June 28, 2010

Killing Them Softly at Redrum

20 minutes into the drive, I felt my stomach begin to grumble. What must have been a 10 mile drive felt like a mission to the moon. My belly, who shall be known as Hidalgo, cried from its depths in complete and misled hunger…yearning, desiring, longing for that instant satisfaction to be filled with the lies I’ve been feeding it.

“Graaalalalaghghgggh…” translated to, “Please sir, you must believe me, I need sustenance, I need…I NEED…I need Murder Burger.”

“Quiet you fool! You get salad and carrots and watuh!!!!” Little did Hidalgo know I was already on my way to satisfy my craving with old habits instead of the usual grilled chicken, salad, almonds or whatever healthier alternatives I’ve been feasting on lately.

For days, this was the relationship between my stomach and my will power, the battle between craving and self-control. This was Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior, David vs. Goliath, Megatron vs. Prime. This was the never-ending clash between good and evil.

The time was now, the decision on a whim. Satisfaction was destined to be. By the final turn into the parking lot, my sebaceous glands lost control and I felt like my late and dear old friend Chavez waiting for a patty to drop from the grill in a display of patience and drool only a dog can exhibit.

Immediately upon entry I am greeted with the delightfully overwhelming aroma of freshly seasoned ground beef on the flat top waiting to be embraced by warm buttery buns. Once my eyes regain focus after a momentary lapse of my senses, I notice the d├ęcor. Typical diner adornments: Gottfried Helnwein's painting Boulevard of Broken Dreams, dust coated Murder Burger shirts, aged awards from the good old days and of course, hand written notices of today’s specials.

As I made the trek to the counter, the eyes of James Dean himself follow me and transmitted a subliminal message. White noise, I swear. “Get the ½ pound kid…with cheddar and all the trimmin’s. And wash it down with a Diet Coke.” Good lookin’ out snake.

And I do just that: half-pound burger with cheddar and all the trimmings, 86 mayo, fresh cut fries and a diet coke to let Hidalgo know that he can’t have it all.

Upon arrival, I scramble to find the first bite. A burger six inches in diameter and with the mass of 8 ounces of beef deserves the appropriate amount of time to determine where the point of attack will take place. Indeed I find it and the rush begins.

Oh the burger was fresh. By my experience, I know these burgers are not frozen. Great pick Dean, this burger was seasoned well enough, adding a subtle edge of savory flavor to mesh with the surprisingly lightly greased beef patty. I’ve come to expect flavors to be disguised by loads of grease at these types of joints. It was a pleasant surprise to experience otherwise. Accompanied by the perfect medley of medium-sharp cheddar cheese, sliced tomatoes, red onions, pickle chips and crisp lettuce, this burger deserved to be nestled between a warm and flaky buttery roll. It was a great team effort by all players involved.

My experience was fine at Murder Burger, now called Redrum Burger. I didn’t wait painstakingly long for my food. The building was cozy and welcoming. The diner feel was legit. And the food was tasty to say the least.

All great things to say, yes, but my quest still continues for the best burger of my life. Who will knock out MendoBurger, the current champion from Mendocino? Murder Burger, you put up a valiant effort and I acknowledge your stab at it, but I must say, you did not take the title for best burger in my book. Look at the bright side though, you most definitely without a doubt beat Squeeze Inn.

And so it goes one more burger joint for the books. Let it be known! Salads cannot stand in between me and my lifelong passion for a delicious burger! It just won’t happen no matter how strong my will power is.

There are others out there. For this reason, the quest continues. Send your suggestions. Show me the burger light. Give me your best.

“I'm not telling you, 'Never eat a hamburger.' Just eat the good ones with real beef, you know, like the ones from that mom-and-pop diner down the street, ... And it's so good that when you take a bite out of that burger, you just know somewhere in the world a vegan is crying.” -Homer Simpson

October 29, 2009

I've Got Worms!

So I don't know what the deal is, but it is getting a little carried away. Is there some sort of insect faction against me? Do they have secret bug meetings underground, fueling a revolution? Do they plot my demise?

First it was the fly in my hot and sour soup. Then it was the worm in my tomatillo. Today, it is a maggot in my FiberONE Oats and Apple Streusal Chewy Bar.

