Local Folks Foods

Excellent Kosher Food

December 22, 2009

My Guilty Pleasures & a Splurge!!!!

Since I am somewhat on a video kick today, I decided to post some showing my guilty pleasures. Some of these are specific to a particular eating establishment but the rest are general. In the future, I'll add some pictures with some of these places and foods I've mentioned.

Italian Beef. I am partial locally to Portillo's, Johnny's, Carm's (when I am near one) to name 3.

Vienna Beef Hot Dogs (no ketchup please). Another good local brand is Daisy's (from the Crawford Meat Company). All the best local places use this brand. From Food Network's "Unwrapped":

Gyros (yee-ros, not gy-ros). Messy but very good. Where I live, a place called Doggie Diner makes a KILLER gyros (Monday is the Gyros & fries special). It's pretty simple- spiced meats, onions, tomato, & a nice yogart sauce. Messy by very good!!!

Chicago Style Deep Dish pizza. It may be a bit heavy for some people. The crust is not as thick on the bottom but is higher on the side crust. You'll see it below, featuring my favorite pizza place, Lou Malnati's. Other fine places include Home Run Inn & Giordano's, but most pizza places around can do a good pizza.

Good Southern Food, creole & cajun. One example locally is Heaven on Seven:

Another is Pricilla's, with a flash of its classic cafeteria style dining:

A nice BIG burrito (I prefer chicken but every now & then, I add steak. Must have sour cream, onions, cilantro, beans, lettuce & hot peppers). This is one example:

Good BBQ- Ribs, Chicken, Brisket, etc:

My splurge- Gibson's. A steak lovers heaven!!! Lawry's, Gene & Georgetti's, Wildfire & the Chicago Chop House are also very good.


This place is a Chicago LEGEND. I decided to post these video clips about it. I think it will do it justice better than I could try.

December 17, 2009

An Empty Plate to Fill

As you can see, the name of my blog is the Empty Plate Adventures and have covered a few subjects. I haven't done this for long but it has been fun to do.

Now, I wanted to write about something different this time around and will involve an empty plate. It's no adventure but it's something that can be and should be prevented. Hunger. We've heard so much about "giving back", "service" and things of the like especially over the last year. I think we all know better and don't need anyone else to tell you. In fact, most of us have done the right thing all along and didn't need any prodding to do so. We Americans know what good fortune is and will be willing to share with the less fortunate. I've seen figures that at least 12 million children alone in the USA will go hungry. It's even worse on a global scale.

So many people in this country go hungry not to mention those around the world in even worse off than those here. My hope is that for those who can help in anyway, please do so. I'm not talking about going to a soup kitchen (for example) alone. I would say if you can, donate to a local food pantry. There is a need here. There are too many empty plates in the USA (and the world for that matter) for my tastes. Some think that there is nothing they can do. There is something. I would encourage anyone to help fill a plate this Christmas season for those who can't.

Listed below are some organizations I have seen and/or been involved with (via time or donations over the years):
Feed My Starving Children:
Share Our Strength:
Community 4:12:

Have a wonderful & blessed Christmas!!!

December 12, 2009

The Hungry Hound

The Hungry Hound is a weekly segment on a local TV Outlet. I will post some of the segments as I find them interesting. It features places to eat around greater Chicago. Some of the places he has visited I've actually tried previously. Steve Dollinsky is a 12 time Beard winner for his broadcast work and below are just some samples of his segments. The segment, which started in 2006 (after replacing the retiring legend, James "Ciao-Ciao for now" Ward). I will add segments as I find time and interests to do so.

Tacos get upscale treatment (from last night):

Here are some other segments from recent airings:
Build the better burger, aka the "First Fryday". This could harden ateries watching this:

Cuising from around the world:

Wild Game:

An education in beef (good stuff if you don't understand):

December 6, 2009

Note to Self

ADD Pictures to my posts!!!!!!!!!!!

OK. I'll live & learn. Next time, I will have some pictures. In fact, I may share an eating experience here again. Don't worry, there will not be any roach stories with pictures. I promise.

December 3, 2009

Beef Brisket Video

I am a big fan of BBQ Brisket. So, my attempt is to find a solid brisket recipe to use in the future. It's a great cut of meat but people do one thing wrong with it. They try to cook it too fast. I decided to add some various videos that have given me some influence. These might grab your interest as well. All can be found on YouTube. You may see some variations so I hope you enjoy these. I might put some things I do here sometime soon.

"Hanukkah Brisket"-Food Network

Paul Deen cooks Beef Brisket. Priceless:

Chicago's "Smoque", which I did eat once and was very good. Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

December 2, 2009

Adventure #1: The Roach of the Windowpane

So you want a real adventure? Well I'm about to give you one and it may not be for the faint of heart. If you look at the title of this post, you may have an idea of what this is about. How strange this will get, you may find it a bit hard to believe. I couldn't make this up if I wanted to. So here it is. Sometime in the spring of 1990 (at some hot dog stand in Chicago's North Side), a friend and I were a bit hungry so we decided to get something to eat. That evening, my friends and their band played a show (concert) and I was there to help lug around some gear. After finding out the band would not play for another THREE hours (a story in itself), we had some time to kill (plenty of it). We knew the area pretty well so it wasn't like we didn't know what we were getting into..... or so we thought.

