Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pork Chops with Negra Modelo Glaze and Pecan Rice

I know I have said that I am a "chef" but I just realized that none of my cooking has made it to this page.  Since I cook most days at the restaurant, most of my "cooking" at the house happens in the wee hours of the morning and involves heating up various microwave options or food I take from the restaurant. But I do love cooking for my friends, family and of course myself. But I also love eating at lots of different restaurants with not having to worry about planning a meal for once. On my recent day off I decided to raid my fridge, which doesn't have much, and make myself some lunch.

I did find a nice hunk of pork loin which I do like having in my fridge because I always like to cut my own loin chops opposed to buying the pre-cut ones in the store. The loin is usually cheaper by the pound, and will last longer in the fridge if it is whole. I also like to be able to control the thickness of my chops. After cutting my chops it was time to figure out how I wanted to cook these bad boys.

After scrimping together a few things I decided to go with what I would consider to be my usual suspects: butter, onion, garlic, Kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and beer, usually a darker beer because they give richer flavors. While I like crazy, new flavor combinations, when I am at home simple is key. Butter makes everything better, and onion and garlic are staples in starting most of my dishes.

After a liberal seasoning of salt & pepper on both sides of the chops, I got the skillet as hot as I could. Adding a tablespoon, allowing it to brown a little, the pork chops then join the party to get a nice hard sear on each side. Once the chops get a nice brown crust, they are removed from the pan and allowed to rest while the rest of the flavors are built in the pan.

The minced onions and smashed garlic are next into the brown butter bath. They saute until the softened. One of my favorite smells in a kitchen is that initial hint of sweetness when garlic hits a hot pan. It gets the mouth watering and ready to eat. Once soft, about half the bottle of Negra Modelo is added and begins to reduce with the vegetables.

As the beer reduces, I also add two of my favorite condiments in cooking. Honey is something I almost always use when I want to add sweetness to anything. Crystal is the hot sauce I grew up in my house. My father put this stuff on everything (popcorn is perfect), and I naturally grew a fondness of it through the years. Now for you folks not from Louisiana that may read this, you may be wondering why not Tabasco. This stuff is better. So now this sauce has a nice mix of of spicy, sweet, and a little bitter from the reduced beer.YUM!!

While the sauce is finishing, I found a box of nice aromatic rice. Konriko is a local rice mill, actually the oldest working one in America, that is based out of New Iberia, LA. There line of products are all quite good and are used often in my kitchen. But the one secret ingredient that I like to put in my rice is Zatarain's liquid crab boil. One capful, when you boil almost anything, give the food a nice little hint of heat and flavor.

Right before the sauce is ready to serve, the pork chops are added back to the pan to finish cooking and soak up all the flavors that have been built in the sauce. After being basted for a few minutes in the sauce, the chops are going to be cooked perfectly and ready to serve.

The final product came out quite nice. The chops were moist and cooked to a nice medium. The rice still had a nice texture. The flavors were rich and had just the right amount of heat that I love. A quick 25 minute lunch, I guess Rachel Ray would be proud. Peace and Chicken grease.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mugshots - Another thing wrong with Alabama

Being an LSU football fan, I have come to really dislike most things Alabama, especially anything from Tuscaloosa.(meaning University of Alabama Crimson Tide) But on a recent road trip to Talladega, one thing I actually like in the state,  Jay and I decided to give Tuscaloosa a chance by grabbing some dinner at Mugshots Grill & Bar. After reading some good reviews from Urbanspoon, we were truly excited and hoping to get a nice unique burger from this joint.

After a long day at the track, we were pretty hungry and decided to go with a nice hearty appetizer that I know have never had. Being a fan of all things fried, the fried rib tips sounded like a really good idea. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. The meat was actually tender and tasted pretty good. Well once you got to it. The breading was way too thick, and the only flavor I could taste. They also tried to cover up the lack of meat with two sauces that weren't anything special. One was a tangy, hot sauce, and the other a odd tasting A-1 type sauce. The sauces would have been fine for a little dipping, but the amount they put on top of the ribs was way too strong, even for a flavor junky like myself.

