Friday, August 29, 2008

BBQ in Tustin

Well, after trying great BBQ in Texas, we thought we'd try some BBQ in our local town, Tustin. Beach Pit BBQ is located in Old Town Tustin in a 1915 historic building that used to be a car garage. Many of the original fixtures are still on the walls, as well as an exposed ceiling -- a great atmosphere for this type of fare!

Billed as "Southern Smoke, California Style" BBQ, Beach Pit BBQ had some hits and misses. There were four of us and we tried many things. The baby back ribs were by far the best option. The spicy/tangy sauce was a good temperature and taste, and the ribs were moist and easy to eat.

The Alabama Slamma is your combination plate and is priced at $19.95 with your choice of (3) meats and (2) sides (or at $16.95 with your choice of (2) meats and (2) sides). We tried it with pulled pork, beef brisket and sausage. Of the three, we rated the sausage highest, followed by the beef brisket and pulled pork. The pork was just not that moist and juicy. And maybe it's because I was eating Texas BBQ last week. However, my friends thought the same. The spare ribs were also tried and they, liked the baby back ribs, were juicy and falling off the bone.

Of the various sides offered, we seemed to sample most. Corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, BBQ beans and blueberry cornbread. The BBQ beans were a mixture of kidney beans and navy beans in a tangy and spicy sauce. We all agreed that the beans were the best side option of all. The blueberry cornbread was also a refreshing change.

We ended our main course with a salad wedge -- a huge cut of iceberg lettuce with red onion slices, diced tomatoes and chunks of blue cheese and blue cheese dressing. Generously portioned and well-presented, it was quite refreshing after the heat of the main meal.

Dinners come with homemade banana pudding, which was surprisingly good and an easy ending to a full meal. We all left with leftovers. The portions are quite large, so keep that in mind when ordering.

Beach Pit BBQ also serves a "Southern Breakfast" on Saturday and Sunday from 10AM to 4PM. Requests have been made to feature breakfast locations in the Tustin/Irvine/Orange area, so stay tuned to this column for a feature in the near future.

Beach Pit BBQ, 560 El Camino Real, Old Town Tustin

Also located in Costa Mesa
1676 Tustin Avenue

Friday, August 22, 2008

BBQ in Austin City Limits

Howdy from the Lone Star State!

When in Austin, Texas this past week, I had to try some BBQ. You know, Texans are pretty particular about their BBQ, as well they should be. I sampled BBQ in various forms -- wet, dry, smoked, fancy, etc. I ate off of picnic tables, adjacent to gas stations and in very proper places.

Here are my most noteworthy BBQ places (and 1 very notable Mexican restaurant).

The Salt Lick
Located out in Hill Country in Driftwood, TX, this venerable spot has a little something for everyone. The sauce is vinegar-based and it's awesome. Order the combination plate if you're a newbie and you'll get some brisket, sausage and some ribs along with two sides and some breads. You'll eat family-style with other friends and diners on picnic tables and plastic plates. Remember to bring your cooler if you need an alcoholic libation to complete your meal as the restaurant is "dry." The Salt Lick was finger-licking good!

Rudy's has several locations throughout Texas and they are always connected to a gas station and a convenience store. It's not exactly the place to take your future betrothed on a first date, but it was one of the better BBQ places I tested. If this is your first time at Rudy's, they will welcome you with a handshake and a welcome mat filled with any sample of item that you'd like to try, and I tried nearly everything! In my humble opinion, the extra moist brisket was simply the best; it melted in your mouth as did the St. Louis Ribs. Rudy's dry spice and cooking over a 100% oak wood fire is what makes their meat so flavorful. I didn't think you needed the sauce that awaits you on every table. Again, you're sitting family-style on picnic tables, but this time with no plates -- just a piece of paper on a tray.

