January 27, 2011

Prison Winemaking: Mike Carona Edition

Filed under: Home cookin',Orange County,Published stories,Recipes — Professor Salt @ 8:30 am

This story also appears in the OC Weekly

This week’s recipe goes out to disgraced ex-Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, who began serving a five-and-half-year prison sentence yesterday in the minimum-security federal pen in Littleton, Colorado. Since prison will present Carona so much time and so few outlets for cooking, here’s something to try once he unpacks the bags and sorts out the sock drawer.

Sure, it’s illegal to brew alcohol in prison. But when has “illegal” stopped Carona before?

It’s easy to brew alcohol, Mike. Just fill an open container with a sweet liquid such as apple or orange juice, leave it in a warm place near an open window for a week, and voila! Hooch. Wild yeast spores in the air will find their way into the juice, and nature will have its way with it, much like you had with the public’s trust.

Archaeologists believe spontaneous fermentation was employed by the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians who first discovered brewing. Vessels with bread scraps were filled with water, and the mash began to ferment. If the ancient Egyptians can brew with nothing more than a clay pot and some coarse bread, so can you.

For everyone else reading along: Uncontrolled fermentation can produce unpredictable and dangerous results if unwanted bacteria colonies set up camp in your brew before the desirable yeasts do. We’re talking about severe gastric distress or death, so don’t try this at home, underage kids.

Since spontaneous fermentation is sketchy, and smuggling commercial yeast into prison is forbidden, it’s better if you surreptitiously cultivate your own culture of wild yeast and use it for a more reliable fermentation. Chef Nancy Silverton offers a method to start a wild yeast culture in her book Breads From the La Brea Bakery. Take fresh grapes (organic, if possible), crush them coarsely into a jar, and the natural yeast on the grape skin will start to ferment the sweet juice. Surely you can get organic grapes in Club Fed?

Maybe I’m overestimating the comfort level you’ll enjoy in the Littleton lockup, Mike. If it turns out that conditions resemble the harsh Central Jail you used to run in Santa Ana, then you might want to follow the “prison rules” recipes outlined by Steve, one of the first and funniest food bloggers, of The Sneeze. Crazy bastard that he is, Steve actually made two batches of pruno and blogged it.

Steve quotes Jim Hogshire’s book You Are Going to Prison

Prison hooch can be made in your cell toilet (as long as you don’t mind using other people’s toilets or finding some other solution), or more often, in plastic trash bags. The recipe is simple: make a strong bag by double or triple-bagging some plastic trash bags and knotting the bottoms. Into this, pour warm water, some fruit or fruit juice, raisins or tomatoes, yeast, and as much sugar as you can get ahold of (or powdered drink mix). Now tie off the top of the bag, letting a tube of some kind protrude so the thing won’t explode while it gives off carbon
dioxide. Now hide the bag somewhere and wait at least three days. A
week is enough.

Here’s another method using a jug and a rubber balloon as an airlock, which lets out the carbon dioxide safely without letting in the unwanted microflora. Filter the brew through a sock, and enjoy.

Making alcohol is easy. Making tasty alcohol is not. Let us know how your pruno works out, inmate # 45335-112.Who knows? If you get good over the next five years, you might have a new career upon your release. That small blot of a felony conviction when you approach the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board? Nothing a little bribery can’t fix, Mike. Better luck on that next time.

January 13, 2011

Haven Gastropub Opens Today

Filed under: Orange County,Published stories — Professor Salt @ 2:00 pm

This story also appears in today’s OC Weekly.

mushroom taco

taco asylum's mushroom taco

Costa Mesa’s foodie collective at the Camp gains another strong player with a line of gourmet tacos from the team that owns Haven Gastropub. It’s an unapologetically nontraditional, non-Mexican taquería in a city filled with authentic Mexican taquerías.

But neither is it a gabacho-Mex travesty. Does it rip off Kogi’s Korean-barbecue-in-a-tortilla format? It’s not that, either. The Asylum inmates draw inspiration from all over the world, with ingredients such as sous-vide beef heart, Greek-style grilled baby octopus and Indian paneer cheese.
Take the wild-mushroom taco in the photo above, possibly my favorite in a lineup with no real clunkers. Sauteed wild mushrooms, piquant with shallot and garlic, sit atop a light chickpea purée. Parsley salad adds a refreshing bite, fried whole chickpeas add a toasty crunch, and a freshly handmade herb tortilla ties the whole thing together.

