Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fried Pork Rinds with Three Sauces






Pork Rinds!

     Some people would rather eat a bag of pork rinds, than to munch on a bag of candy.  There are folks who prefer jerky or pork rinds over any other kind of snack.  People who like pork rinds do not necessarily have to only be country folk.  Pork rind munchers do not necessarily have to reside in a big city ghetto, a Mexican barrio or a trailer park.  On second thought, maybe they do!  
     The demographics of pork rind consumers is not exactly refined high class city slickers.  In fact, I have rarely seen people of high social status eating pork rinds in public.  There is a slim possibility that socialites eat pork rinds in private, away from possible criticism by their peers.  There actually could be a demographic sector of closet case pork rind munchers, who save face by not letting their fellow high society members know that they "have a thing" for this crunchy snack.  
      
     It is kind of funny, but a lot of my relative are from the Carolinas.  Carolina people have good old fashioned down to earth taste preferences.  Since I have some Carolina blood flowing through my veins, it is just natural to crave pork rinds on occasion.  I have actually shown up at some of the classiest places with a bag of pork rinds, just to get some amusement out of the public reaction that this snack creates.  
     Snobbish people hear the enticing crunching and munching going on, then they curiously turn around and say "What is it that you are eating?!"  The best way to answer this naive question is to hold up the bag and say, "Spicy BBQ Pork Rinds!  Y'all want some?"
     Offering pork rinds to classy acting folks who pretend to have social grace really does draw some amusing reactions like, "Ugh!  You are disgusting!  How could you eat that disgusting garbage?  I am becoming ill, just by watching you eat that stuff.  You unrefined lowlife country bumpkins should not even be allowed to exist!"   
     It works every time!  Munching on pork rinds, when high society members are around, does create a stir.  Coaxing a classy elite person to try one can successfully be done.  This also creates a funny reaction that is similar to what a person does before telling an ethnic joke.  Elite high society members actually turn their head and look over their shoulders, in order to make sure that there are no witnesses, before accepting the offer to try a crunchy pork rind!
     After tasting a Spicy BBQ Pork Rind, a high society member usually says that the crunchy snack tastes pretty good.  They also mention that they would appreciate not letting the word get around about how they actually tried a pork rind, because it would certainly cause frowns among their peers.  
     Even with the risk of lower social ranking, asking for a second pork rind is not uncommon for a classy person to do.  Pork rinds have an addictive savory flavor.  A personal pork rind addiction truly is something that is kept "locked in a dark closet" by high society members.  An empty bag of pork rinds on the floorboards of a Mercedes Benz could be a sad sign of hopeless addiction.  "Oh dear, ...  Oh dear, ... There seems to be no recourse for poor Biff now, ...  Oh dear, ... What shall we do?  What shall we do?"
     What shall we do?  Well, seeking pork rind addiction counseling or attending "Pork Rind Eaters Anonymous" group sessions might be upper class options.  The chances are that the fall from social grace may be so severe, that a pork rind eating outcast of society might even be subject to complete financial ruin.  
     
     The answer to the problem is easy!  Instead of fighting pork rind addiction, just give in and get a big bag of pork rinds.  Better still, make a batch of pork rinds from scratch.  By presenting freshly fried pork rinds in a tasteful manner, this crunchy snack can achieve the elegance that it deserves.  A rebound from being labeled as a "pork rind addicted social outcast" could possibly be achieved, just by whipping up a batch of gourmet pork rinds as a classy dinner party hors d'oeuvre! 

     Pork Belly Skin Preparation:
     Pork belly sections are usually sold with the skin attached.  The skin must be removed, before making home cured bacon or pork belly recipes.  Pork belly skin can be frozen for later use or prepared on the spot.  
     It is best if the skin has a minimal amount of fat attached.  The pork fat trimmings can be rendered to make fresh lard.
     Soaking pork belly skin in bacon soda water overnight in a refrigerator will help to make the flavor milder.  About 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda per quart of water is plenty.  
     After soaking, drain off the water.
     Place the pork belly skin on a roasting rack in a refrigerator.
     Allow the pork skin to air dry. 
     Use a steak perforating tool to pok a holes through the skin.  (optional) 
     Cut the pork rind into large bite size rectangular pieces and set them aside.    

     Japanese Teriyaki Sauce:
     This recipe yields 1 small portion!
     Place 3 tablespoons of soy sauce into a small sauce pot.
     Add 3 tablespoons of sugar.
     Add 1/2 cup of water.
     Place the sauce pot over low heat.
     Simmer and reduce the teriyaki sauce, till it becomes a syrup consistency and till the sauce can easily glaze a spoon.
     Place the teriyaki sauce in a ramekin.
     Keep the sauce warm on a stove top. 

     Lillet Blanc Dijon Mustard:
     This recipe yields 1 small portion!
     Place 2 ounces of Lillet Blanc wine in a small sauce pot.
     Add 2 tablespoons of Dijon Mustard.
     Place the pot over low heat.
     Simmer a reduce, till the sauce becomes a medium thin consistency.
     Keep the sauce warm on a stove top.

