Monday, October 17, 2011

Burgers in the Indian Summer, A Quick One While He's Away, & The Rest of the Weekend Eats

We'll start this on Thursday evening - not quite the weekend but close enough. I think the actual definition of Indian summer is a period of above-average temperatures after the first frost of the year. But this is Southern California. We don't really have frosts. But it did rain the previous week, so Thursday's 101-degree temperatures are enough for me to call it Indian summer. I had the usual group - Tracie, Tim, Murph and Dave - over for burgers. (Actually, Dave didn't have a burger - he'd just flown in from Minneapolis and stopped by on his way home from the airport to have a beer.)

Tim made a saute of pasilla chilis and mushrooms with red onions and balsamic vinegar. I'm not a big mushroom fan, but this was delicious and I happily spooned some onto my burger.

I placed my patty on a telera roll and added butter lettuce, Red Dragon (a Welsh cheddar made with ale and mustard seeds), caramelized onions, bacon, and the mushroom/pasilla mix. I drizzled on some of the A.1. peppercorn aioli that I told you about last time I made burgers. The whole thing was outstanding.

Perhaps a little messy, but outstanding.

Murph was in love with it. He doesn't add condiments to anything - he would literally throw up if I snuck a drop of ketchup into something he's eating - but he happily added some of the mushrooms and chilis and loved it.

By Friday the weather was back down in the 80s - still warm, but not triple digits.

I went for a long walk on Friday since it's wasn't too hot like it had been the previous two days. I stopped by 7-Eleven for a bottle of water when I was confronted by these: hot dog flavored potato chips. I read about them before, and the one constant theme is that they actually taste like a hot dog. I couldn't believe that was true so I had to try it for myself.

Damn, they actually taste like a ketchup-topped hot dog. It's one of the more bizarre things I have ever eaten. A potato chip that tastes like a hot dog. I don't even know how to deal with this.

For dinner I decided to make myself a chicken sandwich. I had a bag of those "chicken-fried-chicken breasts" in the freezer, the kind from Ralph's that I sometimes make for breakfast with biscuits. I had one telera roll leftover from the night before, but it was the least fresh of the bunch. Telera rolls, when fresh, are as soft on the inside as cotton candy. But this one was a little too firm on the inside, so I cut out about an inch of it. 

I had some blue cheese I had picked up at Nicole's in South Pas, and I added a slab of that to the chicken, then doused the sandwich in Trappey's hot sauce. It was very, very good. 

For lunch on Saturday I cooked some Trader Joe's potstickers, always a great option when you don't feel like going anywhere or making something that takes any effort. I was trying to decide what kind of sauce I wanted with them. Mustard? Not in the mood. Soy? Boring. Then I had a thought.

One of the bigger culinary epiphanies I have ever had in my life was around the age of 16, at Nevados Restaurant in Mammoth Lakes: small dumplings in an orange sauce. That sounded really good to me. And it just so happened that I had an orange "simmer sauce" from Fresh & Easy in the fridge. But I'd tried the sauce before and thought it was much too sweet for my liking. But I had an idea.

My friend Zach returned from vacation in Belize over the summer and brought me back a bottle of Marie Sharpe's "Comatose Heat Level" hot sauce. So I added several drops to the orange peel sauce and poured it over the potstickers. It was much spicier that way, and much better. I tore some basil and ate all the dumplings. I could have eaten twice that much.

Saturday evening I went to T. Boyle's Tavern with Elizabeth and Tracie to see Yesterday's Child, a classic rock band that covers songs from the 60s and 70s. One of the members of the band is a good friend of mine, and he'd promised me that they were going to play one of my favorite songs from the 60s, The Who's "A Quick One While He's Away." (In my younger years I used to play a lot of bar trivia with one of my best friends, and we always used that song to fire us up. Why we chose that - or, I suppose, why we needed to get "fired up" to go play trivia in a bar - is one of those things I don't quite remember. I'm sure we had our reasons.)

We shared a pitcher of Bitburger. I didn't bring my camera with me so I used my phone, and I'm including the pics just to be comprehensive. The band was fantastic and we had a great time, but as the evening wore on we needed food. T. Boyle's is building a kitchen, but right now their menu is pretty limited, so we decided to get food after the show. But it didn't end until close to 1.

But that, in my opinion, is the only redeeming thing about Lucky Boy: it's open late. I know some people - some people whom I like very much - who think Lucky Boy is great. I have just never thought much of the place. But, as I said, it's open late and on our way home, so that's where we went. Elizabeth got a burger and fries. 

She was not impressed. She said it was average in every way. Having had Lucky Boy burgers several times, I knew exactly what she meant.

(By the way, when I take photos like this, I usually get a few comments and/or emails about Elizabeth's nails. It's just how it goes. I don't mind; she is much prettier than I am. You can read about her nail polish on her blog, right here.)

I decided to order something I'd never had before, since I've never really had anything from Lucky Boy that I liked. So I went for the chicken strips. They were actually decent. The fries were the same undercooked and oversalted fries that I have received from Lucky Boy in every single trip I have ever made there spanning half my life, but the chicken was good. Not great, but good, and definitely the best thing I have ever had from Lucky Boy.

