Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Conversion Factor: Vegans, Livestock, and Napoleon

I am a carnivore, tried and true. I love meat. My favorite outdated 1980s advertising catch phrase is “Where’s the Beef?” followed closely by Emeril Legasse's “Pork fat rules.” There's a theme here, if didn't notice.

Several of my good friends have become, at least at some level, vegetarian. In concept, I disagree. But I am usually a good sport about their decision if they have some sort of relative logic behind it. Religion is a good enough reason for me, as long as they do not condemn my passion for cooking and eating meat. If they tell me that they heard that animals are mistreated I usually explode in what can only be explained as meat-rage. I do this because I know many families who raise livestock for slaughter and I also know that those people would do everything in their power to keep their livestock healthy. After all, it's their livelihood. In some cases these farmers even send their children out in sub-zero blizzards to care for the animals in the barn. The entire family knows it must be done for not only the animals, but the family, to survive.

A friend of mine grew up eating nothing but steak and chicken nuggets - and possibly small amounts of other things, as I don't recall him going through scurvy or rickets during our respective childhoods. Now he has decided that he is vegan, which is no meat and no animal products (butter, milk, and most things that I consider staples of the kitchen). I have yet to hear anything close to a logical reason for him to make this change.
Now my argument is not to bash the veg-heads - I try to be accepting while learning (and judging) their reason(s) why. Then I offer a defense of meat that is founded in fact and first hand knowledge.

Conversions are rare, but sweet. Another of my friends who chooses to be vegetarian for health reasons - an acceptable reason - was tempted back by this recipe and is back to eating chicken on occasion. It's not a full, brisket and sausage conversion, but the great difficulty in even getting a vegetarian back to trying meat was my great and immortal victory.

Here's how I did it - foist it on a vegetarian you love/pity soon. Reminder: Man B Que does not advocate force-feeding of vegetarians. That's a good way to get rabies.

Chicken Napoleon

The Set-up

- 2 9 by 10" sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed and cut into 12 3 by 5" rectangles
- 4 (4-ounce) boneless and skinless chicken breast halves
- 2 poblano peppers, whole
- 3 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise
- 1 lime, zested, then juiced
- 1 bunch cilantro, diced
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 large avocado, sliced into 8 pieces
- 2 c baby spinach leaves
- 2 tomatoes sliced 1/2" thick
- Kosher or coarse-grained sea salt
- Olive oil, for drizzling


1. Place an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the pastry on the prepared baking sheets. Using the tines of a fork, prick the top of the pastry all over.

3. Cover the pastry with parchment paper and place another baking sheet on top. Bake for 25 minutes until golden. Remove the top baking sheets and parchment paper. Set aside to cool.

4. Preheat a grill to med-hi. Season the chicken with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Grill until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Set aside to cool.

5. Grill poblano until charred all over peel skin and remove seeds. Cut into pieces to fit puff pastry.

6. In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, lime juice, lime zest, and cayenne pepper.

7. To assemble the Napoleons: Place 4 pieces pastry on a work surface. Slice each chicken breast diagonally into 6 (1/4-inch thick) slices. Place 3 chicken breast slices on each piece of pastry. Place 1/4 cup of spinach 1 tomato slice and 1 avocado slice on top. Spread 1 teaspoon of the mayonnaise mixture on the underside of another 4 pieces of pastry to create the middle layer of each Napoleon. Place on top. Repeat the layering. Each Napoleon should be completed with a piece of pastry as its top.


- Dirt Man

Thunderdome: MBQ vs. Professional Hamburglar

Sadly, The Hamburglar Touch led to the Hamburglar Restraining Order and the Hamburglar Tamper-Proof Ankle Monitor.

As has been frequently documented, Man B Que has a borderline-unhealthy fixation with burgers. This is something we share with Kevin Pang, who, no kidding, holds the title of Chicago Tribune Cheeseburger Bureau Chief. While I still think Professional Hamburglar is a much cooler title, being the the host of The Cheeseburger Show isn't exactly a bad resume line either.

