Monday, August 23, 2010

Recipes? I don't need no stinking recipes!

When I started cooking, I tried following recipes with mixed results. I can be sorta literal, so if a recipe said to cut a potato into 1/2" dice, I'd spend all day making sure each and every cube was the right size. Other times, there'd be a term I wasn't sure of (saute? Is that like fry?), or a cooking vessel that I didn't have (what the heck is a saucier pot?).

Back then, I didn't know enough to just wing it. So I'd either get frustrated and not cook or I'd get frustrated and cook and hate it. Frustration is not my favorite emotion, but I knew somewhere inside me was a cook waiting to get out. I just didn't know how to free him.

So I started making packaged foods, like flavored rice and sauce combos . And I'd add whatever was handy or sounded good. This usually meant ground beef, garlic, and corn went in every dish. And it led to experiments and discoveries that propelled me onward -- you’d be amazed at how many ways you can incorporate those three ingredients into anything!

Flash forward 20 years, and my wife's grandfather wants to put together a family recipe book. I've been asked to submit 6 or 8 of my favorite recipes. It’s flattering that her family thinks I’m such a terrific cook, but there’s a problem...


Four or five years ago, I actually wrote down some recipes for things I had been cooking a lot of, on the off chance I suffered a brain injury and couldn’t remember how to make one of my stand-bys. So in theory, I should have been all set. But since I wrote them down, I’ve hardly looked at them. And I’ve cooked many of them for the family.

So who knows if what I cooked for the inlaws is at all like what I wrote on those cards five years ago?

I’m going to include a disclaimer with my recipes, warning them that what they are about to make may not even remotely resemble the dish they remember me cooking for them.

And if they’re in doubt, they should just add ground beef, corn, and garlic. It worked for me!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One step closer to Burger Nirvana

Anybody who knows me knows how much I love hamburgers. And yes, I've complained on this blog before about about the absence of consistently excellent hamburgers in Eugene. An old college professor of mine used to say "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." Well, call my brain Tiny then, because I am desperate for a burger I can count on, time and time again.

One of my favorite restaurants is a little burger/sandwich/neighborhood joint called Cornucopia. I love them so much, they catered my wedding. The restaurant has a real friendly vibe, a great beer selection, the only hush puppies in town (that I know of). And despite the popular complaint whenever I mention that I love Corny, I even love the service. It might not be the fastest place to get dinner, but I've been there dozens and dozens (and dozens) of times and may have had iffy service once or twice. I think they do pretty well.

Now, when asked, I'll name Cornucopia's burgers as the best in town. I usually do so hesitantly, because while they're really tasty and are made of good quality beef, their competition is so lacking in this town that they only have to be pretty good to win the Best in Eugene title (as they do every year). I've had burgers there that were over-done. I've had them under-done. I've had them so-so, and I've had them really good.

This weekend, I had one that reset my standard for what to expect in a Cornucopia burger.

My Wild Bill burger, 7/24/10. I almost forgot to stop eating and snap a pic

This was not my first Wild Bill Burger. I've had the half pound patty with bacon, cheese, and BBQ sauce countless times before. But this one was incredible. Grilled to perfection, dripping with sauce, after the first bite I knew I had something special. One of the things I really like about Corny burgers is the char they get on the outside, though sometimes, as I've mentioned, the char goes to far. Not this time - the burger itself was moist and juicy and cooked to my ideal medium-well. And it had that perfect crust on the outside that a burger gets when it's spent the exact right amount of time on the grill.

They always season their burgers really well at Cornucopia. But this weekend's burger was exceptional because while I tasted the seasoning and it was slathered in sauce, the predominant flavor was beefy goodness. Man that was a good burger.

Much to my chagrin, FoodGuy Jr. does not like hamburgers. He's not yet 3, so I'm trying to stay positive that some day he'll outgrow this unfathomable aversion. In effort to help speed his growth along, every time I eat a hamburger, I offer him some. While eating this particular burger, however, I didn't. I love little FoodGuy more than anything, but I was't going to take the chance that he'd chose this burger to try. When he likes something, the boy can eat. To risky.

