Silver Spur Restaurant Review

The Silver Spur is essentially across the street from our house in Santa Cruz. It is a quaint looking place with a Western decor reminiscent of my grandparent’s living room, minus the shag carpeting. Andrew and I heard good things about it from a couple of locals who have lived in the area for over twenty years, plus the line out the door every Saturday is another good sign.

Breakfast seems to be a battle ground in Santa Cruz, restaurants fighting for a place as the best restaurant. There are few restaurants that serve dinner in town that can hold a candle to the cuisine served at breakfast, according to most of the locals anyway. I have found that most of the breakfast restaurants in town are incredibly overrated: Walnut Cafe, Zachary’s Restaurant, Hoffman’s Bakery, and Cafe Brazil being the most notable examples. They each have something that I enjoy, but overall I have never been wowed. There is only one place in town that I believe serves a perfect breakfast: Kelly’s Bakery. Kelly’s Bakery is the only restaurant, and I mean the only restaurant, I have ever been to that serves satisfactory poached eggs. Every other restaurant serves them with at least a quarter cup of water still in the cup with them. The perfect breakfast at Kelly’s Bakery is two perfectly poached eggs nestled atop toasted slices of Francese bread baked in house with smoked salmon and sliced avocado. Amazing.

Silver Spur is on the same level with Zachary’s Restaurant for me. It is better than Walnut Cafe and Hoffman’s Bakery, while not as good as Kelly’s Bakery. I ordered a Two Egg Combo with poached eggs, two biscuits, home fries, and three chicken apple sausages with limitless coffee. Andrew ordered three slices of French toast, two scrambled eggs (well done, sigh), and bacon with Early Grey tea. The coffee was good and there were limitless free refills. The eggs were still in too much water. Really is it too much to ask for that they drain their eggs before serving them to you? The home fries could have been crispier, but they were tender and there were no bell peppers, which makes me incredibly happy. The sausage was generic, but tasty. The biscuits were the standout for me. They were light, fluffy, and tangy served with apricot preserves. Andrew enjoyed his French toast, eggs, and bacon.

Overall, I would go back to the Silver Spur and I would also try them for lunch some time. Their service was good (a rarity among breakfast restaurants in Santa Cruz) and their facilities were clean.

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Random Food Update

I’ve been fairly busy with interviews, rock climbing, and out of town trips so here is a collection of what I’ve cooked/eaten in the past couple weeks.

This is a Greek breakfast burrito from Cafetal on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz, California. This cafe is right around the corner from my house. They have good coffee, delicious food, and affordable prices. The Greek breakfast burrito contains potatoes, feta cheese, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. The salsa they serve with it is awesome.

Grilled sweet potatoes and sausages from Shopper’s Corner. I’m really enjoying the backyard grilling going on in the summer time.

Monkey bread. Someone at our house said it tasted like Popeye’s biscuits with sugar. They were quite buttery and sugary. They were a tad dry and I would have preferred something hmm…oozier?

Ground buffalo with corn and red bell peppers. I did not eat this but Andrew said it tasted good.

Whole grilled chicken at Peter’s house. These turned out delicious, but there were mango sausages that took over my attention.

 

Mini Buffalo Burgers on Whole Wheat Pita

One of the foods that Andrew regularly subsists on is ground buffalo. While I enjoy buffalo, its beefy flavor with less saturated fat, I don’t like it necessarily for burgers. I’m more down on turkey burgers than buffalo burgers. I prefer ground chuck for my burgers: moist, flavorful, and a nice greasy touch. However, we had ground buffalo in the fridge and I decided that if there were going to be buffalo burgers made this week I was going to make them.

There are three differences between the way Andrew and I cook burgers: 1. I use worcestsire sauce and paprika while Andrew mostly uses a mixture of dried garlic, salt and pepper; 2. I  use a well oiled cast iron skillet and Andrew uses a non-stick skillet. The non-stick skillet means less grease, but you don’t get the nice crust around the meat that you get with the cast iron skillet. Plus cast iron is badass. 3. I cook mine to medium-well with a touch of pink in the middle and Andrew does his well. We will talk more about this issue later.

