Monday, April 30, 2007

grill up

What better time than now could there be to review the fundamental rules of grilling beefsteaks? I’m sure I cannot imagine.

Like most types of cooking, your belief of how a steak should look and taste determines how you grill and how easy it will be. If you like your steaks black, dried out and crisp, then grilling is pretty easy. All you need to do is light a fire, slather on some barbecue sauce, toss the meat on the fire and let oxidation take care of the rest . But if you like nice grill marks and an evenly browned exterior juxtaposed against a moist interior -all of it tasting like beef- it’s a bit trickier.

Let’s assume that you are like me and prefer grilled meat that does not taste like it’s been cooked behind a PW 4000 turbine (or worse, steamed and burned in flaccid wet heat) here are a few things to keep in mind as we enter the prime days of outdoor cookery for the year 2007.

Grade

There are three grades of beef that are commonly available in supermarkets: Select, Choice and Prime. Of the three, Select is the cheapest and most inferior. It has very little interior fat, its muscles are relatively tough, and it contains proportionally more tough connective tissue than the other grades. The only type of Select-grade meat that I use for grilling is tenderloin, otherwise I avoid the lot altogether. Prime is the most expensive, has the highest interior fat content and is generally the tenderest. But frankly, I never buy it because the best of it does not find its way into supermarkets and butcher shops. High end restaurants buy up most of the best prime beef before retailers ever get a chance to bid on it. So that leaves “Choice” as the beef of choice.

Preparation

I don’t marinate good meat, but if you want to (god pity you), don’t use anything acidic in the marinade. Acidic ingredients like vinegar, lime and lemon juice will cause the surface of the meat to dry out and will make it harder to brown unless you add lots of (Ugh!) sugar. The best way to treat a good steak is to sprinkle it with coarse salt one to two hours prior to cooking to season it throughout and keep the inside moist. If there is fat on the outside-and there damn well should be- rub extra salt on to season it and to dry out the surface so it gets nice and crispy, and if there’s a bone, salt that too. When you are ready to grill, rub the meat with oil ( I usually use olive.) and give it a heavy grinding of fresh black pepper, remembering that some of the pepper will fall off during grilling.

The Grill

Whether you are cooking on charcoal or gas, get the grill surface really hot. Make it scream like angry death. This is an important step if you want good grill marks and even browning. When the grill is up to temperature, brush off the surface with a wire brush to remove any debris that might cause the meat to stick or sully the exterior. Some people like to rub the grill with oil, but I’ve never found this to be necessary unless the grill is brand new.

Lay the steaks on the grill, wait a couple of minutes, then turn them 45-90⁰ to create a lattice pattern on the service side of the meat. Wait a few minutes, then turn down the heat (if you are on coal raise the grill) then flip the meat to finish it. Don’t turn it over again or you will mess up your grill marks.

It’s terribly important for the meat to finish cooking slowly. Simply put, if the heat is too high the muscle fibers will coagulate too fast, toughen and dry out. Cooked on moderate heat the opposite will happen, and it’ll be tender and juicy.



Saturday, April 28, 2007

the 50 best restaurants in the "world"

UK based Restaurant Magazine has released a list of what a reader survey has decided are the world's 50 best restaurants. And surprise, surprise, not one of them is in Asia. Of course I'm happy for all the hard working people whose businesses made the list and hope that money pours into their pockets like water over Victoria Falls. But this list is about as comprehensive of world wide culinary excellence as the World Series is of excellence in baseball-ery.

So, kudos to you from El Bulli (no. 1) through Les Ambassadeurs (no. 50), but shame on you Restaurant Magazine for your embarrassing attempt to raise your profile with a bogus global test of excellence.

Oh and another thing.

This bit from the Bloomberg piece (linked below):

``Ferran Adria is often talked about as the most influential chef since Escoffier,'' Restaurant [Magazine] Editor Joe Warwick said in a telephone interview.

1) Who is saying that Adria is the most influential chef since Escoffier? I'm guessing no one other than Warwick himself.

2) Does Warwick believe this or is he just pumping up his interlouctor?

3) Isn't it a bit early in the game to even imply that Adria has been this influential?

4) Doesn't Alice Waters deserve that honor? Adria is amazing, and certainly influential, but from where I sit his reach into the kitchens of the western world does not go nearly as deep as Waters' does.