So now I'm anxious to go back to Cornucopia. Mrs. FoodGuy will only go once a month or so. She really likes Corny too, but oddly doesn't seem to need hamburgers the way I do. She wasn't with FoodGuy Jr. and I this weekend, so there's hope I can get her there soon. And then we'll see if they can replicate my burger. If they can... if they can... It'll be the dawn of a new burger day in Eugene.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Maybe Someday Donuts Will Rule the World

It's no secret that cupcakes have been enjoying a renaissance over the last few years. Formerly a kids-only treat reserved for birthday parties, cupcakes became a trendy item to reinvent. All over the country, hip, fancy, gourmet cupcake shops started blooming, like cherry topped paper wrapped morsels of childhood memory. Where I live, gourmet cupcakes were Eugene-ified: ourDivine Cupcakes are organic and come in dairy free, wheat free, and vegan options. While I like a small cake as much as the next guy, I can't get fully behind this cupcake movement. They're kinda prissy. A little girly. A little little-girly, if you know what I mean.

My dozen (or so) donuts from Voodoo Doughnuts

But I'm not here to talk about cupcakes today. I want to talk about doughnuts. Doughnuts come from the same sort of humble place as cupcakes, but are far far cooler. And now,
doughnuts are poised to take over where cupcakes will invariably leave off (any day now). And that will be a trend I can fully stand behind. And full I will be, because I've got one of the best doughnut supplies anyone can ask for, in Voodoo Doughnuts.

Voodoo is already leading the doughnut revolution with their crazy creations. They were a huge hit in their original home of Portland, Oregon, where hipsters lined up after the bars close for cereal covered doughnuts, bacon maple bars (with two or three pieces of real live bacon on top), and a doughnut called Cock-N-Balls that's shaped like, well... a cock and balls. And now they've come to Eugene.

First was a soft opening, when you pretty much had to happen by at the exact right minute in hopes they were actually open. Then they had announced hours, which did not coincide with any of my free time. And now, finally, they're open 24 hours so I can run over there on a whim and get my fix.

Now, about the doughnuts. I'm a cake doughnut guy, and I have to say their cake doughnuts were really good. I got a couple of basic chocolate ones, and the first thing that I noticed was they really tasted like chocolate. And the texture was soft and crumby, sort of like devil's food cake. Standing on their own, I'd call them high quality doughnuts. But what sets Voodoo Doughnuts apart are the aforementioned crazy flavors. I'm a huge fan of spicy chocolate in general, and the Mexican Chocolate doughnut did not disappoint. It's not often that I'm actually surprised by how spicy my dessert is. But it's a good thing when it happens. Delicious. My lips tingled and my mouth watered. Dipped in coffee it was doughnut perfection.

The raised doughnuts were frankly pretty average, in terms of the actual fried dough. But again, the flavors are where it's at. The Grape Ape is a raised doughnut with vanilla frosting and grape "dust." Their frosting is far better than average to begin with, and I don't know what grape dust is (maybe Kool Aid?), but I loved the combo. The maple frosting on the maple bacon bar was full of maple-y goodness. And the Raspberry Romeo's jelly doughnut had real jelly inside -- you could see the raspberry seeds!

Honorable mention goes to the apple fritters, which were also really good. I didn't try one until they were a day old, and I skipped heating mine up (as my friends did - and they RAVED), so I might have missed the window on those. Some of the others I tried, like the Oreo Cookie one, were flashy, but not completely awesome.

Miami Vice Berry, Mexican Chocolate, Maple Bacon Bar

They were all fun, though. And it was exciting to open that pink box and approach each doughnut as a brand new thing, never before tried. Worth traveling to Portland for? No. Worth waiting in line for 10 minutes for on a nice Saturday morning? You bet. Late night, post bar, slight buzz destination? Oh, for the days when that mattered to me... But yes, yes indeed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pastrami to Rival the East Coast's Best

As a Jew born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey, I feel confident describing myself as an expert on quality pastrami. Now, pastrami differs from, say... bagels, in that inferior pastrami can still make a nice sandwich. Inferior bagels? They're just dinner rolls with holes and I won't eat them. So I've given up on bagels since moving away from New Jersey, but you'll occasionally find me noshing a pastrami sandwich. Usually with a disappointed look on my face.

