Thursday, April 23, 2009

Broke Foodies: West Coast Style.

Let's face it, with this bona fide recession fixed firmly in place there's lots of broke foodies out there. So, what do we eat now, you ask?
Check out Spicy's Recession Favorites for Broke Foodies. (great tastes for little cash) Spicy's always looking to save a buck and keep it gourmet, and here's a few ideas to get you started (and saving!). And, one more thing... no need to be shy at the table--good conversation can fill you up, too!

Weeknight Burger: West Coast Style
*(Cost of this tasty meal for two? About $15.)

Eating a big, juicy burger always make me feel like a kid. Back East, I was raised on a hot, juicy homemade burger that Chef Dad concocted in response to the Big Mac TV ads in the 70's. Instead of carting us all to the fast-food mecca, Chef Dad made his own burger--just they way we liked them. Special sauce, too? Of course.

(Chef Dad had broken down 'special sauce' as mayo and ketchup a little pickle juice and crisp white onion)

While other kids got Ovaltine and Nilla Wafers as an afterschool snack, Chef Dad would fry up an 80-20 patty, shred lettuce, slice a beefsteak tomato, whisk up some special sauce and hold the squeaky pickles that I hated. Then, faster than my big brother could belt out the Big Mac jingle, I'd have fatty pink burger juice running down my arm. (Oh, to be young and chubby!)

Decades later, my afterschool burger's all grown up. And, Chef Dad wouldn't be disappointed. The West Coast Lamburger meets all the specs for a handheld feast. And, this grub is local.

There's been a lot of hullabaloo lately--at least in the Bay Area--about the lack of 80-20 beef. Where I shop for the best in local and organic--Whole Foods, Bi-Rite and the city's various farmers markets--I can find the best antibiotic-hormone-free meat on the market, but I can barely find a beef mix above 15% fat. Where's the fat? Leaner beef means risking a dry burger which is... unacceptable to me. If I'm going all out to have 'Burger Night,' I'm gonna to get my fat's worth!

Enter, ground lamb...where fat and flavor rendezvous:

Burger night. Giant Sous Chef finds several excuses to pass through the kitchen just as the lamb patties sizzle away in our new All-Clad grill pan. A meaty cloud fills the kitchen. Though I haven't made lamburgers since Superbowl 2002, seven years later Giant Sous Chef and I still refer to them in our cocktail chatter (as if that first succulent bite was only yesterday)... Unlike my show-stopping Superbowl XXXVI lamburger stuffed with a heady Stilton and served on Ciabatta with a side of smothered buffalo wings, I wanted to make this a conscious burger. I wanted not a fast-food burger but "slow" (like Carlo Petrini slow) and sustainable one. I gathered ingredients from purveyors as 'close to the table' as possible. I chatted with the butcher, baker and cheesemonger until my burger vision became clear.

Prather Ranch Ground Lamb. Oregon's finest. With succulent fat, premium texture and the finest flesh of grass-fed livestock, my ground lamb mix only needed a little bit of Dijon mustard, oregano, salt and pepper to make a fine patty. Taking advice from grill masters like New York's Bobby Flay and Napa's Michael Chiarello, I handled the meat as little--a few turns with the fingers and quick, gentle molding and shaping--as possible to keep it from cooking up tough.

The West Coast lamb needed a special cheese. I had tasted some Point Reyes Farmstead Reserve Bleu at Bi-Rite Grocery a few days before, but I thought it would play too strong. Their 'Original Bleu'--with that salty Pacific breeze in every bite--would suffice. I also sauteed a bunch of Watsonville baby spinach and shallot in Stonehouse Estate Blend olive oil (from the Fall 2008 press).

Then, there was the bread. You gotta think about the bread. No excuses. Yet, my usual choice for burger bread--challah rolls or focaccia, too eggy or too olive oily--clashed with the lamb and tangy bleu cheese. Armored with a hefty, golden crust impervious to the hot juices that would bust through the finished burger, and with just enough fragrant, herbaceous rosemary compliment the lamb, Acme's Herb Slab was the natural choice.

