Mings Bistro: Restaurant or Sorcerer’s Den?

What do you do when you’re craving something you can’t have? For all you guys with their mind in the gutters, I’m talking about food of course. When you just can’t squeeze that extra $50 for a night free from the stove and the dishwasher, what do you do? What is the one dish that you just can’t cook as well as your favorite restaurant, no matter how hard you try? These are the kinds of things I think about constantly. When my mind wanders to the side of hunger and satiation, it consumes me like the third level of Inception. The only difference is my belly is my totem. Keep in mind the limits of this discussion don’t have to apply strictly to your favorites, but more on your own cooking limitations and the time it takes for preparation. For me the answer to these questions is this: The most logical conclusion as to why we all fail at some of the simplest of dishes is that, there must be some sort of spell or wizardry going on that only a few select beings know which allow them to make certain things taste so good, at least that’s how it seems to us normals.

My entries are as follows:

To make a long story short, I can’t make Peking duck. To explain why would take longer than your attention span will allow. It’s basically a 2-day process and I’m not really in the position to be able to spend that much time on a bird. That’s why I try and go to Ming’s Bistro (1212 Woodward St # 6 Orlando, FL) to get my fix. It’s some of the best duck I’ve ever had, but just speaking locally, it can’t be beat. Especially since I can’t do it any better myself.

When I crave sushi, I would not even fathom of making it at home. Here’s why:
1. I don’t trust any local fish market to have the same quality fish as any of the better sushi restaurants within a 50 mile radius.
2. If I could trust a fish monger, the cost of all the fish I’d want would be substantially higher than just buying pieces individually at a sushi bar.
3. If I could afford the fish and it was of excellent quality, I will never be able to make sushi rice anywhere near as good as the most untalented of sushi chefs.
4. I’ve tried all of the above and I stink at it. The best sushi in my area is at Shin Sushi 803 N. Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL. When I can afford sushi I go there. I will not settle for mediocre and I will do without until I can go.

For the sweet tooth:
I don’t know what else could be in this thing called an Ooey Gooey Butter from a place called Fresco’s Bakery & Bistro (132 S. Kentucky Ave Lakeland, FL 33801) but in any case it can’t be more than 5 ingredients. Why I won’t ever try to make it.
1. Making a tray might add up to 5000 calories and a couple hundred grams of fat. Butter is in the name so do the math.
2. I would eat the whole sheet at once.
3. I bar will do the trick for at least a couple months.
4. They’re only $1.50. Why make a mess?

What are your thoughts on this matter? What foods befuddle you when you try to replicate them at home, and what do the restaurants got that we don’t got?! Audience participation is strongly encouraged and lavishly rewarded (just kidding about that last part, but we will leave you a witty reply!)

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The Whole Foods Challenge

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to go out and spend a lot of money on a meal. It really bummed me out for a while, being suddenly strapped for cash/credit. My wife and I used to enjoy making an evening of it. I’d venture to say we enjoy it more than any other form of entertainment. Unfortunately for us we are broke as a joke and we’ve had to live a little leaner. To spare you the details, we’re cooking basically every meal at home out of necessity.

However, what once was a drag, has become ultimately what I look forward to everyday. To be able to come up with whole meals, (that actually taste decent) off the top of your head using only what you’ve got left in your fridge and pantry on the last day before you get paid and you don’t have a nickel to your name, is extremely satisfying. It makes me feel like I can do anything if I focus.

With this in mind, a conversation occurred on the way home from a family dinner last night between my wife and I. It involved the viewpoints of my cost cutting mother as well as my health conscious aunt. My mom has always been old school as far as the things she buys from the grocery store. It’s always , shopping at the local chain grocery store for what ever is on sale. I joke with her about it alot. I hope it doesn’t hurt her feelings. (I dont want this to come off as mom bashing because shes an amazing mom and im so grateful that my parents to be able to feed me while i was a kid.) My aunt however is more like me and my wife food wise. She goes out of her way to seek out local, (if possible) fresh and organic foods even if it may appear to cost more money. My mom believes that she can’t afford to eat this way. If she would just give it a shot she (and everyone for that matter) would see that for soundness of health, you can’t afford not to eat better. The perceived notion is that natural and organic foods costs more, while in reality it costs much less than a doctor bill incurred from putting garbage into your body. Does it really cost more to eat right? If you think it does then you’re in the majority. I offer this challenge, I say this because I have been successful for many months with this approach, which is as follows:

Step 1: Make sure you have paper and ink for your printer.

Step 2: Own a printer and computer.

Step 3: Print organic food coupons.

