Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Gameday Eating vs. Carl's Jr.'s Western Bacon Cheeseburger

THE GAME: Dodgers vs Rockies

Some things I'll just never get used to.

My grandmother has been dead since the beginning of the century, but every time I drive past her old house, I look to see if her car is in the driveway.

There was a Sicilian restaurant in town that served the single best pizza I have ever tasted, and every time I consider where to go out for dinner, I still think of it as a possibility. I catch myself when I realize the place has been closed for a decade.

And if I live to be 100, I don't believe it will ever stop being strange to watch a Dodgers home game on television and not hear Vin Scully's voice. It's just not as much fun anymore. I knew this would happen, but that knowledge doesn't make the situation suck any less.

That being said, I try to always make time to catch a Kershaw start. If you love baseball, you know what I mean.

NOTES ON THE FOOD: 

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day after I wrote about how crappy I think Carl's Jr. is. My friend and I have known each other since high school and back then we used to eat at Carl's on occasion. (Not nearly as much as we ate at In-n-Out or Taco Bell. The former of which I still love; the latter, not so much.)

Back then, I really liked the Carl's Western Bacon Cheeseburger. My friend suggested that I try it again, see what I thought, and then make my own version.

"The way you made your own version of the McDouble, do that with the Western Bacon Cheeseburger, but make it side-by-side, like a competition."

I loved this idea. Partly because it's in the spirit of competition like the sports I write about on this blog; mostly because it means I get to eat more burgers.

My burger is on the left; Carl's on the right.

  • THE BUN. The bun I used was a clear victory for me. Not that my bun was great, but Carl's was terrible. I don't understand why places use sesame seed buns. Come to think of it, why do sesame seed buns even exist? Was someone eating a plain bun one day and suddenly declare "You know what would make this great? If we put a bunch of seeds on top!"?
  • Ironically, Carl's Jr. uses a freshly-baked bun for some of their sandwiches, such as the "big chicken fillet"... and it is the best fast food bun I have ever tasted. They should use that with all of their sandwiches. (I just looked at the Carl's Jr. website, and apparently you can request that bun if you want. That had never occurred to me.)

  • THE FRIED ONIONS AND SAUCE. Back when I used to eat this sandwich, it usually came with two or three sad, limp onion rings on the bottom bun. This time, I received several crispy pieces of onion. They were fantastic. And Carl's barbecue sauce has always been one of my favorite fast food barbecue sauces. This was a victory for Carl's. I did not see that coming. 

  • THE BACON.  This was the best bacon I have ever received from Carl's Jr. Unfortunately for them, that's like being the valedictorian of summer school. Carl's is notorious for using lousy bacon. While I actually ate the bacon this time, it was not as good as the thick, Amish-style bacon that I roasted in my oven for 40 minutes. 
  • THE CHEESE. Although the Tillamook cheddar I used would unquestionably be tastier eaten by itself than the American cheese Carl's uses, it didn't stand out at all. Both cheeses got lost amongst all the other flavors. 

  • THE MEAT. Obviously, there was no comparison. I used USDA Prime ground beef from my local butcher. Carl's uses flabby, grey, dried-out meat. This is why it's impossible to take seriously their claim of being "pioneers of the great American burger." If you're proud to serve meat that looks like this - if you merely find it acceptable to serve meat like this - you don't get to call yourself a pioneer of anything.
  • WINNER: GameDay Eating. Although Carl's Jr.'s burger was better than I expected it to be, and I loved their onions, there was just no way for me to get past the crappy bun and flavorless meat. 
  • That was fun. Let me know if you have a suggestion for another fast food item I should try to replicate. 

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • Three years ago, I stopped into one of my favorite bars for a drink. The bartender told me that a couple of Rockies had been in the night before - they were staying at a hotel just a few blocks away - and were talking about how Kershaw was overrated. "I'm gonna go yard off Kershaw tomorrow," one of them announced. The next day Kershaw threw a 15-strikeout no-hitter against the Rockies, one of the greatest games ever pitched in the history of baseball. I think of that anecdote every time I see Kershaw pitch against Colorado. 
  • That ain't happening tonight - Kershaw walked the first batter he saw and gave up hits to the second and third. Bases loaded, no outs.
  • I don't have any stats in front of me, but I'm going to go ahead and guess that Kershaw has never given up a grand slam without recording a single out.
  • According to a survey from LMU, the Dodgers have surpassed the Lakers as the most popular L.A. team. That's not terribly surprising considering how awful the Lakers have been for the last four seasons. 
  • After letting the first three reach base, Kershaw has retired 9 in a row. 
  • Joe Davis is now talking about Kershaw's no-hitter. Not surprisingly, he sounds extremely bored doing it. 
  • Trevor Story leads of the top of the 5th with a double. Remember when he started off last season with homers in his first four games and sportswriters started asking "Is Story better than Tulowitzki?" That may have been a little premature. 
  • Story still didn't score. Chris Taylor leads off the bottom of the 5th with a double for the Dodgers. Let's see if they can do better. 
  • They can. The Dodgers lead 4-1. Kershaw is on base. I miss when I was a kid and Dodgers pitchers used to put on those shiny blue satin jackets when they got on base. The current warmup jackets that pitchers wear are much more attractive but not nearly as cool, if you get what I'm saying. 
  • Not a whole lot more action in the game. Kershaw came out after 7, the Dodgers used three relievers in the final two innings and win 4-2. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Moo Shu Pork

THE GAME: Angels vs Royals

For a long time, the Royals were my second-favorite team in the American League. There were several reasons.

