A trip to the UnderBelly via Chef Chris Shepard


When looking for restaurants to enjoy in the random cities I get to visit, I always check a couple of sources to make sure my palette gets pleasured.  Luckily, being in the industry I get the luxury of referencing my DineAround publications from Datassential, they never steer me wrong.  

I also tend to scour endless websites that break down each city by culinary districts and flavor neighborhoods as I seek out the shadey locations that only the local foodies talk about.  Like many, I also enjoy some good food porn from time to time as well as I try to determine where to dine.  

Ironically or not, these amazing places fall in the typically “transitioning areas”.  These areas are always the up and coming and trendy sections of town that tend to scream good food, dancing, shopping and style.  Gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor these areas always lead the big cities and the rest of the country with their openness, creativity, edgeiness and general flamboyance.  

The call last week was Chef Chris Shepard’s UnderBelly.  This is his journey through the food scene of Houston, where in the underbelly of the city “lies an endless array of ingredients and cultures” that shapes his cultural influence.


He provides a great hipster vibe from when you walk in the door until you leave.  From the display of canned and preserved ingredients used in his dishes to the recycled book menu’s and daily changing dishes built from what he finds that morning in the markets, the overall look and feel is exciting, flavorful and fun.  Being known for his nose to tail approach, cured meats and interesting flavor combinations I dove right into the charcuterie plate.  

The charcuterie plate featured an array of traditional favorites and a salami with an interesting flavor twist.  While they were all delicious, his adventurous efforts didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  The mustard and pickled veggies are always a nice compliment to the fatty goodness, but while the meat was delicious, it was nothing above average.  

Here are the featured meats:

Vietnamese Salami – looking for the Vietnamese part of this one was a struggle.  As it was delicious, just tasted like salami. 

Mortadella – typical, like fancy bologna but has a nice spicy, peppery finish

Cured Pork Belly – melts away in your mouth like butter.

Coppa – melts with slight smokiness and sweetness

Molenzino – coppa type with nice salty finish

For my main course I tried to once again embrace his southern heritage and creative flavor spirit and went with the grilled chuck flap, braised greens and beet salad.  All three of these were nicely done, the beef was well marbled and cooked prefectly with a solid char and bloody center.  The greens were a prefect mix of bitter and sour and the beets, while slightly bland, complemented the dish solidly.  Overall, the main course was delicious and lived up to his underbelly theme.  

For dessert, I went with his staple and crowd favorite, the vinegar pie.  This was probably the most interesting part of the meal.  It was kind of like a key lime pie, but made with sugar cane vinegar.  While it had the awesome vinegar bite you would expect, the overall product was disappointing.  The crust was extremely thick and didn’t quite meld well with the sweet acid filling.  

The peanut brittle on top was a great idea, but the overall texture was extremely hard and sticking to your teeth, so while it was a good thought, I probably would have left it off.  

Overall, the hipster appeal was definitely there as the ambiance was Southernly inviting and elegant.  The food was creative and while I appreciated his story, vision and overall flavor combinations, the bill was a bit excessive for the flavor delivery and culinary impact.  In the end, while I would consider coming back the next time I am in Houston, it may fall back to the end of the list with so many other choices.

Starbucks found themselves a Unicorn this week 


In the hunt for the ultimate drink, Starbucks has struck gold this week with its introduction of the Unicorn Frappuccino.      In the words of the Barista at our local Oconomowoc Starbucks yesterday, “sorry, but the whole country is out”.   This is one day earlier than advertised, making the craze for this unique creation, even that much more successful.  

The drink takes a break from the normal hum drum latte and transforms the drinker to a magical world of pink and purple.  The sour and sweet combination makes the tongue sing with fantastical excitement.  This magical mixture of sour mango and sweet blue raspberry provide a perfect melody of deliciousness.  Like my favorite candy, Sour Patch Kids, it gives you a quick hit of sour, but finishes sweet,  like the naughty little creatures they are.  

When you look at the hysteria and happiness that this drink has created over the past five days, I would say that Starbucks has again successfully made many people happy and hyper.  With a mere 59 grams of sugar, it may not be the healthiest of treats, but it may be the most fun!

Kiss me, I’m Irish.   At least for today

It’s amazing how many people suddenly become Irish on March 17th.  Even if your great, great, great Grandma knew an Irish guy in her town, you are magically transformed into a leprechaun and have green Irish blood running through your veins.  Actually, according to the US Census, only 32.7 million US residents claimed Irish ancestry in 2015. This is more than seven times the population of Ireland (4.6 million), but less than 10% of the US population, so why is it that we all want to be Irish for the day.  

