Grilling, or, The Reason Why I’m Glad I’m No Longer In An Apartment

For exactly one year I lived in an apartment in the city. I was a less than a block away from a farmer’s market, three bars, two cafes, one coffee shop, a volleyball court, a park, a bike trail and a convenience store. It was pretty great.

Now I live in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, a nature preserve across the street, the closest business is three miles away and it’s totally cool with me. A big reason why? This thing:

Mmmmm......blackened meat.
Mmmmm……blackened meat.

I love me some charcoal grilling and in an apartment on the second floor, that’s a no-no.

Grilling is one of my favorite ways to spend time. I’m the kind of person that comes home and before they’re even out of their office clothes has a chimney full of coals lit. A nice day to me is just an excuse to stand over some grilled food, tongs in one hand and a drink in the other.

Since this isn’t one of those things where you can have any other opinion other than GRILLING IS AWESOME, I’m gonna share a meal made almost entirely on the grill. Like a lot of my recipes, this one has southwestern influences. Like your food to have some heat? This one will be for you.

    Grilled flat iron steak fajitas, corn salad with guacamole & chipotle aioli.

Tools:
Grill
Cast iron pan
Cheap red wine (for drinking, silly)

Ingredients:

12 tortillas
2.5 lbs flat iron steak
3 ears of corn
2 avocados
5 bell peppers
2 jalapenos
1 red onion
4 limes, zest of two limes
1 lemon
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch cilantro
1 egg
3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (usually found in small cans in your grocery store in the international foods aisle. You just need one can)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning (for the veggies, you can use whatever seasoning you prefer)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 cups olive oil, divided
kosher salt
ground black pepper

See, it's not so many when you really look at it.
See, it’s not so many when you really look at it.

Serves: 6 really hungry people
Total Time: 7 hours

Directions:

1 – Marinade the meat.

In a zip lock gallon bag combine the juice of two limes, the zest of two limes, two cloves of garlic (minced), ground chipotle pepper, 1/2 tsp of salt, a half cup of olive oil and the flat iron steak. Mix it to combine and coat the meat. Put the bag in your refrigerator for no more than six hours.

FAST FORWARD SIX HOURS.

Remove the steak from your fridge, let it sit in the marinated mixture on your kitchen counter and let it come to room temperature. This is important so don’t forget. You don’t want to be grilling cold meat.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, you can light your coals. I use a chimney starter and it usually takes at least 30 minutes to get the coals white. While your coals are getting ready, you can prepare the rest of your meal.

2 – Make the aioli.

There’s a restaurant in my town that serves a grilled tuna sandwich with a chipotle aioli. After having it once, I became obsessed and whenever I visit this place it doesn’t matter what I order, I have to have the chipotle aioli with it.

Thankfully, it’s really easy to replicate at home. You don’t even need to date one of the waitresses and coax the recipe out of them like some people have been known to do from time to time.

In a food processor, add the mustard, one smashed garlic clove, chipotle chiles with one tsp adobo sauce, juice of half a lemon, one egg yolk and a pinch of salt. While you process the mixture, SLOWLY pour 1/2 cup olive oil* into the bowl. This should take multiple minutes. You’ll know you’re finished when you’re left with something that has the consistency of mayo.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can simply use a large mixing bowl instead. Mince the garlic instead of smashing it, and strongly whisk olive oil into the mixture a few drops at a time. If you go this route you don’t have to worry about the calories you’re soon to consume, because you’re about to have a 15 minute workout in your kitchen.

*While we’re on the subject of olive oil, can I simply say that ya’ll need to step your olive oil game up? I cook in many of my friends and relatives’ kitchens, and it’s a lock that I’ll see the same crappy bottle of olive oil that they’ve had for an entire year or more. If you’re a home cook, quality olive oil important. Buy only high quality olive oil, and never keep a bottle (stored in a dark area) more than six months. If your olive oil is older than six months, toss it and go get a new bottle. I like California Olive Ranch, and for the aoili part of the recipe I used their Miller’s Blend for the peppery note.

When your aioli is complete, store it in a covered container in your refrigerator.

3 – Make the guacamole

God, I freaking love guac. I’m not kidding when I say I make at least two batches a week. Often times it’s three. I consider it to be the ALMOST perfect (seriously? The browning?) food. You will never look in my fridge and not find limes, avocados, cilantro (or that cilantro oil paste that comes in the tube [seriously. It’s actually perfect for guac]), red onions and jalapenos.

