Anger Burger

Bart’s Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies

Posted by on Aug 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Some weeks ago Kristen contacted me and asked if I’d like to try some Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies and then remarked that it was perfect for someone with Crohn’s disease like myself.

And I couldn’t help it.  I had to point out that Crohn’s people can actually eat gluten, or at least as much gluten as everyone else can (and this is without me even starting on after deleting a rant about the ridiculous quantity of people claiming gluten allergy or intolerance, when what they mean is that they often feel terrible after eating too much at a sitting).  It’s a common mistake to run Crohn’s together with Celiac, and those together with IBD and IBS, and maybe a little hypochondria just for seasoning.  And as arrogantly superior as I am, it brought cookies to me, so I am not going to complain.  Kristen is a professional and skipped over my being a butt about gluten and this package arrived in the mail.

If I am reading this right, the name of the actual brand product is THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES IN THE WORLD.  Which you know, is like the kiss of death.  Immediately my brain says that they can’t be the best, and only a fool would claim that a dry, manufactured chocolate chip cookie can be any better than a homemade cookie fresh from the oven, or even a few days later, softened by a relaxing stint in a ziplock bag.

Immediately I take pause.  I go to the websiteAaah, I think.  So this is what cookies would be like if they were made by Dr. Bronner.  The packaging is covered in a curious mix of uplifting glurge and vaguely threatening patriotism (please take note of the bad registration on the blue print over the red flag stripes — THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD UNLESS YOU NEED BOXES PRINTED!).

And yet, I am charmed.  Despite all the red flags and inexplicable engrish, it’s a kind of crazy that reminds me of living in Los Angeles.  There’s an earnest quality that is not quite as honest as say, a Bay Area hippie, but a nevertheless frantic desire that you believe what they are trying to sell you.  I miss it.

Every time I think it is over, it continues.  The boxes themselves are stuffed with leaflets containing urgent messages about the state of our nation’s economy and the corporatization of other snack brands.

But I want to eat cookies, so let’s get to it.  Kristen sent EXTREME CHOCOLATE and original cookies.  I am now actively trying to avoid reading the packaging because it is distracting.

Holy shit!  Not only is every single exterior surface of the package used as a soapbox, but the interior is covered in poems!  I fucking love these guys.

EVEN THE COOKIE BAG ITSELF.  I appreciate that they recommend a brief gassing off of the cookies before eating, and as a test I ate one straight from the bag and then again 10 minutes later.  I couldn’t detect an increased complexity of flavor.

As I figured from the packaging claiming 45-50 cookies per box, these cookies are tiny!  It’s everything I can do to not dump the bag into a bowl, pour milk over and eat with a spoon.

The double chocolate guys are also very misshapen, which of course I like.

I find it interesting that several times it is mentioned that the cookies contain less sugar than the consumer might be used to, because they do not taste particularly non-sugary to me.  They seem to be just the right amount of sweet.  But when was the last time I ate a Chips Ahoy?  I can’t remember.  Bart’s Bakery cookies are definitely rich in flavor, and in the original I can taste a forward hit of salty, almost cheesy butter that I find missing in almost every grocery store cookie ever made. The chocolate chips are excellent too, very melty and dark, so high in cocoa fat that they are nearly soft to the touch and instantly leave skin-warmed chocolate on your fingers.  The double chocolate cookies are not quite the same, which is interesting – they are very cocoa-ey and despite appearing to be the exact same recipe as the original cookie (at least according to the ingredient list and nutritional breakdown), are lacking that pleasant shortbread burst of butter.  It is likely the cocoa masking the flavor, and that is unfortunate but the nature of the beast when it comes to chocolate.

These are good.  If I want to buy a box of tiny dry cookies, I can’t think of a better option.  But are they better than homemade? Not for me.  Is it fair to compare them?  I am starting to think it isn’t.  I don’t buy chocolate chip cookies ever, as a matter of fact, because it takes 20 minutes to make them.  My ideal cookie has a soft, chewy center and lightly crispy edges, has a sprinkling of sea salt across the top and a little too much vanilla in it, and frankly, only I can make them.  It is not fair to compare these to those.  Bart’s Bakery has done a good thing here, and I’d buy them without hesitation in the event that I want the world’s most luxurious breakfast cereal.

4 Posted in Food Rant

Delicious Carnies

Posted by on May 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

We are still alive, don’t you worry none. Here are some things that are happening:

• Sunday recently relented and made me a fresh batch of Cornish Pasties, or, as I’ve nicknamed them, “Carnies.” This is that illogically killer recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain. Still awesome. I try to limit myself to one a day. Also, the book has dropped in price, so now might be a good time to pick it up.

• tajin classico seasoning was introduced to us by our good friend Skrappy and it’s Sunday’s new go-to topping. Everything is tajin, all up ins. It’s a dry season, like salt or pepper, but it’s composed of chili peppers, salt and DEHYDRATED LIME. Damnation! It’s the mack on Mangos, watermelon, avacados, and pretty much everything else, but my favorite is on sliced cucumbers. I kind of wish we had a jar that was just dehydrated lime, since I like to throw a little lime in the cokola when I eat something greasy.

