Monday, April 16, 2018

Jack's Cholula Buttery Jack Combo Comes Up Short

I've been using Cholula hot sauce (a blend of piquin peppers, arbol peppers, vinegar, and spices) for twenty plus years now. My friend, Loi, a barista at Borders, turned me on to it back in the 90s and it's been a staple in my kitchen ever since. Its complex flavor profile adds a combination of spiciness and mild sweetness to foods without being tongue searingly hot.

| Subject: The Cholula Buttery Jack Combo | Date: 04/10/2018 |
| Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell |

The latest addition to Jack In The Box's Buttery Jack line up is the Cholula Buttery Jack Burger (crispy-fried jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, and tomato along with the line's signature beef patty basted in melted garlic herb butter all served on a soft artisan bun). I arrived at Beaverton, Oregon's Jack In The Box (2920 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton) at eleven-ish Tuesday morning and got the combo with Cholula Fries (crispy French fries topped with a white cheese sauce, garlic herb butter, and Cholula hot sauce) and a medium iced tea for $7.79.

I began the meal by diving into the fries. Even with all the sauces on them, they were remarkably crispy, hot, and salty just like a good fry should be. The cheese sauce added a wonderful creaminess while the Cholula added a good kick of heat. I could even taste a hint of garlic from the garlic butter. The ones on the very bottom were a little soggy of course, but that's unavoidable. I've got nothing bad to say about the fries. I have to give them 10 out of 10 stars.

The burger was a different story altogether. I did taste a good bit of heat from the Cholula and the pepperjack cheese. However, the fried jalapenos were just...kind of...there. They were redundant really.  The pepper chips didn't add any noticeable heat above and beyond what the pepper jack and hot sauce already brought to the party.  Likewise, with the crispy lettuce being as plentiful as it was the fried peppers didn't add any perceptible additional crunchiness.

The lettuce and the tomato did serve as a nice counterbalance to the spice. The real problem was the beef. That beef was DRY! I'm not talking, lacking a little moisture dry. I'm talking about leaving the beef out in the desert for three weeks with a blow-dryer on it dry.  When I took a bite, the burger was mealy and grey in the middle. It just wasn't good on any level.

I don't often leave a burger unfinished, but I could only choke down half of this puppy before leaving sad, hungry, and disgusted.  To be fair, if you go to a Jack In The Box that knows how to cook beef, you might have a better experience. But as it was, I have to give this burger a 5 out of 10 stars. I could make a better Cholula burger at home.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

I Drink And I Know Things - Two Boozy Reviews

I am, by no means, a booze hound.  I can go for days, even weeks, without taking a drink, and I have no trouble stopping at one drink after a long dry spell.  Nevertheless, I do enjoy a good drink.  When I do choose to imbibe,  I like to drink outside the box a bit.  I enjoy drinks featuring interesting ingredients and tasty flavors.  In a nutshell, I like my booze to taste as good as my food.  Thus, when I came across two potent potables promising potentially palate pleasing profiles, I had to try them.

| Subject: Heritage Bacon Vodka and Mississippi Mud Black & Tan |
| Date: 03/30/2018 | Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell |

I was making a liquor run when I came across Heritage Distilling Company's Bacon Vodka.   Being a fan of bacon, I picked up a fifth for $20.00.

True, Smirnoff and Grey Goose both hands their bacon flavored offerings, but there's are clear colored, like traditional vodka.  I was attracted, rationally or not, by the brown bacon-esc appearance of the bottle's contents.  Silly as it seems, it simply looked more authentic to me, as if it had been in a vat with actual bacon.

First, I used it in a Bloody Mary.  Even without the liquid smoke (see recipe below) the cocktail was smoky, spicy, and, to my surprise, a little sweet. It was easily one of my new favorite cocktails.

A few days later, I used it in a Dirty Martini.  While I didn't get the hit of smokiness up-front as I had with the Bloody Mary, it left a pleasant smoke flavored finish on the back of my palate.  Another home run, I must say.

Distilled from grapes, rather than potatoes, with natural flavors added to give it its amber hue and smoky flavor, Heritage Distilling's Bacon Vodka contains 30% alcohol by volume (60 Proof).  I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

Mississippi Brewing Company's Mississippi Mud Black & Tan was given to me as a gift.  I initially raised an eyebrow at the idea of a bottled Black & Tan.  The traditional drink is a beer cocktail consisting of lager being poured over the back of a spoon into a glass of stout.  The result is a drink with tan lager on the top and black stout on the bottom.  I wasn't sure they could mimic the effect in a premade concoction, and if they couldn't fulfill the drink's first promise, I was skeptical of the taste too.  Still, the 1 quart jug looked cool, so I shrugged and thanked her for it.