     Fried Pork Rinds with Three Sauces:
     Any amount of pork can be fried per batch.  The oil will have a pork flavor after the frying is done, so the oil can then only be used for certain applications.  
     Heat 4" of vegetable frying oil in a high sided pot to 360º.  
     Place a few pork rind pieces in the oil at a time, so hot oil foaming does not occur.
     After no moisture sizzling can be heard and the pork rinds become crisp, then they are ready.
     Use a fryer net to place the pork rinds on a wire screen roasting rack on a drip pan.
     Season with sea salt and white pepper.  
     Place a bed of kale leaves on a plate and mount the pork rinds on the kale.
     Serve with your favorite hot sauce, the Lillet Mustard Sauce and the Teriyaki sauce on the side.

     Pairing:
     Since this is the late autumn and early winter season, a nice beer pairing came to mind.  Seasonal craft beers are always en vogue.  During the fall season, spiced pumpkin ales are a great choice.  Pumpkin ales are usually dry and not sweet.  A mild German dessert spice blend in the brew makes pumpkin ale suitable for the holiday season.  One of the best tasting seasonal pumpkin ales that I have tried is made by the Buffalo Bill's Brewery.  This ale has a medium body and the hops flavor is not overpowering.  Buffalo Bill's Brewery Pumpkin Ale is a nice early winter beer!     

     Pork rinds are a tasty snack to eat while watching a ball game on the weekend!  Yum!  ...  Shawna

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bourbon Cheddar Smoked Turkey Soup with Herb Focaccia Bread Sticks






A nice soup for winter and the holiday season!

     There is a fine line between what defines a cheese sauce and a cheese soup.  The proportion of cheese tends to be lower in a soup, but not always.  Secondary flavors, like herbs and mirepoix vegetables are part of a cheese soup and they are not usually part of a cheese sauce.  Beer, wine or liquors can be added to either cheese recipe.  Basically, a cheese soup is thinner than a cheese sauce and the flavor balance is more delicate.  
     The quality of the cheese does make a big difference, especially when cheddar is used to make a soup.  Cheap bulk mild cheddar has very little flavor at all.  Several handfuls of cheap mild cheddar can be added to a soup and the cheddar flavor will still not be pronounced.  Cheap mild bulk cheddar is a waste of time.  A small amount of good quality sharp cheddar will produce a richer cheddar flavor in a soup, than a large amount of cheap mild bulk cheddar.
     Beer cheese soup is a nice tasting classic cheddar soup.  The savory barley wheat grain and hops flavors of beer go well with cheddar.  Bourbon also is a nice flavor for a cheddar soup, because the sour mash corn grain and wheat grains have basic flavors that go well with this cheese.  To achieve the best flavor, the bourbon should be added late in the recipe.  It takes less bourbon to flavor a soup when the bourbon is added last.  After the soup simmers for a few minutes, the alcohol will evaporate and the bourbon flavor will remain.     
     Cream soups are not typically made only with milk and cream.  A broth or stock can be added and the soup will still be called a cream soup.  A cheddar soup does not have to look plain, like a cheese sauce.  A cheddar soup can have bits of savory meat, aromatic vegetables and herbs in the recipe that compliment the cheddar flavor.  The object is to accent or compliment the cheddar flavor in the soup.
     Bread sticks are nice with a cheddar soup.  If the herbs or additional flavors in the bread sticks clash with the flavor of the soup, then the bread sticks should not accompany the soup.  When garnishing a soup with bread sticks, the bread stick flavor has to be a good match for the soup.    

     Seasonal Herb Bread Sticks:
     Follow this link to the recipe!  It takes a few hours to make this bread recipe.

     Bourbon Cheddar Smoked Turkey Soup:
     This recipe make 1 large serving of soup our 2 small servings!  The yield is about 2 3/4 cups.
     Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour while stirring.
     Constantly stir the roux, till it turns a golden color and till it just starts to emit a light hazelnut aroma.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of light chicken stock, while stirring with a whisk.
     Stir till the roux thickens the stock.
     Add 2 cups of milk.
     Stir occasionally, till the soups heats and till it becomes a very thin sauce consistency.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 3 tablespoons of small chopped smoked turkey.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced celery.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced green bell pepper.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced carrot.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of minced onion.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of ground anatto.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 2 pinches of Spanish paprika.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 1 pinch of dill weed.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Simmer and reduce the soup, till the vegetables become tender and till the soup becomes a thin sauce consistency.  Stir the soup occasionally.
     Add 1/2 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese while stirring with a whisk.
     Stir till the cheese blends with the soup.
     Add 1 1/2 ounces of Kentucky sour mash bourbon.
     Add 2 pinches of minced Italian parsley.
     Simmer and reduce the soup, till the alcohol evaporates and the soup becomes slightly richer than a thin sauce consistency.  If the soup becomes too thick, add a little bit of milk.  (This soup should not be as thick as a nacho cheese sauce!)
     Keep the soup warm over very low heat or in a 135º bain marie.  Stir the soup occasionally.

     Bourbon Cheddar Smoked Turkey Soup with Herb Focaccia Bread Sticks:
     Ladle the soup into a large shallow soup bowl.
     Place 2 warm long thin bread sticks in the soup, so they lean on the rim of the bowl.
     Garnish with an Italian parsley sprig.

