Monday, October 31, 2011

An Assortment of Weekend Eats

A BV with some cheese in the background. Always an enjoyable meal.

When I wrote about McDonald's hot mustard sauce three weeks ago, and anonymous poster revealed that he or she likes a combination of hot mustard and sweet & sour sauce. So I gave it a try. It was actually very good.

When I suggested making pizza for dinner, Elizabeth said that we had some zucchini we should eat. So I sliced it up and sauteed it for a little bit. And placed it on a pizza with some sweet red peppers, Toscano black pepper cheese, garlic/basil sauce and a drizzling of olive oil. I always forget how tasty vegetarian pizzas can be. 

I tried my first "organic" lollipop - the very very cherry flavor. (Not just very cherry.) I did not think much of it and threw most of it out.

I'd been craving a barbecue chicken pizza for two or three days, so when I saw this pizza on sale for $2.99 at Vons, I decided to give it a shot.

The box the product came in was two inches thick, so I was a little surprised to see the pizza was so thin. Whatever. It cooked in the oven in ten minutes. It wasn't very good, even by frozen pizza standards. The crust was doughy and didn't change throughout the cooking process, even as the toppings started to burn. And the sauce was just a sugary paste. Even at $2.99 - and I believe the regular price is $1.50 higher - I will never get one of these again.

The chicken empanadas, on the other hand, are always a good snack. As usual, I baked them in the oven for less than fifteen minutes. I mixed up a sauce of sour cream and that spicy garlic sauce that Tracie bought me a couple of weeks ago.

I volunteered at a charity event in Central Park yesterday for several hours, and Pie 'n Burger was there selling burgers and fries.

I did not eat all these burgers, but I felt like I could have.

Just this one. Delicious, as always. I even took a twenty-minute break to run one of them home to Elizabeth, who loved it as well.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cholula & National Chili Garlic Week

I get a few emails per week from people asking me to review products or post various advertisements on this blog, usually in exchange for something. But that's not why I started this - really I just started it to share photos with friends. It's been fun to have so many new people discover my words and photos, but still, I don't do things any differently than I did back when there were only ten people per day reading this. I don't do this for money or free stuff, so 95% of the time I say no.

But if I am asked to write about something that I already like... well, why not? And I have liked Cholula for a long time - since first trying it when I was 17 years old at Pie 'n Burger, grabbing breakfast with some friends one Saturday morning. So a couple of weeks ago when I got an email from a PR rep for Cholula, asking if I would be interested in some free Cholula for "National Chili Garlic Week," I said of course. (If you're been reading for more than a week, I'm sure you know how much I love both chilis and garlic.)

A week or so later I received two bottles in the mail. It's been a long time since I've had a the "Chili Garlic" flavored Cholula. (Many years ago I kept a bottle of the stuff at work to use with the pizza that we would get two or three times per week... and I diced up tiny pieces of garlic and stuffed them in the bottle to make it even more garlicky.)

I'd planned to write about this at the start of the week, but I had other things to write, so today I will share with you some of the things I've eaten lately:

For a snack one evening I fried some butterfly shrimp and tossed them in a quarter-cup of Cholula. This was like the buffalo shrimp I used to eat at Hooters when I was younger. Well, except they were tasty. And inexpensive. And they didn't make me sick to my stomach. You know what? These were nothing like the buffalo shrimp I used to eat at Hooters when I was younger. And that's a compliment.

One day we went by Wendy's to get some spicy nuggets. I decided to douse them in the chili garlic sauce to see if that improved them. It did.

For dinner one evening I cooked some mini pizzas from Trader Joe's. They were very good but a little too doughy - there wasn't enough sauce or cheese on them. So I added several shakes of Cholula, which improved them dramatically. 

I'm not a big ketchup fan, as I wrote the other day when detailing my new love affair with Sir Kensington's Gourmet Scooping Ketchup, but there are a few things that I really like with ketchup: scrambled eggs, In-n-Out's fries, and definitely McDonald's McDouble. I don't know why, but I find ketchup (and extra pickles) complements it nicely. So this time, I mixed a packet of McDonald's ketchup with several slugs of Cholula. It was still good, but this was the only item here that I did not feel was improved with the addition of hot sauce.

Of course I also had to try it on my beloved Del Taco chicken soft taco. And it was delicious. Del Taco should try a promotion where they serve these tacos this way; I bet it would be successful. 

Normally, on Thursday nights, I do one of two things: go to the South Pasadena farmers market with Elizabeth or have friends over for dinner and wine. But last night was game 6 of the World Series, so I decided to keep it simple and just make a pizza at home. (Actually I made two pizzas, but I'm only showing you the one that featured Cholula.) There was nothing fancy about this: Trader Joe's dough and fresh mozzarella with some dried herbs. But for the sauce, I mixed the "spicy tomato and basil" pasta sauce that I usually use, but I added several drops of Cholula to it (before blending it in the mini-prep to make it a smooth consistency.)

