Life of Pablo Chili

One of my favorite things to cook, especially during the winter time, is chili.  You have a few base ingredients but you can get away with throwing a bunch of shit together and having it consistently taste good if you sort of what you’re doing. My chili is different each time I make it, so I thought I would post my current recipe and then take a Life of Pablo style approach.  If you’re not a Kanye fan and have no idea what that means, I will be changing this post after it is completed as I come up with better ideas and modify the recipe.  It’s a genius thing.

I don’t like to just post a recipe and say HERE YOU GO!  This is more of a roadmap on how to complete the base chili recipe that I use but ways to make it better or more to your style. I believe most recipes should not be followed 100% because it’s more fun and you learn more about flavors and seasonings by experimenting.. so by all means, take my recipe and do what you want.

The base to any good chili is going to be meat and some sort of tomato.  I know, I know, white bean chicken chili is delicious but I would classify that as a variation of tortilla soup and not a chili.  I always use ground chuck, as it becomes the most tender out of all the meats I’ve used and if you’re just throwing together a pot of chili at home there’s not much sense in going big on the meat.  You can use sirloin or a cut with a lower fat percentage but I think you’ll just be spending more money with weaker results.  I do use ground beef but feel free to use cubes or whatever consistency you like.  I would still stick to chuck, even if you are going the chunky route.

I use canned tomatoes.  I know there’s a lot of people out there who use the fresh kind but I’m just trying to make chili here.  There are other fresh ingredients in here so I’m not feeling too bad about using some canned vegetables.  Feel free to crush and chop your tomatoes, I’ll be over here using the canned kind.

Chop up literally whatever you want to throw into the chili.  Like I said before, it’s extremely difficult to mess up chili.  Use whatever peppers, vegetables and spices you want.  Hell, throw in potatoes if you really want to.  Currently I’m using onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, poblano pepper, habanero pepper and celery.  I only season with salt, pepper, good chili powder, bay leaf and some cumin.

I would like to throw this out there — don’t use dollar store chili powder. You can go a little cheap on the beef but spend a couple of extra dollars or if you’re really feeling crazy, make your own chili powder.  Pretty much any grocery store carries dried chilis which only need to make a trip to your blender for a minute or two to become chili powder.  That value brand chili powder will absolutely destroy your chili.

Finally, I use corn flour in my chili to give it a little bit of that corn aftertaste.  I had previously used actual corn kernels in here but found that the masa adds a more subtle taste and thickens the chili to your liking after the cooking process.

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Recipe time:

  • 2lbs of ground chuck
  • Half an onion
  • One head of garlic.  Yes, use the whole thing, unless you don’t like garlic.  If you don’t like garlic, please close this site and never return.
  • One jalapeno pepper
  • One poblano pepper
  • One habanero (remove seeds for less spice)
  • One stick of celery
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chili powder to taste – Usually 3 tablespoons
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can of rotel diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup of masa harina (corn flour)
  • Cup and a half of beef stock
  • 2 15oz cans of beans – Whichever you like

Step One: Brown your beef and make sure to remove some of the fat but not ALL of the fat. Fat is flavor but you dont want a ton of it in here.  It will make the chili bland.

Step Two: Remove the beef and add in your garlic, jalapeno, poblano, habanero and celery to the remaining beef fat in the same pan. Add a little bit of oil if needed.  Sweat all of these ingredients for a few minutes but do not brown.

Step Three: Add your beef to the veggie mixture and allow them all to become friends for a few minutes.  Then add your tomatoes and beef stock.  If you like a really beefy flavor you can use more beef stock but it will need more time to reduce.  Add your chili powder, bay leaf and cumin as well.

Step Four: Let it simmer on medium for two hours.  At the two hour point, your ground chuck should become one with the other ingredients and all of the flavors should be melded together.  It is at this point that you want to stir your masa harina in with about a half cup of beef stock in a separate cup until it becomes a paste.  Then add that into your chili and stir together

Step Five: Add your beans and cook for ten minutes.

THAT’S IT!  You now have delicious chili that hopefully you modified a bit from my recipe and personalized it to your liking.

Taqueria Alameda

This isn’t so much of a post, but rather a small collection of words I’m trying to fill up space with when really all I want to do is get you to go to my favorite Mexican spot in the Westland area — Taqueria Alameda.

It’s what every Mexican joint should be, a small authentic family owned taqueria next to a laundry mat that serves the simple staples of Mexican cuisine: tacos, burritos quesadillas and tamales. Nothing flashy, just some damn good food at a damn good price.  I can have four tacos and a cup of horchata for ten bucks.  Perfect.