Tajin has recently become available at common supermarkets; I’m not sure where they hide it, but that’ll be fun for you. Like a treasure hunt. I think it’s like a dollar a bottle. Dehydrated summer, I tell ya. Gabrilliant. Here, have some on jicama:

• I’ve been finishing up some rare BAD NEIGHBORS cards for people that were nice enough to review e galactic mu. If you haven’t downloaded the book, which Sunday wrote with the skin of her own hands and sometimes teeth, you are forfeiting your right to complain about basically everything. Come on, it features flying sharks, unicorns and a dog that eats cigarette butts!

Here is a card I made for my friend Justin (he is not always this stoned, HOWEVER, he is a terrible neighbor, specializing in the categories of super-loud movies and music, 2 am cleaning rampages and using illegal fireworks inside his apartment):

Justin Larsen Bad Neighbor Rare Card

•  On the subject of Bad Neighbors, you can now purchase the game at 3 local places: Gabi’s (Olympic Cards & Comics), The Danger Room, and Spidermonkey. So if you’re lazy, afraid of e-commerce, and live in the South Sound area, we got you covered.

• Continuing on the subject of real-life bad neighbors, I’m currently suffering through building construction (across the street), massive landscaping (next door), and a speed-fueled schizophrenic break (rear neighbor). I really need to live in the deep woods, on an island, in an underground soundproof bunker.

• Sunday has been knitting up an f4 of mostly baby sweaters (our friends are having twins). I am campaigning for a Tank-sweater, so far no luck. Tank is what the professionals refer to as “a difficult shape.” She’s pretty barrelly and has a neck like a grown-ass man. Her neck measurement is the same as mine, although I am 6 times her size. We are equally hairy, although my moustache is fuller. She needs a sweater, I think.

• Just read a heart-wrenching post on a friend-0f-a-friend’s new blog, After Words. I can’t really recommend it, because it gave me feels. As a bonified bear-skin wearing, blood drenched axe-crazy berserker, I am uncomfortable with most emotions. Read at your own risk.

This salad from Little Big Blog looks good. Maybe it’s because of the feels, I don’t know. I will fortify myself with a carnie and see if the feels pass.

• Do you like cello? I do. August Ruins is my latest obsession, great for writing, moping, or other artsy pursuits.

• I’m working on a comic book. Actually, two comic books. One is about a sexy sci-fi monster hunter, and the other is about a horse that eats people. So there.

What’s new with you?

Stay Angry,

Mike the Viking

Buncha Jerks: Not as Numerous or Mean as I Was Led to Believe

Posted by on Apr 22, 2013 at 8:46 pm

I know nothing at all about Jamaican cuisine.  I think they have some kind of meat pie.  There is a dish of savory fruit that has a funny name.  There was a Jamaican restaurant four blocks from my house in Los Angeles that was one of the shiftiest places I have seen in my life.  In the year that we lived there, I think I saw it open maybe half a dozen times, and when it was open, the diners looked like food was the last thing on their minds.

When Nancy at Buncha Jerks asked if they could send me a sample of their seasoning, I wanted to tell her: look, I’ve eaten jerk once in my life.  I really like Appleton Rum.  That is what kind of culinary commitment you are getting from me.  But my kind of moron is perhaps the best kind: I am willing to try things, and I don’t have anything else to compare it to.

Immediately I decided not to follow instructions.  I had almost exactly a pound of chicken thighs, which at Buncha Jerks’ advice would require 1.5 teaspoons of their seasoning.  Their sample packet had about 3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon).  I licked the end of my pinkie finger and dipped it into the spice; half of the dose just didn’t seem like enough.  What I tasted was a little warm, but not spicy.  I dumped the whole packet in and left it all for 24 hours to think about what it had done.

The next day I asked Mike the Viking what Jamaicans eat with jerk and he answered something about Vikings tasting only the blood of their enemies, so I made some kind of scallion and cilantro rice thing that I made up.  There was also coconut milk involved.  Do Jamaicans eat coconut?  Who doesn’t?

I broiled the chicken in my oven because I don’t have a steel drum spit down by the beach.

Verdict?  It is a very tasty seasoning blend.  Is it authentic?  I have no idea, and it sort of doesn’t matter to me.  More on that in a moment.  For me, the seasoning was very allspice and cinnamon-forward, mostly flavors I associate with pastry and sweets, but with a lightly savory and only very mildly warm finish from the thyme and Scotch Bonnet pepper.  I detected no sugar or salt, but my tastebuds are the sugar and salt equivalent of someone who does like $500 of heroin a day.  I need a lot to maintain.

What disappointed me was the heat level.  The only other time I had jerk was many years ago, and it basically ripped my face off. I did not enjoy it.  However, I have turned into a chili head in the last year or two, much to everyone’s¹ surprise.  But the chicken I prepared was barely warmer than if we had used a lot of black pepper, and certainly many times more mild than any of the quotidian hot sauces we have in the house. So was this a normal amount of heat?  I truly don’t think so, and at their website I notice there are three levels of heat.  Perhaps they sent me the mild one?  I’ll let Nancy get back to me on that one.

I appreciate what Eric and Nancy are doing with Buncha Jerks.  It takes a tremendous amount of energy and personal risk to try and address faults in the culinary industry, and I applaud that.  I can only tell them I am sorry I am such a tremendous jerk noob (a jerk jerk, if you will) (I know you won’t) and that when they initially contacted me a month ago, they were trying to raise money through Kickstarter to really get things going, but failed to meet their goal.  This is really too bad.  They seem like nice people with an earnest product.  That I wish was spicier.