By the way, I am not saying my burgers are better than Andrew’s; they are two different beasts that cannot be compared. We just tackle our meat differently.

I served this cute little burgers on mini whole wheat pitas with spinach and feta cheese.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

I used the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I can’t express enough how much I enjoy Mr. Minimalist’s books. You can find this recipe on pg. 719 of that book if you would like more conventional directions.

1. Mix together 1 1/2 cups each of all-purpose white flour and whole wheat flour with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

If you don’t like the taste of wheat baked goods you can make these entirely with all-purpose flour. You do not want to make these entirely from whole wheat flour. Baked goods made entirely with whole wheat flour are heavy and dense something that you do not want for pita.

2. Proof your yeastie beasts. You want to two teaspoons of yeast or one packet of active dry yeast. To proof yeast drop them into about half a cup of 110 degree water with a pinch of sugar (they need to feed) until they are foamy and yeasty smelling (about five minutes). Then add to the flour mixture along with another half cup of water.

3. Mix with a rubber spatular until combined into a slightly sticky ball. If it is dry add water one tablespoon at a time until it is a nice ball. Knead for a few seconds on a well floured surface then put back into the bowl and cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap.

4. From here I put my dough outside in the sun to rise because it is actually “room temperature” outside my house not inside. You can also put it in the fridge if you can wait approximately seven hours. At room temperature wait 1-2 hours. I waited about two and a half hours and it had more than doubled in size.

5. When your dough has doubled in size, pull small balls off of it. You can make these balls as big or as small as you like. I wanted to make mini burgers so I made mini pita. This recipe ended up making about twelve mini pita. Once you tear off your little dough balls put them on a floured baking sheet, cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap, and let rise for another twenty minutes.

6. Roll each ball out to about a 1/4 of an inch on a well floured surface. After rolling out each ball into a disc cover again and sit for another twenty minutes while you prepare your cooking device.

There are multiple ways that you can do this. I opted for the cast iron skillet on the stove top method because the other two methods are as such: do it in the oven on a pizza stone (don’t own a pizza stone) or do it in the oven on a baking sheet (umm..boring!). I chose the most badass, time consuming way of cooking these bad boys: on the stove top with a dry cast iron skillet. You can also do these with a griddle (like the kind you would use for pancakes) on your stove top.

If you are going the route of cast iron badassery (how many times can I use that term in one blog post?), heat the skillet to medium-high with no lubricant. No butter, no oil, nada. You want dry heat here. Don’t worry if your skillet is seasoned correctly nothing will stick. Once the twenty minute resting period has elapsed and the skillet is thoroughly heated toss one pita on the skillet. Let it sit. Don’t touch it. It will start to bubble and it will be beautiful. After about four to five minutes (this depends on the size of your pita) flip over and cook another two to three minutes then put aside and start over again with the next one. Continue until all pita are cooked.

Now you have pita!

Mini Buffalo Burgers

This is purely my own recipe, no measurements here. I’ve learned what I enjoy in a burger and what works for me. What works for you will be different. I get tired of people saying they make the best of something or you have to do it one way for it to be a real whatever. Food is about personal taste.

I mixed a pound of ground buffalo with worcestshire sauce, salt, pepper, paprika, dried minced shallot, and a dash of Frank’s Red Hot sauce. The worcestshire is incredibly important. It is incredibly flavorful and adds a much needed dose of moisture to the buffalo which tends to get dry and crumbly when introduced to high heat.

I heated up the same cast iron skillet I used earlier for the pita bread with a nice coating of olive oil (here one of those places where Andrew and I differ) on medium high heat. Once heated through, I patted a little fistful of my meat mixture into a small burger patty and tossed two to three of them into my skillet. Heat for about five minutes on one side until browned then flip over. Do not squish with your spatula, do not fuck around with your burger. Let it get that nice caramelized meat crust. After about three minutes your burger should be done depending on how well done you like it.

