Friday, August 31, 2012

Football Eats 1: Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls

Over the last few years - and especially the last two - I have posted things labeled as "Football Eats," whether they be nachos or sliders or quesadillas or what have you, just photos of things I have cooked while watching football. They are almost always hand-held, always unhealthy, and - perhaps because of those reasons - they are always very popular posts. I have yet to write one where I have failed to receive at least one question, either in the comments or via email, asking advice about making a similar dish.

So this year I am going to label each such post as Football Eats and show how I made it. Sound good?

Last night was the first night of college football and there were two games I wanted to watch: UCLA vs. Rice and South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt. I sent Elizabeth a text in the afternoon: "I'm gonna make buffalo chicken egg rolls tonight, cool?"

"Yeah!" was her one-word response.

I bought thin chicken pieces at the market. Normally, when I'm cooking with chicken, I buy high-quality breasts at the butcher shop... but that's because I'm making sandwiches (or something like that) and chicken is the main ingredient. But considering these pieces were going to be diced, mixed with other ingredients and fried, I didn't feel the need to get anything too fancy or expensive.

I roasted the chicken in the oven for twenty minutes then chopped it up into small bits and placed them in a bowl to cool.

Most people like celery with buffalo wings, so I added some diced pieces to the chicken, for extra crunch. Tabasco's buffalo sauce went into the mix, as well as a few drops of Trappey's hot sauce, for spice. 

The obvious cheese to use in this situation would have been blue cheese. I chose not to. Blue cheese is such a strong, often overpowering flavor. I didn't want to include that inside the egg roll, where the flavor would be unavoidable. I decided to use the blue cheese on the side, where we could add as much of it as we wanted. Inside the egg rolls, I just used shredded mozzarella.

The market across the street from me had egg roll wrappers, a pleasant surprise, so I spooned some of the chicken/cheese/celery/hot sauce mix into the middle of several wrappers, wrapped them up, let them chill in the fridge for an hour, and then fried them.

If you don't like football, I can respect that. It's not for everyone. But if you don't like these... man, I don't know what to say. I thought they were fantastic: crispy shells and insides of tasting like gooey cheese and buffalo wings.

On a salad, where dressing is a complement, any variety of blue cheese dressing is fine with me. But when I'm using a blue cheese dressing as a dip, there is only one acceptable kind for me: Brianna's. It's full of pieces of blue cheese and tastes higher quality than any bottled dressing I know of. It was the perfect dip for these egg rolls. 

Have a great holiday weekend. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lobster Rolls

Elizabeth didn't get to accompany me and my parents to Massachusetts last month, which meant she missed out on eating lobster for multiple meals in a row. And she loves lobster as much as I do. So one night a little while ago I decided to surprise her.

I went to Fish Tales in Cobble Hill. I'd seen the place a while back on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay; Bobby had defeated the shop at making Manhattan fish chowder. It was a cute little shop. Their prices weren't cheap, but, what can you do? And at least all of their products looked to be very high quality.

I got a container of their cole slaw, hoping it would be a good complement to the lobster rolls. The first bite tasted strongly of black licorice; I was not surprised to see fennel and anise in the ingredients. Once I got past that initial blast, I liked the fresh slaw.

I defrosted the lobster, first under some running water and then in the fridge for a few hours. (Ideally I would let it sit in the fridge overnight, but, because this was a surprise for that night's dinner, I did not have that option.) I melted a half-cup of butter in a pan then tossed the lobster meat around in it for two minutes or so, just enough to warm it up.

I spooned the lobster into split-top rolls (which I had heated in the oven for no more than 90 seconds, just to get them lightly toasted), heated some potato chips in the oven for a few minutes, and added the slaw to the plate.

It was delicious. Very good lobster meat, melting on the tongue with no accompaniments but warm butter. I had thought it was on the pricey side when I bought it, but there was enough lobster for each of us to have two rolls for dinner - all four of them full of meat - and for me to have one for lunch (okay, yeah, breakfast) the next day. So it really wasn't too bad.

