Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Be careful what you wish for . . .

You might get it! I have mentioned Andrew Z. Galarneau before, a writer for The Buffalo News often on the subject of food. He did a piece a few weeks ago about the best burger in Western New York. My favorite was number two in his rankings.

But, Andrew is also a blogger. He did a post after his article asking for input. After a mention of Grover's, the number two above, and a "homer" vote for Bill Grey's from my birthplace of Rochester, I suggested that the best burger in Buffalo was to be had off my backyard grill.

This is not self confidence - the worst e-coli bearing hockey pucks are best served off your own backyard grill with an audience of friends. But, what I didn't expect was getting invited to participate in the first annual Burger Smackdown between Andrew, me and Mike Andrzejewski - the best cook in Buffalo.

Now I am going to take them down - big time (no, I am sure I am going to get killed). But, the bottom line is that, wherever we sourced our beef, whatever ingredients we choose, ultimately this will be an event with friends - new and old - hanging out, having our kids running around, talking Bills and Sabres or the BPO.

My God, isn't that what food is supposed to be about?

Oh, Michael and Andrew - you are toast! (No really - I don't have a chance!)


Monday, April 28, 2008

A Dish To Start Your Day

"Henry's whip" is the house speciality at Beijing's Guolizhuang restaurant. It's a sheep's penis on a stick covered in mayonnaise, sweet cheese, served on a bed of lettuce.

Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I'm Published

Finally recipes of mine appear in print!

Non Food Post

I am 50 years old, and the movie is almost 40 - but Brian's Song still reduces me to tears. Of course they did eat pizza.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Food Crises Hits Home

This is one Jon Stewart hasn't covered yet. Amidst food riots, rationing at big box clubs, and a general uncertainty about the future, there is a Matzo shortage. The New York Times reports here. I know I have been scouring the area and have had no success. It wasn't until my brilliant and lovely wife decided to do a google search that we realized there really is a shortage.

I promised Ellie Matzo Brie for breakfast tomorrow - I just hope I have enough left . . . .

Home For Passover, Part Three - Chopped Liver

My favorite recipe for Chopped Liver is from Itzhak Perlman, via the Frugal Gourmet Jeff Smith (yes I still acknowledge him). My change is that I do the onions first. They are sauteed in schmaltz until a deep golden brown. The livers are likewise sauteed until barely pink in the center. When cool, I run them through the grinder attachment for the KitchenAid (I need a nickname for that honey) along with hard-cooked eggs and gribenes when I remember. Salt, pepper, cayenne and brandy are my usual seasonings. It lasted 'til Tuesday . . .

You're Gonna Need a Bigger Pot

Scientist have discovered that chickens are related to Tyrannosaurus Rex. Imagine the size of the matzo balls you'd need for that soup.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Home For Passover, Part Two - Schmaltz

No. Not Maltz, the Klingon officer serving with Commander Kruge on the Bird of Prey going after the Genesis Device -- Schmaltz, rendered Chicken Fat! I know people who cringe at that description as gross, while at the same time having a can of bacon drippings in their fridge. Hey, I have that too.

Schmaltz is liquid at room temperature, it often appeared in a syrup pitcher on the table at kosher delis. When refrigerated, it is semi-solid - a good substitute for those who cannot eat dairy products (like butter) with meat. It's also great as a cooking medium, for things like potatoes. (My Dr. is revoking my Lipitor scrip as I type this.)

Now some tell you to simply render the fat - with or without a covering of water (I prefer with) - but my memories are of schmaltz flavored with onion. A glance at my mother/grandmother's favorite book of Jewish cooking proved me right. But, unlike many, I don't like to cook my onion with the fat - it has a tendency to burn before the gribenes (think cracklings) are done. So I came up with this utterly anal way of making schmaltz.

I sweat the onions down and get them good and caramelized, I then deglaze the pan with water and strain out the solids. The essence of onions remaining is used to cover the fat and skin. Voila! Beautiful golden onion flavored schmaltz and crispy gribenes.

