Archive for September, 2007

Make My Sandwich Properly!

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

I frequently dine at North By Northwest in Austin. (Yes I’m naming names here people.) Mostly the food is good, but I swear that place annoys me with their propensity to create obviously inferior dishes that could have been fine, and should have been were there anyone paying attention. I’m not talking about improperly cooked instances of a generally good dish: I’m talking about recipes that are just plain bad, for no good reason.

Case in point: the Grilled Portabello Sandwich. First, of course, it’s Portobello. That I can forgive as virtually every grocery store on the planet spells the word incorrectly too. The “sandwich” involves grilled mushroom (sliced), eggplant (sliced thick), sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and some sort of ranch-like dressing, all wrapped in a thick pita-like (but definitely not really a pita) bread.

OK, where to start with what’s wrong. I think I’ll work my way in by pointing out that eggplant is really not something anybody should want on a sandwich. I can possibly imagine eggplant that’s been roasted pretty fiercely – sliced thin – and then topped with cheese, but really the vegetable has little taste. Forget it. Make a nice eggplant-olive salad on the side if somebody really wants to make Big Eggplant happy. If it absolutely must be in the sandwich, cook it. Normal people do not want to eat half-cooked eggplant chunks.

The mushrooms which star in the dish also need to be completely cooked. Completely. What’s more, they need to be seasoned, and this really is one of the main problems with the sandwich that make me wonder whether anybody there ever actually tastes the things. This is a rich sandwich at a brewpub and the lead ingredient in the dish has been given no pizazz at all.

The sun-dried tomatoes are fine, but there’s not enough of that. What the sandwich sorely needs is oomph. What sort of thing do you do to a grilled sandwich in this form to provide oomph? Right: carmelized onions and grilled marinated banana peppers. I want a mushroom cheesesteak, because that’s exactly what this sandwich wants to be! There’s a mushroom cheesesteak locked up with those demented inappropriate chunks of eggplant, and it’s whimpering pitifully for help!

Finally, the cheese: it hits the table, and it’s still cold! That’s right: the barely-grilled vegetables are more-or-less hot, but the cheese is stuffed into the bread cold from the refrigerator. I’m sorry, but a cold lump of mozzarella (unmelted, in other words) is not a value-add. It’s a lump of solid milk.

The ranch dressing is fine, such as it is, but it’d be completely unnecessary were the rest of the dish done properly.

Here’s what needs to happen:

  • Marinate the mushrooms in something like thinned soy sauce, cheap balsamic vinegar, or a dry salt/pepper/thyme rub. Almost anything would be better than nothing.
  • Get the onions and peppers going on the griddle. The onions can be pre-cooked of course.
  • Sautee the mushrooms – sliced – and cook them until they are actually done. I want some browning.
  • Combine into a little pile of veg and top with a handful of shaved provolone and let the cheese melt in a little – on the grill. The whole assembly should be hot.
  • Hit the veg with some parsley (forget the ranch) and plate out onto the warm pita-like stuff (which I confess isn’t bad at all).

I find it really hard to believe that the above sandwich would be less well-received than the weird dish currently served.

Velvet Slug

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

The specimen of Angustipes ameghini above is from somewhere in our backyard. Allie spotted it from a considerable distance using her odd powers of creature clairvoyance. I think she named it, probably something like “Clarence” or “Rainbow”, but I don’t recall exactly. I was out trying to get a good picture of a spiderweb, without much success.

The “velvet slug” is an introduced species, originally noted in Paraguay. They’re supposedly a pretty bad pest, but one at least has a friend now. Adult slugs can live for a few years apparently.

Squirrels Indicate Problems

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

After much confusion, the “family outing” yesterday ended up being a trip to the opulent Whole Foods World Headquarters store by me, Allie, and Pat. Christopher had backed out to stay home and “keep Mom company”, a decision which understandably delighted Elaine, who had worn herself out during two outings of her own.

After the traditional pizza on the traditional roof with the traditional organic soda, and the traditional hurling of empty (or not empty) beverage containers into the recycling bins with as much force as could be mustered, we shopped for needed and unneeded items and sampled the free samples for a while before the final money extraction and departure. In the garage right across from the van I spied the convertible of a friend, top down, and I told Allie and Pat, suggesting that they produce a “stick figure fest” calling card.

The van, ordinarily filled with a stock of almost everything, seemed to be out of paper, but I found a mostly-blank laser-printed email message in a plastic tub of miscellany. While tearing out the unprinted portion, I noticed a really odd stench, which in the context of that van’s interior is a pretty strong statement. I asked the kids whether any weird wet stuff might have been left in the vehicle, and Pat said something about having collected an enormous ball of pond scum during some recent outing. That more-or-less explained it, for the moment, and I was satisfied as I walked the completed artwork over to the target Miata.

The weird smell got weirder on the drive home, but I assumed it was because the biota in the pond scum ball were awoken by the sun once we left the Whole Foods parking cavern. Later in the afternoon I remembered to ask Elaine about the odor, and she said the van always smelled like something due to the perpetual miasma filling the garage itself.

By four or five o’clock, however, the state of the garage had deteriorated markedly, and it became clear that the smell was in fact the putrid emanations from the corpse of some unfortunate rodent trapped in one or another pile of debris. Challenged, Elaine started cleaning stuff and packing up garbage and Goodwill bags in a quest to locate the body. (It says something that she explicitly chose that task over preparing dinner for the kids.) After some time, a portion of the garage had become tidier than it’d been in some years, bringing it up to the level of a typical 9th Ward flood ruin, but nothing gruesome was found. With a couple of fans running the air had cleared up a lot.

While carrying sacks of junk around out of the garage to the side trash storage area (hidden behind a fence due to neighborhood association mandate), Elaine started to notice that she was still detecting the smell, but now it was concentrated outside the garage. Finally she started noticing the flies, and that which was interesting them: the hood of the van itself. Lifting that, she discovered that something furry had managed to wedge itself behind some object in that very crowded engine compartment before expiring some days previous. Impressively, Elaine actually tried extricating the corpse (gloved, of course), but was unsuccessful.

So we did what anybody would do in such a predicament: we called zoologist Rio Tenango at Amazon Rodent & Wildlife Control. From a man with a name like that we felt we could expect success if we were calling to arrange the removal of a lion pride from our living room, so we were pretty confident. Elaine did ask, however, if there would be a charge should the task prove impossible. “If I have to cut the thing to pieces, I’ll get it out of there,” the fearless Mr. Tenango responded.

We had thought it was a raccoon, because all we could see was the tail and it seemed like something a raccoon would do. (Raccoons had taken up residence in the roof of a previous home, after creating an entranceway in the chimney race large enough to pilot a kayak through.) In fact, when Rio arrived and immediately declared the remains to be that of a squirrel, Elaine asked “isn’t that pretty weird?”

“It’s not normal,” came the zoologist’s laconic reply.

The squirrel is gone now, as is Mr. Tenango and a sum of money that I can’t deny is well within the range of what I’ll surrender in order to avoid wrestling with dead mammals.