There are a number of manufacturer websites that offer coupons for just about anything you would want to eat. It takes time to sort through the crap, but once you do it for a few weeks in a row, it becomes routine. You also would do well to check the sites of Whole Foods and Fresh Market for example and see what the weekly specials are. Your meal planning can revolve around what’s on sale at any given time. I’m saying Whole Foods and Fresh Market because that’s what’s near me. Both stores also have bi-weekly coupons you can print from the website, the same ones are available at the store in the sale papers. The most awesome feeling is finding a coupon from a manufacturer that matches a store coupon. Double savings baby! That can easily get you some free food. On a recent trip to Whole Foods I saved $43.00 from coupons alone. Not to mention the things from the weekly sale ads we were going to buy anyway.

Step 4: If possible buy your meat from a member club. Not sure about SAM’s, but BJ’s has free range chicken, beef, lamb and bison in amounts you can stock up on. On one trip I found 2 lbs of bison for $7.00. Normally that would cost $18.00 at your local grocery if they even carried it at all. Something I never knew about bison is that USDA regulation states that bison can not have any hormones whatsoever, much stricter than beef production.

Step 5: Eat less meat

Step 6: Find a family member or friend that raises chickens for eggs. If you can get free eggs that haven’t been treated with anything and have been raised humanely, win-win. And if you can get duck eggs, win-win-win.

Step 7: Find a produce stand or farmers market that you can trust. Sadly this is the hardest one for me but you might live in an area abundant with locally grown fruit and veg.

Step 8: Drink good water. If you think it’s all the same I’d advise you watch a documentary called “tapped”. It’s on Netflix, eye opening indeed.

With that said. I have been able to save about $200.00 a month for a family of 3, eating I’d say around 90% organic foods. It’s made me feel better and less tired. I’m proud of it and know I’m doing the best I can for my kid so that he doesn’t grow up unhealthy, diabetic, or obese like so many children in this country. Here are a few things I’ve been cooking up over the last few months. Some of these have been in other recent posts but I wanted you to see what’s possible, even on a tight budget.

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Murray’s Cheese Shop Will Melt Your Face!

Sometimes you just feel like a grilled cheese. When that feeling comes over you , there isn’t much to do but slap a few pieces of your favorite fromage between some generously buttered bread and go to town. Well when you can’t do it yourself, Murray’s Cheese Shop at 254 Bleecker St has got you covered…and I do mean covered, when it comes to a “warm your soul” grilled cheeser.

I was feeling cheesy at lunch today, and I knew about Murray’s, so I decided “hey it’s Friday, I’ll make the 12 block trek to get my cheese fix”. Upon entering Murray’s, I was welcomed by a wall of parmigiano of various types, looked mighty tasty, but not what I was looking for. Tucked into the right corner nearest the window is a small grill station with a couple of sandwich presses. Murray’s only has a handful of choices but it wasn’t hard to find something I wanted. I had heard about a sando ominously called “Da Bomb” consisting of braised short ribs, a slab of taleggio, grilled onions and arugula on buttered sourdough.

I thought it was going to be a slam dunk to order until I kept reading below. The equally epic sounding “Nor’easter” was a manwich of braised pork belly, smoked mozzarella, pesto, piri piri and red onion on sourdough…seriously I could’ve died after eating that (from ecstasy not a heart attack mind you).Unfortunately Murray’s failed to have a sufficient amount of bellys on hand. So my colleague and I decided to spring for “Da Bomb” and another cheeser called “The Spaniard”. This little guy was fully involved with some Serrano ham, young manchego, creamy membrillo spread and marinated red peppers.

I think you can tell by the photos that this was a gooey ordeal. The Spaniard had a little tinge of sweet and sour from the membrillo and the peppers to counteract the salty Serrano ham, and the Manchego had a wonderful earthy, nutty flavor to round it all out. However the winner by far, and I don’t want to sound cliche here, was “Da Bomb”. The short ribs were so tender and juicy and the arugula tasted like it had just been picked. Since Tallegio is one of my favorite cheeses, I was in sheer heaven. Da bomb rightly deserves it’s name because this thing was exploding with flavor. Don’t get me wrong I’d order the Spaniard again, but in this moment the bomb was hitting all of my buttons. As if simply having this place in the neighborhood wasn’t enough of a danger, they have little cards at the counter where you can collect stamps for any grilled sandwiches you purchase, devour 10 of them and you get one free. Yes please!

