WELCOME TO MY TAKE ON COOKING, LOCAL EATERIES AND KITCHEN TOOLS
Cooking is all about food and love. This website is about my thoughts about and cooking tastes with the tips, easy recipes and tricks of the trade to make some of your attempts at cooking more professional, appealing and fun. Cooking is as old as time.
In the beginning I can see the first caveman discovering the joy of a good pulled Pork- a -Saurus sandwich, or Pterodactyl wings and Buffalo fries while observing the NFL, The Neanderthal Fighting League. It was an era when men were men and women looked like men. It was when man really got into this food thing. It was that or starve.
It was the Cromagoons vs. the Neandermen, an outstanding game only if you were the winner. It was heart and sometimes head breaking for the losers. Food, water, and shelter were the prizes for survival and the Cro-Magnon were up by ten points by the odds makers, better adapted to surviving the Ice Age than the Neanderthals.
Brian Fagan's book on the subject is very revealing. The creationist theory that they fought to extermination and slew the dinosaurs has never been proven scientifically. The creationism theory is usually spewed by some fundamentalist, fire breathing, hard core, nutcase, money grubbing fake preacher trying to make it on TV asking for your money or the idiot science teacher I had in high school who got canned after her first semester.
OUR REAL FOODIE HERO
Our hero, we’ll call him “ Crow” also probably discovered beer about the same time as the Ice Age and that was an even better revelation. Cold beer and hot food, what a combo! Fortunately since the had no coolers , remnant glaciers of the ice age kept the beer cold, and a few Neanderthals stupid enough to reach for the beer, fell into crevices looking for those six-packs.
Cooking the Pork-E-Saurus and burnt Badaydoes presented new problems for Crow and gang since they held the meat with their hands in the fire. Our gourmet Crow, had a sidekick friend who was named Grog. He was smart and seeked advice from another Cro-Magnon Handei since it was his arm Crow was shoving in the fire to hold the meat.
Handei who was now a male Cro-Magnon leader, came to his aid with discovery of controlled fire. He was working as a door to door Weber salesman and showed him the benefits of charcoal, making a circle of rocks, and slow cooking. Grog, quick to learn, looking back at the smoke in his burnt cave, and still smarting from his burnt hand he thought this was a good plan and he liked Handei and called him his Handei-Man from that day forth.
Cooking was time consuming and took away from hunting and breeding. Mans favorite pastime to this day. So he enlisted the help of the ladies of the cave which led to equality. He taught his wife to do the cooking since he almost burnt his arm off four times. She invented the stick to hold the meat. Wives invent sticks, men invent clubs. Almost true to this day.
MY TOWN’S PLEBEIAN FOOD and SPORTS
I live in an area that has merged into what we can all call Tampa Bay rather than the four or five cities defining their borders circling the bay as individual towns and serfdoms. All our inconsistent sports teams all start with Tampa Bay something like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Lightning and so forth. All noted they win something once and thats it, totally unlike some of our food here which will constantly repeat on you.
As the barren stretches between towns disappeared with housing and business the circle of eateries I frequent now puts miles on the car, but well worth it. I’m also traveling more so you will see reports from some unique places but something occurred or frankly grabbed my interest.
I found a delightful place to eat, original recipes, incredible food in a small town in Florida and a lousy restaurant experience in a nationally known chain in Las Vegas Airport. Im willing and interested enough to try the unique and that also gets more competitive which is good for the eater who enjoys “Diverse ethnic food once in a while” amidst the mechanical, redundant and usually boring offerings by the chains and franchise’s that frequent this area. And we got them all. In the burger wars Culvers and Five Guys added some good burgers against the garbage some chains sell.
We are also a tourist town during the whole year and a Winter Wonderland for the snow birds or as we say the Southern Home of our Northern neighbors running from harsh winters, isolation, cars that don’t start, snowplows and other things. When they get here most do a lot of eating out, traffic jams, accidents, and crowded restaurants.
Because this clogs our favorite places, like restaurants and streets, we [My followers and tribe] eat out during the week and cook together with some great stuff on weekends with friends for fun. The food service is better during the week when not as busy and safer to drive when most of the left turn lane, right turn in front of you with no blinkers come down here and practice car control.
The RAT RACE
It’s a very aggressive and constantly changing community, one restaurant location here a mile from me has had four different owners and themes in less than two years. Yet we are alive with diversified foods and “Community”, which is a favorite word of mine, part of the 3C’s of the successful restaurant business.