It was delicious. But once you get locked into a serious drug hot sauce collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. So I added more Cholula to the slices. And it was even better.

I gotta say it was a good week.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

McRib & Mouton Rothschild

[Ed note: My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Hom, once explained to me that the best Far Side cartoons are the ones that have no captions... because they don't need captions; they are funny enough as is. Under the same theory, I offer no commentary beyond these words.]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana

I was helping my mom with something the other day and we decided to go out for lunch. I wasn't in the mood for anything particular; neither was she, although by the time we were able to go out it was after 1:30, and we were both quite hungry. She suggested a restaurant on Green Street called Matsuri, a Japanese restaurant to which I had never been.

"It's really good," she said. "Even your dad liked it."

So we went to Matsuri. Only two other tables were occupied and they stuck us at an impossibly small table for two with uncomfortable wooden chairs. Against the wall were a few larger tables with cushioned benches. My mom said she would rather sit at one of those. We walked over to one.

"Is it okay if we sit here instead?" my mom asked the hostess.

"Just two of you?" the hostess replied. "No. These only for four people."

I looked around the room. There were several of these larger tables, and all of them were empty. As I mentioned, only two other tables were occupied in the whole restaurant.

"It's 1:45," my mom said. "Do you think you will need this table?"

"Only for four people," the hostess replied.

I asked the obvious question: "Would you rather have us go somewhere else than sit here?"

"That's fine," she replied, yanking the menus out of my hand.

So we left. Hey, it's their business, their rules. If they really would rather have had us sit at that tiny table than have our money, so be it.

I suggested we try Settebello, a Neapolitan-stye pizza restaurant that opened less than a month ago on Colorado Blvd in the Playhouse District. It is the third location of a mini-chain that has stores in those two other famous bastions of Neapolitan pizza: Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. (Actually, the chain is owned by Brad Otton, the former USC quarterback who did an LDS mission in Italy and decided to open restaurants in American using Neaplitan pizza styles.)

There was a parking space right in front and the hostess showed us to a table in the almost-empty dining room. I decided to do an experiment.

"Would it be okay if we sat at that table?" I asked, indicating a table a few feet away that was closer to window.

"Sure," she said, "wherever you want."

Some of the antipasti sounded really good, however all I was really wanting at this point was to get some pizza into my mouth as soon as possible. I asked my mom which pizza she was going to get and she mentioned one that I had my eye on, too. We decided to get two different pizzas so we could share.

"Would you like the pizza cut or uncut?" the waitress asked. I loved that. Neopolitan pizza is traditionally served uncut and eaten with a knife and fork. (Of course, just because I loved the fact that she asked didn't mean I was actually going to get my pizza uncut; I requested it cut.)

The server walked away and my mom and I chatted for less than five minutes before our pizzas were brought out to us. I have been served food this quickly before, but never pizza.

"How hot is your oven?" I asked the waitress.

"I think 1000 degrees."

My mom had the Vico: sausage, fennel, red onions, Mascarpone, mozzarella, and basil. She loved it, although, as I said, we were both quite hungry at this point. I tried it and, while I loved the sausage, overall I did not love the pizza. I really liked it, and the rest of the toppings were almost as good as the sausage, but the whole was less than the sum of the parts.

And this was why: I wasn't crazy about the crust. Settebello uses a proprietary dough, with flour imported from Italy. It yields a crust that is spongy, almost cake-like. I guess I should have requested the pie uncut and eaten it with a knife and fork. Because when picking up a piece, the toppings fall all over the place and the floppy dough is difficult control. The Neapolitan pizzas I've eaten in the past have all had a touch of crunch to the crust. This had none. In a 1000-degree oven, a few more (or fewer) seconds of cooking makes a big difference in either direction, and this could have used a few more.

I chose the Bianca: prosciutto, arugula, shaved Paremesan, mozzarella, and olive oil. Again, the toppings were absolutely delicious. The prosciutto was as good as any I have ever had topping a pizza. But it was impossible to eat each slice - the pies were cut into four large slices - without the toppings falling off.

Each of the pizzas was thirteen dollars. That's certainly not cheap, but it's less expensive than the Luggage Room and about the same price as California Pizza Kitchen, and superior to both. (Although I didn't love the crust, it's ten times better than what they use at CPK.)

I will certainly return to Settebello again, but I don't think I will ever return for a quick lunch like this. It's not the kind of place that is made for such a meal. But a return trip with a few friends for dinner? Maybe four people so we can order several pizzas to share, with a bottle or two of Brunello di Montalcino open on the table? Now we're talking.

