Sunday, October 26, 2008

Freeze a Beer in 2 Seconds

FYI, some potentially useful information. I assume this works because releasing the carbon dioxide dissolved in the beer (which is already below the freezing point of water) raises the freezing point. On the other hand, perhaps the drop in pressure just reduces the entropy (heat) of the beer on the bottom causing it to crystallize.


Freeze A Beer In Two Seconds

Friday, October 24, 2008

Resolving Focus

It feels like it is taking forever to finish. But our oven project is inching towards completion. I've been off the project for over a month to concentrate on building a custom meat butchery. However, Steve Crozier, an ex pat Brit and long time friend of the farm stepped up and took charge of finishing the masonry. Yesterday Steve -who was a bricklayer somewhere back in his long ago- laid the last arch of the oven vault and Trent, lit a fire to see how it drafted.

There is still a lot to do. Rebar has to be bent and laid over the roof of the vault. We have to build a form to hold the concrete that must be poured for the roof. Bricks for the front must be bedded, a chimney erected, the ledge around the perimeter finished and more. But it will get done and I predict that by spring we will be baking bread and roasting meat in this monster.

About the title
I had no idea what to name this post so I just pulled out the first words that came out of memory. "Focus" is Latin for hearth and it is resolving in that it is becoming what it is meant to be.

Whatever. I'm tired.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How I Fry Eggs: Method and Explanation

If there is anything I hate more than crispy, hard and stinky fried eggs, I'll be sure to tell you about when I remember what it is. Eggs that are fried too quickly in a pan that is too hot coagulate too fast and dry out. The result is hard whites and yolks and crispy brown or -god forbid- blackened bottoms. Moreover, such eggs end up stinking of hydrogen sulfide because, of course, they got too hot.

I prefer fried eggs that are tender, runny and with little to no browning on any surface. Now while the reason I prefer to cook eggs this way really boils down to a matter of personal preference (i.e., "That's the way I like them because that's the way I like them."), it's a preference that turns on a philosophical point. I'm of the opinion that if I am lucky enough to have food that is very fresh and of very high quality, the best thing I can do to it is the least I can do to it. My goal is to maintain the character of the raw product as much as possible and not transform it into something that bears scant resemblance to what it was before I cooked it.

Eggs are pretty subtle zygotes: no matter how good they are, their intrinsic flavor and texture is very easy to bury under careless technique. They are arguably best eaten raw, at close to body temperature. So if agree with me, then when you propose to cook an egg you would do well to ask yourself how you can preserve as much of the character of the raw egg as possible yet still regard them as cooked.

Now while the specifics of the answer you get will depend on what process you plan to put the eggs through (e.g. poaching, scrambling etc.), the basic technical challenge will always be the same because how an egg changes as it heats is ultimately determined by its physical composition -which varies very little from one egg to another. Sure, some eggs will be fresher than others (lower pH & more water) and of course, you can alter the physical properties of the egg by mixing in salt, or some other substance that affects the behavior of the proteins or alters the ratio of water to protein (as would be the case if you added wine or milk). But even then, if do not heat the eggs gently they will still become tough and squeeze out water. Here's why in a nutshell.

Egg whites and yolks are suspensions of protein in a watery and fatty (in the case of yolks) medium. When they heat slowly, the proteins open slowly, collide gently with the other proteins and form a loose spongy gel structure that traps the water. Heat the eggs too fast though, and the proteins open quickly, collide too often, bond too many times and create gel structure that is so tight that the water gets squeezed out resulting in a hard, dry cooked egg.

Of course there is a lot more to the story than this. For example, if you get the egg too hot, the water in the egg also gets too hot and evaporates too quickly. Also the proteins may "blacken " and begin to break down and release stinky amino acid compounds (similar to what happens in overcooked fish)...I could go on but I'm out of time.

Okay about this video.

I did it in one take because I only had two eggs. So it's a bit rough. My narration is unrehearsed and punctuated by really annoying coughing - the natural consequence of asthma and allergies. I'd love to be able to edit that stuff out but my software is not up to it. I also misspeak slightly when I say the pan needs to be pre-heated to 350 degrees F. That number only works for the kind of pan I'm using and the manner in which I cook. See, I heat the pan to about 350 and pull it off the fire, by the time I put the butter in the temp drops to under 250 degrees -which is all the heat you need to get the eggs to begin to coagulate.

The net-net is that if you don't have an IR (frankly, I mostly only use mine when I'm studying or teaching) just heat the pan so that when the butter goes in it melts slowly, bubbles but does not brown. Oils are another story for another time.

BTW If the heat is cranked the temp of the pan can exceed 600 degrees F! When you consider that whites coagulate at about 140 degrees, and that browning in eggs occurs at about 325 degrees, it's easy to understand why that is way too hot.

