Friday, February 27, 2009

Depression Food is not so Depressing

I'm posting this for those who have never known real hunger. On it's face it appears to be a doleful monologue about how to make do with pedestrian ingredients when you are so poor that eating money might seem cheaper than exchanging it for food. However, having spent more than a decade of my childhood eating stuff like this. I can assure you that, if you ever happen to be forced into similar circumstances, you will find that hot dogs and eggs can make a joyful repast when when eating nothing is the alternative.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good Stuff

Few things are more useful to me than my old Mouli grater. It's a simple thing and about as pretty as rusted out Oldsmobile in a feral field. Yet it is on my family's dinner table 4 nights each week (We eat lots of pasta and rissotto. I make no apologies for that.) and when it becomes defunct, I will not replace it with anything other than another version of the same thing by the same company. Of course, Mouli does not make this kind of thing anymore. Modern iterations are all stainless steel or plastic. None of these will do for me; cheap tinned steel is the only form that will suffice.

I think this grater is my third, maybe fourth Mouli in 32 years. They are great, but like all things, entropy gets the better of them and they go. I've recrimped them, built new handles, and used them until the metal became fatigued enough to use as foil before I tossed them out. I wonder if any of you have kitchen tools that are no longer produced, but are so useful that you do not want to imagine being without them.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Charcuterie Demo at Cia w/ BdG

by Mike Pardus

Here's a slide show of Robert presenting his world class charcurterie at the CIA last night.

Tonight we're holding a small seminar on "how to blog", this post is an example - hence the short prose and unedited photos - tomorrow I'll give Bob some hair.....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Not Dead, Just Skiing

by Mike Pardus

Summer is for traveling and doing things at the farm, but when winter sets in I become a ski-dad. My daughter races on the junior circuit in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, so almost every weekend is a road trip for practice or to a race. We're lucky enough to have friends whose daughter skis with mine and who own a weekend place near the mountain - a big, rambling ex B+B with a commercial kitchen and plenty of prep space.

Apres ski lends itself to braising - I can make something unctuous on Wednesday in New Paltz, and have it ready to re-heat on Friday or Saturday at the mountain. Usually it's something pretty basic - see past posts on the subject - but this weekend Vietnam met New England. Vietnamese Style BBQ Berkshire Pork Belly Braised in Fish Sauce and Caramel. Served with plain jasmine rice, stir fried cabbage, and plenty of beer, it was a big hit.

Here's how:


5# Fresh Pork Belly (butt or shoulder would work also)

4 Tablespoons Chinese 5 spice powder
1 cup Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce
1 cup Hoisin sauce
1/2 cup Fish sauce

Combine Sauces
Rub Pork with 5 Spice Powder
Slather sauce combo onto pork
Let marinate over night

Set oven at 300F
Place marinated pork on rack over drip pan
Slowly roast pork until meltingly tender (about 2-3 hours)
Cool Pork


Make caramel from 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water - combine, bring to a boil, simmer until deeply amber, add 1 tablespoon of cool water to arrest browning, remove from heat but keep warm and fluid

Cut cooked Pork into lardons about 1"x 1/2"
6 Shallots, sliced thin
8 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 quart Chicken (or pork) stock
4 oz caramel
4 oz fish sauce
1 Tablespoon cracked black pepper

Sweat shallots and garlic in a bit of vegetable oil until pale golden
Add black pepper
Add all of the other ingredients
Bring to a simmer and cook slowly for about 1/2 hour.
Cool in the pot


Pack the kid in the car with the dog and the skis remember to keep dog away from Pork pot
Drive to ski house
Open Beer #1
Reheat contents of pork pot while consuming beer #1
While pork reheats, make steamed rice and cabbage stir-fry
Plate Rice, and cabbage, spoon generous amounts of pork and sauce over both
Sit with friends in front of fire place
Open more beer

It turns out that the Ski house is just down the road from Dan Barber's Blue Hill farm...haven't been there yet, but race season is almost over......I'll be looking for new things to explore.

