Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blessed Saint Julia

Netflix delivered Vol. 1 of The French Chef today. I am watching The Potato Show now! Woo Hoo!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Photo You Never Thought You'd See

Bourdain and Ray-Ray from the Palm Beach Post.

What am I

I got an e-mail from Bob del Grosso this morning, asking me if I'd ever seen a kitchen implement like this. Our friend Tyrone is a cook on a hospital ship and found it in the galley. I have never seen anything like it.

It has a double set of fork-like tines and the u-shaped doohicky on the bottom. That doohicky did remind me of an antique carving fork I have. It is pictured below. It has a pivoting piece between the handle and the tines that serves as a rest or stand - I wonder the u thing does the same?

Any ideas?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Happy is said to be the family which can eat onions together. -- Charles Dudley Warner

Call it French Onion Soup or Soupe à L’Oignon Gratinée, it is simply a great soup - perfect for a meal on a cold winter night. I have written of my love of soups before, and I am sure I will again, but this soup has a special place in my heart, because it is always my example when discussing the topic of the recipes.

I have been blessed in the past six months to receive three wonderful cooking related books, each of which discusses the concept of a recipe. First, Jacques Pepin's Chez Jacques, a lengthy but elegant dissertation on the recipe, including the observation that: A recipe is a teaching tool, a point of departure. Then there is Michael Ruhlman's brief but equally elegant observation that "Recipes are not assembly manuals." Finally, the is the delightful John Thorne, who opined that "Matt takes a recipe as being instructions for making a dish, where, as often as not, its nuts-and-bolts aspect (which some might say is its only aspect) rarely holds my attention."

These writers sum up my feelings on a variety of levels. The bottom line for me is that a "recipe" is someone's opinion. Here is where Onion Soup comes in - if a recipe were more than simply someone's opinion, there would only be one recipe for French Onion Soup. It's a great example of the variations that can occur; from simplicity to gussying the concept up like a tart.

So, before we get to my opinions, let's deal with some facts and some conjecture. The facts, or at least as we know them. Onions are an ancient food. They were most certainly eaten in their wild form, and have likely been domesticated for more than 5000 years. References exist in ancient times from China, Sumeria and Mesopotamia. Soups made of onion are documented as far back as the Roman Empire.

Onions and radishes were fed to my forefathers as they built the pyramids, and rubbed on Gladiators for strength. By the Middle Ages the main foodstuffs were beans, cabbage and Onions - no mention of meat, fish or fowl. So, while onions were enjoyed by the upper classes, they also remained a inexpensive food for the lowest of the low.

That leads to my conjecture: despite the legends about the various Kings Louis of France, this had its origins as a peasant dish - a way to use up stale bread and readily available onions. That's why I eschew ingredients such as veal stock, champagne or fine cognac.

Here is where opinion comes in. The five basic ingredients of French Onion Soup are: the liquid, the onions, the cheese, the bread and the flavorings. Let's start with the liquid. Most likely the available liquid would have been either the cooking liquid from a previous meal or just water. I have made good ones with water, acceptable ones with canned low-sodium chicken stock (sorry Ruhlman) and barely passable, but edible ones with soup base. For myself, I generally prefer an unassuming homemade beef or chicken stock. In this case I used turkey stock made from the Thanksgiving carcass.

The onions: Many recommend sweet onions such as Vidalia or Maui's. Pooh on them! As many authorities, particularly Russ Parsons, have pointed out, the difference in sugar content between Vidalia type onions and other harsher onions is minimal. The real difference is that sweet onions have less of the sulfur compounds than other, sharper onions. During cooking, these sulfur compounds cook off. Parsons even suggests that the sweet onions are less sweet after cooking than regular onions. So, at about a third of the cost, I'll take yellow storage onions.

The cheese: Usually recommended are Gruyère and Emmenthaler - both are excellent choices. But, in my effort to be frugal in the manner of a peasant housewife I must admit that deli provolone makes a decent topping. I will say that my favorite is also my favorite swiss style cheese: Jarlsberg. I love its nuttiness, and it makes a great Reuben. The main thing to remember is that it is onion soup garnished with cheese, not the other way around.

