What's Your Ratio?

What's your ratio of having some ill effect from eating at restaurants or food vendors while home or traveling?  My ratio stands about the same for home and travel.  I'm at about 50% or 1 in 2 meals that cause me gastrointestinal issues.  Am I hypersensitive?  Maybe...but I've really become jaded about eating anywhere where someone else, someone that I cannot see, is preparing my meal.  Have  you even taken a course in food safety?  Have you ever simply watched as a waiter grips your glass with his/her fingertips right on the place where you just sipped?  How about watching a cashier sneeze, cup it with a hand, wipe that hand on a pant leg, then use the register with that hand...and pick up a cup that's about to hold your ticking time bomb and write on it?  "Grande doubled over chocolate latte with extra foam" Argh.  I'm felling ill thinking about it.  Pay attention and CALL PEOPLE ON IT when they do it!  "New cup please, that one has your DNA on it."

You know most of the issues we get about 2 hours after eating at a restaurant are NOT "food poisoning" caused by the food itself.  These are human transfered issues that I don't want to think about. Check some of them out here.

I once met a business traveler who told me, "You know, I like to eat light, you know...salads...but I don't dare eat them on the road because there's so many possibilities for contamination".   I've had trouble eating them since.  Honestly, I think fast food may be the best possible choice.  It's likely that the ingredients are turned over rapidly and that the people are at least trained in the ways of food safety, and that hot grease kills.  I don't know...just a theory.

There was a great piece in the WSJ discussing this topic that sparked this post and it honestly had me rolling on the floor with laughter, mainly because I had suppressed the tears from my past experiences.  Read the article if you want a good laugh...I think it's a freebie forever.  Here's an excellent quote that will expose you to the flavor of this delicacy,

Mr. Stender once bought a sandwich at the Santiago, Chile, airport before flying to Lima, Peru. When he arrived, he could barely stand up. He was forced to let his vice president do all the talking during client visits and nod a lot. "There was a devil in my stomach," he says.

That diablo is known variously as Montezuma's Revenge, Delhi Belly, Hong Kong Dog, the Aztec Two-Step, or the Trotskies. In a global economy, toxin-wielding bacteria and dodgy mayonnaise happen everywhere.

I'm still in tears over this article...and praying that I don't have an episode of the "Aztec Two-Step" any time soon. God willing.

Killer Value Wine - Costco

Diablo Thanks again to Dr. W for the big wine find of 2007.  Concha Y Toro has wines at many price points, but their Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile (2005 is what I have) is unreal.

If you're into BIG CABS that can stand up to rich foods, this fits the bill!  It's MASSIVE, hugely tanic, but preserves its essences of cassis, black cherry, and dark chocolate well.  We tasted the wine with Dark Chocolate post dinner...again...seriously good pairing.

I'd recommend decanting and/or serious swirling if you're going to open and drink immediately.

This wine WILL stand up over time if you can wait that long!

Are you ready for the kicker?  It's 6.49/bottle at Costco right now (at least in West Des Moines my CA friends).  I checked my favorite online retailer and they have it at $8.99. 

The company touts this wine as "The best value Cabernet on the planet" and in my experience, I have a tough time refuting that. If you've look at Live Iowa Camera number 2, you've seen a case of it on the kitchen island.  That's what I'm talking about!

Time to fill the cellar.

Thanks for a fun BlogBQ

It was really amazing to wake up to snow and by the time the BBQ rolled around, it was actually a nice day in Clive, Iowa.  Thanks to all that attended.  My family and friends enjoyed getting to know you and your families.  Please stop by again for a taco if you're hungry...I've got plenty.

- I'm still drinking your beer and wondering where to start on the poundage of deer sausage sitting in my fridge.
Drew - Your homemade desserts in the HyVee boxes/bags are still haunting me and my waist.
Mike - I made Pecan-Orange French Toast this morning with the bread you brought.
Claire - The black beans...well we're all well aware of the power of the legume.
Tom & Gina - Just had some potato salad and some of the "small" bag of chips.
Katie & Jason - Steph's dipping a quesadilla in the guacamole as we speak....and we're all hoping that Dr. Jason had an acceptable weekend of rounds.