Hey BdG - See ya tomorrow at CIA!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Insider Story

Aidan Brooks a young British cook training in Spain posts on the effects of the global economic crisis on the haute end of the restaurant business spectrum.

Good stuff; check it out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Sublime and the Ridiculous

Sublime is the meat from a bull that we butchered today and ridiculous is the bread. Both can be seen in the slideshow below.

The last time I saw anything the color of this meat was in 1980. It was in a small church in the Ticino of Switzerland whose apse was fronted by Doric columns whose shafts were made from marble that I'm guessing was from the Levant. The marble matrix was the color of coagulated oxblood interspersed with brown globs of what I assume was calcareous mud. Although I'd studied geology in college and had learned to expect miracles like this, I was blown away by the esoteric luxuriousness of the stone, made all the more poignant, I suppose, because of their presence in a church that was pretty much of Podunk.

Anyway the meat is from Devon bull from the farm that was slaughtered last week. Unless you hunt or work with meat all the time, or you work in a context similar to mine, you probably have never seen anything like this. There is almost no inter or intra-muscular fat. I cannot describe the aroma without going hyperbolic (So I won't.) and the color well, it is what it is. All of it together is sublime.

The bread is another story altogether.

This bread should have been brilliant. It was made over a period of a week by me and baked on Wednesday (yesterday). As it turned out, it's a mess because after it finished its oven spring and reached it's maximum height in the oven, I backed the temperature down from 500 to 450 degrees, went back to the computer to work on a document and forgot about it.

I'm not sure there is anything profound about the congruence of these images. I'm not even sure why I put them up for any reason other than that they feel like good examples of complementary opposites.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Service Announcement

I changed the way comments are collected at this blog and I'm not at all sure that I like what I've done. Please let me know if the new setup is not working for you. Or, to put a more positive spin on the matter, not too much of a drag.

Bob dG

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Meditation

On The Pernicious Effects of Using Bread Starter
for Leavening
on Quantitative Baking Process Skills

I baked my first loaf of bread when I was sixteen years old. But disallowing for the occasional loaves of brioche, rolls and baguettes that I made over my years of working in restaurants and banquet/catering establishments, I did not begin to bake in earnest until 1999, when my then allergic-to-wheat-gluten son's condition (Happily,he has outgrown the problem.) compelled me to flip a bird at the baking industry and take matters into my own hands.

Verily, it's been about 10 years that I've been making bread on a regular basis. I bake twice a week (not including the occasional loaf I make at the farm) for the family: one 3-4 pound hearth bread, made from starter without added yeast, and a 2lb "sandwich" loaf leavened with pure (SAF) yeast that I use for the kid's lunches.

Until about a year ago, my approach to baking was very different from how I approached other forms of cooking, save charcuterie. I recorded all of my recipes in notebooks or spreadsheets. Everything was weighed, percentages of each ingredient noted and when I baked, I followed the recipes as carefully as someone of my limited interest in following directions could muster.

I still follow my recipe for sandwich bread verbatim. But the process for hearth bread has become much less formal. It's more intuitive and has come to more closely resemble the way I prepare most things. I measure less, sniff and poke more and depend on "instinct" to know how much of each ingredient to add in proportion to the others.

On one hand this ad hoc approach is cool because it draws on internalized apprehensions about how to construct the dough and frees up my exiguous quantitative mind to do more important things like attempting to reorganize the lyrics for "Free Bird" or measure the timing for the "Three Stooges" routine that I'm planning to spring on the the family at dinner. However, it's also a big pain in the neck because if I continue to not pay attention to how I measure ingredients, I know there are going to be big problems down the road when I have to make more than one loaf at a time.

The degeneration of my quantitative baking process skills started almost as soon as I began to culture my own yeast and bacteria to leaven my hearth bread. (Why I chose to use starter for hearth bread, but not other types of bread has to be a topic of another post.)