I will say that some of the “expert, professional food reviewers” on Yelp are tearing into this place saying that the flavor is inadequate and the service is poor.  I’m here to say stop using Yelp as a source for your food choices. The food is great and you’re going to have to wait a few minutes for your food because one person is cooking all of the food that goes out and that person is the guy that owns the place. If you walk into a Mexican joint that doubles as a grocery store and sits next to a laundry mat, please don’t expect five star service.

I feel like the point of this post was to tell you how good this place is, but I’m getting off topic and ranting about my hatred for Yelp so I’ll finish this here with a statement and a picture.

This place serves tacos, the kind topped with onion and cilantro, wrapped in a corn tortilla.  You can get them gringo style, but why would you do that?  Go here.  It’s authentic and how often do you get to eat tacos in the middle of a little grocery store?   Try the al pastor and carnitas.

This place is at 906 S Wayne in Westland. Check it out.

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Tina’s Burritos

This will be part of an ongoing series called Internet Deep Dives.  Each week I will pick one food item, brand or category and give you more information than you thought you ever wanted to know. The fun part is I do the research as I’m writing the piece, so I learn along with you. This week, we dive into one of my favorite cheap eats, Tina’s Burritos.  The reason I chose this brand is because Tina and I have had a long time affair.  I’ve been eating her Red Hot Beef Burritos since I was ten years old and consider them to be the gold standard in frozen burritos. I was curious who this Tina is and how she is making such great product that is commonly sold for twenty cents a piece.  Here we go.

I suffered a major blow right out of the gate in my research.  There is no Tina.  Throughout my years of eating these burritos filled with textured vegetable protein, I always had a story in my head about this Tina.  A lady from a poor neighborhood cooked small burritos for her friends and family and as they began to move away she would freeze bags of them so they could enjoy her burritos in their new neighborhoods.  They would then share them with their new neighbors who would go on and on about how good these burritos were. One day, a neighbor turned out to be a rep for a frozen food company who demanded to know where these delicious frozen burritos were coming from.  He traveled miles and miles to meet with Tina and convinced her to sell her recipes to his company and become a consultant for a new “Tina’s Frozen Burritos” product line.  After a few months the company swindled Tina, as she didn’t know to sign a proper contract, robbing her of her recipes with only a small percentage in company stock to show for it.  From there, the company figured out a way to take Tina’s original recipe and replace all the good ingredients with things like textured vegetable protein, driving the price down to quarters for a single burrito.  Tina returned home and still makes her famous burritos for friends and family to this day.

OK, so that’s far from the real story of Tina’s burritos but it’s far more interesting, I’m sorry to say.  There isn’t even an attempt to post a picture of a lady rolling a tortilla and saying she is Tina. There just is no Tina. This was an absolutely crushing blow to me but I needed to to go on. Maybe I could find some sense in all of this.

Tina’s Burritos was started in 1980 by a company called Camino Real Foods based out of California.  Based off the financials I found, it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one buying Tina’s Burritos in bulk. Camino Foods does an estimated $127 million in annual revenue and employs 410 people. They only produce one other product so some quick math leads me to believe that they are possibly selling close to half a billion frozen burritos per year.  They are the number one single service frozen burrito producer in the world and currently own 60% market share. They were purchased in 1988 for $7 million by Nissin Foods, the company that brings you Top Ramen and Cup Noodles, but sold off in the early 2000s and now act as a privately owned company.

In the early 2000s, Tina’s decided to change up their recipe and size of the burrito to drive costs even lower. There was such public outcry that Tina’s reverted back to the original recipe and issued multiple press releases letting their customers know that they had gone back to their original spicy goop filled burrito recipe.

That is literally ALL of the information available about this mysterious burrito company.  That’s where the fun comes in on these deep dives.  I figured there would be fake Tina back story or that she was a real burrito making lady.  You would think a company producing that much revenue with that many employees would have more of a story out there, but no.  Tina’s Burritos likes their story just like they like their grocery story freezer placement: hiding on the bottom shelf.

While I was short on information, which completely ruins this first internet deep dive, I DID learn one important bit of information. Tina’s is EXPANDING.  For 22 years I have had no issues with consuming hundreds of Red Hot Beef Burritos every year with out even dreaming of new flavors.  Soon, they will be offering a line of Quesoritos, coming in three different flavors: Fajita and cheese, Chicken fajita and cheese, and finally… Beef, cheese and bacon.  I can not wait.

