Thursday, January 31, 2008

In case you forgot to TIVO this

Rachael Ray on ice: Eat, rink & be merry

Video of workers abusing cows raises food safety questions -

The article says the workers were terminated but I wonder if the real problem of poor oversight is being addressed. The slaughtering process needs to be more transparent. It should be monitored and taped and reviewed regularly by inspectors and when abuses like this are documented , the plant should be shut down until management can prove that the process they have in place is humane.

Video of workers abusing cows raises food safety questions -

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Great New Product

Are you wondering what to have for dinner tonight but too bored with the usual offerings from your supermarket HMR case of clammy roast chicken, wiggly-edge lasagna with lipstick red tomato sauce and snot green string bean salad? Wanna really bite down on something that you will be proud to brag out to you homies at work tomorrow morning. Then why not try a nice juicy German "Cheeseburger in a can?" That's right, Cheeseburger in a can. Originally developed for leiderhosen clad backpackers it has become the meal of choice by those whose appetites run towards foods that cause them to question the nature of reality and humankind's place in nature.
(Or something along those lines.)

You can order your Cheeseburger in a Can here. And tell them A Hunger Artist sent you. I'm sure they will understand.

Many thanks to Scotty at Cooking ion Theory and Practice for tipping me on this truly astonishing product.

Post Pleistocene Eating Blues

I posted the following response to Mark Bittman's depressing article Rethinking the Meat Guzzler over at and figured I'd cross-post it here to give it a bit more play. If you get the sense that I'm more than a little fatigued by the current discussion over the anthropogenic causes of global warming, you'd be correct.

'm so glad that I don't eat too much meat and also consume a lot of vegetables. My diet keeps me pretty healthy and fit, and affords me the opportunity to, unlike Mr Bittman, NOT have to wring my hands too much over how much my eating contributes to global warming.

Of course, I am not off the hook entirely, even the produce I consume organic and otherwise contributes to global warming in a variety of ways. Crops don't absorb as much CO2 as the forests and grasslands they replace and the fallow fields reflect much more heat into the atmosphere than natural vegetation.
Even the best managed land loses topsoil which runs off into streams and rivers thereby increasing heat absorption by the water.

It's too bad that I was not born closer to the end of the Pleistocene, when global warming had finished off the last vestiges of the great continental ice sheets, and the forests and plains of what would become the temperate regions were aborning. I read that the hunting was great back then, farms had not yet been invented and the warming of the climate that continues to the present was in no way anthropogenic.

AND, there was no omnivore's dilemma.


Gluttonous Rite Survives Without Silverware - New York Times

Now this is what I call a party. Wow. I'd like to see the carbon footprint of this. On second thought, maybe not.

Gluttonous Rite Survives Without Silverware

To Know Him is to Eat Him: Here come the Rice Cops

Thanks to reader Robert Martin for sciencing me up about Farmer Direct, a Canadian beef co-operative that was founded, in part, on the assumption that people will eat more beef if they know how it lived and, I assume, died.
Hi, I'm Al, I'll be your food tonight | - Canada - Features

Worldwide Authenticity Screening for Japanese Restaurants? Sounds good to me.
Actually, I want something like this for all ethnic restaurants-especially Italian restaurants. Furthermore, let's make it the responsibility of the United Nations. That way, when I go to an Italian restaurant in New York, London or Orlando, I don't have to worry about being offended by stuff like "Buffalo Wing Pizza" or "Fettuccine Alfredo with Crabmeat."

Officials in Tokyo are offering a worldwide “authenticity screen” for restaurants that purport to be Japanese. The scheme, they say, may lead to an equivalent of the Michelin star system for the world’s 25,000 Japanese restaurants.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Too Many Chiefs

by The Foodist

With all the positive aspects about attending culinary school there are negative ones that should be address as well.

The Culinary Institute of America prizes itself as being the top culinary school in the country. It's an idea that's drilled into the heads of the students from the time we arrive on campus until we leave. In conjunction with that, you have the individual students. Students from all walks of life, from all kinds of places, and with many ideas on how things should be done.

The combination of all of this in classroom here causes what we refer to as "The CIA Ego". It's not always a bad thing. It instills in us pride in our work, a strong work ethic, communication, and understanding. Well, in most cases. In other cases it causes some of us to become bull-headed, stubborn, and downright lazy. These individuals see menial tasks like peeling potatoes or cutting herbs as beneath them and feel as if [I] "have more important things to do".