     The smokey turkey flavor, bourbon, mirepoix and herbs combine with the sharp cheddar to create a and very satisfying flavor.  This is a nice chilly weather soup!  Yum!  ...  Shawna  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Agave Pomegranate Tangy Sweet Bulgur Wheat







A nice bulgur wheat mezze with an interesting flavor!

     As every cook who has a taste for international cuisine knows, acquiring one of a kind ingredients is necessary to do.  Pomegranate molasses and a long list of spices are necessary to have on hand for certain Middle Eastern recipes.  Pomegranate molasses is very strong and it can take months to empty one small bottle.  Few people use pomegranate molasses on a daily basis, but many health conscious people do regularly include pomegranate products in their diet.  Traditional recipes that require pomegranate molasses do take some effort to find.  Pomegranate molasses can be adapted to other Persian and Arabic recipes that require other kinds of fruit molasses flavors.  
     While browsing the internet yesterday for traditional ways to use bulgur wheat, I ran across an interesting Lebanese recipe for bulgur wheat that was flavored with grape molasses.  The translation of the recipe name is "Sweet Bulgur."  The recipe was well written and it was one of a kind.  After looking at the recipe, I thought that making a similar recipe with pomegranate molasses would be nice.  
     I searched on the internet to see if a traditional pomegranate molasses bulgur wheat existed and found none.  This does not mean that such a recipe does not exist, it just means that there was no such recipe on the internet.  I decided to model a new pomegranate molasses bulgur wheat recipe after the "Sweet Bulgar" recipe example and keep the flavor goal within the bounds of Middle Eastern taste preferences.  Because my step grandfather was a great Syrian Lebanese chef, I learned middle eastern taste preferences at an early age.  Spiced sweet tangy flavor combinations are a recurring theme in Middle Eastern cuisine.  
     Today's bulgar wheat recipe balances the tangy pomegranate molasses flavor with sweet blue agave cactus nectar.  A few Middle Eastern spices were chosen to accent the tangy sweet flavor combination.  The result was a tangy sweet flavor that is so interesting, that it is nearly impossible to put the spoon down after one taste!  
     For those who seek interesting vegetable side dishes for holiday season dinner, Middle Eastern vegetable mezze recipes can provide plenty of ideas.  Today's Agave Pomegranate Bulgur Wheat recipe was designed to be a vegetarian mezze offering.  The flavor that is so appealing, that I thought that it would be nice to post this recipe before the holiday season begins, so viewers could give it a try.  One taste is all it takes to agree that a bowl of Agave Pomegranate Bulgur Wheat on a holiday dinner table spread would surely please the guests and it would inspire some interesting conversation! 
     
     As the viewers of this recipe website know, most of my recipes are written for one single portion.  This is done few a few good reasons:  
     
      • People who are single, do not like try a recipe that is written for 4 to 16 portions, because multiple portion recipes require doing baker's math, just to get the proportions right.  
     
     • Those who want to learn a new recipe, often find better control when cooking  a single portion example on a first attempt.  After learning the recipe on a small scale, it is easier to mentally calculate how to duplicate that recipe, when cooking more than one portion, without doing baker's math.  
     This is what is known as cooking by proportion.  This method allows adjustments to be made, because certain ingredients cannot be expanded in a recipe by doing simple math.  Logarithmic calculations are necessary for certain ingredients.  It is easier to rely on one's own senses when making a judgement call, than it is to do a precise logarithmic calculation. 
     
     • Single portion recipes make it easier to judge how much of each ingredient is necessary to purchase and how much excess raw material will be leftover, for use in future recipes.  This also helps to manage waste.  I personally waste nothing in a restaurant kitchen and I waste nothing at home.  
     For example, if 1 tablespoon of bell pepper is needed for a recipe, then cut off the top of the pepper and use the pepper top trimmings!  The rest of the bell pepper will be whole and it will be perfect for a stuffed bell pepper recipe.  This is what is called minimizing waste and controlling food cost.
     
     • A third good reason for posting single recipes is self preservation related.  This is kind of funny, but I have have gone hungry many times in restaurants and at culinary arts college, because I cooked something that really looked tasty, then senior chefs simply absconded my meal and made it their own dinner.  Chefs like to taste food that is made by a good chef and they have no regrets about stealing a meal that is cooked by a good chef when the opportunity arises.  
     A chef who confiscates a fellow chef's dinner creation, is kind of like the classic example of leaving a pie in a window to cool and the pie mysteriously disappears!  This situation stinks, because somebody ends up with nothing to eat.  Cooking food for this food website professionally at home, behind locked doors, has left me with more opportunities to taste my own food and to get my freshly cooked meal in my own belly where it belongs!     

