North Carolina: Crawfish Boil

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t spend every waking hour at a counter ordering burgers and fries or sitting in the drive-thru line.  One of my favorite activities is being around the dinner table for extended periods of time. Who doesn’t love that?

Crawfish Boil

I spent a week in North Carolina recently, visiting my friend, Will, and his family.  Though they live in North Carolina, my hosts, the Benjamins, are originally from New Orleans.  In my honor, they had crawfish shipped up from the Bayou, and we had a Crawfish Boil.

Nothing could be further from Fast Food than a Crawfish Boil.  Hosing down and cleaning off the crawfish took me and Will at least 10 minutes.  You need a lot of time to bring a 25-gallon drum of water to a boil.  Once everything is cooked and drained, each crawfish needs to be broken open by hand to produce the meat.

For those who’ve never had one, there were around 20 pounds of crawfish in this boil.  Added to the mix, as you can see in the photo, were potatoes, lemons, and corn on the cob.  All of that is spiced with a “family recipe” of spices that the Benjamin family said they “might consider sharing with me one day.”  Other recipes, like Alton Brown’s, include cayenne pepper, coriander, paprika, and andouille sausage, just to give you an idea.

Family Time

All in all, we spent about three and a half hours at the table eating crawfish and drinking beer.  That, to me, is the essence of Slow Food, from beginning to end.

Many thanks to the Benjamin Family for their hospitality and for sharing a NOLA tradition with this Yank.  Who ‘Dat!

If you have any doubts regarding the North Carolina or Crawfish Boil you can contact us here.

Eurotrip: Old World Fast Food

My girlfriend, Carey, and I took a trip to London and Paris last month. Though our intent was to relax and step away from work, I couldn’t help but sample the local fast food. I did want to share this post so that when if anyone of you ever visits Europe must be aware of the difference in the taste of even the most popular franchises in the world.

Old World Fast Food

Popular Wisdom among those who have traveled to Europe says that their fast food is of a higher quality than ours.  Ultimately, I think that isn’t true.

SeriousEats.com ran posts on all of my European Fast Food adventures.  When I compared McDonald’s in France to France’s own chain, Quick, I found that the quality of the McDonald’s wasn’t substantially higher.  I came to the same conclusion while trying McDonald’s in the UK and Burger King in the UK. Only KFC in England tasted slightly better to me.

On average, European Fast Food comes at a much higher price, relatively speaking, to American fast food.  But, I didn’t see an enormous difference in quality.  There may be a slight edge to Europe, but it would be very, very slight.  I attribute the perceived difference in quality to the “grass is greener on the other side” effect. If you have more queries related to the Europe trip feel free to ask me here.

Behind the Column: Press trip to Denny’s HQ

Have you ever been to Spartanburg, South Carolina?  It’s a beautiful, little southern town, with a history that dates back to the Revolution.  Founded by Scots-Irish from the Appalachian Mountains, it was named after a regimen that fought for the colonies against the British.  The old days, though, have passed, and through quaint, Downtown Spartanburg’s main street is, well, odd.

Dennys HQ

The tallest building in town is Denny’s HQ, which looms over Main Street – their old business district – like a government monolith.  When you stand at the foot of the building, you notice that it’s made of granite and stone panels, not FBI/J. Edgar Hoover/Beltway concrete.  They have quite a nice park laid out at the food of their building, and the company is a major employer in the town.  It’s quite a nice place, actually, like a reverse Monet: horrifying from far away, but beautiful up close.

I learned all this on a trip to Spartanburg this past Mark.  The impetus for the journey was an invitation from Denny’s to a press event at their HQ to unveil Baconalia, a promotional celebration of Bacon that they launched in March.  I was more than happy to oblige, mostly because A) I had never been to Spartanburg, B) I love South Carolina, and C) I love Bacon.  It was a fun trip, which included meeting the guys from Mr. Baconpants, sampling the food straight out of Denny’s test kitchen, and hearing about the new product creation process at Denny’s.