However the sandwiches are just a small piece of the the larger puzzle that is Murray’s Cheese Shop. There are a large assortment of cured meats, foreign sodas, fresh pasta and sauce, chocolate and more. They also have a cheese cave under the store that you can access through the red door in the back where, according to them, you can “experience the best cheese you’ve ever tasted”. A tall order to be sure, but I’ve heard rumblings that they have been known to carry Mont D’or, which as you know from my Paris post, was one of the finest gastronomic experiences of my 26 years.

But that ladies and gents is a tale for another time. Until next time, stay cheesy!

Murray's Cheese on Urbanspoon

Foie-hibition: Crimes Against Food

Not sure if any of you people are aware of this, but the state of California will be banning foie gras by Summer 2012. The law was passed 7 years ago, making it illegal to force feed a bird, such as a duck or goose, for the the sole purpose of fattening the fowls liver. It will also be illegal to sell foie gras in the state in any capacity. This means some of the best restaurants such as The French laundry and Chez Panisse wont be touching the stuff….legally. The price to pay for going rogue and getting caught will be $1,000.00 per violation….soooooo, blah blah blah. All this business detailing the condemnation of such a beautiful luxury that the French have so graciously blessed us with is making me hungry.

Well, hungry and angry. The (mistaken) reasoning is that the act of forcibly fattening birds for foie is cruelty to animals. I would say that it is hardly the case. I would argue that the farmers force feeding these birds all over the country and the world over are spoiling said birds. The people at D’artagnan willingly allow anyone to tour their facility and see for themselves how well their poultry are treated. Furthermore, the birds raised to make foie gras are only to be eaten, not to become pets. They live a good life and serve a worthy purpose by supplying such a pleasurable dining experience. These animals are not pets. They are protein and fat. Some call it meat.

I’m sure the thought of eating fattened goose liver may not be too appetizing for most. My wife doesn’t care for it, but you won’t see me trying to force feed it down her throat, it should be a matter of personal taste whether you eat something or not. That goes for everything. Let me decide. With that said there are tons of things that we all should be screaming at the top of the mountain over. There are animals that truly are treated badly for the sake of food. Reasons being money and money. Saving money for the consumer and the producer. Regulation should be tightened regarding feedlot facilities housing meat and dairy cattle that won’t allow these animals to graze or even eat grass. Feeding them a grain or corn diet and injecting them with unnecessary hormones for what? To fatten them up and produce a larger yield. The same can be said to describe the horrific conditions found in large poultry and egg producers. Educating myself on such things has been pretty disturbing. It definitely makes me more cautious about what’s going into my belly.

Anyway, the dangerous part of all this is that there is now a precedent for the government to intervene and regulate a food stuff, effectively turning a centuries old delicacy into an illegal substance. It’s a very slippery slope, what’s next, no more chicken, no more beef? How about we more closely regulate the treatment of the animals to ensure their safety instead of banning a product outright because a few producers are treating their animals inhumanely? In the end it doesn’t really matter, banning things that people are passionate about never works, I wasn’t around for it but I heard prohibition didn’t go over too well, and low and behold we are free to drink alcohol until we black out despite the governments best efforts.

There are so many other things we should be looking into as responsible human beings. The possible extinction of blue fin tuna, the diseases linked to farm raised salmon, the pesticides sprayed on much of the produce available at your local grocery store and the list goes on. But please don’t take the foie. Maybe one day there will be fattened duck liver dispensaries where I’ll have to bring a prescription to satiate my addiction. You west coasters have 7 months to live it up. Then life won’t be worth living. Or you could just move to New York where the sane people live.

SOHO Lunchtime Adventures

As some of you may know, I recently changed jobs. I had previously been working in the Empire State Building on 34th st and 5 ave. Now Midtown Manhattan isn’t really known as a great location when it comes to mealtime choices. I did manage to find a few gems, Tina’s was a nice authentic Cuban joint with amazing breaded chicken sandwiches, No. 7 Sub was a sub place that concocted some pretty hair-brained and delicious combinations, zucchini parm with fontina, sweet onions, pickled jalapeno and BBQ potato chips anyone? Of course there was always Korea town a couple blocks south on 32nd st. But I always felt like I was a little limited in my selection. Then about a month ago I got a job offer down in SOHO. Talk about polar opposites, I’m having a hard time deciding now, and I haven’t repeated my selection once in a months time. So I wanted to share some of my escapades with you, should you ever find yourself in my neighborhood, I suggest you give these places a shot. 

Joy Burger Bar –  361 Avenue of the Americas, New York – (212) 414-9500

This place is nothing short of awesome, building your own burger can be one of the most rewarding experiences there are. Here’s what I came up with, a Maxi burger (8 oz) cooked med. rare with, tomato, sautéed onion, fresh mozzarella, spicy mayo and pesto. Sorry about the pic, got too excited and starting om nom-ing before I thought about photos!                    