I hope we can do it again. 

Wine Notes

Lately, I've been drinking some killer wines.  Here's some notes on what I've found in case you enjoy the vino.

Jacob's Creek Shiraz - Reserve (not sure of the year) - Australia
Wow. Unreal depth to the fruit flavors here.  I'm not good enough (yet) to discern between "black cherry" and "black current" like Robert Parker but you'll get the idea.  I believe Jacob's Creek does a regular old Shiraz too which is OK for the money but nothing compared to the reserve.  Match it up with a lean cut of meat or a pasta with a light herbed red sauce and you'll be very pleased.  This was served up by our good friends (Thanks Jason/Katie) with an assortment of cheeses ranging from a mild goat to an aged Gouda that were killer.  The fruitiness went very well with the cheese bite.  We had more than one bottle because it was just that good.

Kim_crawford Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (not sure of the year) - Napa
This was a very clean white with the right kind of fruitiness for me.  "Right kind of fruitiness" to me is intense fruit that changes as the sip heats and moves over the tongue without being sweet.  I'm not a sweet wine fan unless it's for dessert and being paired appropriately.  This wine as a big value to at about $12 from Costco. 

Nobilo  Sauvignon Blanc - 2006 - New Zealand
I'd give this the same treatment as the Kim Crawford but less refined. This bottle is only about $7 at Costco while the Nobilo brand does offer some more limited reserve type stuff in Costco's "wooden bins" for about $12-$14. 

Banfi - Rosa Regale - 2004 - Italy
Wow.  Just fantastic with dark chocolate.  I think we had this at restaurant with a wicked dark chocolate cake and it was unreal.  At home with friends, we had it with 64% and over 70% dark chocolate and it's just plain awesome.  The wine is lightly sweet but has such a great character and just the right amount of sparkle.  It's VERY inexpensive and will score you big points at your next dinner party. 

HOT TIP - Isaac says that D-Cubed Zinfandel was the best wine he's ever had pretty much and he bought all of Bevmo's inventory :)  I'm going to attempt a local purchase to compare notes!

CHEAP WINE TIP - I've had very good luck lately with a wine label called BANROCK STATION.  All Aussie all the time.  They sport various Shiraz blends but I'm partial to the full Shiraz bottle.  It's got the staying power and depth that's well worth the $3.99 I paid per bottle (not counting the case discount of 10%)!!!!
They have a Sauvignon Blanc that does the trick too for clean white wine with a piece of fish or some lemon/button chicken.

Cheers for now.

The Red Rocker: Musician, Sommelier, Renaissance Man

Red_wine I was just doing a little surfing here in the office...a fat glass of Syrah at my side...when I happened upon a great little article in Wine Spectator On line (apparently this piece is free) on Sammy Hagar, The Red Rocker, and his interest in fine wine that dates back over 30 years.  Most known for his own Cabo Wabo Tequila, Hagar appears to have a well developed palate and taste for port, Yquem, and Latour.  I guess so with over 10,000 bottles in his cellar.  Rock on brother...rock on.

Blog BQ 2007 Update

I turned on my US HOLIDAYS function in Google Calendar and found out the 17th is St. Patrick's Day.  Perfect!  A long lost memoir I found from St. Patrick said this:  "Lucky Charms...I don't think so...they're always after me Asada Tacos!"

So join us on March 17th for our celebration of Spring, Blogs, and BBQ.  Details are found HERE.

Please RSVP on the website by March 11 so we know how many Leprechauns and Garden Gnomes to buy.

New Condition Diagnosed by Iowa Pork Producers

My wife is the best breakfast maker around and her bacon is always perfect. We're bacon addicts and when we cook it, it's typically the full pack.  If a few scraps survive the morning, they're usually toast before lunch.  My wife told me that if I controlled by bacon obsession this morning, we could have BLT's for lunch.  At that very moment, I realized I had OBD

Obsessive Bacon Disorder

You're Invited: First Annual BlogBQ!