I had also frenched some garnet sweet potatoes for oven fries. I toasted squares of herb slab and hit them with a little Irish Butter before smoothing on the bleu. I made four 1/4 lb. burgers. Cooked to about medium they were obscenely juicy.
.. *(Cost of this tasty meal for two? About $15.)

Hanging Tender Dinner. Aka
'the butchers cut' or in
France, the beloved 'onglet.' The hanger steak is an odd-shaped cut made up of two muscles that--you guessed it--hang off the kidney below the tenderloin. I get mine from Prather Ranch and Golden Gate Meat Company. If you go to GGM, they can do a free rub that further enhances the flavor (cook it fast and leave it juicy) of this affordable and increasingly trendy cut.

For sides, I took my recipe for duck fried rice, subtracted the bacon and duck confit and sub'd in Wildwood firm tofu. Marinating in organic shoyu and sprinkling garam masala onto the the tofu and the final dish while still in a hot wok, elevates this beyond drab fried rice takeout. Blue Lake Beans in the Bay are classic. All they need are simple blanching and a few hot tosses in the wok with a little shallot or garlic, S&P. With these protein-rich sides, you won't need much steak per person to make it a hearty, balanced meal. (Total cost for two: 3.00+4.75+12.00=$19.75)

Panini Prandial. Isn't it boring when people tell you breakfast is the most important meal of the day? At minimum, we remember to buy yogurt and fruit-sweetened toaster pastries on the grocery run. But, when you have just a little more time, why not go to the butcher for maple pecan sausage links? Dust off your panini grill (the busy foodie's best friend!). Then, use leftover cheese (in my fridge, Spring Hill's Jersey Monterey Jack-- "Jersey Cows" not New Jersey!), vitamin-rich greens to saute and stuff inside and whatever else you want to panini. (Scrambled Petaluma farm-fresh eggs, optional.)

PANINI INSTRUCTIONS: Stuff fresh ingredients betwixt bread. Grill sandwich and smoosh.
($ one panini costs about $3 to make)

All that and a bag o' shrimp...

On my second tour of SF, I shacked up with Giant Sous Chef in a tiny studio in the SOMA district. But, there was lots of good in that place... Along with the genuine clawfoot tub, there was a separate kitchen (stove was safe distance from futon). AND, Trader Joe's was (still is) across the street. For the savviest, broke foodies, TJ's is one of the best spots in many cities to save on food.

Even though my palate's outgrown TJ's 'two-buck-chuck' (aka Charles Shaw wine) and moved onto their twelve dollar imported Barolo, I still grab a bargain bag o' frozen shrimp when I'm there. Usually the uncooked, peeled, tail-on U30 count does me. But, I saved a bit this Easter by getting the smaller-bodied, tail-off version...

Po' Food. You know how much Spicy loves NOLA. So, this Easter Sunday in honor of flavors of that favorite place (and the journalist Chris Rowe), I attempted to recreate Domilise's roast beef and spicy shrimp po' boy. Exactly as it sounds, a soft roll decked out with shaggy slices of slow-roasted beef, shrimped encased in a seasoned, fried breading and stove-hot debris gravy. It's best to make your own roast-- you'll end up with all the makings for 'debris' (the crispy, sometimes chunky, somewhat burnt bits from roast that scatter into drippings when carved). In NOLA cuisine, debris is retained for gravy. Debris is important. It's the single touch that makes this po' boy rich...

Country Club Shrimp Salad at Home. Do you love couscous like I do? A box of couscous costs about two dollars and contains approximately 10 servings. How can you go wrong? You can have it hot, cold, savory, sweet. It's especially tasty in my arugula shrimp salad with poppy seed dressing. The couscous' unique texture, peppery greens and tangy emulsion unite with chilled shrimp tossed with a squeeze of meyer lemon, salt and pepper.
Simple, cost effective and oh, so good! (cost of one salad 6/5.99 + 6/2.99 + 6/2.50)

What's your recession food fix? Wanna recipe? Tell Spicy in comments!

