Sunday, December 30, 2007

Last Post of 2007

Last week watched me scoot up to Long Island to set butt with the family for Christmas dinner, become infected with a miserable virus from an unknown vector, wing it back down to bucolic PA to roll around in a fever while my family visited friends in Westchester NY.

Meanwhile back at the farm, a five day old calf escaped and was retrieved. The milking robot went on the fritz and ruined Trent's Christmas day (Don't go into farming if you like to do things like sleeping and driving your car to the bowling alley.) and probably took a week or so off of his lifespan. But some good stuff happened too.

The bresaola (See slide show) finished curing and appears to be a resounding success. It looks great, with a beautiful looking fungal coat that smells to me like slightly dried field mushrooms (agaricus bispouous). The taste of the meat is sweet, salty, umami (in that order) and the overall aroma is of mushrooms and wine must. I hope our customers like it because I really, really loved making it. Trent and I have talked about making it from older dairy cows which in theory should be more flavorful. But the next batch will more likely be from the same kind of grass fed steers that were used for this one.

The mass of sausages you see in the slide show are large pepperoni (pepperone). These are made from highly seasoned beef top rounds with virtually no fat and stuffed into beef casings (middles). The pepperone have been inoculated with Bactoferm to drop their pH, give them an acidic edge and to promote drying. I left them sitting out in the kitchen on Saturday to kick start the fermentation. I assume Trent will be hanging them in the cheese room about now.

As this is likely to be my last post of 2007 I would like to thank you all for supporting my blogging efforts with your continued patronage and comments. If it were not for these, I certainly would not be bothering to post anything anymore. There's certainly no money in the kind of blogging I do, so the only currency that I reap is the type that comes from knowing that mostly complete strangers give a flying-fig about what I have to say. So thanks!

Finally, I'd like to wish you all a happy and healthy New Year full of meals that you cooked yourself or by someone that you know well. Go out and splurge on food cooked by strangers who are really, really good at what they do but mostly, make it yourself. If nothing else, if you screw it up or end up consuming some product that pisses off the food police, you've got no one to blame but yourself.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Don't Let Donald Duck See This

No matter how much I may resent their agenda, I cannot not admire the moxy of the animal rights people who are trying to stop the production and consumption foie gras in f-ing FRANCE of all places. I wonder how you spell Sisyphean task in French? (God, and now you, knows it took me 10 minutes to figure out how to spell in in English.) Of course, in the present example of anti-foie rhetoric aimed at Disneyland, the target is not especially French. But I'll give them brownie points for even bringing up the topic on the soil of the country that produces and consumes more foie gras than any other nation in the world.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Work in Progress

I took a break from cooking for our party this evening to upload a few photos of the stuff I'm making. All but one of the dishes in the slideshow are finished (hence the title of the post) and there's a lot more that I did not take pictures of.

The last dish in the show is of the creme caramel that was the subject of an earlier post. I was a bit disappointed to find that when I unmolded it the edges showed signs that the custard had heated too rapidly, probably at the beginning of the cooking cycle. The evidence that suggested this was in the form of pockets or pores at the edge near the bottom of the custard (the top of the custard in the photo). When the custard gets too hot, it causes the rapid expansion of air and nearly simultaneous coagulation of the egg proteins.

I suspected that something like this would happen soon after I put the custard into the oven, and I had backed down on the heat. Not soon enough, apparently. Fprtuantley the custard did no get too hot and the eggs did not develop that funky sulfide smell that happens anytime you over heat eggs. That would have really pissed me off.

Oh, and the reason the custard got too hot. It was the pot I used for the water bath. It was copper which transfers heat very efficiently. I should have taken this more seriously and dropped the initial oven temp even more than I did (the recipe called for 350, I dropped it to 300).

Some of the other things I'm making that are not pictured in the slide show are

Lamb rib chops with herbes de Provence

Really small potatoes filled with creme Fraiche, some topped with Paddelfish caviar and others with smoked salmon all bedded in sea salt

Cheese fondue made with Hendricks Farms raw milk Gruyere and Bavarian style Swiss Cheese

My wife made a cool looking Bundt cake

There's more, I just can't recall what it is. Peace out!