First, I'm not old enough to remember all the battles the two teams had from 1976-1986, when both teams were in the AL West. (In those 11 seasons, the two teams combined to win nine of the division titles. In five of those years, the teams finished 1-2 in the division.)

Second, I attended an Angels-Royals game in Kansas City in 2002. Kauffman Stadium was a surprisingly fun, old-school stadium, and the fans were - and still are - the friendliest fans I have ever encountered in an opponent's stadium. (The least friendly? Yankees fans. Although I've never seen an Angels game at Fenway; I imagine Red Sox fans would be worse.)

But most importantly, the Royals simply didn't matter for almost 30 years. Between 1986 and 2013, they never won their division nor a wild card spot. They had lots of great players come through Kansas City over the years, but they never could put it all together. (Hell, one year they had an outfield of Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and Jermaine Dye, and they still finished with a losing record.)

But now I can't stand the Royals. Part of it, of course, is that they swept the Angels in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, after the Angels had spent the season acquiring the best record in baseball. But mostly I just don't like the players.

Eric Hosmer has a habit of screaming like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert every time one of the Royals gets a hit. Yordano Ventura would start a fight with almost anyone who dared get a hit off of him. He once got into an altercation with Mike Trout after Trout hit a ball back up the middle that almost hit Ventura, as if Trout can direct the ball at particular players. Kendrys Morales would take what seemed like 90 seconds to round the bases after hitting a home run. (Although, admittedly, that might be as fast as he can go.)

I do not have a good feeling about this game, but I'm still gonna watch. It's a Friday night in spring, it's been a long week... why not?

NOTES ON THE FOOD: 
  • I saw a recipe the other day for moo shu pork that utilized sausage instead of pork tenderloin. I loved this idea, particularly since my local butcher shop sells sweet Italian sausage that is as good as any I have ever had. So I picked up four links. 
  • I removed the pork from the casing, added a generous amount of garlic and ginger, and cooked it in a wok. When it was done, I drained most of the fat and set the pork aside. 
  • I shredded half a head of cabbage and a few ounces of shiitake mushrooms and sauteed them in the residual pork fat. 
  • Once they softened, I added the sausage back into the mix, along with vinegar, soy sauce, and a drop or two of chili oil. 
  • I'd never purchased moo shu pancakes before. I thought maybe I could find them at the local Ralph's. Nope. So I went to 99 Ranch Market, the nearby Asian supermarket. I looked amongst the refrigerated egg roll and dumpling wrappers. They weren't there either. Finally I asked for help. "We keep them in the freezer, they're not a very popular product," I was told. So I bought and defrosted a package. 
  • A few weeks ago, I was watching a video of Rick Bayless and Ming Tsai cooking together. They are two of my favorite chefs in America - actually, they're probably #1 and #2. Ming made a dish with hoisin sauce on the side, and he recommended squeezing some lime into it. So I tried this for the first time. It was awesome. I spread some on each pancake and ladled in the filling.
  • This was the best moo shu pork I have ever had. I ate four of them. To the final one, I added a healthy amount of hot mustard to clear the sinuses.

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • J.C. Ramirez is making his first ever career start. It's only 10 games into the season, but the Angels' best pitcher is already on the DL, with no timetable for return. With a lot of teams, that would be a big story. With the Angels, it's more like "Wow, I'm surprised they've only lost one pitcher so far."
  • Danny Duffy is starting for the Royals. That's one of the more fun names to say in baseball. It feels like it should belong to a character in a movie about a Little League team. 
  • Mike Trout has already earned 1 WAR this season. It's only ten games old. That's pretty crazy. Is he going to end the season with 16.2 WAR? (I'm gonna go ahead and guess no - the all-time record belongs to Babe Ruth: 14.1 in 1923. He hit .393 with 41 homers that year.) 
  • As soon as I wrote the above, Trout hit an RBI single. For the third year in a row, I'm going to spend the season wondering how awful the Angels would be without Trout. 
  • Wait, I didn't think Billy Butler was in baseball this season. Oh wait - that's Mike Moustakas. He, uh, looks well fed.
  • Two pitches in and Ramirez has given up a single and a home run. Kansas City now leads 2-1. Speaking of which: 
  • The Angels offense has been fun so far. They're leading the AL in batting average (for now) and Trout and Escobar are on fire. They've had some exciting comebacks, including the seven-run 9th inning that I mentioned the other day. But their pitching has been nothing short of atrocious. They have the 3rd-worst ERA in the AL and in 10 games they've only had a starting pitcher go six innings once. (I will point out the obvious: the Angels have had comeback victories this season because they've had to come back - their pitching dug them a big hole.)
  • 5-1 Royals. Kansas City had the second-worst batting average and the second-fewest runs scored in the AL coming into this game. In 9 games, they'd only scored five runs on two occasions. Tonight they have five runs in the 3rd inning. Angels pitching: the cure for your shitty offense! 
  • To be fair, this isn't unexpected. Garrett Richards is already on the DL and I don't think they really know what's wrong with him. Tyler Skaggs is coming off Tommy John surgery AND a shoulder problem and he's still unproven. Heaney and Tropeano would be the #2 and 3 pitchers in the rotation but they're out for the season with Tommy John surgeries. This whole season should be about making moves for next year. 
  • I guess Kansas City got another run but I was watching the bottom of the 9th of Yankees-Cardinals. I'm probably gonna watch Dodgers-Diamondbacks soon, too. Kershaw vs. Greinke. That sounds better than this game. 
  • Raul Mondesi Jr. just robbed Escobar of a hit with a hell of a catch. With that, I'm done. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

BBQ Chicken Quesadilla

THE GAME: Dodgers vs Cubs

I was going to make something last night and write about the Sunday Night Baseball game, but by the time it started, I was too exhausted to do much of anything: yesterday afternoon was as exciting as any afternoon of sports watching I have experienced in years.