Now I get it. I understand that pests are inevitable. I've encountered plenty in various produce. BUT IN A PREPACKAGED PRODUCT!?!?!?!

I couldn't just let this go, so I took to the web and gave the interns at General Mills a piece of my mind (as politely and professionally as a worm in your chewy bar would allow).


Dear General Mills,

I opened a Fiber ONE Chewy Bar (Oats and Apple Streusel) to have as a snack at work, when I found a maggot crawling out of the bar. I can reason with finding critters in produce, but finding one that is still alive in a packaged product makes me question your sanitation standards. I snapped a picture of the intruder if you'd like to see it. However, I implore you to inspect your products a little closer before sending out.

General Mills:

Dear Mr. Estrada:

Thank you for contacting General Mills regarding your recent disappointment with Fiber One oats and apple streusel bars. We know it would be unpleasant to find insects in any food product and we are sorry you had this experience.

Consumer satisfaction is our main goal, and we set very high standards for every item we produce. In order to achieve these standards, our manufacturing process is designed to eliminate risk of infestation. Although modern processing and packaging methods reduce the possibility of infestation at the plant level, products may be exposed to infestation in transit or during storage. We believe food manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are equally conscientious in protecting the product; however, there are many types of insects that attack foods. In the larvae or adult stage, some can bore their way into tightly sealed packages and enter the product during transportation and storage. Entrance holes are very small and difficult to see. You can be assured that our Quality Department has been notified of your report.

We will be sending an adjustment for your purchase to your mailing address. You should receive it within 15 business days.

We appreciate that you have brought this to our attention. We will carefully review all the information and follow up through all channels of distribution. We hope you will continue to choose our products.


Consumer Services

Ok, ok, ok...they promptly replied to my message, I'll give them that. And chances are, they do have a sanitation and inspection procedure in place. But unless these maggots have little pocket knives, I highly doubt they're able to "bore their way into tightly sealed packages and enter the product during transportation and storage." Sure, don't take responsibility GM. For all I know, you are with the bug revolution that stands against me! Well played bugs...well played.

Bugs: 3 Cresencio: 0

July 6, 2009

Kitchen Confessional #2: Fish Stick Jungle

We’ve all had them at least once, whether it was at a friend’s sleep-over, a local buffet or from the kitchen of our own house. A fish stick and your gullet have had to have met at one point or another. I’d be lying if I said I have never had one or two in my youth.

Yes, in retrospect, they were disgusting. I gag at the thought of having one now, but you know what? This was a time when I agreed that seafood was a food group.

True Story: When I was a young lad, I never closed the door to any food, including fish. Whatever my parents made, shrimp cocktail, grilled shark and swordfish, tuna sandwiches, and yes – fish sticks – I ate.

After a casual afternoon of playing freeze tag with the other neighborhood kids, I was finally summoned to come home and eat dinner with the family. As I walked into the house I was immediately greeted by the aroma of a batter-dipped ocean and French fries.

“Must be fish sticks for dinner,” I thought to myself, “Sweet.”

I pulled up a seat and like clock-work a plate of steaming crispy fish logs and fries warmed my nose. Like always with any dish served with fries, I began with a squirt of ketchup on a designated side of my plate and a sprinkle of pepper. Then, like a test-toe in a hot bath, the first fry went in.

Next, the fish takes a dip. Now mind you, fish sticks were considered to be equivalent to chicken nuggets back then. So just like chicken nuggets, they got the same treatment of being served with ketchup.

I took the first bite and observed the beheaded stick. Steam still flowed out from its depths. Another bite proceeded, then another, and another. Until finally, my plate was clean.

With a belly full of God-knows-what, I went for the Nintendo. Hours pass, levels of Mario, conquered, when suddenly I begin scratching my arms, legs and back, with itching worse than 1000 mosquito bites on top of chicken pox. I started sweating profusely and finally concurred with my body that something was definitely wrong.

“Hives,” my mom said. Then out came the calamine lotion.

Dots of pink charted my body and slowly, the irritation began to cease. Finally, I was able to sit peacefully. From that night forward, I never ate fish sticks again, and to my future’s dismay, I banned everything that lived in the sea as well.