Making it is quick and easy.

In a medium sized bowl add:

• 1/4th of a red onion, finely diced
• 1/2 jalapeno with the stems and seeds, minced
• 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped, or one tablespoon of that cilantro paste (no, go ahead and use it, I won’t judge. Seriously, the stuff is great)
• the juice of one lime
• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/2 tsp kosher salt
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
• 2 avocados

The order here is relatively important. You want to add the avocados last to minimize the exposure to air.

Use a fork (or a mortar, ideally) and mash your ingredients. You want it mixed well, creamy but still a bit chunky.

Put it in a AIR TIGHT container that just barely holds all your guac. Again, less air the better. Into the fridge it goes.

4 – Prepare your veggies.

This step is easy.

Julienne your bell peppers and remaining jalapeno and red onion*. Put them in your cast iron pan, drizzle them with a tablespoon of olive oil, add a pinch of kosher salt and a tablespoon of your favorite seasoning. I like Old Bay so I use that. Toss them around and these are ready.

*Reserve about half a bell pepper and half a jalapeno. Dice these and save them in a bowl. They’re going in your corn salad.

5 – Shuck the corn

Shuck your corn cobs, lightly coat them with olive oil and sprinkle on some kosher salt.  Like almost everything else, you’re going to be grilling your corn. Some people prefer to leave the husk on the corn. I’m not one of those people. I grill them directly over the coals until about 20% of the kernels are good and brown.

IT’S GRILLIN’ TIME, PEOPLE.

Here’s about where you should be at:

Wait for it...
Wait for it…

6 – Grill the corn.

Take a look at a picture of the grilled meat at the top of this post. Notice how I’m using a two-zone grilling setup? That’s what you want. Organize your coals so only one half of the bowl is filled. If you’re using gas, only light half the burners.

Using paper towels coated in olive oil and tongs, wipe the grates with olive oil.

Place the corn on the grates, directly over the coals. You’re going to rotate them every minute or so until the coals start to turn dark. Grilled corn is awesome.

When the corn is done, remove them and cover the grill to let it heat up. Bring them in to cool.

7 – Grill everything else.

Place the steak directly over the coals. Place the cast iron pan with your veggies on the side of the grate without coals. Occasionally toss the veggies with tongs.

After four minutes, flip the steak. Splash the veggies with your remaining half of a lemon and bring them in.

BE CAREFUL WHEN HANDLING THE CAST IRON PAN. I have a pair of industrial work gloves that I use when grilling. Use whatever you can to help you safely move your food around the grill.

After the four minutes are up, your steak should be a nice medium rare. Bring the steak inside.

8 – Tent your steaks in tinfoil.

One step a lot of people skip is they immediately dig in to their steak after grilling. You need to let it rest for a few minutes to retain much of the juices. I usually wrap my steaks in foil to keep them warm.

9 – Mix the rest of your corn salad.

Remember the diced pepper and jalapeño you kept in a bowl? To that bowl you’re going to add your no-longer-hot-but-still-warm grilled corn.

Using a knife, carefully remove the corn kernels by standing the cob up and slicing them off vertically.

Add them to the bowl of diced peppers and jalapeños, along with 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp olive oil, the juice of half a lime and a pinch of kosher salt.

10 – EAT ALL THE FOOD.

YOU'RE DONE. EAT UP.
YOU’RE DONE. EAT UP.
NOTE: The Author does not endorse the use of sour cream. That is his brother.
NOTE: The Author does not endorse the use of sour cream. That is his brother.

On being ‘locked in’.

This will be brief.

On Twitter tonight there was a discussion of whether or not an athlete performing really well for a stretch was something that could be contributed to a guy actually feeling hot.

ESPN’s Keith Law is one of my favorite guys to follow. He gives you sports analysis from a smart, objective take. Tonight, predictably, he came down on the side that hot streaks were a result of normal randomness, citing a lack of evidence to the contrary. MLB pitcher Brandon McCarthy, another really smart guy, came down on the other side. “Feeling hot” or “Locked in” is a legitimate thing that comes and goes and it absolutely affects on the field performance.