     Agave Pomegranate Tangy Sweet Bulgur Wheat:
     This recipe yields 2 petite portions!  Keep in mind that pomegranate molasses is not sweet.
     This is not really intended to be dessert recipe.  In many cultures, a petite portion of something sweet is served as a first course or it is served early in the meal.  The early sweet offering is intended to refresh weary guests and provide the energy that is necessary for enjoying an entertaining dining experience.   
     Boil 2 cups of water in a sauce pot over medium high heat.   
     Add 3/4 cup of #3 size bulgur wheat.
     Return the liquid to a boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.   
     Simmer till the bulgur starts to become tender. 
     Remove the pot from the heat. 
     Drain off any excess liquid.
     Add 3 tablespoons of blue agave nectar.  (Alien Honey!)
     Add 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses. 
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unrefined raw sugar.
     Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of ginger paste.  (Ginger paste in a jar is really kind of a wet minced puree.) 
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of fenugreek.
     Add 1 pinch of finely crushed dried mint.
     Add 1 pinch of cinnamon.
     Add 1 pinch of nutmeg.
     Add 2 pinches of cardamom.
     Add 1 small pinch of cumin.
     Add 1 small pinch of white pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Add 1 teaspoon of seville orange juice.  (Bottles of Bitter Orange are available at most food markets.)
     Place the pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Bring the liquid to a simmer.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce, till the liquid evaporates and the bulgur wheat becomes glazed.  The tangy sweet bulgur should be thick.  Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent sticking.  Do not stir excessively, or the glaze will become cloudy. 
     Keep the Agave Pomegranate Tangy Sweet Bulgur Wheat warm on a stove top or in a 135º bain marie.

     Presentation:
     Place a petite portion of the Agave Pomegranate Tangy Sweet Bulgur Wheat in a shallow bowl.
     Pour 1/2 tablespoon of mild light olive oil over the bulgur.
     Sprinkle 4 to 6 drops of rosewater over the bulgur.
     Garnish with an Italian parsley leaf.

     Like what was mentioned earlier in this article, "One taste is all it takes!"  Yum!  ...  Shawna

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Downtown 3rd Farmers Market, Las Vegas!
























     This article was edited on 9-3-2013.  A slide show was added!

     The New Farmers Market Trend
     Farmers markets of all shapes and sizes have been popping up in urban areas during the last few years.  Modern farmers markets are now located in places like upscale neighborhoods, plazas at busy intersections, cultural entertainment districts and center city high-rise buildings.  The new marketing strategy of these shops is to make farm fresh food easy for customers to find.  The theme of modern farmers markets focuses on locally grown agricultural products, organic food and farm sustainability.

     In the old days, farm produce stands were not easy for urban dwellers to access.  Even in today's age in some states, the only way to find a farm stand is to take a long drive down old country roads.  Sometimes the only indicators of where a farm stand can be found is a hand painted sign nailed to a fence post on the shoulder of an old two lane highway.  
     Word gets around out in the country, as to where a good farm stand can be found.  Along old travel routes that run through the countryside, a big old shade tree is a traditional location for a farm stand.  Asking local country folks at a gas station where a farm stand might be located, can result in a wild goose chase.  Many country folk do not always get out and about too often, so they may know where a farm stand was sometime in the recent past, but the current status of the business may not be known.  Going on a lead like this can result in driving 50 miles just to find an empty farm stand that has been abandoned for months.  

     In some rural communities, especially along major two lane travel routes, a farm stand is often located near the hub of a town's small business district.  Large easy to see signs or billboards advertise where these kinds of farm stand are.  These heavily advertised farm stands kind of act as a tourist attraction, as well as a market for the local community.  
     Fresh produce is not the only thing sold at these little country town farm stands.  The local residents market handcrafted products like honey, jerky, pickles, preserves, jellies and pies.  For those who miss the taste of country home cooking or for those who never experienced what hand crafted boysenberry jam is all about, small country town farm stands offer a treasure trove of good old fashioned food products to take back home.  

     Many big city folk take a leisurely drive through the country every Sunday, just to get some stress relief.  During the long scenic drive, many of these folks have a ritual that involves purchasing a jar of "Granny's Bread n' Butter Pickles" at a small farm stand out in the middle of nowhere.  After getting back home in the thick of the big city hustle and bustle, the jar of old fashioned pickles sits in the fridge, just like tonic in a medicine cabinet.  After a long day on a high pressure big city job, opening up the mason jar and eating a few old fashioned pickles spells out nothing but pure stress relief and old fashioned flavor heaven!  
     There is no use trying to tell somebody why driving 100 miles on a Sunday afternoon just to buy a jar of pickles is worth the trip.  It is the memories of the clean air, the scenery and the pleasant pace of the simple life that make the drive to a farm stand such a priceless venture.

     Not every citizen in a major city has the opportunity to take a long drive in the country.  If the customer cannot get to the farm stand, then bring the farm stand to the customer!  This is what the recent farmers market trend is all about.  Consumers want organic locally harvested produce that grown with sustainable farming methods.  Supporting locally grown organic food is the solution for many modern food chain problems.  
     Consumers do not want mass produced food that is contaminated with pesticides and chemicals.  Most people really do not want anything to do with GMO food at all.  The more that major corporations force their food production policies upon consumers, the stronger the demand for natural food becomes.  Modern farmers markets offer natural food options that consumers demand.
  