I poured myself a glass to go with a bowl of popcorn.  As I'd thought, the beer was stout black with no visible signs of the tan lager.  It had a good strong beer hall aroma though, which was a good sign.  Upon sipping, I found an easy to drink stout with delicious flavors of grain and coffee.  Just like Life Cereal's Mikey, I LIKED IT, I LIKED IT!

I milked four and a half glasses of beer from the jug and drank them ice cold with no sign of funky bitterness.  At 5% alcohol by volume (10 Proof), Mississippi Mud Black & Tan is a find worthy of 8 out of 10 stars.

Below you'll find three relevant recipes which I personally recommend for happy drinking. 

Black & Tan

For those of you who want to make a traditional Black and Tan, all you'll need is;
1 (12 fluid ounce) bottle of your favorite lager,
1 (12 fluid ounce) bottle of your favorite stout,
a tall glass,
and a large tablespoon.

Gently pour half the lager beer into a tall beer glass. Place a large tablespoon, dome side up, an inch or so above the lager beer, with the tip of the spoon pointed slightly downhill. Slowly pour half the stout beer over the tablespoon, so the stout gently pours down the side of the glass in a thick trickle.

Allow to stand a few seconds so 2 distinct layers of beer form.

Dirty Bacon Martini

3 oz of bacon infused vodka
1 oz Dry Vermouth
1 oz olive brine
3 stuffed green olives

Into a cocktail shaker, pour the Vodka, Dry Vermouth and olive brine. Shake well. Strain and pour contents of cocktail shaker into a chilled martini glass.

Drop the olives into the martini before serving.

Bacon Bloody Mary

1 1/2 oz bacon flavored vodka
4 oz tomato juice or V8
1 dash of Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes of liquid smoke
2 dashes of celery salt
2 dashes of hot pepper sauce

(Optional Garnishes)
1 slice of cooked bacon
1 celery stalk - I prefer this one.
A sprinkle of seasoned salt

Fill a shaker with some ice. Add remaining ingredients and give it a good shake. Pour it into a seasoned salt-rimed glass and garnish with a piece of cooked bacon and a celery stalk.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Cracker Barrel - A Barrel Of Disappointment

Back in 2008, I took a road trip to Indiana (I know, right). I think I was in Montana or Wyoming when I spotted a highway side restaurant called Cracker Barrel. Featuring a good sized rustic looking gift shop and hand carved rocking chairs on the porch, the place specialized in "Old Fashioned Southern Fare,"  circa the 1920s and 30s.

 I was treated to a fabulous plate of fried chicken and okra. I'd never had okra before.  The peppery bite sized nuggets had been fried until golden and crispy.  I absolutely fell in love with the vegetable that day. Thus, when the chain came to Oregon and opened a branch at 4050 SW 114th Ave. in Beaverton, I was excited.

| Subject: Fried Chicken "Tenderloins," Dumplings, Fried Okra, Buttermilk Biscuit, and Corn Muffin | Date: 03/21/2018 | Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell | This picture was taken by the author of this blog. |
I arrived with my mother and my friend, Dani, at 11am on a Wednesday. Sure enough there were the rockers on the porch and the gift shop full of homey knick knacks and bottles of old fashioned soda pop. We browsed for a bit before entering the memorabilia adorned dining room.

The dining room was already three-fourths full with eight or nine waiters and waitresses mulling about. A full restaurant is usually a good sign.

I was in the mood for fried chicken. The "chicken fried chicken" was on their hearty meals menu, which sounded like a bit more food than I could handle. So I ordered their "fried chicken tenderloins," dumplings, and, of course, their okra. My mother ordered the steel cut oatmeal with fruit, a blueberry muffin, and bacon, while Dani ordered the blackberry pancakes.

Even though the restaurant was staffed well, the service was remarkably slow. From the time we ordered, it took about 25 minutes to get our order, the one exception being my mother's bacon which came a good 15 minutes before everything else. It sat there getting cold and greasy before she got her other food.

When our food finally got there, they forgot her muffin. Once we flagged a waitress down, and a muffin was brought out, it was frozen in the middle.  She did like her oatmeal though.

Dani's pancakes were regular buttermilk pancakes with a sweet blackberry compote over the top. They tasted good, but they weren't anything one couldn't find at IHOP or Denny's.

For those who are wondering, "chicken tenderloins" is code for chicken strips. Did they have chicken strips back in the 20s? I got four of the strips with a ramekin of honey mustard dip, a good pile of okra, dumplings with white gravy, and buttermilk biscuits, and a corn muffin. It was a substantial plate of food to be sure.

"OK, chicken strips," I thought to myself, "They're probably seasoned in some special way to set them apart from the the run-of-the-mill fast food chicken strip."  Er...  Not so much.  While they were crispy and tender, they were under seasoned. I've had better strips at Burger King.