When you cram 19 bodies into a kitchen here -which is ten more than should really be there- you have very little space, a lot of work to do, and things go from a normal state of organized chaos to uncontrolled chaos. With so much ego and so many bodies tension builds and tempers flare.

Being a few weeks from graduation my class has the problem of "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians". My station has two other people assigned to it, and has struggled for the last few days to produce a quality product. Part of the reason is that we are not used to the kitchen. It always takes a few days to feel comfortable in a new kitchen , but besides that is the fact that my group members have decided to take "sick" days. As a result, Chef has been on my back about family meal.

In response I have taken de facto control over the station, and have since produced better quality meals. But then today a group mate returned after missing his second day and is screwing things up by trying to get over on me and take control of the station.

Here-in lay the problem. With me at the helm Chef has been more pleased with family, and as a result I plan on staying in control of the station to ensure it continues to improve over the next 2 weeks. The other student ignores direction, does what he wants, and undermines what little authority I care to exert.

Frustration sets in while the pressure to come up with different and exciting dishes increases. Through it all I cant help but look at the situation from an outside perspective and wonder if the students graduating and going out into the world will carry this attitude with them. The idea of being "Holier then Thou" has never been one that interested me, but seems to be standard operating procedure here.

The food we cook demands more humility, patience, and understanding from us. Food cooked with ego instead of love is awful. So I am faced with a challenge in this kitchen of producing good tasting food while dealing with a control issue. Given time to think on it, a new perspective on the matter has emerged. I will take this as a real-world lesson. There will always been employees who are difficult to work with, to get on your side to do things your way. How I handle this case will help me handle future ones.

With so many chiefs, I will have to play the roll of a wiser, calmer, more focused chief.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A new season of dunning liver?

I had been wondering over the paucity of activity by the anti-foie gras folks since the onset of cold weather and the holidays. Since people tend to buy and eat more foie gras during the holidays, it seemed to me that the incidence of protest against the putative luxury liver product would increase along with consumption. But when the opposite seemed to happen (as evidenced by a drop in frequency of Google News Alerts in my mailbox. Not exactly a scientifically sound sample, but it's all I have to work with.) I was left to scratch my head over the apparent dichotomy.

Well, I have no idea whether or not this portends a turn of the tide in news about anti-foie gras activism. But I just picked up the story of three brave souls (above left) in Baltimore who have taken their revulsion over duck farming to the streets.

From a delicacy, a delicate situation --

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Week End Update

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You know you've have reached the edge of the envelope of your writing ability when you, like me, spend upwards of thirty minutes trying to make a picture of crystallized salami juice ( left) into a metaphor for something in your life -and you fail. That's how I fell about it anyway.

But yeah, the photo is of crystals of, I assume by their cubic structure, salt (NaCl) that grew out of juices that dripped from a link of soppressata that I made on Friday and left out on the counter over night to "jump start" fermentation before hanging it in the (cooler) cheese room where it will air dry over the next 2-3 weeks. I have to thank Christian the Apprentice for encouraging me to shoot this despite my protestations that it'd be a waste of time without a macro lens, because this is certainly going to be a photo that I cherish for many years to come.

Maybe I'll frame it and hang it on the wall of my office next to my Jimi Hendrix poster.

I set up a little controlled experiment this week to see if I could ferment whey and produce alcohol. I'll not bore you with all of the details of how I did this, but the skinny is that by adding sugar (sucrose) to some and honey (fructose, sucrose, glucose) to others the whey fermented and produced alcohol at concentrations ranging from approx. 10-20%. While I could have tried to let naturally occurring yeast already present in the why to do the job I used a type of yeast (Saccharomyces cervisiae) that is used to make champagne to make sure that all samples had nearly equivalent initial yeast populations.

Finally, anyone who has read this January 16 article on the Amatricana problem will understand why I decided to refer to the pot of red sauce in the slide show as "Pasta sauce with pancetta." A few weeks ago I would have called it "Sauce Amatriciana," but thanks to Marion Burros' investigation into the dispute between the people of Amatrice who make the sauce with guanciale (cured pork jowl) and Romans who make it with pancetta. I've got to be careful what I call the sauce that I have been calling "Salsa d' Amatriciana" since 1979 when I first had it in a Roman restaurant in NY named Trastevere.