     Variety is the spice of life!  Modern farmers markets do not just offer the limited selection of vegetables and fruit that are found at common grocery stores.  Exotic fruit and vegetables can be found at modern farmers markets for a nice price.  Modern farmers markets are not just a place to buy a cheap bushel of pickling cucumbers, they are a destination for gourmet shoppers.  The photographs above certainly show what kind of selection can be found.

     The Downtown 3rd Farmers Market, Las Vegas!
     The Downtown 3rd Farmers Market is located next door to the Mob Museum in the old public transportation depot.  This market is open every Friday starting at 9:00AM.  Getting to the market early is always a good idea, because some items sell out quickly.  
     There is a nice selection of top quality locally grown, organic, sustainable produce at the Downtown 3rd Farmer's Market.  For those who crave old fashioned country style pickles, relish, jams and jellies, there are vendors at this market who offer nice quality products.  Everybody knows that vendors all have sales pitches to get consumers interested, but the best sales pitch of all is tasting a sample of the product.  One taste is all it takes to make a sale when the product is good.  

     I sampled some pickles that were offered by the Pickled Pantry vendor and their products tasted very nice.  This small batch pickling company also offered some spicy hot pickle products.  They actually had jars of Trinidad Scorpion Pepper Pickled Beets and I could not resist tasting a sample, because I am a hot chile pepper freak.  The spicy pickled beets were tastefully hot and only enough pepper was added to give the beets some character.  Trinidad Scorpion Peppers are the hottest peppers in the world, but when the right amount is added to a recipe, like pickled beets, a rich robust red habanero kind of flavor spreads through the ingredients.  A little bit of this super hot chile pepper breed goes a long way.  

     There was a honey vender on site who offered a wide variety of wildflower raw honey and domesticated flower honey.  Supporting the beekeepers is more important now than ever, because recent findings show that the same corporations who market GMO seed and agrochemicals may be part of the reason why bee populations have sharply declined in recent years.  One fact that will never be dismissed, is that if the bees become extinct, humanity will face extinction shortly after.  
     Honey offers good health and it has medicinal value.  Purchasing honey is not just the health conscious thing to do, it is what is necessary for helping to promote a flourishing bee population. 

     Those who have a sugary sweet tooth have options at this market too.  A vendor next to the honey display was selling old fashioned candies, toffee, fudge and brittle.  The sweet treats all looked really good.  Old fashioned stick candy always looks nice on the table during the holiday season. 
     
     Thanksgiving is just around the corner and many consumers prefer to purchase hand crafted pies, rather than bake their own for family gatherings.  Vickie's Fabulous Fare is a local Las Vegas vendor that markets sweet treats and fine desserts.  I tasted a few of thei cakes and pies while chatting up a storm, like all cooks do.  I was impressed by the quality of the desserts.  The flavors were right on the money and the textures were as they are supposed to be.  One cake that I really liked was the Rosemary Lemon Cake.  A delicate fresh green rosemary flavor could be tasted with every bite.  I have not seen a Rosemary Lemon Cake in over twenty years and I was pleased to see that this classic ckae flavor combination was not a forgotten relic of the past.  
     Vickie's Fabulous Fare also offers nice sweet treats like hand crafted Chocolate Hazelnut Spread.  Fans of "Nutella" know what this spread is, but those who buy mass produced commercial quality spreads really are not getting the best quality for their dollars spent.  Hand crafted Chocolate Hazelnut Spread has a much better flavor and texture.  One taste is all it takes to notice the difference.
     During the next few days, when people go on a holiday cake and pie shopping spree, many sources of fine baked goods will sell everything they have to offer in a short amount of time.  Not being able to land a good pie for the holiday dinner table can lead to a frustrating moment.  I have mentioned a few good holiday pie sources in recent weeks.  Since I recently found out about Vickie's Fabulous Fare, viewers in Las Vegas now have another option.  Vickies Fabulous Fare vends their products at the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market on Fridays and they also market their desserts Wednesdays at the Indoor Swap Meet at Decatur and Oakey. 

     Fresh baked artisan bread and cookies are more items that are in demand during the holiday season.  I chatted briefly with the Great Harvest Bread Company vendor and fount out that this bakery supplied the Las Vegas Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts College with bread that was used in cooking classes.  Specific kinds of bread are not always made by students on a daily basis, because such a wide variety of dessert making is taught in the Baking and Pastry course of study.  Nobody turns the ovens on when the class is learning how to make ice cream!  Outside baked good sources are necessary for a chef school to have and the lead chefs select the best sources.  
     I sampled a variety of savory and sweet bread.  One sample of a dark ginger spice bread really caught my attention.  This sweet tasting bread really had a nice aroma and the flavor was well balanced.  The savory bread samples exhibited high quality standards and there was no amateurish tunneling holes from over-mixing or lack of proper kneading time.  The Great Harvest Bread Company products were consistent and well crafted.  This bread vendor is at the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market on Fridays and they have two bakery locations in this city.  One site is at 6475 North Decatur near the 215 Beltway and the other bakery shop is at 4800 East Bonanza Road by the intersection of Nellis.    