Good Morning

I've been too busy at the farm (two hogs, two lambs, 250 pounds of several types of sausage, bacon and chicken confit, pea soup, a gigantic cassoulet and more busy) and prepping for a holiday party at home to blog much this week. Maybe I'll find some time tomorrow or later tonight to write something more engaging than this. Until then, I'll let these few words and this photo of my platonic mushrooms becoming Greek (as in champignons a la Greque) serve a place keeper in the to-be-continued saga of A Hunger Artist.

OMG, does that sound self-aggrandizing or what "saga of A Hunger Artist?" Saga my b-tt. LOL. Later folks!
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Xmas Food 2007

So I let my wife talk me into having a party on Sunday for some local friends. "Just do some hors d oeuvres," she said "don't make dinner. That's too much work." Oy, sure dinner is more work. But don't think I won't be cooking every spare minute between now and the first doorbell ring on Sunday.

I don't mind at all really. I mean, cooking is my reason-to-be. (So what's to complain about? Nothing, unless I want to give up my reason-to-be I suppose. And what if I did, would I disappear?) Besides, a holiday party gives me an excuse to make things that I do not make on a regular basis but really wish I could. Take creme caramel. I mean WTF? Is there anything easier to make and more grand than a gigantic slope sided cylinder of eggs and milk and sugar? I don't think so.

This might surprise people who regard me as self-realized, totally conscious, unsentimental and coolly rational guy. But I'm not so sure I know my mind very well.

Witness the book that I used for the creme caramel you see in progress in the slide show below. This book (which actually belongs to my wife) has the only recipe for creme caramel that I will make at home. I'm not sure why I do this, but I think it has something to do with sentimentality because it sure as hell isn't rational. Sigh.

I'll take pictures of the finished product and post them later in the week. I can't really unmold the thing and let it sit because it'll collapse after a day or so.

Vanilla Extract courtesy of Exclusively Yours Catering -great stuff!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cheese Ad Wiz Barfs up A Real Cheese Ball

Italy is one global epicenter of great graphic and industrial design, typography, haute couture and, of course, fabulous food. But when it comes to TV advertising, Italian art directors and videographers often display a brilliance that we never see anywhere else save for, perhaps, Japan. Take this video of an ad for Parmigiano Reggiano, for example.

With it's clever use of people dressed as fruits and vegetables, all singing the praises of Parmesan cheese and other healthy foods, it manages to remind us of the very serous business about the need to maintain a balanced diet without resorting to the condescension we usually associate with the quasi-scientific nutrition infomercials of American television. In other words, it's really StUPid!

OMG, You are going to split a gut when you see this...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pagan Xmas Dinner

The ancient Romans, some of whom I knew personally and who were very nice people, were very keen at the sort of thing you see going on in this picture. They loved to stuff big things with little things that were in turn stuffed with even littler things.

I have always thought of the practice as a cheap culinary trick that was designed more to impress guests with how much meat a host could give away, than something that was created to highlight the intrinsic qualities of the animals to be consumed. And I've never seen or heard anything to the contrary that would cause me to change my mind about this.

Oh yeah, sure you are going to eat it chef.



A turkey weighs in on the practice of shoving birds into its body cavity

Friday, December 14, 2007

This Just In: USB wine

Just in time for the XMAS season, the ultimate storage device for the oenophile who does not want to lug around bulky bottles of vin en traHnZeet!

My gratitude to Gary Allen for this delightful and goofy clip!

The Dangers and Joys of Roux

By The Foodist

Bob's last post and Jennie/Tikka's comment about using roux in Alfredo sauce got me thinking.

Most of us rarely, if ever, use roux these days. There are a few reasons why:

A) It's time consuming

B) It's fatty/Considered not-healthy

C) It can sometimes be hard to work with

But there are a few cases where nothing else but Roux will do. So what do you do? How do you ensure it works out well for you? Well here are a few steps and hints to ensure that your product comes out tasting good and looking swell.

