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Friday, June 25, 2010

Pennsylvania Pilots Wine in Grocery Stores (30 Years After Everyone Else)

Spicy Food Guy is highly amused by the following  news story from an article entitled "State pops the cork on wine kiosks" in today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

"The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board began a pilot program of wine-vending kiosks inside two Harrisburg area supermarkets on Wednesday.  If all goes well, similar kiosks may start popping up in Western Pennsylvania in August, said PLCB spokeswoman Stacey Witalec."

Let's make sure Spicy Food Guy has this straight:  Pennsylvania is piloting, in two whole locations, an adult beverage grocery distribution strategy that has been fully rolled out in the other 49 states for the past three decades?  Now, is this front page news because the media perceives the strategy as progressive, or because they view it as embarrassing? 

Spicy Food Guy can just envision next week's headline:

"Pennsylvania embarks on an ambitious 15 year development plan to sell beer in convenience stores".

Please someone help.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Refried Beans, Jalapeño Peppers, and How to Eat at All-Inclusive Resorts

"I bet I can eat refried beans and jalapeño peppers for 12 straight meals."

So did Spicy Food Guy toss out his "Cool Hand Luke" challenge to his family members, all of whom rolled their eyes and went back to enjoying the sun and warmth of the Riviera Maya.

As it turns out, Spicy Food Guy rather enjoyed the refried beans and jalapeño pepper challenge, though it became the bane of existence for those who had to share the same bathroom as SFG

Spicy Food Guy and his family were enjoying some quality time at the Occidental Grand Xcaret a couple months back.  In prior years, the SFG family had vacationed at the Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya.  All-Inclusive Resorts are hit and miss establishments when it comes to food.  A quick perusal of will show reviews that range anywhere from "the resort had the most fabulous food ever and I gained 10 pounds" to "I couldn't find a single dish that wasn't undercooked and my husband ended up in the hospital with food poisoning."  But given that SFG has some experience in these types of resorts, he thought he'd provide some guidance to those vacationers that might be headed down for their first visit.

But first some setup; most of the food service offerings in all inclusive resorts work in the same general manner.  A grand buffet anchors most of the meals, the selection is huge, and you can eat there with no reservations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Most evenings the grand buffet has a specific theme, such as seafood, Mexican, or Italian.  In addition to the buffet, most resorts offer pool side lunch cafe's where you can get standard lunch fare -- tacos, burgers, pizza, hot dogs, nachos, that sort of thing.  Finally, all the resorts will have anywhere from two to five standalone dinner restaurants that require reservations and have some sort of dress code.  The restaurants range anywhere from Japanese to Mediterranean to Steakhouses.  Finally, most places offer some limited version of room service.

So how in the hell do you decide where to go and what to eat?  As I said, Spicy Food Guy is here to help.
Tip 1 -- Go big on breakfast. First, it doesn't take much to prepare a fairly elegant breakfast, and most resorts do a terrific job of setting up a nice brunch-like atmosphere.  A good omelet, prepared in front of you with your ingredients of choice, is always a great way to start the day.  And because most resorts are located in sunny warm environments, there is almost always a broad selection of fresh fruit.  The kids can enjoy cereal, scrambled eggs, or french toast.  Spicy Food Guy generally steers away from bacon and sausages, mostly because they always appear to be undercooked.  Plus, making breakfast the big meal of the day gives you at least a remote chance of burning off some calories before day's end.

Tip 2 -- Go local.  Shockingly, the best food in most Mexican resorts is, well, Mexican.  It's what they know.  The pica de gallo is always fresh and delicious.  The refried beans are outstanding.  Tinga Pueblana, Mexican pulled pork, practically melts in your mouth.  It always cracks Spicy Food Guy to read a review that says "We were really disappointed with the food at the Italian restaurant in the resort".  Really?  You were?  Spicy Food Guy is always soooo tempted to leave a comment like "No shit, bright eyes, Italy was located on another damn continent last time I checked.  Of course the Italian food sucks in Mexico.  Dumbass."  But SFG never writes this, he just thinks it.

Tip 3 -- Lunch 1 and Lunch 2.  This is a food strategy that was developed by Independent Thinking Stepdaughter of SFG (ITSOSFG).  Most of the poolside lunch cafe's are open from about 11:30 to 2:30, and they are jam packed from 12:15 to about 1:30.  So ITSOSFG came up with the brilliant idea of having a smallish lunch around 11:30 when the crowds were light and the food had just been set out, and then repeating the process at about 2:00.  Lunch 1 and lunch 2.  Helps stop binge eating, you get a quiet lunch, and really fast service.  Brilliant.

Tip 4 -- Avoid shellfish.  Admittedly, this is kind of a no-brainer.  The chances of getting food poisoning from shellfish, especially when served raw, is well documented and known.  Now Spicy Food Guy loves oysters, but he is not about to risk a spending a sunny day in the Riviera Maya vomiting in his bathroom.  Just stay away from the shellfish.