That one taco is typical of the others; they all layer high-impact flavors and interesting textures. What’s nuts about Asylum is the time cooks must spend prepping multiple ingredients, condiments and tortillas for each of the nine tacos. Figuring conservatively at five elements per taco, that’s more than 50 distinct things the kitchen needs to prep before it can start service.

All that labor and food cost segues into the bad news: At $5 or $6 each for a taco built on a 6-inch tortilla, Taco Asylum makes the most expensive tacos sold in Costa Mesa. Geographically and philosophically, the eatery is closer to the fine-dining restaurants down the street at South Coast Plaza than the taquerías on 19th Street. It draws the polemic on itself by working within the taco idiom, but Taco Asylum is a small-plates concept, not a hole-in-the-wall at which you can fill your belly on a burrito the size of your lower leg for pocket change.

What about the other flavors? I tried every one of its offerings in small tacos built on 3-inch tortillas, which it calls a “flight” of tacos. You might roll your eyes at the high-falutin’ word to describe a sample tray, but get over it and order one because they’re all delicious. Here’s the menu:

Grilled Octopus: flour tortilla, kalamata olives, oregano, feta, tomatoes, $5
Pork Belly: flour tortilla, carrots, daikon, onions, cilantro, $5
Short Rib: flour tortilla, pickled red onions, salsa verde, cotija cheese, cilantro, $5
Curried Paneer: naan tortilla, raita, tomato chutney, $5
Wild Mushroom: herbed tortilla, mushrooms, garbanzo purée, parsley salad, fried chickpeas, $5
Lamb: flour tortilla, olive tapenade, ratatouille, mâché, $6
Duck: flour tortilla, camembert, dijon crème fraîche, $6
Corazon: flour tortilla, confit beef heart, pickled turnips and peppers, harissa, $5
Ghost Chili Pork: flour tortilla, chili threads, pork cracklin’s, $5
Flight of first eight above (on 3-inch tortillas), $18

As you’d expect from the guys who run Haven Gastropub, you can also choose from an assortment of interesting beers. As Beverage Director Wil Dee explained, the philosophy is to offer a broad spectrum of craft-brew styles from all over the world, including the light lager style most popular in America. “Someone comes in and asks for a Bud Light. I’ll offer to pour a Maui Brewing Bikini Blonde or a Paulaner Lager because those beers are the same style of beer, just brewed in a craft style without short-cutting the brewing process.”

Beers from Avery Brewing, Oskar Blues Brewing and Maui Brewing Co. make up the bulk of the canned (no bottles!) selection, and the five taps currently feature Ommegang Belgian Pale Ale, Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA, Craftsman’s Heavenly Hefe, O’Hara’s Celtic Stout and Paulaner Lager. Expect the selection to rotate, though. Dee revealed to me that Haven and Taco Asylum will soon be the only Southern California outlet for San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery!

Taco Asylum at the Camp, 2937 S. Bristol St., Ste. B102, Costa Mesa, (714) 922-6010; www.tacoasylum.com.

November 10, 2010

Release the McLobster!!

Filed under: Published stories,Your goods are odd — Professor Salt @ 1:58 pm
Mega Teriyaki Burger
Flickr user fugutabetai syashin
This story also appears in the OC Weekly

If you spent your youth with the McRib, you’re just happier than a hog in slop right now with the re-launch of that sandwich at every US McDonald’s franchise. I admit it: I liked them as kid, but I’ve since learned about real barbecue, and welcomed the news with a shrug.

All the same, I caved in to the hype yesterday and tried to get one at a South Bay location. My first one in close to thirty years, and what happened? Sold out at 5 p.m. What the hell? It’s a vast Faux-Q consipracy, isn’t it? I’m on to your little scheme to froth demand, Mr. Ronald McDonald.