The Cavs blew a 26-point 4th quarter lead, the largest blown 4th quarter lead in the NBA in more than 14 years. (Since December 6, 2002, when the Lakers came back from 27 points down to beat the Mavericks. About a month ago, I was cleaning out a storage shed at my parents' house and came across the LA Times sports section from the morning after that game.)

Sergio Garcia finally won a major, taking home the green jacket at Augusta National. And at the exact same time that he and Justin Rose were walking down the 18th fairway, the Angels were in the process of scoring seven runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to beat Seattle, their largest 9th-inning comeback in 31 years.

After all that, the Mets vs. Marlins just didn't excite me.

But a Monday NLCS rematch starting at 5 PM? Definitely.

(5 PM is my absolute favorite start time for a baseball game: It feels like both an afternoon game and a night game. That's part of why I love Sunday Night Baseball so much.)

NOTES ON THE FOOD: 
  • Normally I cook my quesadillas in the cast iron pan. Tonight, I had tortillas that were slightly over 12 inches - they wouldn't fit. So I baked this in the oven. 
  • I used a mix of cheddar and smoked provolone cheeses. I usually use mozzarella, but I was out. 
  • I added a couple of handfuls of roasted chicken breast. 
  • Also caramelized onions and chopped scallions.   
  • On the other half of the tortilla I smeared a not-small amount of Zankou Chicken's legendary garlic sauce and several pickled jalapenos. 
  • Normally, I use one of my favorite barbecue sauces, something with a lot of spice or flavor. But there were already plenty of strong flavors present, so I just used a middle-of-the-road, Kansas City-style sauce. 
  • I've made hundreds of quesadillas in my life. This was one of my five best. 

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • The Cubs are hoisting their championship banner tonight... but they're not having their ring ceremony until Wednesday night? Why am I not surprised that they're going to drag this out as much as possible? Hell, why not just give a different player his ring every night? They could have ceremonies until the 4th of July. 
  • I just tuned into Baseball Tonight fifteen minutes before the start of the game to see that the pregame ceremony is delayed because of the weather. You mean it's not 77º and sunny everywhere in America today?
  • I'm watching Washington-St. Louis while waiting for this game to start. The ESPN announcers keep gushing over the 8-pitch at-bat between Harper and Wainright. I was guessing they were asleep during King Felix and Trout's 14-pitch battle the other night... but as my friend Nick pointed out to me, ESPN doesn't really consider the AL West to be part of their baseball coverage. 
  • Lester just threw the first pitch at 7:02. So basically nothing I said about a 5 PM start time applies here. 
  • The Cubs are wearing glittering gold names and numbers on their jerseys. I would describe them as somewhere between "unatractive" and "fucking hideous." 
  • Apparently, most of the broadcast is going to be split-screen segments with the game on the right side and some feature on last year's Cubs team on the left. 
  • Puig dropped an easy catch of a Schwarber foul ball for the third out of the inning. What happened next was as predictable as anything you will see in baseball: after Schwarber walked, Kris Bryant smashed a double - the first hit of the game for the Cubs - to score Schwarber. 1-0 Cubs. 
  • Dave Roberts pulls Wood and brings in Stripling to face Kris Bryant with the bases loaded. Not exactly a low-pressure situation. (But he got Bryant to pop out before I'd finished typing that sentence.)
  • Commercial Note: My English teacher during sophomore year of high school bet the class that Eddie Vedder wouldn't live to see the end of the school year. "He's on a death trip," Mr. Garfield proclaimed. Even at the time, I realized he may have just been saying that to show that he knew who Eddie Vedder was, that he didn't really believe what he was saying. But still, it amuses me that not only was he wrong, more than two decades later Eddie Vedder is strumming jingles in an ESPN commercial. You can't get more establishment than that. 
  • The Dodgers get on the board with a Seager double that scores Pederson. It's gonna be fun watching those two hit in the top half of the Dodgers lineup for the next half-decade (or more). 
  • One inning later, the Dodgers had the bases loaded with no outs and couldn't get a run across. It's still only a one-run game, but it's hard not to feel like that was the best chance the Dodgers were going to get to put up a crooked number. 
  • They did, however, get one run on an error by Addison Russell, so now we're going to the 9th inning all tied up. 
  • Commercial Note: Carl's Jr.'s new advertising campaign is that they're getting rid of their ridiculous, overly-sexualized commercials, and are now focusing on the food. They have rebranded themselves "pioneers of the great American burger." But here's the thing: they haven't said anything about changing the quality of their food. And their food is awful. It would be one thing if they were saying "Okay, we're going to start making better food"... but they're not. They're acting as if they've been making good food all along. If they were, they would never have had to use commercials of almost-naked women to begin with. (You'll never see In-n-Out doing that.) Maybe I'm taking this whole thing too seriously. I haven't eaten a full meal at Carl's Jr. in years. Maybe they deserve another try. 
  • Kenley Jansen vs. Kris Bryant in the bottom of the 9th with a runner in scoring position. Moments like these are what baseball fans live for.  
  • Cubs walk off. 10:39 PM. Not exactly the early bedtime I'd originally planned for, but oh well. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ode to the McDouble

THE GAME: Angels vs Mariners

Felix Hernandez taking on the Angels on a Saturday night? Hell yes, I'll stay in and watch that one. 