The bread: It has to be good white bread - no Wonder Bread - but it doesn't have to be expensive artisanal bread. I almost always have homemade, but most supermarkets have decent bread these days from baguettes to wider Italian type loaves (no seeds please). The important thing is that the bread get stale in a day or two. You can dry it in the oven at low temp to finish the job, but don't toast it. I have great results with either straight dough or sourdough.

The flavorings: Salt and Pepper. I have used some thyme on occasion, but found it unnecessary. As to liquids, I usually deglaze with a higher acid white such as Sauvignon Blanc. Cognac as a finisher just seems wrong, but a decent not-too-expensive California Brandy works for what I want.

That's my opinion!

A final note: There are no photos of those beautiful mahogany onions after slowly cooking. The camera needed recharging at a most inconvenient time!

Just Wondering?

Yes, I know it's two different agencies, but why does it seem that we spend more time worrying about the safety of imported foods than we do about domestic. Campaign contributions?

He was robbed!

How could anyone, in good conscience, choose Daniel Day-Lewis over Remy?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Martha eats Emeril

I don't even know where to go with this!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Mother of All Beef Recalls

Well, following the under cover videos, and the closure of the plant, the USDA has a week or two later ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of meat from the Westland/Hallmark abattoirs. Of course most of that meat has already been eaten . . .

If you are counting, that's 166,033,888 pounds of beef recalled since I started this blog! Grind your own frakking burger!

Friday, February 15, 2008

When it works, it works

OK, some have asked what it's like when the girls do cooperate on dumpling making. It may not be pretty but it is fun!

Here we have both Spring Rolls and dumplings:

Close to Home

As I have traveled around, over the years, I have realized that Western New York has some of the best supermarkets in the world. Both Tops and Wegmans are great, but I have to give the edge to Wegmans. Yeah I am a homer. Wegmans was born in Rochester, as I was. My sister worked checkout there, and my brother Steve and I both worked at a Lums franchise owned by Wegmans.

But this is too close to home. It's not just any Wegmans - it's MY Wegmans. It's the one that carries Kaffir Lime Leaves (labeled Kieffer lime leaves, they must be there only 24 hours), unusual mushrooms, a great selection of cheeses and a reliable source of PG Tips tea.

Wegmans did everything right. When they found out the employee had Hep A, the sent him home, notified the County Health Department and used shoppers club cards to track those who may have purchased contaminated goods, and they tossed anything that might have been contaminated.

On the other hand this did not show an actual case of contamination, which would be most likely to happen when a infected employee dosen't thoroughly wash after using the potty. So how do I respond to those who insist that produce workers wear gloves.

My first objection to gloves has always been that I don't think workers, culinary and otherwise, pay enough attention to sanitation when they're gloved. The second doesn't apply here - on the hot line I have had too many gloves fused to my flesh at the end of the night.

So, what do you think?

I Heart You!

Nothing says I love you like the gift of bread crumbs. Yep, my Schmoopie gave me Panko! Since we just bought a couple of bottles of Zipang Sparkling Sake, I think there may be something like Tonkatsu in the near future.

Dinner was, of course, the traditional heart shaped meatloaf (served with banana ketchup in homage to Fredi , roasted potatoes, asparagus and peas, all washed down with a Mionetto "Il" Prosecco Rosso.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cooking with Kids II - The Goof Offs

One of the things you have to accept about cooking with kids, is that from time to time they are not going to be on the same page. Such was the case for our belated Chinese New Year celebration,d we had our next door neighbor Lucy over for help. I suppose that was the problem - Lucy was the only one really interested. The others were goofing off, so I had to disappoint Lucy in order to get dinner on the table. A simple stir-fry of pork, red pepper, dried black mushrooms, etc. with longevity noodles.

I'd like to claim the potsticker dumplings. I am good at them, but not that good. These were made by the skilled hands of Mrs. Du. She is a neighbor who came over from China last fall - I am pretty sure her only word of English is "hello". Her grandson Kevin has been in the same class as Alison since Kindergarten. Yes, in times of trouble we often ask ourselves - what would Kevin Du? The dumplings were great!!!!!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Friday, February 8, 2008

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cow Torture Doesn't Pay - Or does it?