I used the schmaltz for the chopped liver, and as a schmear, but my favorite use is for breakfast. Yep, those are farm fresh eggs, the choice of home fries of hash browns are up to you!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Home For Passover, Part One - Chicken Soup

The Jewish holidays tend to bring out the traditionalist in me. It's not that I don't take a few liberties, but mostly I prepare things as my Grandmother did. Some of these choices will piss off purists, not to mention my personal physician, but I don't care. The last thing I want is the shade of Sadie Gordon erupting from the ground like Fruma Sarah. And frankly, the stuff tastes like the tastes I recall from childhood.

We start with chicken soup, the soul of Jewish cooking. Sadie was a child of the shtetl, and a mother during the depression. Her choices deserve some respect. They also have the benefit of working. Backs, necks and feet were fine by her but you also need meat for chicken soup for the holidays. She'd use a whole chicken. I prefer the meat from thighs and legs, and they were on sale last week at Niagara County Produce. More than that, the leg/thigh pieces weighed in at 1.25 pounds a piece. Considering that most battery chickens weigh in at 3.5 to 4 pounds there was only one conclusion -- stewing hens!

I bought 1/2 dozen, three of which I left the skin on. My grandma insisted that this added flavor. So, I covered them by about 1 inch with water, brought them slowly to a simmer, and skimmed off the coagulated proteins rising to the top. When that phase ended, I added the vegetables. This is where the purist's heads will explode.

I peel veggies when making traditional stocks, but not for this. Heck, the experts cannot agree on whether the freshest stuff is better for stocks, or old and tired stuff. Some suggest that there are good nutrients near the skin. In my broke, college days I used to collect the skins of onions, peels of carrots and celery tops in the freezer for use in stocks. In this case it just works.

The veggies are scrubbed thoroughly with my Marvin the Martian vegetable brush. In addition to the usual mirepoix parsnips are added in an amount relatively equal to the carrots. The soup does a slow, SLOW, simmer for 1 1/2 hours at which time the chicken is extracted, the meat removed and the scraps and bones returned to the pot for another hour of simmering.

Some of the reserved meat will be returned to the final soup, and some used for chicken salad. The stock is strained and de-fatted, and for service fresh veggies (peeled this time) are added to the jiggly gelatinous stock and cooked until tender. Some of the chicken goes back in, as do the Matzo Balls that Trish made while I was sleeping.

The result? Something that Sadie would recognize and we love!

PS, yes there is some fat on the finished stock. It wouldn't be chicken soup without some -- but then there is the issue of schmaltz. . .

Monday, April 21, 2008

Passover Greetings

The week-long lead up to the Passover Seder has ended. I love to show you some photos of the beautiful Seder table spread, but, as usual, in all the confusion I spaced that. Now that I can catch up on my blogging, I will catch you up on the joy of preparing for such a joyous event.

So, a Happy Passover to those of you who join me in celebrating this holiday, and best wishes to all the rest.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Local Gems III - Where's The Beef

Here's the Beef!

I have, like many, regretted the loss of the local butcher. Not just the intimacy of the relationship (and I grew up in a Kosher home so there was only one local choice and the butchers knew you by name) but the lack of choice.

The rise of of the Supermarket meat case, in part influenced by the centralized processing of meats, in part by the ever growing ostiophobia (my team for fear of bones) have so limited choice that being able to distinguish which is a 7-bone chuck and a pinbone sirloin is a lost art. The fact that the people behind those counters generally don't know the architecture of a beast is why they can sell a pork sirloin roast as a pork loin roast. Now, add to that the fact that feedlot beef has no taste . . .

But, this isn't supposed to be a rant, but an appreciation of a local gem. So, there are a lot of people that know that I have lusted for such a place. One of my wife's co-workers heard of this and recommended a place in Ransomville called D. H. Cloy and Son.