For years later, I stuck with my vow never to eat seafood again. Terrible, right?

I confess that it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I jumped back on the seafood ban-wagon. It was sushi that brought me back; a simple California Roll that reached out and said, “Welcome back old friend…welcome back….AH DON’T EAT ME!!!”

It feels great to be reunited with this food group. There was so much I have missed out on. It almost seemed like a great idea to deprive myself of this treasure from the sea, because when chicken was becoming boring, reacquainting myself with fish opened a new door of flavors and recipe exploration.

Since my recent reunion with seafood, I have developed a divine love for one of my new favorite seafood restaurants, located here in Sacramento.

Pearl on the River. I can’t get enough of the fresh Ahi Tuna, delicious clam chowder, and amazing oysters. To top it off, they are one of the only places that serve my new favorite beer on tap, Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat Ale.

Yes, I’ve gotta say it’s the good life now. No more hives, no more dry heaves at the smell of seafood, no more going hungry at the cocktail party whose hour’dervs only consist of a platter of sushi and jumbo shrimp.

I'm still a bit intimidated by some seafood dishes, but without that fear, it wouldn't be an adventure.

Happy Eats!

(Photos retrieved from donandsheila.com/.../2009/03/fish_sticks.jpg and www.20minutestolessstress.com/nemo%20sushi.jpg)

June 14, 2009

Summer Seasons Yield Tastey Flavors

Sacramento natives can now be reunited with the freshest fruits and vegetables the city has to offer.

The Sacramento Farmers’ Markets are open daily in various locations from May through October, with some open all year long. The scattered locations offer several opportunities to purchase seasonal fruit, vegetables and herbs, as well as artisan breads and fresh cut flowers, straight from the growers.

Each market explodes with vibrant summer colors as this season’s fruits and vegetables come to life with peak ripened flavor. Lloyd Johnson of Lloyd’s Produce offers fresh herbs, peppers, tomatoes and popcorn. Blooming flowers from the Yolo Bulb Farm surround grower Mike Madison’s booth of fig and apricot jams, organic olive oils and ripe melons. Meanwhile, the aroma of fresh strawberries from the local growers at Sebastopol Berry Farm fills the air.

Here’s an easy recipe to use with Sebastopol Berry Farm’s fresh strawberries from the Farmers’ Market to make a tastey summer salad:

Grilled Sirloin Steak and Summer Strawberry Arugula Salad

1 cup sliced Sebastopol Berry Farm’s strawberries

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon white sugar

Pepper to taste

Salt to taste

8oz Top Sirloin

Desired arugula leaves

½ cup candied walnuts or sliced almonds

Shaved parmesan cheese

Yields 2 servings

Heat the grill. Season both sides of steak with salt and pepper to taste and grill 5 to 6 minutes on each side, or to desired doneness. Let sit for 5 minutes, and then slice against the grain.

While you wait for your steak to cool, mix first 4 ingredients in a small bowl. Lay the mix on a bed of arugula and top with candied walnuts or sliced almonds.

Lastly, lay sliced steak on top of salad and top with shaved parmesan cheese.

Sit and enjoy.

For more information on Sacramento Farmers’ Market locations, growers and market times visit http://www.california-grown.com.

June 8, 2009

Picking a ripe Citrullus Lanatus

There is NOTHING better than cutting into a watermelon and getting that initial aroma of sweet melony goodness. Or when you split it open and hear the cracking of the thick green peel to reveal the vibrant fuchsia colors inside. The scent travels as juice escapes from beneath - the more palpable the scent the better the flavor. Care for a piece?

So how do you pick the perfect melon? Some people try their luck with a pick-and-go method. They would literally find the watermelons, randomly pick one, and go. It’s like a drive by watermelon-napping. I’ve actually seen a person pick one up and shake one. Some people lack the confidence to pick and just grab the pre-cut, pre-packaged watermelon. Pitiful, to say the least.

What I am about to reveal has been a long-time family secret handed down from generation to generation. My mother knew it, my grandmother knew it, and my great grandmother new it. Now I know it and I would like to share it with anyone who wants a tasty watermelon.