Joy Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Alidoro – 105 Sullivan St, New York 10012 (Btwn Spring & Prince St)

This place I found while researching the 101 best sandwiches in NYC, this placed thirty-something I don’t remember, but it was chock full of prosciutto. The cashier had an old-fashioned meat slicer next to the register and was constantly slicing  paper-thin pieces of prosciutto into a pile on each sandwich. Heaven. Anyway, I chose the Pinocchio, prosciutto, sopressata, fresh mozzarella, sweet roasted peppers and olive spread on foccacia. 

Alidoro on Urbanspoon

Banh Mi Saigon – 198 Grand St, New York 10013 (Btwn Mulberry & Mott St)

This place ranked a wee bit higher on the list, if memory serves me right it was in the top 10 best sandwiches in NYC. I can’t say I would argue with that assessment. Fresh, fresh, fresh is all I can say. Fresh ingredients, prepared on the spot, you can’t get better than that. I sprung for the Banh Mi Pate Cha, which was Vietnamese ham and pate, with the usual fixin’s, julienned carrots, pickled cucumber, cilantro, pickled jalapeno and a dash of sriracha. Delish.

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Pho Bang – 157 Mott St, New York 10013 (Btwn Grand & Broome St)

Last but by no means least, Pho Bang is a great little Vietnamese noodle house that lives up to its name. The flavor they’re cranking out of that kitchen should have an explosive warning label, so fresh, so clean, it hits all the right buttons. While the pho looked enticing, I went for the Bun Thit Heo Nuong, or grilled pork over rice vermicelli. With the standard condiments at the ready, I fixed up my heaping bowl of noodles to my liking and dug in, luckily I had the wherewithal to snap a photo before-hand. Along with some nice pork spring rolls, it turned out to be a tasty time, and all for under $15!

There will be many more to come, so stick around!

Pho Bang Mott on Urbanspoon

Im-morel

Hey everyone, it certainly has been a while, sorry about that. But I’ve got an interesting topic to put out there for your opinions, comments or even experiences.

So let me lay a little background information for you. A year or so ago, I was living in Georgia. One weekend I was feeling feasty and in the mood for a nice risotto. I made my way down to Harrys Farmers Market (read: Whole Foods) to procure the essentials, a nice bag of arborio, some organic chicken stock, white onion, shallot, and a crisp white table wine. For this particular risotto, I felt that mushrooms would make a great center piece, so I headed for the produce section. Now Whole Foods and it’s offshoots often have quite a robust mushroom section, here you can find woodears, hen of the woods, shitake, oyster, lobster, blue foots, enokis and on this specific day, morels at $40/lb. Now what self respecting fungophile could pass up a chance at fresh morels? Apparently a broke one, but I decided (somewhat mischievously) to fill a bag with shitakes, since those were what I had set out to buy in the first place, and throw a generous handful of morels in for good measure. Now lets just get one thing straight, I know the difference between a shitake and a morel, both in taste, sight and price, so I had every intention of paying for the mushrooms I had secured. Now here’s where the moral dilemma comes in, I was betting that your typical cashier wouldn’t know a morel if you slapped him in the nose with it. So I confidently made my way to the check out desk, and plopped the generously filled sack of fungi on the belt. Without even bothering to check, the girl charged me $5.99/lb for criminis. Ok first of all, a bag of shitakes looks nothing like a bag of criminis, and second of all morels may be one of the most easily identifiable mushrooms there are.

Crimini

Shitake

Morel


Now I’ve been told by some individuals I’ve related this story to, that I basically stole the mushrooms, and that may be so. However, I see this situation a little differently. Now let’s say you own a car lot, selling a wide variety of makes and models, from Aston Martins to Accords. Wouldn’t you want to hire salepeople who know the difference, so that you don’t end up selling that brand new $195,000 DBS to some guy for $23,000? My point is, Whole Foods should make sure their employees are knowledgeable about the products they sell. Can’t tell the difference between filet and chuck? Sorry you don’t get the job. All I’m saying is, it’s not my responsibility to educate their employees, if they had done their job, I would’ve paid something like $50 instead of $12. Say what you will, but I challenge anyone to look me in the eye and tell me they’d honestly turn down an Aston from some schmo salesman who thinks it’s a Honda. Do your homework Whole Foods, stop hiring people with no food knowledge without giving them some training, in the mean time, I’ll be back next week for more shrooms.