Here is where I will note Andrew’s misinformed opinion about how long to cook ground meat. Ground meat does not need to be cooked so long that it turns into a gray lifeless mass. It is okay to eat it medium or medium well. Hell if you got your meat from a reputable source you can eat it raw if you like. Andrew cut open his burger and sniffed pooh-pooh at it because there was the tiniest tinge of pink in the middle and said “Ground meat needs to be cooked completely.”. All he needed was a stern, “No, medium well is perfectly fine”, from me and he realized that he was incorrect or was just placating me. He inhaled four of these burgers.

I served them on top of the whole wheat pita with spinach and feta cheese.  You could make little mini burger buns and serve them as sliders.

The Best Restaurants Are Always in Strip Malls

I’ve realized living in the San Jose area that the best restaurants are in the most run-down looking strip malls next to the dumpiest donut shops and porn stores that you can find. Yas Restaurant is no exception to this. Located in Maple Leaf Plaza on Saratoga (at Williams) it is in the same shopping center as a medical marijuana clinic, a donut shop, and an excellent burrito place. The exterior leaves a lot to be desired. It is incredibly non-descript with the exception of a blue and white striped awning. If I didn’t know it was a restaurant I would have assumed it was a strip club. All the windows have blinds. The doors do not have windows. It is made of white cinder blocks. Frank Lloyd Wright did not design this building.

The interior is not much better. The walls are a pept0bismal pink, the color of the bed pans I used to make barbie doll houses out of as a child. Our white table cloth was dirty. Food stains. This was not starting off on the right foot. The blinds were those folding mini-blinds that I hated as a child. Those off-white spotty kinds that never work. Ugh.

They start you off with free lavash bread and a shy, stuttering gorgeous waitress with a heavy Iranian accent. She was perfectly attentive, answering our questions freely, but probably had not expected us to have so many. The lavash bread was good for lavash bread. I personally find it a little dry and uninteresting.

For appetizers we ordered Ash-E Reshteh, which their menu describes as a “Traditional Persian soup. A combination of herbs, vegetables, lentils, garbanzo beans, and noodles”, and Falafel. I found it creamy and full flavored. The yogurt swirl in the soup added a sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing touch. I thought the yogurt taste would be overwhelming as I tend to find yogurt, but it added a necessary amount of tang and creaminess. I only had a small cup and I would have loved the entire bowl. The falafel were very hot and fresh. They were a little dry because we ordered them without the yogurt sauce. They had a great, freshly made herby flavor. Another excellent dish.

For the main dishes, we ordered Shireen Polo and Kabab Barreh. Their menu describes Shireen Polo as “Orange peels, almond, pistachio, and saffron rice syrup fixed with basmati rice with chicken”.  I found the dark meat chicken pieces, which were on the bone, as incredibly tender, juicy, and flavorful. The sauce was a tomato based sauce, but I could not taste any tomato only the spices that they used, which I liked. The rice they served with it was a little on the sweet side, but it was fluffy and fragrant with the additional texture of pistachios and almonds.

BBQ Chicken

Yesterday I had my second round of interviews with the Monterey Peninsula School District. I got home around eleven in the morning and decided to walk to the Safeway on 41st. We live less than a mile from the store, so it was a nice afternoon walk if I limited the amount of groceries I bought. I kept it to two bags and it wasn’t so bad, except for the bunch of middle-aged motorcyclists who decided to stop and check me out. Weirdness.

I was craving BBQ chicken like mad. I couldn’t stop thinking about the sweet, smoky carbonized sticky chicken skin. Skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs were the cheapest cuts of chicken available at Safeway, though I tend to enjoy white meat more than dark. Dark meat does tend to stand up better to the high heat of the grill. Andrew got the grilled started up and then I got the chicken on.