     Just like many farmers markets that are located on travel routes or near tourist destinations, the downtown farm stand has more than just food vendors.  Artisan crafts, semiprecious gems, crystals, beads, Native American jewelry, hand crafted soaps, incense and natural cosmetics are just a few of the interesting products that are offered.  Local chefs do cooking demonstrations at the local farm markets and they often feature food items that spectators are not familiar with.  Kitchen equipment vendors market old fashioned cast iron pans and modern electric utensils.  
     Food trucks frequent the grounds and they serve up some trendy popular offerings.  Healthy food was was offered by the Abdoo's Fresh Mediterranean vendor while I was at the market and Haloumi looked tempting.  Ready to eat hot or cold entrees are available at this market and this is good for lunch break shoppers.
     I had a nice conversation with a lady from Germany who was selling hand crafted soaps and natural cosmetics.  She also had a line of tasty fresh dips and condiments.  Sin City Sue's had a really nice selection of crystals, semiprecious gems and hand crafted jewelry.  Indian Soul Art offered Native American Jewelry and interesting decorations.  All of the non-food products drew interest from shopper passing by and the vendors were fun to chat with.  Swap meet style vendors do make use of persistent tactful sales techniques, so be ready to strike up a bargain!

     I definitely recommend doing the Friday food shopping at the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market in Las Vegas!  By supporting the local farm markets, consumers are supporting local farmers, organic food production and sustainability.  These are all good causes and there is nothing better than guilt free dining!  Yum!       

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pinko Lemonade! - Las Vegas Distillery Booze Brothers Vodka


"Pinko Lemonade?"

     Sophisticated tastes? ... Bah!  Wine snobbery? ...  Bah!  Scotch hierarchy? ...  Bah!  Just forget about all the junk that comes with reality belief conditioning, brainwashing and advertising "proper-gander."  Forget about "keeping up with the Joneses" and just concentrate on having a good time!
     Sometimes having fun is all that counts.  When people are in a fun loving mood, there is no use being a sophisticated snobbish "party killer" who does not loosen up the necktie.  Either join in on the fun or go home!  
     
     During the last 25 years, countless cocktail and shooter recipes have been created.  Some are popular for a single day and some remain popular for many years to come.  Many bartenders simply do not pay any attention to the latest cocktail creations.  A lackadaisical attitude is to blame.  
     Many bartenders respond to wild cocktail customer requests by saying that they only pour standard drinks, because keeping up with the latest cocktail recipes is too difficult to do.  "Look Mr Bartender!  If the only color that you sell is gray, then why do you bother to tend bar at all.  Black and white movie reruns sure will not fill the theatre these days."  
     Customer requests at a bar should never be taken lightly.  A customer does not want to hear excuses or dumb elaborate assertions about why the request was denied.  Nobody at a bar wants to hear the stuff that "dear old grandpa" would say, anyway.  Customers do not want to hear negative anally retentive reasoning that amounts to nothing more than a hill of cheap excuses for being a "slacky."  "Get off the broomstick and get with the groove!"  
     Bartending is part of the entertainment industry.  A good suggestion for lackluster bartenders is to with the program and mix what the customer wants!  Better still, anticipate what the customer wants and create something even more exciting!  Entertain!
     I did not get perfect "A" grades in Psychology, Beverage Management, Dining Room Management and Restaurant Management classes in college by studying black and white print.  I achieved those high grades by presenting good ideas for research paper hypothesis, which were based upon insight gained during a long hospitality industry career.  I have seen every possible mistake that bar owners, bar managers and bartenders make during my career.  Many of the mistakes that are made behind a bar, directly affect customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.  The performance level of the crew behind the bar, directly affects customer flow and sales.
     A great lounge has bartenders who know endless cocktail recipes by heart and their mixology skills are beyond perfection.  A great bar is hoppin' because the patrons are entertained.  Good bars have regular loyal customers, because the customer satisfaction level is high.  
     Making changes that result in higher standards of excellence behind the bar does not justify higher prices.  High standards of excellence should have been part of the bar management program in the first place.  
     Great bartenders are not easy to find, because 99 times out of 100, a talented bartender already has a great job.  Discussing job applicant screening and employee recruiting in this article could fill volumes, that could be better learned in a formal culinary arts school program.  One thing that is certain, "there is no use kicking a dead horse."  There are bad reasons why some bartenders float from job to job and never remain for more than a short time.  Hiring a fresh new face, who has no motivation problem and who has great customer service skills, is often a better choice than hiring a experienced bartender "who has more baggage than what can be crammed in the trunk of a Cadillac taxi cab." 
     
