Nibbles: Episode 8

On this episode of Nibbles: Dante and I chat with Spoon University contributor Carl Harmon-Vellotti about food trucks, food writing, scrambled eggs, and more.

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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.

Carnitas: The Better White Meat

Carnitas are the proper measure of any taco truck. At their best, they are pulled pork plus divinity — a tender, greasy, crispy miracle unrivaled among meats. When they get messed up, they are the most dry and boring meat on the menu.

When my friend decided to have taco night at his house, I saw an opportunity to try my hand at Mexican cuisine’s most thrilling and enigmatic protein. As imagined it, I would be Rumpelstiltskin, spinning carnitas forth from a slab of pork like gold from straw. Only in this version, no one would owe me their firstborn.

I could delight you with references to fairy tales all day, but my track record as a man of substance is well established. Let’s get to the meat of my story:

As always, I found a carnitas recipe by skimming through google until I had a sense of what the average recipe looks like.

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This recipe was one of my favorites.

This food network recipe is very similar to what I ended up doing, but I fiddled with it slightly — adding 2 limes, foregoing the jalapeño, and roughly chopping the garlic (nothing kills taco night like too much garlic).

I planned on buying 6 pounds of boneless pork shoulder (tripling the Food Network recipe), but when I went to Winco, I saw a stack of something called “carnitas” in the deli case. It was ostensibly pork shoulder, but cut this meat was cut into smaller pieces. I decided to grab that instead.

It cost twelve dollars to buy six pounds of pork — I’m not kidding. The meat used in carnitas is so cheap you start to worry that it’s going to be disgusting or expired, but that’s the whole point of carnitas. You cook them so slowly that they have to be delicious.

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Six pounds of pork shoulder: in the flesh.

Thus it was that I rinsed six pounds of pork, massaged it with olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper and cumin, and tossed it in a slow cooker. At this point, my kitchen already smelled pleasantly aromatic. I threw in the garlic and the onion, roughly chopped. I then juiced two limes and two oranges over the meat and tossed the rinds in with the meat. I set the whole affair on low and walked out the door.

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Carnitas require less ingredients that you think.

Eight hours later, my carnitas were cooked and smelled delicious. I removed the meat from the slow cooker and pulled it with two forks. I discarded the citrus rinds and fished out most of the onions, but the cooking juices stayed put.

It was taco time. I heated a generous amount of canola oil in a frying pan. When it was hot enough to make sizzling sounds, I put in my meat — just enough to cover the bottom because you want every piece to be sufficiently browned and greasy. I poured two ladles of the slow cooker liquid over the pork while it fried, which provided essential salt and flavor. I wish I had photos of this part, but frying something in one had with a DSLR the other is a level of douchebaggery to which I cannot succumb.

I opted for a traditional taco bar — guac, pico, jalapeños, sour cream, cilantro, and small corn tortillas. I also included some of my pickled red onions and cotija cheese for extra flair.

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I apologize for an unsettling white balance.
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Birds eye view.

The carnitas were delicious — salty and crispy just as I had envisioned. Moments after the meat came out of the pan, I built my tacos: Tortilla, carnitas, slab of guac, pickled onions, cotija, cilantro, sour cream.

I rarely delight in my own cooking, but was pleased with the way I visualized, and then executed, my flavor combinations. You can call me Guy Fieri, because these tacos were a quick trip to Flavortown (population: one dude with frosted tips).

Carnitas take a long time, but they aren’t labor intensive. Get out there and spend a shockingly small amount of money on meat. Your taco/enchilada/burrito/tostada awaits.

The Art of the Quick Pickle

I love pickled onions. They are the perfect bright spot in a meal. They provide the subtle depth of sautéed onions, but they’re tart and acidic rather than sweet. The more I eat, the more I prize the presence of acidity in food — salt and fat without acidity is like Monet without color.

Many of my favorite sandwiches have been adorned with gorgeous pink pickled onions. I am ashamed to say that while I loved these onions, I never pondered the origin. When my culinary sensei Pam Saindon started regularly pulling  jars of this marvelous allium out of her fridge, I knew I had to make some of my own.

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Photo credit: Pinterest (sorry I forgot to take a picture of my onions)

As it turns out. These onions are made in a process called the quick pickle (a hilarious name, I know). They are incredibly easy to make — so much simpler than I imagined. Also they look awesome in a jar — top notch Pinterest material.

How do you make quick pickled onions?

  1. Slice a red onion super thin. Put it in a mason jar.
  2. Pour apple cider vinegar into a sauce pan. Add salt and your choice of seasonings. Bring to a boil.
  3. Pour the boiling mixture into the jar. Cover the onions completely with the liquid. Let your onions sit for a while. Cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

THAT’S IT. The resulting onions are delicious and flavorful. I was preparing my onions for a taco bar, so I seasoned them with cumin, oregano and peppercorns for that authentic mexican flavor.

Here is the full recipe I used as a guide:

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-quickpickled-red-onions-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-193247

So go make yourself some quick pickled onions and thank me later.

(PS Always wear eye protection than chopping onions, if for no other reason than the thrill of being impervious to tears. I keep pair of old swim goggles in my pantry for exactly this purpose.)