El Restaurante Lucha

Last night Omar and I went out to dinner and I had a hankering for Mexican Food.  Although we typically just go to El Patio, since it is just across the street, and great food & service (check out my prior post here) I was really craving the fluffy tacos from El Charro.  Feeling lazy however, I did not feel like driving all the way to Fraser to eat. By the time Omar gets home from work and we get to eat, it is almost 8 p.m.  I did not feel like the adventure of a Fraser road trip.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was an El Charro now right in our own back yard!! The old Arby’s at 16 1/2 and Rochester was converted to an El Charro, turns out in 2011!  Where have I been? Geeze, I guess I haven’t been paying attention.

So, yes I cheated on El Patio and we tried El Charro for comparison.  Compare I shall do.  First, the restaurant is clean, fairly small, and does have the feel of the old Arby’s.  Even kept its drive through if anyone wants a carry out!  The immediate difference is the wait staff (and presumably kitchen staff) are all young college looking kids.  Not like the authentic Mexican waiters at El Patio, with their thick Spanish accents.

They brought out a small basket of chips.  Just chips, nothing special.  El Patio wins hands down on the chips portion of this comparison.  El Patio brings out heaping baskets of warm, crisp salty chips.  El Charro I thinks dumps some out of a store bought bag, not sure, but that is what it appeared to be.

They brought out two kinds of salsa’s, both medium.  Just different consistencies.  When askTomatillo_01_croppeded for hotter they brought out two more. A red hot salsa that Omar said was “pretty hot” and a green tomatillo sauce, that has a nice flavor and heat. (FYI: The tomatillo, also known as the Mexican husk tomato, is a plant of the nightshade family bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era. A staple of Mexican cuisine, they are eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes, particularly salsa verde. Here is a picture – you probably saw them at the store and wondered what they were.)  In my opinion, El Charro has my vote for best salsa.

We both ordered the combo platter that included their famous soft, fluffy, corn taco, a meat and bean tostada, enchilada, burrito, rich and beans.  We of course both started with the taco.  The taco itself is so interesting.  Kind of a cross of corn bread, corn tortilla and a cider mill doughnut.  I say the latter since it has that crispy fried outside, and tender, soft inside.  The shell makes the taco.  The meat and toppings inside are really not the star, and are just barely seasoned.  As Omar always says, Mexican food is really not very exciting.  Seasoned meat, some beans and some things to hold them.  The rest of the combo platter really is like most other places.  The food is plentiful for sure, as we both took both enchilada and burrito, along with the rice and beans home for lunch today.  Once you get beyond the taco, frankly, El Patio is superior.  The food and atmosphere are both more authentic and it is actually cheaper.

Bottom line, I would go again, especially when craving that taco which I sometimes do.  But in most cases, I will just stick with El Patio, which is my opinion is the clear winner.

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Facebook Crock Pot Mac and Cheese – Is it Gouda??

A little while back, I “shared” a recipe on my Facebook page that I wanted to try. It was for crock pot mac & cheese. As I attend a lot of potlucks, I thought this may be a good recipe to have in my arsenal. However, reviews were very mixed. Some thought it was great, some thought it was horrible and some kind of middle of the road. I thought I would give you an accurate review.
First, the recipe was posted on this site (click here).IMG_1813

And it reads as follows:

Ingredients:

  • 3 Cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 2 1/2 Cups Milk
  • 12 oz. Evaporated Milk
  • 8 ounces Cream Cheese
  • 16 ounces elbow Macaroni

Directions:

  • Put All ingredients into the Crock Pot, EXCEPT the 1 pound bag of Macaroni noodles!
  • Leave on Low for an hour. After 1 hour, stir the sauce in crock pot.
  • Make Macaroni & then Drain after sauce has been “crock potting” for about 45 minutes.
  • Add Cooked Macaroni to sauce after drained.
  • Add any extras you would like. Ham, Bacon, etc.
  • Cook on LOW another 45 minutes
  • Feeds approximately 6-8

Tip: YOU DO NOT have to add all evaporated milk or cream cheese if you do not like it VERY CHEESY!

Ok, that’s it. Seems easy enough. I purchased all ingredients and packed them up for my work potluck the next day.  First thing I noticed, no spices whatsoever? Well that won’t do.  So I added the following spices:
1 tsp ground mustard
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp salt.