I picked up this topic and the Bloomberg link from a comment left by RI Swampyankee at Michael Ruhlman's blog. Thanks Swampyankee!


Bloomberg.com: Muse

Friday, April 27, 2007

put a chicken in your tank

Greens really f--ked things up. However, unintentionally. By promoting the utility of left over frying oil as diesel fuel, they inadvertently handed the poultry industry a new market for fat trim. Now instead of selling off their trim to make soap, explosives and lipstick, Tyson will now turn some of it into diesel fuel thus adding another market to assure the stability and long range viability of one of the most dreaded operators of the factory farm.

How ironic is this ? ConocoPhillips, Tyson join to make biodiesel from fat - Apr. 16, 2007

dongpo pork -how sweet the sound


I believe that I have caught Ruhlman's pork virus because now whenever I see something like this Dongpo Pork I get kind of wiggy. OMG Cha Xi Bau, thank you!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Niece wants Thomas Carvel's body exhumed

Now this is racy stuff. Tom Carvel, the godfather of soft serve ice-cream, flying saucer ice-cream sandwiches and Wally The Whale ice cream cakes was murdered, alleges his niece. Pam Carvel claims that her uncle was killed by two employees who Carvel discovered ripping off the company for millions. Ms. Carvel wants to have her uncle exhumed up and examined for evidence of foul play.

Niece wants Thomas Carvel's body exhumed

Bourdain in Context

In an upcoming article for the journal Gastronomica, Krishnendu Ray of NYU examines the role of American FoodTV in bringing "cuisine" -as distinct from home cooking-to an ever larger audience of American consumer. Dr. Ray, a sociologist and former Associate Dean for Curriculum Development at The Culinary Institute of America, also takes-on the notion that watching someone cook something for it's entertainment value alone is inherently pornographic (as in "food-porn") while watching with the expectation that you will do it yourself is something else.

But the bulk of Dr. Ray's essay is devoted to an analysis of the nature of the types of shows and characters we find on FoodTV which, he says [my paraphrase] fall along a continuum with at least two poles: domesticity (e.g. Sandra Dee) and anti-domesticity. Of the latter type Ray cites Anthony Bourdain as an example -and I think does the chef a real solid- in the closing lines of the essay with a discussion of his affect and significance. What follows is excerpted from the closing pages of Domesticating Cuisine: Food and Aesthetics on American Television, by Krishnendu Ray in Gastronomica (Winter 2007).

His [Bourdain's] writing is not only a retort to Juliaesque domesticity but also a mirror image of the somber masculinity of the “professional chef,” played with swagger and sardonic irony. His act is as much a caricature of masculinity as is Emeril’s. Bourdain’s conceit is a modernist celebration of the bad boy, a rock star mocking himself. As one of the more thoughtful students at the Culinary Institute of America, Christopher Fotta, puts it:

“Anthony Bourdain’s book [Kitchen Confidential] is the antidote to the CIA. In fact it is almost anti-everything that we are taught here. It is the opposite of the code of professionalism that is drilled into our psyche from the first time we set foot on campus. It highlights a subculture in the cooking industry that is seldom discussed in our sacred Roth Hall. It is the world of machismo, locker-room minded, substance-abused, foul-mouthed cooks that steal anything they can and screw every available waitress in the dry storage area. This is the entry-level, humble beginnings of our glorious profession….I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiment that “the professional kitchen is the last refuge of the misfit.”



[Bourdain] shreds the aura around professional cooking, which appropriates a different posture—a proper, upwardly mobile, gentlemanly ethos—in contrast to his affinity for working class masculinity. Both scripts are far from Julia’s, but the blue-collar foul-mouthed screed is the more extreme counterpoint both in terms of class and gender. Bourdain predictably appropriates it, but his attitude is not born of the class he hopes to mimic, which is evident from his literary self-confidence. He writes:

Generally speaking, American cooks—meaning, born in the USA, possibly school-trained, culinarily sophisticated types who know before you show them what monter au beurre means and how to make a béarnaise sauce—are a lazy, undisciplined and, worst of all, high-maintenance lot, annoyingly opinionated, possessed of egos requiring constant stroking and tune-ups, and, as members of a privileged and wealthy population, unused to the kind of “disrespect” a busy chef is inclined to dish out.


Bourdain can even slip into some class and race sentimentality when he writes that “the Ecuadorian, Mexican, Dominican and Salvadorian cooks I’ve worked with over the years make most cia-educated white boys look like clumsy, sniveling little punks.” That from a Vassar-educated and cia-trained white boy!

