Monday, December 27, 2010

New York Times Food Critic Outed and Turned Away by Red Medicine Restaurant

Red Medicine restaurant in Beverly Hills is either nuts or genius. They spotted the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila in the house and then made her wait a good long time, snapped her photo and posted it online, and refused to serve her.

On the one hand, Red Medicine got some press off that snarky move. And, you know they say that any press is good press, although I could argue that one.

The flip side though is that you have to wonder . . . what are they hiding at Red Medicine if they can't serve a food critic - even one known to be a bit biting?

This story caught my eye, because I do some restaurant reviews and also have done some restaurant mystery shopping. This works out well for me, because I blend in easily and also change up my appearance all the time. One of my students saw several photos over the years and asked if I'm in the witness protection program. I had to laugh. No. I just work well as a canvas and can color my hair or get a cut and put on different clothes and look different but still bland enough not to set off any radars.

Frankly, I don't pay much attention to the big name critics on restaurants. Red Medicine may have pushed the envelope, but I suspect that many restaurant critics are spotted and then given better treatment and food than the average man or woman off the street. Of course, this would be SHHHHH. Let's just all play the game.

I enjoy checking out new restaurants and ones when we travel, and I am very sure that the Half Fast Cook is never pegged as a writer with an excellent palate (even if I joke around about food). I remember doing a mystery shop and invited a student at the college to be my guest. I asked her if I did anything to blow my cover. She about fell out in the parking lot and said, "Heck no. That was about the worst service ever, and I am sure they would have tried harder if they had known they were being graded."

Newspapers need to hunt up some better restaurant critics and ones that reflect the general population. Then, they'd have much better stories. In the meantime, you can find some very classic "real people" reviews of restaurants that are more reflective of what you might expect . . . unless you are a hot shot.

How will things sort out for restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila and for the new Vietnamese eatery - Red Medicine? Who knows and who really cares? The restaurant says that the critic is unfair in her reviews, and the critic says that she was not there to do a review. I'm not so sure either passes the sniff test.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Just say NO to Happy Meals? San Francisco Plays Big Brother to Mcdonalds

Where does it end? San Francisco is working on banning toys in Happy Meals. Well, they might let the kids have toys IF McDonalds includes a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables in the Happy Meal.

I thought they were having real issues out there in California. Just sounds like they have too much time on their hands though. Next thing you know, the leaders of San fran will be looking in your windows and handing out fines if you eat Cheetos while you watch the ballgame.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I Rented this Buitoni Ravioli Dinner Only

Buitoni Ravioli Frozen Dinner

If I can stay out of the bathroom long enough, I will tell you all about our Buitoni Ravioli night here at the homestead.

First let me say that I had a free coupon to get this dinner. Well, the coupon said free. The cashier said it was up to $5.47 or some random amount. The dinner was $9.99. Oh well, That's still a good deal, and I was excited to get to try this meal out.

The basic idea is that you have homemade ravioli (sort of - if you can call frozen homemade). Then, you drop the sauce bag in a pot and put the lid on and bring the water to a boil. Hum. How do you see the boil with the lid on? OK. I peeked. But, I could hear it going, so I had a clue there. After that, you drop in the ravioli noodles which are about 3 inches across and let them boil for 5 minutes.

The final step is to drain the noodles and cut open the hot bag of sacue and pour that over the ravioli.

This is not rocket science, and it does not take long. Thumbs up on that.

The thing that impressed my son the most when I was making Buitoni Braised Beef & Sausage Ravioli with Creamy Marinara sauce (gota have a long name if it's gourmet) was the new stove burner turning cool colors while the food was boiling.

Tada! Dinner was ready in a flash. But, I must say that Buitoni looks . . . well interesting. I have provided a photo, so I will not have to put my verbal skills to the test to describe the appearance of gourmet ravioli.

Perhaps a stir will help on the plating. Or not. OK. It's the taste that counts right?

Buitoni has been making up dinners or something since 1927, so obviously there are people who must love this stuff. My son and I are not in that group I must say; however, my dog Hershey gave a big paws up. He is thrilled with people food except for that green Jell-O my Mom makes and the cheese straws with cayenne pepper.

The meat did have a sausage flavor like the Italian sausage balls on Pizza Hut pizza which would be my least favorite of all the toppings there. But, OK, it's Italian sausage but not the type I like. Then, the sauce was kind of sticky and sweet with one heck of an aftertaste. That would not be a real bad thing if the initial taste was good, but since it wasn't, I was not pleased to be reminded of my dinner all evening.

