Archive for the 'Junkfood' Category

Published by TheFoodMonkey on 23 Dec 2009

Bacon “Latkes”: They’re Sacrilicious!

Bacon Latkes

In the past week, I have learned that mortal man, with his two hands, might reach into the void and draw forth that which is simultaneously gastronomically delightful and cosmically wrong, and by so doing, bring into this world something of sublime beauty, sin, and perfection–something sacrilicious.

In was in the throes of such darkling pursuits that I found myself one crisp December evening, after I had been invited to a Hebraic holiday gathering, marking the second night of Chanukkah. This aim of this party was to celebrate the noble latke–a divot from a thatched roof of potatoes, chipped into frying pan and left until crispy, typically served with apple sauce or sour cream.

In jest, I proposed to the hostess that I should prepare something highly inappropriate and porcine, and surprisingly she did not balk, but seemed rather intrigued at the prospect. So after inquiring if any more observant fellow members of the tribe in attendance might be offended by this off-color offering, whatever its incarnation, I began to ask myself exactly what bacon latkes might entail.

Clearly, making a simple potato lakte with bacon inside it would be but a refuge for the timid, and thus, I decided to use the bacon in place of the potato. To do so, I stacked several slices of thick-cut maple bacon on top of each other, and sliced them widthwise into many thin strips, reminiscent of the julienned potatoes used in the original. The choice of a thick cut, slightly lean bacon is paramount if the strips are to retain their structural integrity. Keeping the uncut bacon cold before cutting facilitates the process.

Bacon Latkes

I cut about 6 strips of bacon in the fashion, and set them aside in the refrigerator.

In considering the flavors that this delightful abomination should take on, I hearkened back to a recipe for Pig Candy that I had spied online, which counterbalanced the salinity of the bacon with brown sugar and cayenne pepper. To the seasoning, I added cinnamon to lend an additional aromatic quality. I believe that cayenne pepper + brown sugar + cinnamon is one of the best triads of flavors in existence, and is one I often employ when making caramelized onions for omelets.

With the flavors nicely balanced with sweet, spicy, salty, and aromatic components, the texture needed to be improved so as to avoid the feeling of consuming a tennis ball derived from reconstituted beef jerky. To this end, I added slivers of blanched almonds to lend crunch. Also, they would caramelize nicely and turn a lovely brown when baked with the brown sugar.

As a binder, egg white and a little bit of flour were used, which I added to a large bowl with the brown sugar, almonds, and spices.

Before incorporating the bacon strips to the mix, I broiled them for about 5-10 minutes on a rack that allowed the fat to drain. This is a crucial step in the bacon latke making process, as too much fat emanating from the bacon during backing will dilute the sugar and binder to the point that nothing with adhere to each other, leaving a sad pile of bacon strips and broken dreams.

Bacon Latkes

Using a spatula, I gently folded in the bacon, making sure not to break any of the strips, while completely coating the bacon and almonds in sugary spicy goodness. Then, taking a teaspoon, I placed small sliver-dollar-sized mounds of the mix on a cookie tray covered with a silicone baking mat. When making the mounds, let as much excess sugar/binder ooze come off as possible or the creation will suffer glacial calving, with bacon swept away atop saccharin floes into a vast a silicone sea.

Bacon Latkes

After making a dozen or so equally spaced mounds, I placed the sheet into the oven for about 10 minutes, until all the sugar had melted and the almonds turned a beautiful golden brown. As this point, I removed the sheet from the oven, letting the weary chimeras cool to room temperature and form a protective carapace of sugar.

Using the back of a kitchen knife, I popped the latkes off of the pad and arranged them on a platter, and conveyed them directly to the party. At the gathering, which included such goodly items as sweet potato curry latkes with wasabi sour cream, I was glad to see that those observant of our ancient dietary customs found them amusing rather than offensive, and that those who were not found them delicious. I found that it takes at least two to wrap one’s head around the contrasting flavors and textures, and then about seven more to confirm the previous findings.

Thus, I share the prescription for fabrication of these beasties with you, in hopes of brightening your holiday season, whatever festivities you may celebrate:

The Food Monkey’s Bacon Latkes

(makes 12-15 bites)

Ingredients

  • 6 strips thick cut maple bacon
  • 3/4 cup blanched and slivered almonds
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Cut bacon into short strips widthwise, and broil in toaster oven for 5 minutes, let fat drain.
  3. In a large bowl, gently mix the brown sugar, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, flour, egg white, and bacon until everything is well combined.
  4. Using a teaspoon, make small mounds of the mixture cookie tray with a silicone pad or wax paper on top.
  5. Bake 15 minutes, remove and let cool.

It should be noted that this is not the first sacrilicious task that I have undertaken, as I host an annual Godzilla Burger Yom Kippur Break Fast at Eagles Deli. See you there next year!

Published by TheFoodMonkey on 13 Nov 2009

Dorado: Good Fish Tacos and Good Business Acumen

Just a brief note today.

