Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pancit, Asado, BBQ Pork Skewer and a Banana Fritter To-Go at Fiesta Filipina Cuisine ~ Las Vegas!

Old fashioned slow cooked savory Filipino food!  

     If Filipino restaurant food was cooked to order, customers would be sitting at a table all day long waiting for their meal.  Much of the food in Filipino cuisine is slow cooked.  It can take several hours of simmering for something like Pork Shanks and Banana Blossoms (Paksiw Na Pata) or Asado to finish cooking.  
     Cooking food ahead of time, refrigerating the food, then reheating the food usually results in food that looks like leftovers.  This method of handling slow cooked food is not as good as preparing the food items early in the day and then keeping the food warm till it is served.  Often, the longer that a slow cooked Filipino entree simmers, the better it gets, so holding this kind of food in a steam table actually is beneficial. 
     There are many Filipino restaurants in Las Vegas and many are advertise as being "Filipino Fast Food."  What the term Filipino Fast Food means is this.  Food items that require hours of simmering are held cafeteria style in a steam table.  The food is prepared ahead of time and it is ready to eat.  There is no customer waiting time.  
     Customers simply line up and select the Filipino food that they would like placed on their plate.  At the end of the food service line, the customer settles the tab and tip with the cashier, just like at an old fashioned American cafeteria.  The customer then carries their food to the table and proceeds to chow down.  Or like in my case, the customer carries the to-go boxes to there next destination.  
     Fast food is usually associated with junk food.  Fast food does not necessarily have to only be junk food.  The real meaning of fast food is food that requires minimal customer waiting time.  
     Slow cooked Filipino food is not exactly fast food style junk food.  It is kind of like the old fashioned slow cooked comfort food that grandma used to make when relatives came to visit.  The slow cooked food is traditional, comfortable, nutritious and easy to digest.  So when the sign says "Filipino Fast Food," one should realize that the cuisine is not fast food junk food!

     Many years ago, I drove taxi for one year in Las Vegas.  There were a lot of Filipino cab drivers back then and I became pals with one of those guys.  Cab drivers know where the good restaurant food deals are in this city and every cab driver has their own favorite place to grab a bite to eat.  Often a group of cab drivers meet at a restaurant and they all dine together, while slinging gossip about the events of the day.  
     My Filipino friend and I were talking about doing lunch and I suggested going to get some spicy Korean food.  The Filipino cabby distraughtly said, "Korean food?  What would you want to eat that stuff for?  Filipino food is the best!"  I started to persuasively describe the Korean food to the cabby, but it was useless.  He just kept shaking his head, while saying you have to try Filipino food.  So Filipino food for lunch it was.  
     All that I can say is, after that first Filipino food experience, I was hooked on Filipino slow cooking.  Filipino food is the ultimate fast food for busy cab drivers that a limited amount of time for dining.  Filipino fast food is perfect for those who are on the go and it certainly is a better choice than corporate franchise chain restaurant fast food junk food.  

     I have dined at many Filipino restaurants in Las Vegas over the years.  It seems like the busiest Filipino restaurants are in Chinatown.  A busy restaurant is always a sign of good food is being served.  The Fiesta Filipina Cuisine restaurant by far is one of the busiest Filipino restaurants in Chinatown.  This is one very popular place!
     I happened to be running errands when I visited the Fiesta Filipina Cuisine restaurant.  Grabbing some to-go food was the best option that day.  I chose the 2 Entree Platter option, because I was going to share some of the food with friends at my next destination.  I chose Chicken Pancit and slow cooked Pork Asado for the entree options.  The BBQ Pork Skewers looked good, so I got one of those.  I had a little bit of a sweet tooth going on and I figured that a banana fritter would satisfy that craving.  
     When I paid the tab for the to-go food order, a conclusive thought concerning dining value and food quality crossed my mind.  At that moment, I just realized that I got a lot of good Filipino food for a price of about $10, in less than five minutes.  It was enough food to feed two to three people!  This is a great value, especially when comparing the price to a meal at a fast food junk food style restaurant.  In fact, fast junk food actually costs more money and the food quality is not nearly as good.  
     Filipino cuisine is satisfying comfortable food and most people take their time dining at a casual pace when they eat this kind of food.  Many Filipino restaurants have a simple plain cafeteria style dining area that does not provide much atmosphere.  The Fiesta Filipina Cuisine has a nice Philippine style dining room that offers a relaxed South Pacific dining atmosphere.  The dining room at Fiesta Filipina Cuisine is a laid back comfortable zone of its own.  The nice dining atmosphere at this place may be the reason why this Filipino restaurant is so busy.  Customers that like Filipino comfort food definitely prefer a comfortable relaxed dining atmosphere, like what can be found at Fiesta Filipina Cuisine.

     Fiesta Filipina Cuisine is located at 3310 South Jones Boulevard in Las Vegas.  This location is in a corner plaza at the intersection of Desert Inn Road.  Fiesta Filipina Cuisine is close to the Las Vegas Strip and the Las Vegas Convention Center, so "on the go" visitors that like munching on good to-go food are in luck.    
     Fiesta Filipina Cuisine offers traditional Filipino breakfast food in the morning hours.  Traditionally, the big daily meal is an afternoon event in the Philippines, so this restaurant closes around 8:30PM.  The parking lot at the plaza is large, secure and well lit.  The open view kitchen and dining room was clean and well maintained.  The slow cooked Filipino food in the steam tables looked like it was attended with care and it was held at the correct temperature.  
     Like all restaurants that I write about, this Filipino restaurant had an "A Grade" Nevada Health Department rating.  I simply do not recommend any restaurant that has safe food handling issues.  A few Filipino restaurants on the outskirts of Las Vegas have been in the media spotlight during the last year, for not handling ready to eat food properly.  This has affected the reputation of all Filipino restaurants in the Las Vegas Valley in a negative way.  All I can say is that not every restaurant is created equal and some are far better than others.  Fiesta Filipina Cuisine is one of the best examples of a professionally managed Filipino restaurant in the Las Vegas Valley.     
     Filipino, English and a few other languages are spoken at this restaurant.  Questions about the food draw an informative polite response.  When I said the word "Pancit," apparently I mispronounced the word.  The cooked explained that I was pronouncing it incorrectly and she told me the right way to say Pancit.  I laughed to myself about the thought of how it is never too late to teach an old dog a new trick.  Even after 30 years of work in the hospitality industry, I still learn something new everyday.  Now I know how to say Pancit the right way!  
     I highly recommend Fiesta Filipina Cuisine for locals, conventioneers and tourists that crave good old fashioned slow cooked Filipino comfort food!  When the hectic pace of life becomes overwhelming, just lay back, relax and munch on some slow cooked Filipino comfort food.  Yum!  ...  Shawna     