As far as authenticity goes, can I volunteer that I am sort of over it?  I’ve been cooking a lot of Japanese food at home lately, and really embracing the concept of yōshoku.  There are dishes widely acknowledged yōshoku, but I like the general philosophy of it more: Western foods viewed through Japanese eyes.  I really, truly enjoyed Ochikeron’s “Chicken Tikka Masala”  (made with thighs instead of breast meat, of course) and recently read about and made my first batch of Spaghetti Naporitan (uh, needs work).  These foods are deeply, deeply far from authentic.  But they are delicious and have value and merit.  I feel the same about Buncha Jerks: I suspect that everything about how I made my jerk chicken was culturally as far from Jamaica as possible, but it was delicious, and I am not Jamaican.  I think that valuing ingredient quality is the only true aspiration in cuisine, and even that is taken with a grain of salt.  I mean, have you had Bugles lately?!  My friend just brought some into work and holy shit!  They are fried in coconut oil!

I guess what I am trying to say is that I love it when people try to fill a niche.  Thanks, Buncha Jerks, both for your spices, and for having a name that makes me feel like I am speaking like a sarcastic asswipe.
¹ Especially my colon.

5 Posted in Food Rant

505 Southwestern Chipotle Honey Roasted Green Chile, aka Retribution

Posted by on Apr 14, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Last week I received an email from the publicist for 505 Southwestern apologizing for the hand incident, and a gentle encouragement to please, for all that is holy, at least taste the chipotle honey roasted green chile samples they sent me. And I feel no small obligation to do what they ask, mostly because, you know, they freighted me like $60 worth of their products.

Allow me to cut to the chase.  This stuff is magical.  I would happily buy jar after jar if I knew where to find it locally (I’m emailing the lady as you read this***).  After all my eye-rolling and whinging and the waffling about how nice to be about being totally unimpressed by the salsa – these guys just  poop out OH BY THE WAY HERE’S THE BEST CHILE PRODUCT EVER NO BIG DEAL.

Even the texture is gorgeous – rich and thick and syrupy, nothing at all like cans of limpid, pale green chiles floating in a sallow water.  You can and I did eat a spoonful straight and found it to be up front both smoky and sweet, followed by the bright green of the chile and a slow, pleasant trail of heat.  I jettisoned my plans to use it as an ingredient in a burrito (though that would be delicious) and instead concocted, on the spot, a delightfully bullshit recipe.

You see, I haven’t been feeling well lately.  I feel best in the morning, and by mid-afternoon and evening my Crohn’s disease is acting up in a new and weird way (let’s try stabbing pains now rather than persistent cramping!) (also let’s bring rheumatoid garbage into play! why have just knee aches when we can have knuckle aches too!) and by the evening all I want are comfort foods.  As a true story: I went to a low-income health clinic last week to explore my non-insured options for finding a GI doctor, and when I was telling the triage nurse that I had Crohn’s she looked me up and down and said “Oh! You seem so… robust.”  In the spirit of being robust, I made mashed potatoes.

I made my usual mash and swirled in several large spoonfuls of chile.  And topped with cheese of course because robust.

Here is a tremendous sigh.  This was perfect.  A little tiny bit sweet and spicy-hot, that distant whiff of chipotle, lots and lots of butter and cream and sharp cheddar cheese.  You win, 505 Southwestern.  Even cutting my hand open on one of your jars, you win.

Green Chile Mash

1 lb. yellow potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 stick/2oz butter
1/4 cup cream, half and half or whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup 505 Southwestern Chipotle Honey Roasted Green Chiles
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or more, probably more)

  • Boil the potatoes in water until fork-tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain them and return them to the heat for just a minute to evaporate off any remaining water.  Mash or rice or foodmill the potatoes until nearly smooth.  Add the butter, cream and salt and pepper to taste.  (Always make them just a tiniest bit saltier than you think is right, because potatoes absorb the salt and taste less salty in short while.) (That is not actual science, just let it go.)
  • Stir in the green chile, then transfer to either one larger oven-safe dish, or several small oven-safe ramekins for individual serving.  Top with cheese and place under the broiler for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and starts to brown in a few spots.  As usual, when using a broiler NEVER WALK AWAY FROM IT.  Watch it always.
  • Eat.

 ***UPDATE:  505 Southwestern products are only available in the US southwest (derp), but the marketing director said they would hit nationally at Walmart this summer.  The best part was her email that said “I know you probably won’t love this…” She is correct. I do not love having to shop at Walmart.  But que sera sera.

7 Posted in Food Rant

Guest Post by Sunday’s Dad: A Man Who Knows Salsa

Posted by on Apr 7, 2013 at 3:50 pm

A rare treat for you scoundrels!  I asked my dad, Jay, to review some of the salsa sent to us by 505 Southwestern because to be totally honest, I just don’t like canned or jarred salsas.  If I want to eat salsa, I typically make a pico de gallo or a very chunky, tomatoey guacamole.  But my dad eats a lot of salsa, and has opinions about it.  I mixed my sample jar with sour cream to make a “pink sauce” dressing for taco salad and found it to be tasty, but I am reasonably certain that any Mexicans I know¹ would cry tears of disappointment if they saw me do that.  Also the words “taco salad.”  In the next week I will review what 505 Southwestern really wanted me to try in the first place, their roasted green chiles.  Anyway, without further adieu, here is Jay.