Lambert's Downtown Barbecue
Billed as "fancy barbecue," Lambert's is in an 1873 building in downtown Austin. You get proper tables and utensils, along with a full bar here. Later most evenings, there is live music --a staple in most Austin establishments. Highlights include the crispy wild boar ribs, brown sugar and coffee-rubbed beef brisket and the natural pulled pork. Sides are served family style and are plentiful enough for your entire table. Save room for the Fried Blackberry Pie with Lemon Ice Cream!

Guero's Taco Bar
In Southern California, we have a lot of great Mexican restaurants. In Austin, Guero's is truly outstanding. Their menu is large and there is something for everyone. The taco's are their staple and is what have made them renowned. Two highly recommended taco options were the Al Pastor -- marinated pork, topped with chopped onions, cilantro and pineapple, and the Carne Cuisada -- tender beef tips with cumin gravy. Corn tortillas are made by hand in the restaurant as are the hand-shaken margaritas.

When not eating, I had the pleasure of staying in two very nice hotels.

Places to Rest your Head
Four Seasons Austin
Located on the banks of Lake Lady Bird, the bar is a terrific gathering spot. The bed linens are some of the best in the industry and the discriminating and friendly staff makes you want to return as soon as possible.

Barton Creek Resort & Spa
Whether it's golf, spa or a meeting, Barton Creek has it. Nestled it the beautiful Texas Hill Country, you'll find rest and relaxation and plenty to do here. Decor is very reminiscent of Texas horse country.

Ode to Everything Food is off to Los Angeles for a cultural and culinary weekend. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hot! HOT! HOTTER in Scottsdale!

So, how hot is it considered when you land at 8:30PM and it's still 110 degrees? In my book, that's HOT!
I've been lucky (or cursed) to have been in Scottsdale, Arizona twice in the past 2-1/2 weeks on business. And I had some fun with good friends and meals that are worth comment and recommendations.

Vegging Out!
Many of you will wonder why you'd ever venture into a vegetarian, vegan and raw restaurant in Scottsdale. And trust me, it wouldn't have been on the top of my culinary destinations ordinarily. However, my friend, Dessi, is a raw vegan and she was just clamoring for some organic vegan food one night, and who am I to pass up a new culinary adventure.

Mandala Tea Room in Old Town Scottsdale serves beautiful and tasteful food in a comfortable setting. Being in Scottsdale, we had try vegan Mexican by ordering the "Chile Lime Live Nut Burrito," a burrito filled with walnuts, guacamole, salsa fresca, olives and sprouts and contained in a collard green leaf. There are many other "vegan" cuisines from which to choose as well. Try a martini with organic vodka and tea and even a raw berry mousse pie. Trust me, you'll feel good about yourself after this meal!

Eating Well in the Barrio
My friends, Ramona, Diane and I weren't so sure if we wanted to drive this far into the barrio of Phoenix, but the Barrio Cafe, was well worth the adventure. From the tableside preparation of guacamole to the posole verde soup to the pork and carne asada tacos, it's no wonder this restaurant is consistently voted Best Mexican in Arizona! There are over (40) types of tequila for all of you margarita afficianado's out there. Next time, I am going for brunch -- which is likely to wake the senses after an evening out!

The Greene House, at Kierland Commons, features fresh produce from the farms and markets of California. The Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Mousse was excellent and something I want to duplicate at home now! The menu has a little bit of something for everyone -- chicken, fish, kobe beef sliders. Everything is suitable after a busy day in the sun or shopping in Scottsdale.

In the Mood for Excess
Whether you're in the mood for seafood or steak in a classic setting, Eddie V's is the spot. From the colossal tower of chilled seafood to the bone-in rib-eye to the lobster and decadent desserts, Eddie V's delivers. (For those of you from Southern California, it is very reminiscent of Mastro's.)

Heavenly Bedrest
Fortunately, I was able to nestle into a heavenly bed at the Westin Kierland after some of these meals! Also recommended is The Westin Kierland, centrally located to 27-holes of golf, shopping and dining at The Kierland Commons, and home to a first-class Spa. It was the perfect landing spot for a thirst-quenching martini, views, and relaxation with fabulous friends.

