Category Archives: Food and Drink

Yes, I WILL Have What She’s Having, As Long As Its the Pastrami

I recently have been traveling a lot for work, including three trips to New York City.  I"ve enjoyed the the delicious offerings of NYC delis on previous visit, but recently got to try Katz’s Deli for the first time.  Inspired by an "Cook’s Guide to New York" included as an addendum to Kitchen Confidential (incidently, an excellent book, especially if you have ever worked in the foodservice industry), I went not knowing the the movie history associated with the place.  I walked in and saw the many photos of celebrities who have eaten there and then saw the sign saying "This is where Harry REALLY met Sally – hope you’re having what she’s having!" referring to the famous "fake orgasm" scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally

Chick flick references aside, I went there for the pastrimi.  A relative of BBQ’ed brisket and corned beef, a good pastrimi sandwich is a glorious thing.  A bad one – much more common – is a disheartening gastrointestinal experience.  Katz’s has a unique serving system where you stand in line for a particular meat carver – clearly the regulars have their favorites – and while you are waiting for the meat for your sandwich to be carved (where it is corned beef, tongue, pastrimi or whatever), they offer you a small bite of the meat to sample and keep you occupied while hte sandwich is assembled by hand.  THe whole process is a little confusing, as it is a bit foreign, but the pay off is worth it.

The pastrimi is cut thicker here than at other NYC delis I"ve visited, and this is one piece of meat that can stand up to it.  Tender, juicy and flavorful, you could almost enjoy it without the mustard, if the mustard wasn’t so damn good. I don’t know what it is about deli mustard, but man, it is the only thing that can make a deli sandwich taste even better.   

There are plenty of fancy restaurants in New York City, lots of which will give you a long, luxurious meal at a white cloth-covered table.  But if you want some REAL New York food, you can’t beat a Pastrami sandwich from Katz’s.

Your Guide to the Food Network

A lot of people hate Rachel Ray, but we’ve been making meals out of her cook book 365: No Repeats and they have all been great.  I know she’s not a cook and a lot of purists get pissed at her shortcuts and lack of deep culinary knowledge/skill, but whether it is her or someone else behind the scene doing her cookbooks, the meals are good.  We had a shrimp and scallops with a pumpkin ginger peanut soy sauce that was fantastic. 

At the same time, I’m starting to get sick of the food porn that is running rampant through the Food Network.  Barefoot Contessa makes me feel dirty with all of her juicy closeups of chopping garlic and onions.  Giada DeLaurentiis needs to stop smiling NOW.  She is a scary, scary woman who apparently has about 20 extra teeth than normal human beings and doesn’t do anything or go anywhere in a blouse that doesn’t show off her jiggling boobs.

Right after her is Semi-Homemade with Sandra Dee, who always cooks while wearing white and working in an all-white kitchen and never gets dirty.  Who the hell does that?  I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I have to hose things down. 

However, the prize for worst show on the Food Network goes to this new British chick who has started popping up:  Nigella Bites, which might be the most unfortunately yet appropriately named shows in the history of television.  I encourage you to watch this show just for the laugh factor: in each episode this crazed woman does at least 5 recipes, usually more like 6 or 7, and in the process makes such a mess, that they must have at least a dozen people on set just for clean-up.  Watching her juice a lemon is like watching an elephant rape a seal in shallow water: ugly, scary, lots of thrashing and liquid everywhere.  If you watch carefully you’ll see countertops covered with chopped up bits of vegetables, rinds, and oil all over the place.  I don’t know if Nigella Bites, but she better fucking clean up!

The best shows on the Food Network?  They are still Good Eats, Unwrapped, Iron Chef America (though I still miss the original Japanese version), and Food Network ChallengesAce of Cakes and Throwdown with Bobby Flay are pretty good too, though even I’m starting to feel bad for Bobby Flay – he never wins!

So Let’s See Here…

I haven’t exactly been putting the blogging world on fire here recently.  Things have been busy at work and all, but there are a few things that I would like to point out that I’ve been up to lately:

First of all, I just finished the book Who Are You People? by Shari Caudron.  If you’re a fascinated by the deep recesses of pop culture and how people can be completely obsessed with one thing, then you must read this book.  If you have any interest in human psychology or behavior, you should read this book.  If you just like a good, enjoyable, interesting read, then yes, you should read this book. 