Maybe I should just call it gravy. Gesu, Maria e Giuseppe, these foodies.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Amelia Bedilia learns to Cook

Cooking: Terms and What They Mean

A pallet of thanks to Jennie Cesario for sending this one my way. Although I have to say that if I were a woman, I'd be about as pissed off as I'd be amused. The condescending tone of the male narrator combined with the pliant behavior of the actress makes even my male stomach churn. Hmmm... I'm pissed and amused by this and my stomach is churning. Does that make me a girl? Yikes!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wine Preference Test

A clever fellow has developed a test that he claims will predict what types of wines you prefer. I took the test it and the results seemed pretty accurate to me. (I tested "sensitive." O-la-la) Here is partial bio taken from his site

Tim Hanni MW, CWE is one of the first two resident Americans to successfully complete the examination and earn the title Master of Wine, holds the title of Certified Wine Educator from the Society of Wine Educators and is a professionally trained chef. Tim has been involved with a variety of wine and food related businesses, education and research for over thirty-five years.

But it sounds like his test is not solely for the self-improvement of the wine drinking masses and that he has got something up his sleeve that just might make him some serious money. To wit

His newest business venture, Napa Seasoning Company LLC, is in the formulation and design phase of creating a product to solve the wine and food pairing dilemma for wine consumers. It is a food seasoning [emphasis mine] that is used as a delicious addition to almost any dish that enhances the entire dining experience.

I wonder what this mystery seasoning could be? I'll bet it contains amino acids in addition to other stuff. Well, more power to him!

Thanks to A Hunger Artist reader Valerie for this story.

Here is another link to the test.

NYC votes to make fast-food eateries post calories on menus

Yawn. I suppose this a positive development but I'm not sure. Seems to me that if you are dumb enough to eat fast food often enough for it to make you fat, you are not likely to care about how many calories are in that Whopper-McMuffin or whatever.

On the other hand, the information might dissuade parents from buying the crap for their kids more than once in a while.

NYC votes to make fast-food eateries post calories on menus

Mercury from Uranus?

If you eat tuna apparently the answer is a qualified "yes." Most of the mercury (a proven neurotoxin and carcinogen) in the tuna you eat will accumulate in your fatty tissue, but a small percentage will be excreted. But that's not the really big news, this is

NEW YORK: Recent laboratory tests performed for The New York Times found so much mercury in tuna sushi that a regular diet of even two or three pieces a week at some restaurants could be a health hazard for the average adult, based on guidelines set out by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Eight of the 44 pieces of sushi The Times purchased from local restaurants and stores in October had mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market.

Tests find hazardous levels of mercury in tuna sushi in New York - International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Where is the Outrage?

I've had a Google Alert going for news about anything to do with anti foie gras protests since May of 2007. And as regular readers of this blog know by now, I post about the subject frequently after.

Up until about November of 2007, there were lots of news articles about actions against producers and retailers of foie gras. But then after October, timely hits on the subject dried up like blood on hot sand.

What happened? Are force-fed ducks only worth making noise about in the summer months? Sales of foie gras typically escalate during the winter months, so now should be the prefect time to make some noise about this product of allegedly inhumane factory farming goons.

Criminally delicious in Australia

The Australian foodies have the same problem that we have here in the states in that if they want to eat some of the same things that their ancestors ate, they sometimes have to break the law.

No, this is not about cannibalism

Criminally delicious - Epicure - Entertainment -

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Family Meal

by The Foodist

The title refers to a term used by those in the food service industry to describe one of the few moments we have during prep and service to breathe, sit back for a minute and relax.

Most commonly when use this term, people who are not-in-the-know will look at me and say something like "Like your when your family comes in to eat?" or "Wait, your family comes to eat in the kitchen?"

So allow me to explain for anyone who's confused that family-meal is the name for the meal served by the kitchen staff for the restaurant staff. In most establishments it's leftovers from previous service gussied-up and laid out for the taking. There are a few higher end establishments that manage to work in a budget for their staff and order fresh material to make family meal , but this is rare.

Currently I am in the Advanced Cooking Techniques class in the Escoffier Room at the Culinary Institute of America. I''ve been assigned to the tournant station ("Tournant" at CIA is loosely translated as "the one who does what no one else does" or "the chefs guy Friday"). The main job of tournant in E-Room is to prepare the family meal. I have from 3 till 5 to get the job done, and it's not easy. I have to feed the kitchen staff of 19 students. I have to feed the Front of the House staff of 14 students. And I have to feed the management people(Another 6 mouths right there) and the Service Staff which on a good day is another 7 to 8 people. I have two hours to finish prepping, cook the food, and have it in the service window. With 30 minutes open to eat dinner if I'm late, I'm in trouble.