To start with, toss the chicken in olive oil, salt and pepper. Do not put the sauce on the chicken yet. Andrew wanted to put the sauce on straight away and this is a mistake. You will end up with a bullet proof carbon shell around your chicken before the inside is even cooked. Once you put the chicken on the grill put the lid on and cook for about fifteen minutes, turning and flipping occasionally.

After about fifteen to twenty minutes, it is time to add the sauce. You can make your own sauce or you can use store bought. I purchased Baby Sugar Ray’s BBQ Sauce for 99 cents. 99 cents for more than a pound of BBQ sauce. Much lighter and cheaper than carrying all the makings for homemade BBQ sauce. Homemade is always appreciated, but so is a light grocery bag and a small bill. Slather the BBQ sauce on with a brush and continue to baste until the chicken is cooked. It took about twenty more minutes for my chicken to cook mostly because I’m terrified of undercooked poultry.

We served this with asparagus and grilled baby new potatoes.

Six Layer Dip: A Way to Use Leftovers

Andrew and I had much food leftover from our Saturday night shindig. There was still a considerable amount of chili verde, pulled pork and one chicken breast left. What do with it? I contemplated chili verde pork tacos/burritos, but we had no tortillas. Then it came to me: I could make a layered dip for tonight’s BBQ at Peter’s house. Starting at ten in the morning, I started cooking my beans from scratch.

Cooking dried beans either intimidates people or just doesn’t sound very exciting. Okay, I get it. Beans are not a sexy food to cook. Plus it is so easy to buy canned beans. Canned beans however are expensive (much more expensive than buying them dried by the pound) and they often contain a lot of sodium. I also find them a tad mushy. Most of the time I do used canned beans, but I did not have any left and I did have half a pound of dried pink beans in my cupboard.

Cooking beans is a lot easier than people make it out to be. It’s certainly not quick but it is not the long ordeal that it is often made out to be. From cupboard to dip the beans took about an hour and a half. That is not bad considering many recipes say that YOU MUST soak them overnight or they will take forever to cook. Simply not true.

First, I rinsed my beans in cold water. Then I put them in a pot and covered them with water. You want at least two to three inches of water over your beans. Yes, you will need to watch the level of your water and replenish it from time to time. Do some laundry, bring a book into the kitchen, do some knitting, whatever. Bring your beans to a boil then reduce to a simmer so they are gently bubbling. Cover with a lid partway and cook for until they tender. This can take anywhere from an half to four hours. It depends on how much you’re cooking and what kind of bean it is. Mine took about an hour and a half to cook.

Cover beans with at least two inches of water. 

Bring beans to a boil, then reduce heat so they bubble gently.

Partially cover and cook until beans are tender. 

Drain the beans, rinse, and let sit until room temperature. 

When the beans are tender, take off the heat and drain in a colander. You may want to save some of your bean cooking liquid for the next part of the recipe. I did not save mine and I had to use water. Rinse the beans and let them come down to room temperature.

Mash the beans with a fork. I also added spices. 

Now is the fun part. You get to mash your beans to whatever texture you like. I wanted mine chunky so I tried a fork. That was not getting me ANYWHERE. So I used my fist instead. Yes, I fisted my beans. Yes, my hands were perfectly clean and this was totally sanitary. It was also fun. You should never doubt your hands as tools. You may need to add a little water, broth, or bean liquid to get a smoother texture. You can also go a whiz in the food processor depending on how smooth you would like your beans.

Smooth out the beans with a spatula. 

The beans serve as the base for your dip. They are the heaviest and need to be smoothed out. Pour into a large bowl and smooth until level. Then I topped it with the pulled pork which I also smoothed out with a rubber spatula.

Add pulled pork. 

Next I made some rice. I took half a cup of white rice and put it in a small pot. I covered it with vegetable broth with at least an inch covering the rice. This is the correct amount and  you don’t need to measure this exactly. From there bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for about fifteen minutes or until the liquid has evaporated and your rice is cooked.

Top the pulled pork with rice. 

