Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Goin' mobile

I never thought I'd say this but, I want to start eating out of trucks more. I think my deep, abiding love for truck food began with the catering trucks I encountered on commercial shoots. I actually stayed in advertising way longer than I planned because the thought of giving up the catering truck - and breakfast burritos made to my specifications - was too much to bear.

But now the genre is going mainstream, and no one is more stoked than me. The first inkling I had of the mobile food revolution came several months ago when I first read about The Dessert Truck.

I was understandably enthralled. The Dessert Truck is a mobile pastry shop of the highest order that tools around New York City, doling out creme brulee and warm chocolate bread pudding. Two guys - a pastry chef from Le Cirque and a grad student - started the venture with $100,000 and an apparently stellar business plan.

The Dessert Truck defies convention by offering things like goat cheesecake with rosemary caramel and chocolate mousse with a creamy peanut butter center and caramelized popcorn in, of all things, cheap foil or paper muffin cups. Practical meets fanciful. Truck stop meets haute cuisine. I'm all for it.

Soon after, I discovered the Portland food cart scene, which is the most organized mobile food community I've come across. There's an epicenter website dedicated to the what, when, and where of the vendors, with more information than you could ever possibly need. Are you jonesing to cook in a 3' x 5' kitchen on wheels with propane and precious little ventilation? There's a used food cart want ad section just for you. I have a feeling it's a tough racket because there's always something for sale.

The vibe in Portland is street food all the way, with lots of ethnic carts (tacos, Vietnamese Pho) alongside more inventive ones like Grilled Cheese Grill (name pretty much says it all) and Moxie Rx, a breakfast/brunch place that's homespun and gourmet at the same time.

But the most intriguing of all the food trucks is Skillet in Seattle. Skillet Street Food was created by a former CIA graduate (culinary student, not spy), so he has some chops. He serves higher end comfort food in a refurbished Airstream with a cool logo on the side. You can check their website for their daily menu and locations.

The signature Kobe burger with arugula and cambazola cheese (a mild blue) is slathered with something called bacon jam, a concoction the chef dreamed up and now sells on the Skillet website. I already have my jar, and am formulating a bacon jam plan as we speak.

As intriguing as bacon jam is, poutine is even more so. A classic Canadian diner dish, it's french fries covered in gravy and cheese, which melt and mingle, and the whole thing turns into something magical that you'll probably want to eat with a fork and a bunch of napkins.

No one in my family knows it yet, but I'm planning a mobile food road trip. I'm going to eat my way from truck to truck all in the name of research and development. Chicago could really use a Skillet, and I might want to be the one to make it happen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The white-gloved one

Yesterday, I made Annie's Cheeseburger Macaroni. It's like the organic version of Hamburger Helper, which I have flatly refused to make due to its sheer grossness. I just won't do it. When the two ingredients you need to complete a dish are ground beef and milk, the likelihood of barfing is just too high.

The Cheeseburger Macaroni was not good. I replaced whole milk with skim, which made everything watery. The milk solids separated out, creating a very fine cottage cheese-like consistency. Put that together with ground beef and flavor powder and it pretty much is barf. No need to ingest it first.

My pseudo-Helper was missing something, and it could have been the chemicals, but I suspect it was The Hand. The helpful, practical Hand must possess some sort of magical culinary power, because what else could account for the huge popularity of Cheesy Jambalaya Helper, or the newest offspring of the Helper family, Mongolian-style Beef? Mmmm.

I used to work for the ad agency that had the Hamburger Helper account. Being asked to work on Helper was like being sentenced to a lifetime of humiliation because it meant you had to write scripts for The Hand. You had to have conversations like, "The Hand would never say that because his wit is more understated, like Will Rogers." You had to pretend he had a personality and that he stood for things, namely the common man. It was the ultimate embarrassment, and I'm pretty sure I was never asked to work on it because I had already endured the ultimate workplace embarrassment at age 16 - working in the men's underwear department at Dillard's department store in Dallas.

The account guy on Hamburger Helper had an actual working model of The Hand in his desk drawer. I found it impossible to not pick up The Hand and fold down the two outer fingers so it was flipping everyone off. My account guy friend apparently was offended by this because as we were talking, he'd quietly put the fingers back in their original, helpful position.