I was talking to one of my best friends a couple of weeks ago about McDonald's. (There was a commercial on TV at the moment.) She said that, while she doesn't eat there very much, there is a particular breakfast item that she loves. 

I confessed that while I also do not think much of the place, I love their McDouble. Something about the flavors just works together for me. 

"I think it's the rehydrated onions," I told her. "I've been using them myself on burgers I cook at home lately."

"You should try to recreate the McDouble with the beef from that butcher you love," she suggested.

That seemed like a good idea: make my own version of the McDouble - similar to what I did with the Big Boy in February.

NOTES ON THE FOOD: 
  • I made a thinner patty than I usually do when making burgers, as the McDouble does not contain very much beef. 
  • Georgia's Gourmet Tomato Ketchup is probably the best tasting ketchup I have ever had, so I used a smear of that. 
  • I took one tablespoon of dried onions, mixed it with one tablespoon of water, heated it in the microwave for 20 seconds, and let it rest for 15 minutes. 
  • I also enjoy the pickles that McDonald's uses, but of course I like Bubbies better. 
  • This was a fantastic burger. I never would have guessed that what I love most about the McDouble is actually the room-temperature ketchup and rehydrated onions. Now I know. 

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • This is King Felix's 51st start against the Angels - more than he's faced any other team. (Although he's faced Texas 50 times.) Only Jim Kaat ever faced the Angels more times (57). Felix is 16-16 against the Angels, though he has been much better against them in the last three or four seasons than he was earlier in his career. 
  • Mike Trout has faced King Felix more than any other pitcher in baseball, and Trout has hit him hard: in 76 at-bats, he has a .382 average with 13 extra-base hits, including 7 home runs. (Though Felix has struck out Trout 24 times, more than any other hitter.)
  • Albert Pujols in his prime was one of the greatest right-handed hitters to ever play the game of baseball. But his prime was a long time ago. The Angels are paying him 26 million dollars this season and he is currently batting .050. 
  • Vin Scully used to tell an anecdote that he would watch Sandy Koufax throw one pitch and think Wow, he might throw a no-hitter today. I saw Nolasco's first pitch and thought Wow, he looks like shit tonight.  
  • I swear on my mother's life, I was in the middle of writing that last sentence when Nolasco gave up a home run on his ninth pitch of the game. 2-0 Seattle... and there hasn't been an out recorded yet. 
  • Felix struck out Trout looking on the 14th pitch of the at-bat, which was definitely fun as hell to watch, but that 14th pitch was right there for the taking. You fight through 13 pitches only to take that meatball, Mike?
  • Turns out that was a little bit o' history: In Felix's fantastic career, he has never thrown 14 pitches in an at-bat before. In Trout's already-legendary career, he's never seen 14 pitches in an at-bat before. 
  • When the Angels traded for Andrelton Simmons, I thought it was a bad move. I was spectacularly wrong. Almost every game he does something that takes my breath away. He might be the best defensive shortstop I have ever seen. This was just awesome.
  • With two outs in the 4th inning, the Angels chubby catcher decided to steal second base on a 2-0 count. Predictably, it failed. I have no idea what the hell that play was. 
  • Nolasco gave up two runs after only 9 pitches, but here he is now at 75 pitches and he hasn't given up any additional runs. He's been much better than my first impression. 
  • Trout is 0-3; Pujols is 2-3 with a single and a double. You can never predict baseball. 
  • Nolasco has made it through six innings - the first Angels starter to do that this season. 
  • Mike Trout comes through with a two-run homer in the bottom of the 7th.  
  • Cam Bedrosian picks up a 5-out save for the Angels. After watching Trout, and Simmons's defense, watching Bedrosian blossom over the last 12 months has been the biggest joy of being an Angels fan. 
  • Well, now that I think about it, those three things have been the only joys over the last 12 months. Whatever. The Angels have a legitimate closer now for the first time in almost a decade, since K-Rod was in his prime. 
  • Seattle is now 1-5. I wonder if Jerry Dipoto is considering quitting on this team, too. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

In-n-Out Burger

THE GAME: North Carolina vs Gonzaga

I had not yet eaten In-n-Out in 2017. It was intentional. I knew that once I returned and had one of those glorious Double-Doubles, it would be all downhill. I would crave it every day. (And once upon a time, I actually did eat it every day - it was freshman year of college and I probably gained at least 25 pounds.)

But still... I've been watching a lot of March Madness. More than I have in probably a decade. Which means I've seen the In-n-Out commercial - the one where it's nothing but a close-up photo of the burger - quite a few times.

Tonight, for the championship game, I broke down.

(And yes, I'm well aware that the first game for the Angels is also tonight. I will be watching it concurrently on my laptop. But it's hard to get too excited about this season when the Angels' opening day starter is Ricky Nolasco. The rotation is not exactly the '71 Orioles.)

NOTES ON THE FOOD: 
  • I always order my Double-Double Animal-Style: cooked in mustard with grilled onions and extra spread. 
  • I also order my fries that way, with grilled onions, melted cheddar, and a deluge of spread piled on top. I am definitely in the group who thinks In-n-Out's fries are not very good, but when paired with all these extra flavors (and calories), I like it. 
  • Both of these together cost just under 8 bucks. I like Five Guys and Shake Shack, but there is nothing in all of fast food - hell, there's nothing in any restaurant category, period - that is a better value than In-n-Out. 
  • Admittedly, the food doesn't travel all that well. It is much, much better eaten at the restaurant, so 99% of the time, that's what I do. But, you know, I wanted to get home and watch the game. 
  • It's still freaking delicious, though. I'd be lying if I said I don't want to go get another one tomorrow. But I will try to resist. 

