cheesesteak, saying, "hell, for an extra five bucks, I'll step on it" (too bad we chickened out like a bunch of drunk chickens). Not that I expected him to be there after all these years, but it was still sad to see that the Dave Chappelle look-alike has been replaced with a shorter, rounder, less bald, and more mustachioed steak slinger. At least the cheesesteak hasn't changed, nor have the waffle fries. Buen provecho.

*The documentary was called Heart of Stone and it's about an inner city school with some unconventional but effective ways of dealing with the students. Mrs. Gastro and I loved it. Check it out if you get chance. I think you can watch it on on 4/16/09.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Photo Challenge!

Set Dinner Here, a great home cooking blog written a little further down the Atlantic coast, is running a photo challenge. Send in photos of your homemade goods and anxiously await the verdict. The winner gets their photo posted next Friday. If you're not a home cook, it's a great excuse to dust off the pots and pans, especially in these economic times. Buen provecho.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

In the future, digital cameras will have a setting called "pocket dust." Not that there's anything wrong with it, but I just can't bring myself to don the hip holster. In any event, I slept in again, breezed by the Fruit Salad cart (I imagine a fleet of these sitting in a parking lot at dusk. Anyone have photos of this?), and opted for bacon, egg, and cheese on a long roll from the cart on 17th and JFK. This is never a bad choice, but my plate-tectonically slow metabolism always makes me feel guilty, so it falls under WhyDIET? And here is your list of reasons why you should/should not follow suit:

1. Lots of bacon, although concentrated at one end of the sandwich and stuck together. One bite and most of it was gone.
2. By the time I got to it (a pre-breakfast phone call held me up), the cheese was nicely melted into the eggs. I like eggs in principle, but egg flavor's not really my favorite. Processed American cheese slice flavor is much better.
3. Sriracha. I like it just as much as D-Tron does.
4. Hoagie roll. Breakfast hoagies are the shit.

I think I ruined lunch, but it was definitely worth it. Buen provecho.