Sure, I’ll Spend My Money on That

During one one of our frequent shops at Whole Foods recently, I found myself in search of cashew butter as called for by a recipe I want to try out soon.  Perusing the nut butter aisle (or seed butter, whatever your pleasure) , I was both astounded and appalled to find offerings ranging from 5 – 20 dollars.

Yes, you read that right. . . a smallish-jar of $20 cashew butter (organic, raw, and friendly to small children of course) was staring at me in the face.

Obviously I’d chosen to shop at Whole Foods (“Whole Paycheck”) so higher priced groceries comes with the territory, but $20 on a small jar of cashew butter? Am I a person that spends $20 on a tiny jar of cashew butter?  $20 smackers for what should only be described as a vial of cashew butter?!  No way buddy, not happening. . .

But this post isn’t about cashew butter, it’s about why, after some thought, I’m actually okay with that $20 jar finding its way onto the shelf in the first place. We all have different priorities when grocery shopping. For some it might be sticking to a list, getting the most bang for your buck, or only buying brands you trust.  For me, if the packaging is well designed, or the food is made locally, you can count on it coming home with us with little regard to price.  I’m a complete sucker for a good looking label, creative typography, or the made in AZ insignia.  Proof:

For the love of design:

milk pickles kombucha

For the love of local:

brats olives peanut butter

So if you want to spend your hard earned money on cashew butter because you’re really into the design, it’s made in your hometown, or you just really want that jar for any other reason, who am I to judge?  I’ll happily pick up the $10 option to try in my recipe, because that’s sooo much better, right?  Shop on, friends.

How I Balance Out the Burgers

Bob's Burgers

Bob’s Burgers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog is our “love letter to food”, so it’s only right that from time to time we talk more about our attitudes and approaches to what “eating right” means. Plus, I’m sure some folks are wondering “how does he get away with reviewing burgers while she’s talking about homemade almond milks and #Whole30?”.  It’s a very fair question.

To that end, I’ve got a four-point plan that helps me enjoy getting my burg’ on without ruining my health.

Step 1.) Consistent Activity

I’ve detailed my broader goals for the year over on my personal blog, but in summation, I’ve been very intent this year on having a more active lifestyle.  In a given week I will do anywhere from 10 to sometimes 20 miles either biking or walking.  One of the main places where I’ve succeeded is in transit to/from school and work. Each workday I end up doing just under 4 miles round-trip, in addition to any extra I can get on the weekends or school days.

As with anything else, starting this as a “work-out plan” was not easy. That’s why I recommend adopting it as a lifestyle change instead. In fairness, living closer to work means that my distances are easily manageable, even in our ridiculous summers. That said, I’ve found that now my commute is a great time to clear my head, prepare my thoughts for the day, catch up on podcasts or presentations, or just enjoy the city setting and explore. All of this beats being “stuck in traffic” and then having to figure out where I’d squeeze in time for fitness.

Step 2.) Lots of Vegetables

Lets be frank, even when a burger is made from great, fresh, local, whole ingredients, there’s still something missing from the affair. As much as it might break some hearts to admit, potatoes don’t really count as a vegetable if you’re also eating a starch-filled bun and slathering them both in ketchup.

When I’m not chowing down on tasty meat sandwiches and sharing my thoughts with you, I like to clean out my body and my conscience with a big, leafy salad. On the times we cook at home, the meal plan always includes plenty of fresh vegetables, making sure we get nourished, not just full.

Step 3.) Hydrate!

Living in the desert this should be pretty obvious, but getting enough water is crucial. Add on the fat, salt, etc that come part and parcel with your typical cheeseburger and there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be helped on its way out of my body. True, the best partner for most burgers is a good beer, so go for it. Then follow-up with plenty of water and avoid that weighed-down feeling later in the day.

Step 4.) Eat for Intent; Not a Reward

This may be one of the founding tenets for our entire blog. Eating because we’re bored, tired, lazy…all bad reasons and all things we can fall victim to too often. In some ways, by knowing that I want to have some great burgers in my future makes it easier to side-step the various junk that assails us each day. I don’t like to think about it as a restriction; I’m a grown man, I’m allowed to eat whatever I want. But do I really want to eat whatever is available, whatever is easy, or would I rather skip past that and splurge on what I’ll really enjoy? Easier said than done some days, but that’s when it’s time to put in some extra miles on the bike and start back at Step 1.