The slaw had a mustard color to it and I thought Hmm, maybe it will be like the slaw at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous - the best slaw I have ever had in my life. I now see the flaw in that logic. That's like saying "Scott Kazmir reminds me of Sandy Koufax" simply because they're both left-handed. Just as Kazmir was atrocious this season, this slaw was one of the worst I have ever tried. The color was the only thing it had in common with the Rendezvous slaw.

Sunday, we went over to my parents' house to do a couple of things. (Basically use their much-larger-than-ours washing machine and take some of their roses.) So when it was lunchtime, we decided on our usual destination when we're in Sierra Madre and I'm not cooking: Taco Fiesta. I got one al pastor taco...

And two of their fish tacos. (One of these was for Elizabeth, who ate it with two carnitas tacos.) In the past I have said these are some of the best fish tacos I have ever had. Not this time. It was still good, but nothing particularly special. I don't think the oil had been hot enough when the fish was fried, so the batter was oily and not at all crispy. Disappointing, but, as I said, still decent.

My brother was also at my parents' house, as my dad was helping him with something. My brother has been under the weather for a couple of days and didn't want anything from Taco Fiesta. But...
Two hours later he asked me if I would cook some mini wontons for him. I said sure. I put a small amount of oil in a wok and sauteed them for a few minutes, then added some water, put a lid on the wok, and let them steam.

I had to try one before serving him. You know, to make sure it was good. It was. Really good. I mixed up a sauce of soy, vinegar, sugar, water and green onions.

This was at my parents' house, too; something I purchased years ago. It is really hot, as the name indicates. Too hot, actually - chemical-tasting. I considered dumping a teaspoon in the the sauce and watching my brother's face as he took a bite. But he was sick. Plus that seems mean. So I didn't.

As usually happens on weekends like this, I didn't want much of anything for Sunday dinner.  Just something simple so that I could watch baseball and relax. Nothing fits that description better than frozen Trader Joe's snacks. I cooked a box of the feta cheese and caramelized onion pastry bites. As usual, they were quite tasty.

Of course, splitting a box of 12 small pastry bites between two people isn't exactly filling. So two hours after dinner, we got a craving for something else. I ran (well, drove) to Winchell's to get us some donuts. They had several with Halloween colors and I selected three.

It was a nice way to end the weekend.


Anonymous said...

nice, pp. way to be a bro, cooking for your bro!

Bekah said...

As someone who has been following you for awhile, but never commenting, I must share: A Trader Joe's is opening in my city this month. Very excited. I have made a list on what to get based on your blog. I'm totally adding those pastry bites to my list. They look fabulous.

JustinM said...

Awesome. What city? If you've never been, it will change your life.

Bekah said...

Spokane WA. I'm seriously thrilled.

JustinM said...

Great! Please check back in and let me know what you pick up. What else is on your list? Vegetable bird's nests? Black pepper cheese? Any of the pizzas?

And take Tracie's advice: don't go there hungry. Because everything looks good and is relatively cheap and you walk out of there with a TON of stuff.

Michelle said...

She really DOES choose awesome nail colors.

Anonymous said...

I want the al pastor picture framed for my kitchen wall!

Bekah said...

Let's see... off the top of my head (as my list is at home): potstickers, the pork buns, carnita's, there was a salsa you liked, the frozen Asian style meals... and I've heard good things about their pizza dough. :)

Jessica said...

So a new fearless flyer just came out. There's some fun new stuff in there. hint hint. By the way, avoid the extra crispy spicy garlic soy wings they're advertising. Hubby & I had them this weekend. DISGUSTING!!! The sauce was gross so we threw it out. The wings had zero flavor and were only slightly redeemed w/a generous dose of Frank's hot sauce.

JustinM said...

Michelle: Yep, she sure does.

Anon: Feel free to do that.

Bekah: All good things.

Jessica: Thanks, but I don't really like bone-in wings. And if I'm going to try them, I wouldn't get them frozen.

I saw the new FF over the weekend and I noticed a few things that sounded okay, but nothing that blew me away. I was actually at TJ's a couple of hours ago, but all I got was a case of Tejava iced tea, a goat cheese/walnut salad for Elizabeth to take to work tomorrow for lunch, and... well, something I'm cooking tonight that you may read about soon.

As far as your hint hint... probably next week.

mindful mule said...

You just missed Hil’s first visit to Lucky Boy! She was there late night, too, with her girlfriend. She said they locked the diners in at night… interesting.

Something about seeing those Halloween doughnuts makes me feel calm and happy. Or maybe it’s the thought of nighttime doughnut shops in the fall. Something very comforting about that.

ben wideman said...

I gotta say - you've posted some mouthwatering pictures over the years, but that lead one of the burger has me seriously contemplating going out to get a burger even though I'm stuffed from dinner.

Additionally, the taco pictures are making me extremely homesick for SoCal. Thanks.

JustinM said...

Mindful: What was her opinion of it?

Ben: Was thinking about you earlier - walked by your old place plus city hall. It was a really pretty day and I thought about whipping out my camera, but did not.

What food would you say you miss the most after the first few weeks?

mindful mule said...

MM: “Did you say that was your first time going to Lucky Boy?”

Hil: “Yeah, first time ever.”

MM: “Wow… What did you think of it?”

Hil: “I loved it! It’s like a dirt-stank…”

JustinM said...

Let's disconnect these cables
Overturn these tables
This place don't make sense to me no more