     Anyway, so much for briefly delving into the beverage management arena.  Now it is time to get back to the party.  Party drinks tend to be simple drinks that are made with a trendy liquor brand names.     
     The vodka drinking crowd can be defined as two kinds of people.  Steadfast traditionalists and those who prefer what is en vogue.  Steadfast traditional vodka drinkers prefer classic Russian wheat grain vodka.  Those who drink vodka that is en vogue, seem to prefer trendy vodka brand names that their peers prefer.  It may be Finnish vodka one year and it may be French vodka for the next three years.  Popular vodka brand names come and go, but only traditional Russian vodka remains on the "top ten best vodka list" year after year.  
     Traditional Russian vodka is what I prefer.  I also like well crafted vodkas that are modeled after classic Russian vodka.  The Las Vegas Distillery makes an excellent Russian style wheat grain vodka that has a crisp well defined flavor.  Some say that vodka is a neutral grain spirit, but a hint of wheat can be tasted in top quality vodka.  The Las Vegas Distillery "Nevada Vodka" is made with organic wheat that is grown in Northern Nevada.  Great care is taken to harvest the wheat when it achieves a peak flavor.  
     The Nevada Vodka was one of the first products that the Las Vegas Distillery made.  Because it was a vodka, it was open to criticism by vodka experts.  Vodka experts do like the "Nevada Vodka" and in my opinion, it is the best vodka that is made in America.  Russian vodka drinkers would like this vodka, because it is like the old traditional Russian vodka from years gone by.  Those who prefer en vogue vodka, will just have to wait for this vodka to become popular with their peers, before jumping on the bandwagon. 
     Booze Brothers Beverages is a distribution company that is connected to the Las Vegas Distillery.  As part of promoting Booze Brothers Beverages, the Las Vegas Distillery did a production run of one liter premium vodka bottles with a Booze Brothers label.  The Las Vegas Distillery Booze Brothers Vodka is a grain vodka that has the same high quality standards as their Nevada Vodka product, but it is sold at a much cheaper promotional price.  
     
     Booze Brothers Vodka is perfect for mixing fun vodka cocktails.  One of the simplest modern vodka cocktails is a White Shark.  A White Shark is lemonade and vodka served over ice.  There really is no official name for a pink lemonade and vodka cocktail other than Pink Lemonade, Hard Pink Lemonade or Russian Pink Lemonade. 
     Since the Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi) represented classic blues, rhythm & blues, soul and old school timeless values, paralleling those timeless traditions with the high standards of the Las Vegas Distillery Booze Brothers Vodka production was well within order.  
     During the Blues Brothers heyday, the word "Pinko" was a derogatory description that referred to an American suspected of being a communist sympathizer.  In the old days, a customer who drank Russian vodka in an all American patriotic small town corner tavern was subject to being looked upon as being a pinko.  
     When Russian American relations eased up after the old "Iron Curtain" became rusty, every American and their mother seemed to prefer Russian vodka.  Words like "Pinko" started to become a thing of the past.  In recent modern times, the word "Pinko" seems to only be used in comical situations.  Calling an American a pinko now results in a reaction of someone saying "Oh yeah!  I remember those days!"  Then some laughter starts after somebody mentions "Archie Bunker" or something.  The use of the word pinko has taken a lighter turn.  
     Blues Brothers, Booze Brothers, Russia, Pink Lemonade and Vodka add up to one good name for a classic pink lemonade and vodka cocktail.  Pinko Lemonade!  Da, Comrade!  Prost!  
     Just be sure not to forget the teeny little umbrella garnish out of respect for the original Blues Brothers.  By the way, a Pinko Lemonade is excellent when paired with Canned Cheese Whiz and Crackers!  Yum!  ...  Shawna   

Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013 World Food Championships - Fremont Street, Las Vegas!



     The slide show above features many of the 2013 World Food Championship events that took place Saturday afternoon!

     The World Food Championship is currently taking place on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.  The event was scheduled November 7th through the 10th.  Food fans in Las Vegas still have a chance to see the final round of the competition today, when the finalists compete for top prize awards!
     The World Food Championship venue consists of competitive events in practically every food category.  Some of the featured events that took place Saturday afternoon were the World BBQ Championship, World Chili Cook Off and the World's Best Recipe Competition.  There were intense "Food Fight" events happening on the Fremont Street Experience stages.  The Food Fights featured dueling chefs competing head to head for top honors.
   
     Bacon was the word of the day!  Every event that featured a bacon recipe competition drew large crowds of bacon fans.  Wright Brand has been in the bacon business since 1922 and this company sponsored many bacon cooking demonstrations.  Bacon fanatic spectators were all over the opportunity to taste the freshly cooked bacon samples.
     One of the Wright Brand cooking demonstration tents that drew plenty of attention was operated by fellow students and faculty from Le Cordon Bleu of Las Vegas.  Being one of the alumni of this culinary arts college does have its benefits.  After showing my student ID card, I was allowed to photograph the action that took place in the Ultimate Bacon Experience event tent.
     The news media and television network crews were doing their Ultimate Bacon Experience chef interviews, while chowing down on every tasting sample in sight!  The Le Cordon Bleu team offered food creations that were practically irresistible.  Brownies, Blondies and Hickory Smoked Bacon Bread Pudding were some of the popular offerings.  The hickory smoked bacon gave the bread pudding a nice aromatic savory flavor.  After tasting the Hickory Smoked Bacon Bread Pudding, my first thought was that this unique creation could potentially cause severe bacon addiction.  To be honest, bacon addiction is an accurate description, because every taste tester in the Ultimate Bacon Experience tent was asking for seconds and thirds!  The Le Cordon Bleu -Write Brand "Ultimate Bacon Experience" definitely took top billing at the World Food Championship!