Bourdain’s language here exquisitely mimics the rhetoric of journeymen printers at the end of the nineteenth century who, with the introduction of the Linotype and the birth of publishing corporations, felt a serious threat to their working-class masculinity. It is at this time that “male printers expressed even greater concern and antagonism toward boys than toward women who worked in the industry.”

With Bourdain we see the other face of TV cooking, the gesture of denial against domesticity and upwardly mobile gentlemen-boys tied to the apron strings of well-bred women, which is the world Julia came to occupy. The most popular shows—Emeril Live, Rachael Ray, and Iron Chef—are basically contra-Julia, post -domestic shows, reactions against the hegemonic model of The French Chef. They strike a chord because, ever since Julia, we have been stuck in the TV kitchen and put in a dress. That is why Bourdain wrote, in Kitchen Confidential, that he wouldn't be caught dead on the Food Network. Of course, even the best of us are eventually domesticated. In fact Bourdain's discovery of foreign food in The Cook's Tour is another iteration of domestic cuisine, albeit in opposition. Bourdain brings us back to the chase -the ethos of movies -with which I began this essay- this time in pursuit of authentic, exotic fare, by ranging widely across the globe, yet he does so by keeping us glued to the home entertainment center allowing us to appreciate anew the dialectic between the home and the world and the role of the man within it.


Cross-posted at Michael Ruhlman's blog.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

eG Forums -> The Plight of the Humble Beekeeper

Check out this terrific article on the vagaries of beekeeping and the beekeeping business at eGullet.

Thanks Tags for sending this to me!


eG Forums -> The Plight of the Humble Beekeeper

torta di spinaci for your inner il Popeye


This week I decided to cook something that I haven't made in years, torta di spinaci, more commonly known as erbazzone which, loosely translated means something like "big herb pie."
If you Google erbazzone you will find that it is a specialty of Emilia Romagna and, like all Italian regional dishes, it is made in a multiplicity of ways. Some recipes call for spinach and swiss chard, others include beet greens or nettles. Really the only “right” way to make it is the way your family makes it. But variations on ingredients aside, there are some things that all authentic recipes for erbazzone have in common: all are vegetable-filled double-crust pies that contain some type of pork fat.

The torta that I made* is from a recipe I deduced from the work of my father’s stepmother who, like everyone in my father's family, was from the village of Borgo Val di Taro a few miles south-west of Parma in Emilia Romagna. I had to deduce the recipe because my grandmother never wrote it down or bothered to tell anyone how she made it. So in 1982 I recreated it based on how I remembered her torta tasted and from a recipe from an early edition of Italian Regional Cooking by the great Ada Boni.

Mario Batali has a fine looking recipe for erbazzone on the Food Network site. If you don't like mine, give his a try. He specifies a metal pizza pan and wants you to brown some of the ingredients -not a bad thing to do it's just not the way my family does it. He also serves it warm, which we never do, preferring to let it sit overnight to let it set up and mellow a bit. It's a family tradition that goes back to the days when my ancestors were contadini and took their torta out into the fields to eat for lunch.




The Crust
2 cups AP Flour
2 Tbs lard, cold
8 Tbs cold water
1/2 tsp salt

Filling
2 lbs spinach, stems removed
3/4 lb green onions
4 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch square pieces
1 Tbsp lard
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 eggs
1 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Salt and Pepper

For finishing
1 Tbsp melted lard or olive oil to brush the top
1 tsp oil to grease an 11”X7”X1.5” baking pan


Before you begin, please recognize that for this recipe the only thing that should brown is the crust. All of the other ingredients are merely sautéed/sweated. Also, this is not a refined dish so you don't need to cut things very carefully and it's okay if it looks a little funky after it's baked. If you want to fuss over it a bit you can blanch and shock the spinach before mixing it with the cooked onions and pancetta for a brighter color in the finished torta.

Combine the flour and salt and cut the lard into the flour with a pastry cutter or in a stand mixer with the flat paddle. Add the water and mix until the dough begins to cling together. If it seems too dry add more water. Turn the dough out, gather it up into a ball, cut it half and wrap each half with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Heat a big casserole and drop in 1 Tbsp lard. Sauté the pancetta until it is well-rendered, add the onions and garlic and cook until wilted. Raise the heat, add the spinach and cover the pot until the spinach wilts, stir it around, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down.