Next, 3 C shredded cheese seems to little.  I actually added two and a half bags!! what is that 5 1/2 Cups??

So, I added all ingredients (sans PRE cooked pasta) to crock pot and set for 1 hour on low. I decreased the milk to about 1 3/4 C because 2 1/2 seemed like a TON.  After an hour, the mixture was barely warm and looked like soup.  Ahh I was panicking!! adding noodles to the milky soup did not look appealing.  I actually got the inner crock out and microwaved for 6 minutes.  That did the trick.  One HOT, the cream cheese melted through and thickened the sauce nicely.

BTW, one comment on this dish was “omg this was sooo sweet – gross mac and cheese shouldn’t be sweet”. My guess is that this master chef wanna be put CONDENSED milk instead of evaporated.  Yes blog peeps. there is a HUGE difference.

So, this step? My recommendation, try an hour on high, or a couple hours on low.  Or, if access to microwave like I had, wing it!

When the sauce thickened, and it finally did.  (Use a whisk.  A whisk is your friend!) I added my PRE cooked noodles.  This is important.  Cook your pasta and leave rather al dente (which means to the tooth, or has a slight bite to it) I cooked mine the night before and had in a gallon plastic zip lock for convenience. The picture is deceiving.  The noodles in the picture are clearly uncooked.  If you mistakenly add them uncooked (as many more of the “bad reviewers” must have) it just wont cook the same either. Also note, I cooked like a box and a half of noodles.  One box just didn’t seem like enough.

Give yourself plenty of time for the noodles and sauce to heat back through.  I had again, an hour on low, which simply was not enough time.  Do an hour on high, or a couple hours on low. Or, zap in microwave again as I had to!!

My final thoughts?  It was ok. Not great. The melted cheese (I used the thin shredded three cheddar blend) was grainy. It didn’t have that creamy consistency I expected.  Next time, I would shred cheddar myself. I think it melts and tastes better. Or try the cheese with cream cheese specially designed to melt nicely.  Just a thought. This is ok if you have a pot luck to go to and HAVE to bring mac & cheese.  One person posted “I have to cook my noodles first?? What is the point of doing in a crock pot” Well the answer is, at work, I do not have access to a stove top, or an oven, so this is my only option.

This was certainly not the disaster or the disgusting results that were posted. It was, as the kids would say “aaaight”.  Now you want to make a good baked mac and cheese? Try the copy cat recipe my brother posted on his recipe blog for the Clarkston Woodshop’s FAMOUS mac and cheese here.

My brother did an excellent post already about this mac and cheese, so instead of trying to reinvent, I will direct you to his blog.  He has a lot of interesting recipes and directions there.

So, carry on Facebook friends.  You may comfortably recreate this Facebook recipe, tweak it a bit, and you will do just fine.  I guess my overall rating is one of the middle of the road ratings.  Not great, not bad.  But eatable.

Make your own dinner at home!! Now adding recipes for your dining pleasure.

It occurred to me, why just shared our opinions? Although our opinions on restaurants, beer and even hotels are well-crafted, insightful and dare I say, thought provoking, they are, at their core, just opinions. I thought it would be fun to share recipes as well.  Not just “hey this Betty Crocker recipe is great” but I would either share recipes I have created, or replicated from various Facebook posts.  The infamous “try this recipe, you will be AMAZED” posts. I will let you know if you should waste your time.

I posted on Facebook that I was busy in the kitchen this weekend. One dish I made is really a Frankenstein creation of many recipes online that I changed and adjusted. I call it Southwestern Chicken Chili.  Now I have made for Omar before, my white bean chicken chili, which he did not really care for.  I decided to try a tomato based dish to see if he liked it.

One ingredient you will see here is Northwoods Fire seasoning from Penzeys. Penszey’s is a spice company that if you have not visited, you need to.  You can find anything you need here, and can order online for your convenience.  Check out their website here.

Northwoods Fire is a chili powder with added flavors of chipotle and hot Cayenne.  If you don’t have this, and you probably do not, you can get a powdered chipotle seasoning and Cayenne.