Chopped chicken breast marinated in Frank’s Red Hot. 

Add chicken and more Frank’s Red Hot sauce. 

Cover the pulled pork with the rice layer. I topped the rice layer with chopped chicken breast marinated in Frank’s Red Hot sauce (my friend Ian’s contribution to our Saturday night shindig) then topped with more Frank’s Red Hot. Next came chopped avocado. Then this was finally topped with some of the leftover manzana chili verde (see previous post).

The final product

Dr. Pepper Chipotle Pulled Pork

I know the title of this recipe sounds like some sort of white trashed fucked up mumbo jumbo but it’s really not. Okay maybe it’s a bit on the white trash side and maybe it is a little fucked up to cook with soda, but it is delicious. I was skeptical at first myself. Everyone around me was skeptical. They were like really, have you tried this before? I don’t know. Are you sure you want to make this for a party the first time you cook it? Yes. Parties are my favorite place to try new recipes that I would never otherwise cook. It is the only time there are enough people around to eat an entire shoulder of pork.

Roughly chop an onion and put it at the bottom of the slow cooker. 

Four pounds of pork shoulder. Fat side up. 

I love pork shoulder. Slow cooked, falling apart with the push of a spoon, it is one of my favorite cuts of meat. I used to cook it all the time with my roommate in college. This recipe is incredibly simple and was inspired by two cooks that I would never cop to liking: Sandra Lee (that creepy Semi-Homemade lady) and Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman…okay, I think she’s awesome at least).

The two recipes are pretty much the same. Pioneer Woman writes in her blog as if she was the first person to ever think this up, but really she’s not. In the southern part of the United States it’s fairly common to cook with soda pop (either cola or dr. pepper). Her pictures turned out a lot prettier than mine so definitely check her post out.

First you need to chop an onion roughly. Here is where the PW recipe deviates from the SL (Sandra Lee) one. PW calls for one onion and SL calls for two. I ended up with one onion because I accidentally put two onions in my chili verde (see earlier post). This goes in the bottom of your slow cooker. Oh yeah, PW puts hers in the oven and SL uses a slow cooker. I used a slow cooker because I didn’t want my oven running for six hours. On top of your onions goes your pork shoulder (otherwise known as a pork butt, incorrectly), which should go fat side up. Liberally salt and pepper your pork roast.

Then you should your two cinnamon sticks and bay leaf. SL also adds cloves. Cloves are expensive and I do not already have cloves in my cupboard so I did not use them. You can use them if you like. Now add your can of chipotle peppers. SL’s recipe does not call for chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, but PW does. I wanted something spicy so I got a small can of chipotle peppers (these are found on the international foods aisle of most grocery stores). Let me just say I’m rather confused about the international foods aisle. Does that mean that the rest of the store is made up of white American food? It’s also not very international in my neck of the woods: kosher, Italian, Mexican and “Asian”. These are all very white washed versions of those foods as well. Okay enough of my ranting about the inherent racism found in the grocery system.

Add cinnamon and bay leaf. 

Pour your chipotle peppers on top of your roast. Now add twelve ounces of Dr. Pepper. I used Diet Dr. Pepper because I could not find a small bottle of Dr. Pepper anywhere in Safeway. I did not want a 2 liter of Dr. Pepper, so Diet Dr. Pepper it was. It works just as well. You could also use cola, Pepsi, RC, root beer, whatever dark soda you like. I think the concept is the same. You also cannot really taste the soda at the end of it.

Add chipotle peppers with adobo sauce. 

Now cook on low for approximately eight hours. You can cook it on high for 3-4 hours in your slow cooker. You can also do it in the oven for six hours at a temperature of 300 degrees. At around six hours it will start to fall apart with the touch of a wooden spoon.

The roast after two hours.

The sauce after two hours of cooking. 

The end result. Yum!

Drain the fat from the sauce, shred the pork with a fork, and then serve however you like. It’s good with tortillas or on a roll with some bbq sauce. We just ate it with tortilla chips.