Put an oven rack on the lowest shelf of your oven and preheat the oven to 400⁰F

Roll out the dough into two rectangular and thin (<1/8th)>

Sunday, April 15, 2007

bee's die and crisis looms for american agriculture

There is a potential crisis looming that will affect all farmers -green and otherwise- and ultimately food availability and prices. Populations of N. American wild and domestic bees have been plummeting and no one is quite sure why. While this might please people who don't like bugs or are allergic to bee stings, it's really bad news for farmers and consumers. Bees are required to pollinate most crops of flowering plants. And simply put, no pollination means no fruits to sell and eat and no seeds for subsequent planting.

I've been aware of this for quite some time but it was recently brought to my attention again during a broadcast by Marty Moss-Coane's radio show on my local NPR member station WHYY (Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane on 91FM Philadelphia).

Marty interviewed entomologists Maryann Frazier (Penn State) and Neal Williams (Bryn Mawr College) who cited an uptick in populations of parasites as a potential cause of the high bee mortality rate but could not exclude other causes.

Now it looks like cell phones and other devices that emit radio waves might be a factor. Suffice it to say that I'm amazed. Read this and you'll freak Are mobile phones wiping out our bees? - Independent Online Edition > Wildlife

You can listen to Marty's broadcast here (Click 4/5/07: Hour 2)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kerr's a Revolver

I'm happy to report that the Galloping Gourmet is alive and well and continuing to spread the gospel of the mini-max diet (which means something like minimum-fat:maximum-flavor) -albeit in a different wrapper and to a markedly (sigh) older audience.
Check him out. Sheesh, he's got nice teeth.
Graham Kerr

nothing to do with food-just plain old bad news

Just a run of the mill bummer to lament.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Fire destroys Johnny Cash house

Friday, April 13, 2007

a real hunger artist revisited

When you get tired of reading the drab prose about cooking and eating that lesser lights like I proffer. Or when the preening wonks on the Food Network make your hair stand up and send you running for something not freighted with narcissistic and goony arrogance. You cannot do better than picking up a book by MFK Fisher . The Gastronomical Me alone is enough to restore your faith in the ability of humans to speak clearly to what food can mean when your hunger is existential and will not be sated by scarfing a burger.

soul food


Seven years ago, before he was about to leave for Christmas break and after I had submitted his grade, Vinny Termini appeared in my kitchen at the Culinary Institute of America with a box of pastries from his family's shop in Philadelphia. There were cannoli, macaroons, baba au rhum and a bunch of other fine things all of them first rate, if forgotten.

But the one thing in that box I could not forget and indeed, cannot forget, was the torrone. It was the best I have ever eaten -nothing like the boxed stuff from Italy that I was most familiar with. In fact the Termini Brothers' torrone was so good that I began to buy it at least once-a-year for my family and friends.

If you have never heard of torrone you could be forgiven. But for Italian-Americans of a certain age, this wafer clad nougat confection is embroidered into the fabric of our identity. While it's not at the epicenter of being like pasta or prosciutto, it's regular appearance at Christmas time, Easter and fancy Sunday dinners attended by visiting relations, makes it at least as essential a mnemonic to us as say, a devil's food layer cake, might be to another species of American.

Of course I could make torrone myself, but screw it. You need special molds (I believe Termini Bros. have been using the same bronze molds for 80 years.) the wafer is not that easy to get and a pain to make (I've done it, I know). And anyway, the torrone from Termini Bros. is too good to bother.

And another thing, the empty cans are great for storing stuff. I've gt a half dozen in my workshop that are full of screws, drill bits, switches and everything but, alas, torrone.


Termini Bros Pasticceria

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

how to prep a chicken for the grill

There are no right or wrong ways to prepare food, only methods that produce results you find aesthetically pleasing. This is the baseline way that I prepare chicken for grilling. I rarely cook it without jazzing the seasoning a bit. But not much. I may have spent the bulk of my career working in French restaurants and immersed in the alchemical wizardry of the haute cuisine, but at home I mostly cook to my Italian heritage (All of my ancestors are from Italy). So I'm mostly like "get good stuff and don't screw it up with a lot of fancy knife work and seasoning."