Phoenix Burgers | The Stand The Standard Burger

Image courtesy of thestandbnt.com

The Stand is a relative newcomer to my burger lexicon. I only “discovered” the place within the last 6 months, after being invited to brunch at Crudo nearby. Since my first visit, though, I have been thrilled by both the product and the pride exhibited at this place.

The Meat

The Stand promises that their beef is ground fresh daily, never frozen, and you can really taste the difference this makes. A double patty of meaty goodness delivering flavor punches to your mouth bits, this burger is consistently well seasoned and is a solid match of everything else that comes with it.

Sidenote: there may be a opportunity here for someone to put on their lab coat and figure out the flavor science behind a double patty versus a thicker restaurant-style single. 

The Bun

The bun that The Standard comes on is unassuming. The golden dome shown in the picture above it pretty realistic. As with the Double Charburger, this is one that you don’t want to unwrap until you’re down to those last few delicious bites. The bread here does a good job of adding that pillowy texture to pair against the pop of the toppings and the savoriness of the meat, and that’s about it.

The Toppings

I always go no pickles, and usually no tomato on a burger (umami? pfft!), which leaves us with lettuce, onion and stand-sauce. On a few occasions I’ve gotten the bacon as well, and it was well worth it as an added dimension to the sandwich, but certainly not necessary for an enjoyable eating experience. Between the freshness of the produce and the texture from the grill, there is plenty of crunch in this burger.

The cheese does it’s job here; it’s noticeable but not overwhelming as in our discussion of the Double Charburger. You get that creamy texture at the top of your palate that pairs excellently with the seasoned beef  and that’s all it needs to do.

The mystery ingredient here is the “stand sauce”. In honesty, I’ve never gotten one that was so saucy (thank you) that I could dip a fry in there and figure out what it was made of.  I may have to twist someone’s arm to let me break it down. I know it’s not thousand island, because that’d pretty much be my kryptonite (who liquified pickles?!)

The Stand Hecho En Arcadia

Nothing says terroir like being proud of the community you serve.

Bonus Points

Major Bonus Point 1: Kick-Ass Tacos & Shakes.

Major Bonus Point 2: They stand for something.  It’s right there on their menu board and on their Homepage.

No Preservatives / Trans Fat Free Oil, 100% Fresh Beef Ground Daily In House, Tender Chicken/ Hormone & Antibiotic Free, Stone Ground Corn Tortillas, Fresh Homemade Lemonades & Horchata, Fresh Vegetables (Local When Available), 100% Cholesterol Free / Gluten Free Rice Bran Oil, Hand-Spun REAL Ice Cream Milkshakes, Salsa / Guacamole Made Fresh Everyday

Ideal or not, I have to give a hearty high-five to any company that is proud to tout their guiding principles and make that promise to the customer up-front.

Major Bonus Points 3: They have a drive-thru. I know this isn’t an ideal delivery/plating method for a lot of the places I get burgers at, but this has definitely increased the number of times I’ve convinced Anie to say “ok, fine” when we didn’t know what to get for dinner.

TL;DR

A delicious burger from fresh ingredients with a well-balanced flavor that doesn’t need gimics to stand-out.  Get The Standard with cheese (bacon if your nasty*) and a shake.  If you’re really hungry, grab a short-rib or veggie taco, too.

If you’re anything like me, this is a place you’ll be coming back to.

* as in Rhythm Nation, not actually nasty

Whole30 | Homemade Almond Milk

Having never been a huge milk drinker outside of cereal, coffee, and the obvious cookie dunking, jumping on the almond milk bandwagon a few years ago was easy.  I like the way it tastes, and it’s a “healthy” choice, so there ya go, right?!

During whole30, dairy is a no-go and every single variety of almond milk sold at every single store had something in it making in non-compliant. Added sugar or cane juice, some sort of preservative to maintain shelf life, or other random lecithin /  thing I can’t pronounce.