I'll eventually figure out how to elevate the qualities of these things, in the meantime I hope this makes sense!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pretzel Logic

As much as I consider myself a New Yorker (I lived there more than 50 years) the reality is that I live now live in a suburb of Philadelphia which, like the city that it exurbed itself from, is out of its mind with excitement over the coming contest between the Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays.
There seems to be almost as many Phillies logos arond town as there are political campaign signs. Anyway, today I was on my way to the local music store to drop off a French horn that we do not need because the school band has one to lend to my son when he switches from his regular instrument (trumpet) during certain pieces, when I noticed that the pretzel store (soft pretels are big stuff here) was selling pretzels shaped into the letter "P" -for Phillies, and not pretzel as you might assume in any other month.

Now, my son is a big Phillies fan and he loves pretzels. So I thought 'WTF, I'll get him one.' Of course, I have two kids so not wanting to leave my daughter (who loves pretzels but hates the Phillies) out of the equation, I bought two.

Flash forward to the return of my daughter, who is always ravenously hungry when she walks in, from school. After a brief hug and 'How are you" I grab the bag of pretzels and offer her one. Her response? "No thanks, I hate the Phillies."

Wow, if that wasn't ever a primer on how people will reject foods that they associate with a despised "other" I don't know anything.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

After Alice (Waters): An Etiology

While it would be way reductive to date the moment in time when chefs began to pay attention to the provenance of the ingredients we prepare to the appearance of Alice Waters on the national stage, I have no qualms about giving her credit for making it loud-and-clear that we ignore how food is produced at the risk of imperiling the quality of our lives. If we choose not to know where food comes from and how it is comes to be, well, we may be able to cook it and make it taste great, but we miss out on the opportunity to know what makes it what it is.

At the moment when thousands of baby boomer chef wannabes were discovering that there was a big market for refined and innovative American cooking, Waters stood up and challenged us to discover who was producing the raw ingredients that we meant to cook, and to be confident that we understood the nature of each animal and plant that we meant to transform through our "art." I know that others have their own interpretation of Water's message, but when I dig down into it and strip off all the most obvious meanings, what I hear is a call to search for the itness or the ingredients that form the foundation of our work.

Yeah, you read that right itness.

Now I know that some of you winced, perhaps because you sensed that it (ness) smells of incense and indicates a modality of thinking that always ends up with the thinker unable to find his car keys. And that might be a fair assessment if you had reason to believe that I was really the Beavis character that I affect in the posts I write when I'm feeling cranky and anarchic. But this is not one of those occasions. I'm actually drop-dead serious here. You'll have to trust me on this, but I would never risk using a word like itness without letting you know I was screwing around. (Such posts are usually tagged with "Goofin" or "Satire.")

Itness is a (Socratic) concept that I use as a tool to help me when I'm trying to understand the characteristics and implications of the existence (or non-existence in the case of extinct things) of some material thing. Put another way, it is a device that I use to put together a description of the physical properties of living and non-living things and the fields that surround them. (The word "field" here refers to all of the culturally generated stuff that gets applied to the thing e.g., folk tales, beliefs about the purpose and proper use of the thing, how the thing interacts with other things and the quantum of information that develops from those interactions and so on.)

When I want to know something well I ask "What is it?" After the first (usually the most superficial) "It is..." answer comes back, I ask "Is that all it is?" and so on, all the while reminding myself that if there is an ice cube's chance in hell of knowing what the object of my curiosity really is -if there is any chance of knowing its itness- I better keep asking questions.

Of course the questions never stop and the answers they beggar never yield a complete understanding of what makes a thing what it is, so an absolute determination of itness is an unattainable goal. However, just because something is unattainable, it does not naturally follow that you should not bother to pursue it -not at all.

It is from the pursuit of the itness of things, and the recognition of how they are put together and what they mean and have meant to hundreds of millions of sapient beings, that there begins to emerge a profound appreciation for the extraordinary complexity and heart-breaking beauty of this life.

So when Alice Waters told us to pay attention to where, by whom and how our food is produced, I understood that she wasn't just offering us the means to become better cooks and sell better food. What she was also doing was warning us that if we did not start searching for the itness of the things that made up the foundation of our craft, we would never know what we were doing.

And that, I aver, would suck.

Here's a brief video that represents the partial result of my pursuit of the itness of pork.

It stars me and the 5 Berkshire hogs at Hendricks Farms and Dairy -where I cook and slop hogs with the stuff that at another time I might have thrown into a dumpster.

I LOVE slopping the hogs, it is one of the high points of my day. They are always hungry and absolutely revel in scarfing up the most revolting stuff. They never say thanks of course -not until we eat them anyway.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sausage Making 101

Twelve months out and thousands of pounds of meat after I began making sausage on weekly basis, I'm still amused enough by the process to keep drilling down into it en route to making the best damn sausage I am capable of making. Yes, there are certain nodes along this region of the continuum of cooking related activities that are painful, while others are merely soul-stuntingly boring.

Mixing by hand, forty pounds of viscous and nearly frozen forcemeat will turn the bones in your hands into throbbing conduits of anxiety.