So out we went (me and my friend, Joe) in search of food. The others joined us a bit later (or we found them as you will soon see). All the places we knew of were pretty much to capacity. Under normal circumstances, we might have waited but we thought otherwise. I wish we had waited. We finally find this place about 3 blocks from where the band was playing. We check out the menu and had all the basics you would expect- hamburger, hot dogs (as common in Chicago as finding a Coke in Atlanta, GA), and so on. There was a pretty decent sized line as well. So we decided to just see what was coming off the grill- observing how it looked, portions, etc. On the surface, everything was fine.

Yep. Everything was fine.......until.........we sat by the window. Take out places normally have a sitting area by the window. This place had a bar-like table (about 8 feet in length) where you can sit and eat or wait. While we were killing time deciding what to eat, I noticed something was on the windowpane about 5 feet in height, which was painted black (this may not seem like much of a detail but this will make sense, so please work with me). We decided to get up and order some food then the event happened. At first I ignored it because I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I figured it was a fly or something of the like. It just stayed there and did nothing. Then I saw it move, as in crawl down the windowpane. I looked at Joe and told him to look at the window. He saw the same thing I did. A Cock Roach!!! That's right. Joe and I FROZE for a second, more in disbelief as it then crawled UP (a bit closer to a sprint) the windowpane and managed to keep its footing. Now I realize that bug do have a certain level of protein, but I would assume for them not to add their protein to the food being served. Those were not the double carbs I had in mind.

Joe and I did what any reasonable people would do. We got out of there and didn't let the door hit us on the way out. We went outside and we stood, more or less taking in the neighborhood. We passed that window again and not only did the roach crawl down the windowpane but were on the surface of the table. Fortunately, no one was sitting there at the time. We ran into our friends as we went back to the place they played. They said that how was the place that we went to because they were going to eat the same place. Joe and I looked at each other and told them "don't do it" with some level of friendly force behind our voices. They asked what was wrong. We told them that they don't want to eat there. We eventually told them later what we saw, explained the same way I am writing here. They didn't believe us at first, but after we both confirmed, they were quite appreciative for not letting them eat there. We did find a local chain to satisfy our hunger, though. Problem solved. For the record, that nameless hot dog stand is no longer in business. Gee, I wonder why?

November 13, 2009

Baked-Grilled-Roasted Chicken Wing Heaven

OK. I admit it. I am a huge fan of chicken wings. Grilled, baked, fried, roasted, slow cooker. If you want to see an empty plate at your home, put these on the table and see what happens. Now in this economy, I wouldn't mind being a chicken wing salesman. Think about this when you go shopping next time. You can buy wings for $2.00-$2.50/lbs. Yet the entire bird might cost half of that on a given week. So go figure!!

Now lets get to the bottom of this issue. How do I make them? I would like to share that and I will try to explain why I do it the way I do.

- Clean the wings with water and dry with a paper towel or air dry on a plate. I do this to wash away any blood that may be in the packaging.

- Once the wings are cleaned, I prepare my own little seasoning but I do in in two stages. In stage one, I will combine equal amounts of the following spices in a shaker. I'll fill it so I can use the spice combination for future use. Which spices do I use the most? They're listed below and in no particular order, and will not include salt and pepper unless I can really get it fine (I prefer to salt and pepper and not mix with the other spices. I see that as two small extra steps= 5 seconds if I take my time):
a. cayenne- nice for color flavor. Also good for your circulation among other things as well (1). See. You kill two birds with one stone.
b. paprika- this is where I get most of my heat because I use hot paprika. Use sweet paprika otherwise.
c. oregano- this provides a nice herby flavor and is also a good antioxidant.
d. garlic powder- you still get the same healthy benefits as well as the potent flavor as well. I prefer using garlic powder because the other spices are all dried and keeps w/ consitancy (2).
e. if you have a store bought mix of all spices, feel free to use that (that is if you like it). You're the one eating the wings so make them to your liking.
f. I will not use flour unless I am going to fry them. This is just my personal preference and I would not create a spice mix with flour because I don't presently fry that often.

- These I prefer to add if I don't decided to grind the spices. I tried to uses these in a shaker and didn't work very well. So I didn't do it going forward.
a. ginger- another nice flavor and beneficial to your health (3).
b. rosemary- not so much if you will fry the wings but if you cook them any other way, this will give a nice aroma, especially if you roast or bake them. This is an herb that if you have an epileptic seisures or a friend who is pregnant or nursing, some adverse reaction could occur. Studies are being done to see any connection between using rosemary and those who experienced strokes or other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and ALS (4).

