Noun 1. gastronome - a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment (especially good food and drink)bon vivant, epicure, epicurean, foodie, gourmetsensualist - a person who enjoys sensuality. Follow me on Twitter: @Aghastronome

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Burger Love: The Burger Guys

I have to confess to being an "SBG", or Standard Burger Girl.  By that I mean to infer that I always try to consume and review bacon cheeseburgers, or a variant thereof.  My recent trip to The Burger Guys sort of put me off of my formula.  Change is not only inevetable, it's a "good thing" (I say this in my very best Martha voice).  I set off at lunch determined to find and sample The Burger Guys.  Particularly, as I have heard so many wonderful things about them in the foodie community.  I will warn you, when I went I had a time finding them.  Their sign was a temporary one, but emblazoned with their purple logo.  I've lived in Houston too long, I have grown accustomed to the strip center signage and large free-standing parking lot signs.  Plus, I might need me some new glasses.  They are located in the strip mall next to a free-standing "Raising Cane's", which serves chicken tenders, at 12225 Westheimer Road. 

I ordered the Lancaster, medium rare with "Brussels", which are Belgian fries, er, frites, and come with your choice of two sauces, to go.  Nothing tests the mettle of a burger and fries like a quick road trip from the restaurant to elsewhere.  I selected house made ketchup and a cilantro bleu cheese aoli for my fries.  I found all of the staff to be extremely helpful and friendly.  After a short wait, amid friendly assurances my order would be right out and offers of something to drink while I wait, I had the goods in hand.  I drove the 5 minutes it takes to get back under my flourescent lights.  No easy task with the smells emanating from the bag, I assure you.

The breakdown goes like this.  I ordered medium rare and I got it.  Extra points for seeing slightly red juices running from my burger.  The patty was about 3/4 inch thick, so, it's a hand and mouthful.  All ingredients are as local and as fresh as you can find.  More extra points.  The fries were crispy and still very warm.  I love "formal french fries", or, fries made from potatoes still in their jackets.  The house ketchup was sweeter than I am used to, but, had lovely flavor.  The other sauce, the cilantro bleu cheese?  Well, it just rocked.  I won't cop to licking the plastic cup clean.  I couldn't, my coworkers had not all gone out to lunch.  I don't wanna be "that girl", and it wasn't a jello shot, anyway.  I didn't get an egg on my burger, a fresh, local, Hatterman Poultry Farm egg of the chicken or duck variety.

Other things to note:  The mustard is made in house with Saint Arnold Brewing Company's Fancy Lawnmower Ale.  They use Houston Dairymaid's cheeses.  Given that you could sling a dead cat, as the saying goes (not that I, myself, personally would), and hit Phoenicia Specialty Foods, what a great Saturday that could be.  A delectable burger, followed by a trip to explore an awesome store.  Hookahs, groceries, cheeses, an olive bar and fresh warm pita that descends from the second story plus, much, much more.  That could be a perfect day, well for me, definitely.   If Feast made a burger, it would be such as this. Yes, I know, I'm rather falling all over myself - I was impressed.  Just a little bit.

For one of the better to best burgers in town for the value (I recall my total order being around $11 including tax, title, license and a wee tip) you cannot go wrong with The Burger Guys.  I have serious issues paying that much at a chain, regardless of how "good" it is, this goes for you too, Beck's Prime.  I would gleefully drop the cococuts on this burger again, and again.  Next time, the Houston Burger - as the bacon marmalade just fascinates me.  I am even mustering up letting go of the same amount of money for a...hot dog (I know, it's not your ordinary dog - it's double-fisted).

The Burger Guys
12225 Westheimer Rd. #G
281.497.GUYS(4897)

11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. Mon - Thurs
11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. Fri - Sat
Closed Sunday

The Menu

Urban Harvest says the hens laying Hatterman's eggs are "free-roaring", I'm not sure what to make of that. A hat? A brooch?  A pterodactyl?  Sorry, I had to, and yes, I do know what they mean...free range, un-caged, like us country folk were raised on, eggs.  Otherwise known as the freshest, best available eggs in H-Town and it's surrounding area.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taco Bell: Whaddya Want for Nothin'? Rubber Biscuit? (UPDATED!)

It's really not a big surprise to me that there are "fillers" associated with fast food meat products.  After all, I add oatmeal to meatloaf to stretch my budget.  I like porcupine meatballs, that are aptly named, as they have rice in them.  Again, grains to stretch meat dollars.  I was kinda surprised to see on Twitter, and in the Chronicle that Taco Bell (or Taco Hell, or Taco Smell - we all have nicknames for chain places) uses less than 35% real meat in their "seasoned beef".  I would love to say with absolute conviction that I have never, personally, noticed a difference - but, I don't really trade with them.  Like most chains, it's a desperation play on my part.  Well, buscept for Taco Cabana.  If you've read my blog, you know I have a very soft spot in my even softer belly for them.  The stewed chicken is delicious, in my ever so humble opinion.

All these things being said, for the average chain and the even more average value menu, we might be rather startled at the ratio of real USDA, inspected and certified meat vs. filler.  This is something that really merits more research on my part.  I'll get right on that, provided the data is available.