Typically I will put slices of garlic and fresh rosemary leaves under the skin, rub it with a bit of olive oil and shower it with freshly ground pepper. But regardless of whatever ephemeral aromatics I may choose to include, the basic algorithm is always the same: open up the bird so it will lay flat on the grill, salt it to dry out the skin and let the salt permeate the meat so it doesn't dry out, then grill it cut-side-to-the-fire so the skin doesn't burn up.

This is a Coleman "all natural" fryer. I'm not sure why it's so yellow. But I assume it was fed something with yellow carotenoid pigments to give it a color that would make me want to buy it.

Working from the business end of the chicken cut it along the back,

Flip it around and make another cut along the other side of the back from front to back,

Flip it onto the breast and make a cut in the breast bone about 1/3rd the length of the breast. This will assure that the bird lays flat on the grill.
Flip it over again and tuck the wing tips under the cut side,
Sprinkle the body cavity with coarse salt. Next, flip it over and salt the skin.

Let it sit for at least four to eight hours to give the salt time to work it's way into the meat and to dry out the skin. You don't have to refrigerate it unless you are cooking for a heath inspector. But don't be foolish and leave it in a hot place either. I don't like to add any other seasoning until just before I'm going to cook it because I'm not interested in burying the flavor of the chicken .

Here's link to the same photos in Picassa WebAlbums where you can view them as a slide show.

Pax Vobiscum

Bob dG

N = C + {fb(cm) · fb(tc)} + fb(Ts) + fc · ta.

Just in case you were wondering how to make the perfect bacon sandwich the formula can be found here

The Perfect Bacon Sandwich Decoded: Crisp and Crunchy - New York Times: "

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

bittman thrashing

No way is it this easy to make a pate de campagne. I admire Mark Bittman but he's wrong here. You can't dump peppercorns, eggs and and bacon into a food processor, mix in up with pork shoulder, bake it and produce a decent pate. He must have been under the gun to produce something. This is whacked.

Meatloaf Made Meatier - New York Times

Update: After posting this I went to bed and had a nightmare about this. I made pate de campagne the way that Mr. Bittman did in the video and had to eat it. The fat had run out because it'd been ground too fine and overheated. The meat was mealy and full of whole pepper corns. It was horrible.

eletro-chemical chicken stock acid test

If you have not done so already, you can add pH to your list of things to worry about before you make stock.


The glasses in the photo show five samples of one batch of chicken stock. I adjusted each to a specific pH with either lemon juice or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) so that pH of each rises from left to right.
The most striking thing you notice is that the color darkens as the alkalinity of the stock increases. There were also significant differences in clarity which did not come across in this low resolution photo: the more acidic samples were more cloudy.
None of this surprised me as it was all predicted by the science of the electro-chemistry of colloidal systems. But it's certainly worth running up the blog pole as a caution to anyone who is tempted to jazz up their stock with acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon or canned tomato.

The net-net?
For optimum color and clarity the pH of all the ingredients in your stock should be as close to pH 7 (neutral) as possible.

meet the anti-Rachel Ray

Nancy Silverton approaches home cooking with skill and pragmatism. Just like you do.


Canned Goods - Nancy Silverton - Canned Heat - Food: The Way We Eat - Christine Muhlke - New York Times

Monday, April 9, 2007

how to wring a bar towel

Lessons well-learned are never forgotten and can become part of the fabric of daily life. I learned to wring a bar towel in 1968 on my first day on the job as a short order cook and soda jerk at McCann's Luncheonette in Glen Cove, NY. My teacher was the late George Cohen, a gruff but kind-hearted man who with his wife Hannah had bought McCann's several years earlier from the original owner. Before he took over the luncheonette George had been a waiter at Reuben's Kosher Restaurant, which was where he had learned and perfected the technique that he, in turn, taught me.

Wet the towel and stretch it out,


Fold it over once,



Fold it again,



Wring it and you're good to go. Thanks George!

Friday, April 6, 2007

don't try this at home

Gary Allen sent this pancake recipe to me last night. Don't click it if you are offended by allusions to illegal drug use.

Random Stuff

Thursday, April 5, 2007

yet another ethical dilema

I was clicking through a beautiful blog put up by FarmGirl from Missouri (and who by all appearances seems to be a natural born cook) when I serendipitously clicked on something that made what's left of the hair on my head stand up at attention: a petition to the USDA insisting that it abandon a program that will require everyone who has livestock to register their farms and animals.