The two (and a lot of others) got into a back and forth for a couple hours and looking at it from the outside it felt like mommy and daddy fighting. I want them to agree on everything all the time, but of course that isn’t going to happen. But I thought it was fascinating to watch, the analyst going strick science, the athlete saying he’s wrong but without any kind of irrefutable evidence.

Here’s my own take: being hot exists. Being “dialed in” is absolutely a thing. I don’t know how or why it happens, but there are times where you just feel like failing is impossible. If you’re an athlete and you’ve had a stretch or even just a game where you had the feeling, you’re probably nodding along. I still remember the few occasions it happened to me like they were yesterday. It’s bittersweet; you beat yourself up wondering why you can’t feel like that all time.

Conversely, I know exactly what it feels like to go cold. Baseball was my sport and pitching was what I was best at. But I know the terror of being on the mound and having absolutely no idea where the ball is going to go when you release it. I remember a specific game when my catcher popped out for a mound visit and I had to tell him I basically forgot how to pitch. Right there, that game I went from being an all-conference guy to someone who just picked up a baseball for the first time.

I don’t know why these things happen. The brain is weird.

#1 Greenwheel – Breathe

So hey, I’m finally finishing my list of my top 100 favorite songs. But before I get to that, let me give you five songs that might have cracked the list had I written this a year later.

#5 – Carolina Liar – I’m Not Over

#4 – Every Avenue – Tell me I’m a Wreck

#3 – Frank Ocean – Thinking About You

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F15IjgyHd60

#2 – Norah Jones – What am I to you?

#1 Tegan and Sara – The Ocean

Tegan and Sara would definitely make it. So would the others, probably.

In a year from now I’d probably add something from Demi Lovato. Her last two songs are CRAZY LISTENABLE.

******

I can’t say why I love Greenwheel’s Breathe without giving an explanation of circumstance, so you’re going to get hella exposition about when I first heard this tune.

This is the story of something that’s happened to just about everyone. It isn’t unique or special other than the fact that it happened to me this one time. This is my stupid account of a weekend college fling.

******

It took place over the course of a couple days during my junior year of college. A few friends of mine planned to have a friend of theirs from high school, Becky, visit for the weekend. I’d been told for weeks that she was way too good looking and way to good for me and under no circumstances did I stand to have a shot. I barely gave it a thought. By the date she was supposed to visit I’d completely forgot she was even coming up to stay at our place.

I was in the living room when she arrived. She walked in, dropped her bags, stood in front of me and and looked around. She was wearing jeans, a white shirt and glasses. She was trim, her brown hair was short and cut around her cheeks. A decade later and I remember that first sight of her like it was yesterday. She put her things in a guest room and we immediately walked to a party across town.

The place was your typical college house party that everyone attends until they go to the bars instead. Red cups, crappy beer, shitty music, Pucker shots, neon lights, dank basements and no where to move because it was packed so tight. We hung out in our group of five, saying hi to the people we knew because it was Friday and this was the Friday night house for us.

I’d be lying if I said at this point I was getting to know Becky or that I thought we had some kind of instant connection. We had talked some and danced a bit. I didn’t think anything of it. She was, in my own estimation, the best looking girl there and I wasn’t the only guy who thought so. She was constantly getting approached and they were constantly getting shot down. Then a strange thing started happening. Our small talk and innocent dances turned into eye contact and her taking me by the hand wherever she went.

“So, is this going to happen with us? Should we get out of here?” she said after dragging me outside the house. I don’t know what I said in response because I’m fairly certain I blacked out for the next ten seconds.

Now, again, this is something that happens to virtually everyone in college. You meet someone cute, you drink a little, you go home with them. But the guy I was as a junior in college was still basically the same guy I was in High School. Not really shy, but not outgoing. Always 100% content with the status-quo, whatever that was. Stumbled into girlfriends in high school and hook-ups in the dorms. Trying to make a move on Becky that night would have been as foreign to me as speaking Russian.

The five of us left shortly after. Three of them went upstairs to their rooms. I flipped on a cable music station for tunes while Becky hung out in the kitchen. I got close (I mean, I had some game), she told me we should go to the couch, I said I’d go upstairs for a blanket. When I separated to go upstairs she pulled me back in for a kiss I don’t remember. Again, I think my brain temporarily shut down.

Then I went and got the blankets.

******

The rest of the weekend was that thing where you’re basically smitten and inseparable. We took a road-trip, bought stupid shit and held hands. It was fun.