First, we need to understand what Roux is. Anyone who has taken the basics of a culinary course could tell you that its the combination of a flour and fat. But to really understand how it works we should take a page from that foodie-chemist Harold McGee:

"Flour is about 10% protein by weight, and much of this fraction is insoluble gluten. Gluten aggregations probably get caught in the starch network and so slightly increase the viscosity of the solution, through the pure starches are generally more powerful thickeners overall...

Finally, Fats are usually present in the form of butter, oil, or the drippings from a roast. They do not mix with water or water-soluble compounds, but they do slow the penetration of water into starch granules. Fat does contribute the sensation of the smoothness and moistness to a sauce, and when used to precook the flour in a roux, it coats the flour particles, prevents them from clumping together in the water, and so safeguards against lumps."

Ok so ... in English please?

Here's how I think it works. The gluten in the starch of flour is combined with the fats in the butter, oil, or fats from drippings and bond creating a mushy mess we call "roux." Think of making a basic vinaigrette, you combine oil and acid with a binder to hold the emulsion, same basic principle applies. Cooking the roux allows moisture to evaporate leaving a stronger bind between flour and fat.

So now that we have an understanding of what it is, what's the problem?

There are a few things you need to know when using roux. First off, starch takes awhile to cook away. That floury/starch flavor you get from roux means that it needs to cook longer. Starch needs time to break down leaving only the gluten and fat bond to add viscosity and texture to the product.

Secondly, Roux is very very finicky. It takes a trained eye to judge the correct amount of roux to use. There is no set rule on XX Amount of Product requires XX Amount of Roux mainly because different products are different viscosity to begin with and chemical composition is different between products. For example, chicken stock will generally have less natural thickeners than veal stock made with joints and connective tissue.

The worst part of this is that the only thing you can count on with a roux is time. Allowing a product to cook out the starches and hence thicken the product correctly is the only way to judge if you need more or, worst case, less.

So you're probably asking yourself, Why on earth would I choose to use roux ?

Well, roux imparts a very unique flavor and texture that modern food science has come close to copying but hasn't quite gotten right. It is also safer to use roux to thicken dairy based sauces because of the impartial flavor of roux, cornstarch tends to create an unappetizing look and mouth feel, as does potato starches.

So when do you use roux?

I haven't thickened a sauce with a roux in a long time. Mostly because I don't mess with a lot of dairy based sauces . But if you're making a homemade Bechamel, need to thicken an Alfredo sauce, or want to make a classic veloute (Chicken stock thickened with roux) then there's your chance. But a word of warning, it is almost always best to season a sauce made with roux after you are sure the starches have cooked out and you have your desired thickness, even then its always a good idea to strain the sauce as well in case any wayward flour lumps survived your whisk.

In cases like Jennie/Tikka's Alfredo sauce, it's also best to add the roux to thicken the cream, then add the cheese. This way you prevent the cheese from burning and becoming bitter, just remember to under thicken slightly, the cheese will also act as a thickener.

Hope this helps with any roux related questions and concerns, and remember sometimes the classics are the best!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Thickening it Old School

In the 70's it became cool to thicken sauces with reduced cream, emulsified butter, bone marrow and pure starch-virtually anything but mixtures of flour and butter. Roux almost became obsolete and so too did its even easier-to-make (but less stable) sibling beurre manie - typically made by kneading equal volumes of butter and flour together before dispersing it in a hot liquid such as stock.

I don't often thicken sauces at home. But tonight the urge to enrich some chicken stock and use it as a sauce for roast chicken was more than I could endure. The partial result is here in this slide show for your gustation.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

From the Land that Gave us Big Brother

Meet Coun Ken Holt, a Conservative member of the Council of Stockport who is not a vegetarian but who refuses to wear fur, abhors bullfighting and who recently pushed through a ban on the sale of foie gras in Stockport proper.

Citizens of Stockport might do well to consider what Councillor Holt, who is not a vegetarian, has actually accomplished by instigating and promoting the ban of a product that is typically produced by means that are no more or less cruel than any other form of animal husbandry, and in some cases represents the apotheosis of humane farming practices.