I was excited, but with reservations, I'd been burned before. Because of its location, we decided to combine a trip there with some winery visits, and a picnic/geocaching event. I had not really gotten started with blogging then, so I wasn't thinking of photos - but here's one of the picnic later.

As for Cloy's - it wasn't was I expected when we pulled up. I was impressed by the array of smokers out front, but the inside wasn't what I expected either. I had the momentary urge to just leave before being disappointed once again. BOY am I glad we didn't!!!!

We were welcomed as soon as we walked in, and when they discovered that I was really interested, Dave Cloy himself gave us a tour of the place (it was his wife who welcomed us). I was a bit worried about how the girls - then 6 and 7 - would react to the walk-in filled with beef, lamb and pig carcasses, but they were fascinated. I was fascinated watching the skill of the butchers breaking meat down.

We knew we were going to buy something for dinner, and not just because of our "winery" rule - if we are shown a good time we will buy something, even if it goes straight in the vinegar cask. If we are bored, or worse condescended to, we walk out no matter what the reputation of the winery is (take that Warm Lake). We ended up buying a whole strip loin of marvelous tasty beef. You can see it below.

When Spring finally arrived, our first thought was of grilling one of those babies up - delicious!

I only wish it was closer . . .

Food Comic For Today

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Farming and Food

Bob delGrosso did a great rant last week on whether it makes sense to use a food (corn) to create biofuels. I am not going to link to all his follow-ups (primarily links to news stories on the topic) because you can read his blog and find them yourselves. His blog is always a good read. Shortly thereafter the New York Times confirmed him as a prophet. If that weren't enough the venerable Buffalo News chimed in with the similar thoughts.

Now it is easy to accept that there is a problem with corn to biofuels without connecting it to grain shortages overseas. After all, they are not rioting over corn or soybeans, or even wheat, but staples not used for biofuels.

But, this is all interconnected, and our domestic agricultural policy has been bankrupt since Earl Butz in the Seventies. It is bloated with Pork, Corporate Welfare, and Self-Interest. Doubt me? Watch the last season of the West Wing - see how Alan Alda's character tries to oppose the Corn Lobby.

Still have doubts? Watch Bill Moyers' Expose from last week, or read the transcript. Read the complete Washington Post investigation. Guess what the Government is paying farmers in Texas not to grow. Rice. Guess what some of those farmers are doing - they are subdividing their properties and selling them for "starter mansions" and still collecting from the government. There is more, widespread stuff going on, but in these particular cases you are dealing with the growing of rice. That's what the food riots are about!

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's That Time Of Year

Passover arrives at sundown this coming Saturday, but the Holiday really seems to be arriving each year with the annual appearance of that two liter bottle of Coke with the distinctive yellow cap emblazoned with Hebrew letters indicating that the beverage is Kosher for Passover. That means real sugar as the sweetener instead of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

Now I have plenty of gripes about HFCS , but this is based on religious restrictions for this particular Holiday - the details are here, but it boils down to a celebration of the escape of the Jews from Egypt, and the fact that in their hurry they could not allow their bread to rise. Any thing that is or mimics risen bread is out for the eight days of Passover.

The details of this are best left to Talmudic Scholars
(or perhaps Jesuits, they are pretty close on the hair splitting thing). For the rest of us mere mortals it makes our heads explode. Really. I have witnessed it first hand.

The bottom line is that many Orthodox Jews from Europe have decided that corn is included in the Passover prohibition, and thus HFCS is a no-no. The Coca-Cola company responds to this need by providing, once a year, Coke made with real sugar. And once a year I get that that taste I used to get out of an 8 oz. glass bottle after a little league game!

PS The tile it is on displays the Chinese pictograph for "happiness".

No Bourdain - No Surprise

If you hadn't heard, we here were one of the finalists to host Tony Bourdain and "No Reservations" along with Thailand, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia. The Buffalo News article is here and the follow up is here. I was not surprised at Buffalo being passed up. Look, I can rant as well as anyone on our Rodney Dangerfield syndrome, or the fact that there is great food here, that wasn't the problem.

