Monday, September 28, 2015

The Tucson Homekillet celebrates the 2015 Greek Fest!

I've lived in Tucson now for a better part of a decade and only one of those years did we miss the annual Greek Festival at St. Demetrios church on Ft. Lowell and Mountain. And why did we miss that one year? Because everyone had to miss it. There was a huge fire in 2013 from their chapel (a candle fell over and it went up in seconds) destroying a good portion of the art and charring the inside to a deep coal black. It was really sad. In fact, the area was condemned and we couldn't even go near the place. Sucked. 

Luckily the Greek Fest was back up the next year and for that we owe a big gratitude to supporters and volunteers that made it happen. 

See, for us, the Greek Fest means the end of summer (and living in the Sonoran desert, this is a good thing), the onset of the holidays and the one time we get to suck down Ouzo in mass quantities. It also means a time to eat until the wrinkles in your toga are worked out. So many amazing Greek cuisine options to choose from and the 2015 festival was one of the best. 

I'm not going to bore you with a big story, or an interview, because if you've been to the Greek Fest you know what goes on there. So I'm just going to let a few pictures I took tell the story here. 

And thanks to the nice people that let me get behind the scenes and take photos. You guys rock and the lamb shank was crazy delicious. 


A beautiful afternoon for a Greek Fest!

First things first though...

Ouzo and Mythos, once a year I can handle this stuff...

OPA! Flaming cheese better known as saganaki. So good.

This picture doesn't do the sizzling awesomeness that is saganaki...

Always a crowd, always packed...

Frying up some loukoumades...

Think of a very light donut hole dipped in honey. Yum.

Working that line, keep the plates moving...

Souvlaki about to go down!

Like heaven on a stick...

They go fast though...

Another satisfied customer.

Acres of delicious sweets.

All you need is a comfy chair, some coffee and you're set.

Dancers getting down on the main stage...

Some young volunteers cooling off by the ice troughs of soda and water.

Gotta keep moving because the line never lets up...

Plating up pure amazingness...

Pitas pitas everywhere!

Grill 'em all! Jump in the fire!

Spanakopita all day man...

This guy is about to go for it...

Day before the eclipse, a huge moon looms over the festival...

Had a blast. See you next year!

Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Late September, 2015

Metal Influence:

(Ok...not exactly "Metal" get the idea. Thanks...)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pueblo Vida Brewery: Local kids tapping great beer and downtown success

For those that either know or don't know, I really don't get to downtown Tucson very often. It's like, I'm not against the whole downtown saturation thing with the hipster spots, "you just have to try this" dishes, locally famous chefs perfectly cooking eggs and putting them on, well, everything and the rotten parking - I'm just more of a, well, everywhere else in Tucson kind of guy. I think the Tucson Homeskillet is great like that; let's find the bits and bobs of neighborhood funk that you might have missed as you were driving towards Congress street to eat a ten dollar slice of pizza. 

That's ten bucks...a slice

But when I heard local kids done good behind Pueblo Vida brewing finally found a spot nestled between an abandoned store front and popular cafe, I sighed deeply, I gently rolled my eyes and proclaimed, "Oh, okay. Let's go downtown. I guess..."

If you aren't looking you might miss it...

The first time I heard about Pueblo Vida was through my better half. She-Ra told me that some young upstarts were sitting at her bar, talking about opening up a brewery and seemed like they knew what they were doing and she liked what they were saying. Then they stopped coming to her bar on a regular basis only to find out that they successfully opened in a cozy spot downtown Tucson on Broadway.

Good for them but She-Ra rather missed them sitting there and discussing their beer brewing dreams and aspirations.

Some of the beers on tap at their tasting room

"The concept of Pueblo Vida when Kyle and I graduated from U of A," said general manager Linette Antillon, speaking about her and brew master Kyle Jefferson on a warm mid week afternoon in their brewery. "We graduated during a time when no one was hiring, so it was up to us to create our future. Kyle was raised in Washington state where craft beer is abundant and introduced me to different beer styles I didn’t even realize existed. Within a year we had moved our lives to the Seattle area where Kyle started an internship at Lazy Boy Brewing and was able to learn the commercial microbrewery business. The idea was always to come back to Tucson to start our brewery, which is our home. Also, we saw a big need for more breweries here that we could fill  because when we left there were only three breweries in Tucson. It took us about 5 years from idea concept to doors opening, and worth the entire ride."

Fresh and beautiful IPA, perfectly poured...

When I finally had a chance to sample one of their foamy masterpieces at a local festival, a golden hued IPA called their Northwest, I knew that Tucson had something special on tap. It was a perfect pint of beer, this coming from a certified IPA nut. It was citrus-y with a great hop/malt balance and then I knew I was hooked. 