To start with, I just chalked it up. Then, I got the Tums out. Finally, I had to hang up on my Mom on the phone, because Buitoni turned out to be a rental meal.

Moral of the Story: Be sure to stock up on toilet paper if you serve this to guests. I would also recommend dinner by candlelight on this one.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Top 10 Reasons I Would Rather Eat Dirt Than Shop Wal-Mart

Top 10 – Why I Try NOT to Shop at Wal-Mart

I know the prices are low at Wal-Mart. They have a huge selection of goods. It’s one-stop shopping – everything from getting a haircut and eyes checked to tires changed and groceries for the week.

Still, I dread going to Wal-Mart. My hands start to sweat before I even get in the parking lot. By the time I’m in the door, I’ve lost my list and stepped in chewing gum. It goes downhill from there.

Here are the first 10 things that I hate most about Wal-Mart:

1. There’s always a big woman with children parked sideways rather than lengthwise with an overflowing cart on the isle I need to visit. I have these visions of a fire breaking out and no way possible to get around the dysfunctional family gathered in the kitchenware isle.

2. They hide the candy at Wal-Mart. All normal stores have candy with the food. Wal-Mart puts it over next to the toys - clear across the store from the groceries. By the time I get back over to the candy (which I always forget is on the other side), I’ve burned enough calories to justify eating the candy on the way home. Then, I have no candy and need to go back to Wal-Mart.

3. Wal-Mart shoppers must go through a lot of toilet paper. If they have normal size packs of TP, I never find those. I end up with a 24 roll pack that takes up the whole cart. If I need paper towels too, then I can’t even see around all that paper balanced precariously on top of my other stuff.

4. The soda pops on sale are always stacked so high that I can’t reach the top to get a 24 pack which is darn heavy to start with. One day I’m sure I will inch it forward, the cube of Pepsi will topple off and bean me – or worse some poor kid who happens to walk by at the wrong time.

5. Does Wal-Mart milk their own cows? They sure think highly of the milk based on the prices. They charge more than any store in town, and I’m sure it’s because they know no one wants to make another stop just for lower priced milk. That’s OK though. I still go to the BP and save a buck or two.

6. The person with “the key” is never handy at Wal-Mart. Not only do they lock the glass cases with games, they have figured out how to lock the little displays with things like media cards and batteries. These do not look locked, and it took me about 15 minutes to figure it out. The security tape will probably show up on YouTube one of these days – confused lady turns media card pack every direction before figuring out she needs to find key man.

7. How do you buy stuff outside at Wal-Mart when they don’t have a cash register out there? Do you load up all that mulch and cow manure and haul it inside and around the store, or do you tell the cashier that you want some random stuff outside? This is a mystery and why I get bags of yard materials at the Farm Bureau.

8. They do clean the bathrooms at Wal-Mart. I can attest to that. Every time I happen to need to go (which I try very hard not to have to do), there’s a sign up saying the bathroom is closed for cleaning. It’s never the men’s bathroom, which I would guess needs cleaning more than the ladies room though I could be wrong on that. I’ve been sorely tempted to run in the men’s bathroom real quick, but I’m restrained myself – so far.

9. That bag roulette wheel at Wal-Mart is just plain odd. I’m putting my stuff on the conveyer belt, getting out my credit card, swiping and signing. Meanwhile, my purchases are going in bags and circling around like those ducks at the country fair. I always wonder if I missed a bag and probably have.

10. That beep, beep, beep thing that goes off when I go out the door at Wal-Mart drives me nuts. Let’s announce to the world that Cyndi and her kids are shoplifters. Of course we’re not. It’s always some random little something clearly marked on the receipt. In fact, we look so NOT like shoplifters that we usually get waved right through but only after everyone looks to see who got nailed by the happy Wal-Mart greeter Granny.

It’s not all bad at Wal-Mart, and I do shop there when I can’t find an excuse to get out of it. When I actually catch my breath enough to look around, I see some most interesting people. Today we ended up behind a prostitute I’m pretty sure. I yelled, “Don’t look Ethel” and covered the boys’ eyes. We ducked down the bread lane and blocked the isle talking to a couple of kids I taught at the college. I’m glad a fire did not break out, and I’m sorry for anyone who was wanting bagels. It’s the Wal-Mart way.