The dumplings were the flat Southern-style version with a good al dente chew to them. The gravy was smooth and creamy, with a mild chicken flavor.  I had to add salt and pepper to wake the gravy up.

The okra, on the other hand, was wonderful, just as I remembered.  It was nice and crispy with the zesty flavor I'd fallen for years ago.

As for the bread, it was a regular buttermilk biscuit and corn muffin. They were soft with a good flavor, but they had no signature spin to them.  I can get EXACTLY the same biscuit at KFC.

Perhaps the old saying is true, "your first time is always the best." I'll always have fond memories of the first Cracker Barrel I was at. However, when you take into account the slow service and the mediocre food, I give this Cracker Barrel 5 out of 10 stars.  The okra, as good as it was, is not enough to bring me back.

The following pictures were taken by the author of this blog on 03/21/2018 for this blog. 

| Subject: Old fashioned country memorabilia on Cracker Barrel's dining room wall |

| Subject: Old fashioned country memorabilia on Cracker Barrel's dining room wall |

| Subject: Cracker Barrel's BlackBerry Pancakes |

| Subject: Cracker Barrel's Steel Cut Oatmeal with fruit and a pot of tea |

Monday, March 5, 2018

Real Men Eat Quiche Too

Diageo, the company which distills and markets the best-selling scotch whisky, Johnnie Walker, recently announced it would sell a limited-edition 12-year Black Label blended whiskey featuring a woman in a top hat on its label instead of its signature striding man logo.  Jane Walker, is meant to "celebrate women" by making scotch less intimidating to woman, Bloomberg News reports.

While I applaud their efforts to honor women, I'm not sure this campaign doesn't demean women just a little. Keep in mind, this gender shift is taking place on the heels of the recent Doritos debacle.

A few months ago Frito Lays announced they were going to market a less messy Dorito chip just for women. They were putting all women in one box as if they're all "girly."  Thinking of women as dainty little maidens is as silly as thinking of "real men" being too macho to eat quiche.

I don't know about you, but I know plenty of women who enjoy Doritos just as they are. Plus, I have never, and I mean never, met a woman who was "intimidated" by whisky. I've known people of both genders who did not like whiskey, but none of them were intimidated by it.

Of course gender targeted advertising is nothing new when it comes to food. The next time you watch TV pay attention to the commercials. Women are hocking diet meals while men are cooking stuff on the grill. The beer ads feature burly men chugging suds and watching a game.  Meanwhile, the wine ads show the beautiful women wearing short dresses while drinking wine on the patio.  Diet meals and wine are enjoyed by ladies as the men guzzle brews and cook meat with fire.

I'm a guy. I like wine. I love quiche. I've even had a diet meal or two. Yes I know that "big food" companies are targeting niche demographics for maximum effect. I get that however, it seems to me that they are promoting an unnecessary distinction between genders. I know guys who are more girly than any woman you'll meet and I know women who can drink any guy under the table.

We are who we are. It's time to let "big food" know that gender does not necessarily determine who we are or what we eat and drink.

I'm off to eat some quiche.

Quiche Loraine

9-inch pie crust
1 cup white onions, sliced
1/2 of a red sweet pepper
3 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup milk
4 eggs
pinch of black pepper
10 strips bacon

Put your favorite pie crust in a 9-inch pie plate, Flute edge but do not prick. Sautée onions & sweet pepper in butter until onions are soft. Then put in bottom of crust. Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese. Beat milk, eggs & black pepper together and pour into pie on top of cheese. Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Top with bacon in spoke pattern, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes or until set around edges and slightly soft in centre. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Crab Quiche

pastry for 9 inch pie pan
1 lb crab meat
2tb chopped parsley
2tb dry white wine or dry vermouth
salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/2 cup milk
cayenne pepper to taste
1 egg white
paprika to taste

Line bottom of pie pan, cover and refrigerate for one hour. preheat oven to 450. mix crab meat with parsley, wine or vermouth, salt and pepper. in a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk and cayenne pepper. brush pastry with egg white, fill crab mixture. pour egg mixture on top. sprinkle with paprika and bake 10 minutes. reduce heat to 350, bake 40 minutes longer or until set. quiche is done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Smoked Gouda And Onion Quiche

1 Tablespoon Butter
1/2 medium Onion, diced
1 Deep-dish pie shell (frozen)
3/4 cup Smoked Gouda cheese, grated
4 Eggs
1 1/2 cups Half and Half
1 1/2 teaspoon Parsley, chopped
Dash White pepper
1/8 teaspoon Salt

Preheat oven to 375. Melt the butter in a small skillet. Add the onions and cook until just soft. Set aside. Bake the empty pie shell for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and place it on a cookie sheet. Place the cheese in the bottom of the warm shell. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Whisk in the half and half, parsley, onions, and seasonings. Pour into the shell. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the pie is firm. Serve warm or chilled.