While some brands are better than others, after making almond milk at home, I don’t think I’ll buy it again. It is SO EASY, and tastes better than off the shelf.  There are thousands of recipes for almond milk that all pretty much come down to this:

almond milk

  • Soak your almonds in water overnight.  The ratio of water to almonds for soaking is basically enough to have them covered by an inch or 2, and I usually soak all my almonds bought in bulk at the same time and then keep them in the freezer for quick use (once drained, obvs). The soaking is technically optional, but helps make the almonds friendlier to digest.
  • Drain almonds and discard the water.
  • Blend a ratio of 1 cup soaked almonds to 4 cups filtered water. Depending on the quality of your blender this might only take a minute or 2.  My blender is pretty crap, so it usually takes me closer to 4 minutes.
  • Options. Some recipes suggest adding a pinch of salt, pitted date, and/or vanilla to the blender.  This is completely optional and based on preference.  For milk I know I’m using in coffee I sometimes add 2-3 dates to make it sweeter.  For milk I plan on using in recipes I usually skip the add-ins. Definitely play around with it to see what you like.
  • Strain the milk. Using a nut milk bag, fine mesh sieve, cheese cloth, or even a thin dish towel strain the milk into a bowl or jar separating it from the solid almond meal.  Put some muscle into it and squeeze the solid bits to get out as much milk as you can.
  • Keep & enjoy. Storing in an air tight jar in the fridge, I’ve had my almond milk keep for 5-6 days, though it rarely lasts that long.  It does separate and takes a good shake between uses.

Let us know if you try it and what you think!  It’s not quite as economical as buying almond milk at the store, but it’s worth it to me getting to control the ingredients.  I’ve yet to use the almond meal for other recipes but my new favorite cookbook, Against All Grain, has some suggestions I plan on trying.

PS – I just bought this nut milk bag, and it’s changed the game, I’d definitely recommend it.

Tempe Burgers | The Chuckbox The Big One

Special Edition: As mentioned in my recent post on the Best Burgers in Phoenix, I’ll be checking out some of the best burger spots in town and sharing my notes on their signature offerings.  The Chuckbox is not actually in Phoenix, but rather just north of ASU Main Campus in nearby Tempe, AZ. Therefore, this entry should be considered supplemental or bonus burgs, not strictly a contender for the Phoenix Burgers title.

I came into The Chuckbox after having received several recommendations from other ASU students that I wasn’t a real Sun Devil until I’d been here (as well as a couple other places, including Four Peaks). On this particular visit, I was accompanied by my brother, who’d been going to the Tempe campus for years and suggested we grab some burgers between classes.

Upon arrival my brother immediately knew his order: Double Big One with American cheese and bacon. I was intrigued by the Tijuana Torpedo, but thought I’d stick with something more traditional for easier comparison to some of the other burgers I’m reviewing.

The Meat

The Big One is a thin 1/3 pound burger, grilled over an open flame right in front of you. When cooked, the thin patty seems to only come well-done, and probably closer to a 1/4 pounder. Lightly seasoned, the burger had what I can only describe as a “traditional” flavor; though well-grilled and light on the grease, there wasn’t a lot of beef taste coming through.

The Bun

As soon as I began my order, my bun was placed on the plancha to start getting that nice, crisp texture that supports the condiments. An above-average sesame bun overall, the only problem I saw is that each side of the bun is much thicker than the fully cooked meat patty, making the flavor balance more reliant on the condiments, or probably inspiring you to get a Double Big One instead.

The Toppings

The Big One comes without any frills other than your choice of cheese (pepper jack FTW) and/or bacon. The bacon comes out of the reach-in already shaped into thin discs. The shape certainly seems handy for making sure you get even bacon distribution, but looked a little thin for my taste.

The rest of the toppings are served up from the chuck wagon-shaped toppings bar. I went the traditional mayo, lettuce, ketchup route, skipping the raw white onion, mustard, pickle and tomato also available.

Bonus Points

The fries were well executed, thoroughly cooked but not burnt and just fat enough to get a good dip.  The onion rings and zucchini also looked spot-on.