So this place has a wide variety of flavor combinations, and the one that sparked my interest was "Anthony's Peanut Butter Burger". I have always been a fan of the sweet/salty combinations and also a big lover of peanut butter. My high hopes of this burger went down a little after the appetizer, and only continued to fall when it arrived. I cut the burger in half, and to my dismay, none of the juicy deliciousness that usually comes out of a freshly grilled burger was anywhere to be found. Upon taking my first bite, I realized that this burger was not a fresh one, but a simple frozen patty. Now I have had a decent "doctored-up" frozen burger in my many years of tailgating, but this was not one of them. The dry burger with the addition of peanut butter made for a not so pleasant time. I felt like a "dog with with peanut butter stuck on the roof of my mouth."
My suspicions were only confirmed about these patties when one of the staff members came out of the freezer with a case of Bubba burgers. Where I come from we have a little cheer: "Around the bowl, and down the hole!! Roll Tide Roll!!". I think I found another thing that they can throw in there, and hopefully to only be replaced with some fresh ground beef. Peace and Chicken grease.
Mugshots Grill and Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cake Palace

I don't eat many lunches away from the restaurant. But when I get the chance I like to check out new places around town. Under the recommendation of a few friends, I decided to try Cake Palace on Essen Ln. Now your question might be the same as the one I had when it was recommended, "Cake Palace does lunch? I thought they were just a cake shop." However I was informed as I am doing now to all my readers that "Yes they do lunch". They open at 6 am and from then until 2 most days have a full deli that produces breakfast and lunch.

The lunch menu has a plethora of sandwiches, burgers, and plate lunches, which rotate day to day. You can get classic sandwiches like tuna salad and club as well as some New Orleans favorites like a muffaletta and shrimp remoulade salad. I am a big sandwich guy so, and originally grew up in the Big Easy. So when I saw a sandwich called "New Orleans Poboy", my interest was peaked. What is this BR "cake" place doing trying to make a sandwich with my hometown's name? Being the adventurous eater that I am, I had to order it. The sandwich was said to be a slow roasted beef on a crusty piece of french bread with a nice thick brown gravy. So far so good. So with my mouth excited and thinking about all the great sandwiches I had as I grew, I got my box looking forward too what lay inside. Upon opening the box and taking my first bite my mind was taken to those early years and the flavors and aromas reminded me of the poboys I had once had. The roast beef was amazingly tender and juicy. The gravy was thick and bursting with rich, meaty flavor. The fries were also very very reminiscent of what I have enjoyed with plenty of salt and perfectly crispy.

This poboy was definitely a delicious version from the ones I grew up on but not quite up to the magnificence that will always hold a place in my heart. The one glaring difference from the ones I ate was the sheer size of this poboy. The best part of a true "New Orleans Poboy" is the fact that they are all overstuffed. I still get chills when I hear that word. Overstuffed simply means that the great piece of crusty french bread can't keep all the goodies corralled as you try to eat it. The genius of these poboys is you probably can make a second sandwich from all the stuff that just "falls out". I would like to give Cake Palace their props for getting the flavor of a good NO poboy, but I challenge them to start "overstuffing" those bad boys. Then you can call them the real thing. Peace and chicken grease.
Cake Palace on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ragusa's Grill

So riding down Government again and passed a place that said best burger in town, so I had to check if they were being honest. This place is a simple takeaway burger joint with a small menu. The menu has ham and cheese sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches, Italian sausage, chicken wings, and burgers. That's pretty much it. I like small menus, but you got to make sure you do the things on the menu real well.

They don't offer fries with the burger, but I was fine with that because they have my favorite local chip, Zapp's. These crispy delights are a great thick cut potato chip, and are probably the best seasoned chip on the market. They use different southern influenced flavor combinations that are all good, like the sour cream & creole onion, cajun dill, and cajun crawtator. I picked my favorite flavor the Creole Tomato with Tabasco, a great mix of sweet and spicy. For the burger, I decided to go with the Big Ragu Cheeseburger. I was excited as soon as I opened the box to see a nice hand-made burger patty with the juices still dripping from the meat. As soon as I took the first bite, I was surprised at the unique flavor of the burger. I soon realized that the burger was a mix of ground beef and Italian sausage. The sweetness of the pork and anise seed mixed with the beef made for a nice combo and while keeping a juicy patty. Each bite kept the mouth guessing with the different flavors the burger offered.

