Category Archives: Food

Recipe: Senate Gruel

A little over a decade ago, I was a fresh-out-of-college kid working the front desk in a Senate office and someone new to “the South.”

Having been used to staying up late at the bar where I had previously worked, coming into the office for an 8:00 a.m. shift was a drastic lifestyle change for me. So, making breakfast was a bit of an afterthought, as I had just hoped to get into the office by at least 7:45 so I could get the office up and running.

Luckily, the U.S. Senate has a cafeteria that’s open early. Before it was privatized, it had a decent buffet for breakfast but with a largely southern flair. Which is where I began my appreciation of grits.

One morning I decided to add some corned beef hash (a favorite of my grandpa’s) to the mix. Then I started adding hot sauce… lots of Texas Pete.

After a few breakfasts I started mixing it all together and calling it the “Senate Gruel.”

It looks disgusting. It’s terrible for you. It is delicious.

Periodically, I make it at home and wanted to share the recipe with you.

Serving Size: One

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 can of corned beef hash
  • 1 serving of grits (usually 3 tbsp of the instant grits)
  • 1 slice American cheese (can use cheddar but it gets stringy)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp of butter or margarine
  • 4 tbsp of Texas Pete hot sauce

Prep:

  1. In cast iron skillet, fry the hash until crispy. (The Senate baked theirs in a tray… which is more time consuming but good for large amounts.)
  2. In a pot, cook the instant grits.
  3. On a plate, place the slice of American cheese on the plate.
  4. Place the grits over the cheese and add butter, salt, and pepper.
  5. Add the corned beef hash, hot sauce, more salt and pepper.
  6. Mix thoroughly.

Good Night, Habanero Ranch

My favorite McNugget dipping sauce is being put out to pasture, at least locally. After securing my six free McNuggets from a recent Nationals win, I was told they’d no longer be carrying the deliciously spicy habanero ranch dipping sauce.

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So, if you’re out in the DMV and can score some habanero ranch in the coming days, be sure to say goodbye.

I asked McDonald’s about my habanero ranch reserve and how long I could sit on it. I’ll update if they reply.

RIP, habanero ranch. You’ll be missed.

UPDATE:

Around the same time, film maker and activist Michael Moore confirmed that he is a Cheetos neocon:

UPDATE 2: Caleb Brown shares this appropriate song for remembrance:

Friday Brunch Burger

At my place of employment, we put out a magazine once a week. And those of us who work on the production side have to stay there pretty late getting it to the printer. Like 1 a.m. late. And then there’s all of the little tasks you have to accomplish after everything has been sent where it needs to go.

As a result, you’ll get home after 1, and since you’re already caffeinated, after an episode of Jeopardy! and the Blacklist, it’ll be 3 before you’re asleep.

So, on Fridays. You sleep in. You’re groggy. When you wake up, you want comfort food.

Here’s my latest creation, the Friday Brunch Burger.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Egg
  • Powdered seasoning of choice (Old Bay, Tony Chachere’s, Lawry’s, Cavender’s, etc.)
  • 1 Hamburger Patty (or fresh ground beef equivalent.)
  • 1 slice American Cheese
  • Ciabatta Bun
  • 1 tsp Buffalo Wing Sauce (Hot sauce is OK as a substitute.)
  • 1 tsp Steak Sauce (A1 or similar.)

Directions:

  1. Toast the ciabatta bun in a toaster or toaster oven while frying the egg in a skillet. Season egg appropriately.
  2. Place the cheese on the fried egg and set on a plate.
  3. Fry up the burger and season appropriately.
  4. Mix Buffalo and Steak sauce in cup while frying burger.
  5. When complete, stack together, pour on the sauce, and enjoy.

Yes, my wife is out of town and has no idea this is what I like to do on Fridays when she travels.

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Recipe: Red Hot Riplets Chicken

During our first married Christmas, Mary and I brought back a bag of Saint Louis’s famous Red Hot Riplets chips back home to enjoy. As far as chips go, these are some of the best in the country, so we always bring some back. Unfortunately, we thought the bag was partially crushed on the last leg — the drive from Cleveland to Washington.