That night my house hosted a party of our own. At some point, after we’d both drank enough, we left for my room to have a conversation about what the hell was going to happen tomorrow when she’d be leaving to head back to her school a few hours away. We talked about a long distance thing and visits and distance like any of it mattered. This was a weekend thing, after-all.

******

The next morning I got up before her and made the house breakfast. They all got up and came down to the living room. I handed out some plates and sat next to Becky, her legs up on my lap.

“I’m supposed to be back at school tomorrow,” she says to me.

“Christ, Matt. Just ask her to stay, she will,” says her friend Kerri.

We looked at each other, I said nothing, and she left ten minutes later. It was the last time I saw her.

******

Greenwheel’s song “Breathe” was was the tune playing in the living room when Becky first kissed me in the kitchen. I played it for years after that night and whenever I did it reminded me of that moment.

Chicago: Day 6

This weather can kiss my fucking ass.

My (our) reward for setting up the show and being the grunts for the duration is leaving in the morning on the last day. We get home to EC while the final day of the show is just ending. It feels so goddamn great. I’d have left days ago if I could, so any second spent here is one I’d rather be spent on my couch or in my office. That asshole bitch piece of shit mother-nature had other plans.

We’re stuck here another day and night. That means another day of grunt work, and instead of leaving the take-down to a couple local sales people, they’re heading home and we get the honors. Honestly, though, it’s preferable to driving home to what we thought we were going to. It looks like it’ll be hellish. If I wasn’t going to be able to drive home tonight, an extra day is a small price to pay for not having to worry about losing your life in a fucking blizzard.

***

I don’t like to give off the impression that I like people. My close friends and coworkers know otherwise, but if people think that their presence is bothering you, they don’t start in with stupid conversation to fill time when they’re around you, and I love that. But every once in a while I’ll meet people and it’s pretty great. Today was kind of cool:

• the guy on the barstool next to me while I waited for my dinner takeout. He was in town for the same reason I was, was also from Wisconsin, knew my boss and others I worked with, and holy shit: his cousin was my 7th grade social studies teacher and 8th grade football coach hella many years ago.

• the pretty gal I got to know when we hung out and drank wine on the couches in my hotel lobby while waiting for other people. She, again, was here for the show, was from South Wales, and accents are officially the best.

• and my dumb weekend crush.

This show is conducive to people watching. The overwhelming majority of the time you’re standing around, looking at your phone or laptop or finding some way to keep busy. The men check out the women walking around the floor, the women check out the men AND the women (“She should NOT be wearing that skirt at her age.”) For me that means a couple hours a day I’m cooking and serving. But the rest of the time I’m in a chair in the back on my phone, or out front demoing our products for the public. It’s here where I’m inevitably gonna find myself looking next door at the girl demoing the blender and serving greek yogurt and smoothies.

***

“…a type more Greek than Italian.”

I don’t know why that quote from The Godfather went through my head every time I found myself looking at the beauty next door, but it did. She was setting up when we were and ever since has seemingly had my role: not a salesperson but the one who’s making the food and bringing people into to the booth with demos. I may or may have may not made a comment to my friend Jamie about how she was about the prettiest girl I’d seen this weekend and she more or less shamed me into going over and talking to her. So I did.

She’s from NYC and she’s the video director for her company. She hates her tiny apartment but loves her job. She basically has brown eyes you get lost in because while she’s talking that’s pretty much what happened to me and I can’t remember a whole lot else.

So sticking around another day won’t be so bad.

Dinner:

Where: Mother Hubbard Sports Bar
Kind: Hole in the wall (OR SO I THOUGHT) sports bar
Crowd: Out of town business dudes
Atmosphere: Awesome. May as well be your neighborhood pub
Food: Sausage and pepperoni pizza
Drink: Bulleit Rye old fashioned neat, sweet no fruit; Makers Mark double, neat
Verdict: Pizza was fine but not a place I’d go to again, even if it was EC. HOLY FUCK, THE DRINKS. This is a text-book case of never judge a bar by its cover. Most specialty drinks I’ve come across this week are in the $9-$11 range. My two ran me $30. Holy ish.

I’m blaming the boss; he recommended the place.

Chicago: Days 4 & 5

I was too fucking tired to write last night.