Community is the combination of the physical properties of the restaurant, location, staff, cleanliness, even parking and the informal greetings of customers by the staff counts.
Consistency is the heighth of the bar on their product they serve, the service they give and it is maintained. People frequent places they are comfortable in, by prior visits or personal recommendations.
Control is the financial success of the business with a strong, substantial controlled business model resulting from good management able to make adjustments and accommodations to changing market conditions.
In a way, the better places are self critiquing and require little policing. The expensive places are not affordable on my daily turf, so I go after the entire spectrum, the eateries that exist for the plebeians, us, the everyday folk looking for a decent meal and an occasional glorious adventure into the upscale culinary world when affordable. Some of the places mentioned here I have been eating in since the sixties and they are the same as they were then.
Tampa Bay offers ethnic diversities with Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Mediterranean, Greek, Philippine, Thai cuisines for the break needed from the usual themed or chained establishments like Chilies, Red Lobster, Outback or Applebee’s fare. We have fusion joints, rib joints and a few soul food eateries. We host two of the largest ethnic food parties in the south, Rib Fest and SPIFFs’ that draw huge crowds. Tens of thousands attend these functions every year.
THE FOOD DIRECTORY the locals enjoy or tolerate, the selections offered by the major corporations wringing every ounce of profit they can from in some cases highly modified synthetically enhanced food to the best of Tampa Bay to suit the most sensitive palate and stainless steel esophagus.
THE INTERNATIONAL CULINARY CORNER is a hodge podge of food ideas I have created or cooked myself. Some will fire your palate, some won accolades and a few requiring a liberal dose of Alka Seltzer, the fire extinguisher of the over indulger.
TOOLS FOR THE CHEF IN YOU are the knives, cutting boards, mandolins again, some good, some very bad, some really dangerous and some should never be seen in a kitchen.
The FOOD INDUSTRY TODAY is really several topics of importance. It covers the use of illegal aliens and other violations of good human code, and the first line of defense the TV stations like Channel 10 in Tampa who report dirty, filthy unsafe restaurants to the public. The last section involves the Kitchen Police. In Florida, Inspections are performed at the County Health Department (CHD) level by the Environmental Health section. Each CHDs Environmental Health section is responsible for all DOH-regulated food service establishments located within their county.
Like most Federal and State agencies , they are understaffed and fighting the budget battles. Most good owners love them as they eventually get rid of the bad guys and the bad guys hate them because they get caught. Nothing is more important than the health of the general public. And Tampa needs this enforcement, I see violations all the time.
THE BURGER WARS - The truth about that 3.5 inch slab of something on a bun we all favor so much, you’ll be surprised at what you find out here.
SOUPS AND SPICES - It’s all about the things that give food it’s taste explained.
THE FOOD DIRECTORY COMMENTARY
Places to eat fall in categories, how do you separate them. Eventually I will start comparing these groups using simple terms like Avoid, Good, Better, but maintaining the competition on an equal basis because I have been in small home grown family stores that serve better food for the same money the chains do.
Some think I’m a little harsh on these corporate places and they enjoyed their meal. We all have differing palates and some of us in the industry really know what going on behind closed kitchen doors.
The places you don’t get to see. And possibly the techniques and bad habits you wouldn’t want to know about. Just about every day we see on the TV or in the news an article on Listeria and a hundred other bugs or viruses in our foods and adding bad habits in the kitchen just adds to the possibility of illness, not wellness.
OK... maybe I was harsh when I said Steak and Shake used Dr. Kevorkian’s methods for training chefs because they killed the meat so efficiently with the clanging and banging of a deficient undersized hockey puck of meat, its quick and tasteless; Or when I accused Taco Bells new Flabouta Extreme as having less meat than my grandsons diaper.
Or were you aware of the meat vs. fat content of the burger you just ate or the size 5-1 or 8-1 of the hot dog you made disappear and what was that hot dog made of. Prime meat, Choice, Chicken, pork and what parts were used and ground in that hotdog?
First, there are the fast foods from Taco Bell, Mickey D’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Burger wars all trying to upgrade and diversify offering salads and real chicken. What a treat Holy Shit, Real Chicken! WTF were they serving you before? Does that mean we were being served unreal chicken.