TL;DR

In all, The Big One seemed best described as a well-executed backyard burger.  No faults in any of the components, good for a quick lunch bite, but nothing I’d consider a trip specifically to get.

Quick Bites | London Town

Once upon a time, a normal Phoenix gal received a work opportunity to live in London for a year. These are the types of chances that come around once in a lifetime and the experience was not to be missed. Armed with blank pages in a brand new passport, she set off across the pond. . .

It’s been 3 years and 1 month since moving back to Phoenix, and in honor of being back in Blighty for a short stop today and tomorrow, these are the London eats I still daydream about:

1. Bake-a-Boo Tea Shop:  this darling spot near Hampstead Heath is a perfect stop with some lady friends after a stroll in the park.  You’ll want to book afternoon tea in advance, and leave the fellas at home for this girly treat. The scones and clotted cream were my favorite.

bake-a-boo 2

Bake-a-boo 1

2. Kazan: A Turkish restaurant near the Victoria station with a lemonade so good you’d sell your granny for it.  I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ever ordered at Kazan from their steak to the rose and pistachio ice cream.

kazan lemonade{source}

3. Al-Dar II: This hole in the wall Lebanese restaurant on King’s Road is AMAZING in my book, though online reviews seem to disagree.  I took several visitors here after being introduced to it by a long-time London dweller.  Order one of everything and share, the food is fantastic even if the service is lacking (which is usually is).

{source}

4. Leon: With several locations throughout London, Leon became a quick favorite for lunch and dinner.  The Moroccan meatballs are Gordon Ramsey endorsed, and I liked it so much I bought their cook book!

Leon meatballs{source}

5. Breads Etc: Including this Clapham spot in a blog I share with Ryan is going to be controversial.  We attempted to go there no less than 3 times when he was visiting and each time we missed out (they’re closed on Mondays and bank holidays).  The claim to fame here is a DIY toast situation. . . you can cut off pieces of freshly baked bread (several varieties) and there are toasters at every table + an assortment of jams, butters, curds, and more.  It’s absolutely killer! Since it was on the high street in my neighborhood I ate here no less than once a month, but even for visitors it’s worth the trek to SE4.  (ps – cash only)

breats etc{source}

6. Borough Market: this renowned food market is an obvious one to not be missed. There are countless stalls and purveyors with every genre of food you can imagine.  It’s a great place to get lost and just wander around.  I’ve always had the best time going with a friend and an appetite. . . you can justify trying way more when you’re sharing.

meat pies at the market{source}

In fairness to the amazing food capital that is London Town, I feel compelled to say that obviously this list is in no way, shape, or form, comprehensive (it doesn’t even talk about curries! or fish and chips!). These are just my top food memories, most of which I made sure to partake in over and over while living there.

The Scavenge | Summer Squash Sauté

This one is actually a The Scavenge/In Season combo, as Summer Squash are officially headed out of season here in Arizona, and I’m sure they’re already harder to find (locally grown at least) in many parts of North America.

The scene: Saturday night at home after a day full of errands
The complications: No set meal plan for the night and we were going out of town the next day.

I thought I could lay this one at the feet of Chow Locally and say that I had to use up a hodge-podge of ingredients before they expired / before we got our next box, but as I drafted this post I realized that these were also fresh local produce we’d purchased at the store ourselves. This means that their fate ending up in this edition of The Scavenge is due to our own cooking not matching our shopping list, etc. Nonetheless, we had good vegetables available and needed a good side dish for dinner.

I cannot call this a ratatouille because there were no tomatoes involved, and I actually think I prefer the way this dish stayed light and seasonal because there was no added body/broth.

The main for the night was a bunless turkey burger with bacon (Yes, healthy it up with turkey burgers so you can put some bacon on it!), so I wanted something that counter-acted any potential dryness from meat and also had a mild but tasty flavor profile.