The International Housewares Show started and by the time the day ended, I was the only person from my company who didn’t go out with others for dinner and drinks. I got back to the room, put on sweats, ordered room service and proceeded to watch Battleship, The Fast and Furious and fell asleep to Inception. There was a brief moment where I contemplated walking a couple blocks to watch the Bucks, but the sweats won out.

I’m not here to sell. For all intents and purposes, I’m a grunt. I’m the person who handles all web design, development, and marketing for a top 20 Forbes company, but I get invited to these because I’m the youngest person in the company, I can lift things and work hard, and I’m good at making food for people. I get a break from web-work to travel with the rest of Advertising and Sales so long as I do all the things no one else can or won’t do, and I love it. The first half of the week I and a couple others set everything up, and the remaining days I cook for dozens of people, make runs when needed and it’s like I’m operating my own kitchen. It’s fun when there’s people to feed.

But it’s also hella exhausting and after three days of set-up here’s all you get for Day 3:

Dinner

Where: My hotel room
Kind: Pretty dope
Crowd: Party of one, y’all
Atmosphere: Missing a candle or two, but relaxing
Food: Pulled chicken nachos from Hub 51, room service
Drink: Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon
Verdict: FUCKING PERFECT.

I just needed a night off my feet to refresh the batteries. Mission-fucking-accomplished. Having dumbass movies like Battleship and Fast and Furious on helped. Number of regrets I have for staying in my room in downtown Chicago on a Saturday night for the third straight year? ZERO.

Day 4

Day 4 is when it picks up at the show. I probably cooked for 80 people today and it made the day go by quick.

A couple posts ago I mentioned how I’d probably meet a number of celebrity chefs; I’ll be honest, this year I barely give a shit. Yesterday I could have met Ming Sai (again), Rick Bayless and Fabio Vivani (again). Today it would have been Paula Deen (again), Todd English, Masaharu Morimoto (again) Gail Simmons and Duff Goldman. All cool people, but I’m celebrity-chef’d out.

I am, however, making an exception tomorrow for a guy who I’ve made it a habit to stalk: chef Chris Cosentino. Two years ago I had his steak tartar and talked to him after a show. Last year I recognized him walking the floor (NO ONE ELSE DID WTF HE’S CHRIS COSENTINO) and followed him for a couple minutes until I thought I could approach him for a picture, which he obliged because he’s awesome. He’s doing a demo tomorrow and I imagine he’ll be like, “OH HEY I REMEMBER YOU HOW YA BEEN, BUD.”*

Dinner
Where: Shaw’s
Kind: Hella famous seafood
Crowd: Not young.
Atmosphere: Like an old time steak and seafood joint. For my Eau Claire pals, think a wide open Houligans.
Food: Oysters, Lobster Bisque, Perch
Drink: Sapphire Martini extra dirty w/ two blue cheese olives, Rye Old Fashioned, sweet, no fruit x 2
Verdict: My favorite night of the week.

I got lucky. Like, really, really lucky.

Some back-story…

Two years ago I was a shit-ass who didn’t know anyone at my first of these shows. I had an office and the same title that I do now, but I was still new as hell. We had our 1st meal out and at some point it got out that I was also a scotch drinker, same as the VP. Well end of the night everyone is taking elevators up to their rooms and I’m in one with this VP and his 2nd and they ask if I want to join them for a glass of MacCallan 15 in his room. I’m a young dipshit but I say sure and I end up sitting in this room with these two guys, getting boozy while listening to them tell stories. Just me a couple months into the job and two guys who have been around the company for 40+ years each. It was great.

I bring this up tonight because tonight was awesome on a similar level.

Like I said, I got lucky. I sat at the end of an eight person table. At my left was that same VP from earlier in the story, across from me is his successor, a salesman that has more experience than anyone, and to my right is my boss.

Over the next two hours I listened to them tell stories about dinners with John Besh and Julia Child, driving Orville Redenbacher to and from these shows, staying at the Drake, surviving teamster strikes and -22 degree temps. They traded barbs about restaurants and where the best food was served. I just sat in the middle, enjoyed my drinks and listened.

At one point I interrupted the three so I could ask how long each had worked at the company. The answer for these four:

164 years.

The food was good. I could have killed two dozen of the oysters, the lobster bisque was great, my younger brother Ben makes better perch and there wouldn’t be bones. The drinks were idiot-proof.

*doubt he says that, but man that would be dope.