Please keep in mind that I'm not talking Hamburgers and Hot Dogs here folks. That stuff wont fly. I'm feeding 40 or so food-centered people, and I need to make them happy. There are few things in this world more disappointing to a cook than a lousy family meal.

Family meal needs to be taken seriously. It shows your skills. You must be resourceful and pay attention to detail and proper procedure at every turn. Its as though 30 or so food critics are going to dine with you tonight, and you need to make them happy. It's a such a big deal to some chefs it even shows up in their cookbooks. For example, Thomas Keller writes in "The French Laundry Cookbook" in a section called "The Importance of Staff Meal":

"Staff meal was the first about the fundamentals of cooking and how to work with by-products, using scraps to make something tasty, eye-appealing, and satisfying. But the message underlying was "Can you be passionate about cooking at this level? Staff meal. Only the staff sees it. If you can make great food for these people, create that habit, have that drive, that sincerity, and keep that with you and take it to another level in the staff meal, then someday you'll be a great chef. Maybe."

Those words alone show the importance, the strength in family meal. 2 hours to prepare, cook, and present a meal to the people who stand beside you,the people who pull you from the weeds, the people who pull your sauce off the stove when it boils up. These people are your family, fill their bellies with great food, make them happy, give them a moment of serenity in a world that is otherwise the embodiment of chaos.

Sobering Finale

I suppose my blog is not much different from any other personal blog in that it is an essentially ego-centric medium. Since it is fundamentally about me and my interpretation of reality, its tone and timbre will always reflect how I happen to be feeling when I post to it. Now as I'm typically not someone who takes life too seriously posts to my blog are, if not exactly upbeat, mirthful and full of incredulity over the exuberant irrational behavior of practically everyone besides myself. (Don't worry, I know I'm not exempt. I'm just incapable of true self-awareness.) Cheerful, in other words, yeah Cheerful.

Well, I'm breaking with tradition today. So if you don't want to read me whine, surf away.

After what had been an enormously productive couple of days, my week came to a miserable and grinding stop on Saturday when in the wee hours of the morning my body was infiltrated by the incubus, Ralph. For those of you who are not familiar with the lexicon of medieval demonology, an incubus was thought to be a minion of Satan that would enter your sleeping chamber and penetrate you against your will. Of course, the incubus as explanation for waking up in the morning feeling like a demon has been having its way with you all night has been totally discredited, and we now know that at least one incubi, Ralph, is really a stomach virus.

Soo...I woke up at at 1:30 on Saturday morning and lay abed listening to Ralph grow inside of me.
From time to time Ralph would speak to me in Ur, the universal language that everyone understands but no one can write without running the risk of ridicule for publishing obscenity. He spoke to me of how impossible it was for me to resist his will to grow and dominate my body. He also spoke of the impermanence of my life and how if he did not kill me, then one of his buddies someday surely will.

At about 5:30 Ralph ended his ministrations and had become a bolus. He was done with me, and left while I was brushing my teeth prior to getting ready for work. I felt immediately better (Who wouldn't, Ralph sucks.) but my head was swimming when I got to the farm to find that the 2 hogs we had been waiting for were monsters. By no means the largest that hogs can be, but just big enough to be more of a challenge than I needed in my present condition.

Thank goodness Christian the Apprentice (shown warily circling a half carcass in the photos above) was there to help me. Otherwise I'm sure I could not have broken them down myself, and at least one of them would still be hanging in the cooler getting funky.

The yield on these hogs? Well, we got about 300 pounds of meat and fat for grinding, more than 50 pounds of loin for roasts etc., 10 pounds of tenderloin, and lots of bones. I also harvested two slabs of bacon for pancetta that weigh about 12 pounds each.

When I got home at 6:00PM I went directly to bed and did not get up until 7:30 this morning.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Road to Hell

Is lined with intimate spots that serve meals like this (and take your liver in trade)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Funeral Food

by The Foodist

Unfortunately over my holiday break from school a family member passed, a well-loved man who was devoted to his wife (They just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year), his children, and his town. I've been to a few funerals in my day so I have seen plenty of funeral food. But I can say without doubt that I have never seen anything like what I saw last week.

But before I tell about what I saw I need to fill you in a bit about my late uncle.