Having grown up in parts of South-Central and East Los Angeles, I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing some wonderful Mexican-American food. I’ve eaten from the home tables of dear Hispanic friends, where the humble tortilla and various salsas were mainstays with every meal, including breakfast. In thirty years I learned to love a good salsa. Red, green, mild or hot … they are the perfect spicy accompaniment for nearly every savory dish.

So there you have it, my ‘salsa credentials,’ as-it-were.

I was visiting the home of my multi-talented and irreverent daughter (she was raised that way by her incredible parents). As I was about to leave she handed me a large jar of commercially produced red salsa saying, ‘Here dad, eat this and give me your gringo Angeleno opinion.’ (She emphasized the ‘white boy from L.A.’ designation with a passing chola accent. Impressive.)

I have one immutable law for my salsas: if the ingredients do not include cilantro (aka coriander), then it’s not salsa. This one does not have cilantro.

I guess I could just leave it there, let that be my impression and review, but I realize many folks are not as discriminatory as this old gringo.

So, I’ll try a little harder.

This salsa, like most, is formulated with bastardized Norte Americano tastes in mind. It’s thin (read: watery), mostly tomato-y (the first ingredient listed) and consists of all the ‘safe’ ingredients for very broad, generalized taste acceptance. Surprisingly, they have included jalapeños, so I’m compelled to give them that point.

I would never have found anything remotely like this in the homes of my Hispanic friends, nor in any self-respecting Mexican restaurant/eatery.

I respect the fact that they are attempting to market this to as many people as possible. That’s the nature of foods in the business world … so be it.

On the widely-used ‘star’ rating system, I can only give 505 Southwestern All Natural Salsa a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It just doesn’t do it for me.

That’s my opinion … now, ‘somebody get a rope!’

So there you have it from the Williams clan – two product reviews, one thumbs up (green chile sauce, when pureed, makes for tasty green enchiladas!)  And two thumbs held sideways (the red enchilada sauce is a little intense for me, and I wish I could find another way of saying it that doesn’t make me sound like such a puss, but I can’t — it overpowered my chicken and corn enchiladas).  And now this, the salsa.  I didn’t think it was as watery as my dad did, but I did find it on the unremarkable end of the spectrum. But I want to clarify: I think this of all jarred salsas.  They just taste like cooked tomatoes to me.  A great choice to use in a 7-layer dip, but no fireworks as just chips-n-salsa. 

And because I forgot in the last review, I do want to thank 505 Southwestern for allowing a website like Anger Burger to review their products.  And they apologized to me in an email for my cutting my own hand on one of their jars, which was kind, because I am clearly a clumsy bastard and if I were them I’d regret sending me stuff.

¹ Hi Skrappy!

3 Posted in Food Rant

The Episode in Which I Bleed for Your Sins

Posted by on Mar 24, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Mike the Viking somehow figured out how to use a mobile phone and sent me a text the other day that read: “You have a giant package waiting for you at home.”  To which I responded “JUST LIKE EVERY NIGHT.”

But because he has no capacity for humor, he wasn’t kidding.  The box was massive, and hid a Demon Core of a smaller, heavier box inside.  It was so dense and heavy, in fact, that it was punching out the bottom of its own box.

So you know, I was pretty baffled.  Who knew to send this to me and why?  And then I had this memory of a million years ago in January when someone asked me for my address.  I genuinely remember very little from January.

In case it isn’t clear: those are a dozen sixteen ounce jars.  That is well over a gallon of salsa and green chile products.  Mike the Viking and I were dumb with confusion.  Also, why do no Japanese companies ever read my blog?

Well, fuck it.  When life gives you salsa, make enchiladas.  Also he had been smashing crockery for literally months now because I have been making myself a lot of enchilada soup (more on that later, but summarize it to: sounds gross, tastes rad) and as far as he is concerned I am wasting both enchilada ingredients and enchilada-making energy on something that is not enchiladas so get back in the shark fat curing hut you whore!

Lifehacker also talked about shredding chicken in a stand mixer like a year ago, and I kept forgetting until now.  That sentence I just wrote is all you need to know about it, but it is worth reading through the comments and the WWIII level indignancy for WHY YOU NOT SHRED WITH YOUR HANDS, COMMIE? Frankly, I hate shredding chicken.  I can’t explain it, but I find it tedious and slippery and unsatisfying.

I used thighs and my results were not as advertised, but still not bad for 20 seconds of work.  If you’re shredding a pound or more of chicken, I say do it.

Anyway, I am not going to give you an enchilada recipe.  I’m a white lady from Washington State.  I put meat and some veggies and some cheese into a corn tortilla that has been softened in a little hot oil on the stove top, and then I dump a can packet of enchilada sauce onto it.  Also under it.  I mean, still inside the pan.  You know what I mean.  Today’s masterpiece was shredded chicken thighs (KEEP UP, I KNOW WE’RE ALL A LITTLE RUSTY HERE), corn and some canned roasted peppers.  Hilariously, not the roasted green peppers sent to me by the vat-full from 505 Southwestern, but some regular red bell peppers.