Summer Squash Saute

  • Yellow & Green Summer Squash (precise variety unknown)
  • Haricots Verts
  • Mushrooms
  • Yellow Bell Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Red Chili Flakes

Boil the green beans separately to ensure uniform doneness and get that rich green color going. Sliced and somewhat-cubed the squash, julienned the bell pepper and sliced the mushrooms. Begin sautéing everything but the haricots verts in a large pan with just a dash of olive oil. Once the squash starts to really soften up, add in the green beans and season to taste.  I went with red chili flakes and a bit of California chili powder, both of which played well with the last-of-the-season summer squash. You may end up adding more oil as the squash exchanges fluids and sheds it’s bitterness, be careful with the oil and heat to not unwillingly transform the mushrooms.

Whole30 | Newbie

During the month of August, I decided to do a round of Whole30. I’d been feeling a bit off track with weight loss and overall wellbeing since coming back from our 2 week EAT-ALL-THE-THINGS-IN-EUROPE bender, and was looking for a reset of sorts. After hearing really good things about the Whole30 program, I ordered the book and jumped in on August 1st:

whole30 rules

There are countless resources online, even without reading It Starts With Food, so I’ll skip the bit about explaining the program, science behind it*, and multiple [not strictly weight loss related] benefits, to share why it was the right thing for me. I’ve done a lot of reading, watching, and learning about eating well over the last 15 months and what works and doesn’t work for our lifestyle. Counting calories and tracking everything I eat and drink has never been successful for me long term.

What does work, and just clicks, is eating things we KNOW to be good for us, without question. Real whole foods and ingredients, nothing I can’t pronounce, no processed crap, and avoiding the sugar laden junk that fills our supermarkets and passes for a meal. Yes, this means I really only shop at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and our local farmer’s markets / butcher. Yes, our grocery bill is very high. Yes, I buy organic when I can and the treatment and wellbeing of the animals I eat is a very big deal to me. I read labels like a fiend and am borderline hippy when it comes to filling our pantry and fridge. No, I’m never perfect, and I have a big sweet tooth that I give into often. BUT, all that to say, the Whole30 program was pretty in line with the general philosophy I’ve adopted on food overall, and I was excited to get strict and give it a shot.

So, how’d it go?

  1. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, the restrictions are very hard, the 30 days are extremely challenging, and the lack of cheese broke my heart.
  2. The most difficult part for me was the convenience factor. It’s a big time commitment to cook (or at least assemble) every meal, bring my lunch to work each day, carry approved snacks everywhere, and plan ahead / meal prep. Grabbing food on the go and eating out are pretty tough.
  3. I relied heavily on homemade almond milk, eggs, sweet potatoes, homemade dressings/sauces, guacamole/avocado on everything, Lara bars (not all flavors are approved – read your labels), and trying new recipes.
  4. It was important to not get bored with eating too much of the same thing. IE – eggs were had scrambled, hard-boiled, deviled, and in the form of frittatas.
  5. Day 1 was easy – I was on a motivational high. Day 2-4 brought out a bad attitude and a few headaches, the first weekend I was not pleasant to be around . . . sorry, Ryan.
  6. The first two weeks were pretty up and down, I felt GREAT / I hated life / everything was AMAZING / give me the BREAD, etc. Luckily my competitive side never even considered a slip up or cheat to be an option, not even when no one was looking.
  7. After the 2 week mark, things started to jive, and I felt consistently good. I had a lot of energy, was sleeping well, clothes fit nicely, and I was eating and trying new things to keep it interesting.
  8. By day 17 I was all:
    2L2Q
  9. Come day 25-30 and I was sold.
  10. I would without question or hesitation recommend Whole30 to anyone for a multitude of health benefits and to really have an effect on your relationship with food.

The results?

During the 30 days, you’re not supposed to weigh yourself or measure anything, I thought this was going to be hard but it was actually liberating to not have to check in and worry about a number on a scale. In the end, I lost 9 lbs over 30 days. I regret very much not taking measurements before starting, but I did take mirror snapshots with my phone and can definitely see a physical difference in my stomach and sides. I’m confident in saying the inches lost likely rivaled the pounds lost.

Now what?