Chicago: Day 3

I’m more exhausted than I remember being in recent trips. I was thrilled that dinner tonight was at 6:00 because I figured I’d be back in my room by 7:30. But I had to excuse myself from a group of 20 at the three hour mark because the thought of sweats and my bed out-weighed however socially unacceptable it might have been.

Ugh, fuck this.

We hit our mark. We again got up early as hell and kicked it in the ass. We ran into one setback and I had to replace and clean 25 shelves for product, but we were still out by 10:00 am. I spent the rest of the day shopping on Michigan Ave, which is pretty legit.

Lunch
Where: Hub 51
Kind: Young and trendy, known for their sushi
Crowd: Business crowd
Atmosphere: Whatever.
Food: 1/2 crunchy tuna roll, deconstructed tuna salad
Drink: Cucumber cuatro. It was fucking awesome.
Verdict: Solid lunch spot. I tried other sushi and it was great. I’ve had it before and I’ll probably have it again on Monday night.

Over lunch we had an overly friendly young waiter “straight out of GQ” according to my female co-worker. Really nice guy, very helpful. He was especially pleased with my drink of choice and when he came back a couple minutes after serving us he said it was because he noticed I was looking at the menu closely and guessing how I could make it at home. He was also a bartender and he was happy to tell me:

1 1/2 oz Effen Cucumber Vodka
1/2 oz Saint Germain
1 1/2 oz lemonade
1 1/2 oz ginger ale

Over the next twenty minutes he’d come by and spark conversations. He’s from Wisconsin too. He likes the Milwaukee area. He has a cousin from Eau Claire who plays soccer for the UW.

End of the deal I see my lady co-worker whispering to her husband and I ask what’s up. She tells me a story of how when she was with her daughter in the mall and a boy working kept coming by, looking to get her attention. Mom would engage and try and get her daughter to say something because of this poor adorable boy. When they left her daughter asks what the hell that was about, mom says that boy liked you and you should have said something.

“Oh Matt, he had a crush” she says. Speaking of the waiter, now.

“There were…glances.” her husband says.

“Ohhhh, those were more than glances. But hey, take it as a compliment! There’s been some women who’ve done the same to me.”

So yup, that was my lunch. Feeling secure in my manhood I went to Michigan Ave and bought new spring clothes at Express.

Dinner:

Where: Rosebud
Kind: American-Italian
Crowd: No idea, we were in a private room.
Atmosphere: See above.
Food: Caprese, Lobster ravioli
Drink: Sapphire martini extra dirty, Makers neat x 3
Verdict: Baseball was my sport, and I was a really good pitcher. I knew I could get guys out, but my one legit worry was the umpire. It was an element I couldn’t control. I knew everyone in the conference or league and I knew which ones were going to make the game about them, not the players. It made for a miserable game when they were behind the plate. Often it didn’t matter if a pitch was perfect, they’d show you up and call a ball and make a big deal out of it. The crowd would yell and they’d just yuck it up even more.

I bring it up because our waiter tonight was the equivalent of that kind of umpire. Nobody ordered, you were just brought food that he thought we would like. And it kept. fucking. coming. I didn’t have a lot of interest in salads or fried everything or meatballs the size of baseballs or plates of pasta. I just kept drinking, waiting for the chance to order my grilled salmon. Eventually the fucker won and my good sense was gone. LOBSTER IN RAVIOLI. WITH SHRIMP. RIDICULOUS SAUCE ON EVERYTHING. FUCK THE CALORIES JUST ORDER THAT SHIT. So I did.

It was good and I was the first to leave. Three hour dinners are not okay.

Chicago: Day 2

Six of the seven days I’m down here are going to suck but today, the second, is the hell-day. We wake up long before the sun comes up, we get going long before the morning traffic is remotely an issue, and we bust our fucking asses. It’s getting supplies for the rest of the week, boxing and moving shit from one location to another, cleaning, assembling, lifting, organizing, trashing, showcasing, setting up electronics, more boxing, more cleaning.

The goal is to fit about 26 hours of work into 14, or one day. Today. We know that if we don’t stop moving, that if we’re efficient as fucking hell, every hour we kill today means one less we have to work tomorrow. Every year the goal is to be done by Friday at noon (making it the one day that doesn’t suck). Because of today’s work, and we worked our asses off, I’ll be surprised if we aren’t done by 10:00 am if we get up at that same crack of dawn. We were awesome.