Aside from being a dream title, I imagine that Pang has a pretty tough job. Imagine it - you love cheeseburgers, then suddenly you have to grind through tens of dozens of them on deadline. And I'm guessing it's not all top of the line gourmet jobs. Anyone's who has had a ketchup-drowned hockey buck on a soggy bun would likely agree. Point being, the man's got some authority, and has used it to create 16 observations on the state of Chicago burgerdom.

I applaud this Herculean cheeseburger effort, but it's apparent that Pang and Man B Que have somewhat diverging taste. And given that Man B Que is no slouch in the burger category, we're going to throw in on the matter. So herein, we are going to use the beauty of Fair Use to offer our comments on Pang's final sermon in Hamburglary. No hard feelings, and no veggie burgers. Our comments in italics.

Pang's Cheeseburger Commandments

1. Ketchup and mustard are overrated as condiments. Too acidic and pungent, respectively. If you must, add a little. Underrated: mayo.

Agreed about the criminal overuse of ketchup in a lot of burgers. Have you been to Portillo's and ordered a burger? It's like eating a ketchup sandwich with beef garnish. But mayo? Underrated? Mayo is a disgusting abomination, and putting it on a burger detracts from its original intended use - as salad dressing for ridiculously fat people.

2. Tallgrass beef, for the most part, lacks the unctuousness, moisture content and brawny flavor I seek. That said, the Tallgrass beef burger at Harry Caray's Tavern, above, is most excellent (3551 N. Sheffield Ave., across from Wrigley Field). Order it rare or medium-rare.

Second one in, and you're starting to lose people. Not a lot of people refer to a burger by the name of the purveyor. Strike one. Strike two - unctuousness. Sure, you get what he means, but that doesn't change the fact that he's saying it sort of like a douche. And if you don't get it, that means it's two things you have to look up. That's a lot of work for a line in a burger article.

3. Texture and mouth feel are important considerations. Easiest way to improve this: Ask for toasted buns (buttered, preferably). You can actually taste the difference between toasted and untoasted buns.

Again, a good lesson wrapped in a thin candy shell of fancy-pantsery. Toasted buns are good, soggy burgers are gross. Why must we bring "mouth feel" into it? A lot of people who love food and cooking would still sooner punch you in the back of the head than listen to you rave about "mouth feel."

4. Favorite casual sit-down chain restaurant burger? Red Robin's A.1. Peppercorn Burger.

This tip brought to you by Red Robin.

5. Favorite turkey burger? Found at Marc Burger, Marcus Samuelsson's food court burger joint on the seventh floor of Macy's in the Loop.

Favorite turkey burger? That's like saying "least painful root canal." Also, many may not feel like going up to the 7th floor of that godforsaken store to eat a food court burger.

6. When they say "Kobe" ... With very few exceptions, any burger labeled "Kobe" is essentially a burger that costs $5 more. (Also, the "Kobe" label is misleading. It probably doesn't come from the Hyogo prefecture in Japan. It's like wrongly labeling sparkling wine as "Champagne" when it didn't come from the Champagne region in France.)

Excellent tip - also of note: that Kobe business costs $16-30 an ounce. So that $6 plate of "Kobe sliders" at Finn McCool's is just a plate of lies.

7. The best patties I've had are cooked on a griddle top. Something about stewing in their own fat.

Amen! Hallelujah! Steamed Hams!

8. Fries? Glad you asked. Although french fries fried in duck fat are in vogue, serious gourmands know potatoes fried in beef tallow are far superior. The flavors are more robust, buttery, savory. Top Notch Beefburgers (2116 W. 95th St.) and Labriola Bakery Cafe (3021 Butterfield Road, Oak Brook) do excellent beef tallow fries, pictured above.

Honestly, most of us are never going to seek out fries on the basis of the substance in which they were fried, but those Hot Doug's duck fries are tasty. Chicago's a good town for fries. It's a good town for heart disease too, but that's a separate story.

9. Consider balance. Don't just pile your favorite ingredients and accouterments between two buns. Example: The smokiness of bacon demands to be paired with American cheese (or perhaps a less-sharp Cheddar). The earthiness of mushrooms pairs better with a milder cheese, such as a Swiss or provolone, perhaps Gruyere.