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • Gonzaga has beaten a 16 seed, 8, 4, 11, and 7 to get here. It will be interesting to see how they look against #1 UNC, who in their last two games have beaten Oregon and Kentucky - arguably two of the top 5 teams in America. 
  • I was surprised to learn the other day that Jim Nantz is 57 years old. He's been around so long - I literally do not remember March Madness without him - that I assumed he was at least 7-10 years older than that. 
  • When did people start considering Arizona to be part of the West Coast? I've heard three different people say that Gonzaga has a chance to be the first champion from the West Coast since U of A in 1997. Arizona is not on the West Coast, if for no other reason than that Arizona has no coast. Is Las Vegas on the West Coast? Salt Lake? Denver?
  • Gonzaga missed the free throw that would have given them a rare four-point play, but they're still up by 2 after five minutes. 
  • I've mentioned before that Justin Jackson's floater is my favorite shot in college basketball this year. It still is, but I have to say, the more I watch him, the less sure I am that he's going to be a star at the next level. He's 22 years old; isn't it possible that this is one of those cases of a 22 year old dominating against 18 and 19 year olds, and he won't ever look this good in the NBA?
  • Of course, I'm also the guy who didn't think Kevin Love would start in the league and that James Harden would be a total bust. 
  • I've got the Angels-A's pregame on, but no sound. Rickey Henderson is giving a speech after having the field named after him; can anyone confirm if he is talking about himself in the third person?
  • Gonzaga is up by 3 at the half, but UNC has to be content with that. UNC is shooting 31%, including a godawful 2-13 (16.7%) from three. It feels like Gonzaga should be up by at least 10. 
  • Gonzaga opens the half with two careless turnovers in 30 seconds and now North Carolina has the lead. Just like that. 
  • With 11 minutes left, Gonzaga is shooting 34.1%, UNC is shooting 34.0%. This shit is ugly. 
  • On the plus side, I have no hesitation turning the channel whenever I see Mike Trout is coming up to bat, so I just saw him hit a home run to put the Angels ahead. 
  • Commercial Note: Do people actually get paid to write the commercials with Charles Barkley, Samuel Jackson, and Spike Lee? Or do the actors just make stuff up 5 minutes before they start filming? I'm prepared to believe either answer. 
  • Right now, UNC is 3-23 from three. That's 13%. THIRTEEN PERCENT. 
  • They are also 11-19 (58%) from the free-throw line. And they are winning by four points, which pretty much sums up this crapfest. 
  • The refs have a lot to do with it, too. I don't remember such trigger-happy refs in a championship game. I wonder if they have some money on the game. 
  • During the UConn-Butler championship game a few years back, the basketball was so atrocious that I went to the grocery store during the game. (And then I went to In-n-Out for dinner that night, too.) We're not there yet, but getting close. 
  • As soon as I typed that, the teams made back-to-back three-pointers. 
  • Woah. You could have given me 50 chances and I would not have guessed who this is: 
  • North Carolina wins by 6. If you're interested in seeing all of the terrible stats, here's the link to the box score. UNC shot 35.6%; Gonzaga shot 33.9%. There was nothing enjoyable about this game. 
  • Can they do the "One Shining Moment" montage without using a single clip from this game? 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Chicago Pizza & St. Louis Toasted Ravioli

THE GAME: Cubs vs Cardinals

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do: I stare out the window and wait for spring."
                                                                                                                                      - Rogers Hornsby


78º and sunny. The first Sunday Night Baseball of the year.  I'm looking forward to the NCAA championship game tomorrow night and I'm certainly looking forward to the NBA playoffs later this month, but... baseball is back. Damn that makes me happy. 

Tonight, I cooked two things for dinner, as an homage to St. Louis and Chicago. 

NOTES ON THE FOOD:
  • I don't eat much frozen pizza. I love the sauce on Tombstone pizzas but the crust is terrible. I like the $1 frozen pizzas from the grocery store but then again I don't believe I've ever had one sober. Most of the time I would just rather make my own pizza with fresh dough. But Home Run Inn is in the category of frozen pizzas that don't suck.
  • Obviously, when you think of Chicago pizza, you probably think of deep dish. But they didn't have any of the Home Run Inn deep dish pizzas at the store. Whatever, it's still a Chicago company. 
  • When I was a kid, Jack in the Box sold toasted raviolis. They were probably my favorite fast food item of all time. I thought it was just some kind of kooky idea they were trying out and, though I loved them, I was not surprised when they were discontinued. It wasn't until I visited St. Louis at the age of 19 that I learned toasted raviolis are actually a very common item in that city (where they were invented) and surrounding areas of the midwest. 
  • As with the poutine poppers I wrote about last week, these ravioli had instructions for baking in the oven. This never fails to make me laugh. Are there really people who say "Yes, I am going to eat some breaded raviolis stuffed with cheese, but I am going to bake them so that they won't be unhealthy"?
  • The pizza cooked in about 20 minutes. It was fine but nothing special. I'd only had this flavor (margarita with sausage) once before and thought it was delicious. Not this time. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't very good. 
  • The ravioli fried up in two minutes. They were very tasty. I dunked them into Emeril's roasted garlic pasta sauce. 