Hops, hops and more hops!

It was at that moment of sipping a fantastic frosty glass of ale that I knew I had to feature these kids on the Tucson Homeskillet. It''s the least I can do.

Brewing up some glorious-ness...

"Kyle is the microbrew enthusiast", notes Linette as a flight of beer samples is being poured for me.  "He started home brewing in college from a kit his father gave him during a holiday present. He had grown up with craft beer, instead of the yellow fizz most of America was drinking, in his parent’s fridge. He felt he could create a product that people would enjoy and introduce people to beer styles that they might not normally find. For me, it was about creating a place that was comfortable and inviting for people to come in and enjoy that beer."

Line 'em up! I'll knock 'em down...

And created something grand is just what they did. The brew pub itself is snug  with a definite warm atmosphere to it. Think of that awesome uncle you only get to visit once a year, the one who always has the best board games and named his BBQ the 'Grillenium Falcon'; this would be a larger scale of his hangout basement, the one where he let you sip his home brew when your folks were trying to talk to grandma on the land line at Thanksgiving.

Beer keg, you my only friend...

I then had a sip of their Bavarian Hefeweizen and, wow, let me tell you - how they managed to get such a handle on clove notes then have it finish up with a distinct banana flavor is beyond me. And I don't like fruit beers. But this isn't a fruit beer. It's....something else. 

It's amazing is what it is. 

A plastic cauldron filled with bubbling sorcery

When I asked about why the decided to open up downtown, Linette chimed in with "Tucson is home to Kyle and I, this is where we met and where we want to create our life. We love the community here! Downtown was important to us when we were looking for a location. It was a time when downtown was actually becoming a downtown and we really wanted to be a part in shaping what it would become."

That feeling you get when you realize you still have all that beer to drink!

Fair enough. For me, like I mentioned earlier, I'm not much of a downtown guy. I like to explore the further reaches of Tucson in search of the weird and wild to eat and drink. In just a few short years, the downtown area has been flushed with hip spots to eat and drink. Too much almost. With this kind of heavy concentration of like-minded businesses in such a tight area, I just hope Pueblo Vida doesn't get snuffed or passed by. 

Then after drinking their Breakfast Stout, I knew that would not be an option. A mad delicious creamy compliment of coffee and dark chocolate with an easy clean finish is what almost pushed me over the edge with beer soaked glee. Unreal.

Let's see. Yes...I'll take the lot!

"Pueblo Vida is always buzzing with activity," informs Linette upon the day in the life of the brewery.  "Brew days start at about 6-7 a.m. and a typical brew day lasts about eight hours. The tasting room is open seven days a week, so the place only ever stops for a few hours every night. When the brewing crew (Kyle and his assistant brewer LJ) aren’t brewing they are out delivering kegs, washing kegs, etc. We have a staff of 6 or more with Kyle and I that keep the place running."

Oh, I can definitely 'handle' this...

As the new rail car zoomed by and typical traffic on Broadway beeped and screeched, I had a sample of the Belgian Saison. First to grab the tongue was a distinct lemon zest zing with some spice such as coriander on the flavor caboose. It was nice and dry but not too dry and as the world spun outside their front entrance doors in the white heat sun, all I could do was smile wide as the heady beer fuzzies you get from consuming real craft ale began to take hold. 

All was right in my world that moment...

Alone in the keg room, this is how I want to die...

It then occurred to me that I have had Pueblo Vida beer, outside of the tasting room here and that random festival. Yeah, while waiting for tacos at BK (again, not Burger King for those outside of the 520 area code) I had their Arizona Common, which was like a Corona if Corona gave a crap and grew mas cajones and was like your badass big sister who would beat up the bullies that sullied your face then watched Bruce Lee movies with you till the ouchies went away. 

When the food arrived I kind of didn't care. I wanted another round. But when She-Ra texted "Where you at...I want TACOS!" I knew I had to high tail it out of there and promise to return another day for another pint. 

I call this "Landscape of Oh Hellz Yeah!"

"We have a few beers we brew consistently," says Linette when I ask about their 'signature' beers they produce and are in demand.  "I'd say the Bavarian Hefeweizen, Northwest IPA, and a stout (American Stout in the winter & Breakfast Stout the rest of the year) are always in the mix . We started out with these three to offer people a variety and they were very well received so we’ve kept brewing them. We do keep about four other seasonal beers on tap that constantly rotate and are in demand."

Growlers and trophies; everyone is a winner!