And, at any rate, Elizabeth loved her surprise.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fast Food Review: McDonald's Cheddar Bacon Onion Chicken Sandwich

I was at the deli counter of a local market a few days ago, getting some sliced cheese for burgers, when a guy behind the counter asked me what I would call the best cheese in the world.

"Well," I said, not at all prepared, buying myself some time - I don't believe anyone has ever asked me that before; I've been asked what beer or wine is the best, and what barbecue, and what fast food, but never about cheese - "My favorites in America are Humboldt Fog and Point Reyes Blue, but it's hard to top a good Morbier."

"No!" he exclaimed, and his eyes got wide as a smile crept across his face, as if he were about to tell me a big secret. I leaned in.

"It's cheddar."

I smiled pleasantly and said nothing. I mean, what the hell was I supposed to say? Maybe the guy hasn't tried very many cheeses; saying something condescending would just make me rude. And maybe he has tried them all and he likes cheddar the best. His opinion certainly is no less valid than mine. The world would be boring if we were all the same.

I was thinking about that very conversation when out for a walk yesterday (I was on my way to Trader Joe's and making a mental shopping list, wondering if there might be any new cheeses to try) when I passed by McDonald's and spotted a banner for a new Cheddar Bacon Onion burger. Also available were grilled and crispy chicken sandwiches. I remembered seeing an ad for the sandwiches when I was in Florida in April - they were testing them in the area at the time - but I had not bothered to seek them out.

So on the way back from TJ's I stopped in and waited 15 minutes behind two customers (this was my third time here in the last five months and both other visits were unpleasant; it is not a model of efficiency). I placed my order for the Bacon Onion Cheddar Crispy Chicken, waited a couple minutes, received my sandwich and continued home.

I forgot to check my order at McDonald's and was relieved to find that they had given me the correct sandwich.

The "bakery-style" bun looked attractive, but it was a little too firm. A fresher, softer bun would have been welcome. This was, at best, just okay.

I very much enjoyed the caramelized onions and the creamy mustard sauce. 

The bacon, on the other hand, was not good. It was crispy, I will give it that, but most of it was fat. Grub Grade had a nice poll a couple of weeks ago on the best fast food bacon. While I did not agree with the winner - Arby's has much better bacon than anything Wendy's puts out, though I imagine the fact that Wendy's has twice as many units as Arby's skewed the results - I appreciated the fact that McDonald's was near the bottom.

I don't believe I have ever had any bacon from McDonald's that I didn't remove after one bite, and this was no exception. 

Maybe it's the fact that I rarely eat fast food any more, but I was surprised, almost from the first bite, at how salty this sandwich was. The menu board advertises the sandwich as being 630 calories; I am far more interested in the sodium numbers. (Not that I would ever avoid a fast food product because of health reasons, I just am curious.)

The chicken itself wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good. A few years ago I might have really fallen in love with this - it was a good size piece of fried chicken. But I've had fried chicken sandwiches from both Church's and Chick-fil-A now, so those are the standards against which all other fast food fried chicken sandwiches are judged. And found wanting.

The white cheddar added nothing to the sandwich either, all it did was add to the saltiness.

If I still lived in South Pasadena and McDonald's was the closest place to get a bite to eat, I would probably give the burger a try. But considering there are dozens of places closer to me now than McDonald's, including several I have yet to try, there is no reason for me to try one of these Cheddar Bacon Onion sandwiches again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Henry's End

A few weeks ago, Rick and one of Uncle George's friends (also named Rick) fulfilled George's request to scatter his ashes, and then went out to dinner at Henry's End. Rick raved about the place, more than once. The last time I heard him exalt a restaurant like this, it was Red Brick Tavern, which turned out to be a wonderful dining experience. Our original plan had been to visit Junior's for dinner on Sunday. I like Junior's a lot, but I don't exactly love it, so when Rick said "We don't have to go to Junior's, we can go somewhere else... have you guys been to Henry's End yet?" I immediately said no and that I would love to try it.

We considered making a reservation but, after deciding to eat a very early dinner, we wandered over to Henry's End at 5:30. We did not anticipate needing a reservation at that hour. We were wrong. The place was packed. However, the server took our name and encouraged us to have a drink at the Brooklyn Heights Wine Bar three doors down. "I will come get you when your table is ready," she said. That sounded like a good plan to me.