Now also one of the benefits to riding around the city and this place being a takeaway I can find a nice place to eat my tasty treats. I decided to enjoy my burger in the comforts of city park near the garden district with a great view. With a beautiful Baton Rouge day, the burger experience only became a little better. I don't know if it was the best burger in town but it was a pretty good one. Peace and chicken grease.
Ragusa's Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

B.J.'s Mesquite Smokehouse BBQ & Grill - Satellite Shack

As I spend time riding my bike around the city of Baton Rouge, I am always surprised at the many small places around this city where you can find a good meal especially for lunch. I never know where I may stumble on these places, but most of the time I am pleasantly surprised by the good food that they offer. So recently as I was making my way toward downtown heading down Government, I caught a intoxicating scent of great BBQ smoke in the air. As I came across the railroad tracks at 14th street, I found out where the smell was coming from as I could see the smoke bellowing from this small shack that sit in the middle of an abandoned parking lot. I had to stop and see if this food was as good as it smelled.

The choices on the menu are pretty simple. You can get a sandwich or a plate. You can choose from three meats in brisket, chicken, or ribs. And you can pick from sides of mac & cheese, potato salad, and baked beans. So as mentioned in the past I have a tough time choosing what to eat, so getting them all was what I optioned for, three meat plate with two sides and some toast. First to talk about the sides, the only one I didn't try was the potato salad, but I guess I will just have to go back (Poor me). The baked beans had a nice smokey flavor but were a typical bean that I can find almost anywhere. The mac & cheese though was quite creamy and delicious, and made with the right noodle for any true mac & cheese, the elbow macaroni. Then came the meats. The chicken began the feast with a tender, smokey dark meat quarter. I love chicken thigh meat and this slow cooked piece had some great skin and flavor. Next on the meat feast came the ribs. These were a very tender version of a standard pork rib but were cooked to perfection. My pet peeves when eating ribs is going to short on the smoke or even going to long. If you go to short then the product will be tough chew and the meat will not pull away from the bone. Adversely, if you leave them on too long the meat will fall off before you can pick it up. While some people may be fine with that, I like the primal feel of eating it off the bone. B.J.'s ribs had exactly what I was looking for. The highlight for me, though, came in the form of some amazing wet brisket. When I say wet brisket I am referring to the fact that the brisket had a good piece of the fat cap that coats the meat as opposed to the leaner pieces which I call dry brisket. The meat and fat were slow smoked to an amazing "melt in your mouth" texture and bursting with juicy flavor. All the meats were coated in their homemade BBQ sauce which had a nice blend of tangy, sweet and peppery notes. I was more than happy to used the simple pieces of buttered, thick cut toast to scoop up every drop.

 B.J.'s Mesquite Smokehouse BBQ & Grill apparently has a home in North Baton Rouge, but I thank them for coming downtown so I can sample their delicious product. I will be sure to keep you posted on any others that I cycle upon, but please let me know if you have any ideas. Peace and chicken grease.
BJ's Mesquite Smokehouse BBQ - Satellite Shack on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rama - Thai Cuisine

Now living in Baton Rouge, one usually thinks about all the fresh seafood and cajun cuisine. All of these foods are great, and there are plenty of those restaurants to be found in this area. But one of my favorite things to find is the small authentic food joints in my home town. Now Baton Rouge may not have the huge ethnic populations like a New York or San Francisco, but there are some hidden gems around town. One that I have found is Rama. A tiny little Thai restaurant with no more than thirty seats. This place felt like home as soon as I walked in.

The menu is loaded with a plethora of delicious sounding thai dishes, some I had never heard of and some traditional ones that you will find at any good Thai place. For the first courses, we got a nice mix of flavors. Jay and I started with some shrimp chips and fried wontons. The chips were light and had a nice savory shrimp flavor, and the peanut sauce, they served to dip it in, was wonderful. The fried wontons weren't much to write home about but I guess I can write a little. They were crisp. The filling had a nice flavor, but there wasn't much of it in the wonton to catch it all. The soup on the other hand was perfect. As soon as my eyes locked onto "Pork Crackling soup", I knew I had to try that. (I mean fried pork sin in a soup? C'mon) As the soup arrived I could smell the sweet aroma of pork and see the fried treats that lie before me. The rich pork flavor that was built into the soup was outstanding. The crispy crackling, tender pieces of pork, and green onion made for a harmony of flavor and texture. YUM.