So now I'm feeling compelled to try it, if only to do a side-by-side comparison with Annie's. Something will come to light, I'm sure. Maybe I'll be proven wrong, and Hamburger Helper will take a place on the shelf next to the Mac n Cheese. Maybe I'll be proven right, and spend a night becoming intimate with the inside of the toilet. Either way, I'll let you know.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hate the regime, love the food

Man, I wish that Kim Jong-il wasn't such an a-hole. His crazy motherfucker antics would be mildly amusing if he wasn't pointing an a-bomb at Honolulu. And, for obvious reasons, watching a thousand goose-stepping soldiers march through the town square doesn't exactly make me feel all calm inside, either.

But, boy, do I love Korean food. I first got a taste at Steve's Lunch in Ann Arbor during college. Ann Arbor is pretty much the epicenter of Korean food in the U.S., or so it seems. There are more Korean restaurants than Chinese restaurants in Ann Arbor, which I could chalk up to who's going to school there. But it also made me wonder: is Kim Jong-il infiltrating American college campuses with the very convincing method of plying unwitting, hungry students with Korean barbecue to get them to join the cause?

Until you've tried bul go gi (Korean for "this is fucking awesome"), you can't understand how possible that is. Paper thin slices of ribeye are marinated in one of those transformative marinades made sweet with kiwis, salty with soy sauce, and tangy with rice vinegar. The pieces of meat are cooked quickly over a smokey fire, and then wrapped in lettuce leaves and devoured.

This is the stuff from which addictions are made. And borne from that are citizens in drab gray garb, wearing solidarity arm bands and worshipping their "Dear Leader," with goose-stepping soldiers not far behind. That is the power of bul go gi.

So eat with caution. And just know that Vietnamese barbecue is similar, and as far as I know, they're not enriching plutonium as we speak.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No place else....

I now know where all the salt from my Poag Mahone's cheeseburger went: to the stockpiles at Chili's, the Texas-y food chain with the gigantic red chile mascot. Everything on the menu should be preceded by the tantalizing descriptor "supersalty." When I come home from a dinner at Chili's, I'm so water-retentive, my calves have doubled in size, and I'm spongey.

The sad part is, Chili's used to be one of my favorite places, before it was taken over by corporate chefs. Back in the day - Dallas in the early 80's - there was one lone Chili's on Greenville Avenue. It was a shrine to Texas chili, with old black-and-white photos of codgery guys holding up their chili cook-off blue ribbons.

The menu starred The Terlingua Pride - a manly chili cheeseburger. The chili soft tacos were somewhat less showy, but still chili to the core. And the chili cheese nachos were what we, as teenagers, ate with the occasional beer we finagled with our fake ID's. This place was the real deal.

But then Norman Brinker bought it, and in 1983, started to expand. He's the guy who created Bennigan's and Steak & Ale, before making Chili's a multinational conglomerate with little satellite outposts in airports, sports stadiums, office parks, and God knows where else - public restrooms? Your urologist's office?

And then the corporate chefs rolled up their sleeves and dug in. The job of the corporate chef is to make the food fit the brand. It's a dubious job at best, and a shameful one at worst. Here, I'm thinking the Awesome Blossom, a whole deep fried onion that spouts individual fried onion stems to pluck and dip in some questionable test-kitchen sauce.

As for the Awesome Blossom, here's probably what went down: a bunch of marketing guys, some with early 1990's ponytails, and a "chef" with "Chef Tom" officially embroidered on his preternaturally white chef's coat, sat in a large, windowless conference room. The moderator stood next to an easel with a big black marker while the participants threw around terms like "brainstorm" and "groupthink" and after a few hours, someone held up a doodle drawn out of boredom on his yellow legal pad and the Awesome Blossom was born.

I'm fairly certain the Chicken Club Tacos with bacon (Country Club double decker sandwich, meet the local taqueria) and the Crispy Chicken Crisper Tacos (more crispiness than you ever thought possible) were both conceived in the same low-lit yet decidedly unromantic room.

I miss the old Chili's. But chains are created, character is exchanged for corporate concepts, children's menus are mass produced, salt is liberally used, and life goes on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's gazpacho time

Left to its own devices, my hair, in the Chicago summer humidity, would look not unlike Roseanne Roseannadanna's. For her, it was a theatrical wig. For me, it's a genetic flipping of the bird at me by my father's side of the family. Thanks, Dad.

But interestingly, there is a correlation between my hair and the eating of gazpacho. On that first moist, frizzy day, I know instinctively it's time to pull out The Recipe. I have deemed it a proper noun because this Recipe is a miracle in alchemy.

But let me back up a bit. Gazpacho is cold Spanish tomato soup, and there are a thousand versions, some with bread, some with cucumbers, some pureed, some more Sangria-like, with chunks of tomatoes and cucumbers in a thin tomato broth. I've seen white gazpachos and gazpachos with grapes and almonds. But I'm a purist.

Gazpacho happens to be one of the loves of my life, along with my now-deceased cat, Chuck, and diet Coke, so you're not going to talk me into liking your version better than my version. My version also happens to be Nancy Silverton's version. She's my idol, and also happens to have Roseanne Roseannadanna hair, which could explain why she has spent so much time developing the best gazpacho recipe on the planet, so much so that it is now a proper noun, much as the Pope or God is a proper noun.

Nancy's recipe is one of those "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" propositions. It's a bunch of delicious ingredients mixed together with one's hands (the best utenstils), and left to marinate overnight.

Not to sound too new age-y, but there is a Happening in the bowl overnight. Something actually transpires between the ingredients that is other worldly. It's almost like Clark Kent turning into Superman, or whatever that guy's name is turning into Spiderman.

So here's The Recipe. It's not quite tomato season yet, but a few ok ones are just starting to turn up. So if your hair's frizzy, go ahead and make this, knowing that great tomatoes - and even better gazpacho - are just around the corner.

Nancy Silverton's gazpacho
adapted from The Food of Campanile by Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton

2 Japanese cucumbers , split and seeded (these are the long ones that are usually wrapped in tight plastic)
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed (i.e. cut out the core)
1 medium red onion, peeled and trimmed (ditto)
1 medium red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 small green pepper, cored and seeded
1 large celery stalk
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and quartered
1 small jalapeno pepper, split, seeded and diced (this is optional, especially if you're not into spicy food)
1/2 cup good olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, 8 leaves reserved
1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed in 1 tsp olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Chop the cucumbers, fennel, red onion, red and green bell peppers, and celery into 2 inch pieces. Combine them with the tomatoes, jalapeno, olive oil, basil, vinegar, garlic, 1 Tbs. kosher salt and 1 1/2 tsp. black pepper in a large plastic or stainless steel container. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, tossing once or twice.

At this point, Nancy uses a food mill to puree the soup. You really need a professional strength mill if you're going to go that route. I use a food processor, and buzz it through until it's coarsely ground. It's not thin like a traditional soup; it will be sort of chunky. At this point, taste it and add salt and pepper if needed.

Julienne the remaining basil leaves and garnish each serving with the leaves. Grilled shrimp is also a great garnish, sort of a riff on shrimp cocktail.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Poag Mahone's

*I have no idea who these people are. 


Today was the second official meeting of the Burger of the Month Club - Chicago Chapter. We met at Poag Mahone's, which means "kiss my ass" in Gaelic. I sort of felt like the management was telling me to kiss their ass when I tasted the burger. It had the consistency of meat, and the look of meat. It just didn't taste like meat, or anything else for that matter. So my question at that point - at the point when my food doesn't taste like anything - is, Could someone please pass the freaking salt?

How hard is it to salt food properly? Seriously, it's the cheapest ingredient in the kitchen, and it requires no culinary school techniques whatsoever. Food doesn't taste like food until it's been salted. So, please, for God's sake, salt the meat. Then maybe I'll think about kissing your ass.

Maybe I'm just pissed off about having to drink diet Pepsi instead of diet Coke. Whenever a place serves Pepsi, I think someone must be getting kickbacks from Pepsico. Because everyone knows Coke is far superior to Pepsi. Especially with a burger. The only time I'm going to voluntarily have a diet Pepsi with my burger is never.

