Monday, February 25, 2008

That's A Strange Spot

I'm looking to go to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico this October. In searching for hotels on a map, I wanted to be close to downtown. However, the location of this hotel is not what I had in mind.


Note to self: pack snorkel.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Emeril Sells Out in the Worst Way

When Emeril Lagasse first hit the Food Network with Essence of Emeril, I loved the show and thought him heir to Julia Child and Jeff "The Frugal Gourmet" Smith. Why? You could actually learn something. How to saute, cut up an onion, fillet a fish, etc. But now, it is more about the entertainment factor because people wanted to be entertained (yet, I constantly get "I wish I knew how to cook (or cook better)"). Then Emeril comes out with his spice blends, 9 more restaurants, pots, pans, cookbooks, cooking equipment, etc. and I questioned "Is it still for the love of food or the money?"

BAM! Now, Emeril, in my eyes, has took another step and sold out in the worst possible way as $50 million now lines his pockets since he has sold everything but his restaurants (including the rights to his TV shows) to the anti-culinarian, Martha "psst..got a stock tip" Stewart. Watching Martha Stewart on TV is like being forced to watch paint dry while someone is taking their fingernails to a chalkboard. If the US government is eliminating waterboarding as a way to derive intelligence from our captive enemies, maybe they should give Martha's show a try. Load them up with insane amounts of Red Bull and quadruple espressos from Starbucks then force them to watch "Living"...they'll crack.

Maybe this will be good for Emeril. The last two times I've seen him on TV, really live, not his show, he looks to have packed on quite a few pounds and just didn't look happy. Stress can do those things to you, so I hope this venture, if nothing else, puts him in a happier place. I'm sure 50 mil can buy a lot of "happy, happy".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mi Rancho Grande

Ah, a restaurant review. Something I haven't done in awhile.

Went to Mi Rancho Grande tonight. It is the ex-El Somberito, ex-Cinco de Mayo building on Pioneer Parkway. I don't know if it is true, but I heard that the same people who own Tequila's in Chillicothe own Mi Rancho Grande. I have a sneaky suspicion this is true because some of the menu offerings looked fairly familiar.

Regardless if there is an association with Tequila's or not, there are menu items that just aren't on many of the other Mexican restaurants in town and I don't think I saw a chimichanga on the menu. Anyway, I had the Camaron Guajillo. Eight shrimp sauteed with pineapple, guajillo chiles and a few herbs. It was served with herbed (what appeared to be Texmati) rice and a side romaine salad drizzled with Ranch dressing and topped with poached pear slices. My D.A. had the Camaron Diablo which were eight shrimp and the same rice and salad. My D.A. asked for the Diablo sauce on the side in case it was too spicy. For me, it had just the right amount of heat and it had a lightly smoky, yet very rich flavor with little salt.

The complimentary chips and salsa were nothing special except the chips were fairly thick and you could load a ton of salsa on these if you felt like it.

Two dinners and a Negra Modelo set us back $27. The shrimp dishes were on the high end, price-wise, in relation to the rest of the menu...you could get out cheaper.

Tuesdays and Thursdays Mexican beers are $2.00. They have a lunch buffet. I hope they use the outdoor dining area this summer and fix the waterfall.

I'm likin' this place!

See You Around The Table......

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Guns Again

I don't have to link to the recent shootings at NIU as I'm sure you are all aware of the unfortunate incident that happened on that campus.

I'm a gun owner and when I start hearing anti-gun talk, the pleats in my chef hat get frazzled. I overhead a conversation yesterday about "when are we going to get rid of guns so things like this don't happen". I had to bite my tongue. Well, when people who make such statements and lawmakers figure out a way to remove every illegal gun from those who shouldn't have guns hands for 10 years, I'll begrudingly will hand over my legal one. But commentors as above and lawmakers find it easier (and that is the key word - EASY) to take away and restrict ownership by law abiding citizens than to go after illegally possessed guns. Obviously, taking away legal guns doesn't work, either. Case in point: I was watching a documentary on a multi-national man hunt. A woman in England said that 25 years ago, you were aghast and taken back by a gun crime because they were so rare. Today, it has become almost common and while tragic, you don't give it a second thought. It is illegal to own a firearm in England. In otherwords, those who have no respect for the law won't give a rats ass if the USA bans firearms...they will find a way to possess and use them. Taking away guns from the law-abiding doesn't work.