Last weekend, the wife and I went to Portland, land of the cool, home of the hip. They should add Place of the Pastrami to what they tout as the city's claims to fame, because I had one (actually two) good sandwiches there.

the actual sandwich in question

This house brined and dried and seasoned to perfection sandwich at Kenny & Zuke's was the best I've had since I left home 20 years ago. It was sliced perfectly thick, so that it had bite and texture. Thin sliced pastrami is for weinies, if you ask me.

And it was peppery and garlicky and clovey, but not so much that any one flavor overwhelmed the other, or the meat. My only complaint? Not enough meat on the sandwich. Maybe it's just in my memory that pastrami sandwiches are piled three or four inches high?

Now, let's talk about their knish. If I closed my eyes and went by flavor alone, I would have thought I was eating a perfect specimen from my youth, done just slightly more upscale. The pastry on the outside was definitely better than a typical knish, flakier and butterier. But the potato was chunky, and while it was nice, it was jarring to my munch down knish-memory lane. But the real problem with it was aesthetic. See it up there, next to the sandwich? It's topless! Didn't look like any knish I'd ever seen before. It was darn good though, so my complaint is actually pretty petty.

Kenny & Zuke's pickles were really good too, and their rye bread was better than most I've had on the West Coast. They even have the two name thing going -- when I was a kid every deli in the suburbs was a two-guy name: Jerry and Harvey's (our family's favorite), Jesse and Davids... okay, maybe there were just two.

I love trying new restaurants, but the pastrami was so good at K & Z's that on our 24 hour trip to P-land, Mrs. Food Guy and I ate there twice. After our awesome lunch, I couldn't resist a breakfast sandwich of egg, pastrami, swiss cheese (hey, I didn't say it, or I, was kosher...) with a side of latkes. The latkes were tasty, though nothing to write home about.

But the pastrami? The pastrami... Consider this a letter to New Jersey.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gluttony Strikes Again, or Sometimes Two Burgers are Better than One

Sometimes it's all about quantity. I hate to admit it, but it's true. I guess I can be a bit of a glutton.
image from

There are times when I just want to eat the biggest hamburger I can find, and I almost don't care if it's great, just that it's LARGE.

This weekend, for instance. The family and I went to a little place near our house. We'd been there a few weeks ago, and I hadn't been able to get the onion rings out of my mind. Every time I'd drive by, my mouth watered.

Now, this place isn't even really a restaurant. It's a independent bottle mart/convenience store with a grill and some tables. So I was wary of the hamburgers, which in places like this tend to be tiny little frozen patties. When I spotted a double bacon burger on the menu, I decided to take a chance. It might not be a great burger, but there will be a lot of it.

Turns out, the burgers were not tiny at all. And they wern't frozen either.

They were hand made. Beefy. Juicy. Darn good, I'd say.

And kinda big.

Confronted with this unexpected plethora of meat, I had two choices. Eat until I was full and then put the burger down. Or devour the whole thing, knowing that I'd regret it.

Which do you think I did?

Yup. Devour. And I when breakfast rolled around the next morning, I was still too full to eat.

So I just had a donut.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thumbs Up Burger, Thumbs Down Fries

I had a really good hamburger yesterday, at a bakery/restaurant that used to be a church. It was a Cajun burger, with three big strips of bacon and two slices of nicely melted Swiss. The bun was firm, toasted just enough to add crunch but not crumble, and the burger itself was juicy and flavorful with the perfect texture. It was thick and oddly formed, which I liked. Everything about it said homemade with care.

But then I ate the fries.
Not the actual fries

If I wasn't in a former church, I would have said:

"Jesus Christ people, what's with the fries??"

I can't say I have much experience being in churches, but I'm pretty sure they don't like you taking their lords name in vain while you're in one. So I kept my mouth shut.

In my head, I swore like a sailor. A sailor who knows if you can make a good burger, you can make good fries.

Admittedly, steak fries aren't my favorite. I prefer a thinner fry, but I believe in variety being the spice of yadda yadda yadda and all that. I can embrace a thick fry when it's done well.