When picking the right melon one should:

First check its shape. Symmetry is the key.

Pay attention to its weight. Watermelons are mostly water so a heavier melon means a juicier melon.

Press the skin of the watermelon in various places of its surface. A good melon will not have any soft spots. Get one that’s as hard as a rock.

Notice the color. A darker green color outside offers a sweeter melon.

Also look for unusual blood-like markings, mold and rot. Obviously avoid thes melons. Check out The Rhetoric of Rhubarb for an interesting piece on Vampire Watermelons.

To check for ripeness, look for the sweet spot. Search for a yellow spot on the melon. This is where it sat during its growth period. The yellowish color indicates ripeness.

Lastly, go Matthew McConaughey on it and smack it like it’s a bongo drum. Listen for an empty drum-like sound. Like a *Toom-Toom* sound. If it just makes a dense thud sound, drop it like it’s hot and pick another.

That’s it, simple enough. Now you know the family secret. With it, you should be able to pick a ridiculously delicious watermelon for all to enjoy, just on time for the summer.

June 1, 2009

A Marriage of Tangerine and Hops

Back and side go bare, go bare,
Both foot and hand go cold;
But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,
Whether it be new or old.
--Bishop Still (John)

A new beer has emerged from the tedium of American corporate beer drinking society.

Behold, Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat Ale.

A beer best served on tap, but also great from the bottle. It offers a crisp citrus taste with a nice cool feeling of refreshment. Orange in appearance and a mild tangerine aroma, this beer would go harmoniously well with seafood, barbeque or simply by itself.

Look out for Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat Ale to hit the shelves soon and sell out in local restaurants. If it follows suit like its distinct predecessors, it should be in line to win many awards.

Lost Coast Brewery Brewmasters Barbara Groom and Wendy Pound have been making exceptionally distinguishing beers for over 20 years from the cool climate of Eureka, Ca. The demand for their award winning ales has made them the 46th largest brewery in the country and is sold in 19 states.

From their Downtown Brown and Pale Ale, Gold Medal winners at the World Beer Championship, to their Alley Cat Amber and 8-Ball Stout, also award winners, not only are they distinct in flavor and complexity, they are eye catching in character and art.

Tangerine Wheat is one of many citrus ales that is gaining popularity in the microbrewing culture. Its debut effect mimics the introduction of the incredibly trendy Blue Moon with its unique flavor and refreshing quench. Enjoy one soon to see what all the fuss is about.


May 27, 2009

As Green as it Gets

Pay close attention next time you’re prepping food, you may not be alone. Cooking with organic produce can be great for the body. Growers don’t use pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. There are no genetic modifications or variations. They offer more intense flavors and contain higher contents of vitamins and minerals - not to mention the societal and environmental benefits. However, there sometimes comes a point when "going green" can be too green. Fortunately, it’s not as bad as you might think.

Recently, I prepared a savory Chili Verde, a dish that requires tomatillos. When choosing tomatillos, you typically want to see a light to medium green color inside and out. Those showing a yellow to purplish tint on the surface indicate over-maturity and produce a sweeter flavor, which some might prefer.

The tomatillos I was preparing looked great. I peeled the husks, rinsed and scrubbed their sticky jade surfaces, and began halving for the food processor. I thought I was alone in the kitchen when I noticed a small hole in the largest of the tomatillo batch. I examined the opening, checking for freshness. When suddenly, as if being summoned from a knock at the door, out pops the little head of a plump green caterpillar. I'm sure the intruder did not appreciate my photo snapping.

Although I was not too surprised to see the visitor, I was not about to use the contaminated tomatillo in my Chili Verde. I can only imagine what that would do to the flavor. You can bet I quartered the rest of my batch after the discovery to avoid any more extra ingredients.

So next time you're strolling the aisles or visiting your Farmer's Market, make sure you examine your produce closely before you purchase. And when you are ready to cook, wash thoroughly, check for unusual marks, holes, or bacteria, and don’t freak out if you see an unwelcomed guest. They need to eat too. It’s a small price to pay to reap the benefits of growing and consuming organically grown fruits and veggies.

Safe eating my friends.