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly with Yu Choy Sum


      Chinkiang Vinegar is also called black vinegar.  Black vinegar is made with rice, but millet or sorghum can be part of the blend.  Black vinegar has a complex semi sweet mellow acidic flavor that is similar to balsamic vinegar.  Like with most products, some brands are better than others.  It seems like the Chinkiang Vinegar brands that have the fewest ingredients are the best.  Ones that have extra ingredients, like caramel color, stabilizers or sweeteners, are pretty much mass produced products that mimic a traditional black vinegar.
     Vinegar is often used to tenderize and flavor pork.  Vinegar is also used to tame the flavor of wild game or strong tasting meats.  Sometimes pork can taste fairly strong.  Modern pork tends to be a very light color and the flavor is fairly light.  Dark colored shoulder meat sections have a stronger flavor that is similar to wild boar.  Chinkiang Vinegar is perfect for making strong pork meat or wild boar taste palatable.
     Galangal is Thai Blue Ginger.  Galangal is a little bit stronger tasting than the average ginger root.  Galangal is used by cooks just about everywhere in Asia.  Many Chinese cooks prefer galangal over regular ginger, because the flavor is pungent and brighter.  Fresh galangal root can be found in Asian food markets, Indian food markets and specialty markets.  Galangal should be sliced thin or julienne sliced, so it cooks quickly.  Galangal does take some time to become tender, so after starting the stir fry, liquid is added and the galangal is simmered till it starts to become tender.  Undercooked galangal is like chewing on wood.  
     For todays recipe, the galangal and pork are cooked in one pan and the Yu Choy Sum (Chinese Cabbage) mixture is stir fried separately.  Galangal and pork belly takes time to simmer and become tender, so it is given a head start.
     Pork belly can easily be found at butcher shops or Asian food markets.  Common grocery stores rarely sell pork belly, because they are in the business of marketing bacon products.  It is very easy to make bacon by curing or smoking pork belly and home made bacon is far better than most pre-made bacon products.  Based upon observation, one just might say that the bacon industry and grocers would prefer consumers to not make their own bacon, so pork belly is not sold where tons of bacon sits on the shelf.  
     The best prices for pork belly can be found in Chinatown food markets.  The pork sales volume is so high at these markets, that purchasing power comes into effect and lower prices can be offered.  Whole pork belly sections or 2 to 3 pound slabs of pork belly can be purchased.  The skin is usually attached to the pork belly.  It is easy to remove the thick skin with a butcher knife.  The skin can be saved and prepared as cracklins or crispy pork rind snacks.  A few cracklin recipes have been posted at this website so far.  
     After the skin is removed, the pork belly is easy to handle.  Trimming the fat is not necessary, because the gelatinous pork fat is part of the pork belly dining experience.  This is why pork belly is only eaten occasionally and it is usually reserved for festive occasions.  Pork belly is usually cut into thick rectangular bite size pieces or cube shape pieces, when used in Asian recipes.

     Yu Choy Sum is a variety of mustard plant that resembles cabbage.  Both Napa Cabbage and Yu Choy Sum are referred to as Chinese Cabbage, even though these two vegetables look completely different.  When Chinese Cabbage is written in a recipe, most often this refers to Napa Cabbage.  
     Yu Choy Sum has a crisp pleasant spicy cabbage flavor.  The stems can be thick, so splitting the stems in half will help them to become tender quicker.  Yu Choy Sum should only be stir fried and braised for a short time, so it is still fairly crisp to the bite (al dente).  

     For those who wonder where to find fancy bamboo chopsticks and Asian style plates, food markets in Chinatown offer these items.  An ordinary small European soup bowl is not a rice bowl.  An Italian pasta bowl is not an Asian noodle bowl.  Every culture has tableware that is best suited for the cuisine.  Acquiring a few shallow Asian noodle bowls and oblong oval plates can make plating Asian entrees much easier, because many Asian recipes are designed to be served on those kinds of plates.  Besides, an Asian style entree looks much more authentic when it is served on a colorful traditional plate.  Plain white plates are the standard in European fine dining, but in Asia, fine dining plates are rarely plain white.  Color is a major part of the Asian dining experience, because the food is designed to satisfy all of the senses.   

     This entire recipe yields 1 serving!

     Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly Marinade:          
     Cut a 7 to 8 ounce slab of skinned pork belly into thick rectangular bite size pieces.
     Place the pork belly in a bowl.
     Add 3 tablespoons of Chinkiang Vinegar.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of thin soy sauce.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of sugar.
     Add about 1/6 cup (a little bit less than 1/4 cup) of short julienne sliced galangal strips.  (Julienne = 1/8"x1/8"x 2"to 4" ...  Thin julienne is 1/16"x1/16"x 2" to 4" ....  The length should suit the intended use.)
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 4 coarsely ground Szechuan peppercorns.
     Add 1 pinch of Chinese five spice powder.
     Add 1 small pinch of Chinese chile powder.  (ground chile japon)
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of garlic paste.
     Toss the ingredients together.
     Marinate in a refrigerator for 20 minutes.

     Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly:
     The Yu Choy Sum should be started cooking in a separate pan while the pork belly is simmering.
     Place the marinated pork and galangal mixture in a strainer over a container.
     Set the meat and galangal aside and reserve the marinade.
     Heat a saute pan or wok over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
     Add the pork belly and galangal.
     Quickly stir fry and toss, till golden brown highlights appear on the pork.
     Drain the excess grease out of the pan.
     Add 1/2 cup of light vegetable broth.
     Add the reserved marinade.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce, till the galangal and pork belly is fully cooked and tender.  Allow the sauce to reduce, till it becomes a glacé consistency and lightly glazes the pork.
     Keep the Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork warm on stove top, till the yu choy sum is ready.

     Black Vinegar Braised Yu Choy Sum:
     Trim about 8 to 12 yu choy sum leaves.  Split the thick stems lengthwise.
     Heat a large saute pan or wok over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
     Add 2 cloves of thin sliced garlic.
     Add 2 tablespoons of julienne sliced onion.
     Add 1/4 cup of short thin carrot strips.
     Briefly saute, till the garlic becomes aromatic.
     Add the prepared yu choy sum leaves.
     Saute and toss, till the leaves start to wilt and become tender.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of light vegetable broth.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of Chinkian vinegar.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of thin soy sauce.
     Add sea salt an white pepper.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.
     Add 1 small pinch of crushed dried red chile pepper.  (chile caribe)
     Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Cover the pan with a lid.
     Braise the yu choy sum for 4 to 6 minutes, or till it becomes tender yet al dente.  Add a splash of water if necessary.
     Remove the lid from the pan.
     Keep the braised yu choy sum warm on a stove top.

     Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly with Yu Choy Sum:
     Place the yu choy sum in a wide shallow bowl as a bed for the pork belly.  Arrange the leaves so they look nice.
     Pour the yu choy sum braising liquid over leaves in the bowl.
     Mound the Chinkian Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly on the center of the yu choy sum bed.
     Serve with steamed rice on the side.
     No garnish is necessary!

     The flavor of this entree is really nice!  Chinkian vinegar is rich tasting, yet it is light enough to be used generously.  This is a nice recipe for spring or summer.  Yum!  ...  Shawna

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fettuccine con Cilantro Camarones Venecia, Heirloom Tomate, Chile Poblano, Espinaca y Queso Cotija

Italian Mexican Fusion Pasta!  Fettuccine with Venetian Style Cilantro Shrimp, Heirloom Tomato, Chile Poblano, Spinach and Queso Cotija

     Many chefs describe non-traditional pasta creations that make use of many ingredients as being nothing more than "throw together" pastas.  The term "throw together" logically is an oversimplification.  If the pasta ingredients are thrown together with little or no thought and if no classic cooking techniques are used, then it is just a reflection of an individual's cooking skills or motivation.  
     Not every chef or home cook has been trained as a sauté cook by Italian chefs.  Not every cook has been trained to make traditional Italian sauces.  Those who have no experience doing Italian sauté cooking rarely make Italian style olive oil pasta sauces and butter olive oil pasta sauces the way they should be made.  These sauces may seem like they are simple to make, but they actually require a degree of skill to perfect.  
     Here are a few Italian olive oil sauce and butter olive oil sauce making tips:
     • Olive oil sauces and butter olive oil sauces are made to order and they should not be prepared ahead of time.  
     • Only enough olive oil/olive oil butter sauce should be made to coat the pasta with flavor.  There should be no excess sauce on the plate.  
     • This kind of sauce can usually be prepared in less time than it takes to cook a portion of dried pasta (8 to 12 minutes).  Sometimes the pasta needs to be given a head start.  Often the sauce can be started, then the pan can removed from the heat.  When the pasta is almost ready, then the sauté pan is heated again and the sauce can be finished. 
     • Sautéing at moderately high temperatures is something that can be done after gaining plenty of experience, but it is easy for a less experienced cook to lose control of what is being cooked.  It only takes a few seconds for ingredients to scorch, when sautéing at higher temperatures.         
     • When moderately low temperatures are used at the start of a butter olive oil sauce recipe, the garlic and shallots have more time to infuse flavor, before the garlic becomes a golden color.      
     • When garlic is sautéed brown (darker than a golden color) at the beginning of a recipe, the garlic will have an unpleasant bitter flavor that permeates the entire pasta creation.
     • If olive oil is overheated, it becomes bitter tasting.  Moderate temperatures must be used when cooking with olive oil.
     • When olive oil is overheated, its viscosity thins and it will not easily cling to pasta.  Overheated olive oil usually ends up pooling on the plate.
     • Butter will lose its ability to cling to pasta if it is overheated, just like olive oil, so moderate sauté cooking temperatures must be used.
     • Virgin olive oil is usually only used as a flavoring agent.  In some recipes, a tiny amount of aromatic virgin olive oil is added last when the pasta is almost finished, just to add flavor.  
     • Butter and olive oil sauces are usually finished by emulsifying the sauce with a small amount of butter, just before serving.  Therefore, only a small amount of butter is added to the olive oil at the beginning of the recipe.  
     • Timing is the key!  When the featured protein ingredients and/or the vegetable ingredients are sautéed aldente (with a fairly crisp bit or about 3/4 fully cooked), the pasta should also be finished cooking at the same time and the pasta should be al dente.
     • A tiny splash of liquid, or a tiny splash of hot starchy pasta boiling water that is carried along with the freshly cooked pasta, can initiate emulsification of the olive oil or the olive oil butter mixture in the sauté pan.  Shaking the pan, stirring the sauce or tossing the pasta with the sauce will aid emulsification.  
     • If the protein was lightly dredged in flour before sautéing, the small amount of flour will bind and thicken the emulsion after a tiny amount of liquid is added, as long as the sauce is not overheated.  The flour acts as a roux.  Any virgin olive oil or butter that is added after the flour bound emulsion is created, will easily combine with the emulsion as the pasta is tossed in the pan, if the sauce is not overheated.
     • Items like tomato wedges can only be cooked for a few minutes, before they become mushy and disintegrate.  If the pasta is not fully cooked when the tomato wedges are cooked, then taking the sauté pan off of the heat and delaying finishing the sauce for a few minutes will prevent overcooking the tomato wedges.    
    • Once again timing is the key.  Delicate leafy green vegetables and minced herbs, like spinach, cilantro or parsley, should be added just before the sauce is finished, so the bright green color does not fade.  The flavor will be crisper tasting too. 
     Today's recipe combines Mexican ingredients with a Venetian Scampi Sauce and pasta.  Modern Mexican cuisine chefs tend to think outside of the box.  Mexican style pasta creations have become popular in recent years, because the ingredients tend to be healthy and there is no shortage of flavor.
     There are many kinds of heirloom tomatoes and most have a unique flavor.  Heirloom tomatoes are not GMO tomatoes and they are usually grown organically.  The large yellow heirloom tomato that was selected for today's recipe had a nice rich fruity tomato flavor.  The red heirloom tomato that was selected tasted savory like a good old fashioned Beefsteak Tomato.  When selecting heirloom tomatoes for today's pasta recipe, it is not necessary to be specific.  Just select two colorful heirloom tomatoes that look interesting and give them a try! 
     Chile poblano is usually roasted, peeled an seeded, before is is used in a recipe.  This is not always necessary to do.  Chile poblano can be used just like a fresh bell pepper in a sauté recipe, and the flavor of this mild chile pepper will remain crisp and bright.  
     Cotija cheese originated in Mexico.  There are a couple of different kinds of cotija cheese, but the fresh crumbly version is the most common.  Cotija is a firm fresh salt brine cows milk cheese that easily crumbles into small curd grains, almost like Grecian feta cheese.  Cotija has a fairly low fat content, so it does not easily melt.  Cotija most often is used to garnish entrees and it is usually just sprinkled over the top.  Cotija adds a nice mild semi salty fresh cheese flavor to today's pasta recipe.            
     Lemon garlic flavor combinations are a common theme just about everywhere in the Mediterranean region and temperate regions around the globe.  Both Spanish and Mexican cuisine makes use of this flavor combination.  In Mexico, lime often replaces lemon, because of its cooling effect.  Lime is often served as an accompaniment that is squeezed over an entree at the table.  If the entree has a lemon flavor, then lime should not be offered as an accompaniment.   