Cranking down the piston on the sausage stuffer is usually pretty gratifying because there is always a payoff as the meat extrudes into the casing and becomes what it was meant to be: sausage. But I have been seen mocking my reflection in the kitchen window as I watch myself crank the piston back up from the empty cylinder. I mean, who wants to think of himself, even for a moment, as someone who's job it is to turn a fraking handle on an empty sausage stuffer?

However, when I weigh these tests of my body and ego against the satisfaction that comes from knowing how to make -and make well- what to many is just another option for mastication and digestion, they seem like a fair price to pay. See, for me, making sausage is one small but essential part of my plan to stop wasting time and grapple with -while attempting to grok-the fundamental elements of my craft and -because my craft is inextricably bound up with who and what I am- my self.

Here is a slide show that describes some of the steps involved in making sausage. It begins with the washing of the hog casings and ends when the piped and crimped links. Of course, there is more missing from the show than ought to be included for a complete recounting of events. I don't show the animals (chicken in this case) being bred and slaughtered. The casings are not shown being fabricated from hog intestines and so on. You will have to use your imagination if you want to see any of that. Or perhaps you might choose to go off, as I have chosen to do, and try to experience it all directly while leaving the imagining to others.

And here's a video that shows my hands piping the forcemeat and twisting the rope into links. Please note that when you make links for fresh sausage (as opposed to cooked and air-dried preparations) there is no need to tie them off. As long as you make sure to squeeze an adequate amount of forcemeat away from both sides of what will become the junction or "link" between the sausages to prevent the filling from flowing out when the links are cut, you will not need a ligature.

The soundtrack has nothing to do with content of the video which, as a fan of dissonance, is exactly the reason I chose it.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Veal Leg Breakdown

It seems a bit strange to use the words nostalgia and butchery in the same sentence. But cutting up veal legs released a flood of serotonin as I recalled the early eighties when I broke down my first primal leg of veal. Back then, I was working as a line cook in a now long defunct nouvelle cuisine style Franco-American restaurant in suburban Connecticut. Le Coq Hardi had three-stars from the NY Times for every year of it's eight year run. (The Times has not given stars to suburban restaurants since I don't know when. Anyone who knows, please chime it.)

The chef of Le Coq Hardi was Carl Wright, a CIA grad and, most importantly, a natural born cook who seemed to care nothing for fame and everything about the craft. Carl taught me most of what is today the base of my knowledge of butchery, and for that and much else, he has my fealty.

At Le Coq Hardi we always used the meat from the leg for escallopes de veau which, because of their lower cost, we served only at lunch, while loin chops, tenderloins and loin medallions went to the dinner table. As you will see in the accompanying slide, only a portion of the meat was broken down for cutting into scallops (aka scallopini, escallopes and cutlets). The remainder became roasts, osso bucco(i) and stew meat to satisfy the needs of our retail trade. The bones, of course, were turned into stock and the trim that would otherwise have gone into the trash or to a rendering plant was fed to our hogs.

A note on the nomenclature used in the slides

The names used to describe the different cuts on the leg are pretty subjective and the process of applying names to them can be confusing. One groups sirloin is another's outside round while others don't name the cuts at all.

Me, I used terminology from my old copy of The Meat Buyers Guide to label the cuts I made on the leg. If you have a different idea of what something should be called, I'd love to read it.

Double click the slide show to enlarge it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

How to Make Rootbeer (for JHS)

Sierra is a fifth generation root beer maker. The Bottle capper we use belonged to her great-great grandfather and we have some green glass bottles from the 1920's that we use to make holiday batches to share with close family. It's fun and easy and teaches kids math, science, cooking, and the virtue of patience. You have to wait 5 days to taste your finished product.

The root beer has to lay down for 5 days to gain the carbonation from the yeast...BEWARE! during this period many a poorly capped bottle has exploded, sending glass flying everywhere and coating the ceiling with a sticky brown mess. I've figure out how to avert this - line a 30 quart cooler with a trash bag and lay the bottles down inside the cooler. If anything blows,you only have to rinse off the other bottles and toss out the trash bag,

This recipe yields a can easily cut it in half or even quarter it - and the amount of sugar is relative to taste, this recipe is sweet to my taste, so I cut back a bit.

You will need:
A bottle capper - available at home brew stores or on the net
One Box of bottle caps - available at most good hardware stores that carry canning supplies
32 clean, empty, 12oz beer bottles - available for the price of a deposit at any recycling center
A pot large enough to hold your brew
A funnel
A ladle
Two kids to make - and clean up - the mess
A large, hard plastic cooler
A large trash bag

3 gallons of cool tap water
4 oz. Root beer extract - check the spice aisle in our grocery store - often they carry it
5 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 cup warm water for yeast

Dissolve yeast in water, set aside
Dissolve sugar in 3 gallons of water, taste for sweetness
Add extract to water, taste for flavor - you may add more extract it you prefer
Add yeast mixture to rootbeer mixture, stir to combine
Bottle and Cap
Let sit in a cool place for 5 days before drinking

It's good to make a batch of vanilla ice cream to go with the first few bottles- " Black Cows"are one of my favorite beverages.

