Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Space Cadet

On a brisk evening, fifty years ago today, the skies around Cape Canaveral were lit up by a trail of fire coming from a Juno I lifting body (a modified Jupiter-C, which was a modified Redstone MRBM, which was, of course, a modified German V-2). The rocket was boosting aloft Explorer I, the first US satellite successfully launched into orbit. It wasn't much, but it did discover the Van Allen radiation belts and usher in the space age.

So what does this have to do with a food blog? About 16 hours earlier, in the obstetrics ward of Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY, Mrs. Eleanor Gordon Harris was ending a long labor and giving birth to a future cook: moi!

My family bought me many excellent presents, including a Ratatouille calender, a talking Remy, a stuffed Remy and a neat t-shirt. Now where did I leave my teeth . . . . .

Monday, January 28, 2008

Soup For Your Soul(mate)

Tom Yum Goong is spelled many ways, too many to keep track of (Dtom yum Gkoong is Kasma Loha-unchit's variation on the spelling - I assume it is the most phonetically correct). But that doesn't matter because it is one my favorite soups on the planet.

To me soup is a nearly perfect food; nourishing, warming, comforting, and great for almost any occasion. The origin of the word restaurant is found in restaurer, to restore, originally a hearty, flavorful soup to restore ones vigor.

My favorite soups are usually those which are identified with a certain place on the map, and which in a way identify a culture – at least in my mind. They are simple peasant blends that are wonderful, though many can be gussied up like a tart for the big city folks. Minestrone for Italy; Barley Broth symbolizes Scotland; Avgolémono evokes Greece; Onion Soup Gratinée – France, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Oh, and don’t forget the special soup of my own ranks of chosen people: Good Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls! I haven’t yet tried Czernina, the Polish Duck Blood Soup, but I’d bet a well made one would do the same.

Tom Yum Goong is the perfect evocation of Thailand. I don’t think I can be accused of hyperbole to describe this national soup of Thailand as the perfect balance of hot, sour salty and sweet, just hot and intense enough to make one giggle with a pleasure.

That’s why I am married.

During the beginning of our official courtship (the unofficial part lasted 14 years) we ate a meal at a great local spot called Saigon Bangkok. We were there for the lunch specials, which include Tom Yum Gai - the variation with chicken instead of shrimp. The soup made us giggle so bad we could hardly talk. We were married not long after.

So, I make it a point to make Tom Yum Goong at least once a year. It warms our hearts and our souls. While I have made a pseudo Tom Yum with other, more readily available ingredients, the best results come from getting as close as you can to traditional. Being a whack job, what you see in the first photo is a pot of lemongrass that stays inside in winter and outside in summer. It started from a stalk I bought at Wegmans. I stuck the leftover one in water and it rooted. You can get Kaffir Lime Leaves fresh there at times, but I used dried, and bumped it up with some fresh lime zest.

I tend to start off treating this unusually, as more of a tisane than a soup - steeping the lemongrass and lime leaves to extract the flavors, then removing them ( yes, I know, educated eaters know not to eat them, but it's just easier).

So, then I float in the rest of the flavors, and at the last minute I add just enough shrimp for dinner a (reheated shrimp taste like erasers - I prefer to add more shrimp when reheating).

The result - delightful!!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's Not About the Garnish!

Choucroute garnie, the dish described as "the symbol of Alsace" by Larousse Gastronomique, is one of our favorite dishes for a cold winter night. A large platter of sauerkraut, seasoned with Juniper Berries, Peppercorns, Cloves, and in my case Caraway simmered with an Alsatian Riesling and topped with assorted sausages and other meats. Aromatic and quite special. I started out with a trip to one of Buffalo's hidden gems - Spar's European Sausage on Amherst Street The photo of the meats shows across the back a pair each of their Knockwurst, Nurnberger Bratwurst, Spicy Smoked Bavarian and Bockwurst sausages. Next to that is a Ham Hock from Tops and some diced Canadian Bacon of my own creation. I rounded it out with some Hartmann's sausage from Wegmans - a pair of Weisswurst and a pair of Smoked Nuclear sausage. Oh, and two Sahlen's hot dogs. This is Buffalo after all.

The wines were an Alsatian Riesling and a Gewürztraminer - ostensibly to find which worked better. In practice we saved the Gewürz for another time.

David Rosengarten had a great commentary about choucroute which gets to the heart of the matter - "Remember: choucroute is about sauerkraut, not the meats that top it". For this batch I bought Rosoff, which many had suggested was most like the stuff they used to get from the barrel at the deli. I found it salty and lacking in tang. Next time I go back to Strub's from Canada.