A buddy and I were recently walking down Harvard Ave.,  pondering our forthcoming evening’s repast, when we paused outside Dorado Tacos and Cemitas to gaze at the menu. As we were about to walk away, a man ran to the door and poked his head out, saying, “I saw you guys were deciding whether to eat here or not. Let me buy you both a fish taco. I don’t want you two walking away.”

This was Michael Brau, a co-owner of Dorado, and I have to applaud him on the quality of his business acumen. Had he not stopped us, we would have dined elsewhere, and I wouldn’t have ever penned this review. More businesses should be as proactive in getting their product out there.

Dorado’s fish tacos were far and away the best I’ve had so far in Boston (of the 4 choices for fish tacos their are), and were genuinely good on an absolute scale, including those I’ve had in Southern California. Incidentally, the South Beach Bar and Grill in San Diego is my ranking national fish taco favorite.

Dorado’s fish was cooked well, the breading was light and airy, and most importantly, it had some heat from the chipotle crema. Their other tacos are good as well, and I prefer them in general to Olecito’s.

The other signature at Dorado is their array of cemitas,  diagrammed below:

While delicious, they aren’t quite up to the level of La Verdad’s tortas, which really pack a ton of heat and flavor. Unfortunately, Michael suggested that playing to the median spice tolerance of Coolidge Corner is the prime factor in that. Fortunately, they have lots of cholula (my new favorite topping for oysters) and other hot sauces to augment the cemitas to taste.

Dorado has a very difficult task in attracting the young demographic they’re looking for. They are located in a bit of a no-man’s-land between Allston Village and Coolidge Corner. For the under-30s to make it there from Allston, they would need to bypass the formidable gauntlet of restaurants between Commonwealth Ave. and Brighton Ave., and pass up going to Anna’s Taqueria, a Mexican food destination spot in its own right. From the other side, the stroller-wielding Brookline yuppie crowd probably doesn’t have the turn-over speed that drives places like this.

So Dorado is banking on a delivery to dorms, word of mouth, and a imminently forthcoming beer license to fuel their newly minted business.

If ever you are in the neighborhood, I  most assuredly recommend grabbing a fish taco or two at Dorado.  They’ve secured my repeat business.

Published by TheFoodMonkey on 11 Nov 2009

Where is the McFarthest Place in the Country?

(from weathersealed via strange maps)

The folks at weathersealed have created this wonderful visualization demonstrating how far you are from a McDonalds at any given point in the country.

So where is the McFarthest spot in the country? It turns out that if you drop yourself in the Northwest corner of South Dakota, just off of the Grand River National Grasslands, you’d be 107 miles away from the closest McDonalds as the crow flies, or 145 miles via vehicular transport.

View a map of the McFarthest spot here.

To view the original article, click here.

Published by TheFoodMonkey on 30 Sep 2009

Boston, Montreal, and Lots of Poutine

If ever you were to make the short journey north to Montreal for an evening of youthful frivolity, most likely you would end up capping off your nocturnal activities with a plate overflowing with poutine. Poutine is the quintessential Montreal late night post-adult-beverage snack, and typically consists of french fries covered in gravy, and topped with a cheddar cheese curd. It is the type of food that it seems magical elves come out at midnight and enchant, so that it tastes especially delicious around 1 to 2am.

Like its American analog, the late night slice, everyone in Montreal has their favorite place to get poutine (Famous Original Ray’s Poutine?), and their favorite style. Also like pizza, would be Wolfgang Pucks have brought poutine to higher culinary levels. Most notably, Chef Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon, where I had perhaps the best meal of my life, is known for adding foie gras to his poutine. He is also known for saying, “When you go to a restaurant to eat salad, you have a problem.” On my last trip to Montreal, I also enjoyed an excellent poutine with duck confit, which really hooked me on the dish.

Poutine emerged in rural Quebec around the late 1950s, and there are several conflicting stories about its origins. It is thought that the word poutine is a French derivative of the English word pudding. Over the years, “poutine” has taken on many meanings, such as being a derogatory moniker for an obese person, and meaning “a mixture of various things”. As poutine is a mixture of various things that will invariably make you obese, the modern usage of the word seems to follow naturally.

A few months ago, I was contacted by the Montreal Board of Tourism, and was informed  that they would like me to take Katerine Rollet, their official food writer and founder of the blog The Epicurian Life, around Boston to seek out culinary connections between our two cities. Boston is one of the biggest feeder cities of tourism to Montreal, and by pointing out where Bostonians can find a little taste of the French Canadian in their town, we could remind Boston of the fun that’s just a little drive up north.

After some thought, I recalled several Boston area establishments that served poutine in various forms. Thus, with stomachs fully prepped to receive mountains of starch, Katerine and I embarked on a quest to try every poutine place that I could find.

So you might ask, where can one find poutine in Boston? In our journey, we sampled from:

After an evening on starch mountain, I was truly surprised with our findings: Every poutine we tried was legitimately good, and every poutine we tried was different.