You are formally invited to attend the first ever global blogging BBQ (held in Iowa...the center of the blogouniverse)!  Details, RSVP form, and all the particulars can be found by clicking this link but it's being held on March 17 starting at 3PM.  I encourage you to spread the word and I'll do my part by spreading the Mexican BBQ fiesta!  Kids welcome, etc.

I'd like to share in fellowship with you all so please come by and grab some tacos at the very least.

Lewis Cellars...a Cab For the Ages

I'm back in Birmingham, AL today after my stint in Atlanta and week and a half without the family. We're in the home stretch with our return road trip to Iowa beginning tomorrow AM.  Atlanta finished up with a couple of great dinners at the Atlanta Grill and Mortons.  Both restaurants are excellent and known for their steaks and seafood.  Atlanta Grill provided a sommelier that really made the evening.  Silvio Garcia was not pretentious, not snooty...but informed and he guided our palettes with suggestions that expanded our horizons.  I tend to be a fan of massive cabs that can tame the richest of charred medium rare rib eyes.  Senor Garcia suggested the Lewis Cellars Cabernet. 

Lewis He decanted the bottle for about 30 minutes before we tasted this wine for the first time.  WOW!  It was so bold and so tannic that I really thought the alcohol content HAD to have been closer to 20%!  This wine was MASSIVE.  This was the kind of bottle that will likely stand up for many many years.  It took over an hour for the wine to open up and settle down a bit.  This cab was actually too much for the lean filet I was eating.  If I'd not ordered the filet Oskar with crab meat and Bearnaise on top, I'd have found it too bold.

The wine had the usual suspect flavors of black cherry, a hint of spice, with some pomegranate notes.  The oakiness was perfect and was deep in the wine.  These Lewis folks really know what they're doing up there in Napa.

The dinner at Mortons was delicious was completely different.  I think it's the "Chain Effect".  Service was great, we had great wines and excellent food...but the atmosphere was very different without the personal attention of a very interested and educated sommelier.  Also, Mortons takes the "char the outside well and leave the inside to your desired level of pinkness.  At the table, most folks commented that they could have done with less char since that char can overtake some of the meat's flavor.  Agreed.  I like the char when I'm having a bold wine since those two tastes tend to blend well for me.

What made these two dinners extra special was that my wife joined us.  This was the first time that we'd been away from the kids together (over 4 years).  She had some much needed lounge time, spa treatments, and room service and I got my beautiful dinner companion back.  She commented of course that "Now she sees how I live on the road and that the bar is now raised at home".  Of course I've tried to explain that there's a disproportionate amount of grab and go disgust had in airports and dashboard dinning from the e. coli factories but that fell on deaf ears. 

At the end of the day, we had a chance to spend some time and the kids did great with grandma and auntie and that's what mattered most.

Iowa, here we come. 

Virtues of a Cast Iron Skillet

My parents used a cast iron skillet all the time to cook.  It made the best fried chicken, potatoes, pork chops, liver and onions, etc.  You see I was raised on the "eat meat and potatoes every day with the family diet".  Sounds like typical Iowa fare right?  But I was raised in California with Western Pennsylvania expatriate parents that brought those down home Midwest meals westward. 

About 6 months ago, I added the same cast iron skillet into our kitchen's repertoire and I've never been more successful in creating crispy on the outside, perfectly cooked on the inside meals.  I've even found myself resorting to "Dad's day off" type breakfasts.  What are those?  They're an amalgam of all of the left over meat, vegetable and dairy products in the fridge, all in over-sized chunks of course...scrambled up with eggs, fried in the skillet and served with toast (I was paying attention dad).