Performance Hunger Art?

The hunger artist in the story by Franz Kafka lived in a cage and starved himself for his art. This guy seems to take a slightly different approach to what is arguably the same end.

Man eats 45 slices of pizza in 10 minutes to win contest

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pardus is Brazen ( Braising)...

It's a spectacular Hudson Valley Indian Summer day and Sierra and I are expecting company. Cedric Tovar, Chef and Director of Restaurant Ops at a major NYC hotel, is a good family friend and he and his girl friend are coming up to pick apples and have dinner, what am I serving? A braise. A chuck roast braised in beef stock with tomato puree, onions, garlic, carrots, pancetta, calamattta olives, capers, anchovies and sage.

But all of the accessories are irrelevant. Braising seems to flummox so many people - and it should not. You could be braising a goat in sub-Saharan Africa, a Yak in Mongolia, a horse in Argentina, or a pot roast in Indiana.

Here are the basics:

Tough cut of meat with lots of visible fat and connective tissue between the muscles - butt, shank, Bottom round, Chuck, Shoulder, Cheek meat

Aromatics - french mire poix or anything else that smells good and fits the regional profile that you're striking for - carrots, onions, celery; lemon grass, garlic, ginger, scallions; onions, garlic, sage, chiles. You get the picture?

Liquid - stock or water or vegetable broth or any combination that fits.

Herbs to match the region

Finishing ingredients/edible "garnish" - olives and capers; root veg added into the pot near the end; fresh herbs from the region

Method for today's Braised Beef:

Render pancetta in olive oil until crisp - remove pancetta, leave oil in pan

Heat oil hot enough to sear meat on both sides until deep brown - with out burning fat OR meat

Remove meat, lower heat

Add aromatics and brown ( this works only if aromatics have sufficient sugars to brown)- onions, garlic, carrots today

Add liquid - beef stock and fresh tomato puree

Add Beef back to pan

bring liquid to gentle simmer

Place pan into low oven - 300 F today

Cover if needed (how to tell? Is the liquid really deep?- leave uncovered and check for evaporation every 30 minutes. add more water if it starts to look dry). If liquid level is low to begin with, cover to inhibit excess evaporation - check every 30 minutes anyway - add water if it starts to dry out

When meat is REALLY tender, add finishing ingredients - today olives, capers, anchovies

Turn down oven to 250F and allow flavors to meld for about 15 minutes. If guests are late, or you don't want to eat right away, turn down to will hold that way for a looooog time.

Serve with a braised vegetables - presuming you did not add one to the pot during the last 30 minutes of cooking - a starch that is appropriate - mashed potatoes, polenta, steamed rice - and plenty of appropriate bread (if bread would be inappropriate in some cultures, serve more rice on the side).

Don't follow recipes, follow techniques and make up your own recipes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

This Week We Try Bread, by Mike Pardus

Last week I documented my pizza fiasco. Pizza was pretty stressful, and not conducive to working as a team with a 9 year-old. I think I've got the kinks worked out, and I'm going to throw myself back into the pizza pit again next week. This week we decided to try bread and it was a lot less stress, but not as lucrative - you can charge $15 for a pizza, but only $4 for a loaf of bread. If this were my only means of support, I'd do both - bake the bread in the morning, re-stoke the fire and do the pizza in the afternoon - that would be a good days wage.

But for us, it's a hobby...a way to learn, bond, have fun - and if we make a few bucks, so much the better. My daughter was with me this week as self appointed sous-chef -in-training, working side by side with me on Wednesday and Thursday and, as a result, got a split of the profit and lessons in work ethic and applied economics.

On Tuesday I consulted with my Bread Guru, Eric Kastel - Hearth Breads instructor at the CIA. I showed him Ruhlman's simple 5:3 dough recipe (with my additives of spelt, wheat berries, and flax) and got a revised version which yielded a much nicer texture of both crust and crumb. Here's Eric's tweak on the standard 5:3

  • 50# King Arthur bread Flour 32.5# water 1.5# salt 6 oz. Instant yeast (Saf-instant brand - this is different than "dry-active yeast")
  • 1# wheat berries, lightly crushed in spice grinder 1# spelt, lightly crushed 1# flax seed, lightly crushed Soak in 2.5# water over night

Combine all dry ingredients (including yeast) in mixing bowl, add water and knead with a bread hook for 10 minutes on low speed. Add adjunct (all water will have been abosrbed by now) and continue to mix for another 5 minutes. Remove from machine to a cool place until it has risen once. Punch down, shape and retard in very cold box (34 F) until ready to bake.

On Wednesday, using a borrowed Hobart 30 quart mixer, I mixed the dough in 4 batches (machine couldn't handle 80# at once), packed it in a large cooler, and drove it to the farm.