Moral of the Story - If I need anything THAT bad and they do not have it here other than Wal-Mart I will try to buy it online. If I must go to Wal-Mart I close my eyes and run like the devil is on my heels.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Egg Roll the Robber and Leave Him with Egg Foo Young on His Face

Ha! Ha! Bad Man Should Have Read the Fortune Cookie First

Take that you wicked man with gun!

When a robber tried to take the money and from the Asian Buffet in Norman reports KOCO in Oklahoma City, a female employee yanked his mask off as he grabbed for the money.

And, then it was on as other employees grabbed the guy.

The big, bad robber dragged the the pile of employees to the door, but someone locked him in and others got the gun away as he started firing.

Someone needs to take that guy's robber card away after he gets out of jail, because he got beat up by servers half his size when he had a gun, and they just had aprons. Plus, the bulk of the workers that were working him over were petite females.

Moral of the story: Use a clean plate when getting more food at the Asian Buffet and remember that they have the police carry you out on speed dial.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Food Fight - Someone Plays Dirty with a Cheeseburger

What do you do if you get mad at someone?

Hum. I'm thinking that maybe you might talk to that person.

Someone else maybe had another idea. As reported in the Herald of Rock Hill, SC, a woman was having problems with her car. It would crank but then quit.

Not good.

Turns out someone stuffed a cheeseburger complete with a pickle in the gas tank. That gives a whole new meaning to "food fight."

This may not sound like a huge deal, but the cost to repair a cheeseburgered car is $1000. OUCH!

OK. Perhaps this was not an intentional deed of food warfare. The case has not been solved yet. So, how could a cheeseburger end up in your gas tank if someone was not just gunning for you and being a major jerk?

Let me count the ways a cheeseburger accidently gets in the gas tank, and feel free to add your ideas!

Cheeseburger in Gas Tank Theory Challenge - Top 10 Ways it Got in There

1. It was dark, and someone thought the car was the refrigerator.

2. There were no trash cans around, and the person who jammed the cheeseburger in the gas tank did not want to liter.

3. Someone tripped and the cheeseburger just happened to fly in the gas tank hole.

4. One of the kids knew that the other kids in the family would eat the cheeseburger and just hid it in the gas tank for later.

5. The driver was eating the cheeseburger and it fell in the gas tank when she was filling up her car with gas.

6. Someone ordered the burger without pickles and got the gas tank confused with the drive through window hole.

7. The drivers date did not want to tell her he hates cheeseburgers so jammed it in the gas tank and pretended he ate it so as not to hurt her feelings.

8. The cheeseburger was cold, and someone thought the gas tank would heat it back up and spit it back up.

9. The car looked hungry, and some kind soul decided to feed it.

10. The car was sold with the cheeseburger in the tank from the factory, and it just took a while for it to break down enough to cause engine problems.

Moral of the Story - Do not put cheeseburgers in your gas tank and do not hang out with people who do things like that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

First Night of MasterChef on FOX with Gordan Ramsay - Some Half Fast and Some Not Half Bad at All

Tonight was the first night of MasterChef which is another Gordan Ramsay (Hell's Kitchen) cooking show creation. In this FOX TV show, the idea is that home cooks get a chance to make the leap from cooking for family and friends to being a chef.

Well, the winner will get a quarter of a million dollars and a cookbook deal. There's not a chef job hanging out there like on Hell's Kitchen.

Am I Lusting After This MasterChef Gig? - Well - No

I've never had any desire to be a chef. I love cooking at home, and I dish up some darn good grub. But, I just don't see cooking for a living. It's what I do to relax and because I love to get in the kitchen and create.

I do, however, enjoy watching some of the cooking and chef shows on TV. I get new ideas, and I love to see someone chase and catch a dream.

How Did the First Night Go On MasterChef?

The home cook pool included 100 wanna-be's, so the hour was a bit wild with the first half of the final 30 being selected. Some of the winners and losers got air time and some did not. I was kind of disappointed that apron winners did not all get to showcase dishes, but I guess they only have so many minutes. So, viewers got to kind of know some of the contestants but not others.

No Need for a Beverage with Beer Cheese Soup - Then Again . . .

MasterChef kicked off with a guy from Texas with some beer cheese soup. He seemed pretty sure that he would rock the judges, but Gordan Ramsay said that it was the "most disgusting soup I've ever tasted." I'd have to say that I'd have a hard time downing a big bowl of cheese melted with beer, but Graham (the big judge) said he could handle it. He looks more like the beer cheese soup kind of fellow.

