The Food Blog is Back

In the words of George Costanza, I’M BACK BABY.

That’s right, our long national nightmare has ended. Eating with Henry hath risen, and it is getting Joan Rivers levels of reconstructive surgery. I’m making it more consistent, more ambitious, and more awesome.

Now you might be saying, “Henry your blog had seven unique visitors per month. Why bring it back at all?” That’s not an unfair question. But here is my response:

Reason to bring the blog back #1: Maybe the blog only had seven unique visitorsbut it had hundreds of hits every month because my grandma never stopped reloading it.

Reason to bring the blog back #2: Six people told me they miss this food blog. Six people. That’s basically a public outcry for my writing. The Rolling Stones have started a reunion tour for less.

I believe in democracy. When the people speak up and ask for more impish posts about salsa bars, I honor their wishes.

Now I’m making it sound like the decision to start blogging again was easy. It wasn’t. In fact, it was the hardest choice I ever had to make. But I didn’t make it alone. I was guided by the one man who really knows what it’s like to come out of retirement:

I watched this video over and over. I couldn’t get Brett Favre’s drawl out of my head: “You always gon wonder, what if.”

If I walked away from the food blog game, I might be missing my chance to become the next legendary food critic. And if I missed my chance to be a legendary food critic, I would have missed an opportunity to eat hundreds of free meals.

The thought of missing out on even a single free meal makes me convulse. The possibility, however remote, that I could be missing out on hundreds of free meals makes me want to throw myself into shark-infested waters. Where free food may present itself, I am bound to go.

So, 304 days after my last contact with the culinary world, let’s talk about food.

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Tri-Tip and The Problem of Meat

This Father’s Day, my family elected to cook the family BBQ classic: tri-tip.

We bought two smaller tri-tips , so my mother and I decided to cook them different ways. My mom opted for Santa Maria style grilling,  turning the meat every four minutes and basting with a mixture of oil, red wine vinegar and garlic. I used Thomas Keller’s tri-tip recipe, in which you brown the outsides with oil and butter, and then slow cook it in the oven.

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My Tri-Tip, awaiting butter and rosemary.

Both cuts of meat received a paprika and black pepper dry rub about 2.5 hours before they went on the grill. If you’re planning properly, you’re supposed to rub and refrigerate overnight. I can see why, as my hasty spice work did little to improve the flavor.

The final products were… just ok. The Thomas Keller recipe produced a better texture, while the grilled meat had a more distinct flavor.

And this is my ultimate problem with tri-tip: it’s never as good as you hope it will be. It’s easy to overcook, and unsatisfying compared to other cuts of meat. During our Father’s Day meal, I realized that the portobello mushrooms we grilled for our vegan family members were abundantly more flavorful, not to mention less taxing on my vascular system. (Portobello marinade: olive oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, garlic. Very delicious.)

Admittedly, I am no fan of red meat. But still I wonder, why do we value it so highly? Is it really so delicious? Or has red meat been perverted into a bloody status symbol, the Cadillac for the posturing philistine?

I believe we are deceived. We are stuck in a sort of Plato’s cave – Plato’s Meat Cave – and the shadows on the wall force us to rejoice in the chewy labor of the Stakehouse. If we only turned around, we could discover the truth: that chicken, fish, lamb, and most roasted vegetables, are more capable and delectable than the tri-tip and T-bone.

It is time for liberation. And a portobello mushroom burger.

(Note: none of this criticism of steak applies to Dave Yasuda’s sous vide steaks and Chandler’s fillet, which are absurdly and inconceivably delicious.)

Muse: Focaccia

This week, I realized that I want to learn how to bake bread, and focaccia was the first variety that I attempted. Soft, crusty and liberally flavored with olive oil, it’s a delicious accompaniment to any Italian meal.

Focaccia requires the following ingredients: flour, salt, olive oil, yeast, water, and a tablespoon of sugar. That is it. (Here is the extremely helpful recipe I used.)

The takeaway from making focaccia was the same as every other time I learn how to cook something: holy crap that’s so easy! Why did I buy that from the store before?