As for the accompaniments, the fries were standard, crinkle cut bar fare. I thought the coleslaw was good, but others thought it was merely ok. And I've already lambasted the soda selection. Right now, I'm feeling like Poag Mahone's can poag my mahone. 

Plus, the six members of the Burger of the Month Club who attended the monthly meeting were pretty much rendered mute because the place was so loud, we couldn't hear each other, so we just stopped talking. (It was good to see you all, by the way) Fortunately, ESPN was on 2 of the three TV screens, so I got to catch up on my baseball stats. 

My final thought is, where was Bruce Jenner when we really needed him? 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I'm beginning to think it would be safer to let my 9 year-old son have the keys to the car than to let him pick his own food. The child obviously has a death wish. Here's what a typical day would look like in the diet of H. if he had his druthers:

4 graham crackers
1 Krispy Kreme donut
2 slices of bacon

1 small bag Lay's potato chips or better yet, Pringle's

Lunchables (whichever one has the most chemicals)

entire sleeve of graham crackers, handful of Lay's potato chips or better yet, Pringle's

onion rings
one chicken nugget stolen from sister's stash

leftover cupcake from birthday party (while negotiating for additional ice cream cone)

Why do children like crap so much? Forget about the fact that I let them have crap (sometimes). Why do they want crap in the first place? What is it about the young palate that wants Gripz and Cheez-Its and cheese popcorn and Flavor Blasted Doritos? Are the food companies putting heroine in the cheese powder? And what's the obsessive attraction to squishy white bread? They now make wheat bread that's practically white bread, so what's the problem?

And why does nothing ever change? I liked crap, too, when I was 9. I was the queen of Hostess and Chef Boyardee. I didn't eat a vegetable until I was in my 2o's, if you don't count the 7 corn kernels that came in my weekly Swanson's frozen dinner. 

It must be physiological. Or anthropological. Or maybe it's diabolical. Maybe food scientists have figured out the genetic code for the under-17 palate and how to subvert it. Maybe we're all just unwitting junk food drones in a Kurt Vonnegut novel about the subjugation of an entire nation through salty snacks.      

So what to do? I do what most mothers do: surrender and offer up a gummie multivitamin. Then I sneak kale into their hot fudge sundaes when they're not looking. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The whole cupcake thing

I knew the whole cupcake thing had been blown way out of proportion when I read a fairly serious article in - of all places - The Atlantic Monthly earlier this year, offering up a sober critique. As if cupcakes should be taken seriously, the way meals that cost $175 and take 12 hours to eat are taken seriously.

I have taken cupcakes seriously in my life. Back when I made them for a living, I thought (wrongly) that I should analyze them. I now know cupcakes should never be analyzed. The whole point of a cupcake is to avoid analysis, to live absolutely in the moment, to make no judgments, to take no prisoners. The best cupcake eaters are kids, and the best makers of cupcakes are those who have yet to grow up. 

The cupcakes I used to aspire to had a geometrically perfect swirl of pure butter buttercream on top. I now know this is completely wrong. Kids like sugar (butter not so much), and they like to feel the grains of sugar in their frosting. They also like frosting that is light on the tongue and doesn't linger more than a second or two. Real butter buttercream lingers for several minutes, but kids just don't have the attention span for that. They yearn for quick gratification so that they can move on to the next activity: practicing their baseball swing, trading Pokemon cards, picking their noses. 

Unfortunately, adults are now trying to hijack the cupcake world. Serious pastry chefs are applying their vast technical knowledge to the making of elaborate cupcakes. I'm opposed to this. Case in point: More Cupcakes, a new shop opened by local celebrity pastry chef Gale Gand (whom I like, by the way). More offers exotic flavors and "flights" of cupcakes, which I guess is supposed to be a riff on flights of wine during an elaborate meal. They also have savory cupcakes: apple gorgonzola and blt, which I sincerely hope is not bacon, lettuce and tomato. And, of course, there's white cheddar truffle, because what better vehicle for a $100/ounce ingredient than a cupcake. Please. Folly for folly's sake makes me work too hard. I need to live in the cupcake moment.