Brome Burgers & Shakes

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Before I give you my thoughts, I would like to share with you a few excerpts from Brome Burgers & Shakes’ website, as most of what I have to say is a reaction to their marketing.

We pledge 100% organic beef that only comes from grass-fed cows that lead comfortable lives. We pledge ingredients that are NON GMO certified so that what mother nature intended, is all that goes into our bodies. We pledge sustainable business practices that increase efficiency and reduce waste.

Every day we wake up and make a conscious effort to minimize the negative impact we have on our planet. It is our goal to set an example for everyone who comes into contact with us, whether by vendors, competitors, or customers. We work to encourage all food vendors to purchase from farms that responsibly raise their vegetables and animals.

We encourage our competitors to mirror our business practices to provide a higher quality experience for their guests. We encourage our customers to visit our website to learn how to live more efficiently.

Their website goes on to say that their burgers are 100% organic, 100% all natural grass fed, never fed animal by-products and no added growth hormones.  There’s a small section where you can read about the farmers and their cows and even see where they came from.

Now here’s the actual beginning of this post.  When you walk into Brome Burgers & Shakes, you’re treated to a menu offering ten different burgers, multiple types of fries, complex salads, milkshakes, hot dogs and other items.  It’s a very impressive menu that offers something for pretty much everyone.  The menu continues to go hard on the organic theme – cage free chicken sandwich, organic vegan patty, Kennebec fries and Artisan greens. It’s almost as if a Vegan purchased a space with the idea of opening a restaurant specializing in salads but upon arriving to said space, a squatter was living there and would only leave on the condition that burgers were added to the menu.

Let me get this straight, I’m all for the treatment of animals and I buy organic any time it’s discounted as a manager’s special at the grocery store.  I’m not trying to say that restaurants shouldn’t advertise the quality of their ingredients because it’s important to many people.  What I have a problem with is when restaurants use organic labels as a marketing tool.

When you step up to the counter and order your burger you will be asked this question: “Would you like to pay an extra $2 for an organic patty?”. I actually stalled during the ordering process because before arriving, their website beat me over the head with claims of quality in food processing and animal treatment.  I had noticed that their menu advertises two prices for each burger without specifying what the price difference is for.  I figured it was for a larger sized beef patty, which I was absolutely ready to accept.  What I didn’t realize was that Brome Burgers & Shakes wanted me pay more for everything they advertise.

I’m not trying to say this is misleading and/or false advertising, I just think it’s bullshit on a pretty large scale.  If you’re going to be an organic restaurant, go organic all the way.  Don’t offer people the sad cow meat and then try to upsell them to the happy cow meat.  That’s just kind of fucked up, in my book.  If your menu, website and mission statement say “We give a fuck about animals” then maybe you should go 100% in giving a fuck about animals.  I actually feel kind of bad for the non-organic beef that is probably kept in a separate walk in at a higher temperature and is stored in off-brand ziplock bags while the organic beef is kept in a temperature controlled walk in and stored in 100% USDA organic vacuum sealed plastic.

I guess what I’m trying to say, if you skipped all of that and are wondering where the hell the pictures are, is I think Brome Burgers & Shakes is a bit full of shit.  That being said, my burger was pretty damn good and no, I did not pay the extra $2 to make my patty organic which would have made my burger total $13.  This is “The Mex” which is topped with corn salsa, cheddar-jack Cheese Sauce, pickled jalapeno, avocado and chipotle mayo.  Brome is located at 22062 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.

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Gas Station Burgers

Eating burgers made in a gas station.  Gross, right?  Actually, completely the opposite.

Back around 2009 I preached that the Detroit food scene was completely underrated.  Not saying I’m Nostrodamus or anything but Detroit was recently named America’s top “unexpected” food city by NatGeo.  Now I’m here to tell you that the Dearborn food scene is killing it.  Not just with Middle Eastern cuisine but with different foods you would never expect like Italian bakeries and classic American food.  I have to question why anyone would want to emulate classic American food, but if they’re going to do what I’m about to tell you about I am completely for it.

Taystee’s Burgers is on Ford Rd. across from the Ford-Wyoming Theater and shares occupancy with a BP Gas Station.  This is a family venture, in that the owner of Taystee’s runs the burger joint and his grandparents own the gas station.  They serve burgers, chicken wraps, quesadillas, hot dogs, wings, about 6 different types of french fries, fried Oreos and other options.  Check their website for a full menu.