- You can cover the wings with olive oil, especially if you're baking them. Should you do this, make sure that cover them enough where all parts are well covered. Smooth flavor and heart healthy.

- IF you decide to use a marinade (which I will not address now), make sure that you place them wing on a bowl or plastic bag. Make sure the marinade gets on all parts of the chicken. If you don't, you just defeated your purpose of marinating. As how the sauce relates to this, I'll will address that later.

- Now that you've prepared everything, follow the instructions on the bag as cooking times relate. Otherwise for every 12 wings, you would bake them for about 25-30 minutes.

- Now as it relates to the sauce, I'll admit it. I have not invented one yet because there are several I like alot. Some are wing specific but I also use some of my favorite bbq sauces. Most people make the mistake of putting the sauce on while they cook and that is a mistake. What you want to do is when the wings are done, make sure you have a metal bowl. This is key in the process. I don't suggest not using a metal bowl. Take the wings while they are still warm and place them in the bowl. Then add the sauce of your choosing. The reason for this is that the metal conducts heat and the sauce will coat best that way. Then place the newly-well-sauced wing on a plate. Keep an eye on them because unless you're alone, they may vanish.

- Blue cheese or ranch? If I'm really drifing in my mind, I make the following:
a. take 3/4 of a cup and mix the two.
b. take a spoonful of sour cream, chopped or grilled onions, fresh garlic and take part of the mixture from "a" for a different taste.
c. celery is not mandatory to have so if you like them, chop some up and enjoy to your hearts desire.

Works cited:
1. "5 Ways to Stay Young with Dr. Oz Anti-Aging Checklist on Oprah": television, Detroit:

2.  "Garlic Benefit"by Amy Thomas, MD, :;;

3. "The Benefits of the Use of Ginger in Herbal Preparations", Martha Whitney, :

4. "Rosemary Chicken Protects Your Brain From Free Radicals", ScienceDaily (Nov. 2, 2007)

Macaroni Obseseed (or so it seems): John's Mystery Mac & Cheese

I promise this will be the last time I post on this particular topic (for a while at least). If you think I know only macaroni, you would be wrong and I will prove that in the days ahead. I wrote how easy it is to cook it so now you'll get the chance to see how I do it. The thing is it's not always set that I am going to make it this way but this will give those who are interested to see how I think.

For this exercise, let's just keep this simple. You do not have fresh pasta to work with (although that really isn't an issue unless you don't know how or have time to make it). So here's how I make mine.

John's Mystery Mac & Cheese
*= optional.
+= beware for potential allergic reactions.

- 1 lbs of Cellentani (or any pasta I mentioned in my prior blog posting; use caution when using wheat as some are allergic to wheat products. I'm a fan of Barilla PLUS).
- 12-24 oz cheese (your choice; if you use more than one type of cheese, try to use even amounts. This is especially true if you live somewhere like Wisconsin, where access to different cheeses is available).+
-  about a cup of pasta water (as or milk as for those who are not milk intolerant).
- 1-3 eggs+
- spices (I prefer the obvious salt & pepper. I add others such as cayenne pepper, oregano, and hot paprika to name 3). Add to your liking (some people like more of one and less of the other.
- 2 bell peppers* (you choose the color or use what you have).
- onion (I use at least 1/2 of an onion, type again is what you have on hand).
- mushrooms (at least 8 oz, button mushrooms should be ok but if you have other types, they will also work here).*
- diced chiles*
- peas*
- at least 1 tomato (or minimum 12 oz can of DICED tomatoes).*
- 1/4 cup flour*
 - 1-2 tablespoons of of Miracle Whip or salad dressing.*+.
- bread crumbs
- olive oil
- garlic (fresh or powder)
- meat or chicken; seafood can be used but since I am allergic to seafood, I can't use it.

1. First is to boil the pasta as per the instructions on the box. I add some of the seasoning to the water while it boils. The box may say let the pasta sit in water for about 5 minutes. Once cooked to your liking, drain the pasta but try to leave at least enough pasta water to cover the bottom. I have been known to place a bowl under my strainer while draining pasta. I NEVER rinse pasta. This should help thicken the mac & cheese when it's time to add the sauce. It will also eliminate the need to add milk should someone not be able to consume it. Once I drain the pasta, I will add some olive oil (enough where I can coat the pasta) . When I use Miracle Whip and eggs, I add them here and mix them while the pasta is still hot. Mix well.

2. You can do one of 2 things. You can remove the "mac" and start the "cheese" in the same pot or use a different pot altogether. This is part of the reason I season the water, bringing the water to a boil then back to a simmer. If you're using milk, then you may not want to use the pasta water. I take whatever cheese and flour I am using and place it in the liquid and then mix. It should blend in and have the same consistency. I would not use more than medium heat. This is if you wish to do this on the stove and not bake at all.