The sauces sure look nice.  I mean, green chile sauce never looks good, it always looks like it’s time for antibiotics.

Which is when I noticed something that shouldn’t matter but does:

I really can’t stand it when companies put religious shit on their products.  And I don’t begrudge them the option to print it on there or anything, just that I am clearly not their customer base.  Did they even read Anger Burger? I unfriend people on Facebook for posting well-meaning but nevertheless overly simple, naive and glurge-y garbage about everything happening for a reason.  I could keep talking about this all day, but it isn’t the point of the story.  The point is that while I was bitching about this to Mike, I failed to notice the following:

See that?  I didn’t.

It’s a short little cut, but it’s weirdly deep, and not the place I’d advise having an open wound while trying to assemble and roll up two dozen tubes of flaming hot chili sauce.

The green chile sauce is not advertised as enchilada sauce, and is in fact suggested as a sauce for slow-roasting meat (green chile carnitas, for example) and a base for stews (chicken, or “white” chili), but I was still unhappy with how thin the sauce was versus the large chunks of chile and tomato.  Immersion blender to the rescue!  Two seconds later I had green enchilada sauce.

I tasted both sauces out of the jar and wasn’t blown away.  505′s red enchilada sauce contains no tomatos, and in fact is made pretty much entirely from dried red chiles.  The flavor straight from the jar was a little harsh and acrid, and the sauce itself is thicker than what I normally use.  I thinned it out with some water before I poured it into the pan.

Verdict?  The green chile sauce is the clear winner.  Excellent flavor, and after blending smooth it needed zero additional ingredients.  Nice heat, too, not too mild and not too spicy.  Goldilocks.  The red sauce was less successful, though still better than anything out of a can.  The sharpness of the chiles was not lessened in cooking, and the flavor overall was somewhat overwhelming.  I can’t believe I am saying this, but it was just too potent.  If I had it to make again (AND I DO, THANKS GIANT BOX OF SAUCE) I’d mix the red sauce with a jar of green sauce — even if I just wanted red sauce — to knock the whole face-slam of chile flavor down a little.  As it was, we could barely taste the fillings, and certainly couldn’t taste what kind of cheese I’d used.

I will get to the rest of the case of sauces later, because guess what?  It’s a mixed case.  And two of the jars are unlabeled and there is nothing on 505′s website that gives and hint as to what it might be.  Uh.  Hooray?

Oh yeah, hello again friends.

10 Posted in Food Rant

Now I Have the Energy to Punch Portland in the Face

Posted by on Nov 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm

I have heard every major city argue that they have a heinous population of hipsters, and that their hipsters are unique and awful.  Brooklyn, San Francisco, Austin; I have lived alongside Los Angeles hipsters, who are a magnificently infuriating sub-species that cannot be reproduced elsewhere, but are nevertheless still just hipsters.  Seattle doesn’t quite show up to the Department of Hipsters Faculty Meeting the way others do, they are stuck in a charming and dated spiral of a post-grunge, lingering goth thing.  But then there is Portland, Oregon.

There is actually a reason for the TV series Portlandia.  It is not inaccurate.  There is a well-educated smugness laying over the city like a vintage Pendleton blanket.  There is a joke/not-joke here about “when Olympia moved to Portland” and indeed, I know a lot of people in Portland whom I knew here, in Olympia, back in the day.  And the one thing they do, in all their vintage boutiquing, chicken cooping, streetside composting, gourmet food trucking bumptiousness that drives me insane is that they never stop talking about how fucking perfect Portland is.

“All I ask for is a decent goddamn donut shop,” I wrote on my Facebook page one day (my private one, not the Anger Burger one – don’t go fact-checking, you’ll be disappointed).  MOVE TO PORTLAND my friend in Portland writes, as though that were helpful¹.  And after complaining about healthier energy drinks, my friend Jason tells me: DRINK VISO.  IT IS MADE IN PORTLAND AND YOU CAN ONLY GET IT IN PORTLAND.  WOE IS THE FOOL THAT CANNOT DRINK VISO.  I may be putting some words in Jason’s mouth, but that is the gist of it.

 

This last summer I was at a local store and did a double-take at a beverage cooler case.  There on the shelf were three cans of Viso.  I had never seen them before, only heard of them.  And here we were, 120 miles from Portland.  It must be some kind of mistake – surely Portland wouldn’t allow one of its precious products outside the fortress walls?  I bought one, and a few hours later drank it.  And then went back and bought the other two at the store because it was fucking delicious, and asked them when they would be getting more.  Never, they said.  The distributor wasn’t answering their phone calls.  I write Viso and asked them if they were distrubuting to anywhere in Olympia.  They didn’t answer.  I wrote again.  They didn’t answer. Their Facebook page is a sea of crazed Viso fans asking questions, complaining about availability of favorite products, and all without answer from Viso.  As near as I could tell, Viso didn’t really exist.

And then a few days ago it shows up at my local Co-Op.  The label is different, the flavors different.  The flavor I tried before was “Will” a sour cherry and grapefruit flavor, now it is cranberry and grapefruit.  The sugar-free flavors are now stevia instead of sucralose.  So it would appear that Viso has quietly reinvented itself in preparation for — I assume — national distribution, with preliminary accounts in Wholefoods in the Pacific Northwest (in addition to my local Olympia Co-Op).  I certainly don’t recommend ordering from their website, as a case costs $21 with SEVENTEEN DOLLARS SHIPPING.  You are fucking kidding me, you guys.