At the farm Sierra (my daughter) and I set up a table with a digi scale, a knife, flour, corn meal, waxed paper, and 75 small baskets from the local Dollar store. While I cut and weighed the dough into 500 gram masses, Sierra shaped them. Ron and Kate, the farmers, lined each basket with waxed paper and a heavy dusting of flour, loaded the baskets into plastic tomato lugs, covered each lug with towels and stacked them in the produce cooler - cranked down to 34F to slow the yeast growth. Before turning in for the night Ron lit a fire in the oven to begin a slow warming process - we needed it to be up to 800 degrees by Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday Ron pulled the dough out of the cooler at 1:00 pm and stacked them in the barn. It was a beautiful day, 65 degrees and sunny, and the dough began to rise.

By the time I left work, collected Sierra, and drove to the farm, it was 3:00 pm - I had one hour to get the oven completely up to temp, unload and reshape the loaves onto peals, rake out the coals from the oven, and load the bread in.

Using an infra-red laser thermometer, the oven temped at just over 800 and, at 3:45, I began to load the dough. The loading was a ballet in itself. As I loaded one peal in, I passed the empty peal to Sierra who would reload it as I used the other peal to load the next group. Striking a rhythm like this we fit about 40 loaves into the oven in 15 minutes. By 4:00 PM the oven was full, the door closed, and we could relax, set up for sales, eat some apples, and enjoy the beauty surrounding us.

Occasionally I opened the door and shuffled the loaves around in a clockwise direction to ensure even baking, but it became apparent that the temperature was dropping fast and the bread was slowing waaaay down each time I opened the door. Absent the fire, 40 loaves of bread were sucking the heat out of the clay and brick pretty fast.

Getting most of the first load out left room to kindle a small fire in the opposite corner of the oven, raising the temperature, creating infra-red, hastening the baking and enhancing the browning. The remaining loaves baked quickly and were the best of the day.

Meanwhile, Sierra had her sales pitch in full swing and was selling the bread faster than I could remove it from the oven. "Fresh Baked in our home-made clay oven with a mixture of Spelt, Flax, and Wheat berries with King Arthur Flour all the way from Vermont! Only $4 per loaf" "It's still hot out of the oven, don't burn your self and don't carry it away in a sealed bag until it's cool - it'll get mushy".

By 7:00 pm the last two loaves - still warm - were sold - 61 loaves sold in all.

We ate bread ourselves for supper in the barn, eating pears and apples along side, while we discussed the successes and mistakes of the project with Kate and Ron. It was mutually agreed to be a good thing and we vowed to keep up our Thursday night productions until the end of October, when the season ends.

On our way home Sierra asked "Are we going to keep doing this next summer too?"

"I don't know, honey, it's a lot of work" I replied, "Maybe we can figure out a system where we just get it started and then hire some CIA students to do the hard work and the actual baking"

Her response took me off guard, and then just reaffirmed how deeply the "Chef Gene" can run - "Daddy, where's your sense of pride? Doesn't it feel better to look at all of the people eating our bread and know that WE made it with our own hands? Why would you pay some one else to feel that way instead?"

Holy shit...she's got the bug.

Bloody Chicken Hypothesis

If you have ever cooked a chicken well-done only to discover that is was bloody enough to send you hurling, I mean, hurtling towards the nearest spitoon. Here is an entirely plausible explanation for why it is probably not you fault.


Goodbye Summer Reverb

Whereby we show our readers our appreciation for their compelling comments.
Molto Grazie! -MP & BdG

Re: Goodbye Summer
From: MessyOne

"If there are raspberries at the farmers market on Saturday, I'll be clinging to summer for at least another week.

When I was a kid, my job was to pick the raspberries. There were three long rows, and it took a good part of the afternoon to do the job alone, but I didn't mind. It was always a warm, sunny day. I was always barefoot because the soil felt good and I don't even remember the prickles being an issue.

Generally there was no one around, so it was quiet except for the bees, and our tabby cat used to sleep in the middle of the rows because the ground was warm and the sun came through at the base of the plants. (Plus, the neighbor's cat wouldn't bother him there.)

If it was a good picking, there were generally about 5 two gallon ice cream pails at the end. We would freeze them to make jam later and keep about half a pail for eating on ice cream and cereal. I think I'd eat about that amount while I was picking.

Of course, if there aren't raspberries, I'll be making brussels sprout hash (bacon, onions, garlic, s&p and shredded sprouts) or cooking squash..."

From: Don Luis

"Ah, in Puerto Rico, we say "good riddance summer, and take the hurricanes with you". We've had panas (breadfruit) for a month now, and we're starting to get all the citrus we can use. Then come the acerolas (cherries). It's a bad year for platanos (plantains), but a good year for bananas."

BdG cuts the bull

I envy my friend Mike Pardus his daily routine of teaching people how to cook. Never mind that as I write this he is on his way to the Wellfleet Oyster Festival. My teeth are aching with the knowledge that he is going to be spending the weekend eating oysters in a place that I once called home. Whatever (Shrug).

I once talked and walked the walk all day too , and I know that talking to students all day lubricates the tongue and makes it a lot easier to get on camera and talk through a procedure without sounding like someone laboring under the influence of phenobarbital and Scotch -which is the way I sound when I try to explain something when a video camera is rolling.