It was here that I spotted an award for Best IPA in Show and just had to have another sample. She poured a half pint of the Double IPA and my knees buckled along with my taste buds after sipping it. It was so crazy juicy with a distinct piney conclusion that all I could do was agree with every judge on that panel, even if this wasn't the IPA that garnered them a trophy. It didn't matter.

I was too blissful to even ask. 

So many locations, so little time...

When I told her about discovering Pueblo Vida beer at BK, Linette then informed me about all of the other places you can find their handiwork. 

"We have about 20 accounts we are currently delivering to," she said. "We only really deliver the Bavarian Hefeweizen but we do have a few accounts we give rotating seasonal beers to. Some of our clients include Proper, Diablo Burger, Roadhouse Cinemas, Frog & Firkin’, Saguaro Corners, Ermanos, Tap & Bottle and the list is growing all the time."

Its cold in the walk-in, but this image is like a warm hug...

"The highs?", muses Linette when I ask her about the ups and downs of operating a microbrew in Tucson. "It’s a fun industry, I mean we sell beer! The community has been amazing to us and welcomed us with open arms, for which we can’t be thankful enough! It’s been amazing and we can’t wait to continue serving this amazing community in such a wonderful industry. 

"The lows...I would have to say is that we can’t brew enough beer fast enough. We have had to turn down accounts, ones in which we would love to have our beer in, because we can’t keep up with our current size. It's frustrating but we can only handle so much right now."

Um, yes please!

As the beer flight was all but consumed and my head was swimming in a golden hued euphoria, I just had to know what is in store for Pueblo Vida in the immediate future. 

"We are currently expanding into the space next door," points Linette to the adjoined empty store front. "It will give us a bit more room for brewing and some more seating, both of which we really need. We will also be adding a private room to host small private parties of about ten to fifteen people and a very small barrel room to start our barrel aging program. We recently purchased barrels from Hamilton Distillers and are excited about aging some beer in those fragrant whiskey barrels. 

"Mostly though, our plans for the future is to keep creating great craft beer that people can enjoy!"

Nothing sadder than an empty...oh wait! There's another one behind you...

Enjoy is such a small word as I exited into the bustling street outside of the sequestered beer haven I was privy to the last hour or so. Relish, maybe is a good adjective. Cherish, perhaps? Adore, even?

Thing is, the kids at Pueblo Vida know what they are doing and are doing it correctly and for that I applaud their efforts and their beer brewing point of view. Now, I've had my fill of amazing microbrew beers (trust me here!) but the Pueblo Vida creations I was lucky to have drank on their premises and while waiting for tacos was some of the best I have quaffed in quite some time. I am confident your experience will be the same. 

So get yourself to their location downtown or at any of the fine establishments they are featured in across the Old Pueblo and see for yourself. 

Or drink for yourself. You know what I mean...


Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Mid September, 2015

Metal Influence:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Tucson Homeskillet presents: Portobello Mushroom "Deep Dish" Pizzas!

So the idea of making "pizzas" out of Portobello mushrooms isn't all that revolutionary, in fact it's been going on for quite some time seeing as it is a fun concept with tasty results, but lately readers and followers of mine have been asking for my personal recipe for them. Here's the thing: 

I don't have a recipe. 

You don't need one. Really. If you know the basics of cooking and can assemble a simple pizza then there isn't a need for directions. Just go for it. In the newly found immortality of a screaming Shia LaBeouf, "Just DO IT!"

So for this notion of the mushroom pizza, here's what I had on hand and used for the demo here:

  • Large Portobello Mushroom
  • Homemade Red Sauce
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Salami
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Dried Parsley
That's it. Super simple. But simplicity is what makes this so delicious because with a fresh Portobello and quality ingredients, what you have on your plate is sheer yummy bliss. And since this is technically a "deep dish" pizza, I always have to eat it with a knife and fork. In the future I'll get to work on a New York style pizza, but, for now, Chicago rules. 

Okay. Let's do this shall we?

First up, set your oven to 400 degrees. (You all in Europe, figure out the Celsius to Fahrenheit ratio because....I don't know. I'm from California. For years I thought Bangers and Mash was a cop show...)

I like to use our toaster oven to make these because the heat ratio here equals proper cooking

Next, get yourself a grand Portobello mushroom.

Not too sure what that creff is on the stem but...I just bought it this morning, so...?

Take the stem off yo.


Get yourself a hearty spoon with a pointy edge, cuz we about to dig here son.

Feel free to play Soundgarden's "Spoonman" while doing this...

Dig out all the bloofy ribs and mesh. Be sure to even out the bottom of the mushroom so this cooks correctly. Like, make yourself a perfect lil' mushroom bowl. See what I'm saying?