Speaking of caffeine, each bottle contains 300mg, which is the equivalent of three and a half small cans of Redbull, or between four and five shots of espresso.  So, basically it’s a fucking disaster in a bottle.  And I love it.  The flavors are truly well-balanced: faintly sweet-sour, and bitter and mineral from the caffeine and vitamins.  It’s a poor description, but they taste, well, real.  Like fruit juice and vitamins. And 300mg of caffeine?  Holy shit.  I basically live in an eternal state of sleepiness, like some nodding junky without any of the fun heroin parts.  The last few days of having a Viso around for quick drinks here and there have left me productive and alert.  My god, the possibilities.  I may now have the energy to shower every day!

So, I am sorry if you can’t find it, but I have a hunch that you will be able to within the next year.  Keep a lookout for them and remember after drinking one to take a couple laps around the block just to keep from tearing your own eyelids off.

¹ As an aside, Voodoo Donuts? Total bullshit. I’d rather have a Krispy Kreme served to me by a pleasantly bored teenager after I have stood in line for zero minutes.

11 Posted in Food Rant

Stupid Asshole Chestnuts

Posted by on Oct 15, 2012 at 5:42 am

I became so fixated on chestnuts this year that I woke up the other night to the sound of slight wind and rain, and debated briefly but genuinely whether or not I should get dressed and head out to the chestnut tree and harvest the bounty the weather was sure to have shaken loose.

But first, I have to tell you about how I spat chestnuts out all over the cobbles in front of an Italian street vendor when I was 17.

My mom and I went to Italy together, and one of the first evenings we were there I smelled some kind of hot, indescribable ambrosia.  Like baked goods, but not baked goods.  Earthy and sweet, but the unmistakable smell of carbohydrates.  I followed it to a man selling small paper bags of roasted chestnuts, which I eagerly purchased using my terrible Italian, and reveled in the pure cinema of it. I had barely been outside Olympia, Washington, and here I was in Florence, walking the cobbles after dark as gypsies tried to read my future and gelato shops overflowed with happy laughter.  And hot, fresh roasted chestnuts, which I had never had before.

I peeled one – carefully, because they’re hot little fuckers – and popped it in my mouth.  And then spat it back out again.  Because what I hadn’t been expecting was a mouth full of something somehow both snotty and granular, dirty and sweet, and with a strong overtone of soggy cardboard.  My mom laughed until she nearly peed, the vendor angrily shouted at me in Italian as I threw the bag of chestnuts away in the nearest garbage can.

Let’s get back up to the now timeline.

Chestnut trees are not at all common in the Pacific Northwest.  We have a lot of buckeyes, or horse chestnuts, which are not edible.  There is, however, a famous European chestnut tree in town, and most mornings there is a small flock of Asian ladies out there, silently racing over to each nut as it falls, getting up under each other just right up to the edge of actually shoving one another.

Somehow, this year I knew I wanted to be one of those ladies.  I was going to force myself to like chestnuts, whether I liked it or not.

Unrelated:

I can’t stop breaking my own kitchen tools, lately.

Okay, so chestnuts.  I’ve been reading about them incessantly, learning all kinds of moderately useful facts, such as: they don’t keep well.  Some people say they freeze well, some don’t.  And lastly, no one mentioned that they are totally fucking impossible to peel.

After I roasted them, and of course this is the hilarious truth: the first one I peeled just popped clean out of it’s inner papery liner like a Boston Terrier squeezing out of a sweater.

Pretty much every other one after that was totally stuck, and disintegrated when I tried to peel  them.  Nearly two hours after starting I wasn’t even halfway done, my fingers were rubbed raw and I no longer gave a single fuck about eating chestnuts.

In addition to not having been told that I was undertaking a task destined for failure, I was also not told that you shouldn’t roast more than a few at a time, because the only chance you have of peeling them AT ALL is to do so while they are warm.  It was only after nearly an hour of research that I read that you should boil them, half a dozen at a time, and skip the roasting all together.  THANKS FOR NOTHING, INTERNET.

As an aside: most chestnuts you buy commercially are a crossbreed of a Chinese and European chestnut bred to product massive nuts that peel easily, but do not have an especially pleasant flavor.  These are the chestnuts roasted in carts and handed off to poor suckers like 17-year-old Sunday.  The tree that I harvested from is a true, rare European chestnut, whose nuts are smaller, sweeter, spicier and DO NOT FUCKING PEEL AT ALL.

I finally started microwaving them in a sealed ramekin, a few at a time, for 10 seconds, and that is the only reason I had enough to cook with at all.

I had grand dreams.  I was going to make some kind of Mont Blanc absurdity, but I took a page from my friend Yuko’s book and went for chestnut rice, or kurigohan instead.

And you know what?  It was delicious.   The chestnuts are very starchy and unlike nuts altogether – the nearest approximation I’d offer is to use a sweet potato or yam diced small and cooked with your rice.  The chestnut pieces are soft and creamy and strangely dry, and a little sweet.  They are earthy and pleasant, and made a very wintery, hearty pot of rice.