The wait was about 35 minutes. At the wine bar I had a glass of Montelpuciano and then a Brooklyn Lager. As I was finishing my second drink, the waitress came into the wine bar to fetch us and let us know our table was ready.

Elizabeth had a sauvignon blanc.

The interior of Henry's End is narrow and dark. I really liked it, it felt intimate and friendly, kind of like a clubhouse. (But as a result of the darkness, these are not going to be particularly good photographs.) The kitchen was open and tiny, but the smells coming from it were fantastic. 

We sat by a bunch of wine racks. The two open bottles closest to me were Ridge and Zaca Mesa. This made me smile: in Pasadena my friend Tim would often bring over bottles of Ridge for special occasions, they are all wonderful single-vineyard wines from Northern California. And back in 2007, when I first met Elizabeth, a group of us went on a weekend wine-tasting trip where we visited Zaca Mesa.

There was a great old photograph of Brooklyn on the wall a few feet away.

Rick had just cleaned out the joint-bank account he shared with Uncle George while the latter was ill. "This is on me and Uncle George, so get what you want and don't even look at the prices," he said.

Well, okay. 

I thought about getting another beer, but decided just to get iced tea. It was really tasty and the server kept bringing carafes of it for us so that we would not run out.

I liked the first piece of sourdough bread, but found the raisin bread to be too sweet. (If you like raisin bread, however, I imagine you would really enjoy Henry's End's version of it.)

We started with the crab & corn cakes. I loved these - plenty of big pieces of crab in each. I wasn't a fan of the tartar sauce, it tasted like it was only mayo, but these cakes didn't need any condiment. 

Rick had the duck in raspberry sauce. Duck is not one of my favorite things, but I took a piece and enjoyed it. I would never order it on my own, but if you told me I have to eat a duck dish (why you would tell me this or why I would listen, I don't know, let's just pretend), this would be the one. (There was a lot of sauce on the plate, and though it was tasty, I'd probably ask for a little less.)

A horrible picture of the spinach, I know, but I had to show it because Rick told us it was the best spinach he'd ever had and if we wanted any we had to get our own because he was "not sharing a single bite" of his with either of us. So Elizabeth got an order, too, and I tried it. It was very good, although very heavy with butter. I am more of an olive-oil-and-garlic guy when it comes to spinach, so I won't be calling this my favorite, but it was certainly good. 

Elizabeth had the "Salmon Moroccan" and she gave me a big hunk. It was great, a compound butter of cumin and cayenne crusting the top of it. Unfortunately the photos I took of the salmon were completely unusable. The spinach picture above is terrible but at least you can tell what is going; the salmon in the pictures I took is indistinguishable from mashed potatoes.

We all received delicious green beans with our entrees. 

I was vacillating between the "Shrimp With Andouille Sausage" and the "Buffalo Hanger Steak" off of the specials menu. Being that Henry's End is known for their game - they have a Wild Game Festival every fall, offering reindeer, turtle, bear, kangaroo and antelope - and that it's been years since I've eaten buffalo, I decided to get the steak. (I've had many buffalo burgers over the years, but I do not remember if I've ever had a buffalo steak.)

The "truffle fries" were not very good. I don't think I have ever had saltier fries. But, obviously, the steak was the main attraction here, and I really liked it. The steak was leaner than beef steak, and it had a delicate, almost sweet flavor to it. The homemade steak sauce had a good amount of zing to it, which balanced out the buttery-sweet steak. I shared a piece with each of my dining companions and they both agreed it was delicious.

We thought about getting dessert, but all three of us cleaned our plates - I do not remember the last time I felt so full after a meal - so we did not even look at the dessert menu. ("Can I just get another buffalo steak for dessert?" I asked.)

This was the best meal I have had in weeks, probably since Red Brick Tavern, as a matter of fact. The service was attentive and friendly. The entrees took a while to come out, at least thirty to forty minutes, but the pleasant atmosphere of the place made the wait seem almost enjoyable. I look forward to returning to Henry's End, hopefully for some of that wild game.