3. Here's where it gets fun. Did you notice the optional ingredients I listed? These are the ones I like using the most. If you use canned tomatoes, do NOT use stewed tomatoes. I made that mistake once and won't do it again. I found that the texture of the stewed tomatoes had made the dish too soggy. So that's why I use diced. Bell peppers, chiles, mushrooms, onions or whatever you wish to add can go into the sauce.
a. I will add the canned goods or something like a tomato to the sauce (almost like a queso dip).
b. I use raw onions and bell peppers. Once the sauce is added, they do seem to cook. At the most, I might sweat the vegetables. Peas I will fully cook and add to the pasta but before adding the sauce.
c. Mushrooms can be added towards the end with sauce. If you sweat them, don't do it for long because mushrooms give up their own liquid.
d. In the event that you use garlic (powder or fresh depending on what you have), put that in last.
e. If you add meat (such as poultry), I find it best if the meat has already been cooked (eliminating any chance for e-coli or anything of the like).
f. Chiles can be canned, dried (like ancho) or fresh. You can roast these and the bell peppers should you have the time to do it.
g. I do not always use the flour. In fact, I've experienced better results when I didn't.

4. As it relates to bread crumbs, I only use them when I bake the mac & cheese. What I would do is make sure that the bread crumbs have been properly seasoned (again with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano and whatever other spices I decide upon). I take the sauce and mix in with the pasta. Then I place the pasta in a baking dish (should I want more a lasagna feel) or just use the pot I boiled the pasta in. Once the pasta is in my dish, I cover the top with the seasoned bread crumbs. I will bake it for about 35-40 minutes, of which the last 10 would be uncovered. Let it rest for about 5-10 minutes and enjoy. It tastes even better the next day.

Next time (if time permits), I'll add pictures. This is somewhat new to me but am having fun doing this.

November 4, 2009

Macaroni has an interesting twist

That's right. Macaroni is TOO easy to make it borders on boring. Hey. Sometimes boring is good. What can you do to make a good mac & cheese better? I have a few ideas, based on what other family and friends have enjoyed. Is it just me or do people tend to over think about things sometimes? This can be especially true with cooking. What got me to write this? I remember I was speaking to a friend a while back and they felt uncomfortable with cooking macaroni. I said that mac and cheese is one of the easiest things to make. Think about it for a minute. If it's so hard to do, why is it one of the more popular foods college students make? You boil water. Place pasta in the boiling water. Wait 5-10 minutes (depending if pasta is fresh or dried). Drain the water (I generally keep enough to cover the bottom of the pot. This helps me melt the cheese should I not use milk). Add the cheese. Done.

In fact, you can actually substitute macaroni with another pasta. In fact, it’s been a while since I used macaroni. So what type of pasta did I use instead? I use several (especially when I can find them) but tend to use those that can hold a sauce well. As you read below, you'll notice I mention the Italian root word or phrase that the pasta gets its name. I'll start off with these listed below:

1. Cavatelli (from the Italian root word "cavare", which means "to hollow"). I don't see this much when I eat out but I do tend to see this more in supermarket delis (in particular with salads). It's just as the name implies- hollow. It might be the width of a tip of a pen (and that might be big).

2. Conchiglie (Italian word for seashell with conchilglioni being its larger sibling) is just as the name suggests. It looks like a seashell. It's better when the cheese (or whatever I put in it) can actually get in this pastas hollow shell-like space. Great texture and one I use on a regular basis.

3. Fusilli, (from the root word fucile meaning rifle). This I don't think works as a substitute for what I have mentioned before but could work well in a cold dish.

4. Orrechiette, or in Italian meaning "little ears", is a cross between a bowl and a human ear. That's what it looks like.

5. Gomito (Elbow) Macaroni. This is the one many tend to be familiar with. This is part of the tubular pasta family because it looks a tube (makes sense, right). There are different sizes to this pasta as well. Some tend to make them bigger and some smaller (like what you see in stores). Its sibling is the pipette (Italian for "little pipes" and both are related to the Cavatappi. Cavatappi is also known as cellenati, which translates from the Italian words cavi tappi, meaning "tap extractor" or "corkscrew."

Now I'm no expert on this but let me be honest. I am only speaking from my own personal tastes alone. I put this list together because these are things I know worked for me. I believe all of these can be a substitute for your basic macaroni and cheese or macaroni salad for that matter. In fact, if I make a soup, I might you two of these pastas listed to add a different dimension to the dish (or at least create an illusion that I am anyway). The reason I picked all of the pastas I selected is because all of them have a few things in common. One obviously is shape. As a result of the shape, the next reason is that they tend to hold a sauce well (not only coating the outside but also the inside). I won't get into how to make them because the tubular pastas I mentioned I have made (flap pasta, I'm pretty good with although I don't have my own recipe for it). Could you use rigatoni, ziti, or even penne? Sure I could but I feel for the twist on mac and cheese I am using, the ones I listed worked better for my tastes.