Of course, one will argue my mention of "law abiding" citizen. Yes, yes, the NIU shooter legally owned firearms but from my point of view, illegally obtained them. Checking the "no known mental illness" box on the application was a lie. Think if he had checked "yes", he would have been issued a FOID card that allowed him to buy guns? And as a gun owner, I feel that is a weak point in the system. I got grilled more by the FBI and CIA because I was (still am) friends with a person who had a high government security clearance and worked in US Armed forces intelligence than I ever was questioned about me possibly owning a gun. Personally, I think there should be more checks and measures before issuing gun permits.

And would have this tragedy been avoided if Illinois had a concealed weapons law? I doubt it. I'm a fairly decent shot. I'm going to put a lot of rounds into a small space at 25 yards in a short period of time. But I don't know if I could do that if some guy is randomly blasting shotgun rounds into a crowd that I am in. I'd like to see a concealed weapons law pass to give me the option. On the other hand, using this incident as an excuse to try and pass it through IL legislation now is a bit weak-kneed as I don't think it would have changed much in NIU's situation....unless, of course one doesn't mind being shot at.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Restaurant Gone

The Peoria Journal Star reports that Red Zin is going to close its doors at the end of the month. So, within the last 6 months Peoria loses F. Scotts, Copperworks and now Red Zin. Other restaurants of this upscale nature have retained the name, but the original owners have sold out. Fine (or better) dining in Peoria is just getting a kick in the arse.

Yeah, yeah, I'm going to hear the food sucked here, service sucked there, etc. and that is why these places closed. However, for every place that one person likes, I'm sure another will say the food, service, drinks, etc. suck. I'm beginning to think it is Peoria. Why do I say that you may ask?

More & more culinary schools are opening. More junior colleges and colleges are offering culinary arts programs. The requirements and the wait time to get into my alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, are increasing (as is the tuition, my LORD!). Do you think all of these people aspire to grill steaks at Lonestar Steakhouse, steam shrimp for Red Lobster or flip burgers for Chili's? Naw, can't be. Somewhere, fine or better dining is wanted.

In the Peoria area, it is all about the mid dollar chain restaurants. Chili's, Applebee's, Olive Garden, the variety of steakhouses, etc. You can walk (figuratively) from one to the next and the menu looks almost the same. Who needs anything original. The article mentions competition from East Peoria, but does the foods offered there compete against fine dining? Doesn't make sense. It isn't like you are going to say "Hmmm...do we go to Jim's downtown for dinner tonight or Ming's Buffet?" Lindsay's on Liberty or Corky's? Red Zin or Granite City?

Incidentally, I loved this quote from the aforementioned article: "I hope someone else goes in there,” Debbie Ritschel, general manager with the Civic Center said. “It’s a good location". Well, maybe if whomever takes it over can get the same taxpayer $$ I.V. drip the Civic Center does (read H.R.A. tax) they could stay open...just like the Civic Center.

I just hope the handful of better dining establishment that exist "stay healthy".

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wine Update

I got confirmation "end of last week" that I will get 6 bottles of 2006 Dr. Heyden Oppenheimer Sacktrager Riesling Sp├Ątlese that I was complaining that I can't get after June 1 because of some beyond incredibly stupid new law that goes into effect since Illinois liquor distributors stuffed our legislators' pockets with $5 million over that last few years.

Mmmmmmmmm. This and my Grand Marnier-Chevre' Cheesecake...heheheheheheheh

Chef Kevin Cooks, But Now, Chef Kevin Writes, Too!

That's right! Look for the February issue of the Peoria Area Dining & Food Magazine. I am the new contributing writer for the magazine! This month (February) I give a lesson on if you know how to make one cream soup (which are oh, so good when it is this cold) you can make a lot of cream soups by just changing a few ingredients! Recipe, but no pictures. When the March issue rolls around, even though I'm not Irish (even though Kevin is an Irish name), I did a non-traditional, but Irish-inspired entree for your St. Patrick's Day celebration.