And next time, definitely a knife and fork for the pizza. It's not my preferred way to eat it, but when in Naples...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Popeyes Crawfish Festival: The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

I love Thanksgiving, it's my favorite holiday. 4th of July would have to be next. Opening day of baseball season, the opening weekend of March Madness, New Year's Day bowl games... all great. But man, I love the first day of the Popeyes Crawfish Festival, too. And that just happened to be yesterday. 

Crawfish were never something I thought much about until I started visiting New Orleans as an adult. And then I couldn't get enough. I ate a crawfish and fried alligator sandwich one year on my birthday; on another trip for Jazz Fest I ate several orders of fried crawfish tails at the Fairgrounds, wandering around listening to Chris Smither, Wyclef Jean, The Radiators, and for one song (which was all that we could take), the Steve Miller Band. Any list of the top 10 days of my life would probably include that one.

Two years ago, Popeyes decided to hold a "Crawfish Festival," releasing a few crawfish items. After several attempts, I was able to procure the crawfish tackle box, and I loved it. Last year I went for the crawfish po' boy and found it to be one of the best fast food sandwiches I have ever eaten. (And when it comes to fast food seafood sandwiches - which admittedly is a small sample - there is no question that it is head and shoulders above any other I have ever tried.)

Since I'd had such bad luck the last two years trying to find the crawfish items, I decided to change tack this year: I drove to a Popeyes to which I have never once been in my life. Almost all Popeyes items you see on here are from the Pasadena or Alhambra stores, but they have both been incredibly hit and miss lately. So I went to the San Gabriel location.

The girl behind the counter was friendlier than any Popeyes employee I have ever met. I inquired about the festival, was told they had them, and ordered a po' boy sandwich by itself. (The combo was $6.99 pre-tax, the sandwich a la carte was $3.99. Since I don't like Popeyes battered fries and I almost never get soda from fast food joints, it was a much better deal.) I asked if they had the "traveler" as well and she said no. I paid and stood around to wait.

A couple minutes later she told me they did indeed have the traveler, so I ordered one of those, too, for $2.99. She apologized for not knowing that.

"That's okay," I said. "This is the first day, right?"

"Yes," she replied, "and they didn't tell us anything about it." With my recent Popeyes experiences, this did not surprise me.

After a couple of minutes she started discussing the sandwich with the two cooks preparing the food. I am not fluent in Spanish like I used to be, but I could pick up enough to know that one of the cooks was claiming the sandwich is supposed to have tarter sauce on it while the other one thought it was supposed to be a different sauce. I interjected:

"It's supposed to have a horseradish sauce."

The girl picked up a container of horseradish sauce from under the counter. "This, right?" she asked.

"Yes, that container is supposed to be served with the traveler and the sandwich is supposed to have horseradish sauce on it."

"Okay, thanks." (The fact that I was instructing the employees on how to prepare their promotion was not lost on me.)

Not long after, my food was ready, and she handed me the bag.

"That looks good," she said as she peeked inside.

"It will be," I assured her, and took it to my car to eat. I smiled when I laid my eyes upon this:

Hello, old friend.

I opened up the sandwich and immediately noticed something that a lot of people have been saying about Popeyes lately: ever year that goes by, they get skimpier on their portions. I mean, take a look at my sandwich last year, the difference is noticeable.

But I didn't care too much, because the sandwich was still freaking delicious. The crawfish were crispy and meaty, the bread was wonderfully soft, there were plenty of pickles and the sauce was very tasty.

Considering the traveler was a dollar cheaper than the sandwich, I was impressed with how many crawfish were in it. I don't know as if I really needed to eat them after finishing my sandwich in an impressive - or perhaps just disgusting - amount of time, but I ate them all and still wished there were more.

And it was nice to have the horseradish sauce again after many months. This has always been my favorite fast food horseradish sauce, and one of my favorite sauces overall. The spicy, creamy sauce goes wonderfully with the fried seafood. Oh, and speaking of sauces...

This Popeyes also had the blackened ranch sauce from the Dip'n Chick'n promotion. I thought that every Popeyes around had run out of it, but they had a lot. So I bought two of them. Sure enough, it went very well with the seafood, too.

I don't know how hard it would be for Popeyes to sell this sandwich year-round, but I'm guessing they have their reasons. Because if they could offer it all the time, I imagine they would be much more popular than they already are. I guess I have to make sure I get my fill of crawfish this year before they disappear. The promotion is supposed to be around until November 27th, but lately it seems like Popeyes has been running out of their promotional items before the promotion expires. Hopefully not with this one...