Mary was sad that the chips might have been destroyed. So, I suggested we use it to coat some chicken breasts and bake them in the oven. Tonight we opened the bag to find them unharmed (the air saved them) but went forward anyway.

Here was the delicious result:

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Ingredients

* 2 eggs, beaten
* 1/2 big bag of Old Vienna LLC’s Red Hot Riplets (Order online)
* 2 large chicken breasts, halved into four pieces.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven.
2. Beat eggs in mixing bowl.
3. Crush to desired texture 1/2 bag of Riplets.
4. Toss individually with care and place on Pam’d, tinfoil-covered tray.
5. Bake at 375º for about 40 minutes, or until fully cooked and serve.

Buying Local and Foraging to the Extreme

foragingI have nothing against the “buy local” crowd, the foraging crowd, or the urban gardening crowd per se.  I have no problems with people liking each of the concepts. My complaints and problems with each of the groups stem from absurd and cult-like adherence to each dogma as if it were its own religion, forced on others, or taken to the extreme.

While buying local might be worse for the environment in some cases, or more expensive than mass-produced items shipped from a distance, people should be free to pursue the best course of action they see fit. Even if it means more harm to the environment and their wallet. Urban foraging, provided you’re not stealing from your neighbor — like chefs in local-food-crazed Portland are doing — is a little weird, but if that’s what you want to do, fine.

This recent story I read in Bloomberg Businessweek is an extreme example in buying local, urban gardening and foraging craze — or as I call it, going Authentically Amish (with apologies to the local furniture store.) A half hour outside of Albany, NY is Earlton. Here, there is a restaurant with a five-year waiting list.

The restaurant with the longest waiting list, five-years to be precise, is a small, nondescript, 12-table basement located in Earlton, N.Y ., named simply enough Damon Baehrel after its owner and chef. Its guests come from 48 countries and include such celebrities as Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart and Barack Obama himself. However what makes Baehrel’s restaurant the most exclusive restaurant in the world is not the decor, nor the patrons, some who fly overnight from Manhattan to pay $255 for dinner (before wine and tip), nor the hype (although all the advertising is through word-of-mouth), but the food, which is all cultivated, grown, prepared, cooked and served from and on the property, and where Baehrel is literally the only employee. “I’m the chef, the waiter, the grower, the forager, the gardener, the cheesemaker, the cured-meat maker, and, as I will explain, everything comes from this 12-acre property.”

By that math, if this restaurant is open five days a week, with 12 tables and two people at each averaging $255 a head, Mr. Baehrel is raking in close to $1.5 million a year.

Bloomberg notes that it’s about half that, but still:

This hyperlocal, hyperunderground strategy is paying off. Baehrel won’t provide exact numbers but says he serves a few thousand guests each year and generates annual revenue of at least $750,000.

For foodies, visiting the so-called “Michael Jordan” of the movement has to be a big treat. There are similar restaurant concepts here in Washington.

But it is a cautionary tale of foodie-ism taken to the extreme. A five year waiting list? Must be nice if your last name is Baehrel, but to those wanting to go to a nice restaurant, pay a more modest price, and not have to wait five years, it’s good that the market offers other options.

The world would look a lot more like this if the extremist-type locovores were able to impose their whims on the rest of us, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. More likely, the locovores wage smaller, more winnable battles. And what start out as suggestions often become requirements later.

If you are among the Manhattan elite and can afford to pay and wait for such food, I hope it’s worth the wait. And to some, I’m sure it is. Nobody should begrudge Baehrel his success in offering something that clearly has high demand.

As for me, I’m happy to get my corn from where it’s most efficient to grow corn, beef from where it’s best to raise cattle, and my high-fructose corn syrup from the plant best able to deliver a quality product to the Coca Cola bottler near me. Or Mexican coke with that cane sugar. Delicious imports.

So long as the market isn’t unduly inhibited by regulations, locovores and free traders should both be able to enjoy the fruits of the harvest in harmony. bsig

 

The Sriracha Story … How Will It End?