The new Shins album is as good as everyone says it is.

I watched Borat for the third time recently, this time on DVD.   It continues to be as funny and shocking as the first time, though on the third go around, it struck me that the same people who came across as the most bigoted in the movie were some of the most understanding at first.  Watch the dinner party scene carefully and those people put up with a lot of shit (literally) before loosing their temper.  The guy at the rodeo should still be slapped around for being a moron though.  And the extra 30 minutes are golden – rent or buy the DVD to watch it – its worth it.

If you haven’t tried Pink Truck Wine, you’re missing out on one of the best pink wines you’ll ever have.  This isn’t some candy-ish white zin – this is real wine with acid, and flavor, and character.

I’m a Hophead

It started innocently enough with IPAs and ESB’s.  Then came double IPA and beers like Dogfish Head’s 60-minute and 90-minute IPA.  After a while, you realize it… you’re addicted to hops.  And I’m not alone – a recent article in the NY Times said that more hops in beer is a growing trend. 

While dining at the Sunset Grill & Tap recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy a few double IPA’s.  They even have a handful on tap now, which is impressive, since if I remember correctly, I don’t think that they had that before.  Its an interesting trend and one that matches up with several other culinary trends towards bolder, stronger flavors in food and drink.

Hoppy beers are an acquired taste, though I’m not sure how you acquire it.  Its bitter but flowery, tart but sweet… I think you either like it or you don’t.  I’m not a huge fans of stouts and porters, but I’ll take a hoppy beer any day.  Here’s my list of my favorite hoppy beers:

Moylan’s Moylander Double IPA

Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA

Stone Coast 420 IPA

Victory Hop Devil Ale

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Harpoon IPA (not the hoppiest of the bunch, but an old standby)

Fire & Ice Improvisational Grill

I don’t know what to say in this post other than I love Fire & Ice restaurant (sorry – "improvisational grill" – a marketing term that I think is brilliant).  I know some people can’t stand the place, but if you like to cook but want someone else to do the work and clean up for you, its about as good as you’re gonna get without having a maid. 

For the uninitiated, you fill a bowl with all sorts of noodles, meats, vegetables, fish, etc. and then choose a sauce – or mix several sauces – and bring it to a big round grill.  The "chef" takes it from you and does a stir fry with it along with all the others.  When the grill gets full its pretty impressive.

The sauces are the key – everything from Teriyaki to barbecue sauce; from sweet chile to green curry.  I like to mix my sauces to get a little bit of heat and some different flavors, depending on what I get – lots of fish and udan noodles usually gets a teriyaki and spicy chile sauce mix.  Sausage, chicken, shrimp and pasta gets a spicy sauce to do a jambalaya type thing.

There are a number of people who I know that don’t like – or even hate – Fire & Ice, but I think it depends on how comfortable you are with mixing ingredients.  If you aren’t good at mixing flavors and being comfortable in the kitchen, that you’ll probably be lost in a sea of seafood, meat, and other ingredients, never mind the 15 sauces you have to choose from. 

The good part is that you really can’t go wrong with the combinations, other than picking something that is too spicy for your tastes, but everything is marked clearly and there’s little tasting cups for each sauce.  Go crazy!

I didn’t realize until this most recent visit that there are only four of them: Boston, MA; Cambridge, MA; Providence, RI; and Tahoe, CA.  I always thought it was a bigger chain, which means making Fire & Ice a recommendation to out-of-towners qualifies as a unique local experience, which makes me feel better about recommending it, since I always thought of it as similar to recommending someone should go to the Cheesecake Factory or Fridays.

So What If I’m French-Canadian, Eh?

Since this blog is called "Pop Culture Gangster" one would think I would stick to POPULAR culture, but why let conventions and norms get in the way of an interesting post?