The best cooking is messy cooking...

Luckily for us, basil just grows like mad in our garden. Thanks to Native Seeds we've been growing southwestern herbs from seed and the results are (usually) pure magic. So I plucked a good looking bunch for this pizza.

I wish this website had Smell-O-Vison, because, fragrant.

Group up the leaves as such because we about to chiffonade here kid.

All nestled, about to get chopped up...

Then roll the basil into a tight little green cigar. You want it as firm as possible because it helps when you cut to make even ribbons.

Sorta looks like I caught some weird green bug or something...

Now get out a good sharp knife and start slicing the basil into little strips. If you don't know how to chiffonade, check out this VIDEO.

I still have some knife skills. Sorta...

Next, get yourself some garlic.

Hello garlic my old friend...

I usually get my garlic from Sleeping Frog Farms when they're at one of the various farmers markets I go to. Their ajo rojo variety just kills for pure garlicky awesomeness.

A thing of beauty....I hate to crush you.

Then, with the flat of a wide knife, smash the bulb a bit and remove the papery skin.

I like to use my "Rocker" knife for this stuff...

Then start dicing it up man. Tiny nibblets equals big flavor.


I had some salami from the Sausage Shop lying around so I thought I'd throw it into the mix.

Hoo doggies...

Again, like the basil, I thought it'd be fun to chiffonade this stuff too. Why not. I was feeling frisky. I'm a crazy man I tell you...a crazy man!

Salami tube: insert joke here.

And slice it up to make uniform deli meat streamers.


Now, I like to add some good olive oil and rub it all over the shell of the mushroom. For me, it adds a good flavor along with some color and texture when cooking. I've tried these mushroom pizzas without the olive oil and they're still tasty but...I prefer to use oil just because. I'm sure you have a preference. Of course you do, you're a free person to do what you want. Go nuts...see what works and what doesn't.

Oil it up...

Since I am a bona fide pasta and pizza freak, I always have some homemade red sauce handy. It can be doctored up for each dish that you prepare and this variety I made a few weeks ago has a bit of sweetness to it, so I thought it'd be perfect for these pizzas.

Want the recipe? Hit me up...

"Great on veggies". I just noticed that. Funny. It's funny...

Now for the fun part...let's make our pizzas!

Here's how I like to do it. 

First, slather the base of your mushroom bowl with the sauce.

If I can use the word 'slather' at any cost, it proves to be a good day...

Then, get yourself some bomb azz mozzarella cheese.

No endorsements here, not yet anyway. But I'm open to suggestions...

You can grate the cheese if you like but if you have real mozzarella in your reach, I always like to just tear it off and just plop it around wherever I like. It'll all melt evenly and perfectly in the end any way and, well, I just like playing with my food I suppose. 

Put a nice layer of cheese on the sauce along with some of the garlic. 

This is good to go right here. But, wait!, there's more...

Then pile on that salami of yours...or pepperoni, or capicola, or prosciutto, or pancetta, or sopressata, or...whatever. It's up to you. 

Remember: Go for it!

Yeah man...

Then on top of that, add more sauce, the rest of the garlic and the basil.

Holy crap...

And then, the final touch, add more mozzarella, the parmesan and I like to shake some dried parsley on for color. That's it. Just for color. Doesn't really add anything but a little dance for the eyes. I mean, it adds a like a little bit of flavor but...yeah, not really.

Check it.

If you're making a bunch of these in a big oven, I suggest making foil rings to place under the pizzas, this way they cook more evenly and leave less burn on the base of the mushroom. But since I usually use our handy toaster oven, I don't need to go this route. 

Again, it's up to you and with your trials and errors, you'll find the best method. 

They help, but, not a necessity.

Now, into the preheated oven it goes. Let's say, 20-25 minutes.

Ugh...can't wait.

You can smell the mushroom and meat cooking, you can hear the cheese sizzling and after a few! 

A perfect deep dish Portobello mushroom pizza. 

Freakin' delicious!

Now since we use a mushroom instead of dough, this dish could easily go vegan. My basic red sauce already is so substituting real mozzarella with vegan options and omitting the meat or adding other veggies like onions, peppers, squash, etc, could be just as crazy tasty. In fact, I know it is. Like I keep saying, it's up to you. 

Now that you know the basics, it's time to go mushroom deep dish pizza crazy. 

Have fun!


"Lil Poundcake. You want some Portobello mushroom deep dish pizza?"
"Why do you keep torturing me human? Is this made with kitty kibble and mice? No? Then no."

Camera, Typing and Cooking
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Mid September, 2015

Metal Influence
Judas Priest, "Eat Me Alive"