My uncle spent the majority of his life in service to his town as a police officer, and later, police chief. So as you can imagine he was a regimented man with very strong ties to the community. On the days of his viewing, there must have been 250 people a day who came to pay their respect. The line to get into the viewing was out the door and around the corner. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Back at my aunt's house, you couldn't go two inches without bumping into a fruit basket. I'm not sure if its the new fad in funeral food or what, but I wouldn't think to send a fruit basket. The town car wash, a multitude of local businesses, offices and departments my uncle was involved with all sent them. It got to the point where my cousins were fire-bucketing fruit baskets from the upstairs into the garage. If I were a thief breaking into her garage I would swear the lady was either insane or ran a fruit basket business by the time we were done stacking them up.

Then came the real food. The chicken, the pizza, the chips, sandwiches, the drinks... you name it. My aunt and uncle were always huge on family gatherings, they had played host (bless them for it) to our family reunions for years. Laying out spreads of tin foil covered, sterno-lit, steaming piles of food for us to enjoy and it was both heartwarming and amusing to see the same spreads at the time of mourning.

Immediately after the funeral was a brunch at the same catering hall that had played host to numerous of the families events, including my uncle and aunt's 50th wedding anniversary. The owner and his son have run the location for years and know my cousin Danny very well. The doors were opened to the family the second they got word they needed a place for brunch, and they did not fail to impress.

Now truth be told, I've never been totally keen on catering. There are some great places out there that do really good food. But I don't usually get much pleasure from catering or eating a catered event. I feel like a cog in a wheel on both ends. When I eat catered food I feel as though I'm doing so because its both required of me and if I don't I wont eat again for awhile. When I work a catered event I feel like the food is very impersonal. There's not the same love put in when you start a single dish from scratch and finish it on one plate.

But with the attention and love that was put into that brunch I'm not so sure I had that same feeling of being ill-used this time around. With the food, and booze flowing and bellies full I saw smiling faces, heard laughter, and watched grief get closed out for a short period of time. Maybe that's the real point of Funeral Food.

We talk about people turning to food to cope with troubled times and personal issues and we see the post-funeral buffets laid out in movies and on TV. But I don't think we give it much thought. We chalk it up to part of the grieving process, but its so much more then that. Food has the beautiful ability to bring us closer together in good times and bad, and when our bellies are full our hearts get lifted.

My cousin Danny gave me a quick run through of the catering hall's kitchen before I got back on the road. I met the owner's son, who had come in at 5 that morning to knock the meal out. After giving my thanks and turning to leave he looked at my cousin and said, "Come back soon Danny, and on a happier occasion..please."

It kind of stuck with me a little bit. It wasn't that the owner and his son had only opened their door to a customer. They had cooked a meal for a friend in need, and doing so, paid their respects to a friend.

There's kinship in that for me. I have, on more then one occasion, been in the kitchen cooking for funeral guests. There's something warming and welcoming about a kitchen in hard times. In your heart you know its a dark time, but in the kitchen you're creating, and in doing so smoothing out the rough edges.

So next time tragedy strikes at your friends or family, pick up a knife, a saute pan, a whisk. Create something. Fill someone's stomach and lift their heart. Because at the core, that's really what cooking is about.

Mercy, Mercy

Sometimes I think blogging is the best job in the world. I've got no boss, can make my own hours and I get to meet-sometimes live- some truly interesting people. (Too bad it doesn't pay.) Take Tyrone, a guy who I became cyber-friendly with many months ago via a process that I have already forgotten. As I write Tyrone, who mostly lives in Texas where he runs a catering operation with his business partner Gary, is in Tenerife trying to resupply the galley of a Mercy Ship of which he is the executive chef.

Tyrone and his nurse wife Stephanie are on their way to Africa for a year of treating the sick. It's humbling for someone as ego centric as myself to think that there are people out there who do the kind of work that they do. And more than a little amusing that I get to hear about it first hand via email from Tyrone and his blog. What a life.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Of pizza and portable toilets

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In a shopping center no more than 2 miles from my home in West Chester, Pa, is a pizzeria that has got to have the most unfortunate location of any eatery I have ever seen. Directly next door is a medical supply shop that only G-d could know why, decided to place commodes and adult diapers in the adjacent window.

I noticed this a few weeks ago but did not get the bug to go and shoot it until tonight when, inspired by the arrival of my brother (who worked for many years as a professional videographer) I got the idea to jump in the car and get it done.

Are we hungry yet?

The Pope ate Compost (e)?