Tip 5 -- Straight from the bottle.  We all know American and European tummies don't always handle Mexican water very well.  So avoid it.  Drink water from water bottles.  Drink beer or soda poured from a bottle.  And is there anything finer than the thoughtful, well timed tequila shot?  Spicy Food Guy thinks not.

Spicy Food Guy hopes you enjoy your trip, and he highly recommends the jalapeño peppers and refried beans.  Peace out, Amigos.

Monday, June 21, 2010

10 Food Tips for New Graduates

Tip 1: Throw out the Ramen noodles.  All of them.  In the trash.  Now.  Nothing says "cheap college student who has no idea how to cook" more than a case of Ramen noodles.  So get rid of them.  Case closed.

Spicy Food Guy once lived in a college apartment, adorned with paper plates, 47 pizza delivery boxes stacked in the living room corner, and a fridge full of beer and a gallon jug of ketchup.

Spicy Food Guy has since grown up, and he is here to help.

You have just received your diploma, you are fortunate enough to have landed a real job.  A real apartment.  Real world.  How to navigate the grown-up world of food?  Here are nine more tips:

Tip 2:  Learn how to cook an elegant breakfast.  You spent four years eating Coco Puffs and cold pizza for breakfast.  Excellent while it lasted.  A couple of things:  1) breakfast is the easiest meal to learn how to cook well, and 2) if you have a guest for breakfast, chances are it is a very important guest.  So fry eggs.  Better yet, make an omelette with fresh peppers, onions, mushrooms, and local cheese.  Know how to flip it.  Sizzle up some bacon.  Slice up some toast.    Pour orange juice into a pitcher and put it on the dining room table.  Put some flowers in a vase. Win the morning, win his/her heart.

Tip 3:  Do not skimp on the basics.  Folger's coffee and store brand ice cream may have worked on the quad, but in the real world they send a very distinct signal -- "this kid is broke".  Time to upgrade.  Fresh roasted coffee beans.  Ben and Jerry's ice cream.  Throw out your cheap beer, put a six pack of Carlsberg in the fridge.  Demonstrate you have an income.  

Tip 4:  Learn how to navigate a classy restaurant.  Admittedly, this takes some time and experience, and we have all come from different backgrounds, but Spicy Food Guy is here with the basics:  1) The female guest follows the Maitre D' to the table, 2) the female guests order first, 3) no one eats until everyone is served (please, no matter what circumstances, no matter how much everyone else says to go ahead, do not eat, ever, until everyone is served).  Also, dining utensils are used, in order, from the outside in.  If you are unsure of which fork or spoon or glass to use, wait and watch someone else first.  Better yet, defer to the server.  Ask which entree the chef prefers, ask what the best wine pairing is, treat your server as if they are the resident food and wine expert (which they are), and they will almost always reward you with fabulous service.  Trust Spicy Food Guy on this one.

Tip 5:  Salt and Pepper do not a spice cabinet make.  Fresh basil.  Onion powder.  Garlic salt. Oregano.  Thyme.  Cayenne pepper.  A stocked pantry makes you look worldly, and makes your dishes taste better.  Experiment on burgers, eggs, pasta, and chicken on the evenings you eat alone.  Find your signature.

Tip 6:  Man the Grill.  Any yahoo can cook up burgers and dogs on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon.  You can do better.  Learn the basics of charcoal vs gas grilling vs a smoker.  Figure out when to use direct or indirect heat.  Grill up some salmon on a cedar plank.  Serve up a succulent beer can chicken.  Be in demand at the cul-de-sac party.  

Tip 8:  Have a signature dish.  Spicy Food Guy can whip up some from-scratch Gumbo that breaks hearts.  Really.  It is just that good, but it wasn't always that way.  Took a bunch of years for SFG to get it right.  Put this on your bucket list: take several years and learn to prepare a dish that is fucking unparalleled among its peer set.  When SFG serves up his gumbo, he expects folks to respond "holy shit this is really good".  SFG is rarely disappointed.  Find your gumbo, discover your soul, win his/her heart.

Tip 9:  Take him/her/them to Brunch.  Brunch kicks ass.  It's on a Sunday, the pace is slow, the price is inexpensive, and the food is rarely bad.  You can really get to know someone over a long sit down brunch.  If your parents are in town, take them to the fanciest brunch in the region.  At most you are out $75, and you get a quality conversation with your Mom and Dad.  As a first date, a fancy brunch can't be beat.  There is time to linger, time to chat.  Mrs. SFG found out as much at the Grand Concourse in Pittsburgh in 2001.  Enough said.

Tip 10:  On a cold winter morning, bake cookies.  If they don't come running, the warm gooiness is yours to hog alone.

But they will come running.

So says Spicy Food Guy.  Peace out.

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