When women were women, men were men, and a double hamburger meant Bob’s Big Boy

Bob’s Big Boy

I have no idea why that title makes sense, but it does. A brief nostalgic waxing from an old, L.A.-raised boomer…me.

This is not about women or men and how their images, roles, or clothing compared to the good old days.  Nor about the accepted androgyny of today.  Hell, no – it’s about a hamburger – a Bob’s Big Boy hamburger!

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I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention a staple found at Bob’s Big Boy not on the menu: the car hops.

At our BBB in Canoga Park in the 60’s, the car lot was behind the restaurant, covered like a car port, and sporting menu  stands just outside each car’s window…kind of like Sonic today.  But instead of an intercom to place your orders, there was a plethora of what seemed like cloned car hops cavorting too and fro on rollers skates!  Yes, roller skates – and carrying full trays of food to boot! They would take your order in person, then deliver it to your car window with the precarious skills of a juggler…hanging the tray on (usually) the driver’s side window. That was a regular dinner scenario with the Hansen Family.  Of course, you could go inside if you wanted, but we really enjoyed the in-car dining.  Besides, no dress up required.  Thus, the popularity of the “drive-in”.

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Back to the Big Boy Hamburger. This particular incarnation of a self-proclaimed American icon began modestly in the late 30’s and flourished through the 70’s. Bob’s Big Boy…the old, time-honored version of how we oldsters remember BBB.

Sure, all things change with time, especially prices. The Big Boy Hamburger –  two patties of freshly ground beef on a sesame seed toasted 3-piece bun, with shredded lettuce, American cheese, and topped with a special relish-like dressing, set you back 45 cents in the 60’s! If you splurged (like most of us did) you got the Bob’s Big Boy Combination Plate that included the double burger, french fries, and hearts of lettuce salad with either BBB’s 1000 Island or Blue Cheese dressing…75 cents.  Of course, if you wanted a beverage you had to cough up another 15 cents. Check out some of the other menu items and prices that included a modest breakfast menu as well…milk shakes for 30 cents, hot fudge sundaes for 35 cents, pies, sandwiches, and several other standard diner items.  A true diner menu, from which Bob’s Big Boy was born.

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A  quick thanks to one of my high school “buddies” (Canoga Park High Class of ’67) Bari Bentley, she posted this BBB diner photo recently and it jogged my memory as one of the places from my childhood that still provides fond memories.

We all had our favorite “hang out” places – this was one of ours.  Ours meaning we, us, classmates from CPHS.

The oldest, original design Bob’s Big Boy is in Burbank, at the east end of the my beloved, iconic San Fernando Valley –  I grew up in the west end, Canoga Park.

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Today, one might say, “It’s just an old hamburger joint”.  But to us…it was THE hamburger joint.

Makin’ Bacon

In the past 12 months, I’ve gotten up close and personal with a few slabs of pork belly.  I think it was a year or so ago I simply braised it for a few hours. The result:  eh, so so. This time around, I went the distance with this most misunderstood part of the pig.   Misunderstood as when Loretta heard I was shipping in some P.B. and her comment was, “I ain’t eating no pork belly”, thinking it was something akin to some sort of organ meat. Then, when I did show her how it looks like bacon, raw bacon, she was a bit more willing. After braising it for hours to a rich, fatty tenderness…still, no dice.  She didn’t fancy it. This morning, I sliced up some pork belly in the form of home made Applewood Smoked Maple Bourbon and voila! My little picky eater is now a fan!  And so am I.

Preparing raw pork belly is only slightly more difficult than actually finding the stuff when you live in a podunk, hillbilly town like mine. Our scarce butchers in this berg (perhaps 3 or 4) just shake their heads and roll their eyes. Supermarket meat department “kids” just stare at you with a bewildered look. I’ve had to order it online.  I think the last slab was from Homestead Farms.  There are several similar vendors who sell Berkshire and Kubota pork and, yes, pork belly. It comes frozen inside a large, white styrofoam cooler. The more you buy the cheaper you can get it. Regardless of the quantity, it is not super cheap.  Demand and food trends have driven up the price just like whole brisket – sometimes $20 a pound not counting shipping.  I got mine for about $10 a pound, two 20 pound slabs skin on.  So, yeah, a bit more waste with the skin thing. I chose to remove the skin before curing and then smoking. If you buy it this way, it comes with teats! Just ignore them when you are removing the skin. My son Jimmy got me a brand new Shun Santoku knife that comes razor frigging sharp.  I only cut my finger once, and that just by grabbing the blade lightly. Needless to say, buy it skinless if you don’t want to deal with precise cutlery handling.  In fact, just spend a little extra on store-bought bacon if you don’t think this whole pork belly rigamarole is worth the effort. If that’s the case, it kind goes with one chef’s comment to me about making your own pasta, “If it’s too much of a hassle, then you don’t get it” – referring to the joy of cooking mentality not everyone possesses.

So, in a nutshell, here’s what I did with the first 22 pound side of pork belly. After thawing it out under running water in a large roasting pan (Even doubled over, it barely fit in the pan) in the bathtub. I cut the whole thing in half to make it easier to work with.  Skinned it then cut it into several 2 pound slabs. Then, it was dry-cured for 7 days, each piece in a ziplock freezer bag. For the cure, I used Kosher salt, pink curing salt, fresh ground pepper, brown sugar, and bay leaves.