     After regaining serenity and overcoming the bacon addiction, checking out the Chili World Championship and BBQ World Championship was next on the agenda.  Competitors from coast to coast set up shop, with the hope of landing the top awards.  Chili cook off competitors are an eccentric breed of people who really know how to put on a show.  There was no shortage of spicy entertainment in the chili cook area, but there was an intentional shortage of beans.  Nearly every chili champ will proudly say that great chili is made with meat and beans are really nothing more than an optional additive.  There was not one bean in sight at this event!
     Barbecue competitors sure can have some fierce intimidating looks and the slideshow photographs of the BBQ World Championship certainly demonstrate this fact.  There were some seriously big and tough "Good Old Boys" competing for first place honors.  Some of the funniest slogans and signs can be seen where BBQ competitors set up their shops.  I have been involved with pro BBQ Rib Tour teams in the past and I can vouch for how crazy BBQ folks can be.  Sampling the BBQ at the World Food Championship was one of the highlights of this sunny afternoon in Las Vegas. 

     Sponsors and vendors are an important part of any organized food competition event.  From one end of Fremont Street to the other, plenty of culinary eye candy could be seen in the vendor tents at the World Food Championships.  Most of the wares, products and services that were marketed by vendors can be seen in the World Food Championship slide show above.
     Interaction with vendors is important for executive chefs to do.  I made a point to chat with vendors, so that I could gather more details about the products that were being marketed.  Many of these products just might interest viewers.  Here is a list of some interesting vendor and sponsor hyperlinks that I gathered at the event:

2013 World Food Championships
Le Cordon Bleu
Wright Brand - Bacon & Sausage
Sam's Club
Chili Rocks
Cookina - Non Stick Baking Sheets
Maple Leaf Farms Duck
Dole - Fruit Products
• National Cattlemen's Beef Association
Bar Magazine
Grillbot - Automatic Robot Grill Cleaner
Hammer Stahl Cutlery
Galaxy Outdoor - Custom Kitchens
Kansas City Barbeque Society
The Beef Jerky Store
• The American Grill Master Experience
   
     The World Food Championships provide good entertainment for people of all ages.  Overall, I really had a good time at this event yesterday.  The final rounds of the competition are going on today and the sunny 70º weather looks like it will continue.
     I highly recommend attending the World Food Championships in person!  For those who are not able to be in Las Vegas this weekend, information about the television coverage is available at the World Food Championships website or at their Facbook page.  Yum!  ...  Shawna

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cilantro Red Bell Pepper Stuffed Baked Potato




     Nobody ever said that a baked stuffed potato has to look like a moronic sloth made the thing.  Nobody ever said that all baked stuffed potatoes must taste the same.  Just because stuffed potatoes are called twice baked potatoes, it does not mean this vegetable side dish must look like a salvaged leftover baked potato.
     Today's stuffed potato recipe is an elegant departure from the norm.  First of all, it is not made with a leftover baked potato, so it is not twice baked.  

     Potato Barrel Cup:
     Select a large, wide, round russet potato.
     Peel the potato and place it in a container of water, so oxidation does not occur.  
     Cut off the ends, so the large middle section is about 3 1/2 inches long.
     Carve the potato section, so it look like a uniform round smooth barrel shape.
     Use a channeling tool to cut evenly spaced vertical grooves on the barrel.  The grooves will create highlights that resemble slats and the slats should be about 1/4" wide.   
     Use a melon balling tool to hollow out the cup.  The walls of the cup should be about 1/4" thick.      
     Place the finished potato barrel in the container of water.
     Gather the potato scraps and place them in a small sauce pot.

     Cilantro Red Bell Pepper Potato Stuffing:
     Cover the potato scraps in the sauce pot with water.
     Boil potato scraps over medium high heat, till they become very tender.
     Drain off the water.
     Place the potato scraps in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced bermuda onion.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced red bell pepper.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced cilantro.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of ground chile guajillo.
     Add kosher salt and black pepper.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of soft unsalted butter.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of sour cream.
     Mash and whisk the mixture, till it becomes a smooth medium stiff texture.  Add a little bit more sour cream, if the mixture looks dry.
     Place the potato stuffing in a star tipped pastry bag and set it aside.     

     Cilantro Red Bell Pepper Stuffed Baked Potato:
     Dry off the water on the potato barrel.
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
     Add potato barrel cup. 
     Sauté till light golden highlights appear on the cup.  
     Place the potato cup on a wire screen roasting rack on a roasting pan.
     Use the star tipped pastry bag to pipe the stuffing into the potato cup.  Continue piping stuffing in a circular motion and form a nice looking conical peak.  
     Baked in a 350º oven, till the potato cup becomes fully cooked and light brown highlights appear on both the potato barrel and stuffing.
     Allow the stuffed potato to cool to a safe serving temperature.  
     Serve the Cilantro Red Bell Pepper Stuffed Baked Potato immediately as a side dish with an entree or keep it warm on a stove top. 

     Viola!  A nice looking tasty stuffed potato!
     After honing French precision knife skills and garnishing tool skills, it is easy to make several of these stuffed potatoes at a time.  Yum!  ...  Shawna