Now for the twist. I think I posted this in a different entry but it is worth repeating:
1. Type of cheese- Velveeta (yep, I admit it because if I am adding other cheeses, it serves as a good base and melts easily), colby, monterey jack, colby jack/coljack, hot pepper, or cheddar (sometimes cheddar is hard to melt but has a nice flavor). I think ricotta and provolone among others seem to be better for lasagna. Goat cheese is fantastic but may be awkward tasting if you never had it or has been overcooked. I had some with goat cheese years ago in Maui and loved it.

2. Please consider this. Always remember those who may have some allergies. Some people can't eat eggs, some can't eat cheese and some can't have any dairy whatsoever (I've know many people use some or all to make the sauce thick). There are dairy free options of cheese but I have not tried them (and doubt I will unless I have to).

3. Imagine if you want to put something else in as well. For example, I may put tomato, chopped onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, peas or similar foods to create an almost one-pot effect.

4. Anyone recall this Emerilism? "The water doesn't come seasoned. Well, I put whatever seasonings I am going to add, I put it in the boiling water while the pasta cooks. People have shared that it DID make some difference.

5. Do you want to bake it? No problem. Get the cheese and whatever you want to put in it and use the pot you will bake it in. Then find some bread crumbs and cover the top layer of the dish. Some believe you should cover for the entire time, some not at all and some (as I do) starting covered and finishing uncovered (the last 5-10 minutes or so).

For the record, I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. Seriously. My goal was simple. I hoped to give others who might see this confidence to try it out. Even those who are more advanced in their cooking skills to think outside the box. Only time will tell if I succeeded (if I find out at all).

October 27, 2009

Food Q & A's (A little fun)

This is really more out of being bored than anything so I figure I would Q & A myself (somewhat). Actually, people have asked me the following questions over time (just in conversation). Nothing major or heated this is right and this is wrong. Just some simple things to consider. So some of this could help someone down the road.

Q: How can you make soup thick?
A: I have used corn starch, flour and things such as rice but this is something I tried a while back. Ever tried using a roux in a soup such as a chicken & noodles/dumplings? It worked like a charm for me. It was pretty thick and the roux complimented the natural thickness of the noodles or dumplings. I have to admit one thing. I don't always get it right.

Q: Fresh garlic or garlic powder?
Both depending on what you're making. A sauce or a roast I would prefer fresh garlic but I'm not above using powder if that's all I have. If you making something like a rub, I ALWAYS use powder. It's consistant with the rest of the spices (all of which are dry). If I use garlic powder for a soup or sauce, that is the last ingredient I add. In fact, I may add some when I reheat the meal. Some people may take offense to that but that's how I feel.

Q: What about food allergies?
A: I'm allergic to fish & seafood. In fact, shell fish will kill me within 30 minutes or so (if I don't get treated). That's something I don't believe many people think about. I worked with a guy who had allergic to nuts (any type), another to soy, and yet another to wheat. So this is something people should really take seriously. If you want to find out more, I would say do an engine search of "food allergies" and some very good resources will come up. Check out this video featuring Trace Adkins, whose daughter is allergic to nuts, dairy and eggs.

My parents know first hand as Trace Adkins did when my shellfish allergy first showed up (around age 7). They let people know of my allergy when I would go to their homes and all my relatives and friends know of my condition as well. It's bad enough where if fish has been cooked (airborne), I risk having a reaction. I've experienced a few episodes of anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death. Trust me. It doesn't feel good. In fact, when I was younger, my parents brought some food from an ethnic restaurant. They told the owners of my situation and let them know to please put my order and all non-seafood dishes in different bags. They also asked if seafood and meat were either handled or cooked with the same tools? They were told no. Guess what? I ate mine and I had a reaction. Needless to say, my folks called the place and gave them an earful (aka spoke their peace). As a result, they quit eating at this place.

Q: I can't cook Macaroni properly so how can you cook it so well?
A: People make more of making Mac & cheese than it need be. It is SO SIMPLE I've done it since I was 9. First, can you boil water? Good. Now can you read the box? Better. So far, we're doing very well. Next. The cheese. Generally, I the yellow box (aka, Velveeta) every time. Cut it into thing pieces and after the pasta is done, put the cheese in and let it melt slowly. I don't drain all the pasta water because there is some start in it (which will make it thick). Now that the pasta is cooked, can you open a can? More on that later.