As most of you know, the process of making bread starter requires that you add a quantity of flour to a quantity of water and let it sit until you see evidence that the naturally occurring yeast and bacteria are propagating. Unless you have a scanning electron microscope in your kitchen, the evidence you look for is coincidental to the growth of these microbes and can only be evinced by the presence of their waste products: carbon dioxide bubbles (which you can see), acid (which you can taste) and the smell of fragrant alcohol(s). Once your flour and water mixture shows signs of fungal and bacterial growth (Typically within 12 hours if you use organic flour.) you have to feed the bitch (Bourdain) more flour and water each day for about a week until the starter is bubbling vigorously and, f you want sour dough, the acidity increases to a desired degree of tartness (less than pH4).

Now here is what knocked me off-balance and turned me from a precision loving Johannes Vermeer kind of baker, to the gluten drooling Jackson Pollack I am today.

When you feed the starter, you are supposed to delete the same amount of flour and water that you add in as new food. Otherwise, if you keep adding and you don't subtract from the initial mixture, you end up with too much starter. Also, you need to keep track of how much flour and water you have in the starter at any moment because when you make the final dough, you need to know how much of each there is.

This is especially true of the water because as little as 10% too little or too much water can mean the difference between dough that is tough and won't spring well in the oven and dough that is so slack that it spreads out all over the oven floor. like gluten vomit.

After months of doing the math and making sure that I knew exactly how much water I had in my starter, I reverted to type and decided to wing it. Soon I was building starter by dumping in whatever: grapes, wheat berries, wine, various seeds, toothpicks (kidding!) and letting what happened happen.

To my fortune, I've only had a one or two loaves that have spread all over the oven because there was too much water. But most have come out just fine. However, I expect that my luck is a due the small scale of production and that the day that I have to make dozens of loaves is going to be the day that I have to pay for for the pleasure of my degagé approach to a process that should be precise.

(I think I'm doomed.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentines Day Agitprop

Each year during the build up to Valentines Day food writers drag out the same old crap about foods that are alleged to turn us into priapic goats and silt laden venusian rills.

Aspargus and oysters, chocolate and eels, and blah and blah are yanked out of their normal context as ordinary stuff to eat and pushed out into the morass that is the dialectic between the media and a public. A public I aver, that is mostly so besotted from the effects of just getting through the day, that we rarely raise an objection to this lame, half-hearted attempt to work us up over the idea that something as ordinary as a banana might be all that the train needs to guide it through the venerian frontier.

Well, enough is enough. There is no such thing as a food that will turn an indifferent friend into a lover -unless, of course, it is served in a context that causes them to think that what they might eat is something more than a meal.

But you knew that.

The Foods of Love - "In the Mood" Foods

Friday, February 13, 2009

Method For Rinsing Sausage Casing

It is almost impossible to fit sausage casing onto a stuffing tube unless you flush it with water first. If you don't, it will bind to the stuffing tube and gum up when you try to pump the forcemeat. The most commonly accepted way to flush casing (the membrane that lines the intestinal muscle of any one of three domesticated animals typically, pigs. sheep and cattle.) requires that you run water through it to lubricate the interior so that it slides off of the stuffing tube as you express the filling from the stuffer.

Over the years that I've been making sausage and salami, I've used several methods to flush casings. But it was only yesterday that I hit upon this method. The method, which requires that the casing be suspended in water as the flushing water pushes through, assures that the casing will not bind and explode when the inevitable kinks constrict the flow. Moreover, because the casing is suspended in water -and so less resistant to pressure from the water from the spigot- the slight pressure of the flushing water is usually sufficient to force apart any kinks in the casing.

Previously, the best method I used required that the full length of the casing be pushed up onto the spigot arm. Next the water is turned on and the casing flushed as it is pulled off of the arm. But this earlier method is pretty time consuming and there is no guarantee that the casing will not kink and tear as it is sinched up over the spigot arm.

I'm sure you don't need to use a bucket as you see me doing in the video. I used the bucket because I've got a big sink and did not think it was prudent to fill the thing when something smaller would suffice. If you are doing this in a home you can simply plug the drain in your kitchen sink and get the same result.