I chatted with FarmGirl about this via an email exchange and she seems pretty upset about it. She wrote,
"Small farmers will nearly all be wiped out--myself included. We won't even be able to keep a couple of chickens for our own eggs or raise a lamb for meat without paying huge fees, installing chips in the animals, and filling out tons of paperwork."

The USDA program that has FarmGirl and other small farmers so upset seems to have been created in response to recent occurrences of mad cow disease, the coming threat of Avian influenza viri H5 & H7 and the need to assure domestic and foreign markets that US food products are safe to consume.

If universally adopted, the NAIS (National Animal Inspection Service) program would give anyone who owns livestock a PIN (Premises Identification Number). Each animal would also be assigned an AIN (Animal Identification Number) linked to the PIN and have an RFD (Radio Frequency Device) chip installed with the PIN and AIN numbers, and additional information such as date of birth, species data, lineage etc.

The ultimate goal appears to be to give the USDA the ability to trace the animals as they move from the farm to the supermarket. So if an animal suddenly shows sign of disease, it'd be easier to discover where it became infected. Also if someone eats something that makes him ill, the source of the disease vector can be located quickly. However, there does not appear to be any mechanism in place to do this at the present time.

I must confess to being a bit puzzled by FarmGirl's reaction to the economic implications of NAIS to herself and other small farmers -from all appearences the program appears to be voluntary.

It may be that she believes that the USDA's claim that the NAIS is voluntary is specious and that there is some secret plan afoot to make it mandatory. But I doubt it.

It's more likely that the real threat of mandatory compliance will come from the state level of government. And what FarmGirl and others are really worried about is that individual states will seek to protect their agricultural markets by forcing all owners of livestock to comply. If that happens, then depending on what state they are in, a farmer with a cow and two chickens and ten acres to tend, could be in for big trouble.

Thermomix: A Query

If you have ever used one of the these or know someone who has I'm curious to know what you know about them.

Thermomix

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

oh go on and hug a tree

I'm not a tree-hugger per se. And whoa, if these guys were cooking diner and invited me to eat I'm sure I'd try to find a way to politely decline. The article touting Canada geese as human food alone is enough to make me pray that they never know me. But what the hell, their hearts are certainly in the right place. (That's shallow, I know. But I'm tired. I'll try to be more centered in the morning.)

TreeHugger: Food & Health Archives

the zen of not cooking

Anyone who has set foot into a supermarket in the past couple of years has to be aware of the tremendous demand for pre-cooked meals. Freezer cases bulge with boxes of frozen cooked ravioli, fried chicken and miserable looking diet food entrees. In the deli area -now more typically referred to as "The Market" or perhaps "Gourmet Bistro Cafe Blah Blah Blah" -whole glassy looking chickens in plastic boxes jockey for attention beside platters of of lasagna, goopy bowls of vegetable salads and morbid mounds of gray humus.

Having to look at this stuff alone should be punishment enough for someone like myself. But then when I consider how many people must be buying this stuff and the money that's flooding into the home-meal-replacement market overall -I get really depressed.

I see the world with the eyes of a cook and can think of nothing better, or finer, than cooking. Not cooking is not something I want to think about. Not cooking means being too old or sick to care enough to bother. It's a depressing thought for sure.

Recently I've noticed a new wrinkle in the fabric of the home-meal-replacement market. And I'm not sure how I feel about it. A bunch of businesses have sprung up that allow someone to come into a bricks and mortar space and put together a bunch of meals from prepped ingredients, package the result and stick them in the home freezer to be withdrawn and cooked at will. I've included a bunch "links to" at the bottom of the post. You don't need to look at them all because even though the menus and graphics might change, they are all pretty much the same.

I visited one of these places a while ago and found the marketing concept pretty interesting. The idea is to create a kind of party ambiance for the clients. Apparently a lot of the people who go to these types of places are presumed to be frustrated by the isolation they experience by cooking at home and yearn for social contact while they cook. Another presumption is that the clients are not entirely comfortable with their cooking skills and want some help, but not too much. So all the food is prepped and laid out a la salad bar, laminated recipe cards tell the client what to do while a staff member mentors them.

One of the weirder things I noticed was that there were no knives. It's obvious that the absence of knives from the prep area is a function of liability concerns. But to me, the idea of preparing food without a knife at hand is like swimming without water. I can imagine it, but why would I want to do it?