The stuff that was rarely hot, and may be dripping with grease, fry oil or both. In 2014 they all started to find religion and now touting new menus and guidelines for better food. Thats because sales are so far down, McDonalds is forced to close 900 stores.
The next tier in counter fast foods (there is a higher level) without or with table service when your food is ready includes Chic-Filet, Five Guys, In-N-OUT, Jason’s Deli, and the new guy in Florida CULVERS, and I am impressed. CULVERS is rated very high and they do bring the food to the table. Another point is that these stores are only a dollar or so more than the junk food.
Older stores like I-HOP which are slightly higher in cost but better quality food and they still have guidelines, a nice word for heavy corporate controls and pressure both on the products and services. All do well except DENNYS which made our bad list four times. Of the four we went to they were dark , dingy and dirty, in fact all were that way. One of them is on a strip with four more expensive or equal places to eat and the competition was mobbed, three cars in the Denny’s lot. If they were company stores I be looking for a new DM. Or a new corporate head and a pyromaniac!
The middle theme park scale places are the Olive Gardens, who pretend to be Italian, The Red Lobster’s who pretend to be Seafood Geniuses, Chili’s, and Applebees who fake SouthWest, Joes Crab Shack which was a low-blow upscale themed boring honkey tonk.
They average about fifteen to twenty dollars for a full meal with beverage and the food is usually fresh and hot but theme oriented, priced for profit, and served to you. At Joes Crab Shack, the prices were higher, the value and food not up to the competition. A joke really...
And when they can, all these places push the booze, which is the good profit maker. A four dollar bottle of wine for twenty dollars is a good hit. And they are always house brands or bottled for retail.
The Top-shelf dining spots like Ruth Cris, Schulers, Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber, and Bern's Steak House average $40-80 per person with beverage and will go higher with a good 1991 Chateau Pinot LeFarte. These are the places you go out to have a celebratory (anniversary, birthday, romantic, etc) decent meal, consistently good track records, some outstanding even when pitted against their own franchises and many reasonably priced for the food and service they offer.
The next group are specialties, the family owned ethnic or generational Mom and Pops, some independents and the climbing, upscale nouveau riche places, some being born in the food truck business. Some of the older family places are still surviving because of their consistency and great followings. A few of the ethnic places, not on the beaten path, still serve their unique cuisines and adherence to family recipes are still favorites of mine.
The last group are the food trucks so popular now and the range in quality and style is like Texas, big and diversified. It’s hard to keep track because if a foodie truck does well, his or her next step is going to be sit down hard location. Some are like rabbits, “Hare today and gone tomorrow”. But the food truck is a chance for an up and coming chef to get a start and show what he or she has behind the knife and build a following.
Their success believe it or not, is small menus, consistent, perfected, and duplicated. the they get a store and expand... and fail. Sometimes small is better, look at Five guys and In and OUT Burgers. Small menus, consistent, good quality.
TWO STORES - SAME FRANCHISE BUT DIFFERENT
Another point I have to make is that some stores are better run than others. I am merely trying to make you more cognizant of your surroundings and what you stick in your belly. Places visited on this list might have the date and time I visited when I remember to put it in my recorder.
If it doesn’t look like you are getting either your money’s worth, or the food isn't right, COMPLAIN and LOUD! Sometimes loud enough for the next table to hear. Bring it back to the counter and either demand a refund or replenishment. They should get the message and when they get it often enough, they respond.
I'm not looking to get the hired help in trouble. Problems come in all levels. They start with middle level ill-trained managerial failures who have survived and are not good trainers, and progress to corporate bean counters writing processes, and who never flipped a burger.
Some places think they are appealing to Moms and their kids, but customers with screaming kids actually cost some places business. Worse some of the Moms are already stressed out because those idiots made food a toy store. If you think those toys and games are needed to get your kid to eat, just starve him for a few hours and watch what happens.
Employee turnover, underpaid and understaffed. Those employees who took a job either under or over their talent or pay grade and the problems arise when the help feels franchise food is not personal service. You are a register receipt from oblivion. And we understand the “ flakiness” of the fast food operation when ten cars are stacked up in the drive and the manager is having a meltdown because, “Some lady is screaming about the eau-de-toilette paper" in the bathroom.
But these corporations who confuses eating and customer retention with bottom lines and I’ll bet most of the board members don’t frequent their own food products and you can see trends in some places over weeks, “ going downhill” I believe is the expression.
