Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My increasing infatuation with The Big Rooster, El Gallo Grande

As a lifelong urban girl, I've had very little experience with farms or homesteads. I've never been able to fully explain my attraction to farm animals, particularly chickens, roosters and goats.  I can remember a vacation or two with my momma to West Virginia to visit my Great Aunt Mabel.  I loved every minute with that no-nonsense practical woman.  My sister and I played in the stream on the mud flats.  We would climb trees and pick apples for her.  She would have a big iron pot on a wood fire stirring down her homemade apple butter, we would watch the ash float in the deep brown apple cinnamon mixture and hear her say, "A little ash won't hurt us."   She had us milking the cows and gathering eggs.  I can still hear her hearty laughter over the "little city girl" afraid of a laying hen.
She was a dear God-fearing woman with a huge heart.   Those are memories dear to my heart and over the years I've collected a rather large collection of ceramic, wooden, and iron roosters.  They were displayed in nearly every room.....until my husband put his foot down and said, "Enough."  So I can't bring any more big roosters home.

So imagine my delight when a short distance from our home, I heard of a new restaurant opening in the space formerly occupied by Basta's.  (Basta's was a very romantic dinner spot for us and we missed them greatly when they closed.)
El Gallo Grande, The Big Rooster has officially opened and we have had two meals at the newly redecorated establishment.
 The remodeled building is a treat for the eyes.  There are hand painted murals inside and out, including some fine renditions of my favorite roosters.  The outside rear wall by the parking area features a lovely painted poster of a Mexican movie star.  Inside the walls are a bright shade of yellow with Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls and Mexican wrestler murals providing visual interest.  The cove lighting in the ceilings is an ever-changing rainbow of colors.  The main room features communal tall tables and a very busy bar.

Now to the most important part of any restaurant...the food and service.  The menu is limited in options but never fear, my gringo friend, the food is fabulous. The offerings are a very concise accurate taste of true Mexico.  This is not a Tex-mex restaurant, it is not an Americanized hybrid of Mexican flavors.  The food is fresh and as vibrant as the colors overhead.

The basket of fried corn tortillas were fresh and crisp.  The salsa presented with the chips was delicious.  It was a bit thinner than the commercial variety from the jar salsas and the freshness was a highlight.  We ordered the guacamole at both of our visits.  It is the BEST guacamole I have ever tasted in a restaurant.  As a matter of fact, it puts my own attempts of the dish to shame.  The ratio of lime, cilantro, tomato and avocado chunkiness is far superior to any other version I've tried.  We did order for my gringo hubby a dish of the hot cheese, fundido.  He totally dug into that melty cheese with gusto.

At our late lunch visit, I had the chiles rellenos with the refried bean puree and rice.  The chiles rellenos were excellent.  The fresh poblanos were roasted, peeled and stuffed.  One had a chorizo stuffing and the other was stuffed with cheese and deep fried in an ethereal light batter.  El Gallo Grande did a very nice plate presentation and it was delicious on the palate.  My dear hubby had the steak with poblano peppers.  He was very happy with his skirt steak, cooked a perfect medium.  He had some warm fresh tortillas to make his own barbacoa tacos.
The menu features chicken tinga tacos, carnitas, chicken mole and daily entree specials.  A variety of tacos and tortas are offered lunch and dinner.  Our lunch service was prompt and swift.  Hubby had a bit of a hissy because they were out of his favorite beer, but once he found a suitable substitute he calmed down.  I had a blast trying a few of the specialty margaritas.  The Paloma, grapefruit margarita was my favorite.  The house margarita was a fine rendition as well.

Our dinner visit was a celebratory meal to welcome home our daughter, the traveling caregiver.  (She was gone for 40 days to care for her godmother who was undergoing chemotherapy in the midst of a move between homes.)
We scarfed down the chips, salsas once they arrived tableside.  We were voraciously hungry.  However, our server was a bit scattered.  He has obviously never learned to multi-task, he was the kind of waiter who would visit the adjacent table, run off to kitchen or bar and skip right over us without checking our needs on his way past.  Working one table exclusively and ignoring the next table is inexcusable.  It takes 30 seconds to acknowledge the next table and you can certainly piggyback the orders to the bar and the kitchen to prevent long delays in service.  It took well over 25 minutes for the cervesa and margaritas to appear. The appetizers were delivered separately.  We later found out the kitchen was out of guacamole and they quickly rallied and made a new batch which was delivered by the owner with his apologies.  Thank you, sir.

We got the specials of the day recited by the owner and although I was set to have the chiles rellenos again, I was persuaded to have the skirt steak with the chimichurri sauce and skinny fries.  It was so good.  I'd slather that chimichurri on a flip flop and eat it.  I had to slap hands to keep the daughter from dipping into my sauce.  The other special was a fresh catch (I can't remember the fish~blame the margarita) with sauce Veracruz, freshly diced tomatoes, olives, poblanos and onions.  I wanted one of my dining partners to try it but I couldn't persuade them.  It just means I have to go back for the Fish Veracruz.  The prodigal daughter had the chicken tinga tacos.  She was very happy with her dish. The cabbage was slivered finely and the flavor of the chicken was just right.  The hubby abandoned his steak for a chicken enchilada with verde sauce.  He was most impressed with the filling and sauce.  It did not blister his gringo tongue. Hubby said he was willing on the next visit to try the mole sauce.  Javier, the owner, suggested that he would custom make the enchiladas with one each of the three sauces, red, green and mole.  Very nice of him to offer a customized dish.