The timing for Griffin Hammond’s documentary on Sriracha sauce couldn’t be better. More on that in a bit. This holiday season, I highly recommend this 33 minute documentary, which you can buy for $5 on his site. Put it on a flash drive, tape it to a Sriracha bottle, and give it to a loved one as a stocking stuffer.

My only complaint is that I wish it were longer and included the current fight over the ability of Huy Fong to sell its products.

Fans of the sauce will especially love the film, and those who can’t stand anything spicy will still find the story of it fascinating.

Hammond tells the story of one of America’s favorite hot sauces with a cult-like following from a societal perspective, from that of David Tran, the Huy Fong company’s founder, and from a historical perspective about the sauce’s origins in Thailand. Now, Sriracha isn’t my favorite hot sauce (it’s hard to pick one), but it was one I stupidly avoided at burger joints. I’m happy to admit I am wrong, because this sauce is wonderful.

Just the “how it’s all made” portion of the documentary, which is well-filmed and produced, would be enough to interest me. Hammond bills it as “The origin story of an iconic hot sauce, finally revealed.” He’s not lying.

Tran, the founder of the most known version of the Sriracha-type chili sauce (with a green cap and a rooster on it), came to the U.S. by way of Hong Kong after the fall of Saigon. As an ethnic Chinese man, he wasn’t really welcome in Vietnam after it went communist.

hf2Tran got out of Vietnam on a boat. When the British told the boat to turn back, it stayed there for a month. The British relented, and Tran made his way to America as a refugee.

In 1980, he founded his company, selling his version of the Sriracha sauce in the Chinatown neighborhood in LA to local restaurants. The company’s name?  Huy Fong — the name of the ship that saved him from communism and a society that didn’t welcome him.

He has never marketed his sauce, though fans appear eager to do so for him — including the webcomic The OatmealTran seems more interested in bringing his product to the masses.

Much success has come to David Tran and his chili sauce factory. His former factory was once a Wham-o factory that made frisbees and hula-hoops, but demand grew too much. So, in 2010, he arranged for a bigger factory — a few times the size of his old one — in nearby Irwindale. In 2012, he sold 20 million bottles of the stuff.

In the making of chili, during the fall harvest, the peppers need to be pureed and mixed with other inputs at the most ripe point, when they are red. So, for much of the ripe-times for these chilis, the Huy Fong plant excretes a delicious chili aroma. Then it’s aged and stored before it is bottled and sent out.

Irwindale’s citizens, fewer than 30 of the city’s 1,400 residents– including a city councilman’s son — complained about the chili odor. And because of this, the city sued, saying the smell of chili was a “public nuisance.” This, after Tran and Huy Fong installed filters not once, but twice in response to complaints. The South Coast Air Quality Management District visited numerous times, but didn’t cite Huy Fong for violations.

Tran won the first round, but on appeal, the city won — even though the judge said there was a “lack of credible evidence” tying health problems to the factory’s smell — on the public nuisance complaint. For now, it doesn’t matter that much until next fall, since the harvest is over. The fight, though, isn’t.

According to the LA Times, some of the closest neighbors to the plant, however, fail to see what the problem is:

Sal Hernandez, a 75-year-old former Irwindale councilman who lives on Azusa Canyon Road, just a few houses from the Huy Fong plant, said he has never noticed a smell. He said he was surprised the city went after the maker of Sriracha hot sauce so quickly and aggressively.

“It hasn’t bothered me yet. I haven’t had any effects from it, and I’m right next door to it,” Hernandez said.

A former reserve police officer who has lived in the city for more than 30 years, Hernandez said few people go before the council to complain about the smell from other factories in town – like the huge MillerCoors Brewery or a dog food manufacturer on Arrow Highway.

“Things we should go to court for we don’t, and for this thing, we’re taking [the Sriracha company] to court,” he said. “I’m surprised. They were praising this thing before they even came in. Everyone was praising it.”

Praising it, indeed. The city even went out of its way to attract those Huy Fong jobs, offering a really good loan for a small town that, when you think about it, is kind of nuts.