I thinks it’s the Guinness.   In fact, according to USA Today over 13 million pints of this lovely, black gold will be consumed on St. Patrick’s Day.  

Since I am, at least 1/6th Irish, I find it appropriate and a ancestral necessity to support the other 56% of Americans who plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but do we really know why?  Do you know who St. Patrick was and why we plan to fork out over $5.3B in 2017in his holy name?  

Like over 30% of US households who plan to cook a special meal for St. Patty’s Day, my daughter Cate and I figured it appropriate to showcase our favorite Irish dish, Shepard’s pie, with you today from our favorite crazy chef and useles vat of food knowledge Alton Brown.  His recipe, while is traditional in spirit, always has an Alton flare that adds that tasty amount of yum that Cate and I both enjoy. 

http://altonbrown.com/shepherds-pie-recipe/

I also figured it appropriate to attach yet another set of useless St. Pattys Day knowledge for the reading enjoyment.    


Enjoy this recipe, a room temperature pint of Guinness and top of the morning to you.

The New Multicultural American Kitchen – 3 flavor trends for 2017

ABC Family's "The Fosters" - Season Three

The make up of the American household today is quite different than it was just thirty years ago.  In one generation, we have gone from the nuclear family with it’s one mom, one dad and two kids all of the same race to a country of single parent and multi-cultural rentals.  The American dream of owning your own home in the suburbs has fallen to the wayside with the recession of 2008 and a millennial generation that’s more concerned with their phone plan than their life plan.

We currently have more single households in the United States than ever in history with a whopping 34% of children’s today living with an unmarried parent, this is up from just 9% in 1960, and 19% in 1980.  This combined with a fast growing Hispanic population and increasing bi-cultural households has made for quite the change over the last thirty years.  Hispanics made up a minuscule 6.5% of total US households in 1980 and now make up almost 18%.

Not only are we seeing a dramatic change in the overall make up of the household, but the US household is now a multicultural melting pot of Black, White, Asian, Indian, Mexican, Russian and anything and anyone.  Gone are the days of the traditional one man, one woman same race household, today we see no boundaries and no barriers to what makes up an American home.  Even American popular culture has figured it out with shows like The Foster’s which features a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological teenaged kids being raised by two moms that recently completed it’s fourth season on FreeForm.

I know this is a lot of data to take in, but it says one clear thing to me, the times they are a changin and so are our palettes.  Today’s kitchen is dramatically different than it was fifty, twenty, even ten years ago and will continue to evolve as cultures mash up and consumers bring their cultures and culinary heritages together in the kitchen.

With this changing dynamic of the American household comes a revolution in the kitchen. With the meshing of these different ethnic backgrounds comes a fusion of authentic flavor profiles and mixed cooking styles.  The millennial generation has not only brought an openness and multicultural influence to the kitchen, but also an appreciation of authenticity and a palette for exploration of new spices, flavor combination and cooking techniques.  The increasing pace of life and access to data through technology has also created a need for new portable formats and requirement of healthy functionality that can be consumed anywhere and anytime.  Day part barriers have been demolished and three squares a day now only refers to the number of bars you have left on your battery life.

As this generation continues to grow older and establish families, they will also be merging their culinary styles that they grew up with.  As acculturation takes hold and this generation becomes Americanized, they will refuse to lose sight of their roots, but blend it into their lifestyles and culinary creations.  They are striving for authentic recipes, flavors, and dishes but are also willing to merge with their counterparts and create an entirely new platform of cooking and flavor.  Hispanic-Asian, Korean-Mexican, Cuban-Vietnamese, Peruvian-Japanese, Italian Indian.  Each of these cooking styles offering its own spectrum of flavor and spice, but being merged with one another to create a fantastic fusion of flavor and form.

As the millennial generation will continue to lead this quest for fantastical fusion flavors the sky is the limit.  I see many combinations coming to fruition in the near future, but here is where I see the next wave of flavor heading.