By putting their faith in the hands of politicians who think they know what's best for the world and who have the will and the means to legislate their often ill-informed beliefs on an equally ill-informed public, the latter ends up giving up the right to choose what they would like to eat.

Don't be surprised, good citizens of Stockport, when Coun Ken Holt or some other politician comes back at you with another heart felt proposal, this time seeking to ban beef or mutton. Come to think of it, it should surprise you that a proposal to ban beef did not come first.

Think about it, world wide beef production and consumption dwarfs that of foie gras. Even in a small country like Britain, people eat far more beef, and so potentially cause misery to far more cattle than ducks and geese.

In 2003 the total imports of foie gras into the UK was estimated to be about 83 tonnes (95 tons US). That same year it is estimated that the British public consumed 974, 000 metric tonnes ( 1, 073,651.216 tons US) of beef. In other words, the British public consumed over 10, 000 times more beef than foie gras.

Surely Coun Ken Holt understands that the laws of probability alone dictate that far more cattle than ducks and geese have suffered to feed his fellow Brits. Or does he really think that all cattle are treated better than all geese and ducks? Hmm...

But maybe he was not aware that beef eating is more common than foie gras eating. After all, he is not a vegetarian, and so may not be aware of the prevalence of meat eating in his culture.

Some scientists claim the hydrogen because it is so plentiful is the basic building block of the universe, I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen and that is the basic building block of the universe.

-Frank Zappa, The Real Frank Zappa Book (Simon and Schuster, 1990)

In other STUPID news

A CITY centre restaurant has taken foie gras off the menu

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I Got Butter

I made some butter today from a half gallon of unpasteurized cream that I brought home from the farm. The cream was too fermented to sell as straight-up heavy cream, but just perfect for making into cultured butter. The nose is exactly what I have come to love in cultured butter, stinky and sweet. It's a smell that would cause many, perhaps most, people to dump the cream
down the drain, but it drives me wild with appetite. (What can I say: I like spoiled food?)

There's something about that smell that gets me going. It's like the "head" from Wellfleet oysters, bread, wine must, red blooded salami or rissoto Gorgonzola. They all make me nuts with lust. My science brain would love to analyze the suspect matter behind the affect. I'd put it all into a mass spectrometer then do the math. But that would take too long and in the meantime, I might die. So screw it, I'll just go with it (a bit) like Theseus after the bull, I'll go.

Bressaola Update

I know that you have all been hanging on the edges of your seats in anticipation of the second stage of bressaloa curing: air drying. So here is a slide show of how those eye rounds look after I took them from the refrigerator yesterday following an 8 day curing period. They will spend the next 2-3 weeks hanging in the cheese room with the other salumi and of course, a few thousand pounds of aging raw milk cheese.

Wish them luck! They've had nothing but fond things to say about you.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Some of Today

Here are a few shots of some of the things I worked on today. The first couple of photos show two brined legs of lamb that were hung for air drying after having been coated with a mixture of fennel seeds, black pepper salt and rendered lamb fat. The spices are on there for flavor and to inhibit microbial growth. The fat functions as a matrix to hold the spices and a brake on dehydration.

The other photos are prety much self-explanatory. Theres a shot of a pot of ground up lamb belly and 'brisket rendering. I used the fat for coating the legs and the left over meat and connective tissue for the stock (Fond d" Agneau) in the other photo. You'll see a fectching photo of 25 pounds of ground turkey mixed with cranberries etc waiting to be stuffed into sausage casings and a pretty nice pictures of two coils of lamb sausage (about 1/3 of our production).

Lastly are two more legs of brined lamb legs. These are coated with juniper berries, black pepper salt, thyme and lamb fat. I wrapped theses in cheesecloth in part to keep the berries from getting knocked off and also because I thought they would look cool swaddled.

Cautionary Tale

Let this recording be a warning to all who make sausage and who endeavor to change their sausage without first seeking the approval of their customers.

-A Hunger Artist thanks Fiat Lux for the link.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Woman Can Keep Frozen Cats

Whew! Just when I was beginning to think that I'd have to start worrying about the government telling me what I'm allowed to keep in my freezer, the court steps in with some common sense.