Ingredients include:IMG_1799
1 Cup finely chopped onions
1 C finely chopped green pepper
1/2 C finely chopped jalapeno
2 Tbs Vegetable Oil
3-4 Chopped Garlic cloves
1 small can tomato paste
5 C Chicken Stock
1/2 C heavy cream
2 Tbs Chili Powder
1 tps cumin
1 tps Northwoods Fire seasoning
salt & pepper
1 tps red chili flakes
1 tps. dried cilantro leaves (can omit if you do not have)
3 boneless chicken breasts
3/4 C long grain white rice
1 can black beans (rinsed)
1 C frozen corn

What to do: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees or so, and bake your chicken breasts until done. Maybe 25-30 minutes?  Once done, set aside to cool, then shred and place in fridge.

Meanwhile, get your mise en place prepared.  Mise en place is a french term that basically means “putting in its place”.  That means setting out your ingredients, chopping, prepping and organizing.

Chop your onions, peppers, and garlic.  You can put all the peppers and onions together, but leave garlic separate.

Add your oil to a large stock pot or dutch oven.  Add onions and peppers and cook until tender and translucent.  Add garlic and cook a bit longer.  Add your tomato paste and stir through.  Once fully incorporated, add your chicken stock.

Add spices. At this point, I let the infused chicken broth simmer for about 15-30 minutes, just to have all the flavors meld. Taste at this point and add additional seasoning if needed.

Note when adding spices to dishes you are preparing to be careful at what stage you are adding.  If you add your spices to onions and peppers that are cooking, your spices may easily burn. Especially if those spices are leafy like parsley, or in this case cilantro.  Nothing worse that burned spices to ruin a dish.

Add rice and stir gently.  Simmer for about another 25 minutes until rice is tender. Unlike when you cook just rice, you can keep stirring this. In fact, the starches given off from the rice help thicken this dish.

Stir in your heavy cream, and add your black beans, corn and chicken.

Bring back up to boil, reduce to simmer and cook about 5 minuted until last ingredients just heated through.

Serve with crushed tortilla chips and grated cheddar cheese! Enjoy!!

I know it’s Fattoush, But Here is Another La Saj Review

I must explain a couple things.

Omar’s family has an “inside joke” than when someone says something “Fattoush” it means a repetitive story. As I apparently like to tell stories over and over again, I hear almost daily from Omar, “I know, Fattoush!”  I have now adopted this term into my vocabulary, so Fattoush has a different meaning for us all together.

Next, I know we reviewed La Saj in the past in this blog, we felt necessary and the polite thing to do, to review the new La Saj that just opened in Troy, at 15 1/2 and Crooks.

We had a rather large group meet Friday night (there was 14 of us). When I made reservations, they were friendly, helpful and eager to host our group (unlike another local restaurant **cough cough** Parrot Cove  **cough cough**).  When we arrived, the new restaurant was beautiful, tastefully decorated, with a knowledgeable and helpful staff ready to assist us.  Our table was waiting, and we had waitstaff immediately bringing water, bread and that delicious garlic dip.

The food was the same quality and taste we had come to expect from the Sterling Heights location. Being new, they don’t seem to have problems with those stumbling blocks of having continuity in your cooking, and service. How many times have we gone to the same restaurant, different location, where food was different, and just wasn’t as good as the original? Not the case here.

You really just can’t beat the dinner for two.  It comes with a sampling of everything you could want. Start off with a delicious lentil soup or salad, upgrade to fattoush for an additional cost, or be like me, and get fattoush dressing on your tossed salad – no upgrade cost and all that’s missing is the pita chips. Then you get baba ganoush (a smoked eggplant spread), hummus (regular or spicy, a chickpea spread), tabbouleh (parsley salad), beef or lamb kabob, chicken kabob, saji kafta (ground lamb with spices, skewered & grilled), fried kibbe (ground beef with spices, fried in a dough in a football shape), falafel (fried chick peas) and grape leaves (ground lamb or beef, rice and spices wrapped in grape leaves).  What more could you need?

I was not feeling very hungry, so I ordered a regular dinner and Omar wanted Raw Kibbee (gross, raw lamb and bulgar wheat, seasoned, yes, but no thank you. For all you raw meat lovers, Omar said it was really good). The combo for two is such a great deal that our friends bill with all that food was the same as ours with one entree and one appetizer.

We have said it before and we will say it again (I know, that’s Fattoush!! LOL) La Saj is a place to go when craving Middle Eastern Food.  Now that we have one so close, we will be back.