Now here's where it gets fun. When you boil the water, make sure you put some salt and olive oil in the water. This will make sure the pasta doesn't stick. I also add pepper and some other seasonings to it that I will add once the pasta is done. As for the cheese, you can use just about any cheese you can find- goats milk (had that in Maui years back), colby, jack or a mix of whatever cheese you like. I don't think mozzarella works alone personally but that's my preference. Remember the "open the can" comment I made earlier? Well this is where you can really let your imagination fly. This is just a sample of things I put in macaroni- mushroom, tomato, various chiles and peppers, onion (raw, roasted, sautéed, grilled), and chicken just to name a few- fresh or canned works. Or you can mix whatever you put into the macaroni, place it in the over and finish it that way. I prefer to top with bread crumbs towards the end of cooking. Again, be aware of who your cooking for, especially if you add cheese, egg, milk or dairy. Some people are allergic to one, some to a few things I mentioned and some people to all.

Q: What's one of the strangest things or mistakes you ever made that actually turned out well?
A: I made some chicken & noodle soup once. My Mom had made some black eyed peas and had some left over. So I decide that I would mix the two and it worked. In fact, I've done it several times since, more when I cook black eyed peas and know I will make chicken & noodle (or rice but not so much with dumplings). One of my personal best successes from an accident. It's not like discovering the french dip, but it tasted good to me.

Q: Gas or charcoal grill?
A: There are some places in the country where if you said gas, they don't know you. I used a gas grill once and didn't like it at all. I might as well as cooked it inside. Now some of the combo grills (with the burners for pots and pans) would be nice to have during the summer. When it's hot outside, you can cook the entire meal outside and not heat up the house. I prefer charcoal because that is what I am used to. The prep of building the fire and keeping the temperature where it needs to be is almost second nature to me. Plus, I've spent so much time trying to learn how to grill and bbq properly I would be clueless if I had to use a gas grill.

For example, about 2 years ago, I did some slow cooking. I cooked a piece of pork shoulder (about 3 lbs) and took about 6 or 7 hours. I kept the hear low so I can cook it properly and not hurry. Most of the best meats have been done over indirect heat and over a long period of time (not cooked over 225 degrees). A grill is almost like a sauna. One day, I might build a pit (aka, an emu as seen in Hawaii). In order to use an emu, you must have the proper lava rocks (which are like gold because those who have them won't give them up). So if you have the time and the patience to do this, you won't be sorry but you may need to keep your schedule clear.

Q: Is bison, elk and deer that good?
A: I love them all. Each is a bit different in taste, which is pretty hard to explain. In fact, I had gone years without eating deer when my Dad brought some home his friend gave him. He didn't tell me it was deer until after I ate it. Had he not told me the difference, I would have never known. All of those meats (along with ostrich) are actually better for you than regular meat. All very low in cholesterol and fat. In fact, you may need to add some fatty meat (such as a small portion of beef) to keep it from shrinking. If you cook any of those meats more medium, you're better off eating you shoe because of how lean it is. If I could hunt regularly or could afford to buy these meats, I would eat them exclusively.

Q: Veggie you hate the most?
A: Brussell sprouts. I CAN'T STAND brussel spouts and will avoid them at all costs. I have tried to eat them cooked every way possible and still don't like them. If they're in front of me, I'll eat them but would prefer not to if I don't have to. I know some people in this world have a lot less than that to eat but I still prefer not to eat them.

Q: Create a date meal?
A: Haven’t ever really dated. Nothing that would warrant that anyway.

Q: Create a dream meal.
A: That's a difficult one but I'll try. How about a rib eye or a porterhouse (2 cuts of meat on the same plate, can you beat that), macaroni & cheese, asparagus and/or some mixed vegetables (like steamed peas and sautéed mushrooms, creamed spinach or all of the above). Would I put a salad in here? Sure, with say ranch or blue cheese dressing. I don't think rolls will hurt the case either. A soup? Well, you could add a french onion on the one hand or have jambalaya or gumbo on the other. Then again, the latter two are a meal on their own. In other words, the theme is simple. Something that is:
1. red and dead.
2. nice and cheesy or creaming.
3. veggie(s) with a subtle flavor and a healthy dose of garlic mixed in.

Q: You're having a gathering of people at your home. Pick your favorite TV Chefs and what dish you would ask them to make. Anyone and as many as you like.
A. First, I would get Chefs Prudhomme, Lagasse and Justin Wilson (lets say he's still alive for this). One cooks gumbo, one jambalaya, and the third red beans and rice. Draw straws to see who makes what. Then, I would call Jack McDavid (he could bring Flay for a "Grillin & Chillin" reunion) and the Neely's to cook some special BBQ such as ribs and beef brisket. Since there are only two of them, they flip a coin to see who does what. Now for a south of the border flavor, I cal Rick Bayless for some grilled banana leaf pork, roasted mecian chicken, salsas amd guacamole (of course you need the chips). Aaron "Big Daddy" McCargo & "Chef Jeff" Henderson can cook as they sees fit (seafood aside and keep it simple). I would have Paula Deen make the side dishes (macaroni, potato salads, baked beans) because I know she'll knock them out of the park (or to speak more formally, she will do them VERY well). The Iron Chefs can create some soups and sauces to complement the meal. Deserts? I'll leave that to Warren Brown and Sandra Dee. Paula could make come of those gooey gooey browies or even a chocolate-pecan pice (which I am a HUGE fan of; I made it once). You leave this event hungry, that's on you.