1) Latino-Indian – as Americans we continue to be scared of curry and Indian spices, but the palette is starting to open and the Mexican platform seems to be a good way for these two formats to merge.  They share similar handheld formats and spices like cumin and cilantro that seem to make an easier connection.  Samosas have a strange resemblance to an empanada, so I could expect to see a yellow curry and potato empanada or a green chili and chicken samosa in the Trader Joe’ frozen aisle in the near future.

samosa

2) Mexican merging with Vietnamese cuisine – both formats have similar hand held varieties that seem to work well together.  Tortas and bánh mi will fuse together as these two formats continue to make headway with consumers.  You may see a carne asada bánh mi on a food truck near you soon.

banh-mi

3) Japanese Italian – this format is been running through the streets of Brazil for many years, but this will finally start to take hold in the near future as Japanese street food and Italian profiles become mainstream.  Think about how delicious a pizza filled steamed bun would taste.  It’s the upscale Hipster hot pocket.

steam-bun-2

The Ultimate Halloween Candy Beer and Wine Pairing Guide


Alright the weekend is upon us and you are probably wondering how you are going to survive another weekend of candy crazed kids.  In addition, Are you wondering what to do with all that leftover Halloween candy?

Well luckily I have your answer in this post.  Since everything these days is called a “craft” something, I thought it be appropriate that we learn how to pair our craft beers and wine with our kids Halloween candy.  

As I saw many plastic cups in parents hands while walking their kids through the labyrinth of the neighborhood candy maze, I thought it be appropriate to provide these survival guides to get you through the weekend and be ready for next year’s adventure.

I am a believer that just about anything can be paired with beer and wine and as you will clearly see others do share my opinion on this topic as well.  So my recommendation this evening is after the kids have gone to bed or while you are checking their final stash of candy for razor blades and needle, you pull out the candy bars, the sour patch kids, and all of the other goodies you love and finish your evening off right. I could even see a candy pairing party for this weekend so keep your calendars open and enjoy.

Beer Pairing Link: https://beerandbrewing.com/EcUoq4GNMGMMIksOK02as/article/halloween-candy-and-beer-pairings


Wine Paring Link: https://www.vivino.com/wine-news/the-candy-and-wine-matchmaker

To Meat or Not to Meat, That is the Question…


I was once extremely skeptical of the of the terms, “vegeatarian chicken strips”or “vegan tuna”, but I can say that I might have been converted after visiting the vegan butcher in Toronto.  Yes, I put the word vegan + butcher in the same sentence.  That sounds almost as wrong as coconut bacon, doesn’t it?  Well, my recent trip to Yam Chops was an eye opener to how closely a non-meat product can look, taste and feel like the real thing.

It is estimated that global sales of meat substitutes will reach $4B in 2016, a 42% rise since 2010.  That’s a lot of money, right?  Well if you combine this with the 3.5% of the US population or around 7.5M that classify themselves as vegan plus an additional 23M who are vegetarian, you now have a category worth taking about.

In addition, we see a growing base of individuals that are calling themselves Flexitarian.  This loyal group made up mostly of Millennials and GenZ’s has built a meat-free movement that developers are finally starting to realize.  The problem continues to be however, the need for these products to not taste like cardboard or feel like you are knawing on tree bark.   The good news for this industry is from what I tasted, there is hope.

Now I am not saying that the items I sampled had the bloody and delicious texture that we all have grown accustomed to from meat, but for a vegan option it was damn good.  It cut like meat, it looked like meat and believe it or not it tasted like it.

Specifically, the black pepper beef was amazing.  Not only did  it have the look, feel and texture of beef, but it actually had an amazing sautéed beef profile with sweet seared notes and a bit of char.  Keep in mind this products was made from a base of soy, pea protein and wheat, so from those standards it was incredibly close to a real meat experience.  Stringy texture with a bite that if you closed your eyes would be very similar to real beef strips.  Impressive.

I moved onto the Miso Sesame Chick’n and Korean BBQ Chick’n and once again my taste buds were tricked, no mesmerized, by just how close this product was to a real chicken strip- farm raised, butchered and delivered right to my door.  A nice firm texture and an abundance of sauce and flavor helped to take these two dishes over the top.


Feeling like I was a carnivour, I moved onto my third option, Chick’n Shawarma.  Now this was quite a challenge being gluten free and vegan and as it did have a slight resemblance to meat, it overall was what you would expect, disgusting.  In fact, it was like eating a piece of rubber.  Spongy, tasteless and just flat out weird.  This one actually lived out to what you would think vegan meat products taste like.

Finally, there was the vegan, coconut bacon.  Not this just feels flat out immoral in my book personally, but being an open minded guy, I figured I would give it a shot.  I must say as a religious bacon connosiur, I was offended by the mere fact they even used the term bacon in the same sentence.  It was smokey coconut and nothing more.  Listen up Yam Chops, there is only one bacon on this planet and we all know what it is.  That salty, fatty piece of love that should not be downgraded by any vegan.  Sorry to all my vegan and vegetarian friends, but if you don’t indulge, don’t act like you know what this experience is about as bacon lovers may find it offensive.