Other Memorable Recipe Bombs on the First Night of MasterChef

A former soccer player from Brazil thought she'd dazzle the male judges by being super flirty and especially with Gordan Ramsay. She wore a rather revealing top and made comments about the front and back field while flashing a dazzling smile. Her fish taco with corn and mango gagged the judges, and my son gagged just thinking about it. Some things just were not meant to be. And, someone might want to practice more on cooking rather than on sucking up.

Then, there was poor Randy. He's Southern. Bless his heart. I can say that. I'm Southern. If a little bit is good, a whole lot is a whole lot better. So, he must have put a whole pound of butter in his "funeral potatoes." Now, I'm sure the family may call them "funeral potatoes," but some things are better not shared. The name of this dish is one of those things, and the actual dish is the second. Glenn (the more serious judge) called it "cave man" food while Ramsay said the funeral potatoes looked like "cow dung topped with cheese." I am pretty sure Ramsay has not seen cow dung. The potatoes did not look like cow poo. They looked like vomit. For real.

The News Was Not ALL Bad of Course - Some Winners on MasterChef Night One

You can't very well have a Master Chef contest and not have any contestants, so the judges, of course, passed a few home cooks through to continue the competition. Really now, imagine that they said every dish was just awful. That makes for a really short TV run.

Duck and Run Back to the Kitchen with the First Apron

The first to get an apron (that's the prize - kind of like the ticket to Vegas on So You Think You Can Dance) was Michael. He made Duck Ssam. In case you are confused, Michael made pan seared duck. Ramsay called the dish "brilliant." I like the comment by the big guy the best. He said the dish was like "sex in the mouth." I think I need to get ahold of that recipe.

Michael is a server, so he has his foot in the culinary door. He had the moves and plating down, and my son predicted that he'd win this one. Guess we'll have to wait and see on that. He was more polished than the other home cooks though.

If You Go Broke as a Doctor, Then Just Be a Chef

Tracy is a medical doctor, and her Momma left her recipes in a notebook. This was shortly before the mother died three years ago - suddenly. This was a really touching story, and I know all about trying to round up the family recipes and save them. I'm still tracking down many in my family that may or may not written down or passed down. (Note to readers - Do write down your special recipes and share them with a family member who will cherish them.)

The dish from Tracy's notebook written by her Mom was a smothered chicken with brussel sprouts. The judges were a little concerned that Tracy might not be able to cook outside the book (made by Mom). Tracy told them that she was there to learn. She made it through, and I hope she does not move so far beyond the family recipes that she loses the heart that made her stand out.

Yes - I Am Cocky Until You Hurt My Feeling and Make Me Cry

David from Boston was sure full of himself. The judges called him on that, since his dish was not what he said it was. Plus, deduct points for David memorizing a couple of words in French but then being unable to converse with Ramsay in French.

The software engineer thought his duck was cooked, although it was really some kind of seafood dish and not duck he cooked. He probably figured he had a ticket home when Ramsay called him a "joker" and not in the good sense. David got a lot more serious then and cried, so the judges put him through.

Maybe the chick from Brazil should have cried instead of flirting. Just saying . . .

Smiling on the South - And a Big Old Bear Hug

Avis hails from Louisiana where she helps the elderly and home based. She's a big lady who looks like she could cook up a big Southern Sunday dinner. I'd be right at her table in a heartbeat.

The judges were not real keen on the overcooked pasta (past-uh as Ramsay says), but they did think Avis nailed the catfish. Hum. It is the Southern way to cook a food to death. Would Avis be able to get beyond that? Ramsay figured he'd wait and see after Avis said, "Please give me a chance." When she bear hugged him, he did say that she "just crushed me."

Please Don't Dump Me in Front of My Wife and Kid

The last guy to move on made mac and cheese, and the judges pointed out that it's a super common dish and that he'd better nail it and make the best ever mac and cheese if he wanted to move on.

The judges were not impressed with the Parmesan cheese butterflies used to hang on the side of the parley for decoration and then they decided he forgot to season (as in add a little salt). It was looking a bit iffie.

When Ramsay called in the guy's wife and kid with a pacifier, I knew this one was going to move on. Come on. Really. It would take a super jerk to call out the wife and kid and then say, "Sorry. No. You're not good enough."

MasterChef Night One - The Final Verdict

MasterChef rode on the heels of Hell's Kitchen, and it really needed a two hour opening with 100 contestants. Still, it looks like a show with potential. The voices and dishes were new and not so polished. I'm sure folks will up the game as they go along like on other reality shows. But, season one looks like it might be more real than most reality shows.