And by the way. You will notice in the video and in the still photos that I have water running continuously during flushing. This is not strictly necessary as you can simply pulse a quantity of water into the casing and squeeze it through. Be advised however, that this latter more parsimonious method is not as mesmerizingly funny as watching the casing grow into a great swirling diaphanous coil of guts as the water seeks its egress.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Stuff

You do not have to tell me that I've been remiss in my blogging, because as a lapsed Roman Catholic, I'm as much aware of my shortcomings as I am of my natural proclivity to lapse. Still, if you want to give me a hard time about the shabbiness of my blog, I can deal with it -after you take a look at two of the most recent graduates of the aging room.

The first is a beef salami that I dreamed up after, not wanting to turn all of a cow into bresaola,biltong, roasts, steaks and hamburger, I decided that some of it should be salami that incorporated more of the zeitgeist of the farm then what would naturally be included attending the fact that the cow had lived there for most of its' life.

Since one of the principal products of the farm is cheese, and since the beef from the cow was very lean, I seized upon the idea (In all fairness,
Trent Hendricks first proposed this idea of using cheese in salami months ago.) to add cheese to the forcemeat. Other seasonings are green peppercorns, allspice, garlic, red wine and black pepper. There's whey to juke the fermentation (it's loaded with lactobacilli) and Bactoferm (Lactobacillus curvatus and Staphylococcus carnosus) as well.

I won't lie to you. I did not choose a choose a cheese based on anything other than convenience. The cheese I chose was trim that had been cut from a wheel that had been broken out into pound sized peices for retail sale. In other words, it was scrap. So it was serendipity that is to blame for the fact that the salami now has the name of "Colby Beef Salami." It was totally not my fault.

The other item of charcuterie that was harvested today (and along with the salami appears in the slideshow below) is bacon made from the last of our Berkshire hogs. Cured with maple syrup, salt, cinnamon and black pepper, it appears as I shot it today prior to packaging. Enough said.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Calzone at Goombas inspires Violence

A Florida pizzeria owner caught on tape brutalizing two customers who complained about a calzone is a mob hit man-turned-canary from Brooklyn, officials said Friday.(NY Daily News)

Don't hit men know that even pizzerias fall under the umbrella of the Hospitality Industry? Gesù, Maria e Giuseppe, what a stunad!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Handling Hank

From Hank
Wine is a weird muse. She either fills your mind with fine ideas that fly from your fingers and land loquaciously on the page (or at least it feels like that) or she throttles your brain stem, leaving everything in print like unto that bucket of night crawlers knocked into the sand by your drunken brother after he hooked the striper that proved to be kelp.

Which is just another -deliberately pretentious-way of saying that last night following a throwdown with my homeboy Bacchus, I tried to post this but gave up after typing the opening sentence, what, 10-15 times? Wow, was that ever frustrating! Almost as frustrating as opening a bag of sausage casing and finding that once again you have unwittingly conducted an uncontrolled experiment in knot theory. Your sausage casings, which came from the supply people, neatly looped and tied into a hank, is now a bird's nest. So now you have to spend minutes that seem like days untangling this ball of salt encrusted guts or -if you are like me- you spend 3 minutes grappling before you grab a knife and cut the bloody mess into coctail-frank sized bites.

Of course, this stupid, counterproductive and financially punishing waste of time could have been avoided if you had taken apart the hank in an orderly way instead of yanking the thing apart as soon as you opened the bag.

Here is one way to handle a hank of hog casings so that they don't end up looking like a Medusa's mantle of dessicated snakes. If you have another method I'd like to hear about it. This one is not perfect, but it's a helluva lot better than doing nothing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Slice of Light

I'll blog something more substantive soon but I've been so wound up preparing the two presentations for The Gourmet Society and Charcuterie Club at The Culinary Insititute of America that, after all the other stuff I have to do, I've liitle time left over for A Hunger Artist. In the meantime enjoy this picture of morning light washing over a wheel of cheese at Hendrick's Farms and Dairy in Telford, Pa.
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