The final chapter was the vegan tuna.  Once again, chickpeas are not tuna and don’t pretend they are.  This makes the Pescatarians a little unsettled.  They also don’t like anyone messing with their fishy world.  Chickpeas with a touch of Nori doesn’t make something taste like its from the sea.  While I greatly enjoyed the dish I was a bit taken back by the name tuna.

Overall, I was very impressed and would go back and eat there again. I actually try to live a bit more flextarian these days and avoid meat during some meals, especially red meat.  A little less death, a bit healthier, and a lot better for the earth isn’t a bad reason to think twice next time you are ordering.  If it is flavored and prepared right, you will never know the difference anyway.

According to #meatlessmonday for every burger skipped, you can save enough water to drink for the next three years.  Give #meatlesmonday a try, you may enjoy the challenge of preparing recipes and experiencing new spices and culinary adventures.

There are a number of excellent cookbooks out there to help on this journey, but a personal favorite is Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a f*ck by Matt Holloway, Michelle David and Thug Kitchen, LLC.  They take vegetarian cooking to a whole new fuc%ing level with amazingly flavorful combinations that take you on a delicious journey between cuisine types and flavor exploration.

Here is one of my favorite recipes to get you started via Thug Kitchen:

thug-kitchen_recipe1

Cold Mango Soba Noodle Salad

Makes enough for 4-6

15 ounces soba or other thin, long noodle

Dressing:

½ cup chopped mango

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon grape seed or other flavorless oil

1 tablespoon chili garlic paste

1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger

2 cups mango sliced into matchsticks

1 ½ cups radishes sliced into matchsticks*

1 ½ cups cucumbers sliced into matchsticks

½ cup torn mint leaves

½ cup torn basil leaves

½ cup torn cilantro

1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions then run them under cold water to cool them down when they’re done cooking. While the noodles are boiling, make the dressing. Throw the ½ cup mango, vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice, tamari, grape seed oil, chili garlic paste, and ginger into a food processor or blender and run that shit until it’s smooth and looks like a motherfucking dressing.

2. In a large bowl toss together the cooked, cooled noodles, sliced mango, radishes, and cucumbers. Pour over the dressing and then fold in the herbs. Keep tossing until all that shit is good and mixed and the dressing has coated everything. Serve right away or let is chill in the fridge for a couple hours.

*We used watermelon radishes because those bitches are beautiful but regular radishes are fine too. Fucking hate radishes? Use a bell pepper or more cucumbers instead

The Amazon Dash Button – The Future of Ultra-Convenience


The future is here.  Anything you need at the push of a button.  No thinking, no long lines, rude cashiers or wasted time.  The dash button is the next big technology break through that will revolutionize the way that consumers shop, think, order and buy their groceries.  This device takes ultra-simplicity to the next level by not only reminding you with the brand logo attached to your washing machine or cookie jar, but with one simple push of a button, your products are magically delivered to your door within two days.

Amazon offers over 500 products across 100 different brand buttons ranging from Huggies and Tide to Doritos and Red Bull with new buttons getting added daily.  ConAgra just added four buttons supporting their Hunt’s and Slim Jim brands.  Amazon hasn’t been vocal about their sales, but did report that Dash sales have grown 75% in the past three months and they have shipped from 300,000-500,000 buttons since last October.

Amazon has done a great job of taking the traditional club store format and putting it on-line and on-demand.  Who would have imagined that people would pay a premium to order something on-line?  Well, Bezos has again created another way to make our lives easier and gain a few bucks in the process with his Amazon Prime platform.  He has beautifully crafted a way for the consumer to enjoy premium services and benefits for doing something that they were already planning to do, shop.  Since I haven’t seen the statistics I cannot say that this model is making money, but we do know that the membership model at Costco and Sam’s Club is a main source of income for these retailers and since the net worth of Jeff Bezos was recently valued at over $50 billion by Forbes magazine I would say his e-commerce platform is doing something right.

What’s next?  Since we already have wearable technology that tells us to exercise and keeps track of our steps and calories, our heart rate and other vital statistics the sky is the limit.  Soon, this data will be communicated openly and freely to our insurance companies to determine our premiums or our doctors to determine our treatment plans.  With convenience comes freedom and with freedom comes access to your personal data.  

This is the future, this is the new reality, this is the new convenience, but it will be customized specifically for you, so breath easy and shop away.  I plan to start tomorrow with my first button for Charmin, because you never want to run out of toilet paper and just use your imagination where that button will be stuck.  

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