Fortunately, I have discovered cupcake nirvana: Sweet Mandy B's in Chicago. When my kids' birthday parties roll around, I just head straight there. The frosting is light and sweet, a little grainy, and brightly colored. I've only had the chocolate cupcakes, and I think they're exactly what cupcakes are supposed to be: lightly spongey, very chocolatey, moist, but still pretty crumb-y. When you're done with one, you feel ten years younger. And then you're on to the next activity, feeling joyful but unsure why.  

I don't want vintage champagne in my frosting, or bacon bits - even if they're real - in my vanilla cupcake. Give me blue frosting with a few sprinkles and simple chocolate cupcake and I'm good.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chinese take-out

There's a Chinese waiter somewhere in the world who remembers this story very well: 

Back in 1982, some high school friends of mine and I went to Ming Garden one night for dinner. Ming Garden was in a strip mall in North Dallas, the land of pageant hair, Chevy Broncos, and the least authentic Chinese restaurants in the country, if you don't count the ones in New Hampshire, where they unapologetically serve Parker House Rolls before your chow mein.  

Our waiter that night was a young, skinny Chinese guy who had a big, scarlet "V" on his forehead. The "V" was for virginal. I say this not as a judgment on his sexual state, but on his life state - he was a life virgin. He was giddy and easily embarrassed, red-faced and giggly, especially in the presence of high school girls. He had fluffy, black hair and a bit of acne on his cheeks. It was hard not to feel for this awkward man. I'm sure this - three high school girls sitting at one of his tables -  was about as much action as he ever got.  

We ordered our food (he giggled) and our Cokes and 7 up's (giggle, giggle). He was over-solicitous, and we were over-flirtatious and soon, the dynamic started to take on a life of its own.  The food and the room and the clientele at Ming Garden was alarmingly uninteresting, but the fact that we could elicit such a jumpy response from this preternaturally embarrassed man child was highly entertaining. 

At the end of the meal, there was a good amount of fried rice left. It was average fried rice at best, and I had no intention of eating it beyond the muraled walls of the Ming. But something came over me at that moment, and I can't be positive, but I think it was the devil. The devious, self-serving devil crept into my brain and told me to do something so outrageous that this shy Chinese waiter might just blush himself to death.  

So when he came back to the table, I asked him if I could take the rice home. He giggled and said "yes," and so with that, I took the silver plate of rice and scraped it into my purse, filling my black Le Sportsac with what remained of our shrimp fried rice.  

He shrieked. My two friends shrieked. He was at a complete loss, standing there with his mouth open so wide, I had a pretty clear shot of his uvula. Then he yelled, "We have box for that! We have box for that!" And he ran into the kitchen to grab the box. I acted like I had never seen such a box, and then smiled and reassured him that it was OK. By that point, he had broken a pretty good sweat, and I wouldn't be surprised if he walked off the job that night, and went to work for a dry cleaners. Less client interaction, with much older clients. 

The Le Sportsac ended up in a dumpster that night. But that story will, I'm sure, be with the four of us forever. 


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where the hell is my hot towel?

We went to Benihana the other night for my son's birthday. There is something so reassuring about that place. I think it's the routine. You get there, they seat you with a couple of overweight strangers with umbrella drinks who try to talk to you until you make it very clear you want nothing to do with them. The Japanese server - a petite woman in her late thirties, maybe a former geisha - brings you a hot towel for your hands, and you end up giving yourself a sponge bath from the neck up, and cleaning out your kids' ears. The next table over is mid-meal, the onion volcano is just starting to let off steam. The.......WAIT! There was no hot towel!

I didn't even realize it until we got home. We were wondering how to get the smell of hibachi shrimp out of our clothes when it hit me. How can you have a Benihana meal without a hot towel? And come to think of it, they changed one of the sauces, too. The mustard-y sauce is now a mayonnaise-y sauce. What gives? 

And.....why is my chef a latino guy named Omar? Where's Takashi, my own personal master chef, trained in the old country? I mean, Omar was fine, he stacked up the onions just right, he flipped the shrimp tails into his toque with confidence, but when he bowed at the end, I felt a little cheated. 