Woman Can Keep Frozen Cats

Balducci's offers ham for Chanukah

This is even funny at 5:25 in the morning with sleep junk in my eyes and a half-finished cup of coffee wiggling around in my field of vision. Can't imagine that something like this would have happened when Balducci's was a family owned business...

Balducci's offers ham for Chanukah

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What a Day

Today was a pretty interesting day. No fewer than 16 US iNteLLAjunce agencies weighed in on the "Wat's up with Iran and The Bomb?" question and said that, Nah, Iran is not trying to make an atomic bomb (We think).

It snowed a bit. Not much, but enough to get my kids to put on their snow pants and boots and spend an hour sliding on their backs down the big hill out back. And a lot of cool stuff happened at work. I pulled those eyes rounds (see the post "Small Beef"), drained them and dry rubbed them again ahead of hanging them in the cheese room to air dry into bressaola. A chicken confit experiment came off really well. (I cured some legs and thighs in a mixture that included orange zest and coriander.) I pulled the four lamb laegs I put down in brine about ten days ago and began to prep them for air-drying ( They taste great raw, I think I nailed the water/salt/sugar ratio.) And National Public Radio showed up to video a segment on the science of cheese making for "Science Friday."

The segment should be up on the "Science Friday" website in about 2 weeks and it'll be available as a podcast on iTunes too. But the coolest thing is that they said that they want to come back with Ira Flatow to talk to Trent Hendricks at length.

Listen folks, this place where I'm working? It is a very unique place. The core of the enterprise is a very modern and -from an animal husbandry standpoint- very odd dairy farm where the cows live a nearly autonomous existence. I don't understand any of it very well, mostly because I spend most of my time there cooking. But I'll be sure to fill you in as I learn about what's really going on. In the meantime have a look at my latest slide show. The initial slides show the ~500 gallon batch of milk that Trent set up to make a batch of cheddar cheese.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Through New Eyes

by The Foodist

With our beloved Bob head deep in pork bellies and TCM I think its time I posted a little more to take the pressure off my gracious host a little bit.

I spent the day in the city Monday, inspired to catch an early train and spend a day wandering the streets before the Ruhlman and Bourdain Power Hour made a chaotic mess of Union Square.

Truth be told, I'm not a city kind of guy. Don't get me wrong; I love the city. Where else can you find a restaurant within a stones throw of where you stand, or a used book store to bury yourself in and drool? But for a guy like me; raised in middle America's happy homemaker suburban prisons, the city is like a rat maze I can never figure out -and all I want is the damn cheese!

Besides my obvious lack of direction skill within the city, or the fact that I cant figure out the subway to save my life, you have to give the city credit for being a foodies paradise. Its my love for all things small and mom & pop that tends to be my biggest weakness. Upon arriving in at Grand Central (Strangely enough my first time there, ever.) I wandered around the Grand Central Market looking at produce and fish. After eying a piece of chocolate I realized I had to get something to eat, and fast. In my rush to catch the morning train I missed breakfast, so I wandered (Are we getting the hint that I spend most of my time wandering?) around a couple blocks passing up Starbucks, Deli's, more Starbucks, at least two small cafes, until I found myself back on 42nd looking at a menu outside a small Italian joint call Dominicos. The idea of hot tomato sauce and cheese won me over as a giant gust of wind nearly blew me over.

I poked my head in the door, greeted by the sight of old businessmen and small groups of older women shoppers enjoying pasta and stiff drinks. "Good Deal" is what I thought to myself as I asked if they could seat one. The hostess looked at me as if I had two heads then nodded and said "Where would you like to sit?" in a thick eastern block accent. I think at that point I probably looked at her in the same way she looked at me, but shrugged it off thinking it was amusing. I took a seat nearest the door and was greeted by a waiter who asked in a thick Italian accent if I wanted a drink. Ordering my usual 7&7 I settled in for some food.

At this point I will skip the details of my meal, but suffice it to say:

-The fried Mozzarella was very good

-Why do we insist on garnishing plates with giant sprigs of Parsley?!