Keep in mind though, the Troy location is patiently awaiting their liquor license.  We were terribly disappointed when informed it would be a booze free evening.  In a couple months though, they will be good to go. In the meantime, have a cocktail first, and go for some exceptional food.

Thanks to all our friends joining us: Maria, Andy, Natalie, Colin, Kevin, Sherry, Karen, Mike, Sarah, Lisa, Laura and Ken! Happy to see you all. It has been far too long.

 

 

B Spot, if You B Feeling Like it

Friday I went to B Spot burgers in Royal Oak for lunch.  B Spot is Michael Symon’s (of Food Network Fame) burger joint.  Being Michael Symon’s restaurant, I expected an exceptional experience.  The restaurant touts that is has been voted best burgers in America in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.  As this is 2015, I guess it is no longer the best?

The restaurant markets itself as the “B” Spot with burgers, bourbons and brats.  They also have other “B” offerings like Bologna, “Big” Salads and “Bad Ass” Shakes.

I am afraid I have to admit now, that I must be a food snob of epic proportions.  The group I was with were raving about their burgers.  I however, just found mine to be OK.  I ordered a basic cheeseburger, topped with lettuce, tomato and onion.  I also ordered Russian dressing on the side.  The burger was served with an “artisan” type bun, which I found a bit dry, and the burger was a tad too small for the bun.  When eating the best burger in America, I shouldn’t EVER take a bun only bite.  Just sayin, Michael Symon. The Russian dressing was a nice addition to the burger, and I am glad I ordered it.  They also have a variety of other “sauces” on the table, ranging from homemade B Spot Ketchup (sweet and a bit spicy), A Coffee BBQ sauce, Stadium Mustard and a ShaSha sauce that was interesting & tasty. Made with hot banana peppers, garlic, mustard, vinegar and sugar for sweetness, it was a perfect combination of sweet and spicy.  You can find the recipe here if interested….

The french fries were just as I like.  Thin, crispy, with a hint of rosemary, called Lola fries. (Not sure who Lola is, but he also has a restaurant named Lola. Maybe he just really likes the name??)  They came in a small metal cup, and were very tasty.  Dip them in the ShaSha sauce and you have a winner!

They also have a pickle bar – who doesn’t love pickles?  Has a serve yourself area of pickled jalapenos, banana peppers, garlic dill pickles, sweet pickles and even pickled green tomato and kimchi (fermented Korean (typically) cabbage).

The Bad Ass Shakes looked very interesting.  I did not order, as I had to work all afternoon and did not need to go into a food coma.  They have interesting flavors, such as chocolate banana marshmallow, vanilla bean apple pie and bacon, and their seasonal pumpkin pie, made with a real piece of blended pumpkin pie.

Speaking of seasonal – one diner we were with ordered the November special burger – Turkey burger with stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy.  She said it was delicious!  Those who did order turkey burgers, whether dressed up as thanksgiving dinner or not, did say they were moist and flavorful.

I must say though, we had a party of maybe 15 people.  The service was exceptional, orders taken correctly, food brought out promptly, bills brought quickly and accurately, and we were well looked after.  For that reason alone, I would go back to the restaurant. For the food, well the food may not draw me back, but the atmosphere and service definitely would.

 

Milk + Ice Cream = Heaven. Oh and there was a burger…

Wednesday nights for Omar and I are date night.  We always do something together, whether we go out, order in, or sometimes, if he is lucky, I even cook. Life has been crazy hectic lately.  I feel like I don’t have a second of spare time.  Last night, as you read in Omar’s last blog, we went to the Tilted Kilt.  You can read his blog here.  I don’t really need to throw my two cents in about last night’s dinner, but I will. I thought it was meh, and the “eye candy” which really is the think they market most, didn’t do a thing for me.  Ladies, if you like Hooters, and enjoy mediocre food with scantily dressed girls, then by all means go.  Guys, who am I kidding, you are already probably there.

I am going to spend this blog talking about our previous Wednesday’s meal, which I apologize, is a week late.