A few years ago, my father boldly proclaimed he would never go to Benihana again because it wasn't authentic anymore (he had had a problem with having a "Japanese" chef named Juan). At the time, I just chalked it up to his annoying racist tendencies. Was Benihana - the American institution - ever really authentic? Does it really matter who cooks your meal as long as they get the flavors right? 

Our Omar did a few things differently. He cut the zucchini into trapezoids instead of thick julienne. Didn't like that. The zucchini is supposed to co-mingle with the onions, and that happens when the two are shaped similarly (the master Japanese chef above has it right, particularly with the addition of the sesame seeds). 

Omar also put a dollop of some white stuff on my shrimp. It looked like sour cream, but I think it must have been pure trans fat because the shrimp looked and tasted the same. Only my arteries know for sure. He also offered us a weird pre-meal appetizer, which he claimed was a "Japanese potato." The translucent white slices literally hopped up and down on the griddle, and then into our plates. They had a Jello-like springiness and tasted like nothing.

Still, the question lingers: does the chef at Benihana need to be Japanese? What if I went into a taqueria, and a Japanese guy was making the tortillas? Would it take away from the experience? Or what if I went into a Jewish deli and an Indian guy was making the corned beef sandwiches? What if a Jewish guy was making the curry at my favorite Indian restaurant? In a self-proclaimed ethnic restaurant, must the creators of the food be the proclaimed ethnicity?

I'll go back to Benihana, and I don't really care whether Omar or Takashi is cooking. No one makes hibachi shrimp like Benihana. But I do know one thing for sure: I want my hot towel back. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

An ego the size of an extra large pizza with housemade pepperoni

I truly enjoy seeing the mighty fall. I relish it so much, I would pull up a chair and eat popcorn while watching someone with a giant, insufferable ego eat some stringy, unpalatable crow. 

That happened today - sort of. GQ came out with its list of the 25 Best Pizzas in the country. Up until now, Pizzeria Bianco, in Phoenix, has been the darling of the pizza world. I bought into the hoopla, too, spending two days of my five day vacation in Phoenix pursuing with a weird, zealot-like fervor the lauded pies of Chris Bianco. I seriously considered waiting in line for five hours to get a taste of his version of flour, yeast and water topped with a little tomato sauce and cheese. In the end, my child yanked me back into reality, and we ended up going elsewhere. 

But I honestly felt yanked around by Pizzeria Bianco. They believed their own PR. Not that the pizza isn't fabulous - I'm sure it is - but it's pizza. And if five hour waits are the norm, they should expand so no one has to wait more than half a workday for a piece of their pie. 

On GQ's list, Pizzeria Bianco is #4. Not exactly a proud position for a place that has held the title "Best Pizza in the World" for years now. Alan Richman, GQ's food critic, may be a knob for all I know. But who cares? Being cut down to size in the media is worth its weight in housemade prosciutto. It's now out there: Pizzeria Bianco is not #1. 

So who is? Great Lake Pizza (see deliciousness above), a child of my fair city, Chicago. It's not Chicago-style pizza, but that actually tickles me to death because I now know that Chicagoans other than Grant Achatz can be at the fore of culinary progress. Achatz' super futuristic restaurant, Alinea, with its esoteric now you see it/now you don't cuisine, is one way of moving forward. Taking Chicago pizza to the next level is another. 

Check out the article here. The large, Pizzeria Bianco chip on my shoulder has been mercifully lifted, which is a good thing because I was beginning to think I needed a chiropractor. I believe justice has been served. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Seeking inspiration via soup (and a certain feisty cabbage dish from Korea)

I'm in inspiration mode right now. I'm trying to find the answers. Which translated means, I'm trying to find some more interesting things to write about. I'm taking a lot in. A friend sent me a link to a website that showcases, among many other random things, school lunches from around the world. That definitely deserves a post, especially because kimchi is a popular school lunch side dish in Korea. I love kimchi, and I love that it's Korea's cole slaw, and wish it was America's cole slaw, but I also can't imagine my kids smelling it, much less eating it. 