We had a great conversation with Javier and he explained in detail the preparation of the poblanos and how he has refused to use a "fresh frozen" product. His staff prepares the peppers fresh daily.  It was a nice to see his pride in serving authentic Mexican food.  He has convinced me to try the ceviche on our next visit.  How can you judge the freshness of the food,  well, by eating raw fish dish?  What better test than a ceviche?  I can't argue with his logic at all.

For dessert, we were shown a lovely flan with swirls of caramel and raspberry sauces, but we simply did not have any room to try a bite of the glistening beauty.

Even though we were unhappy with the service our second visit, the food was well worth the wait.  The atmosphere, food and drink are a very happy addition to the South St. Pete scene.  We will exercise our lessons in patience and give the Big Rooster our business.  There are other dishes we want to try and the vibrant, fresh El Gallo Grande has us clucking like content hens.

El Gallo Grande on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blueberry Ice cream Sundae

I was recently gifted several Food and Home magazines to read.  An indulgence or expense I don't allow in my budget constraints, much less having the free time to peruse said periodicals monthly.  I could not keep up with the cascade of information on the printed page.  However, since I've been forced into short-term disability until further notice, I can say that a paper periodical is infinitely preferable than trying to read a lap top while on bed rest.  I don't worry if it will hit the floor or if a dog will accidentally roll over it and break it.  A magazine can be set aside without worry.  Perhaps that should be a marketing ploy by publishers.  

Since I have an ice-creamaholic husband, who has never turned down an ice cream dessert, I was totally captivated with ice cream recipes that did not require eggs.  I am simply incapable of standing at a stove and stirring a custard base as my mother did years ago for her hand cranked/churned ice cream.  Suffice to say, to our PA and WV relatives, you have my deep apologies from the FL contingent.  Weaving through the forbidden corn field to the desired peach trees in the dark of night is an adventure I'll never forget. Momma was totally smitten with those purloined peaches.  I can't say my ice cream didn't have a bit of bitterness because my soul was ahurting for our midnight thievery.  Guilty on all counts, constable.

We had a surplus of blueberries from our local Aldi's and I have a new Cuisinart Ice Cream maker.  Farm meet function.  Ice cream sans eggs it is.
My friend had shared a Paula Deen magazine that had a blueberry ice cream recipe that looked delectable.  I amended the recipe slightly because I didn't want hard frozen single berries in my ice cream.  I heated them with the sugar, water and a bit of lemon juice to soften, mashed them with a potato masher and chilled them overnight.  The next day once the ice cream maker was cranking, I strained the blueberries (reserved the syrup) and added the blueberry mash.  The ice cream is a lovely violet color and the flavor is truly integrated.  No hard chunks.  Served the ice cream over lemon bars.  If I had mint, I would have gilded the lily, but it fine without any garnish other than a tiny drizzle of leftover berry syrup.

1 pint of fresh blueberries
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of water
juice of one lemon
zest of half lemon
1 cup of heavy whipping cream (chilled)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk (chilled)
1/4 tsp of salt
1 tsp of vanilla
2 cups of half and half (chilled)
Favorite lemon bar recipe (I cheated and used Krusteaz)
reserved blueberry syrup
Cuisinart Ice Cream maker, with the frozen insert and paddle

Wash and stem berries. Add to sauce pan with sugar/water, lemon juice and zest.  Heat gently til berries start to pop.
Mash with potato masher.  Chill overnight.
Prep Ice cream cylinder by washing and freezing at least 24 hours.
Strain berries and reserve liquid, separate from berries in refrigerator.
In a large chilled glass bowl, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks are formed.
Add chilled sweet condensed milk, beat again on high until peaks are formed.
Add half & half, vanilla and blend gently to combine.
Assemble ice cream maker.
The ice cream maker MUST be spinning before you add the ice cream mix.
Add milk mix to churning ice cream maker, allow the churn to process at least ten minutes, add the reserved crushed blueberries and continue to process for another 20 minutes.
Be careful there might be a more mix than can fit in the canister.  I reserved the extra creamy mix and will use it as a mix-in mascarpone cheese with instant coffee and Tia Maria for a tiramisu ice cream.....later, much later.  Since there are no eggs in the ice cream mix, I feel it is safe to keep the cream mixture.
Pack the ice cream in an air tight container and put in deep freeze  to cure and harden for three hours.
Will keep a month in deep freeze, if you are lucky.
Dessert time, cut a square of lemon bar, top with scoop of blueberry ice cream and drizzle with blueberry syrup.