(you may not hear from spice-E & giant sous chef for a little bit as we're taking the credit cards to europe... we'll try to post from the road, but no promises with nothing but an ipod touch (with NO camera function) to guide my way... IPOD TOUCH--get a camera!)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Sandwich Recession.

...Easter Sunday, Burgers, Little Skillet and a Westie.

I've decided to make roast beef and fried shrimp po' boys for Easter Dinner.** And, chocolate risotto pudding. And, I'm saving that bottle of McWilliams Shiraz (vino cheapo). For the family brunch buffet, I'm thinking pastel de tres leches with fruit topping. The strawberries were too green at Rainbow co-op (and I honestly think we're pushing the season here), so I might go with mangoes instead or see how the Cali strawberries look elsewhere.

NOLA is my religion, so I woke up thinking about those roast beef and fried shrimp po' boys! It's the trendy thing right now—sandwiches in general are, since we're all so broke and whatnot. Tom Colicchio even has a book about sandwich making, and is heading our way (to the Bay) for his book tour. Apparently his 'Wichcraft franchises have lines out the door. I haven't been to the one in SF quite yet. I'll get there...

On Tuesday night I did find a decent buffalo burger at Pearl's Deluxe Burger in Russian Hill (is it RH or TL or TN? I'm not straight on that part of the city). Just off the corner of Post at Jones, a clean little hole in the wall serving all the greasy stuff. But, what made it my destination? In the last year, Prather Ranch, my fine meat dealer (and the peeps who introduced me to "beef-falo") lost their buffalo supplier. And, it's taking time to find another bison outfit. Sad, but true.

(they still have plenty of delicious meat, especially that Oregon Lamb)

SO, I had to cheat on them with Pearl's Deluxe... which wasn't so bad. I had the 1/2 lb. buffalo burger with cheddar and bacon (and crinkle cut sweet potato fries and some of my friends frings (fries-n-O-rings!). It was fatty and drippy and sooo-hole-in-the-wall-good. Bacon jutted! Cheese oozed! The three of us didn't even look at each other again until we were finished eating and swabbing meat juice from our faces.

My only criticism: Pearl's, get some new buns! The soft sesame seeded white roll fell apart while I was eating my ginormous, juicy burger. It obviously wasn't thick enough and had little flavor. I know the meat's the star, but I give extra points if a joint thinks about the bread.

A foodie-FRIED fact: One of my favorite SF chefs returns from a sojourn back East, and he's starting up the Little Skillet out of 330 Ritch Street (remember that spot? a few memorable evenings there). Among other snacks, they'll have CHICKEN-N-WAFFLES, PEOPLE!! (double plus good). So, please drop in 'n give ol' C-Double a shout. Let him know Spicy sent you—maybe, he'll crack a smile.

In a final note, this weekend I hope to post the long-awaited West Coast Burger photos. Spicy's own lick-your-lips creation. Plus, a revelation about the Acme Herb Slab! Check back soon for the 'Westie' burger.* It's damn good. And, you should know about it.

**(Po' boy update: In my attempt to keep it real and have sandwiches for Easter dinner, I ventured to Trader Joe's for the ingredients. "Natural" roast beef? Check. Fully-cooked, tail-off, medium shrimp—great for breading and frying? Check. Beef gravy? Uh-oh. TJ's did have their famous "turkey gravy in a box" though... So, ok, I bought it. I have a jar of Superior Touch Beef "Better than Bouillon" in my fridge, and it won't be the first time I've doctored things behind closed kitchen doors...Spicy's sneaky like that.)


*(no fluffy white scotty dogs were harmed in the writing of this this posting)