     This entire recipe yields 1 serving!

     Cook 1 portion of fettuccine in boiling water over high heat, till it becomes al dente.  
     The sauce can be made while the pasta cooks!

     Fettuccine con Cilantro Camarones Venecia, Heirloom Tomate, Chile Poblano, Espinaca y Queso Cotija:
     Select 8 large shrimp.  (16 to 20 shrimp per pound = large shrimp)
     Peel, devein and removed the tails.
     Lightly dredge the shrimp in flour and set the shrimp aside.
     Heat a large saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of pomace olive oil.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 3 cloves of minced garlic.
     Saute till the garlic starts to become a golden color.
     Add 2 teaspoons of minced shallot.
     Add the prepared shrimp.
     Briefly saute the shrimp, till they start to cook.  
     Add 2 tablespoons of chopped onion.
     Add 1/2 of a seeded chile poblano that is cut into long strips.
     Saute till the peppers starts to become tender.
     Add about 4 thin red heirloom tomato wedges.
     Add about 5 thin yellow heirloom tomato wedges.
     Briefly saute till the tomatoes start to become tender.
     Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 3 ounces of dry white wine.
     Add 3 ounces of shrimp broth.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 small pinch of crushed dried red pepper.  (Chile Caribe)
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Note:  If the pasta is not ready, then remove the pan from the heat.  Reheat the pan over medium heat when the pasta is al dente.  ...  If the past is already al dente, then continue on!
     Heat the sauce while gently shaking the pan, till the sauce simmers and reduces to a thin butter sauce consistency.
     Add 2 cups of baby spinach leaves.
     Add 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of virgin olive oil.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.  (to refresh the flavor)
     As soon as the spinach wilts, reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Drain the water off of the al dente fettuccine.
     Add the pasta to the sauce.
     Gently toss the ingredients together.
     Mound the pasta on the center of a plate.
     Sprinkle about 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of crumbled queso cotija over the pasta.
     Garnish with a cilantro sprig.

     When cooking a pasta like this, time does move quickly, so the ingredients must be prepare ahead of time.  This is a nice light pasta for a warm day!  Yum!  ...  Shawna

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bowl of Chili at Calico Jack's Saloon, Las Vegas!

     Good old fashioned food and an old time relaxed lounge atmosphere are two things that are rarely found on the modern Las Vegas Strip.  Many people miss the old days of Las Vegas, when the lounges in prime tourist attraction areas were comfortable and laid back.  Many veteran Las Vegas tourists also miss the old days when casual restaurants offered big portions of easy to recognize food.  There are two places where these nostalgic Vegas traditions live on.  Downtown Fremont Street and at off the Strip gaming taverns!
     Few local food writer focus on gaming taverns, because there is so much public interest in the exquisite fine dining destinations on the Las Vegas Strip.  Not everybody can afford to dine on the Strip on a regular basis.  The lackluster economy is still not showing signs of major improvement, so there is less disposable money floating around.  Gasoline price hikes also put a damper on spending.  New residents who are just gaining a foothold in this city, usually have no spare change at all.  Dining value is more important these days than ever before.  
     Those who live on a college student budget, like myself, usually make the best of it, by cooking great budget minded food at home.  When college students choose a dining destination, value often is a key decision making factor.  
     College students in Las Vegas do learn how to stretch the dollar, by taking advantage of gambling perks.  Many Las Vegas gaming taverns offer 1 or 2 large complimentary beers for every $10 or $20 spent in a poker machine and they offer low price food specials during happy hour.  
     Occasionally, a little bit of luck and some mathematical skills add up to winning enough money while gambling to pay the entire tab and bring some pocket change home.  The key word is occasionally, because it would be foolish to assume that a lucky streak never ends.  The actual statewide slot machine payout percentage average is close to 6% of the total take, so it is better to focus upon the value of the perks that are offered, if dining value is a priority.