I’m tired. Every muscle in my lower body hurts. My knees are a joke and my hands are loaded with cuts.

I only bring this up because my two meals today made it entirely worth it.

Lunch

Where: Eleven City Diner
Kind: Jewish deli, on steroids
Crowd: Mid-20s, business crowd
Atmosphere: Perfect. Place was huge, big bar, friendly staff.
Food: Half corned beef on rye, bowl of tomato basil
Drink: Bloody Mary
Verdict: Place is amazing. The portions are huge and the prices are fine. The staff acts like an upscale restaurant would but the setting is relaxing as hell. They make everything in house so the meats, cheeses, matzoh, bread…it’s all fresh. My food selections were alright. The corn beef was stacked huge and the bread was great. I make better soup. Many would like the bloody mary, I wouldn’t have finished it if there wasn’t vodka in it. I like mine Clamato based, this was a house mix.

While we were eating they got a call and a vallet immediately got up and cleared a bunch of space in front of the place. A few minutes later three attractive young women pulled up and settled into a booth next to our table. I didn’t recognized any, but the owner was constantly asking for fashion tips because he was apparently going to be on a food nextwork special that day.

Dinner

Where: RPM (on Tuesday Lady Gaga ate here. Last night the First Lady was enjoying a meal
Kind: Upscale, trendy Italian
Crowd: Dressy, young, trendy, rich.
Atmosphere: The group liked it, it wasn’t for me.
Food: In order: Lobster Caprese, 600 day old Prosciutto, Sea Bass Crudo in Olive Oil and Fennel, Warm Bread with fresh Ricotta and Semolina Toast, Spicy King Crab with Squid Ink Spaghetti
Drink: Taylor Street Manhattan
Verdict: It’s tough to say this about what might have been the best meal of my life, but I feel like I could have made what I ate tonight. The thing about everything on the plates that came out is the chef let the ingredients speak for themselves, and the ingredients were awesome. So the dishes were relatively simple but holy shit every last thing was perfect. And now I definitely have a new way of making my Caprese this summer.

The drink was just a manhattan. Good, not as good as my Jim Beam Rye Old Fashioned’s , hella more expensive.

Chicago: Day 1

Filing this one under FOOD! because here’s where I’m gonna keep track of what it is I’m shoveling into my face over the next seven days. I promise you it won’t be interesting, but it’ll go a long ways to helping me remember what I loved and where I ate it. I didn’t do this last year and I’m killing myself because I had a goat-sausage risotto that made me see the face of God and I have no idea where I ate it.

This is simultaneously my favorite and least favorite week of the year. The room I’m shacked up in is awesome. The food and drinks I’ll put down are amazing, and I see a lot of co-workers I don’t get to catch up with regularly. I’m gonna meet a lot of great celebrity chefs and eat some of their food (last two years I can remember Michael Symon, Chris Cosentino, Guy Fieri, Paula Dean, Morimoto and I kinda stalked Kat Cora and Mario Battali for like five minutes. There were others, I can’t remember). The work on the other-hand is exhausting, the days are long and I’m constantly around people. Inevitably, my favorite time of the day will be the end, when I’m alone in my room on top of Chicago.

We got in today and the weather was shitty. I had three hours to myself, which I used to iron a week’s worth of clothes, go shopping for some extra clothes and suite supplies: cheep red wine, vodka, limes and almonds. This, and some sleep meds, are what I’ll be relying on when I get “home” at 9:00 pm each night. That doesn’t seem like it would be late to a guy with the freedom to do whatever he wants in a city he’s unfamiliar with. Maybe others could muster the energy to go back out after an exhausting day at the expense of calling it an experience, something to do in a new city; out my window are lines of people trying to get into a half dozen clubs, restaurants or bars. I can’t. I’m in my sweats, a glass of wine is poured and ESPN is on in 30 seconds.

Anyway, I love it all, even the work. It’s just so fucking exhausting.

Where: Bub City
Kind: BBQ, let-us-entertain-you, joint.
Crowd: Holy shit, young as hell. Surprised us all.
Atmosphere: Awesome. Totally relaxing.
Food: Lobster roll, corn off the cob.
Drink: Wild Turkey 101, double, neat
Verdict: Loved it. Every aspect. Everyone loved their food and my lobster roll was the best I’ve ever had. Over the last two years I’ve day dreamed of the lobster roll up the block at the Hubbard Inn, and this one blew it the hell away. Grilled corn is my favorite staple of summer so I knew I’d love this side. It had cilantro, diced tomatoes, olive oil and lime juice. Absolutely perfect.