As the old saying goes, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!" Or go to a restaurant!"

Friday, August 1, 2008

Marvelous Muttloaf

A few months ago, a friend gave me a cookbook entitled, "Pupsnacks." It's a great illustrated cookbook especially for dogs. Everyone that knows me knows I LOVE cookbooks. In fact, you could say I am a bit of a collector of them. Some people buy shoes, some dresses, some buy wine -- I buy cookbooks -- and they're displayed all over my kitchen and home.

Now that I have started this blog and have written about Oliver's special diet, I thought I would try this cookbook. I started with the "Marvelous Muttloaf" and Oliver really LOVED IT!

The recipe is not too dissimilar to a meatloaf you might prepare for your family, at least in texture, shape and appearance. Where it starts to differ, however, is with the ingredients. Instead of ground beef (veal or pork), I made this one with ground buffalo. This is one of Oliver's "approved" proteins, and since ground buffalo is readily available in Ralph's now, it wasn't hard to start there. The hard part was finding a couple of other ingredients -- wholemeal breadcrumbs made with wheat-free and gluten-free bread and low-fat Parmesan cheese. I know I wouldn't ordinarily shop for those items, but there have to be some diet-conscious, gluten-conscious pedestrians (and dogs) out there.

I went to Whole Foods (we have the largest one in their chain located just a few miles from our house) and managed to find the special bread crumbs. However, there was no finding the
low-fat Parmesan cheese anywhere. So, even though Oliver is an Italian dog by proxy (from my side of the family), he had to go without.

The muttloaf was easy to compose and the preparation was very similar to some of your family recipes -- beaten eggs, the breadcrumbs, tomato paste, parsley, etc. Then you place it in a loaf pan and bake it off, turn it onto a plate, and let it cool.

It was a huge HIT and if I didn't think I had a gourmet four-legged monster on my hands before, I certainly do now. I am not sure it will become a weekly ritual, however, I will try it again. And I will also try other recipes in the book (i.e., Pasta Bark Slice, Magic Meatballs, and perhaps even the New Bark Cheesecake) and share them with you in future posts. (Thanks again, Laura, for the gift!)

Until next time . . . Woof! Woof!

Makes 8-10 portions
Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 1-1/2 hours
5 oz. carrots, finely diced
4oz. fresh or frozen green peas
1 lb. minced beef (or buffalo)
3 oz. fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs, made with wheat-free and gluten-free bread
2 T. tomato puree'
1/2 oz. parsley, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
4 oz. low-fat Parmesan cheese, shaved
3 eggs, hard-boiled and shelled

1. Steam the carrots and peas until just tender and set aside to cool. Mix the minced beef with the breadcrumbs, tomato puree, parsley and beaten eggs, until well combined. Stir in the carrots and peas.
2. Roll the mixture into a ball and divide into half. Place the mixture in the base of a greased 2-lb. loaf tin, pressing firmly into the corners. Make a slight dip along the the center.
3. Sprinkle with the shaved Parmesan, then place the boiled eggs in a row down the center of the tin. Place the remaining mixture on top and press firmly around the sides and on top to completely cover the eggs.
4. Cover with foil and bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven, 350F. for 1-1/2 hours. Turn out onto a plate and leave to cool. Cut into slices, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve. Store any leftover muttloaf in the refrigerator for up to a week.
  • Carrots are a great source of vitamin C, benefiting your dog's vision, skin and lungs. They are also rich in beta-carotene, which helps protect against cancer.
  • If you cannot locate low-fat Parmesan, please skip this ingredient completely. Whole Parmesan cheese will have too much salt in it, an unhealthy ingredient for your dog.

Recipe courtesy of "Pupsnacks," by Stephanie Mehanna