     After visiting and writing about many gaming taverns the last few months, the experience can be summarized by saying that the Las Vegas gaming tavern scene is pretty cool.  The taverns serve as local hangouts for regular customers and uut of town visitors find relief from the hustle and bustle of the Strip.  
     Comfort is what the local taverns are all about.  Big spacious plush vinyl seta dining booths can still be found at gaming taverns.  Chilling out late at night with friends in a dimly lit red vinyl booth in a mellow cocktail lounge is an old Vegas tradition.  This tradition lives on in cozy gaming taverns.

     I stopped by Calico Jack's Saloon sometime after sunset on a weekday.  Only a few local customers were seated at the bar that night, because by Vegas standards, early evening hours are usually the lull period before the action starts, unless there is a big ball game that is televised.  What I found at Calico Jack's was the old fashioned timeless atmosphere of cozy Vegas lounges from years gone by.  This saloon really had an appealing laid back relaxing atmosphere!
     It is nice to be in a place where casual is the word and the customers are in no hurry.  Conversations flow easy and it becomes easy to be humored by small talk chit chat topics.  The bartender at Calico Jack's became part of the mellow conversation mode and the entire group of local customers, who were really strangers, all were chatting away like they knew everybody at the bar their entire life.  There was no reason to let the hair down or put the hair up.  There was nothing to hide and everything was out in the open.  This experience was pure classic Vegas lounge.
     When looking at a menu in a saloon, there is one item that captures my interest every time.  A good bowl of chili!  
     There are basically two kinds of chili in the restaurant world.  Canned or frozen pre-made chili is usually served at low quality restaurants where chili is just some kind of a side show.  At all other restaurants, the chef or cook takes pride in making chili the old fashioned way from scratch.  Some of the best chili that I have tasted in Las Vegas is made by cooks at local gaming taverns and saloons.  
     When many people think of saloon food, one of the first items that comes to mind is a bowl of chili.  For well over one hundred years, chili has been a main staple in saloons of the southwest.  Even with all the celebrity chef restaurants and high price trendy restaurants in this modern city, a local saloon is still the best place to find a good bowl of chili.  
     Everybody has there own favorite chili style preference.  Some like beans, some like it spicy hot and some like chunks of beef.  Some like no beans, some like it mild and some prefer ground beef.  I have published many different kinds of chili recipes and I have featured many different styles of chili in local tavern articles.  The best way to describe a tavern's chili to viewers of this food website, is to just briefly describe the flavor and let the audience look at the pictures.  Most chili heads can judge whether a bowl of chili would be to their liking just by looking at a picture of a bowl of chili.   
     The chili at Calico Jack's Saloon is good enough to write home about!  It is a rich savory ground beef chili that has a medium mild level of spicy chile pepper heat.  I could not tell whether it was Pink Beans or Pinto Beans that were added to the chili, but both of these beans are considered to be traditional in the southwest.  The southwestern chili flavor balance was right on the money.  The cumin, coriander, garlic and onion accented the blended dried chile pepper flavor.  I opted for the cheddar and onion topping, which was well suited for this old fashion style of chili.  Overall, the rich old fashioned chili at Calico Jack's is good enough to please the majority of chili fans.  It is well worth recommending!  

     Calico Jack's Saloon is located at 8200 West Charleston Boulevard at the intersection of Cimarron.  This location is easy to reach from the Summerlin neighborhood golf courses.  Calico Jack's is a little bit of a jaunt from the Strip or downtown, but the travel time goes by quick when driving on North 95 and the Summerlin Parkway.    
     There are plenty of parking spaces and the area is well lit.  Because Calico Jack's is a gaming tavern, security cameras oversee all areas.  The dining room and bar is clean and well maintained.  The service is attentive, polite and friendly.  Calico Jack's offers a full menu of classic American food and western food.  Breakfast is also offered.  The bar is fully stocked and nice quality craft beer is available.  There is background music and sporting events are televised.  This saloon happens to be San Francisco 49'ers football fan territory and this fits in with the Calico Jack's gold mining theme.
    I recommend Calico Jack's Saloon for locals and visitors who seek a classic Las Vegas style lounge!  This saloon is a great place to chill, catch a ball game, a good bowl of western chili and an ice cold beer.  Yum!  ...  Shawna                             

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Prickly Pear Basil Vinaegrette Wilted Leaf Lettuce Salade with Cumin Shrimp and Coriander Croutons

     I have been avoiding salad recipes for spring, but finally I gave in.  The cost of organic produce does put a limit on making salads, while on a student budget, but organic is the way to go when eating raw vegetables.  
     In this age of GMO produce and inorganic farming methods, cooking vegetables helps to eliminate many of the questionable trace chemical compounds.  Raw vegetable salads are usually fresh or they are intentionally wilted with a warm dressing, so if any trace of inorganic compounds are present in the vegetables, then they end up in the digestive tract.  
      Personally, I really do not even want to be bothered by negative thoughts about food when dining, because those thoughts linger on long after the meal is over.  It is better to clean the slate by selecting good natural food that does not cause a case of the worries.  When making salads of any kind, natural organic produce is the best choice.