Now I’m a bare bones burger kind of guy.  I believe that if you get quality meat, season it with some salt and pepper, top it with American cheese and surround it between a quality bun and I’m golden.  That being said, if I’m going to put toppings on my burger I go all out.  Like, ridiculously all out.  Taystee’s spoke to me with Ali’s Notch-Yo Burger that has 12 TOPPINGS.  12!  I’m serious.  Here, I’ll list them:

Lettuce, Tomato, Grilled Onions, Jalapeños, Cheddar Cheese, Swiss Cheese, Pepper jack Cheese, Nacho cheese, Beef bacon, Nacho Cheese Doritos, Mayo and Hot Sauce

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Now normally I would say twelve different toppings on a burger is overboard but somehow this works.  All of the flavors meld together to make one of the better burgers I’ve had in recent memory.  The roll is substantial enough to keep everything together and you can still taste the beef through the twelve ingredients stacked on top of it.

I am here to say this is the best burger I’ve ever had at a gas station.  In fact, it’s the only burger I’ve ever had at a gas station.  If you’re a little hesitant in eating a meal at a gas station, this place is impressively clean and everything is prepared right in front of you.  The best part of this whole experience?  My car needed gas so I filled up in the same place I got a great burger.

Go here.  NOW.

10419 Ford Rd. in Dearborn

Whole Hog BBQ – North Carolina

Most people take vacations to see new things, like the beach or historical landmarks. Some go to Disney World. Others go overseas to experience culture outside of our great, great coutry. When it came time for me to spend a week away from work, the only logical thing to do was to drive ten hours to Eastern North Carolina for some whole hog BBQ.  I’m here to say the next time you have some time off and can’t figure out a place to go – drive somewhere far away and plan a couple of places to eat that you can’t get locally.  Not only does the traveling make the food taste better, but you get to experience another region’s culture that, in this case, has taken hundreds of years to perfect.

If you’re not familiar with Carolina BBQ, or BBQ in general, there are arguments on the proper ways to cook, season and sauce the pig depending on where you’re at.  If you’re in Eastern North Carolina they cook a whole hog over wood coals, meaning an entire pig is placed on top of burning wood embers for a long, long period of time and then chopped and mixed together.  Their choice for sauce is a simple mixture of vinegar and spices.  The Western part of North Carolina uses only the shoulder, which is mainly dark meat, cooked over wood topped with a vinegar sauce combined with different amounts of tomato.

Once you get into South Carolina, you get different cuts and the addition of mustard into the sauce.  I didn’t get to South Carolina on this trip so that will have to be another day.

I’m here to say, without question, Eastern Carolina style is the winner in this region. Whole hog style gives you a mixture of different flavors, from both white and dark meat, and every bite can be different.  The vinegar adds a little tang but GOOD whole hog BBQ shouldn’t require any additional sauce. Finally, what makes whole hog BBQ really shine are crispy pig skins mixed into the BBQ.  My god.  This gives you salty, crispy little bits mixed into the pork adding yet another flavor and another texture.  I would say there are no words, but the whole point of this is putting things into words.  Moving on.

I will be doing a lot of material on smoked pork in the future, so I’ll save you time some time today from the smoked meat education and get to the point of this post.

The first place I went was Skylight Inn BBQ.  If you want some more info on them, use Google. There is more information than you could ever ask for.  This is the best BBQ I have ever had. Hands down, from a man that has a pig tattooed on his arm. If you have never had whole hog BBQ, you should immediately drive to Aiden, NC in the middle of absolute nowhere and try this.  

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I was sitting at the Skylight Inn thinking “What should I do next?” and the only thing that made any sense was to do a Bang-Bang.  Before you think that my idea was to do something innapropirate, let me educate you for a second. A proper Bang-Bang is where you go out to eat, and then you immediately go to a different place to eat.  It could be two lunches, or two dinners, and is absolutely essential when you’re eating in an area that you will not be returning to in the near future.  I got into my rented Doge Dart, which is a fine choice for a compact vehicle (I don’t care what anyone says), and headed to Dudley, NC, which is somehow even more in the middle of nowhere than Aiden, NC, but is also home to Grady’s BBQ.

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You probably can’t find much information on Google about Grady’s.  It’s old school and you can tell before you walk in that the food is going to be a combination of both authentic and legit.  Before you question why I would risk my health eating at a hole in the wall place like this that CLEARLY doesn’t focus on appearance or cleanliness, Grady’s has a posted 99.5 out of 100 health inspection score.  That’s right, North Carolina requires all restaurants to post their scores within their building to the public. Why doesn’t every state do that?

Anyways, same story here.  Whole hog BBQ and the best collared greens I ever had.