So the USDA shut down Hallmark Meat Packing In Chino, CA after hidden video showed "torture tactics" to get downed cows to get up and join the slaughter line. The so called downers are prohibited from being used for human food as they have a greater incidence of Mad Cow disease.

This occurred despite the presence of eight USDA inspectors on site.

Money quote: "Now, in the wake of the video's release and the agency's response, food industry
insiders are questioning just how reliable the USDA's inspection process is."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Cook's Birthday Card

The card from my kid sister Lynda made Trish and me cry, and the one from our friend Reenie in Columbus had us laughing out loud, but the one from our friends Susan and Brian in suburban Cleveland is sheer perfection!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Out to Sea

Well, Thursday night was a simple Buffalo style hot dog dinner - quite nice. The weather screwed up my after birthday "Tapas" party on Friday - the power was out most of the day. But we did uncork the Galantine I made for New Year's and froze. I'm sure there were aspects that deteriorated in its stay in the freezer, but it tasted quite good.

But my real treat was a meal I had long looked forward to - a dinner alone with my wife at the recently opened Sea Bar. Don't worry - I promised not to do restaurant reviews and I am not about to start now, but nothing stops me from mentioning a venue that did something special.

Many might consider Buffalo a culinary wasteland. They would be wrong. Western New York and Southern Ontario have plenty of good food and great cooks. But, in my humble opinion the best of the best is Mike Andrzejewski. Mike has been part of the restaurant scene in Buffalo for over 30 years, starting as a busboy, and working his way to be chef at some of the area's finest eateries: including Rue Franklin, Warren's and Oliver's. He's done several events at the Beard House in NYC.

It would be presumptuous of me to claim to be Mike's friend, but the camaraderie of the culinary world at least allows me to be more than just a mere acquaintance. I first met Mike at a "Taste of the Nation" event for SOS at the Adam's Mark in 2000. Mike was happily going from station to station with jello shots - treating even a line cook with respect.

The second time was also a fund raiser. Mike was about to open his own restaurant, Tsunami, but took the time with his partner to assist at a fund raiser for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, featuring Buffalo's own Alfred Portale. It was this event that shaped my culinary future in a couple of ways, not the least of which was Mike insisting to one of my owners that he was "Just a Cook". That has been my Mantra since.

In the fall of 2002, shortly before Fredi opened with me as chief cook and bottle washer, Trish and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary at Tsunami. Fred arranged for the champagne, Mike dazzled me with his cooking.

In August 2oo5, Mike was riding his cycle home from Tsunami when he wiped out. He spent some time in ECMC (a place I know well from my 1994 fire), and lost his leg. A lot of local cooks helped out to keep the restaurant afloat, though he ultimately let it go.
But, in the interim, with medical bills rising, some of those same cooks arranged a benefit dinner at Kleinhans Music Hall. My part was minimal, I got some local restaurants to cough up gift certificates, but I did attend as a paying customer, with Trish, Fred and Maggie. I saw many old friends, and had great eats. I didn't get a chance to talk to Mike much (his mouth was full when I got to him) but he seemed overwhelmed by the turnout - more than twice what was expected.

Last spring we found out Mike was teaching at the culinary arts program at ECC. He and his students put on a luncheon for the public which Trish and I attended with Fred. It was a lovely time, and also when I found out about the potential of working on Vine Dining - the magazine which is to come. Through work on the proto-mag, I heard that Mike was opening Sea Bar, but I didn't have a chance to get there until this past weekend.

The dining experience? Wonderful. Mike even comped us our first taste of Sparkling Sake - a delight. Sure, there can be a wait - no reservations - but it's the kind of food worth waiting for (and if you bring a cell phone, you can wait at the bar of the Trattoria Aroma next door).

My only regret: if there were ever a cook who should have an omikase offering on the menu it is Mike! I would love to just let him "do us" in the culinary sense. The place was packed, so he probably doesn't need this, but Good Luck Mike!

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

Life's too short to eat bad food -