The LA Times reports:

Huy Fong Foods decided to locate its factory in Irwindale three years ago when the city offered a loan with “irresistible” terms: pay only interest for 10 years, with a balloon payment at the end.

Huy Fong took the loan and contributed $250,000 a year to the city of Irwindale each year as part of the deal, Tran said. The company then built a $40-million factory that at full capacity could generate about $300 million a year in sales, according to Tran’s statements.

But after complaints about the smell began last year, Tran said he began to get an “odd feeling” about the city’s behavior. In response, the company has taken out a loan with less favorable terms from East West Bank to pay off the city’s loan.

Could Irwindale be suffering from buyer’s remorse? Perhaps. The town with 1,400 people did offer to front a loan for Huy Fong similar to the interest only mortgages popular before the housing crash in exchange for jobs and commerce, which seems like a bad idea. Tran’s premonition led him to pay off the loan early, like some TARP recipients did in the wake of the financial crisis when the Treasury imposed special regulations on loan recipients.

Or is Irwindale angling for a settlement deal? Also possible.

The city could be taking action for all 20-some citizens who have a problem with the plant, though based on former councilman Hernandez’s comments, the city’s actions seem strange — like that of a spurned crazy ex-girlfriend.

One thing is for sure, taking loans from the government may save you money up front, but the special terms of the deal often appear after you’ve signed on the dotted line, as seems to be the case here.

Tran looks like he is taking this personally. He put up a big banner that reads “NO TEAR GAS MADE HERE” and hung it out in front of his factory. The sign gives the impression Tran plans to fight this in court, but the company is largely keeping quiet.

Los Angeles County, where Irwindale is located, has a higher than average unemployment rate — 9.5% as of October. Like the Dollar Shave Club commercial says, “I’m no Vanderbilt but this train makes hay” — Tran’s brought commerce to Irwindale, but do they really want this litigious NIMBY reputation? It doesn’t appear the city has put much thought to the trade offs such a lawsuit brings.

If Irwindale’s sudden and bizarre reversal weren’t enough for Huy Fong, the state of California has made matters worse.

According to a report by ABC News:

The Southern California-based maker of Sriracha has been told it can’t ship any more of its popular hot sauce to food distributors until next month because the state Department of Public Health is enforcing stricter guidelines that require a 30-day hold on the product.

Health department spokeswoman Anita Gore told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the 30-day hold is needed to “ensure an effective treatment of microorganisms present in the product.”

The move by the California Department of Health might be seen as suspicious by some, given the timing. But it appears that the regulation that went into effect wasn’t specifically targeted at Huy Fong.

LA Weekly reports that the 30-day requirement “has existed for years but that it was recently modified in a way that now applies specifically to Huy Fong’s hot sauces.” The Department of Health cited federal regulatory law as the justification for the change in their enforcement, despite the sauce being produced there for over 30 years. The regulations were changed in 2011, under the Obama administration, state that companies that deviate from the scheduled process for acidified food must “set aside that portion of the food involved for further evaluation as to any potential public health significance.”

California has stricter rules than the rest of the U.S. for guns, cars,  and apparently, hot sauce.

One wholesaler is very unhappy, telling ABC News that he’s already received 30 angry phone calls — more than the total number of complaints in Irwindale — about the problems it’s causing. Unfortunately for consumers, they don’t have a city to sue on their behalf, only David Tran, Huy Fong Foods and his legal team. The delays, the wholesaler says, could cost him $300,000 in lost business.

Other cities’ officials are trying to lure Tran and his company to relocate to their city. One such place is Philadelphia. While it’s unlikely Huy Fong — which only uses one chili supplier — would ship its chilis across the country in an expedited manner to make their product there, nearby Arizona and Nevada might be a better fit.

In the film, Tran tells us that if people no longer like his product, he’ll stop making it. His product’s popularity isn’t the problem at present — it’s California, and Californians. David Tran waited a month on a ship to escape Vietnam, so Irwindale should expect no lack of patience from him.