So, until I find my video mojo you will (if you choose to do so) have to suffer through slideshows that, like this one, which shows my hands breaking down one side of one-of-two milk fed veal calves slaughtered last week.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ready, Set, Cook. But When?

Since cooking is now woven into the continuum of my perception of reality, it always seems a bit odd to write about it as if it was a discrete activity that takes place in a kitchen or around a campfire and has an identifiable beginning and end point.

Of course, I have not always thought about cooking as an indistinct process.

There was a time when I thought that cooking was something that began with the preparation of the ingredients and ended when the food was plated. Later, after I had begun to create dishes in my mind prior to their physical construction, I realized that this too was part of the cooking process and, darnit, it was just silly to think that something like cooking (or any process really) could be perfectly delimited in space and time.

However, just because I may be convinced that something is silly, does not mean that I don't do it -albeit slightly.

Since I began working at the farm I tend to think that any cooking I do there begins outside of the kitchen. There is no one place or time that it starts. One day the start point might be in the barn where the chickens roost and incubate (in vain, I should add) the eggs that I am planning to turn into a flan or beet infused pickle. Or it might begin out behind the dairy barn where the bull calf in the photo above is being born.
(See much more here.)

Until recently I was not convinced that there was any advantage to having a fungible understanding of when cooking begins. But that was because I had not yet considered the disadvantage of doing the opposite and arbitrarily saying that cooking -and by extension the work of the cook- begins and ends in the kitchen.

The disadvantage of saying that cooking is something that begins and ends in the kitchen is that if you believe it then cooking becomes an extremely limited intellectual enterprise. I mean, how many of us are really going to be happy chopping, sauteing, braising etc. all day everyday? But expand your definition of when cooking begins to include at least the admission that you cannot be sure, and the work becomes endlessly fascinating as your curiosity takes you out of the kitchen and into the world in search of everything you think you need to know in order to be the very best cook you can be.

That's way cool.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Last ice cream scooped at Carvel birthplace

Here's a milestone for you Last ice cream scooped at Carvel birthplace

Too bad they don't close them all down, and all the McDonald's, Taco Bells, Burger Kings, Wendy's, Friendly's and all those purveyors of artery clogging, sweet, bland punch-pressed obesity promoting junk.

Warning: Chasing Wiener Can Be Embarassing

This rocks.


The Real: Rendered Veal Fat

Last week we sent two Ayrshire/Limousin crossbred bull calves out to the USDA slaughterhouse. Each was a little over two months old and had been raised on milk. The calves got to follow their mothers around the farm, learn to be cows and enjoy their, albeit brief, lives.

I'll post more detailed photos showing how I butchered them later on. But for now I'd like you to see how I treated the kidney fat (Note the kidney fat around the kidney which is located mid-left in the carcass;left).

Kidney fat makes superb shortening for baking, and has a sweet, umami taste, and a highly nuanced aroma that is brilliant with roasted and fried foods. Like all highly saturated fats kidney fat that is not really hot while it is in your mouth can have a "greasy" mouthfeel because of its high melting point (any fat that has a melt-point higher than body temperature is going to feel greasy if it's temperature is close to the temperature of your mouth).

However, considerations of texture and flavor aside for the moment, it is this high-melt point that in large part makes kidney fat ideal for baked preparations like short-breads -or anything that tends to spread during baking- and for frying. See, the longer a fat takes to melt in the oven, the more time the proteins in the dough have time to coagulate. Also the starches have more time to gel and stiffen before the dough spreads too far. So when you use fat with a higher melt point than say, butter, you almost always see less spreading and greater retention of the original (unbaked) shape of the dough -and kidney fat is no exception.

As for frying, well consider this: The same physical and chemical properties that give saturated fat it's high melt-point also give it a high smoke point. So kidney fat is great for frying because it takes a long time for it to smoke (creating bitter and potentially carcinogenic by-products) and burn. And people, if you have never eaten french fries cooked in highly saturated fat like kidney fat you are missing something real.

In my first restaurant job (a NYTimes Two-Star) I learned to make pommes frites (and chateau potatoes, pommes Pont Neuf, pommes souffle) in fat that we rendered from veal and pork kidney fat in almost exactly the same way that you see me doing it here in the slideshow below. We did not receive whole animals larger than lambs at Rene Chardin Restaurant, neither did we butcher and cook any animal while we listened to it's mother calling for it as I did last week.

Yeah, you read that right. Hearing that cow calling to it's calf as it lay on the table in my kitchen being cut up was sobering. Anyway...

I'm learning more about cooking in this job than I ever thought possible. I've got this whole other set of considerations regarding the ethical nature of what we chefs do staring me right in the face every day. It has not made my work any harder, but it sure as hell has made it different.

Look, I'm not going to start preaching about how important it is for every meat eater to raise, kill and butcher and cook his own food at least once. But it's working wonders for me.