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • Hey, the Cubs won the World Series last year. They hadn't won for, like, a really long time. Just wanted to make sure you knew that. It hasn't been mentioned much. 
  • What's your opinion of having three games today and then a full slate tomorrow? I'm not a fan. I would prefer that every single team played their first game on the same day and that be the only day referred to as "Opening Day." 
  • That being said, I don't really care all that much. It's not like it's going to keep me up at night seething with anger. 
  • Woah, I didn't know Mark Teixeira had joined ESPN as an analyst. On one hand, I don't like the guy. On the other, when he signed with the Yankees in 2008, the Angels received the Yankees' draft pick as compensation... which they then used to draft a high school senior named Mike Trout. 
  • I don't think the best way to honor Chuck Berry was to have his daughter butcher the national anthem. That was the worst I have heard in quite some time. (I just googled her and the first result that came up is an article with a headline of her declaring "My singing days have passed." You can't make this stuff up. Ingrid, you didn't think of mentioning that?) 
  • Jason Heyward strikes out on three pitches. He's picking up right where he left off last season.
  • St. Louis is getting hits off of Lester, but they've only got one run in through three innings. 
  • I'm not a fan of St. Louis (the city or the baseball team) but I'm glad I'll get to watch Yadier Molina for another few years. As with Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, and Adrian Beltre, it's been a pleasure for me to be alive at the same time and able to watch him play. 
  • St. Louis loaded the bases with one out in the 6th... and grounded into a double play. It's still 1-0 St. Louis, despite the fact they've had approximately 42 baserunners in 6 innings. 
  • The announcers are making their World Series predictions: Aaron says Dodgers, Jessica says Red Sox, Dan says Cubs. For the record, my World Series prediction is the Dodgers and Astros. But I'm not going to guess who will win. 
  • Squandering opportunities is contagious tonight. The Cubs had the bases loaded with one out and both Bryant and Rizzo flied out to right.  
  • Grichuk with a two-run homer. Good bar trivia question: Who did the Angels draft with their first pick in the 2009 draft? Answer: Randal Grichuk at #24. (They used their next pick, at #25, on Mike Trout.) 
  • Wilson Contreras crushes a three-run homer with one out in the 9th, and we're all tied up. Have I mentioned how great it is to have baseball back?
  • Molina gets intentionally walked without the pitcher having to throw four balls. Weird - when I first heard about the rule change, I thought it was a good move. Now I realize I don't like it. I prefer watching the pitcher make four throws, hoping one of them will get away. However, as with most rule changes in sports, I'm sure I'll get used to it. 
  • Grichuk with the walk-off RBI in the bottom of the 9th. I wish the Angels had never traded him. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chopped Pork Sandwich

 THE GAME: Lakers vs Timberwolves

So strange that I sit here, as the calendar prepares to turn to April, with the knowledge that the Lakers will not be in the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Before this stretch, they had missed the playoffs only twice in my entire lifetime.

But I don't expect anyone to feel too sorry for me. The Lakers have also won 10 titles in my lifetime and appeared in 16 NBA Finals. Several teams have never even been to the NBA Finals.

Hell, the Clippers have been around since 1970 and they've never even played in the conference finals.

(When I was 21, my friend Cara and I planned a road trip to Idaho a month in advance. "We can't be travelling on that Sunday, I said to her. "The Lakers will be playing in either Game 3 or 4 of the NBA Finals." I shudder now to think how smug that must have sounded. But then again... I was right.)

I might tune in to see some of the Lakers at Spurs next week, or the Lakers at Warriors in the last game of the season, just to see if either of those teams can eclipse the 49-point ass-whooping that Dallas delivered in January, but outside of that morbid curiosity, this will probably be the last full game I watch this year.

NOTES ON THE FOOD:
  • I slow-cooked a pork tenderloin in a mixture of chicken broth and dried onion dip mix. Tenderloin is much, much leaner than pork butt so you need to add moisture to compensate for the lack of fat. (I'd wanted to get a pork butt at the store but the only one they had weighed 18 pounds. That seemed excessive.) 
  • After 4 hours in the slow cooker, I removed the pork, chopped it up, and returned it to the cooker along with some sauce for another hour. 
  • I made my own relish over the weekend, so I mixed up a mustard sauce and added the relish to it; that sounded good with this pork. That concoction went on top. 
  • I picked up some red cabbage slaw at a local supermarket deli and added that as well. I enjoy making my own types of slaw, but I can never seem to make a red cabbage version as good as this one. 
  • I read an online article that claimed Target's "Market Pantry Crispy Shoestring Fries" are the best frozen shoestring fries. So I bought a bag and fried them up. They were fine, but I've certainly had better. 
NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • Right before this started, I was watching SportsCenter on ESPN when it cut to the NIT championship game. The announcer started the broadcast by saying "Tonight, we crown a champion!" That made me laugh. Yes, 15-loss Georgia Tech vs. 15-loss TCU. Who did you have in your office NIT bracket?
  • Brandon Rush is starting. It's good to see him again. I always enjoyed watching him and his brothers. 
  • He's 31 now and the oldest player on this Timberwolves team. I kinda wish I hadn't heard that. 
  • Ricky Rubio! Will it ever stop being funny that the Wolves drafted not one, but TWO point guards ahead of Steph Curry? I don't think it will. In fact, let's take a look at it again, just for laughs: 
  • The Wolves just scored 13 points in a row. I have a hunch I might not be watching all of this game, after all. 
  • It's actually tied at the end of the first quarter. The Lakers sneakily went on a nice little run of their own. 
  • Of course, it's tied at 37. This is not exactly a defensive struggle. For comparison, the exact same number of points have been scored in the Brooklyn-Detroit game: that one is 39-35... at halftime. 
  • Rubio has 20 points in the first half. That might seem to be at odds with my snarky comment. On the other hand, 20 points against this Lakers "defense" is like scoring 8 points against Utah or San Antonio. (And Curry still has two MVPs and a championship.)
  • Karl-Anthony Towns has somewhere between 5 and 40 dunks in this game. 
  • Randle and Russell each picked up technical fouls within a three-minute span. The Wolves are now up by 12. You know, NBATV is showing Michael Jordan's 69-point game from 1990. I'm gonna watch that for a few minutes. 
  • Nevermind, I just saw the Bulls are beating Cleveland in the 4th quarter. My God, the Cavs are in a free fall. I'm going to watch that for a bit.
  • Lakers lose by 15. I didn't actually watch any of the 4th quarter. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Poutine Poppers