October 26, 2009

Quickie's (in Florida)

Seriously though. 4-lb burger. I imagine someone will be working on this for a while now (via


October 22, 2009

A Chilehead's Quest for Fire

This is a bit long (even in this now shortened version) but I really enjoyed putting this together over the couple of weeks. I actually was doing this for a different blog. So I thought I would share this here. I posted this a while back, but wanted to change some stuff on it. This is for the interested, the curious, or the bored.

Over the last 15 years or so, I have really enjoyed very spicy foods. I eat stuff that is so spicy that you can smell it once the bottle or jar is opened. Most can’t handle that much heat. This little is actually something I have worked on for a while. I have even joined some of the spicy food and chili-related groups here. The timing of this is pretty ironic because I noticed that a former classmate angry about buying “XXX”, thinking it would be one thing but got something else. Well, guess what? I made that same mistake years ago. I also learned that (for the most part), the spiciest stuff you will find at Jewel or Dominic’s is Tabasco. There are some legit hot sauces from time to time (ala Louisiana Habanero Pepper Sauce), but that’s the exception and not the rule. I first began my “quest for fire” almost by accident. There was a store in downtown Naperville I visited while I was a North Central College student. They dealt exclusively with hot sauces, and I do mean hot. I didn't know what to expect. The funny thing is they actually had SAMPLES for you to try out. Form that point, I was hooked. They eventually closed their doors, partially because they were a bit ahead of their time (we're talking mid 1990's, when Chile Pepper magazine was still an unknown).

Now we’ll get down to the business of peppers. I want to mention 3 myths, as I see them. Myth 1 is that cayenne pepper is hot. To me, it’s more a coloring seasoning that adds a hint of flavor (also good for circulation as I understand). If you want heat (in particular, in dried form), get some Hungarian Hot Paprika. Myth 2 is that if a product says "XXX Hot"or "spicy" on the bottle, it’s not always true either. In fact, my parents don’t like spicy foods at all (Mom, in particular; Dad will eat spicy stuff but not anywhere near my tastes). Yet she tried a “Louisiana spicy” product and she like it (but in reality, it wasn't "Louisiania" spicy. Ask someone who's lived there). So if you’re looking for spicy, consider the source first. Myth 3 is the very popular “chipotle”, which is supposed to be “a super hot pepper” in many circles. My reply is phooey. A Scotch Bonnet or a Habanero makes the chipotle look like catsup. I will give you the 3 documented hottest peppers in the world. The first is the Red Savina Habanero, from Central America, is probably is the hottest pepper in the habanero family. I can attest to this. The Fatalli pepper is unique to South Africa, as I recall, hits the tongue in a hurry. I had these first 2 and I will tell you, yes they are HOT!! This third one I am holding back on. The Bhut (sounds like "beaut") Jolokia (also known as the Naga Jolokia, Ghost Chili, and Ghost Pepper depending on where you're from) is considered the hottest pepper in the world. It‘s from India. Now if you see any three of the last peppers I named, you're being warned that it WILL be hot.

Next are some suggestions in heat control and intensity. You have someone who tried this super pyro hot sauce with you. You’re holding on pretty well but you friend isn’t quite doing as well. You are feeling a mild rush but your friend’s face is beet red and they’re sweating profusely. Now how do you extinguish the fire? Dairy. I prefer having ranch mixed with some sour cream or some type of cheese slices but milk does the trick as well. It may take a while for them to eventually come down, but this should help. Also, if you run into a situation where the spice is not what you hoped it would be, this can easily be rectified by adding habanero sauce to whatever (salsa, enchilada sauce, etc) wasn’t hot enough for you. A few drops should be fine. Water or any drink is the wrong thing to do if your mouth is "on fire" (or at least feels that way). Why? The drink will make the burn even more intense (once you stop drinking). In other words, capsaicin acts with water like gas acts with fire.

One sauce I have become familiar with is “Bubba’s Butt Blaster X-tra Hot Sauce” after my folks saw this stuff while on vacation. My Mom said they thought at the very least, it would be something else for me to try. You want a rush? This sauce delivers a mean bite every time. It doesn't take much at all. I put some other brands and creators of hot foods and all of them can be found via an engine search. That is, if you don't wish to make your own.

Intense and complete line of products (sauces, salsas, etc) made by the following, all of which all I have personally tried. You can do an engine search for each or go to an Internet site like :
1. Blair’s. Some of their stuff is so hot, it is not intended for human consumption. Yet the various “A.M. reserve” lines have an almost cult-like following.
2. CaJohn’s Fiery Foods. This product line also delivers off the charts. If you want a laugh, do a Youtube search of CaJohn and see what comes up. The tape doesn’t lie.
3. Dave’s Insanity Gourmet. Their products are now available in most grocery stores.
4. Original Juan. This might have been the first “heat” product line I tried years back. I’m partial to their garlic habanero salsa.