Cast iron is really the only kind of pan that serves many purposes around the house too.   It's a cooking implement and a weapon.  It's the only kind of pan that "gets better with age".  Cast iron skillets seem to have more non-stick coating the older and more used they get.  Additionally, in case of disaster, it's about the only cookware in your home that would stand up to use on the excessively hot bbq or on an open fire.  It doesn't warp or bend either...so it's likely you could pass the cookware onto your offspring. (Not a good wedding gift mind you).

So the next time you're in the mood for corn bread, fried potatoes, or a non-grilled Iowa winter time steak...bust out that old relic and go to town.  I can't wait to hear about your results.

Prime Rib Secret Recipe

Those of you that know me or that read this blog probably know my love (infatuation, obsession.) of steak, prime rib, fillet, etc.  This Christmas dinner, I cooked another big time winner.  Here was the menu:

Prime Rib
Creamed Corn (Gulliver's recipe)
Garlic Mashed

Simple right?

My dad brought a 10lb Ohio Signature Beef prime rib roast (hand trimmed by dad himself out at Dutch Creek Foods, about 5 bones worth, right from the middle of the rack.   I'm a beef purest...so my goal is to emphasize the quality of the meat and bring out its natural flavor with certain select seasonings rather than "cover it" with something too strong.  I'm into using fresh herbs with those spices to "crust" the outside a bit giving the meat an intense outer section that forms when the delicious fat is seared and all of the goodies bake into it.  So without further delay...here's the prime rib preparation method from heaven.  Merry Christmas.

  1. Get good meat.  Use Costco or Sam's Club since they all basically get their stuff from the same packers/distributors.  Of course if you have a local shop, get it there...but realize that most all beef, unless it's "Certified Angus" or "Ohio Signature" or "Amana" is basically the same if you get the proper grade.  Forget SELECT.  Only go CHOICE or higher.  Spending the money on PRIME rated "Prime Rib" (misnomer since prime rib can be choice quality)...is probably not necessary since prime rib has fat galore and extra marbling doesn't matter with this roast in your cook's humble opinion.
  2. Coat roast liberally with olive oil.  I mean every square inch.  This helps sear and crisp up the outside of the roast.
  3. Use a mixture called SPOG...That's salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Mix up a batch using the following guess recipe.  (The original I've long since forgotten from Village Meats where I worked in Glendora, CA during my high school years).  If you were filling a tubular seasoning container...do about 1/2 salt, then put equal parts of the other 3 ingredients in the container to top it off.  Shake and taste.  Does it blend well?  If not, keep adding little bits of the individual pieces that you'd like to taste more and you're all set.  It's a magical seasoning that enhances meat's flavor intensely. COAT THE ENTIRE ROAST WITH A LAYER of seasoning.  Don't just sprinkle dinkle along.  That is amateur.  Keep putting it on until there's a visible LAYER of seasoning.  You must understand that this will melt away a bit and soak in a bit and create an outer layer of goodness that you must be committed to.  Coat every square inch of top, sides, bottom, bones, etc.  The oil will help the stuff stick.  Then, add a bit more pepper and salt for good measure. 
  4. Now, pull out the herb pack you bought from the store.  I chose the "Meat Herbs" pack that has Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, and Oregano in the fresh "just cut" pack.  You can use dry (heck that's even easier methinks) but I went the fresh route this year.  After a couple hours in the oven, the herbs are crispy bits anyway.  Chop up the entire pack, mix all the bits up with some olive oil so it's a bit of a paste, and coat the roast in it.  Focus on the fatty cap on the top side. 
  5. Put the roast in a pan with a rack that raises it up from the bottom to allow for juice collection and cook to your liking at about 325.  I pulled the roast out at 120 degrees using my trusty auto set and forget thermometer that beeps when I've hit the target. Remember the roast will continue to cook and come up about 5 degrees more over the next 15 minutes or so of sitting.  Always let it set up for at least 10 minutes.