I doubt Tran will go full Atlas Shrugged and deny foodies, hipsters, and hot sauce fanatics his great product. But its fans should take notice to see what the NIMBY crowd and regulatory overreach is doing to one of their prize condiments. Don’t expect any hilarious criticisms of regulatory overreach by The Oatmeal.  Unless Tran wins in court, the price of Sriracha is set to rise, or the California label might be coming off the bottle.bsig

Scotland

Tomorrow I am embarking on a trip to the wonderful country* of Scotland. (*Scotland is technically ruled by Her Majesty the Queen, E II R.)

What am I to learn by visiting the land of gingers for my sister’s graduation from St. Andrews? (I know some will ask, much to my consternation, in four years she hasn’t found time to play the Old Course.)

Scotland is home of the famed William Wallace of Braveheart lore, and roughly .59 times the population of New Jersey and slightly smaller than Maine in size.

Yet, Scotland is part of a government that effectively bans Lucky Charms (maybe to spite Ireland?), whereas I am a resident of a country that bans haggis. This should be interesting. In addition to being the home of golf, Scotland is also home to delicious Scotch (I do prefer bourbon) and Adam Smith.

Scotland is also nearing a referendum that might give it independence from the United Kingdom.

I shall keep you updated with dispatches. Stay tuned to this blog for more.

The Walrus Burger

Not sure of the Old Ebbitt Grill people found my comment entertaining or not.

Bloomberg’s Unintended Consequences

Sensible people should be outraged by New York Mayor Bloomberg’s recent nanny state sugar decree.

However, I’d posit there’s a big (largely unreported) unintended consequence: it might make people drink more, not less, sugary drinks. It’s quite simple, actually.

Here’s why:

The “Bloomberg rule” calls for a ban of sugary drink sales for any size of 16 ounces or more. The most common sizes these days are 12 and 20 ounce drinks. Bottles and cans. Most people will order a bottle, while some prefer a can.

Regular bottle drinkers, if relegated to a 15.99 ounce drink might buy two instead of a normal 20 ounce drink. Meaning they’d consume close to 30 ounces, nearly 10 more than they normally would.

Nobody likes obesity, but everybody should love freedom to purchase the drink size of their choice. Maybe that’s just me. 

Crony Capitalism in Saint Louis?

Stl Food Truck Map

See this map? Imagine if you, as a Saint Louisan wanted to get food from delicious food trucks for lunch. Reason informs us:

The text is a little hard to read, so let me help you out. Vendors can’t park in the red parts. Or the blue parts. Or the yellow parts. Also, stay away from hydrants and bus stops.

The Post Dispatch also notes:

City officials emailed a map Thursday to about 20 food-truck owners and operators that details the large portions of downtown that are off-limits for them to park.

The updated map draws a 200-foot no-parking-zone around every brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Downtown Vending District, which runs roughly from 18th Street east to Interstate 70/55 and from Cole Street south to Chouteau Avenue.

The trucks also are not allowed within 200 feet of other types of street vendors or within several blocks of Busch Stadium, America’s Center and the Edward Jones Dome. A previous version of the map included suggested areas where food trucks could park; the new version does not.

In short, Saint Louis has been bought by restaurants who don’t want you to have the choice of food trucks. That’s how I see it. Businesses cozying up with government to stifle competition is crony capitalism, and it is wrong.

SLU Alumni and famed restaurateur, Chris Sommers tells the Post Dispatch:

“Like any new industry or trend, as soon as everyone jumps in, the regulations follow, which often makes sense. In this case, I think the city is over-regulating,” Pi Pizzeria owner Chris Sommers said. “They do need to protect existing businesses, but the 200-foot rule plus the silly Cardinals and Convention Zones are too much.”

Of course, I agree with him that the regulations go too far, but disagree that it’s the role of any government to “protect existing businesses.” Sommers’s politics are a tad different than mine, though.

Sommers’s Pi Pizzeria (which is in DC) also operates food trucks both in Saint Louis and in Washington, D.C. — so for him, he has potentially conflicting interests. 

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Vote and sound off in the comments…

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UPDATE: Thanks to the Show Me Institute  for the link. Check out their story: Papa John’s and The Case of the Over-Regulated Food Trucks