Wing Sauces:
1. Buffalo Wild Wings (Blazin'): It has heat and plenty of it. This is their hottest sauce by far. I went to a BW3 when they first popped up here with some co-workers. I said I wanted 12 blazin' wings and person taking my order thought I lost my mind. So here they come. With 1 glass of coke, 1 small side of ranch, and the wings were gone within 20 minutes or so. She said that in the 4 months she had been traveling (opening BW3's), I was one of 3 people who could finish it and the only one who didn't shed a tear. The 3 sauces below it (wild, habanero mango, and hot) should be ok for those who want to venture out a bit. It's for the pure chili head at heart and not for the squeamish.

2. Wingstop (Atomic flavor). This can easily pass as a cousin to the BW3 Blazin' sauce. Again, it's not for the squeamish.

BOTH are hotter than Hooter’s hottest sauce.
3. Anchor Bar. The place where the buffalo wing was created (Buffalo, NY). The “hotter” and “suicidal” fit the bill for the heat-seeker.

BBQ Sauces (in no order). All of these companies do have their own Internet sites. So if you’re interested, type the names in a search engine. Again, if habanero is too hot, leave these alone:

1. Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ Sauces. I tried this group at Naperville Ribfest. Butch came off as truly one of the nicest people on earth. If he wasn't busy, he would talk and shake a few hands. Some of you may have seen him on a Bobby Flav special a while back. Now for the chiliheads!!! There are 2 sauces that you may like, pyrogenic and the one I like more (Super-pyrogenic). The "super" has an almost delayed burn, when the spices kick in about 3-5 seconds after eating.

2. Pigfoot BBQ. The "Killer sauce is another that I would call a slow burner as well. This is another Ribfest fav of mine.

3. Desperado BBQ. If you want heat, try the "Hotter than H" bbq sauce hit's the tongue from the moment you bite into it. Now how hot is this sauce? A friend of mine, who is not a chili heat, mentioned that there was a lunch bandit at work. You know the type. Someone who believes they’re entitled to someone else’s lunch. I gave him a suggestion. I told him save a few slices of chicken for me and I’ll meet with him later. I brought some of this sauce with me. Anyway, I put some of this sauce on the chicken, told him to take it to work, and leave it there for a couple of days. I told him that if this sauce wouldn’t flush this person out, nothing will. The worst case was I would eat it myself. So he calls me a few days later and says guess what? He figured out who did it. He also told me that he didn’t tell management about knowing this guy ate his food. I asked him why and said that I was right. The guys tongue was burning and his eye are blood red from eating the chicken. He said that he enjoyed watching this “poor” guy suffer. He actually did tell one colleague about our plan and they laughed as hard as my friend.

Well, well. There we have it. The first food adventure I have shared here. TRUST me, there are many more to come. I would have you consider trying any of these products if you wish to feel heat. If you have family or friends who like this type of heat, now I have given you some information you could use with them. A little reference material if you will. Enjoy.

Intro to the Emply Plate Adventures

So after starting a blog on general things (in other words, what I felt at the time), I did notice one thing. I did not realize how many blogs I followed were food-related. So what did I do? I decided to do one myself. Food. You can't live without that. I noticed that many food blogs tend to be more high-end/gourmet and others more on the lines of quick and easy. This one should be somewhere in the middle. Will I mention what I cook? I think it's a safe bet that I would.

As a view of the Food Network since 1994, it has become a guilty pleasure of mine when I can watch it. There are some episodes and shows I like a great deal (Triple D being one that I am especially fond of) and as I find clips I enjoy, I will post them here. I might even post an article I noticed or even mention a different blog writer if I see something I like. Another channel is Create TV (there are some very good shows there as well). One thing is that you will not see anything relating to fish or seafood because I am allergic to them (deathly allergic to shellfish). This should be a lot of fun to do.

So now comes the title. What's the best way to make a chef or cook happy? Make sure your plate is empty when you're through eating. Only non-edibles (e.g., bones, etc) should be left on the plate. In fact, an old saying holds true that says an empty plate is a good sign. An empty plate is a great compliment to the chef or cook who prepared it. So here the journey starts. You may see what I like and dislike food-wise. I may not know what direction this thing will go, but it's worth a try to find out (especially if someone would be crazy enough to pay me to do it). For the record, I am not in the food business and am not professionally trained chef. I open my pantry or fridge and I make something. I go out, look at the menu, order and eat. Pretty simple I would say. Eating sometimes can be an adventure, especially if it's a place or type of food you may not be familiar with. Goodness knows I have enough and will share them in the days ahead. This blog will be written one empty plate at a time. This should be fun to do.