Still the finished dish came out well, if not perfect, served with whole grain mustard and a glass of good wine!

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Bells of January

Ahh, the annual arrival of Honeybells from our landlord in Florida. Technically a Tangelo, this particular variety is a cross between a Dancy Tangerine and Duncan Grapefruit. It is sweet as can be, and juicy as heck. But, the best part is that I dry the peels for a variety of culinary uses - especially Tangerine Beef!

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another Reason to Avoid Fast Food (and other eat-out burgers).

The Rochester Meat Company (that's Minnisota, not my birthplace down the Thruway) is voluntarily recalling 188,000 pounds of ground beef. That 23,033,888 pounds of bad meat recalled in the last six months.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fun With Meat

Bob delGrosso did a post last week about a bacon air freshener. But nobody does meat novelty items like Archie McPhee!

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

But, can he cook?

Obama Endorsed by Culinary Workers Union

What are his favorite foods? Michelle's?

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Cooking with Kids I - Pretzel Logic

Cooking with your kids is one of the greatest joys of being a parent. Maybe one of the greatest joys of being a cook It can be as simple as making the Ginger Ale you see at right, (1 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp. yeast, juice of one lemon, water to fill. Keep in a warm place for a day or so.) or something more complex.

I have a backlog of posts about such endeavors, which I will share, but the important thing is that cooking for strangers is an important part of being a cook, cooking for friends and family is more important. Cooking for your family is really good, but cooking with your family is the best (though they need to learn things like "behind you").

Below are some photos of the girls making soft pretzels. Were they shaped perfectly? No. But we had fun, and they tasted great!

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Why-a no chicken?

Leave it to Chico Marx to come up with the right quote.

Our annual New Year's in Hudson, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland), is a couple of days of great food, great drink and really great friends. It is also one of the two times a year I have the need to show off. I usually do something special from the field of charcuterie - a pate, a mousse, gravlax - things of that sort.

Since I have been making my way through Charcuterie, I decided it was time to revisit the galantine - something I hadn't made since my original foray through Jacques Pepin's La Technique 25 years ago. Except for the boning (in the case of Ruhlman and Polcyn skinning then boning), it is not difficult, just time consuming. That's the main reason I don't ha

I definitely wanted something better than a battery chicken, but I knew that getting something free range was unlikely with the kids home, so I headed to Dash's, a local smaller market. They advertise an all natural "Amish Chicken". I am pretty certain it's just a marketing ploy, but I thought I'd check it out. I didn't get very far on finding out what it was - I could see the damned pop-up thermometer from 5 feet away. Next to it was a "free farmed" all vegetable fed bird, so I decided to give it a try.

Imagine my surprise, when I unwrapped the bird, to find another of those damned pop-ups! They should be illegal! In fact, that caused, the only tear while removing the skin (luckily, Pepin's advice to use a piece of skin from elsewhere to patch the tear works quite well!). In brief, the process here is to remove the skin in one piece to use as a casing, the breasts as a garnish, the dark meat and some of the other trim to make a forcemeat, and the carcass and the rest of the trim to make a stock for poaching and in my case to make an aspic after poaching.

All went pretty well. I realized when sauteeing the breasts that there was too much meat, so I continued to cook one breast for lunch and split the other one. I also had way too much forcemeat (I measured precisely in grams, including the mushrooms and pistachios I added as extra garnish), but I think the extra might make an interesting filling for ravioli.

Since I haven't done this often, my skills at getting the casing smooth weren't perfect, but it was made with love. It was slowly poached on the stove top, though I think next time I'd use the oven for better temperature control. The last two photo show the galantine removed from the stock after being in the fridge overnight: the first still in the cheesecloth, and the second mostly unwrapped.

My game plan was to reduce the poaching liquid and clarify it for an aspic glaze. But, my wife came home and and asked what it looked like when I had shingles in '79. It was and the trip was postponed. So I had a choice, and decided to freeze it. I froze it right in the pan I poached it in, submerged in the poaching liquid. Bob delGrosso doesn't think I'll be happy with the result. I agree, but I had to try!

I'll let you know!

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New Year's Resolution

My New Year's Resolution is to return to blogging more often The holidays do sap your strength. I have a backlog of half started articles. I thought of pulling a 1984 stunt and adding them in where they should have been, but I'll skip that and just add them now. I hope you will enjoy!

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -