I have just returned from a week in Las Vegas. Sin City. Gambling Capital of America. Crowded, noisy, a trifle on the grungy side, too much neon, too much spandex.
Home of the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
There is, perhaps, no greater evil threatening America. The words all-you-can-eat bring out the worst in people. How so? Thank you for asking.
First, the eating all you can part. I have watched friends push away half-eaten plates of pasta, steak, well, anything, at fancy restaurants where they were shelling out three-figures for dinner. Comments like, “oh, I couldn’t eat another bite”, and “it’s just so much food”, and “it’s so rich” echoed across the table. I watch with amazement as some of these same folk belly-up to the steam table for their third and fourth load of deep-fried, cream sauce laden, over-cooked mediocre slabs of unidentifiable victuals. “I’m gonna get my money’s worth!” seems the cry of the day.
I myself was guilty of consuming a stack of three chicken-fried steaks with biscuits and sausage gravy at breakfast one morning. That was, of course, after the pancakes, fruit, yogurt, bacon… oh, and save room for dessert at the end. Dessert? At breakfast? Oh, why not, a slab of apple pie is just fruit, right? So much for last month’s anti-cholesterol efforts… thank god I’m only in Vegas for a few days.
Second, woe betide anyone who gets in the way of one of those spandex clad neon-phytes enroute to the mound of recently thawed shrimp cocktail. When I went up for my first dozen they had just put out a basin the size of a small bathtub mounded a foot high with the pink and white critters. By the time I’d reached the end of the steam table there were scraps left and two hefty visitors were slashing at each other with tongs for rights to claim the last few. I was passed by a gentleman who had two dinner plates heaped as high as he could with crustacea.
A few years ago in May, I hosted a dinner on Mothers’ Day. The old adage always was that the best thing you could get mother on that day was a reservation somewhere. In my family, the budget tended towards take-out and fast food. So, for that dinner, I reinterpreted a collection of classic take-out fast foods – and made ‘em all you can eat style. It was a simple parody of culinary gems from Taco Bell, Arby’s, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s.
With apologies to Micky D’s for stealing their obviously trademarked, registered, copyrighted, servicemarked, and probably patented McMuffin name, I present the modern, updated, and actually probably decent for you, Mushroom McMuffin.
4 large biscuits, english muffins, crumpets, or something similar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
4 portobello mushrooms of roughly equal diameter to the biscuits
1 cup of chicken stock
¼ pound of asiago cheese
4 quail eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
I’m not going to tell you how to make the biscuits. Use your favorite recipe, buy the Pillsbury ones in a tube, pick up a pack of Thomas’ – it’s all good.
Combine the garlic and olive oil and let sit for a few minutes. Split open the biscuits and brush with the oil mixture. Toast in a warm oven until they are just lightly golden.
Meanwhile, separate the mushroom caps from their stems. Take the stems, chop them coarsely, add to the stock in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until liquid is reduced by half. Strain, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Season the mushroom caps with salt and pepper and saute in olive oil (you could also grill these if you have a grill) until they are soft, lightly browned, and smell wonderful.
In shallow bowls place the bottom of each biscuit. Top with the mushroom caps, then carefully crack open the quail eggs and top each cap with one (uncooked). Shave asiago cheese over the whole thing, add a little more salt and pepper, and lightly spoon the mushroom reduction sauce around each. Eat. Oh, you should have made more…
I matched this dish with a slightly off-dry Vouvray, a Chenin blanc based white wine from the Loire Valley. It was a delightful combination, and the whole thing somehow seemed better than an Egg McMuffin and burned coffee.
I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.