The problem was on The Travel Channel a few minutes ago. Bourdain has already done Cleveland, just down the Lake Erie shoreline. In many ways we are twin sons/daughters of different mothers. For most of the episode, I could substitute a local venue place for place. Now we don't have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the largest used Book Store or Michael Symon. I think the biggest problem is that we don't have Bourdain's buddy (and my hero) Michael Ruhlman here.

So, as I posted at Andrew Galarneau's blog (and he authored the News articles) I didn't think we had much of a chance, but I do have a local question: We may have local cooks who can go head to head with Symon, but are any of them so involved in creating food that reflects local as he seems to be?

Just wondering.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring Cleaning

Speaking of Passover, there is a whole series of details as to how to ritually clean your house before the holiday arrives. It is also a signal for basic Spring Cleaning, especially before my parents get here this weekend.

This is Ellie helping me out on my cookbook shelves. No. I do not have too many. Really. They are not like Gollum and the Ring (that's in the front hall on Marvin the Martian's finger).

So thanks for the assist Bug, AND DON"T KNOCK REMY OFF WITH THE DUSTER!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Teach A Man To Fish

And he might catch something you don't want to eat.

I love fish and seafood. I love my adopted home of Buffalo. Apparently, not all of Buffalo shares my love of fish and seafood - if judged by the usual assortment available. The same few species appear over and over, usually once frozen (I don't have a problem with frozen if done well) and farm-raised (ditto). Boneless fillets are the norm. Even those outlets who go out of the way to bring in line caught wild fish bring in the same species, or so it seems. Then there is the issue of "The Smell".

It's gotten much better, but it's still there - "The Smell" that generations have been
told is what fish smells like. Don't get it? Join me for breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market (yes the one from the chase scene in National Treasure) in Philadelphia an grab a seat in the Center Court as close to John Yi's Fish market as you like. What you will smell is your coffee, eggs, bacon or scrapple, and not that beautiful array of fish (hey, if a then 5 and 4 year old don't smell anything you know that the fish is fresh).

Of course, that is is part of our problem here - we are geo
graphically challenged. Despite the fact that my wife once had a secretary convinced that Lockport is the Tuna Capitol of North America, we aren't a seaport near an ocean. So with the exception of a few species that survived the pollution in Lakes Erie and Ontario, we depend on seafood that is shipped here. That means to get the freshest of fish it has to be flown or trucked in at great expense. Some places do that on occasion, but more would - if the demand were there. That brings up the obvious second problem, supply follows demand.

Look, we Buffal
onians can be a stubborn and parochial lot. I remember an article in the First Sunday magazine of the Buffalo News (and I miss that monthly "fix"). It was an article about Mike Andrzejewski shortly after he and Tai opened Tsunami, talking about flying in overnight the freshest of fish from Hawaii. Things like Ahi, Mahi-Mahi and Hawaiian Butterfish. Many (like me) were salivating at the idea of something called Hawaiian Butterfish cooked by Mike.

However, for each one of us, there are many, many more in the area who still think that the best
prepared fish is a hunk of frozen haddock doused in a batter and deep fried in oil that gets changed about as frequently as I change the batteries in my smoke detectors (twice yearly for me). Their opinion is as valid as anyone's, but that they are a majority does aid in our fish impediment.

So, what is the purpose of my rant? Despite any limitations in the Buffalo market, when anyone offers something new or interesting in the domain of fish and seafood I want to try it. When Dash's, a local market, advertised Tender and Delicious Escolar this past week, I was intrigued.

I try to keep up with such nomenclature, but I was lost on this one - my first guess was that it was the bad guy from "A Clear and Present Danger". After that it was an Internet search. Escolar is a fish known under many aliases, including Walu - a name known to me. More important to this post it is also known as the Ex-Lax fish.