So, check out my article on Pages 12 & 13. If you can master this soup recipe, you can make cream of..... as well as me as this is what I usually follow (OK, have memorized) for a recipe.

See You Around The Table....

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What Do You Like To Cook?

I get that question a lot. Well, I'm pretty good at German cuisine as I was brought up with it. Caribbean cuisine in intriquing to me as it is a blend of many European cultures combined with native tropical ingredients. Grandfather was a cattle farmer and cooking that beautiful NY Strip to perfection is rewarding.

However, teaching a cooking class reminded me of what is my favorite food to cook (and in the top 5 to eat) is. Jambalaya. A jambalaya rich with shrimp and scallops, chicken, andouille and ham. Simmered in a dark beer and beef stock infused tomato broth. Chunks of onion, celery, green bell peppers and tomatoes. Seasoned with a realm of different seasonings and thickened with basmati rice. Accompanied with a Sam Adams Black Lager (used to be Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager until some bitch hurricane destroyed the brewery) and some crusty bread...

Monday, February 04, 2008

I Ain't Shovelin' It Again.

I was talking to my sister who lives in Rockford a few days ago. Apparently, the powers who are in Rockford want to set time limits on when you HAVE to have the sidewalk in front of your home shoveled and HAVE to have your garbage cans off the curb. If not, you'll get a fine.

Now what brought this conversation to the forefront of my noggin'? I just came in from outside. After the "big snow" a couple of days ago, I took ye ol' trusty snowblower and cleared my driveway and sidewalk. About 36 hours after said snow and clearing, the city's truck nicely spewed street snow onto driveway and sidewalk. Not too bad, so out comes the shovel. I just now realized that someone (nobody on my street has a plow blade that I'm aware of) has once again slung a slushy mess all over the sidewalk. I'm not clearing it off again. Screw that.

Now if I were living in Rockford and this new "law" went into effect and the city did the above to my sidewalk and then had the audacity to ticket me, I'd be livid.

So, Peoria, don't take a page out of Rockford's book and start something like this. If you do, the time stamp on my digital camera will be proof that I cleaned my walk and you (bleep)ed it up.

Should I Complain About Having Health Insurance?

I shouldn't complain about having health insurance. In fact, I shouldn't whisper a negative word as I have GREAT health insurance at a very low cost.

However, every year it changes slightly. Last year it went PPO except for vision care. This year, it went PPO for vision, too.

I've had glasses since the third grade. Since I was 16, I've been going to the same optomotrist and now his son. So, the same people, whom I have great faith in, have taken care of my vision the last 30 years. I've been sent home after an exam twice because I was told "my eyes were tired" and he didn't want to prescribe a new prescription based on "tired eyes"....at no additional charge as he wanted it to be right. The doc himself helps you with frames, etc. Really, really good people.

But they aren't on the PPO's "approved" list.

So, do I abandon the caring people I have trusted with my eyesight and know everything that has transpired with my eyesight over the last 30 years or do I go to one my PPO's approved eye doctors (and these people could be wonderful) to save money?

It is a real dilemna for me. If I had only been going for a few years and had little relationship with the people or needed a new health care provider for some reason, I don't think it would be an issue. But 30 years of vision care has real meaning to me.

I think I pick up an extra catering gig, stick with the tried, trusted and true and pay for it out of my own pocket.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Food & Wine Lovers (& Procrastinators), Take Note!!

Due to some cancellations, there are now several tickets available for next Saturday's (Feb. 9) Wine & Dine Experience at Willett's Winery. So, in case you wanted to go and no tickets were available or you forgot to make reservations for Valentines Day, here is a golden opportunity. The menu isn't quite complete as we are waiting to see if the wine for the appetizer course will be available to serve (darn labeling laws!!), but it will have something to do with pork tenderloin. The soup will be a bean with ham, the main course is a chicken breast supreme Oscar with winter rice blend and baby carrots and black forest cherry cake for dessert. Each course will be paired with a different wine. Joe Metzka will be providing the entertainment. Dinner starts at 6:30 PM in Manito at the winery. Cost is $45 per person.

Call Cris at 968-7070 for reservations.