And this marks the first time someone's ended a sentence in a cheeseburger article with "perhaps Gruyere."

10. Steer clear of feta, bleu and brie as cheese options. They just end up overpowering the burger.

Agreed. Feta can be alright, but bleu tastes like kitchen chemicals and brie smothers the sandwich like the haughty judgment of a chain-smoking Frenchman.

11. Lettuce and tomatoes end up getting in the way.

Damn straight. A big piece of lettuce ends up acting like an emergency exit for the more delicious toppings.

12. There is no greater flavor combination than bacon plus cheese plus caramelized onions.

I call subjective. It's the food blogger equivalent of calling someone a witch.

13. Look out, bacon. Egg with runny yolk is the new sexy topping.

Here we find that Kevin's been spending a little too much time around other food industry people, and a little too much time eating a sit-down burger places. What your bok choy-loving friends might find cute doesn't translate to the rest of us poor schlubs. Also, "look out bacon"? Don't warn meat. It's unseemly.

14. Best bang for your buck. Schoop's (19 locations, mostly in northwest Indiana and Calumet region of Illinois), and Illinois Bar and Grill, above, (4135 W. 47th Ave. in Chicago's Archer Heights; 1131 S. State St. in Lemont; and at Midway Airport).

This tip brought to you by ... oh, wait I made that joke already. Maybe we can go with 14 commandments next time?

15. Favorite fast-food burger? A tie between Steak 'n Shake, above, and Schoop's. Both have something in common: beef patties with thin, crispy edges that accentuate the "steak" flavor.

Do I hear 13? 13 commandments? Also, Steak 'n Shake is a cop-out answer. That's not your classic fast food. Casual sit-down or diner, perhaps. Although give it to Steak 'n Shake, their northwest burbs branches have enough surly, toothless waitstaff to compete with any fast food place in pure customer service misery.

16. The biggest rule of all: There is no rule. If it tastes good to you, it tastes good.

So to sum up, we have 4 rules that are really just the names of places to eat, and 1 that negates all the previous rules. And an editor couldn't have cut this down to an even ten?

Harvest Ales: 'Tis the Season to Be Hoppy

Alright hop heads, it’s my favorite time of the beer-drinking year - fall. When the leaves turn and the temperatures start to drop, I can’t help but think of the arrival of seasonal harvest brews. Harvest (or wet-hopped) beers are special because they utilize the freshest hops available. The result is very much evident in the fresh flavor profiles of these once-a-year beers.

When hops are harvested, they are typically dried and either kept in whole leaf form, or made into pellets or plugs. The drying process allows the hops to stay fresh for a longer period of time so brewers are able to make beer all year round. But once a year when the hops are ripe, brewers get a unique opportunity to use the freshest hops around.

Wet-hopped beers are different from most others in the fact that the hops never go through the drying process. The hops are picked straight from the vine and are immediately used by the brewer. The only way this works is that the hops have to be directly thrown in the brew kettle right after harvest time. Because the hops haven’t been dried, time is of the essence and you need to get them into the boil before they go bad.

The resulting beer is very much akin to using fresh herbs and spices as opposed to dried when cooking. The flavor is less biting and you can taste a “green-ness” that is unmatched. What you are looking for in a great harvest ale is that beautiful grassy hop flavor. It is for this reason that you DO NOT age these beers. Even after the beer has been bottled, the hop profile can die with age just like any other beer. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?

Make sure to pick up your harvest beers from a reputable beer retailer that rotates selection often. This ensures that you’re not getting last years batch. Place the beers towards the front of the fridge so you don’t forget they’re there. There’s no such thing as drinking too much during the hop harvest season.

Cheers from Hop Cast!

Some examples of wet-hopped beers to look for…

Three Floyds Broo-Doo
Two Brother Heavy Handed IPA
Founders Double Trouble
Sierra Nevada Chico Estate Harvest Ale
Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale
Surly Wet

- Hopcast Ken