We tried their four new menu items for Baconalia: Bacon Flapjacks, Bacon Meatloaf, BBBLT, and the Maple Bacon Ice Cream.  We also sampled the Peppered Bacon, which they’ve developed and then used to create three new Bacon and Egg platters: Pepper Bacon and Eggs, the Ultimate Bacon Breakfast, and the Triple Bacon Sampler.  Those were merely variations on a theme of Bacon, Hash Browns, and Eggs with the Peppered Bacon mixed in, so they explained that, and just had us sample the bacon.

As the pictures above show, their HQ food wasn’t dramatically different or better than the food that appears in actual restaurants.  As I write in my column on Serious Eats, I can never write critically about the food at a Press Event, because the audience will always be skeptical of the controlled environment, as well they should be.  Surprisingly, though, Denny’s was giving us a very real look at their food.  They put specially crafted an sculpted dishes out for us to photograph, with perfect sunny-side-up eggs, and what we ate was meticulously cooked in small portions.

Sadly, the whole of Baconalia was more of a “sprinkle fest” than anything else.  Though avant-garde in some respects, the dishes mostly were places that bacon pieces could be sprinkled: in pancake batter, onto ice cream, our layered on to a sandwich.  The Bacon meatloaf had pieces cooked into it, but the overall trend was variations with bacon, not new dishes.

If you like to travel around we at Sanrafaelswell, will now be posting famous locations around the globe.

About the Swell

The San Rafael Swell is a wonderfully unique kidney shaped geographical anticline on the Colorado Plateau in central Utah. The “Swell” is about 50 miles in length and 30 miles in width. Only one paved road crosses through the approximately 600,000 acres, Interstate 70. The East and West oriented freeway carry traffic directly through the center of the Swell, bisecting it into the Northern and Southern halves.

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The Northern half of the San Rafael Swell contains many unique features, much more than can be listed here. Buckhorn Wash, accessed by a graded dirt road passable for most vehicles, is a winding fairly narrow canyon bordered on both sides by towering sandstone cliffs. The Little Grand Canyon through which the San Rafael River runs, Cane Wash, Upper, and Lower Black Boxes, Mexican blend, Saddle Horse Canyon, Salt Wash, Black Dragon Canyon, North and South Coal Wash etc… Many of these sites are accessible by most two-wheel drive vehicles, all are spectacular and well worth the effort to visit.

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The Southern half of the Swell is adorned with no less stunning features. Along the San Rafael Reef, on the extreme southeastern edge, are numerous peaks separated by narrow slot canyons. Reds Canyon, Eardley Canyon, Eagle Canyon, Copper Globe, Temple Mountain, Devils Canyon and the Muddy Creek Drainage with its winding narrow canyons are among the many sites in this area.

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A place for fun and adventure

Utah has many popular tourist destinations but few of these are as near to the Wasatch front and as open for enjoyment as the San Rafael Swell. Two thousand square miles of narrow, circuitous canyons, scenic cliffs and towering buttes make up one of Utah’s best outdoor playgrounds. The “Swell” is particularly suited for many activities such as camping, hiking, biking, rock climbing, sightseeing, ORVs and even canoeing.

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This large geologic anticline is located between Castle Dale, Green River, Price and Hanksville. It began its formation 50 million years ago. Over time the sandstone has slowly been lifted and through erosion many cliffs and canyons have been carved. Enormous pressures from a deep basement fault have pushed Wingate and Navajo sandstone on the Eastern edge, the “San Rafael Reef,” near vertical.

Although some areas of the “Swell” are very remote, many wonderful sites are as available as stopping at a freeway rest stop. I-70 divides the “Swell” in half a Northern and a Southern section. There are good graveled roads that lead to Reds Canyon, Temple Mountain and Hidden Splendor in the South. In the North graded roads lead to Buckhorn Wash, Little Grand Canyon and Mexican Mountain. For the more adventurous sight seers there are much more difficult roads which take you even more stunning locations.