It seems that that in addition to a delightful taste the Escolar flesh contains naturally occurring compounds similar to Olestra, the fat substitute that created great fun for me after only a couple of chips. You don't need the details, but it affects about 40% of those who consume it especially in portions over 5 or 6 ounces.

I found many delightful newspaper articles and blog articles about this particular delicacy from coast to coast, from North to South. My favorite is a 1999 article in The New York Times by Marian Burros. This informative article quotes noted food science expert Harold McGee: ''The wax esters therefore pass intact, their lubricating properties undiminished, from the small intestine into the colon, where a sufficient quantity will defeat our normal control over the ultimate disposition of food residues.''

Yum. Just as a side note, I stopped at the nearest Dash's and they had no Escolar on display - though "That Smell" was in evidence from the produce area. But driving by Hayes Seafood in Kenmore, it was advertised as a special.

So the minor question is do you think those who purchased and offered Escolar as a special had any idea of this lovely lower intestinal side effect? Not.

The more important question is what risk are you willing take for good seafood. Poisoning from Fugu is rare, but if you are poisoned there is about a 60% that you'd die. Would you risk it even if prepared by Masa Takayama? Only 40% of people suffer abdominal cramping and loose stools
from Escolar, is it worth that to enjoy a tasty morsel prepared by someone who really knows their way with seafood - say a Mike Andrzejewski?

That's the reason for the poll (which I posted early because you can't save a draft, apparently). I was just curious as to how much risk you would take for something tasty. Look, there is risk in any food (4-13 ETA - Heck, they are recalling breakfast cereal today!). But, to me there is something inherently different in the risk from a frozen hockey puck of ground beef, and that associated with the succulent tastes of exotic fruits de mer.

So, for me yeah, I'd eat Fugu prepared by Masa - heck, beyond the fact that it is the rule of the house, I'd eat anything prepared prepared by Masa.

As for Escolar prepared by Mike, yeah. I almost did. Remember that Hawaiian Butterfish I was drooling over earlier? Yep, Escolar/Walu/Ex-Lax fish. ;-)

The author of this post (um, that'd be me) would like to recognize the assistance of Andrew Galarneau, Buffalo News Staff Writer for confirming that despite rapidly failing memory skills I had accurately recalled that First Sunday article, which he authored. Andrew also runs a Food Blog called Buffalo Buffet, which is well worth stopping by, and is an occasional commenter here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

An Act Of Worship

And not a pleasant one at that. I have mentioned before that I do not do restaurant reviews. Oh I may have occasion to go on a rant about the chef vs. blogger/reviewer issue, the unfair nature of judging on a single visit or the silliness of arbitrary rating systems in reviews. I might even discuss disguises, but there will be no reviews. I just have no interest.

In large measure it is because I don't think you can do reviews without being able to do a bad review. Look, I have had bad experiences in restaurants and I have even walked out on occasion - but the people in restaurants work HARD, and often for not a lot of cash. I just couldn't do a bad review, even under circumstances like this.

Saturday my kids were doing an overnight at Grandma's Saturday, so that my wife and I could attend a Hunter's Hope fundraiser, with Jim in attendance of course. So we did some fun things. We stopped at the Lexington Co-op for some quinoa, among other things, and then to Delish! to see Deb and Stephanie, two old friends in the culinary quarries.

Then we decided to go to lunch at an ethnic restaurant. It had been well recommended by friends who know of our tastes, as well as by the News for a restaurant of this type. The place was packed. We were not impressed, and it was clear that we had made a mistake -- the stuff we ordered off the lunch menu seemed to pale in comparison to what others ordered from the regular menu. Oh well.

The punchline is that we get to the Hyatt, dressed to the nines, and find ourselves a mere two tables from Jim Kelly, local hero (ok, so he led us to four consecutive superbowl losses). As I am walking around looking at the auction I star to feel weird. After my second bite of salad I am about to biff (no it wasn't the Creamy Caesar dressing). I asked Trish to take us home.