BAD PLACES FIND ME
I didn't have to travel far to find bad. As I travel, I will simply point them out. They might call it unfair, I call it public service. If they wish to challenge me, I have the photos and in some cases recordings and really good contacts at our local TV and Newspapers. But I am also fair...
We went back and rechecked a few places this year. Good food and getting involved is the Food Court section and we look at food not only as a critic but as a consumer, and without hesitation I will tell you some places improved and some fell off the wagon, one or two made the bad food list and one was just absolutely abominable.
Not surprising, most of the bad were still bad, or gone, most of the good were still good except for a few. Because we are not really in control of what we eat all the time, we end up eating out and at the mercy of the food prep God's. A few have the nether God’s like Colitis and Diarearus on the payroll preparing their fare, and thats not fair to the consumer.
What we did notice with the new menus were cost cutting and portion control more in evidence. Food well into its old life served, gathered at closing, stuffed in the chiller, served the next day and called fresh. This was quite common at most of the buffets. Cooked the night before for lunch, thus cooked, chilled, recooked. This was the policy at most buffets and very apparent at GOLDEN CORRAL where one of the managers admitted they did that.
So the food you were getting was: Frozen then cooked then put out on display then removed and into chiller then stored 12 hours then reheated up then put on service again all in 24 hours.
Three major chains have made my avoid list this year… Denny’s, Golden Corral and Fridays both nailed by the food police with all kinds of violations of temperature and critters all over the place. The specific locations are mentioned and this is not the first time. Some other locations might be dead on and some might be very clean following the food codes but these have been problem locations.
SECTION: THE KITCHEN POLICE
We have an entire section on Kitchen policing, some of the Chinese Buffets made the wrath list of the Dirty Dinning folks and the OFC, the Official Food Cops who are the County Health people. The cold was not cold enough, the hot was not hot enough. The roaches called it comfortable. We call it botulism at its best. And another issue, the second largest human trafficking scheme in the county both occurring in Chinese Buffets and thanks to Homeland Security for sending the owners to jail or probation. It was not only the misuse of kitchen rules , it was the misuse of people. Shame.
The restaurant trade is notorious for cost cutting but when it involves degradation of life, I declare war. Human trafficking is the exploitation by force, fraud or coercion of vulnerable people - often immigrants - for forced labor, domestic servitude, or commercial sex operations. Human trafficking has become a multi-billion dollar global crime impacting nations - and neighborhoods - around the world.
SECTION: INTERNATIONAL CULINARY CORNER
The next section contains some of my favorite delights from around the world, couple of bailouts of mine, and my Mom's kitchen. I share them with you and while some of the dishes might not be familiar as steak and potatoes on the grill, it may require some resourcefulness as they might just mean a trip to the grocery store or ethnic food supplier. On the other hand they are simple and in street English.
Having grown up in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn and having a friend whose Dad owned the local pizzeria and meatball sub emporium, I probably changed my blood type to “O” Positive which stood for Oregano Positive for sure. I had so many Italian friends (I’m Jewish) I was made a member of the Kosher-Nostra early in life.
In a mixed community like Tampa we are fortunate to have Philippine, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean, Cambodian, Viet Nam and Mexican specialty groceries within 10 miles of my location.
For some Westerners, it could be the same thing as a trip to Klingon or Romulon if you do not or have not experienced a world wide palate.
Food like music is both wide and diverse and truly brings new meanings to the phrase melting pot. I never melted one, but I did scorch a few almost beyond repair.
I have an eclectic appetite, I love tempting the Food Gods with combinations of common sense and burnt taste buds. Once in a while I score. The beauty of cooking is that it is endless. There is no beginning and there is no end, it’s all based on your curiosity.
The tools are the same. It's what you throw in the pot and what you season it with. The basic skills, never ending or changing are easy to learn. Your taste and perhaps on occasion, a fast trip to the bathroom will guide you. I made these recipes simple with easily obtainable ingredients to wean you off junk food.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
And like everything else the cooking phenomena has been eclipsed by the Celebrity Cook syndrome, AKA "The Endorser". If they can stuff it in a bag and put his or her name on it and it sells, they have been successful. Just like Congress on a smaller scale. Thats another thing I write about. Congress and it’s just as critical as what I think of food.