I’d heard the Wild Turkey 101 bourbon was good, but it was a lot better than I anticipated. It’s better than Four Roses Single Barrel, and hell, I might switch from Makers. Gonna need a lot more sampling.

You should be watching Archer

If you made your way here via my Twitter feed you already know Archer is probably my favorite thing on TV. It’s brilliant, profane, offensive and the funniest thing on television, and it’s not close.

I was late to Archer. I didn’t start watching on a week to week basis until season three when the first two hit Netflix. I think I watched every episode in two days.

Anyway, I bring this up for two reasons:

1 – A new episode of Archer is on right now, I can’t watch it until later, and my Twitter timeline is blowing up. I closed it to write this post.

2 – Youtube suggested I’d like a video, “Archer – The Best of Pam Pt. 1”. Some national hero went through the first three seasons of Archer and made compilation videos for the best of Pam and Cheryl, two of the show’s best characters (they’re all amazing).

Here’s the 2nd of the three videos. I chose it instead of the 1st because by this time Pam’s become a fully fleshed out character. There’s some spoilerish stuff but it doesn’t matter because all you’ll remember is that Archer is hilarious and you need to watch it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCG6xGGMEwc&w=560&h=315]

Get yourself an immersion blender.

1 – I was really, really late to guacamole because I’ve always been lukewarm on the avocado. I’m a texture guy and it wasn’t until I started making my own guac with a consistency I liked that I really became obsessed.

It actually started last summer. I was watching a food network episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and Michael Symon professed his love for a version of guacamole that had sage, blue cheese and bacon. Blue cheese and bacon? SOLD. I found a copy-cat recipe online, whipped up a double-batch and brought it to a birthday party. It was gone in under an hour and I had a new go-to for ball games and other get togethers. Traditionalists scoffed. I pushed back. How could adding bacon and blue cheese to anything be bad?

That said, there were problems. I often play fast and loose with my ingredients. A dash of this, a pinch of that. That looks like a [tablespoon/cup/ounce]. When playing around with something that had about 15 ingredients, the final outcome never tasted consistent.

The second problem was I finally tried a version that didn’t have all those extra ingredients and it blew me the hell away.

2 – I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite kitchen items in the past, but never the one that I’ve found the most useful in the past year. Immersion blenders are awesome. They’re powerful, versatile, efficient, easy to clean and store. The good ones will replace your regular blender and food processor. You’ll use them when you want to puree sauces or smooth out your soups. For example, when I’m making tortilla soups I like to use whole tomatoes instead of crushed. They go in the pot to cook and I use the immersion blender to smooth everything out.

I bring this up because it also helps make hella good guac.

Like I said, I’m very big on texture and consistency in my food. Sliced or chunky avocado is a non-starter for me. If it’s smooth and creamy? Now I’m on board. It’s with that in mind I give you my method of making quick and easy traditional guac that you’ll end up making all the goddamn time. I sure as shit do.

Ingredients:
2 avocados
1/4 red onion, roughly chopped
1/2 jalapeno
juice of one lime
1 tbsp cilantro
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

I generally buy double what I need, make a batch on Sunday, saving the onion and jalapeno, and make another in the middle of the week. I go through a lot of this stuff.

1 – Put everything in a bowl:

guac1

2 – And use your awesome immersion blender to mix it until you get the consistency you like:

guac2

I don’t know enough about guac to say whether or not this is normal, but I think this stuff is best the next day (or even the day after that) provided you kept it in an air-tight container. The ingredients have had time to work together and the jalapeno has opened up. It just seems more flavorful.

But yea, I’ll go through two of these batches a week, putting it on sandwiches as a spread, or used as a garnishment for soups. Of course I’ll wolf down a bowl with pretzels. Hell I’ll eat it with a spoon. I brought some to a movie night with friends a couple weeks ago. It went from sitting on the counter to sitting in a friend’s lap as they ate it all. It’s so freaking delicious.

3 – If an immersion blender seems like something you’d find useful, this is the one I have. It comes with a variety of attachments and bowls, including the one above I used to make the guac. I can’t imagine you’ll be disapointed in it.