Last weekend was Easter, just in case you didn’t make it out of your rock-covered cave in the last few weeks, and since it was Easter, that meant one thing: eggs in syrup!  Ahh yes, that fine French-Canadian tradition.  Or at least that’s what I’ve been told it is.  In all honesty, I’ve never been able to find any reference to it online or elsewhere, so maybe its just a family tradition, but it has always been passed off as a French-Canadian tradition. Photo_041506_001

So what is it?  Well, it’s eggs poached in real maple syrup.   Eggs… COOKED… in maple syrup.  You read that right!  I’m not personally a fan, but my parents are, especially my dad, as well as all of his brothers.   Kind of like Sushi, I just don’t  "get it." 

I’m sure that half of you are ready to gag and the other half are thinking "damn, I want to try that."  The pictures of the eggs cooking in the syrup should push you one way or another if you happen to be caught in a split decision.

So how do you do it?  Well, in a two quart saucepan you bring about a 1/4 inch of water to a boil, and then add the real maple syrup until you have about 3/4’s of an inch in the pan.  Bring this to a boil, then drop in the eggs – like any poaching, its easiest if you crack them into a small bowl and then gently let them slide into the syrup.  One thing to watch out for: this is maple syrup boiling away with a big mass of protein, so keep a close eye on it, since if it boils over, you’re gonna need a kitchen renovation. Photo_041506_002

Unlike traditional poaching where you want to keep the egg as intact and in one piece as possible, that really doesn’t matter as much with this, since you don’t drain the egg, you serve it in some of the syrup, usually in a small bowl.  You can cook the egg to your desired wellness, but usually it is still runny. 

So yeah, that’s it.  Out there for the whole world to see.  Maybe I’ll have a major influx of traffic from Canucks trying find their brethren who also eat this stuff, or maybe some scholar of French-Canadian-American culture will inform me that I’m out of my gourd and I can finally tell my family that yes, we are all nuts.

A Cheater of A Post

I admit that I’m cheating with this post: I just put this up on Hot n’ Saucy Wings, but after I wrote it, I realized that it really does tie into pop culture trends related to food, so you’re getting it here too.

Even though it goes off into a discussion about how all sorts of ethnic foods are becoming more and more popular and common throughout the United States, this article in the San Francisco Chronicle starts off by saying "After decades of being satisfied with mild foods, it’s now craving bold flavors that pack a punch — hot and spicy, sweet and heat, and interesting combinations that add new meaning to kicking it up a notch" to which I say "god bless America!"

According to the article, 1,463 products with the word "spicy" were introduced in the last two years, as well as a 4.5 percent increase in "hot" and "spicy" items found on fast-food menus and a 2 percent increase at fine-dining restaurants during 2005.

So clearly Hot N’ Saucy Wings is right on track!

In a Good Rutt

I know that I made fun of hot dogs in a previous post, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them – I had several on a recent weekend trip to Baltimore.  Most of them were traditional ball-park franks, doing the little round hot treadmill thing or grilled, but I tried one cooked in a manner that all those at-home specialty machines left out: deep fried.

I’m sure that there are some who already know where I’m going with this:  Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, NJ.  Yes, a deep fried hot dog is their specialty and it is everything you would expect or fear it would be, depending on your point of view: crispy on the outside, slightly greasy and quite different. 

We stopped as a lunch break after making it past the George Washington Bridge on our way to Baltimore.  I had heard about Rutt’s on the Food Network years ago, though I couldn’t remember the name of it. A quick search for "deep fried hot dogs" revealed it easily enough and it was close enough to the highway to be a convenient quick stop.  Apparently the concept of a deep-fried hot dog had lodged itself in my memory and now it is lodged in my arteries. 

So what did I think of it?  It was good.  The hot dog was good and the deep frying gave it a different texture, but I can’t honestly say it was quite as groundbreaking as I thought it would be.  Maybe I waited too long to try one after hearing about it and I had simply built it up too much.  I would go again if I found myself in the area, but wouldn’t go too far out of my way either.

I also wouldn’t say that Rutt’s is a defining food for the area.  Hot dogs in general may be a definitive food for the NYC and NJ area, just as coffee milk is for Rhode Island, chili is for Cincinnati, cheesesteaks are for Philly, deep dish pizza for Chicago, etc. etc., but Rutt’s is one of those pleasantly quirky oddities that you experience when you keep your eyes, ears, and mind open while traveling.