Slice and enjoy.
The ends will be crispy but just underneath that delicious slab of beef will be medium rare and succulent.  End cut for my wife always!  The outer ring of meat and fat is the most amazing part.  It's more done...but the crusted herb/seasoning is out of this world.  If you cut the right sized bite..you can get the medium rare parts along WITH the seasoned bits and....are you hungry?  Me too. 

I did create a reduction au jus that used a bunch of butter, olive oil, beef broth, more of the same herbs, cabernet, mushrooms, garlic, and SPOG.  I started with a full saucepan full, and ended up with enough to coat 6 people's serving.  The flavor was intense and deep.  I added some drippings from the beef pan while the roast was sitting during that last 15 minutes.

I'm going to raid the fridge now. By the way, this is how I prepare my steaks too (without the herbs).  People just don't use enough outside seasoning or olive oil.  Do these two things, and you'll find you're cooking steaks better than 99% of the places you'll pay for.

A Moment of Clarity from the Author

I don't believe that one must announce things to the world to make them stick.  Thus I hesitate to post this tidbit about my choice to change certain modalities that apparently run my life.  But my readers get many of my salient life moments so here goes another one.

I love food.  Man do I love food.  Most of my friends and associates in life would describe my passion for food as Emeril like.  Unfortunately, I learned some very poor eating habits growing up. This is not blame but fact. My mom always cooked enough food for a small army...thus, portions were always massive and reloads plentiful.  My dad could eat like a horse, and Sunday dinner can be explained in the following manner:  Eat 'til the bursting point, go lay on the couch and talk about how good it was, while mom cleans up the kitchen.

However now at age 34, at 6'1" and 250lbs, I do not love the way I feel.  My back hurts, my belly is big, and I can't keep up with my little kids.  Self-image is fine here so I'm not making changes to look better.  My driving forces are my genetics and my family. 

I carry my weight pretty well and most say, "You don't look that big" (subconscious takes over and goes for the creme brule)...but that's not the point anymore.  This is about not waiting until the first heart attack or something else to make me eat less and move more. This is about being here for my family as long as possible.  This is about counteracting my genetic predisposition to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.  This is about a wife that loves me and needs me.  This is about 2 angels delivered from heaven that worship the very ground that my overly large body envelopes.  This is about conquering one of the last items that still conquers me.  I've grown so much through the years but this piece still vexes me and I'm done with it.  I just don't see how I can live to my fullest or perform to the level that I must when I'm ensnared by my next meal. 

There are no extremes here.  Life and food are meant to be enjoyed...but like many other things, I believe moderation is the best choice.  So don't be surprised if you see me order a 6oz filet, with fresh steamed asparagus, and a wedge salad with the dressing on the side for dipping (versus the coated indulgence that typically graces this work of art).

I will never stop enjoying the finer things in life...I'll just stop acting like every meal I eat is the last meal I'll ever eat. 

The Fall Smoker - David's Briar Shop Des Moines

Later this month, David's Briar Shop is having its "Fall Smoker".  It's happening on Thursday, September 28 @ 6:30PM at the Embassy Club - 40th floor.

I wrote about the spring event held last March.  I've linked to the menu that includes the selection of cigars, spirits, and food that will be offered.  I'm especially anxious to try the quail.  This is a wonderful location atop the tallest building in downtown Des Moines. 

I'd encourage all of you Des Moines metro locals to come on out and have a good time at this event.  Spread the word and get your reservations in early, the event fills up fast.

Australian Wine - Alice White

We have a couple super market chains here in the Des Moines Metro:  Hy-Vee and Dah'ls.  Both are pretty darn good and easily hold their own against the Ralphs, Vons, and Stater Brothers that I used all of my life in Southern CA before executing my Geographic Arbitrage to Iowa.  My Hy-Vee store has a separate liquor store that is very well stocked.  They have a very large wine selection and a beer section that includes many specialty brews. 