Janet the Australian of Brisbane, who writes The Old Foodie, the consistently engrossing food and cooking history blog, reminds us how words and their meanings get fuzzy as they move through time and cultures. Today she wrote about a 17th century banquet given in honor of Pope Innocent the XI (Wow. Why would any pope, feel the need to call himself Innocent? Weird.) wherein composed salads of fruits and vegetables called compostes were served, and she observed that

[Composte] was already an old word to describe a ‘composition’ or combination of ingredients – as in the modern use of the word to describe a mix of garden refuse in the process of melting down into rich soil. We do still use it in a culinary sense too – although we use the Frenchified version: the little accent mark over the second ‘o’ in compôte indicates the loss of a letter ‘s’. So there you are – next time you have a fruit compote you are really having a modern version of compost.

(Or is that composte? It damn well better be.)

In my experience, these types of salads are not called compotes so much anymore. Rather they are referred to as
salade composée by francophonic chefs and composed salads by others.

Thanks Janet!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Week's End Wrap Up

We continue to have a lot of difficulty getting our USDA certified butcher to slaughter our animals. The lack of knowing when we will have meat to work with is beginning to rile us. It's a pity that the law does not allow us to slaughter ourselves and still be allowed to sell to the public but it does not. So we continue to be frustrated by the slow trickle of supplies that we have to work with.

Someone has volunteered to come in and work one or two days a week for nothing more than the pleasure of learning and working with his hands. Christian the Apprentice appears to be an exceptionally bright and capable young man with a terrific work ethic and a lot of ability. He has no formal culinary training (that he has admitted to at least), yet he seems to be able to do almost everything I ask him to do. Sure, his knife skills are a little rough, as are a bunch of other basic culinary skills. But what he lacks in skill he more than makes up for in enthusiasm and what appears to me to be a serious nose for cooking. The only troubling thing about him is that he seems to want me to hold it against him that he once sat in the front row of an Emeril the Entertainer show on the Food Network. I remain unsure over how to respond.

Here's my I-Ching reading on the subject

On one burner is a wok with six vegetables that spell out the truth that he once time thought it would be cool to go on Emeril. On an another burner another six vegetables tell me that Christian is serious about cooking. (The dude even jumped on the pot sink and started washing -and more than once!) So I must decide if I should respect him for being serious about the craft or ridicule him for behavior that implies that cooking, like sex and tap dancing, should properly be considered a form of entertainment.

Now what would you do? :-)

Christian the Apprentice appears briefly in the slideshow that follows below.

On a personal note there has been a subtle change in the way I think about food and cooking. Over the years I've thought about my relationship to food and the process of making it comestible (cooking) as having numerous focal points of intense intellectual interest. For example I've given equal weight of importance to how cooking and eating defines us as individuals and members of a cultural group. At one time or another I've been absorbed by studying how food changes as it moves from the field, across the stove and into our gullets and I've even spent countless hours in pursuit of answering questions about food that I know have know definitive answers (e.g. What is food?).

But I do not remember being as interested in cooking as something to do for the sake of doing it. I'm sure I've gone through something like this before, but I don't recall having quite the same sense of understanding that so much pleasure could be gleaned from just cooking. It feels a bit strange, and I'm not quite sure what it means or if it means anything at all.
The only things I can compare it to is how it feels when I swim when I'm swimming well or when I'm out on a stone wall project after hours of cutting and laying rock.

But it's not quite the same thing.

Sigh, another mystery to probe. / Europe - Europe set for debate rerun on ‘Frankenfoods’

Here they go again. Sheesh. If the EU can get itself this worked up about the prospect of prosciutto or speck from cloned pigs imagine, what would happen if they found out that I was planning to clone me. / Europe - Europe set for debate rerun on ‘Frankenfoods’

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On Salt

Over the years I have met novice and experienced cooks who question why so many chefs prefer Kosher salt to table salt. I have also met chefs who think that Kosher salt is always preferable to table salt. This latter opinion (okay, I know it's a straw dog) is not entirely rational.

Since this is a potentially huge topic and I still haven't gotten my laps in at the pool, I'll be brief.

Kosher salt is pure sodium chloride. All the brands are the same chemically, but vary in the size and porosity of the individual grains or flakes.

Table salt is either pure sodium chloride or sodium chloride with salts of iodine. Most table salt also has one or another type of anti-caking agents added to it so that they do not clump up when they are exposed to moisture. Grain size and porosity do not vary much between brands.

It is almost always preferable to use pure salt in cooking . The anticaking agents in some table salts can cloud preparations that are supposed to be clear and iodine tastes nasty. But it is not always preferable to use Kosher salt in cooking. Here's when and why.