 For entree I decided to go with one of Thailand's national dishes, Pad Thai. Now anytime I go to "authentic" restaurants I am a firm believer that you must be able to do the staples right first. If an italian restaurant doesn't have a good spaghetti and meatball, the likelihood that the rest of the menu is worth trying is slim. Now from the soup I figured this was probably going to be some good pad thai, and I wasn't disappointed. The mound of noodles was placed in front of me, and the scent of peanuts tickled the nostrils. I could see the the all shrimp, pork, and chicken that loaded the dish. The noodles were stir fried nicely. The sauce was clean with a nice mix of sweetness and slightly spicy finish. And with the crunchy bean sprouts and fresh cilantro the dish really came together.
As I have said before, you have to finish a good meal with something sweet. So when the nice waitress offered dessert I was all ears. Not much for options here but the uniqueness of the choice had me intrigued. You can get fried bananas or apples topped with ice cream, pretty simple right. However they make their own ice creams at Rama, vanilla, coconut, and DURIAN. Yeah I said it, DURIAN. Now I am a fan of all ice cream, but durian had me excited and scared all at the same time. This is the one fruit I have seen Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) cringe at the sheer smell of it. But I will always try anything once especially when it comes to ice cream. The plates were placed in front of us and the slightly greenish yellow ice cream looked me straight in the face. I grabbed a small spoonful and took a sniff, a little odd but nothing outrageous. Now for the taste it was quite delicious. The initial flavor is a straight sweetness, but then the durian creeps up. I am sure the sweetness masks the intensity of the bitter, often considered off putting flavor of this fruit, but I actually enjoyed the contrast in the ice cream.

Rama was such an enjoyable dining experience. The food was great but the service was just as good. The lady, one of only two that work there, was delightful and charming. She was more than happy to talk to us and answer all our questions about the food, especially that interesting ice cream. This place has been around 30 years, and the only thing I was sad about upon leaving was that I hadn't found it sooner. Don't worry it won't be my last.
Rama on Urbanspoon

New York Part 4 - PIZZA

Sorry for such a delay in between post, but it has been a hectic couple of weeks. I will get into that in just a little bit but first I would like to wrap up the Big Apple. The last thing I want to talk about regarding New York is probably my favorite of them all, PIZZA. New York may be famous for glitz, glamaour, fashion, never sleeping, the Yankees, high-end everything, and cheesecake(as previously discussed), but for me pizza is number one. Now before my friends in Chicago get their feelings hurt, I do enjoy a good deep dish but the larger than life slices and thinner crust makes me all "antsy in my pantsy". Now I had a few different slices while I was in the city but I am only going to talk about my favorite one, Lombardi's.

As you can see some pretty famous people endorse this place, and as soon as I walked up to this corner restaurant I knew why. As with most restaurants in the city they are not the easiest to find, but with Lomabrdi's, as soon as you get within a couple blocks, you begin to see the gatherings of people waiting to catch a seat in this small pizzeria. If there is one thing I am sure of a line is a good sign that good food is in your future. After being told that the wait wasn't going to be too long, the small L-shaped bar had a few spots open to grab a drink from their nice selection of Italian and a few local brews. The bartender was quick to fill up our glass and the restaurant just had a great buzz about it. The history that you could see in every inch of the place also gave it some nice character. After about 20 minutes, enough time to drink a few Peronis, our table was ready. While being led to our seats in the small upstairs room, we passed through the kitchen, where all the magic happens. With the smell of fresh dough and that amazing fire from the coal burning oven, I knew lunch was going to be GOOD.

As is with most meals for myself, the hardest part about dining, especially in great restaurants, is picking what to eat. After a little debate we decided a couple of things. For the first course, traditional was the key, bruschetta and caesar salad. Not usually a big salad guy this caesar was quite good with fresh romaine, big shaves of parmesan, and  a very tasty dressing. With just a few cracks of fresh black pepper, the salad got the appetite going. The bruschetta was great. The bread was fired in that great coal oven and the nice char with the fresh tomato, basil, and olive oil was nicely done. Then it was time for the star of the show. Deciding on the toppings was where most of the debate occurred, but in the end we figured it was best to get most of them. Now, I am usually a fan of simple pizza but when you have a selection of all those fresh meats, it's hard not to want to try them all. The masterpiece was an impressive combination of pancetta, pepperoni, sweet italian sausage, homemade meatballs, and  fire roasted red peppers. After the first bite I knew what all the fuss was about. All the meats were fresh and probably some of the best I have ever had. The meatballs especially were loaded with flavor and delicious. Even with all those meats you could taste each one individually which goes to show the quality of each. The star though, which really set this pizza apart, was the roasted peppers. They are roasted daily and the flavor from these guys were unlike any roasted pepper you could find.

I can honestly say that this the best pizza I have ever had. Lombardi's is considered to be the first pizzeria in America, and it is good to see they haven't lost their touch over the last 100 years.
Lombardi's Pizza on Urbanspoon