I was looking for something different to pick up for dinner. Seems I am limited by carry out options in the area.  A burger sounded good, and Five Guys, my usual go to, was too far and I was feeling unmotivated. I opted for Smash Burger.  There are not a lot of Smash Burgers in the area and we happen to have one close, at 16 & John R.  Smash Burger has a variety of burgers, or you can make your own.  I chose to build Omar and I a couple burgers.  Now Smash Burgers are good.  Better than other “fast food” places and better than a lot of sit down establishments, but not as good as say Five Guys, or Red Coat Tavern.  But Good.  Juicy, flavorful and loaded with toppings.

The fries are good. Skinny, and crisp just like I like them and you can jazz them up with olive oil, Parmesan and rosemary.

However, the star of the night was the “hand spun” milk shake that I splurged on.  Made with Haagin Dazs Ice Cream, and topped with whipped cream they are creamy and decadent and exactly what I needed.  Omar got a chocolate peanut butter, which he said was great.  As it was a couple days before Halloween, I thought I would celebrate that Christmas spirit as all the stores are, and I ordered a Peppermint Chip Shake which was DELICIOUS!! If I can offer you all any advice, don’t let the year end without trying one of these.

Now that all being said, I do think that Smash Burger is far more expensive than the food warrants. The shakes are a whopping $4.50 (ish) alone.  But dang, it was worth it. The family ordering in front of me (family of four) bill totaled $42. All I can say is, save your money, get a burger, but please get the peppermint shake.  You can thank me later.  Or better yet, buy me one too.

 

Alba Go Bragh!

I met my beautiful Jen after work for dinner and drinks last nite at the Tilted Kilt in Sterling Heights. I have heard many things about it listening to sports talk radio shows who sometimes broadcast from there. As one suspects, its a UK themed sports bar. Lots of televisions abound and the place is quite large. Looks like a great place to have a fantasy football draft or a gathering to watch Monday night football.
The decor is Scottish themed and the servers and bartenders wear kilts and the menu has a shout out to the British Isles with standard bar food thrown in as well. Wednesday is 5 dollar burger day, all day. Add ons to the burger are about .50 or a dollar depending on what you like and fries are another dollar.
I ordered the $5 burger which comes with lettuce, tomato and onion. I added bacon, jalapenos, pepper jack cheese and fries, which brought total cost to $8.50. The burger by the way is a half pounder.
My burger was cooked the way I like it and tasted great and the fries were good too. Really enjoyed the meal. Jen was not as enamored as I was, she said it was just ok.
The beer selection was good and better than what is shown on their website. I had a Founders breakfast stout and a Hideout peanut butter stout. Both were wonderful and bursting with flavor.
Which brings me now to the wait staff. The ladies are dressed in kilts and stockings accompanied by a half shirt. Jen likened it to a Scottish Hooters. Now the young lady who served us was affable just not too speedy. Now I know a lot of guys would forgive that, because the ladies are scantily clad. However, ogling young ladies that are half my age and only a few years older than my daughter, is just a little creepy. Anyway, I enjoyed my experience and will return.

A Greek Tragedy…

I grabbed a carry out from Niki’s Restaurant in Royal Oak. I tried to like this place. I really did.  It would be nice to frequent a local place and support that local family owned business. I popped in to order my carry out instead of calling it in – was getting gas and decided to grab a salad at the last minute.  Now the waitstaff was super friendly, I could not have asked for a more friendly, attentive waitstaff.  I ordered a small greek salad, extra pita and an iced tea.  I watched the (owner?) in her babushka head to the back and heat my pita up and grab off the grill with her bare hands.  No tongs?? Gross.  The place was not the cleanest in the world, but I think they cold have some tongs at least.

They seemed confused at my order, making two salads and charging me $21.  I explained the error to which they recalculated $12 – for a small salad and drink.  Really? That was about $4 too much by my estimation, but I stupidly paid it anyway.

My salad, was well, a tossed salad with some feta thrown on.  That does not make a Greek salad.  Some feta and a beet does not a Greek salad make.  The dressing was very light, and did not have much flavor, and was not really much of it.

At least I had some extra pita? Not so much.  The pita was not the soft, chewy pita bread one would expect in a Greek restaurant, but flour-ey, dry pita grilled on a grill with a noticeable “old oil” taste.  One bite was as far as I got…

Glad I ordered extra!! NOT!

Well, my tea was good, but really how do you mess that up?

Bottom line, drive past Niki’s, keep driving another mile and go to National Coney Island for a much better Greek salad.  If I don’t get food poisoning today, I will be super surprised.  Wish me luck!!