Making focaccia dough was so simple and enjoyable that I instantly felt ashamed for buying Trader Joes pizza dough all these years. The whole process was incredibly straightforward, and smelled so good. The smell of dough man, it hits you on a deeper level.

My first attempt at focaccia was pretty good. The inside was properly fluffy yet dense, and it paired nicely with balsamic.

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This is only the first of many focaccias. As stated above, bread is my new thing. I hope to have plenty of bread centric blogs.

You know what they say, like it, loaf it, gotta have it.

 

Pit Stop: Meraki’s Zeus Fries

Meraki is a fascinating greek restaurant that probably warrants its own review — maybe even its own podcast. Just to give you an idea, they put french fries in their gyros. Better yet, they serve pork gyros instead the standard beef and lamb mix. This is because pork is in fact the traditional greek meat. (You can still order beef and lamb, but they tell me that such stylings originated not in Greece but Chicago, and may soon be discontinued).

But my visit to Meraki was all about the Zeus Fries. Yep, that’s right. French fries, seasoned gyro meat, tomatoes, onions, feta cheese and tzatziki sauce — drizzled with a side of spicy feta.

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Even your cardiologist wants a plate of these to himself.

 

Could Yelp Be A ‘Billion Dollar Bully’?

Yelp has been my steadfast companion since I first downloaded it on my mom’s iPhone at the tender age of 12. From that moment on, mine has been a singular quest: find the most stars for the least dollar signs. Though my review history is limited to a few smear campaigns against touristy seafood restaurants, not a vacation goes by where I don’t fill my Yelp app with bookmark after bookmark.

Suffice to say, Yelp is my jam. I have long considered myself a brand evangelist for the platform. I have a word document sitting on my desktop entitled “The Yelpers Manifesto – Rough Draft”. Seriously.

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Photo Credit: Imgur (texted to me by my grandma)

But my blind love for Yelp has been bludgeoned by frightening new accusations. It all started when my friend interrupted one of my pro-yelp rants a few weeks ago. She warned me silicon valley’s darling wasn’t all that.

She informed me that Yelp hides good reviews under the guise that they are “filtered out”, and instead pushes bad reviews to the top of each restaurant’s page. How can you make these “not recommended” reviews appear front and center? Why you have to pay hundreds of dollars per month for a Yelp premium business plan!

Impossible, I said. Wouldn’t that be extortion? But the next time I looked up a restaurant, I scrolled down and saw an inauspicious little button for “not recommended” reviews. Sure enough, I clicked on it and found a dozen 4 and 5 star reviews — although admittedly there were a handful of bad ones in there too.

Then I read yesterday about “Billion Dollar Bully” — a muckraking documentary that, according to filmmaker Kaylie Milliken, will expose Yelp to the world. I don’t know when this film is coming out. I certainly don’t know if their accusations have any merit. Innocent until proven guilty, as they say in the biz.

But I’ve read, and heard, enough to be concerned. Yelp and I have a long and illustrious history. I would hate to find out that the dice are loaded.

‘The Great British Bake Off’ Is Food TV At Its Best

I love Chopped as much as the next person. Actually way, way more than the next person. Chopped delights me.

But even fanboys like myself have to admit that these Food Network dramas often sacrifice style for substance. It’s edited to look like everyone just barely finishes their food on time. People cry when they lose in the appetizer round. When Alex Guarnaschelli says, “the shrimp is well seasoned… but your pasta was undercooked”, the music changes like the aliens just landed.

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Bake Off judges Mary Berry (apparently very famous) and Paul Hollywood pose for an awkward promotional photo.

Thankfully, The Great British Bake Off is the substantive counterpoint to the excess of American cooking competitions. It takes place in a tent in the middle of a gorgeous British meadow. The music is understated and barely there. The interactions are genuine. The judges are exceptionally fair.

The show starts with 15 contestants who compete every weekend. One hopeful baker is eliminated each episode. The best part of this format is that it gives the judges time to truly and legitimately test a wide range of baking skills. I am halfway through the first season, and I am totally confident that the winner will truly be the best baker.

The Great British Bake Off is on Netflix. You have no reason to not be watching.