 THE GAME: Oregon vs Kansas

With very few exceptions, no food is as hit-or-miss as poutine. The best poutine - when the fries are crisp and the cheese curds and gravy play off each other in a salty, gooey combination - is one of the great heavy dishes you will ever eat. You end up inhaling more than you probably want, definitely more than you need, but it's worth it.

The worst poutine, on the other hand, is as bad as food gets, resembling the kind of amorphous glop your cat pukes up when he eats crickets too quickly. You will not each much of this poutine, no matter how drunk or stoned you may be.

Most of the poutine I've had in California falls into the latter category. As a result, I don't order it very often.

But I saw these frozen poutine poppers the other day and I won't lie: I was intrigued.

I did not buy it right away, but rather took a photo of the package and later that evening showed it to my friend Marina, my guru on all things Canadian. (True, she's my only Canadian friend, so the title is hers by default, but whatever. )

"That doesn't look bad," she said. "You should try it with ranch dressing."

That had never occurred to me. I'm not the biggest fan of ranch, especially not with cheese; the combination always takes me back to a pizza I saw a man eating at a sports bar in Wisconsin, a hideous concoction of cheese and buffalo sauce floating on a base of ranch dressing.

Still, if a Canadian told me I should try it with ranch dressing, I was game.

NOTES ON THE FOOD: 

  • The box cost $5.99 at Ralph's. That seemed a little pricey for a store-brand product... but then again, it's their "Private Selection." Whatever the hell that means. 
  • There were 16 in the box; I only cooked half. 
  • The instructions provided are for baking in the oven. There was no chance I was going to cook them that way. I knew exactly what would happen: the cheese would leak out all over the pan. So I deep fried them. I mean... they're breaded balls of potato and cheese curds. It's not like frying them is going to make them significantly unhealthier. 
  • While I was debating what kind of ranch to use - as I mentioned, I'm not the biggest fan - something occurred to me: the Blackened Ranch at Popeyes is pretty damn good. So I went there (when they opened at 10 AM) and bought four containers. And nothing else. 
  • I was shocked at how much I liked the poppers. I had expected them to be devoid of any real flavor except possibly cheese. But I could taste the cheese, potato, and gravy. 
  • I will get these again, and if I ever see them on sale, I'm going to stock up. 

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • Mike Scioscia got thrown out of the Angels spring training game today. I don't remember the last time I've seen that happen. That has nothing to do with this game, but it made me laugh. (Like the old joke about the man in confession, I'm telling everybody.)
  • The Patriots won another Super Bowl in February after Atlanta committed the biggest choke job in NFL history. UCLA basketball put together its best offense in more than two decades but decided not to even pretend to play defense. The Lakers have the worst record in the Western Conference, yet it's basically a coin flip whether they get to keep their draft pick in June. 2017 is shaping up as a truly awful sports year, which is why I have no doubt that Oregon will be going to the Final Four. 
  • Ten seconds after I typed those words, Josh Jackson picked up his second foul and had to go to the bench. 
  • Reggie Miller and Marv Albert are carrying on about Larry Brown being the greatest coach ever. If you could choose one college coach for one game, and your life depended on the outcome, who would it be? Brown? Bob Knight? Tom Izzo? Pete Bell? Dean Smith?
  • Pete Bell was Nick Nolte's character in Blue Chips. You can't actually select him. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. 
  • Oregon shot 59% in the first half. Their penultimate three-point attempt of the half went in, came out, and then went in again. Their final three-point attempt banked in. This is New England Patriots-level lucky. 
  • Josh Jackson just flopped and Reggie Miller announced "I love it!" We know you do, Reggie. You were the whiniest flopper I ever saw in the NBA. You made Vlade Divac look like an immovable object. 
  • Kansas is now down by 15 - the largest deficit they have faced all season. 
  • Now it's 18. I'm gonna check what movie is premiering on HBO tonight. 
  • Uh, never mind. It's Independence Day: Resurgence. I saw that in the theater. (Don't ask.) That is one of the ten worst movies I've ever seen. 
  • With three minutes left, Kansas is down by 9. They are also 0-9 on three-pointers this half. Oregon is 27-28. (That's not actually true, it just feels like that.)
  • Kansas was all set to get the ball back down 6... and it went through not one but TWO Jayhawk hands, right back to Oregon, who then drilled a three-pointer. That's gonna be the ballgame. 
  • Jordan Bell's line tonight: 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 blocks. Jesus, that's a monster game. 
  • After scoring 100, 90, and 98 points in their first three tournament games, Kansas scored 60 tonight. They were an atrocious 5-25 from three. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Meatball Ravioli

THE GAME: Warriors vs Thunder

It's National Ravioli Day. I did not know there was such a thing until this morning, but that matters little. I love ravioli. It's pretty much the only pasta I love. The idea of making a ravioli dinner on the first day of spring while watching Oklahoma City vs. Golden State sounded quite nice.