These were not done well. I'm pretty sure they were mass produced, probably purchased in a 50 pound bag marked Garden Variety Steak Fry.

I just don't get why anybody would go out of their way to make such a good, such a really really good burger, and then disrespect it by putting it on a plate with subpar fries.

It's just not right. It's insulting to the burger.

As luck would have it, Mrs. FoodGuy got a side of 1,000 Island dressing with her lunch, and it was so good it made up for the fries (when said fries were dipped in it, that is). Homemade burger, homemade 1,000, frozen fries?

Didn't make much sense to me, but then again, I was just a Jew eating a bacon burger in a church...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Turkey, The Other Other White Meat

I love turkey.

So what, you say? You're going to write a blog post about that, FoodGuy? I can't get to my back button quick enough...

Hang on there, friend. What I'm about to say next will shock you.

I love turkey more than beef!

I heard you gasp. Admit it. You're shocked! FoodGuy, who's on a lifelong quest for the perfect hamburger likes turkey more than beef? It hardly seems possible.

Sorry, but it's true.

I'm talking turkey breast here, too, which most people think is dry and tasteless. Just like me!

I disagree. About the common misconception about turkey, that is. We're not talking about me here...

Now, when hankering for a hamburger, it's doubtful that a turkey burger will do. But when you've got turkey and a barbecue and the right fixings? Well, a turkey burger is a beautiful thing. (Secret ingredient for a killer turkey burger: frozen spinach thawed, drained, and mixed into the meat. Trust me!)

Aside from burgers though, turkey rules in just about every way.
  • It's better for you (not that that's always a consideration)
  • It goes well with everything
  • It's tasty, but it's flavor doesn't overwhelm everything else on your plate
  • It's underrated (I've always been a champion of the underdog. See my future post about garbanzo beans).
  • It's crazy versatile: roasted whole bird, breast fillets, ground like beef, pot-pied, boiled and made into soup, sliced thin for sandwiches...
I know, most of that can be said for beef too. But shut up about beef already, I'm talking about TURKEY.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Club Sandwich Mouth Massacre

A club sandwich is a simple thing. Simple ingredients, simply prepared. But so dastardly and destructive, it should come with a warning sign.

Though truth be told, a big, bold print warning wouldn't keep me from eating a club sandwich when the mood strikes.

Even though I know what comes next. The Mouth Massacre.

Yes, much like my beloved patty melt (maybe I have a thing for food that hurts me, but more on that in another post), club sandwiches leave my mouth feeling like the Incredible Hulk's purple pants. Shredded.

I had a surprising good club sandwich this weekend. With a really surprisingly good order of onion rings to go along with it. Hm... I was going to write that despite the tastiness of that meal it wasn't worth the pain that's only recently subsided.

But I can't write that. Because recreating the meal in my mind just now has got my newly-healed mouth watering.

Screw it. Forget this whole post. Club sandwiches rule, bits of flesh dangling from the roof of my mouth be damned!

It won't be the last time I suffer for food.

Friday, May 21, 2010

If Only Eugene Were Burgertown

Eugene, Oregon has a lot of burger joints. A LOT. But despite my last post about hamburgers, I've yet to find a place that has consistently wowed me with their burger prowess. A one-off awesome burger is nothing to sneeze at, mind you. But if it can't be counted on, it just sets you up for disappointment.

Expecting excellence and getting mediocrity is worse than expecting mediocrity and getting it.

The newest player on the local burger scene is Dickie Jo's. Owned by a family that has done well for itself by offering quality local fast-ish food, this place is high on concept, but the burgers are only pretty good. Not awesome. Not terrific. Just okay. I had higher hopes.

I have been hankering for a special hamburger. One with a handful of french fries piled on top. With a spoonful of spaghetti sauce lovingly poured atop that. And finished with a slice of mozzarella (or even provolone). Melted and gooey. Mmmm... now THAT would be a burger to photograph. Might even be a burger to cuddle with.

I shall call it the CuddleBurger.
(not to be confused with Cuttlefish burger. Please!)