On a side note, how do the vegetarian processing companies make a sausage that actually tastes like sausage?  You can't really convince me that there exists a vegetable that is pork-flavored.  Anyone have some ideas on that business?  Inquiring minds wanna know, and have to get back to work. 

Just remember, this under 35% meat product is served up by the fine folks that also pawn off reconstituted bean powder as "beans".  How's that for high-quality, reasonably priced Mexican fare?  Me, I'll just stick to the taqueria or that Cabana place I am so endeared to.  Now that is thinking outside the leavened food product that holds my sandwich, or bun.

UPDATE:
Taco Bell plans to counter-sue, claims to use 100% USDA-inspected beef from the same people the common consumer might buy from, like, say Tyson Foods.  Really?  Lab tests allegedly confirmed a large (say, 65% plus) presence of maltodextrin, soy lecithin, etc.  Looks like Battle Meat is heating up!  Even though the original suite asked for no monetary compensation, just truthful advertising.  Wouldn't 100% honest advertising shake up value menus across the nation...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Home Cookin': Thyme for Navy Bean Soup

Wow, I have been radio silent since mid-December?  Really?  I have no excuse for myself, unless you buy the one about holidays putting me in some type of emotional funk.  I drove four hours straight, and 3 of them were in silence, anyone who knows me is painfully aware of my penchant for singing in the car.  Like I said, funk, funk, funk.  But, it's over now, until about mid-February, when I try to carve my heart out with a spork. I know, I am supposed to love Christmas, but, my love is turning to complete ambivalence, except for the food part.  Smelling the 15 pounds of smoked ham from the greatest meat market in my home town and most of the surrounding area makes me happy.  Okay, fair enough - pork and processed pork products of all manner make me happy.  But ham, ham is the most revered.  It's sliced hot with a nice horseradish mustard sauce, then sliced cold for a sandwich, it's diced into a cheesy fritatta with some fresh herbs, it's ground for ham loaf or spread and then, the entire family leg wrestles over the bone with it's scraps of clinging meat.  If you're lucky, you get the skin too (reserve that smoked skin for soup, tossing it is a cardinal sin, seriously).  Or, if you are like me and have to drive all over Texas and back to visit family and eat all of their ham, you get no bone.  I got no bone.  How sad for me.  I didn't save the skin, and I think Ms. Boot Camp put it in the trash can.  Healthy people, sheesh.  Oh, fear not, I know how to work around this bone issue.  There, in my grocer's meat case, I can always find me some smoked ham hocks, skin-on, bone-in, with a bit of meat to taunt you with, ham hocks.

With the weather remaining cool to colder, but, not freezing and damp enough to make your bones hurt - it's soup time.  One of my very favorites, which happens to be cheap as sin to boot, is Navy Bean.  What goes best with the magical fruit?  Magical meats...pork.  Ham to be specific.  Hocks if you gotta, but smoked and ham - accept no substitute.  Here's how to pull it together, very simple and ridiculously delicious.

Thyme for Navy Bean Soup

2-3 smoked ham hocks, or one coveted ham bone
1 medium onion, roughly diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced (or, I just rough chop the center of the bunch, leaves and all, leaving the root base for 
the compost bin)
1-16 oz bag of navy beans, or small white beans, picked through and well rinsed
2-3 quarts of water
1 cube of Knorr Ham Bouillon or, you can substitute chicken broth/stock if you don't have the ham stock cube or crystals.
1 tsp dried thyme, or strip the leaves from three stems (about 4-6" stems) of fresh thyme
1 tsp minced garlic (2-3 cloves fresh)
1 serrano pepper, sliced into rings
Salt, white pepper and black pepper to taste.
1 Tbsp. olive oil, if needed

In a dutch oven, drizzle a very small amount of olive oil and heat to medium.  Add ham hocks and "brown", turning every 5 minutes.  Add diced onion, celery and bell pepper and saute down until softened.  Pour water over meat and veggies, add rinsed beans and bouillon and bring to a boil.  Add seasonings (including the serrano and garlic) and stir well. Reduce heat and continue at a nice slow bubble for about 2-3 hours.  Remove ham hocks to cool, turn soup off to cool. Adjust seasoning to taste. Skin the ham hocks and shred the meat, adding the meat back to the soup. Put the cooled soup in the refrigerator overnight.  Reheat the cold soup, and simmer for an additional hour or two (I like to do this,as the released starches thicken the soup and the flavors have time to marry and honeymoon, it's just more flavorful).  Test again for salt/pepper. Serve warm with crusty bread or whole grain crackers.

If you have the real thing, the ham bone...skip the browning part and once the veggies are soft and the liquid added, toss in the ham bone.  If you have the skin, render the fat from the skin and crisp it up in place of "browning" the ham hocks.  If you have carrots, by all means, scrape and dice two medium ones and submit to the pot with the rest of the veggies.  I have been out of the habit of keeping them.  Well, I have not been cooking very much, either, which would explain the lack of beta carotene in the cold box.

This soup makes a fantastic lunch to take to work.  I have been taking sandwich makings and having a bit of soup with a half or "foldover" sandwich for lunch.  Last week, I bought lunch every day - even the crappy deli sandwich in the basement of our building, without any chips or drink is over five bucks.  I am ashamed of myself, and am now determined to pack a sack lunch most days.