If you need clarification beyond what is provided in the slide show, you know where to find me.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Pardus does Pizza...sort of

My CSA is the Huguenot Street Farm ( Ron and Kate Khosla are the owners/farmers/brains+brawn behind the operation, and they do an incredible job of growing great product and creating great community.

Early this season they constructed a cob oven using materials from the farm itself. The Wallkill River runs through the property and they collected clay and river rock for most of the construction.

Anyway, throughout the summer, on Thursday evenings - Thursday is "distribution day" when members come to pick up their shares - fresh bread and pizzas topped with just-picked ingredients were made and sold to augment the produce.

Apparently, the guy who did the actual baking wasn't very flexible or open to suggestion, he and Ron had a falling out, and the guy quit...6 more weeks in the more pizza or bread....not good.

So, I was recruited to fill in..."Guest Chef"...what a riot!

We got together on Sunday afternoon and brainstormed a plan and divided up the work. Ron and Kate would supply the raw ingredients and wood,Laura, another member, would prep the toppings (cheese,roasted veggies, etc.), I would make the sauce,dough, handle logistics, and work the oven. On the way out, I culled through a pile of soft tomatoes and came up with enough to make 2 gallons of tomato sauce.

On Wednesday I made 20kg. of dough using Ruhlman's 5:3 ratio, adding in some crushed red wheat berries and spelt for texture. Ron and I portioned them into 340 gram rounds and set the produce cooler to 34F to keep fermentation under control over night. Laura, roasted about 15# each of eggplant, and peppers, and a whole bunch of garlic and onions. Kate roasted some cheese pumpkin, sliced a few bosc pears, shredded 4# pounds of locally made smoked mozzarella and some blue cheese, and hand picked her beautiful baby arugula.

The plan for Thursday was for Ron to light the fire at about 1:00 and slowly build it up to baking temp - 600-800F - until I got off work and could start making pies. Service was set to begin at 4:30.

When I arrived at 3:45 it was a gorgeous Hudson Valley autumn sky dotted with clouds over the mountains, baking-friendly 60 degrees temperature...everything seemed damned near perfect. Except...

Being a farmer on distribution day is like being a cook on Saturday night - you focus on your mise en place and your station and anything else gets done later. Like lighting the oven...the oven didn't get lit shortly before 3:00.If you've ever made pizza, you know that the crucial part is having a hot deck to bake on. Pretty much everything else can be tweaked, but if that deck ain't hot the pizza sticks like glue to the cool bricks.

I stoked the fire with a bunch of small oak logs, got a roaring blaze going - hoping I wouldn't bring the temp up too fast and crack the dome - and went about setting my station, silently praying that the oven reached temp before the customers reached the farm. Didn't so much work out that way...

At 4:30 everything was in place, it looked great.A perfectly set up station under an awning, a wide array of toppings picked from the land we stood on, a wood fire crackling in the rustic oven...and the deck of the oven cool enough to rest my hand on.

I raked the coals to the back of the oven, stoked them with more wood, mopped the deck free of soot, and ran a few test pies - as I feared, they stuck to the cold deck, refusing to be turned without ripping, tearing and leaking sauce and topping everywhere.

Customers were arriving, most, I'm sure, expecting to find a laid back dude, standing in the bucolic field, happily and leisurely making pizzas and chatting about the choices of toppings and the beautiful day. What they got was a frenzied, frustrated cook trying desperately to look cheerful and laid back while explaining that there were "temperature problems" with the oven and that we hoped to be able to start baking soon.

The people were pretty cool about it, it was, after all, a CSA, and they were enjoying the day - "no hurry, we'll just leave our order with you and come back in a little while" the time the oven was even CLOSE to being hot enough, we already had a backlog of twenty pizzas, and as I started working down the list, another page was started and the weeds got deeper. Laura had come with the vegetables and helped by taking orders, shaping dough and talking to customers while I worked the oven, face and arms covered in soot, cursing as quietly as I could...

By about 6:00 pm we'd managed a few pies and the deck was finally hot enough to really cook on. The list dwindled quickly,by 7:00 we were pretty much done; night was falling, customers were leaving, happy with their pizzas. We heaved sighs of relief and made a dinner from the left overs...standing out in the field, warmed by the oven, under the starry sky.

Ron apologized profusely, I light-heartedly threatened his life, we all hugged, counted the money (we sold 45 pizzas...) and agreed to do it again next week - with a hot oven - maybe even adding bread to the menu. I'm a glutton.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Real: Fond blanc de Veau

It was not that long ago that I would have shrugged my shoulders and said something like "Whatever, I should be so lucky" if someone told me that I'd be slaughtering a calf on one day and making veal stock from it's bones the next. But I don't dare say that now.

Last Friday we slaughtered a lovely Ayrshire bull calf. The next day, I was making stock with his bones. Talk about getting in touch with the source of your food.

Anyway, this is a shout out to all of you cooks who have ever tried to make white veal stock: look at this stock Holmes! You know you cannot get veal stock to gel like this unless you are lucky enough to get extremely fresh bones. Also check out the color of the congealed fat on the surface. In over three decades of cooking, I've never seen veal fat that color -not until last week that is.