     Today's wilted salad recipe definitely is healthy and tasty.  Prickly Pear cactus fruit tastes like strawberry.  Prickly Pear actually is the strongest known cholesterol relieving food that there is.  There are many kinds of cholesterol and most are essential for health.  There are a few naturally occurring cholesterol types that are detrimental to health.  The harmful cholesterol profile can become even more dangerous when excessive heat is applied.  Lipids (fats) that are overcooked or scorched, do convert soft cholesterol to hardened cholesterol that the body has difficulty in ridding from the cardiovascular system.  
     Balance can be achieved by eating food that rids the body of hard cholesterol.  Oily fish, dark grape juice or red wine, olive oil and prickly pear are probably the best anti hard cholesterol food choices.  A steady diet of these three items will reduce cholesterol dramatically, as long as the the hard cholesterol intake is also reduced.  Eating hard cholesterol fighting food is less effective, if well done pork, well done charred steaks and fried chicken are part of the daily diet.  Soft cholesterol is much easier for the body to put to use or expel. 
     Some chefs think that every sauce, soup or salad dressing has to be a puree or a perfect emulsion.  Fortunately, not every chef thinks this way.  A vinaegrette that is heated to the emulsion breaking point can have an interesting look that adds to the appeal of a salad presentation.  Today's warm prickly pear salad dressing is a sweet vinaegrette emulsion that is intentionally broken (separated).  The translucent red color shines as streaks within the clear oil and this creates an interesting visual effect on a large white plate.  
     I have never been a fan of petite portion fine dining cuisines.  Honest classic portions are the best and they do not alienate customers who have big appetites, because they do physical work for a living.  
     Recently, the US Department of Agriculture has taken an official stance in favor of reducing portion size to increase health.  This actually is a ridiculous health management strategy, because when portions become too small, people begin to crave food and binge eating disorders are more likely to occur.  A 2 to 3 ounce dinner entree portion only satisfies a petite person or a delusional individual who buys into media hype.  An average person would say "where is the rest of my dinner?"  A hard working big person would simply avoid the small portion dining experience altogether.
     A better dietary weight control management strategy would be to simply increase the amount of leafy green vegetables, low carbohydrate vegetables and low carb fruit intake, while maintaining classic entrees portion sizes of 5 to 8 ounces.  There would be less of a tendency to go on eating binges and less of an impulse to eat between meal snacks, because the body and mind are both satisfied.   Satisfaction is the key to any successful dietary strategy.  Satisfaction also prevents settling for the first food source that one runs across and selective shopping for healthier food choices is more likely to occur.  
     Some of my dietary views are based on research, but most of my views are based upon experience or observation.  I scored A grades in psychology, nutrition and restaurant management classes recently at college.  Just before spring break, I wrote a 24,000 word APA research paper for English class and the topic choice was portion size strategies.  All portion size strategies are theoretical and there really is no single "one size fits all" strategy that is correct.  Some people eat one big meal per day and nothing else, so even a classic fine dining portion of 5 to 8 ounces could be viewed as a skimpy meal by these people.  The best dietary strategies are relative to the lifestyle of the individual. 

     The salad portion size is generous in today's southwestern style recipe, when judged by current fine dining standards.  The presentation is done in the style of of a lunch salad entree special du jour at a modern fine café.  A petite portion of a salad like this might please the palate, but it would not do the body much good.  A petite portion salad for lunch simply creates craving for more food within a few hours.  Those cravings can defeat the purpose of eating a healthy meal.  Today's lunch entree salad portion is not super size or petite.  It is just right!  Classic portion size provides satisfaction!           
     Warm Prickly Pear Vinaegrette:
     This recipe yields 2 portions of salad dressing!
     Warm vinaegrettes for wilted salads should be made to order or they can be made ahead of time, then chilled before being reheated to order.  A vinaegrette will lose its character if it is kept warm for an extended time.
     This vinaegrette is emulsified when it is first made, then the emulsion is heated till it separates.  This creates an interesting colorful visual effect, especially if the background color is a white plate.  White plates or gold border white plates are the standard in high fine dining, because the color of food and sauces are easily seen.
     Prickly Pears are loaded with tiny black seeds.  The seeds can be soft and edible or they can be hard.  The seeds can easily be removed by pouring the vinaegrette through a strainer.     
     Place 1 peeled small chopped prickly pear cactus fruit in a stainless steel sauce pot.  (about 1/3 cup)
     Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of raw sugar.
     Add 1 teaspoon of chopped shallot.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Place the pot over low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce, till the fruit becomes soft and the liquid becomes a thin syrup consistency.
     Puree the fruit with a blending wand, blender or food processor.
     Return the puree to the sauce pot, but keep the pot off of the heat.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, while whisking.
     Slowly add 3 tablespoons of light tasting olive oil, while whisking.
     Slowly add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, while whisking.
     The vinaegrette should look like a medium thick emulsion.
     Add just enough water, while whisking, to thin the vinaegrette to a medium thin consistency.  (About 1 or 2 tablespoons.)
     Pour the vinaegrette through a strainer into a container.
     Set the vinaegrette aside, till the salad ingredients and shrimp are prepared.
     Leaf Lettuce Salad Mixture:
     This recipe yields enough for 1 salad!
     Leaf lettuce is a nice choice for a wilted salad, because this lettuce is fairly durable and it does not become mushy when a hot dressing is applied.
     Place 2 1/2 cups of large bite size pieces of leaf lettuce in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 thin slice of bermuda onion that is cut into half circles.
     Add 1/2 of a small green jalapeno that is cut into thin strips.
     Add a few julienne carrot strips for color.
     Add a few thin slices of peeled celery.
     Chill the salad mixture till it is needed.

     Coriander Croutons:
     This recipe yields enough croutons for 1 salad!
     Heat a saute pan over medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of light tasting olive oil.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
     Add 1/4 cup of diced stale whole grain bread.  (Remove the crust.  Dice = 1/4"x1/4"x1/4")
     Gently saute and toss, till the croutons become crisp and lightly toasted.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Add 2 pinches of coriander while tossing.
     Add sea salt and white pepper while tossing.
     Keep the croutons warm on a stove top.

     Cumin Shrimp:
     This recipe yields enough for 1 salad!
     Select 6 or 7 large shrimp.  (16 to 20 per pound is large)
     Peel, devein and remove the tails.
     Dust the shrimp with 4 or 5 pinches of cumin.
     Dust the shrimp with 1 pinch of onion powder.
     Dust the shrimp with 1 tiny pinch of garlic powder.
     Season with sea salt and black pepper.
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of light tasting olive oil.
     Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
     Add the shrimp.
     Saute the shrimp, till they become fully cooked.  Only turn the shrimp a couple of times, so the spices do not fall of of the shrimp.
     Drain off the excess oil.
     Keep the cumin shrimp warm on a stove top.