In this instance, I think even the crappy commercial chestnuts will work, if you can find them.  A long time ago a Japanese friend told me that chestnut-flavored foods are the same way that Americans feel about pumpkin-flavor: it means fall.  It tastes like holidays and cold weather.  I think I did actually successfully convince myself that chestnuts are good, in the right context.

Kurigohan
if you can find fresh chestnuts – and i mean really fresh, like with intact, shiny, smooth skins – then by all mean boil them and peel them yourself.  good luck, i don’t know what else to say.  i saw canned chestnut at the Korean market the other day, and i steered clear; with very few exceptions, canned anything is not an acceptable version of whatever food you want.  lastly, some parts of the country get vacuum-sealed fresh peeled chestnuts, and others frozen peeled, and i suppose these are fine but I have never tried them. i am serious about just skipping the chestnut dilemma entirely and making this dish with diced sweet potatoes or yams, it will be not exactly the same, but similar.  lastly, the kombu kelp is used for flavoring, not for eating.  it is not sushi seaweed, it is a thick, dry piece of kelp that has a strong mineral flavor, and is one of the base ingredients in that miso soup you love to get from your local sushi restaurant.

2 cups short-grain Japanese rice
2 cups water
2 teaspoons sake
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chestnuts/pieces
1 – 2 pieces of kombu kelp (optional)

  • Whenever you make Japanese rice, you need to rinse the dry rice in running water until the water is clear.  This is the number one thing that makes Japanese rice so clean, smooth, sticky and perfect.  Drain the rinsed rice in a mesh strainer for 30 minutes after rinsing, then add back to cookpot or ricemaker.
  • Add the other ingredients and cook how you would normally cook a pot of rice.  I have a fancy-pants rice cooker (that I LOVE LIKE SOME PEOPLE LOVE THEIR GRANDMAS) so I don’t know how you Philistines stove-top cookers do it.
  • I will say that the other secret to rice is to let it sit for 10 minutes after cooking (my cooker does this for me, of course) and then to carefully fluff and stir the rice a few minutes before serving.  This allows the trapped moisture to evaporate, leaving the rice clean and plump rather than soggy.

 

10 Posted in Food Rant, Make It So

Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain – Charming Eccles Cakes

Posted by on Oct 11, 2012 at 5:32 am

Eccles cakes.  Supposed to be currants, but we are the colony so we don’t care.  Apparently called “fly pies” or “fly graveyards” because currants look like dead flies, a little bon mot that I am sorry Mr. Oliver didn’t roll with.  CHARMING DEAD FLIES PASTRY.  You Americans may not get it.

To the Bullet List!

  • British people are obsessed with demerera sugar.
  • It seems a little fussy that there is a fresh bay leaf in this recipe, but it truly requires it.  Dry won’t work, and leaving it out is possible but sad, like going back to make the police in E.T. carrying flashlights instead of guns.
  • Jesus, this is a lot of citrus zest for only like a dozen little pastries.  And a lot of spices.  A half a damn fresh nutmeg! FUCK I SHOULD HAVE GRATED THAT BEFORE THE CITRUS. Now I am washing and drying my stupid microplane grater.  I think that rich people might own two and not have this problem.

  • Oh my god this smells too strong, I feel like my nostrils are barfing.
  • I was interrupted and went outside to do something, and walking back inside I find that the kitchen is actually delightfully pungent, like Jamie Oliver was here applying Old Spice to his underarms.
  • You are supposed to roll out the puff pastry until it is 1/8th an inch thick, but to be honest the Trader Joes puff pastry is pretty much already there.  I try to roll it a little anyway and it isn’t going great.  I decide to skip to the cutting of the circle bits part.
  • This does not go great either.  Round cutter didn’t need a handle anyway.  Except for that sharp bit around the rim, I mean, that needed a handle.

  • I am not totally on board with the description for forming these things.  “Put a tablespoon of fruit filling into the middle of each pastry circle, then stretch the pastry up and over the filling, bringing it together on top and sealing it in the middle.” Actually now that I type it out it makes sense, but at the time it wasn’t immediately apparent that you are making a bun with the seal on the bottom.  I’m not sure why this was hard for me.

  • My first several attempts are pretty sloppy.  Ultimitely, I don’t really like this technique because it makes a small lump of unpuffed puff pastry in the bottom of the cake, but this is me being a whiny butt. Folding over and crimping the edges would make for nice crisp, chewy edges.
  • I feel like a jerk toward these things.  I don’t like how they look.  I don’t like the way they smell. I catch myself wanting them to fail.

  • They do not fail. They are, as a point of fact, charming. Somehow the great odiferousness has receded to a homey, complex perfume of fall and weekends. The bay leaf is remarkable – a woody cologne, a sort of savory partner that I was not aware pumpkin pie spice needed.  I am now considering bay leaf in pumpkin pie.
  • Son of a bitch, these things are actually delicious.  Mike the Viking and I can’t stop eating them.  I burn the roof of my mouth, and later literally cut the inside of my lip on a shard of melted sugar, and still it doesn’t stop me.  Mike says: “These are what I want cinnamon rolls to be!” to which I respond, we do not have similar memories of cinnamon rolls at all, I think.  He argues: “They are spicy and have raisins in them.”  He is not wrong but HE IS ALSO NOT RIGHT.