In brines, soups, stocks, any watery preparation really

Kosher salt is almost always more expensive than pure table salt. Since they are both chemically the same what's the point of using Kosher salt to make brine or adding Kosher salt to water for pasta when you can use pure table salt (Usually evaporated sea salt that is fine-grained salt without iodine or anti-caking agents.), achieve the exact same effect for less than half the price?

In dough, batter, meringues

Kosher salt grains are larger and harder to disperse quickly and evenly than equivalent weights of smaller more numerous grains of pure table salt. Use pure table salt when you bake, and leave the Kosher salt for other applications.

So when should you use Kosher salt?

For a la minute seasoning -especially if you season with your hands.

The larger grain size of Kosher salt helps to minimize the possibility that you will "pinch" too much and over season.

For salad

Once again the larger grain size is the reason here. Larger grains of salt take longer to dissolve so you have more time to mix the salt in evenly during tossing. Use table salt for salad and you often end up with "pockets" of concentrated salt. Yech!

For curing and dry rubbing

Again, the larger grain size is the principle reason why we use Kosher salt for cures. Because the larger grains take longer to dissolve, they spend more time on the surface before the salt ions enter the meat. The result is that the surface cells loose more water than they otherwise would.

This enhanced water loss is good for a few reasons. If you are dry rubbing with the intention of cooking the food, the slightly dryer exterior will brown better and faster. If you are cuing for smoking, you get an enhanced tightening of the surfce cells (called a pellicle) which is sina qua non for smoked foods.

There's more to all of this, of course, but I gotta go. But look. Stop dumping Kosher salt into water. You are wasting your money! Just be sure to remember that if you are used to using Kosher salt and measuring salt it by volume, you are going to have to use less table salt.


More about salt

I was just getting set up to do a clarity test of Kosher and non-iodized table salt and was mortified to see that my Morton Kosher salt contains an anti-caking agent (Yellow Prussiate of soda). So my Kosher salt is not kosher. Oy Vey!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The larger point here of course is that there may even be less reason to use Kosher salt for recipes that require smaller crystals or where crystal size makes no difference whatsoever (e.g. brine).

Update Again !!!!

I dissolved 20 g each of Morton Kosher Salt and Wegman's table salt without iodine in equivalent volumes of water (6 fluid oz). The Kosher salt which contained the anti-caking agent Yellow Prussiate of soda (Sodium Ferrocyanide) produced a crystal clear solution while the Wegman's table salt which contained the anti-caking agent Calcium Silicate.

Preliminary Conclusion

Wegman's noniodized table salt should not be used for watery preparations that would benefit from being very transparent.

How to Choose an Eggplant

The first in a series of informational videos for supermarket shoppers. This demonstrates the proper technique for selecting eggplant in a supermarket setting only. Do not attempt to use this method at a farmer's market or in your garden.

From Hell's Kitchen

This is not about food or cooking but it is funny as hell.

This guy dies from natural causes at home leaving a Social Security check on the table. Smelling free money, his roommates put the body in a wheelchair and trundle him around Hell's Kitchen (in NYC) looking for a check cashing store to cash the check.

OMG, I love NY.

Two in Hell's Kitchen bring dead man on trip to cash his Social Security check

Table Touch Screen Terminals To Replace Waiters?

Nah, touch screen terminals will not replace waiters. The waiters will move from the dining room to the touch screens as a new market for actors opens up.

I predict that soon after touch screens begin to appear in restaurants we will see the appearance of virtual wait staff (VWS) on the table top. Even if these VWS are digitally constructed there will still be a need for actors to voice the parts.

I wonder though, will we be expected to tip the touch screen? And if I am correct and VWS do make an appearance on touch screen ordering devices, will we be open to charges of sexual harassment if we touch a server instead of a menu item?


Table Touch Screen Terminals To Replace Waiters

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Musing on cooking for family vs strangers

When I was single and dreaming about having a family, one of the things I looked forward to a lot was cooking for my wife and kids. In those days I was feeling fed up with the food business and was tired of cooking for people I did not know, and I thought that it would be nice to cook for no reward other than the gratitude of my family.

Fast forward to about six months ago and discover that after 15 years of cooking dinner almost every night for my family, I've realized that I need to start cooking for strangers again. Sure my family is grateful for all the shopping and cooking and cleaning I do (At least I hope they are) but how I ever thought that gratitude and the joy of cooking alone was going to satisfy me, I'll never know. On balance, home cooking has been pretty rough job most of the time.