It’s important after curing to fully rinse off all the salt and spices before smoking – do this under cool, running water. Completely pat dry the pieces. Pink curing salt is nitrite died pink so you don’t confuse it with regular salt. A very small quantity (a teaspoon) ingested straight could be fatal they say.  So, measure meat versus curing salt proportions correctly, then, again, rinse thoroughly have curing.

I use a Traeger smoker without a cold smoking attachment – Applewood was my choice of wood. Place directly on the grate and just leave on the ‘smoke’ setting for a few hours.  I spray it with bourbon every hour or so. Bump up the heat to about 180 for another couple hours or until the inside temperature is about 150. Brush it with pure maple syrup and bourbon at this point. Depending on the thickness of the slabs you’re looking at about 5 or 6 hours total. Remove from the smoker, lay the pieces on sheet pan with a grate, place in the cooler overnight.

It’s ready to cook!  And make sure you cook it, it’s still raw like bacon when you buy it. Slice it like bacon and cook it in a pan.  You can keep this in the fridge for about a week or seal it up well (I use Food Saver Bags) and freeze for a few months.

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I have a good 20 pounds or so of pork belly in the freezer. I will probably braise some then try my hand at making pancetta, which is basically taking the pork belly after curing, rinse, dry, roll, and hang up somewhere for a week or so. I’ll let you know how that goes.

By the way – I know you “get it”  ’cause you’re reading this!  Thanks.

Trying to make sense of it all

The conversation went like this. “Skip?” “Yes?” “This is Kim.  Kris died last night”.

Kim is my youngest sister. Kris was the middle child. It’s been two days since I received that news and it still doesn’t make any sense. She apparently passed away in her sleep – we don’t know why yet. She was 61. Do things like this ever make any sense?

Although we were never extremely close as siblings, we always seemed to be able to connect. We had many things in common. I think we had as many things not in common as well. That made for interesting conversations at times. We always seemed to work it out.

Kris was an artist. She had that eye for decorating, drawing, painting, and even sculpting. Her dream of making a living as a graphic artist never came to fruition – money, kids, life got in the way. She used to self-address some of her written correspondence to me as, “Kris, Admired Artist”. In the end, that’s all she really wanted…to be admired, well-thought-of, and accepted.

There really is nothing I can say in these few words to fully describe Kristine and do her justice.  I loved her dearly. She was truly a unique, caring, and compassionate individual.

In recent years, her health had been deteriorating to the point where she could not do a lot of the things she used to love doing: camping, boating, travel, even painting.  There was just too much pain. Her and I had numerous conversations about how life almost never turns out like you expect it to. “This is not how I imagined it would be at this age!” Of course, that was one of the things we had in common – life unrequited, goals not met, no fate. Our commiseration in this area was fuel for moving on. We’d say, “What the fuck happened to us?”, then laugh a little. “Oh, well”, we would say to one another, “life sucks and then you die!”. I just never realized ends would come so sudden, without warning.

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There is no making sense of losing a loved one.  In this case, there is no answer to the question, “Why?”.

Needless to say, we will all miss my sister Kristine Rae Hansen Munro very much. Let’s all try not to forget Kris and her rich personality, sense of humor, artistic ways, and caring attitude.  Kris – Admired Person.

With love, her brother, Skip

Beef Stew

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I made my beef stew recipe the other day for the first time since last winter.  It was a rainy Sunday and Loretta just piped up in the middle of playing one her computer games and said, “Make beef stew!”  So, I made beef stew. My recipe is kind of a hybrid beef stew/bourguignon (red wine, more onions, garlic). This version serves about 4 people or, like us, 2 people and welcome leftovers the next day. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

1 pound well-marbled chuck trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, I always use canola

Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper

2 medium garlic gloves, minced

2 cups yellow onion, 1 inch chop

2 tablespoons bourbon or sherry

1/2 cup red wine, I used Merlot

2 medium carrots, 1/4 inch slice

3 cups beef stock

1 cup diced tomatoes

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon ground coriander, fresh ground if possible

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 pound cremini or white mushrooms, cut into 1 inch pieces if necessary

2 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cut into1 inch cubes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, 3 tablespoons flour for roux

Fresh parsley for garnish

Directions

Heat oil in a large pot.  Salt and pepper meat, brown in oil thoroughly on all sides.  Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally, season with salt and pepper.  Add garlic and cook for another minute or so (don’t let the garlic burn). Add bourbon to deglaze pan. Add stock, tomatoes, thyme sprigs, and coriander. Cover partially and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until beef is tender.

Saute mushrooms in butter until slightly browned. Add mushrooms and potatoes to stew, partially cover and cook another 45 minutes.

Make a roux with the flour and butter.  Bring stew to boil and add roux, stirring until thickened. Lower heat and cook further until it reaches your desire of thickness.  Adjust seasoning. Serve in large bowls and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

The amounts of meat, vegetables, and liquid is entirely up to you.  I prefer more liquid than some recipes. You can substitute turnips for the potatoes.  Serve over large egg noodles if desired. We always have garlic bread with it, and, of course, a glass of red wine.

I always suggest using fresh ground pepper, kosher salt, and fresh herbs – just saying’! Please, never use bouillon cubes.  Use those boxes of stock not broth.  Or, I prefer the Knorr stock in those little plastic containers.  This way, you can make it as concentrated as you wish.