An Overview of Poutine in Boston

Harvest Restaurant – $12

Harvest Restaurant, located on Brattle Street near Harvard Square, has a nice cozy yet upscale feeling. The poutine they offer there has hand cut french fries, cheese curd, bacon, with a chicken velouté. This dish didn’t taste or feel like a traditional poutine, but it was warm, gentle, and an ideal comfort food–perfect for a blustery winter day, wrapped in a blanket by a crackling fire.

To address the obvious, the bacon, of course, was a delicious addition, and a great vehicle for some salinity, rather than fries doused with salt. What was most notable about this particular poutine, and indeed defined the character of the dish, was the chicken velouté. The word velouté means “velvety” in French, and it is essentially a stock thickened by a roux. The chicken velouté merged with the melted cheese curd gave the dish a smooth, and yes velvety, texture, which reminded me of a wonderfully crafted macaroni and cheese made with cream.

This is a unique, refined take on poutine, and is worth trying for yourself when you are in need of some good comfort food.

All Star Sandwich Bar – $5.95

At All Star Sandwich Bar in Inman Square, brothers Johnny and Kosta Diamantopoulos serve poutine to remind them of the many trips they made to Montreal in their youth. All Star Sandwich Bar is a great laid back joint that seems made for hanging out and enjoying a massive mountain of gravy and cheese covered fries. It’s clear that both Johnny and Kosta love their work, and a great sense of fun runs through the restaurant. Did I mention they have free Oreos for you to take on your way out? I can’t think of a more fitting palate cleanser for poutine than an Oreo.

The best part of the poutine at All Star Sandwich Bar is the use of a mozzarella curd instead of a cheddar curd. The mozzarella is very light and airy, and makes the poutine seem less heavy, and enables you to eat a lot more of it without feeling as if a cement mixer just emptied its contents into your GI tract. My Montreal guests were very interested in the use of chives, which added a crunchy textural counterpoint to the fries, cheese, and gravy. If it were not for the fact that I was pacing myself for two more dishes of poutine with one already under my belt beforehand, I could have easily finished the whole dish myself.

Overall, All Star Sandwich Bar is a great place to enjoy poutine in the ambiance in which it was intended to be enjoyed. Also, it’s the only place where the poutine comes at the poutine appropriate price of $5.95.

Gargoyles on the Square – $14

Executive Chef Jason Santos from Gargoyles on the Square, known for his edgy cuisine, has created a foie gras poutine, with smoked gouda, rosemary, and duck fat gravy. The poutine at Gargoyles, located in Davis Square, is by far the most luxurious and over-the-top poutine you can get in Boston. This poutine joyfully smacks you on the back to say hi with in-your-face flavors, in contrast to the gentle embrace of the poutine at Harvest.

Several facets of this poutine make it stand out. First, and most obviously, is the foie gras, which is folded into the cheese and gravy (NB: We received whole slice on top for filming presentation) to make everything even more creamy. Because the other flavors are so bold in this dish, it is difficult to actually taste the full flavor of the foie gras. However, it makes its presence known texturally, and does indeed add to the dish. What I liked most about this poutine was the starch covered waffle fries. The starch becomes flecks of crispy batter and gives these fries an excellent flavorful crunch. The smoked gouda was also yet another strong choice, contributing to this delicious flavor sledgehammer of a poutine.

Overall, this is a great poutine to share, and is not for the faint (or clogged) of heart!

The Beehive – $10

While the other restaurants have been doing their best to make their own twist on poutine, at The Beehive in the South End, they strive for true authenticity. The reason for this is because the general manager of The Beehive, Bertil Jean-Chonberg, is a Montreal native as well as a founder of L’Express, one of the most preeminent classic restaurants in Montreal. “I have had the poutine on my heart for all my life,” said Bertil, and explained that he even went to the extent of arranging a special agreement with the Canadian and US governments so that he could import the original Canadian cheddar cheese curds. Unfortunately, due to changed restrictions, they cannot no longer get this cheese, but after scouring the country, he has found the closest local equivalent.

I enjoyed this poutine immensely, for the love that was put into it, and for the painstaking authenticity involved in its production. The cut of the potatoes was the perfect thickness, the cheese was melty and flavorful, and the gravy brought everything together in a way that was not overpowering. This was the fourth poutine of the night, and it’s a great testament to the balance of flavors that we finished it all. This poutine was the clear favorite of my guests from Montreal. However, it was a little tough disambiguate their love for the poutine and their love for Bertil himself!

I was very impressed, overall, with the poutine I found in Boston. I was truly expecting to find places that served the poutine equivalent of the KFC famous bowl, but discovered that the chefs from each place we visited had really taken the time to think out their vision for how each of the constituent building blocks of this simple late night dish would come together into something delicious, filling, and new.

Published by TheFoodMonkey on 10 Sep 2009

King Curtis Also Likes Chicken Nuggets

Recently, I posted a video from the show Wife Swap about a portly, demanding, and articulate little boy named Curtis, who went ballistic after his health conscious “new” mom took away his bacon.

Well it seems King Curtis has a penchant for chicken nuggets as well:

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