Charming Eccles Cakes
from Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, summarized lightly by Anger Burger for laziness’ sake.

filling:
1 large fresh bay leaf
zest of 1 whole lemon
zest of 1 whole orange
1/2 grated fresh nutmeg
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup demerara sugar*
5oz. mixed dried fruits, chopped fine (I used apricots, cherries and golden raisins)**
2 balls preserved ginger, chopped + tsp. syrup (I used chopped candied ginger + 1 tsp. honey)
2 1/2 oz. apple, diced small (about 3/4 an apple)

pastry:
17oz package of puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
1 egg
demerara sugar for sprinkling

*Turbinado sugar is more commonly found in the US, and is the same thing.
** The recipe also suggests sour bilberries (which people in Skyrim eat), and cranberries as options.

  • With a mortar and pestle, bash up the bay leaf to release the oils.  Add the lemon and orange zest, the nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice and as much of the sugar as will comfortably fit into the mortar.  Give the whole thing a couple seconds of vigorous stir-grinding, then turn out into another bowl with the rest of the sugar.  Mr. Oliver does not say anything about what to do with the leaf, which got very tatty and broke down pretty far, so I just picked out the big stringy bits and left the ground up leaves.  Add the dried fruit, the diced apple and the ginger (and honey, if you don’t have the ginger jarred in syrup, which you probably don’t because presumably you don’t live in the UK, but I realize a few of you do so congrats).  Set aside.
  • If your puff pastry is really thick, roll it on a lightly floured board until 1/8 inch thick.  Otherwise continue with cutting out 4-inch circles. If you have a 3-inch biscuit cutter, as is more common, that is OK – just take each circle and gently stretch it out with your fingers until it is bigger.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment and heat oven to 400°.  Put a tablespoon of filling into each circle of puff pastry and pull the sides of the pastry up around it, sealing at the top like a balloon.  Turn over and press down pretty firmly to flatten from a ball-shape to a fat-patty-shape, without breaking the pastry.  Make a few cuts in the top of each one, and then brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.

Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain Book Review and Giveaway

Posted by on Oct 10, 2012 at 4:40 am

OK so guess what!  This lady was like, hey, do you want to read this cookbook and I was like yes I do!  And then she was all do you want to give someone a copy and I was like yes also!

Alright, serious hats¹.  Rarely have I sat down with a cookbook and analyzed it, cover to cover, for balance.  I have never cooked from a recipe without changing things to my taste, except for the rare baked good that intimidates me too much.  For someone to ask, earnestly, can you review this?  Empirically?  I find myself hesitating.  Can I?  Is it possible for me to avoid hyperbole?  NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS.

So here is the experiment.  I read Jamie Oliver’s newest cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, from cover to cover.  I made several recipes without changing a thing.  Recently I have had a rash of magazine recipes (not of Mr. Oliver’s) turn out to be written sloppily and likely without having been tested before print (FINE COOKING I AM LOOKING AT YOU), and despite this failure fresh in my mind, I stood my ground: to test this book, for realses, by doing exactly what it instructs.

So far?  Three out of three recipes tested are high-five level great.  The kitchen felt like an 80′s movie success montage.  We are training and getting stronger!

Which is not to say the book didn’t earn some side-eye from me.  It’s a handsome book – no dustcover, good styling.  But do I need to be told how to make a sausage sandwich? The chaper on vegetables is little more than how to cook asparagus and how to fry some vegetables with meat. I mean, I understand this is supposed to be traditional British food, and you can’t pull a pony out of a duck’s ass, but one can dream.  And there are repeats here: kedegree and half a dozen variants of mashed potato in The Naked Chef, steak sarnie and toad in the hole in Happy Days with the Naked Chef — I am sure there are more, but it wasn’t intended to be a vicious point.  Also those are the only two other Jamie Oliver cookbooks I own.

Lastly, there are some hard-to-find ingredients as well: Atora suet, ginger in syrup, and strawberry blancmange powder as examples.  I am not sure if this adds a pleasant authenticity to the book (at this writing, I lean towards this sentiment) or if I find it a bothersome and intentional effort at making the book foodie-er.

Despite this I have a good-sized checklist of things I want to make from this book, a longer list than the average cookbook gets.  And as I mentioned, the best endorsement I can offer: In the short few days I’ve had the book, we have found every recipe a repeat-worthy success.  I find myself wanting to find strawberry blancmange powder, whatever the hell it is.  The fact is that I like Mr. Oliver, or at least his ghostwriter, stylist and photographer.  Recipes are not overinstructed, the flavors are never rebooted or tweaked for any reason other than to make the recipe actually better (toad in the whole is a great example – it may be a repeat recipe, but it is changed, and the reason for the change it clearly communicated).  It is, despite my best efforts to be a grouch, a solid cookbook.

SO YOU WANT A COPY FOR YOURSELF:

Make a comment in this post.  Do not make more than one comment.  Only US and Canadian entries only (not my preference, but they’re the ones shipping the book – sorry overseas buddies). Contest ends 12pm Saturday the 13th, Pacific Standard Time.  I will get your information from you and pass it along to the book promo people, who will ship you the book.  Godspeed.

YOU ARE TOO LATE.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE:

Over the next several days there will be a few recipe reviews.  That’s all.  I didn’t mean to make it sound more exciting than it is.

¹ Mine looks like the Pope’s.  Mike the Viking’s is made of metal, obviously.

56 Posted in Drama!, Food Rant