-Having to wait 10 minutes for a menu is annoying

-Having your pasta taste like it came out of a box, and the sauce out of a can or bottle is disappointing.

After finishing my meal I ran uptown to catch a movie with an old classmate who has since left the CIA for other life options. When she arrived she looked at me and said:

"My mother thinks I'm crazy"

I looked at her and laughed asking "Why because you are going to a book signing with authors of a field you just left?"

"No", she replied opening her bag slightly exposing a copy of her Professional Chef "Because I'm going to ask them to sign this."

We laughed about it but I reassured her it would probably go over very well with Bourdain and Ruhlman.

We finished the movie and rushed to Union Square to the Barnes and Noble for the signing and Q&A session. We arrived early and wandered around Union Square entering a book store that is famous in the city, The Strand. My greatest weakness, next to food, is books. I love them. There is nothing more heartwarming and welcoming to me then to see shelves and shelves of books. To me its like a giant warm blanket. I trolled some sections before stopping in the Culinary section, amazed at some of the books they had. Relics of 70's diet fads, A Professional Chef 2nd and 5th edition (I already own a second edition so I passed on it), and as my eyes scanned upwards I saw a copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I'm not one who believes much in Fate or any of that, but after hearing about the cookbook for weeks, then reading Ruhlman's Elements of Cooking in which he mentions it numerous times the irony was not lost on me. We grabbed it and I continued trolling turning up another treasure, Bourdain's The Nasty Bits for a whopping 5 bucks. How could I pass that up?

It was ten till seven and I had to force myself to the register before I started drooling over more books, forcing me to buy them. We set out back into the cold, toward Barnes and Nobles. Making our way to the fourth floor we realized we should have gotten there earlier. The room was crowded and we were informed it was going to be standing room only from then on. We opted to get into the line for the signing that had started in the back of the room.

After the boys had been introduced (with obvious jokes again about Ruhlman's hair, the now expected punch line) someone thought it wise to turn on a TV in the back for us poor souls who showed up to late to grab a seat. The Q&A session was about what I expected from these two. Quips about each other, Bourdain knocking Das (Food) Netwerk at every chance and giving Ruhlman a hard time about being on Next Iron Chef. Then Ruhlman cutting back some but taking it all with a smile most of the night. It became obvious that the majority was there for Bourdain as just about every question was aimed at him and about No Reservations. Ruhlman, not missing a beat, made a quip about his book currently outselling No Reservations, which got a round of applause from the audience and a slight giggle from Bourdain.

After waiting around some more to get to the actual table for the signing we said our hello's got some books signed and went on our merry way (BTW Both Bourdain and Ruhlman were elated to see a copy of Pro Chef on the table). After we got downstairs and I paid for my copy of No Rez I realized I choked when I got to the table. I was going to ask Bourdain if he planned on returning to Beirut for another attempt. After his last visit I was curious if he wanted to redeem the episode by doing what he set out to do originally. You knew after watching the episode, and from the bit in No Reservations that he was heartbroken by his visit.

We finished the evening by eating at Republic, and I realized there was a whole list of places I desperately wanted to try to get to before school ends. Republic was nice, the atmosphere was welcoming, crowds of people sitting at community tables eating pots of noodles and enjoying themselves. What bothered me was the lighting. We questioned our waitress about it, she commented that the evening manager liked to turn the lights down low. While dim lights can be appealing we found ourselves squinting to see menu, and really unable to enjoy the look of our food.

With food in our bellies my roommate, whom met up with me at B&N for the signing, and I headed home.

All in all an interesting trip; the rewards of which are a bag full of good reading material, the mental note to make a list of places to eat before I leave, and a cold.

In the end there's really only one question that still burns in my mind.

Ruhlman.... What was with the flask of vodka next to you at the signing?! Book tour worn you out that badly? or is it Bourdain's bad influence at work yet again?

You Know You Need to Laugh

I'm so up to my eyeballs in stuff relating to my new gig that I really need to laugh.
How about you; do you need to laugh? Yeah? Well, watch this

Or maybe this