On my latest trip, I came across a massive stack of boxes of Alice White Australian wines on an end cap display.  There are many varieties including some popular "Cab-Shiraz" blends, etc.  The Cab blends stood up well to my leaner cuts of grilled prime sirloin (a fattier rib-eye will probably require a more tanic full cab) and didn't cause too many tongue convulsions with the Greek Salad heavy with Feta.   These days, we're lucky to get the steak and salad prepared without side dishes with our little ones under foot.

These bottles are only $3 each.  In Iowa, this a very good price for any wine let alone one that tastes good.  I did some research and found this at Beverages & More for $6.99 each.  If you know Bevmo, you know that it's a fantastically well stocked liquor chain in the west with a very good website and excellent prices.  That price differential shocked me even more. 

I've tasted all of the varieties now and can easily say that 2 buck Chuck has a serious competitor in "3 Buck Alice" (which sounds a bit awkward I agree). 

Please share your opinions on these wines and what prices you've experienced in the market.   

Take A Dip...The Cheese Feels Wonderful

Before moving to Des Moines, I had witnessed the slow growth of a chain of Fondue restaurants called The Melting Pot out in SoCal.  I never went there...but the concept intrigued me.

Now, we have our very own Fondue restaurant in West Des Moines called Crave.

Since I missed out on the 70's era Fondue craze (born in 1972), and can't yet appreciate how much of a pain it probably is to have a lot of pots and pokers and Sterno cans around the house...I'll probably go here at least once to enjoy the "Roaming and Socializing" effect that only a meal consisting of 1/2 oz portions dipped in sauce can provide.  Maybe this is the secret to me eating less. 

It's hard to fathom actually.  (start the spinning spacey sound effect and the swirling screen wipe as the author slips into a dream sequence)

ME:  "I can't wait to eat that incredible 24oz Prime Rib-eye on the bone, medium rare, with a side of asparagus, a bowl of lobster bisque, and some garlic mashed potatoes...and don't forget the creme brulee for desert."

WAITER AT FONDUE PLACE:  "Sir, your vegetable and small beef chunk fondue will arrive shortly.  You'll be dipping in cheese author's note: OK not so bad.  cheese good. and for desert you'll dip fruit in chocolate. 

ME:  "Um, I think you have it wrong...why don't you bring me the entire piece of meat...don't cut it up, and bring me a fondue pot w/boiling water...I'll cook up some potatoes and some asparagus...but please...do bring the pot of boiling cheese, and some bread...because I'm definitely going to need something to wipe the bowl and my finger off.

(end dream sequence)
I wake up and find that I've stopped at Culver's for a famous Butter Burger and a Peanut Butter Sundae on the way home from my first fondue experience)

Corn Fed and Shade Grown

A short time ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the "Winter Smoker" put on by a local cigar shop here in Des Moines.  It was held at the Principal Financial Tower downtown...and at the Embassy Club.  Very swanky.  Great views, etc.  When we exited the elevator, I felt my wife's pulse jump since there were no females within site.  As we got closer to the registration table, it was clear that we were at a 98% dude event.  Never fear.  The chance for us to be out together period is rare so we took full advantage.  I gave her tidbits of knowledge about the smokes we had and like a trooper, she took it all in.  Flip the tables and put me in a 98% female event doing a distinctly female activity (you fill in)...and I'd be headed for the door.

This event highlighted something very special about Des Moines for me....the crowd mix.  We sat a table with teachers, farmers, meat processors, and attorneys.  The table behind me had a local TV personality.  It was really a neat feeling.  As we devoured our Iowa tenderloins of both beef and pork, we probed the farmer at our table to allow a "tour" for our family.  Since it's simply work for him, he couldn't really understand what California City Slickers would get out of slogging around Hogs and such...but he invited us to come out.

As we puffed away on Cusano Robustos with 18 year old double Connecticut shade grown wrappers, we chatted and belly laughed the night away.  It was wonderful.  It brought a distinct sense of peace to know that we moved to a wonderful place where farmers and TV types kibbutz together over scotch and fine smoke. 

Few things bring the world together like beef, scotch, and cigars.