NOTES ON THE FOOD:
  • Claro's is a mini-chain of Italian markets in Southern California, dating back to 1948. I swung by to pick up a bag of their meatball ravioli. The woman behind the register said "Today is actually National Ravioli Day." I said "Yes, that's why I'm buying these." She didn't believe me. I'm not sure why she thought I would lie about something like that, but, whatever, she was a pleasant woman.
  • I boiled the ravioli for a few minutes and added a five cheese marinara sauce, fresh parmesan, and chives. 
  • I also baked a loaf of Claro's garlic cheese bread. 
  • And made an extremely garlicky Caesar salad. 

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • I realize we are in the age of the 24/7 news cycle and that ratings are far more important than intelligence or accuracy. But I don't remember a more stupid sports story line than the whole "The Warriors are done!" hot takes of early March. Yes, they lost three games in a row. But are we just supposed to ignore the fact that Kevin Durant is injured and out for several weeks? KD is 28 years old and has won four scoring titles. Do you know how many players have won more in their entire careers? Two: Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. The Warriors are going to be just fine. 
  • How many shots will Westbrook take tonight? It's gotta be at least 30, right? 
  • Steph Curry with a fast break dunk. I don't remember ever seeing him dunk before. [Note: 5 minutes later, ESPN Stats informs us that it's his first dunk of the season.]
  • Announcer: "When Russell Westbrook goes out of the game, sometimes OKC struggles to score." Dynamite analysis. 
  • The Warriors built a ten-point lead; I stepped outside to take a phone call. I was outside maybe three minutes, and I return to a 19-point lead. 
  • A shoving match broke out - I've literally seen more aggressive conflicts during junior high girls games - and four technicals were assessed. 
  • Baron Davis is on the halftime show and he's wearing pants that are 18 inches too short. Here, see for yourself: 
  • Fun fact: Baron Davis is the only guy to ever dunk on me during a regulation game. It was during my ten-day contract with the Nuggets. 
  • Just kidding. It was in high school. 
  • Westbrook is 4-15, the Thunder are down 23 points... and the fans are chanting "MVP" every time he touches the ball. Not the best look for them. 
  • Golden State wins by 16. Westbrook's +/- is -25. (I was wrong about him, though: he only took 16 shots.)
  • The Warriors have now won 4 in a row and Durant is participating in shootarounds. Reports of their implosion have been greatly exaggerated. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sour Cream Chicken Nachos

THE GAME: UCLA vs Cincinnati 

One of my best friends lived in Dallas for several years, where her local bar served a dish called "sour cream chicken nachos," which she described to me as not only being the best nachos she has ever had, but the best bar food, period.

I'd never heard of such a dish, but I like chicken, I like sour cream, and I like nachos. It was worth investigating.

The bar's website looks like something out of the late-90s. It was no help. But I did find a couple of similar recipes online, so I set about making my own version.

NOTES ON THE FOOD: 
  • I roasted a chicken breast in the oven for 35 minutes. It came marinated from my local butcher, the dominant flavors being citrus and pepper. After cooking, I shredded it. 
  • After the poultry cooled down, I mixed it with salsa verde, sour cream, lime juice, and cumin. 
  • I don't mind a giant pile of tortilla chips when the only topping is cheese, but when it's something into which I've put a lot of effort, I like using individual chips. I used round tortilla chips and placed a scoop of the chicken mixture onto each. 
  • I sliced off several thick pieces of Tillamook Monterey Jack and layered them on top of each chip, before placing everything under the broiler for three minutes. 
  • Finally, a pickled jalapeno on top of each. 
  • They were delicious, no doubt, though my friend maintains that the ones she used to eat at the bar were better. Oh well. Can't win 'em all.
  • I washed it down with an El Sully lager from 21st Amendment. 

NOTES ON THE GAME: 
  • How much basketball did I watch today? At one point my DirecTV receiver went into "Power Save Mode" because the channel hadn't been changed from CBS for eight hours. 
  • Commerical note: Every year there is one commercial (or series of commercials) during March Madness that makes me want to punch something. This year it's the AT&T Plus commercials with Greg Gumbel and the vaguely-inbred-looking guy who sings karaoke. 
  • I didn't watch the first 6 minutes of the game because I was watching the end of USC-Baylor. Someone needs to say it: Reggie Miller is more annoying than Bill Walton. It's funny that UCLA has produced the best college basketball announcer I have ever heard (Don MacLean) and also the two worst. 
  • Cincinnati went on a 12-0 run as soon as I turned on the game. 
  • UCLA has started out shooting 5-17. This could well be the game where their offense cannot overcome their lack of defense.
  • At halftime, T.J. Leaf and Bryce Alford are a combined 1-10. Lonzo Ball has zero assists. UCLA has only 30 points, their lowest first half total of the entire season. They are lucky to only be down 3. I'm guessing they won't play as poorly in the second half. 
  • UCLA has picked up the pace to start the second half, but their defense is still mediocre. 
  • But then they hit 3 three-pointers in a row to push their lead up to 8. 
  • UCLA wins by 12 after shooting more than 60% in the second half. 
  • Lonzo Ball: 18 points, 9 assists (all in the second half), 7 rebounds. 
  • UCLA vs. Kentucky on Friday. That is going to be fun.