Usually, veal fat is white. But the bull calf I used to make this stock was bottle-fed milk and raised on grass which is loaded with fat soluble yellowish carotenoid pigments, thus the fat is yellowish.

And look at that gelatin. This is amazing, especially considering the stock was not reduced more than 5%. All of that gelatin is the natural byproduct of young bones that are full of collagen protein.

The traditional way of making fond blanc de veau calls for cutting the bones into pieces with a bone saw or band saw. Next, to prevent the final product from becoming cloudy, you must blanch the bones to remove insoluble proteins. This is achieved by by putting the bones in a pot, covering them with cold water and heating it all up until the water comes to a simmer and throws up a a gray, proteinaceous foam. Then you dump the foamy water, rinse the bones and cover them with water a second time and cook the new mixture a really long time with mirepoix (celery-carrots-onion) and, in the final 25% of the total cooking time, a sachet d' epices (herbs and spices bundlen ib cheesecloth or anything that can be use to make an infusion) -usually wrapped bundles of herbs (usually thyme, bay leaf, clove, cracked black peppercorn).

Well, Ahem, I work on a farm. And since I am usually the only cook in the kitchen and cannot justify the expenditure of time on a project like haute cuisine white veal stock, I take short cut at this stage and after crack open the joints with my trusty cleaver, then cover the bones with very warm tap water...

I have to pause here to point out that by using warm water I am admitting to committing a heresy. Every cook who pursues a career in La Grande Cuisine is at some point taught that stock is ALWAYS started with COLD water. This is the way my grandfather and my uncles did it. This is how I was taught by Rene Chardin (my first chef) and it is in the curriculum of the CIA. The rationale for starting the stock in cold water is that it is supposed to be the best way to extract the maximum of flavor from the bones.

For years I knew that this was not right, and had stopped doing it unless someone who could hurt me insisted that it be done. In Molecular Gastronomy, by Herve This, indicates that the practice makes no sense (Introduction; p. 11). The only possible advantage afforded by the use of cold water to begin stock is if you want the stock to take a really long time for it to come up to a simmer. Now why would you want that? Perhaps to allow more time to skim the proteins and other particles that are released during the early stages of heating and that would muddy the stock. But really, I don't know.

Frankly, I think the practice is a holdover from the days when one did not have warm running water in the kitchen and so it would have been wildly impractical to start a stock with it. I'll bet I'm right.

Whatever, I use warm water for all my stocks now. They take less time to come up, and since the water in the water heater is usually already warm, it saves energy.

Okay, this post is getting too long. And I have to go to work. Here is the skinny on this stock

There were 40 pounds of bones in 10 gallons (80 pounds) of water. I don't remember exactly how much mirepoix I used. I brought the stock up to a simmer, did the essential depouillage (skimmed the scum off the surface) and let the stock cook for about 14 hours. No blanching, no cold water; and you tell me if you have ever seen better looking veal stock.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Meat must be rationed to four portions a week

Since it has been running on Drudge and other major news channels for awhile, I'm sure that many of you have seen this article reporting on a study that recommends that if we want to minimize anthropogenic effects on the climate of our home planet, we should limit our consumption of meat. But given Chef Pardus' back to back posts on fowl butchery, I think it is well now to post it as a reminder that virtually everything we like to consume may contribute to global warming.

What ever happened to the good old days when all of the guilt associated with eating was rooted in moral, ethical and health concerns? Sigh.

Hey, I just had a brilliant idea (Leave now if you are in a literal state of mind)

We know that there are millions who will not voluntarily cut back on their meat consumption. We also know that there will be hundreds of thousands who will do so while feeling horribly guilty that every bite of meat they take might be contributing to the destruction of countless thousands who live in regions that are threatened by rising sea level etc. Why not take advantage of this create a company that contracts with people to not eat meat or feed meat to their pets? Then this company could sell "meat offset coupons" to meat eaters who want the meat without the guilt of believeing that they are causing coastal flooding and desertification?

Meat must be rationed to four portions a week, says report on climate change

Breaking Down A Bird - "101" by Mike Pardus

As promised, a video demo in three parts on how to take apart a whole chicken, cut it into "retail" pieces, start a stock, etc.

First question - Local or factory bird?....factory. No excuses - it was for demo purposes and $15 for a local bird seemed a bit steep when I was the only one home tonight.

Next - it took me twenty minutes to break it down slowly and talk my way through it. If I was in a hurry, it would have taken less than 3 minutes- I've done thousands....with a few practice birds under your belt, you can easily do it in under 10.

Last - I taped the Flip Mino to my chest, that's how I did it....and boy did I look silly in the mirror. First, I tried taping it to my HEAD - right between my eyes...didn't work so well and the POV was a bit off. And it was all in one take, and yes, that's my dog's nose you see about half way through - wondering who I'm talking to and hoping I drop chickeny goodness on the floor.

OK - Butchering a Chicken -101. - Roll 'em.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3