McDonald’s would have pulled off a much bigger marketing & PR coup if they did a nationwide rollout on old favorites from other corners of the globe. For instance, did you know McDonald’s sold crab cakes in their Maryland restaurants, or that you could order roasted green chiles in their New Mexico stores? For a corporation that practically invented global uniformity, they tip their hat heavily to local markets and regional food favorites. Here are five of the better ones.

1. The McLobster Roll, New England.

Those lucky Mainers can get lobster rolls every day of the year. Hopefully better than the one at McDonald’s, but what’s not to love about chilled, chopped lobster meat, mixed with a little mayo or melted butter, and placed in a butter-grilled, top-loading New England style roll? So what if McDonald’s version is a little dumbed-down and the lobster meat is chopped so fine it looks more like tuna fish salad? They’re still lobster rolls, and dammit, we need more of those here in SoCal.

2. Beef Fantastic, Hong Kong

McDonad's Beef Fan-tastic
Flickr user selva
The Beef Fantastic from Hong Kong

The name is a Cantonese pun on the word “fan,” which means rice. It’s no longer a permanent item, but neither was the McRib in the US. So as long as we’re uncrating the archives, how’s about a gluten-free teriyaki beef sandwich for the McDonalds here? Picture a toasted “bun” of seasoned rice cake holding teriyaki beef, grilled onions and lettuce.

3.Teriyaki McBurger, Japan.

Thumbnail image for teriyakimcburger.jpg
Flickr user sidesmirk

That’s pronounced “makku baagaa,” and I’ve eaten this while living in Japan. Teriyaki is mainstream enough that Americans would like this sandwich. The teriyaki sauce serves the same function as the BBQ sauce on a McRib, flavoring the usual grey McPatty and giving it a palatable color.

4.Ebi Filet-O’, Japan.

Never mind the Engrish noun-before-the-modifier syntax. Ebi is Japanese for shrimp, and it’s a panko-breaded patty of shrimp and surimi served with Thousand Island dressing. Shrimp is America’s most popular seafood, so bring us the McShrimp Patty and the cute spokesmodel (chosen for her name, Yuri Ebihara), McExecutives! And if you won’t do the McShrimp Patty, then get SpongeBob  in the kitchen and release the McCrabby Patty!

5. McAloo Tikki, India.

Thumbnail image for mcaloo tikki.jpg
Flickr user opoponax

Hey Ronald! How about some vegetarian options beside salad and fries? The beef-free restaurants in the Indian market make a sanitized version of the street food Aloo Tikki. It’s a spiced potato and pea croquette on a bun. Even as a carnivore, I’d be all over that if they’d only spare me the 20-hour flight to Mumbai.

La Reconquísta en Rancho Santa Margarita?!??

Filed under: Orange County,Published stories — Professor Salt @ 1:54 pm

Beef morita, chicken tinga, and lengua en salsa verde

This story also appears in the OC Weekly

Maybe I don’t get down to the sleepy bedroom enclave of Rancho Santa Margarita enough, because I was surprised to see today that quite a few mom and pop restaurants have encroached in this land of chain franchisees. Hell, they even let brown people move in.

El Fenix Carnicería opened two years ago (where have I been?) and to my knowledge is the only authentic meat-market-and-taquería that serves the Mexican community in RSM. Here, you can pick up your housemade chorizo, your chuleta de res, your aguachile, ceviche and your large sheets of crispy chicharrón.

The taquería in the back has a steam table filled with a half dozen stewed meats: pork chile verde and chile rojo, less common tingas of chicken and beef. Chileheads should head straight for the beef en morita, chunks of meat stewed in a salsa made from chile morita, a hotter variety of the smoke-dried chipotle. Best of all, you’re encouraged to sample anything you want before you buy it.

That salsa morita is one of eight salsas and guacamoles made fresh daily which you can buy for $3.99 a pound. Other salsas are tomatillo (red/green), fresca, molcajete, avocado, roasted habanero, pico de gallo and guacamole.

The downside? Tacos are $2 each instead of the bargain basement dollar tacos you’ll find in the northern half of OC. But they gotta pay RSM rent, and nowhere else in town will you find real deal Mexican food by Mexicans for Mexicans.

El Fenix Carnicería 29941 Aventura # K, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 858-0491.

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