Scotch broth is inspiring me, too, and no it's not broth with scotch in it, although I know a few people who might put scotch in their scotch broth. It's an old-school Campbell's Soup flavor that's been reissued, if you will. The first ingredient (or maybe second - I can't remember) is mutton broth. This in a can of Campbell's Soup. The word mutton brings to mind Billy Crystal's character in The Princess Bride, who waxes gastronomic about a mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean. I'll stick with my beloved bacon to accompany my l and t, thanks. As for scotch broth, if it's good enough for Andy Warhol to paint, it's good enough for me to eat.  

Campbell's also used to have Pepper Pot Soup, which is made with tripe. I didn't see it at Jewel, but if I had, I would have left that one on the shelf. You know how I feel about varietal meats. 

And I've been throwing around the idea of opening a subscription soup business where one could place weekly orders online and delicious soup (but not Pepper Pot) would be delivered to their door. Wouldn't it be nice to have homemade soup brought to you on a cold winter's night, maybe with some homemade bread? There's definitely something to this. 

I also have yet to tell you about my  somewhat unhealthy relationship with parsley, and the seductive parsley soup I make (thank you, fancy chef Jean Georges Vongerichten, for your recipe) that is hypnotic, to say the least. So stay tuned....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cheeseburger in Wrigleyville

Sometimes I feel like this is turning into a cheeseburger blog. I do like to eat other things, even though I spend a heck of a lot of time talking about cheeseburgers. I like seafood a lot. I love ethnic food, as long as it doesn't include monkey brains, spinal fluid or the like. I really love sandwiches. But if I had to pick the perfect food, it would be the cheeseburger. It's just a damn satisfying way to enjoy a cow. 

But sometimes I just want a salad. It's almost a primitive yen, the gatherer part of the hunter-gatherer equation calling out for a turn. There's a part of me that knows my body will stop functioning if I don't get some vegetation in it right quick. So in that spirit, I'd like to thank Bar Louie for coming up with Burger in a Bowl. That's its technical name; I call it the Cheeseburger Salad and boy, what an inspired concept. 

It starts with a bowl of chopped iceberg lettuce. Say what you will about iceberg: it has no nutritional value, it's mass produced, etc, etc... But iceberg, in all its crunchy blandness, is the perfect foil for a greasy, cheese-laden burger. Next come "bruschetta tomatoes," which are chopped tomatoes dressed in a puckery vinaigrette. Sometimes burgers need a good, tart butt-kicking, and puckery vinaigrettes were made to do just that.  

Now comes the hard part: picking the meat. You could choose not to rock the boat by picking beef. You could also go all healthy and have a turkey burger. A veggie burger is also available, and since this is mostly a vegetarian dish, I'm going to remain neutral on the veggie burger thing. A fourth option is a chicken breast, but how that's a "burger" in a bowl is beyond me. This is not an option, in my opinion. 

But the meat is just the beginning. You must also select a style of burger, and at Bar Louie, there are seven or eight pretty heady options.  The Fried Louie, for example, is bacon, cheddar and a fried egg atop a burger, which would then be atop the chopped lettuce and bruschetta tomatoes in the bowl. I know; it's a lot to take in. 

My favorite style is the Philly, which is grilled mushrooms, onions and provolone, but the Louie (grilled onions, provolone and giardiniera) is swell, too. You really can't go wrong, unless you order the chicken breast, which we've already established is a misguided choice and perhaps even sacrilegious as the star protein in Burger in a Bowl. 

The whole thing is then topped off with pickles, red onion, mixed cheeses and house dressing, and what it all amounts to is a fine, fine meal. I don't know if Charlie Trotter would jump on this bandwagon, but who cares? He messed around a bit with the whole raw food thing, and what a bunch of bollocks that was. 

When your Burger in a Bowl arrives, do as a parent would for a child: cut the whole thing up first, and then eat it. If you cut it up as you go, you might not get to enjoy the interplay of tastes, textures, and temperatures. And every bite is different, which is also part of the genius. 

I'm heading there tomorrow. Maybe this time, I'll get the Pepper Jack: pepper jack cheese, guacamole and jalapenos. I'll try to take a picture, although this salad is not a looker. But its personality more than makes up for it.