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I then retreated and spent the rest of the day recovering until my next altercation with Carolina BBQ in the form of Allen and Son BBQ in Chapel Hill which does not, in fact, cook whole hog.  They use only the shoulder but do use the Eastern Carolina sauce.  I realize this post is called “Whole Hog BBQ” and this is not “Whole Hog BBQ” but I don’t care.  Allen and Son was my first experience with Carolina style non-tomato sauce so I feel it is only right to include them.

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The lessons you should take from this post:

  1. If you’ve been eating pulled pork your whole life you owe it to yourself to go and try whole hog BBQ.  It’s life changing.
  2. When traveling in an area you do not frequent and that has good food, a Bang-Bang is essential.
  3. Go on a food vacation.

Ma Lou’s Fried Chicken

Last year Frank Fejeran posted something on his Instagram about buying an old Chinese restaurant and opening up a chicken joint.  I’ve been interested in his food moves since he up and quit the Raven’s Club and wrote a Jerry McGuire-like manifesto before doing so.  First was opening a Pacific Island Style BBQ truck in Ricewood BBQ.  Think of it as wood smoked meats topped with a spicy soy sauce and vinegar based sauce all on top of rice.  His next challenge turned out to be turning the old yellow chop suey joint on Michigan Ave into a little joint specializing in fried chicken of the hot variety.  The menu is simple with three different levels of heat that ranges from Southern style to Spicy as fuck.  All of the chickens come with pickles and bread.  Sides are simple as well with coleslaw, potato salad and baked beans being my usual suspects.  To drink, which you’ll need if you choose anything above Southern Style, you have sweet tea, Faygo and horchata.

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Here is where I stop acting like a food reviewer and just tell you how good this place is.  If you’re not familiar with hot or Nashville Style chicken, Wikipedia has more than enough information to run you through it.  I’m not going to do that. I went with half a chicken with medium spicy for $11 and potato salad for an extra $3.  The medium spice was almost the perfect level of spice for me – just enough to make me tear up a bit but not enough to make me regret it in the morning.  Seriously some of the better fried chicken I’ve had in the area, right in competition with Seoul Street.  The potato salad was mayo based which cooled down the burn a bit.  By the end of the meal my fingers were stained red with Cayenne, I had gone through about 7 napkins and I had eaten enough to get me through both lunch and dinner.  If you’re not a fatass like me, you can likely survive with a breast or leg or even a sandwich.

I don’t do letter grades or stars here.  I leave that to the turds on Yelp.  I will simply leave it this…

Do you like fried chicken?  Do you like hot chicken?  Are you unsure if you like hot chicken?  Are you hungry?  Do you need a new place to eat?  If the answer to any of these questions is YES go to Ma Lou’s right now.  Seriously, get off your phone and go.  Stop wasting time.  It’s that fucking good.

Hopefully in the future they can offer a cheep beer or three with my meal.  That would have made it absolutely perfect.

Website
15 W. Michigan Ave – Ypsilanti

Here I Go Again..

OK, so welcome to my new site.  If you aren’t familiar with me, my name is John Moors and I ran a site called Epic Portions for years.  Me and some friends of mine wrote a series of very unprofessional articles that gained a small following.  Taco Bell even flew me to California to visit their test kitchen.  Somewhere around 2010, the “foodie” craze was in full swing and I lost interest in documenting my love for food.  It seemed like anyone with a smart phone and an opinion was starting their own food blog and critiquing restaurants on Yelp as if they were some kind of expert.  I found myself reviewing different restaurants and giving my opinion as if I had any credibility at all.  Side note – I did manage to start quite a revolution against Tios Mexican Cafe, which I still stand by, but other than that I have accomplished absolutely nothing that should make you respect any opinion I have about any restaurant or food in general.

That being said, I love food and I love cooking.  I do have strong opinions which I feel more comfortable giving you now that I have admitted that I have zero credibility.  That kind of gives me that “I can say whatever I want just don’t take me seriously”thing, which is pretty much where I want this site to be — A place where you can find entertainment in food, cooking, recipes, traveling or whatever I’m into in a given week.

There will be spelling errors, there will be opinions that you probably don’t agree with and I will probably ridicule people and places that you may enjoy.  There will be bad grammar, “bad words” and I eventually plan to document the butchering of a pig.  I don’t remember anything about web design so the design and layout of this will be constantly changing.  I rarely eat vegetables, salads or desert.  These are your warnings.

I am not a professional writer, chef or food critic.  However, I do have an unhealthy love of all things food.  I welcome you to take this journey back with me and see what I come up with.  I have absolutely no plans on what this will become other than an ongoing journal of what I’m doing in the food world.  I hope you enjoy.