On the 31st day, friends said “let there be s’mores and wine,” and it was good. While I indulged over the holiday weekend, I’m not letting the deliciousness that is gouda trump everything I’ve just experienced. I’m still on a Whole30 high, and going to ride it on out for another two-ish weeks abiding by the program rules until an upcoming trip. In the meantime, I plan to figure out what life after Whole30 looks like day-to-day for me. Any advice? Fellow Whole30 friends, what are you doing now? I do know, that I plan on another round of Whole30 in the future, and hope I can get the fella to join with me next time.

 

*If you’re genuinely interested in the program, while all resources are free online, the book is a REALLY good read. The “science-y” parts really put into perspective how food effects our body, hormones, and health. Knowing the facts behind why diet changes have the effects they do is what really helps make everything click for me.

Phoenix Burgers | The Habit Double Charburger

Looks at all that cheese and onions ready to attack. I promise there's a burger in there somewhere. Looks at all that cheese and onions ready to attack. I promise there’s a burger in there somewhere.

The Habit’s Double Charburger is unique among the various Phoenix Burgers I’ll be profiling in this series.  Not only is it the first individual post I’m writing, it is also the only burger on this list that comes from a chain. Normally I wouldn’t consider such an offering eligible for inclusion. What chain could offer as good an experience as a great local burger shop? How could you endorse something that doesn’t actively support the local community? These are good points, with which I normally agree, however, my experience with the staff at The Habit on McDowell has always been extremely positive, matching all but my most favorite local businesses. For this reason, the spectacular service they provide, I have included them here. Plus they also make a damn fine signature burger.

The Meat

It’s called a Charburger for a reason. I’m not sure precisely how big the patty starts out as*, but what you get in the end is a thin, but juicy burger that’s been flame-grilled to produce a beautiful “char” flavor on the exterior without losing any delicious beef taste from the center. For my taste, the double is always the way to go, giving that optimal beefy taste instead of a mouth full of bread and sauces.

* I presume 1/4 pound but the math in their nutritional facts doesn’t really add up

The Bun

The breading used at The Habit is somewhat nondescript, but accomplishes it’s core tasks. Toasted on the plancha itself before receiving the juicy, gooey beef/cheese combo, the bread provides a little pop of crunch. However, the bun alone cannot contain everything that is packed into a Double Charburger with Cheese, so it’s imperative that you leave the burger wrapped up and only expose the portion you plan to bite off immediately. Like the untamed beast that it is, no mere bun could contain what’s about to be unleashed, so practice safe burg’ing and keep the wrapper on.

The Toppings

The typical Charburger comes with your classic toppings, lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickles, onions and ketchup. I always tell them to hold the pickles and tomato, though I’m sure there are many many people who don’t mind the umami taste these elements bring to the precedings. I’ve tried some of their seasonal/promotional variants, with avocado or green chiles, or served on a lettuce wrap instead of a bun; none of which lived up to the standard set by the Double Charburger with Cheese. Now, on to the good parts!

Oooooh dang that cheese! Truly, whatever Flavor Scientist perfected this sandwich deep within the vaults of The Habits Mad Burger Science Lair hit upon the ultimate binder of all things delicious here. In actuality, if the meat itself weren’t packing that deep, rich char flavor, this sandwich would more closely resemble a unique grilled cheese than a cheese burger.  The last one I ate had molten cheese and diced grilled onions spilling over the edges, acting as a vanguard for the taste invasion that was about to happen to my mouth.

There is a small danger here, aside from the coronary implications if you eat this burger too frequently, you may also develop a case of flavor fatigue.  While researching for this post, I went to The Habit for lunch on a Friday, then returned for a quick dinner on Tuesday and was less pleased by my second burger that week. I cannot be certain if it was a less-than-expected execution on the grill, or some other factor, but that second time the amount of cheese and onion flavor dominated my palate, and I ended up leaving a few bites behind out of dissatisfaction. As such, I recommend The Habit as a great once in a while place, but not sure I could put it in a regular rotation.

TL;DR

The Habit’s Double Charburger is a flavor-packed take on the classic burger shop approach. No frills, just solid execution on tried-and-true ingredients with great service and excellent results. As with all things, approach in moderation and enjoy.