Home Cooked
Dinner Zen
Dinner My Way
Now We're Cooking

proof you wuz born to cook (a goof)

DNA is destiny. Now there's proof that some people are born to cook.

A genetics researcher at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan analyzed the chromosomes of hundreds of volunteer subjects and found that all those who really liked to cook had two unique genes on one arm of chromosome pair number 11 . The karyotype from one individual shows the location of the genes for cooking and baking as two dark bands located about 1/3 rd of the way up from the bottom of the chromosome on the right of pair number 11.



It's not possible to know if these genes are from the maternal or paternal lineage, nor do they appear to be gender specific. If they were, then they would appear in either an X or Y chromosome (lower right hand corner of the karyotype.)

and you thought tuna was expensive

Restaurant forks out $75,000 for lucky fish

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

I SushiBot

Ever wondered why supermarket sushi tastes so unsushi-like? Wonder no more. It's not just about the rice which retrogrades under refrigeration. Yikes! It's being made by robots...

Sushi Machines

On a more humanistic note.

I've eaten sushi ( I actually prefer sashimi) in some of the best places in NYC but by far and away the best sushi and sashimi I have ever eaten, was at Ike Sushi in Los Angeles. And compared to NY, the prices are cheap. My friend and I ate for almost two hours and paid about 100 bucks sans tip. It's a tiny little place in a shopping mall and has a decor reminiscent of the luncheonette I worked in as a teenager.
Ike-san is a master.
The fish smells and sparkles like the sea. Google Ike Sushi if you think I'm being hyperbolic. I'm sure there are others quite as good, but this was the best I've had. And Ike-san is consistent. My friend has been eating there happily for 16 years.

in case you missed this important news

You can disinfect a wet sponge is a microwave but duh! watch out because in can catch on fire.

The Claim: You Can Disinfect a Kitchen Sponge in the Microwave - New York Times

My Talismans

I'm on the record somewhere that I do not own many cookbooks -I've got about 50 in a home library totaling about 500 books- and most of these are mostly useless to me.

Really, most cookbooks are useless to me.

My eyes glaze over whenever I go into a bookstore and pass through the cookbook section. The aisles and aisles and aisles of lurid glossy rectangular blocks gleaming with the white teeth of TV icons and lifestyle gurus make my blood run cold. If I stop to peruse something, it'll always be to check out a book published by someone I know and respect and who I believe is actually adding something to the body of knowledge of culinary art and technique.

The rest are dross and full of endless variations of recipes that have been around for hundreds of years and use techniques that I learned to master years ago. I mean, why in the name of Vesta would anyone who knows how to slice a piece of bread and put something on it, need to pay for a book with a recipe for bruschettta?

But I'm probably preaching to the choir. I think most of the folks who read me came here through Michael Ruhlman's blog and are mostly pretty accomplished cooks who understand that when it comes to cookbooks, all you really need to have on hand is a few texts to remind you of the basic dishes and techniques and that's it. For novice cooks the story should be about the same: buy a few basic texts that describe a broad range of dishes from whatever repertoire you are trying to learn (be it Japanese, Chinese , French whatever) and few more that emphasize technique. Also buy something that explains what food is and how it cooks.

You can learn more about how to cook from a food science rich book like Harold McGee's, On Food and Cooking than you can from almost any cook book I can think of. That man should get the Nobel Prize for Economics for all the money he's saved cooks from spending on know-nothing cookbooks.

Here's a list of the books I use most often to remind me of what can be done and how to do it. Keep in mind that I'm a Franco-Italo-American process karyotyped cook. I've got foie-gras en terrine, pasta a la bolognese, yeasted bread and pecan pie making in my genome and these books reflect that.

An asterisk denotes a book that I use less but are great for novices.

  • Le Guide Culinaire (1982 ed) by Auguste Escoffier
  • The Joy of Cooking (1964 ed)
  • The Silver Spoon
  • Regional Italian Cooking by Ada Boni*
  • The Bread Baker's Apprentice
  • Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking (VI&II) by Julia Child*
  • The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne
  • CookWise by Shirley Corrihier*
  • On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
  • Foods A Scientific Approach by Helen Charley and Connie Weaver
Now please don't misread me. I'm not saying these are the only books I use; they are my talismans, books that are almost magical in the way they help me keep my footing in the kitchen.

By the way, I'm thinking of adding another book to my library but am not yet convince that I need it. La Bonne Cuisine looks like it might just be a talisman for me. We'll see.