Anyone who has ever cooked every night for the same people year in and out, knows how frustrating it is when somebody at the table decides to use the occasion of dinner to vent something that for some idiosyncratic reason they could not have vented 10 minutes before you called them to dinner. Or how about this one:

You've been cooking for a couple of hours, dinner is ready, you call everyone to the table and instead of taking their places quietly, the kids (or whoever the non-cooking dependent others happen to be) start arguing about something. You try to put a stop to it because the call to dinner is supposed to be a joy and not a cry to battle and the bread is still in the oven and the vegetables need to be plated and you really don't want to be listening to some crappy argument and now your head hurts and you wish someone else was cooking.

Cooking for the same people every day is even tougher if you like to cook a wide variety of things. It seems that everybody besides you has a laundry list of ingredients that they don't like and arcane, but perfectly valid, reasons to dislike them. The net result of years of not cooking all of the things that my family collectively does not like to eat, is that my repertoire of dishes is about as sparse as the hair on my head.

For a chef like myself, cooking for a constant rotation of strangers is in many ways easier and more fulfilling. The not-knowing who you are feeding and what they like and dislike compels you keep trying new things and adding new dishes to your repertoire. With few exceptions, strangers are almost always more polite than family when they don't like something you cooked. And if you turn them off completely, instead of ranting and raving or diving under the table to protest what you have dared to try to feed them, they simply leave and don't come back. Now how cool is that?

Oh and strangers who come to your restaurant or in my case, Barn (Yeah, I cook in a barn) can certainly show gratitude too. Usually it's in the form of delight, but often people thank you for what you have cooked. It's a little weird to hear it considering that they are paying for it and it's really you who should be thanking them for coming. But frankly, when was the last time your family paid you and thanked you for dinner?

Of course, I will cook for my family until I cannot cook anymore. It's a tough job but I still love to do it because I love them. However, I'm very glad to be cooking for strangers again.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Weekend Wrap Up

We had another great week at the farm. There is so much to do and so much to invent that I'm bristling with excitement. I'm not sure if I've made this clear in earlier posts, but I'm not there just to make sausage and salume-although this is a major part of what I do- I am wrestling with creating a cuisine for the farm from almost scratch.

Prior to my climbing on board as "chef de cuisine" or chef of everything that is not made by Trent or Rachel Hendricks (Which is a lot when you consider the many thousands of pounds of milk, cheese and soaps they produce.) there had not been much in the way of prepared food coming out of the kitchen. (They, ahem, did not even have a proper stove or oven in there.)
Their sausage and bacon was made off premises by others (the bacon still is), they made some soup and other ready to eat products but there wasn't a lot.

But all of that is changing. We are looking at everything we sell or might sell and asking "how can we produce this on the farm?" If we cannot make it ourselves is it worth having? I'm thinking a lot about what I can add to round out the cuisine so that it is comprehensive and contains all the elements of an anesthetically and nutritionally well-rounded diet but...

Me, most of the time I'm like, just let me cook. Cooking is not an intellectual activity for me, it's a reflex.

Just get me the stuff I need to satisfy what my hands want to make and let me make it. In addition to charcuterie products I've been cranking out pastry, soups, saucers, pork and beans, poached pears, baked apples, none of it is enough, all of it is much better than I expect it to be and never is any of it good enough. Most of the time that I'm at work, I don't stop working until it's time to leave unless I'm sick or need to use the WC. I've always worked like that when I'm doing what I'm meant to do (cook/teach/build stone walls) but it's been a while since I felt that way in the kitchen and it feels good to back.

I did not have much time or will to shoot photos this week. But I did want you to see something that i think is pretty cool. It's a few photos of some fermented sausage I made last week that show, among other things, how quickly they change as the bacteria and cure do their work.

Okay, I'm going swimming! (I try to swim 3-5 miles a week. Lately it's been closer to 3.5 and well, we cannot afford to get lazy as we grow old now can we?)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Image: Bacon Air Freshener for your Car

Gary Allen must have returned from his ice cave at the North Pole or something because he sent this last night after sending me nothing, nothing (Ugats, aright?) for almost a month. I don't mean to sound ungrateful though, for this amuses us very much.

Not sure why one could not just hang a strip of real bacon from the mirror though. As long as you took if down when you parked in the sun it shouldn't drip fat all over the dashboard and probably smells better than this fake stuff.