     Prickly Pear Basil Vinaegrette Wilted Leaf Lettuce Salade with Cumin Shrimp and Coriander Croutons:
     This recipe yields 1 salad presentation!  
     Place 1 portion (half of the recipe above) of sweet prickly pear vinagrette in a stainless steel sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Simmer the vinaegrette till the emulsion separates into oil and rich prickly pear juice vinegar.  Add a small splash of water if the vinaegrette liquid is less than 1/2 of the volume of the oil.
     Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Add 1 or 2 large basil leaves that are chiffonade sliced.  (thin ribbons)
     Pour two thirds of the warm vinaegrette over the leaf lettuce mixture in the mixing bowl, while tossing.
     Mound the lightly wilted leaf lettuce salad on the center of a large white plate.  Try to expose some of each ingredient on the surface.
     Arrange 4 large plum tomato wedges on the plate around the base of the salad.
     Arrange the cumin shrimp on top of the salad, so they look nice.
     Sprinkle the coriander croutons over the shrimp and salad.
     Place a basil top sprig on the shrimp and croutons as a garnish.
     Spoon the remaining warm separated prickly pear vinaegrette on the plate around the salad to create a streaked translucent visual effect.

     Viola!  A bright colorful healthy salad for spring that has mild unique southwestern flavors.  Yum!  ...  Shawna

Gepökelte auf Currygewürz Spätzle und Gemüse mit Weinbrand Creme Fraiche

Cured Pork Loin Chop over Curry Spice Spätzle and Vegetables with Brandied Half Soured Cream Sauce ...  Neoclassic German cuisine!

     Cured meat, especially pork, has its origins in Eastern Europe and Germany.  High concentrations of naturally occurring curing salts are found throughout this region.  Curing meat was once a way to ensure that there would be enough food to last through a long winter.  Many of the old meat curing traditions are now becoming a relic of the past.
     Chefs who cherish authenticity do take pride in preserving culinary traditions.  Not letting recipes fade into the past to be forgotten is important these days, because one never knows when old cooking traditions will be needed in the future, especially in a world that never seems to be short on political unrest, economic disparity and war.  If there is no more electricity for refrigeration some day in the near future, then those who know how to cure meats and preserve food will be ahead of the game.

     Traditionally in early spring, the last of the food that was preserved for winter is cooked and the winter supply runs out shortly after the spring harvests begin.  Planning ahead once was the only way to ensure survival, before the age of transporting food from distant temperate climates.

     In today's world, there really is no reason to cure pork loin chops.  Fresh pork loin chops are available at a food market every day of the year.  The only reason that there is for curing pork loin chops, is to recreate traditional flavors of days gone by.  Once an item like this is prepared, cooked and experienced, the memory lives on forever.
     Today's recipe features an old fashioned Eastern European style cured pork loin chop that is presented with conservative modern café style.  Healthy quickly cooked fresh vegetables are often part of casual café food presentations.  Throwing a creative fancy spice flavored spätzle into the mix adds even more appeal.  Brandy creme fraiche is a very simple sauce that many northern Europeans enjoy.  This cured pork chop entree is an interesting café lunch special du jour item that would be perfect for a chilly spring season day.    
     Flavored pastas noodles were a trendy item about 25 years ago, but few chefs created flavored spätzle recipes.  German folks simply do not eat the same old food everyday with no thoughts of trying something new, so I do not understand why many chefs think that fancying up something like German spätzle would not be worth the effort.  Evidently there is a bit of cultural lag going on in the culinary world, because modern creative German cuisine is actually very advanced and precise.  Even modern German casual food has taken a creative turn in the last couple of decades.  Germans seem to like mild curry spice mixtures.  Garam masala is as mild and warming as Indian spice mixture get.  In fact, many of the spices in garam masala are traditional German desert spices.  Spätzle with a mild curry spice flavor is not a bad idea!        

     Beer Pairing:
     Pairing beer with today's recipe is as easy as this.  Good German beer goes well with good German food!  A bright Munich style lager is a good choice.  Munich style lager beer was originally designed in the late 1800's to compete with Czechoslovakian Pilsner.  A Munich bright lager is fairly crisp on the palate with a nice light malty finish.  The hops selection is slightly milder than hops that flavors Czech pilsner beer.  Because all lagers are aged, the sharp flavors are mellowed and a fair amount of deep rich wood cask flavor is present.
     The Moosbacher Brewery is located only a short distance from the Czech border, so this company is very familiar with Czech lager and pilsner tradition.  Moosbacher was founded in the late 1800's and they brew beer accordance to the strict Bavarian Beer Purity Laws.  Moosbacher has their own natural underground water reservoir and as everybody knows, good pure water adds to a beer's character.
     This company processes malt and sprouts barley the old fashioned way.  The foamy tall head of Moosbacher Lager cannot be duplicated by modern western craft breweries that use heavy sticky malt extract syrups to brew beer.  The old Bavarian brewing tradition can be tasted with every sip and the high quality is easy to notice.  Moosbacher Lager is a very nice Bavarian brewed Munich Style Lager and pairs nicely with cured pork, curry spice spätzle and vegetables!

     Cured Pork Loin Chop (Gepökelte):
     This recipe yields 1 portion!  
     Morton Tender Quick is the curing salt mixture that is used in this recipe.  This is not a strong curing salt product and it is relatively safe to use.  Every curing salt product has its own formula and its own usage ratio.  
     1 Tablespoon of Morton Tender Quick is enough to cure 1 pound of pork loin cutlets or pork chops.
     Today's recipe calls for 1 lightly cured pork loin chop that weighs 8 ounces, so 1/2 tablespoon of Morton Tender quick is all that is needed.  
     About 2 to 4 hours of curing time will produce a lightly cured pork chop.  About 24 to 48 hours of curing time will produce a fully cured pork chop.
     Place a thick 8 ounce pork loin chop in a container.
     Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon of Morton Tender Quick over the pork chop.
     Rub the curing salt on the surface.
     Season with black pepper.
     Seal the container.
     Place the container in a refrigerator and allow the pork chop to cure for about 4 hours.  
     Rinse the cured pork chop under cold running water.
     Set the lightly cured pork chop on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan and let it air dry in a refrigerator. 