Bottom line - I spent much of the next 24 hours worshiping at the porcelain altar. My wife, who doesn't get even those virulent strains of disease emitted from our nations elementary schools succumbed a bit.

Was it a foodborne illness? Who knows. But there is one that follows this pathway - short onset and a relatively short duration. More important, this particular variety is most often stems from something we both ate.

So, could you review it. Nah. More importantly would you go back to try the "real stuff"?

I think I would go for that - as long as I wasn't meeting Jim Kelly later. I still want that autographed picture and bears for the girls!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Not An April Fools Joke

If you thought Tuesday's April Fools Joke was gross and disgusting, try this joyful site I was turned onto by Andrew Sullivan's blog at The! My German is a bit rusty, but these are photo's of frozen food products that don't measure up to the packaging photos! Here are just a few examples, view them if you dare:

And Now For Something Completely Different

Though the magic that is Netflix, we are now receiving Monty Python's Flying Circus in order on DVD, and our 7 and 8 (almost 9) year old daughters are eating it up! Hey, they are our kids, what did you expect! This is one of the best food related bits they ever did. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Nomenclature III

OK, this is the kind of thing that just bugs me. The ad to the right appears in this weeks circular for Tops Supermarkets. It is clearly a marketing ploy rather than an accurate description of the product for sale. The term "Prime Rib" refers, or should refer, to beef. Whether it it actually is, or should be USDA Prime Beef is a subject for debate. The Food Lover's Tiptionary says it must be Prime Beef. Webster's New World Dictionary of Culinary Arts disagrees. The Penguin Companion to Food is silent.

The ultimate arbiter is the USDA's 2003 publication: Food Standards and Labelling Policy Book, which says:

These products do not have to be derived from USDA prime grade beef.

I have a problem with that. By this definition, technically a rib roast from a Commercial or Utility Grade hunk of beef could be sold as prime rib. Now, in the interest of honesty, I must say that Prime Rib is not something I crave. Take the same cut of meat and cut it into thick, bone-in steaks to toss on the grill and I am fine. Roast it whole and it tastes like a hunk of boogers. But like Prime Rib of beef or not, the concept of a "prime rib" of pork just doesn't exist except in the pin heads of the pinheads of some marketing department. It may be the rib section of some piggy, but since the have bred the fat out of pork to create "the other white meat" you won't get
the mouthfeel of a Choice Standing Rib Roast, let alone a Prime Cut.

The problem is that consumers are gullible. They'll think they are getting something special.

Just tell us what we are getting.

Rant Off!

Reality Check

There isn't anything here that I'd say I didn't know, or understand, or suppose, or guess. There is nothing here that offends me, except that I presume that many so-called "foodies" don't have (or want) a clue about. But, this puts it in a simple and easily understandable terms. Money quote: "I'm a celebrity first and a chef second". That's been true since Careme.

What's wrong with that.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Meal To Remember

How do you finish off a weekend filled with such diverse culinary delights as we enjoyed this past weekend? I pondered blini and paddlefish "caviar", foie gras, or sashimi grade tuna as possibilities, but considering the discerning nature of my well-trained palate, there really was only one choice - Tater Tot Casserole.

My personal recipe includes the following:

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
16 ounces frozen mixed vegetables, cooked according to package directions
10 3/4 ounces golden mushroom soup
10 3/4 ounces cream of celery soup
1 pound frozen tater tots, divided

Time Saving Tip: Use bags of frozen vegetables that can be microwaved in their own container.

Between the canned shelf-stable items, and those that live in the freezer, you would think that this is the easiest a recipe can get. Wrong. Now that you can buy fully cooked burgers to crumble in, and the local super market chops the onions, this is a breeze! Combine that with a frontal lobotomy and even you can cook like Sandra Lee or Ray-Ray!

We paired this with a vintage Grape Nehi even your Company Clerk will love!

Bon Appitit!

And APRIL FOOLS!!!!!!!

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

Life's too short to eat bad food -