     Currygewürz Spätzle Dough:
     This recipe makes enough spätzle for 3 or 4 portions!
     Place 2 1/2 cups of regular bread flour or all purpose flour in a mixing bowl.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder.
     Add 1 pinch of garlic powder.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.
     Stir the dry mixture.
     Form a well in the center of the flour.
     Place 5 ounces of whisked egg in the well.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Stir the egg till it starts to combine with the flour.
     Start kneading till a very stiff dough is formed.
     Add 1 tablespoon of milk or water at a time, while kneading, till a medium stiff semi sticky noodle dough is formed.  Only a few tablespoons are needed!  
     Note:  Do not add too much liquid or you will end up with spoon spätzle batter!  The dough should not be as stiff as an Italian pasta dough, but it should be fairly firm.  After pressing a finger on the dough to leave a dent, the dough should only minimally spring back and the dent should remain. 
     Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour. 
     Board Cut Spätzle Preparation:
     Allow the dough to reach room temperature.
     Stretch and roll a portion of the dough out, so it forms a rectangular 3 1/2" to 4" wide x 10" long strip that is about 1/2" thick. 
     Gently press the dough strip onto a spätzle board or a small cutting board, so it sticks in place.  Be sure to leave 3" to 4" of bare board as a leading edge. 
     Heat a pot of water over medium/medium high heat.  The water should only be gently boiling.
     Follow the directions in the next step!
     Board Cut Spätzle Technique:
     Board cut spätzle is made with a firm noodle dough.  The noodle dough is not quite as thick as Italian semolina pasta dough, but it should have a medium firm texture.  Only one portion of spätzle is needed for this recipe.   
     The dough is rolled into a rectangular slab, then pressed onto a board.  The board can be about 8"x10" with a handle.  Some German chefs prefer a 14"x 20" board with no handle, that can be held with one arm and pressed against the ribs.  
     The board is held with one arm and the other hand uses a long thin spatula spätzle knife to cut the thin strips of spätzle.  A long straight thin cake spatula can be used as a spätzle knife.
     The board should be held close to a pot of gently boiling water, so each spätzle lands in the water as it is cut.  
     The spätzle knife blade is placed flush on the board in front of the dough at about a 15º to 25º angle and it is dragged back over the leading edge of the dough.  After making contact with the dough, the leading edge of the dough becomes flattened.  
     The spatula blade "knife" then cuts a thin slice of dough, while being dragged forward against the board.  The knife should always be in contact with the board, when cutting spätzle!  
     This is done quickly and with just enough force to send the spätzle flying through the air into the pot of boiling water.  Of course, the board must be held close to the pot of water. 
     Once the board cutting spätzle technique is mastered, the sound and feel of making spätzle will become second nature.  A good German cook can cut spätzle as fast as lightening!  
     Start learning by making medium size spätzle.  Medium size is a forgiving size.  Small 1/8" thick spätzle are not difficult to make, after getting the feel of working the board with a spätzle knife.
     After the spätzle float to the top of the gently boiling water and they become tender, use a pasta net to place the spätzle in a colander and drain off any excess water.
    The boiled spätzle can be chilled until they are reheated with butter later in the recipe.

     Weinbrand Creme Fraiche:
     This recipe yields 1 portion!  
     In Europe, creme fraiche can be made the old fashioned way.  In America, creme fraiche must be made by mixing sour cream and cream together, so there is less chance of pathogen contamination.      
     Heat a small sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 3 ounces of brandy.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced shallot.
     Bring the brandy to a gentle boil.  Try not to flambé.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream.
     Add 3 tablespoons of sour cream.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
     Simmer and reduce, till it becomes a medium thin sauce consistency.
     Keep the sauce warm on a stove top.  Add milk if the sauce becomes too thick. 

     Seared Gepökelte:
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter or lard.
     Add the prepared cured pork loin chop.
     Sear the pork chop on both sides, till it becomes golden brown and fully cooked.
     Season with black pepper.
     Keep the Seared Gepökelte warm on a stove top.

     Spätzle und Gemüse:
     This recipe yields 1 serving!
     Spätzle is usually finished by sautéing it in noisette butter.  
     The vegetables should be added shortly after the spätzle starts to get some golden highlights.  Any preferred vegetable mixture can be used and the vegetables must be ready before starting to sauté.  The vegetables should be cut in a way that allows them to cook quickly, just like Chinese stir fry.  Leafy delicate vegetables, like spinach, should be added just before serving.   
     Heat a seasoned or non-stick large saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Allow the butter to become a golden brown color with a light hazelnut aroma.  (Beurre Noisette)
     Add 1 portion of prepared boiled Currygewürz Spätzle, while gently shaking the pan.
     Pan fry the spätzle, till a few golden highlights appear.
     Add 1/5 cup of thin carrot strips.
     Add 1/5 cup of thin peeled celery strips.
     Add 1/5 cup of thin onion strips.
     Add 1/5 cup of green bell pepper strips.
     Add 1/5 cup of yellow squash strips.  (Remove the soft core.)
     Add 1/3 cup of petite broccoli florets.
     Saute and toss, till the vegetables start to become tender.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of baby spinach leaves.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Saute and toss till the spinach wilts.
     Remove the pan from the heat.

     Gepökelte auf Currygewürz Spätzle und Gemüse mit Weinbrand Creme Fraiche:
     Immediately place the al dente sautéed vegetables and curry spice spätzle on a plate as a bed for the pork chop.  Try to leave any excess butter in the pan.
     Spoon some of the Weinbrand Creme Fraiche over the center of the vegetables and spätzle, where the pork chop will be placed.
     Place the cured pork chop on the sauced Currygewürz Spätzle und Gemüse.
     Spoon a small amount of the Weinbrand Creme Fraiche over the cured pork chop.
     Garnish with a few pinches of coarsely chopped Italian parsley.

     Voila!  A nice German cured pork loin chop with mild curry spice spätzle, vegetables and a rich sauce.  Food for a chilly day in spring!  Yum!  ...  Shawna