Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cool Lard Blog

I love lard, in measure. I love the color and aroma of it, and I love to make it. But for purely personal reasons, I don't share the die hard lipophile's passion for eating it. See, my paternal ancestors, who were all of an Italian demographic that used lard as its primary cooking fat, all "died young" from diet related diseases. That said, I still have to recommend this lard fan blog for it's ebullient endosement of a remarkable, if slightly dangerous, food stuff.

Lard Lovers - A network to help you find organic lard in America

Monday, March 30, 2009

Drowning Man Survives, Finds Chicken Wing Prices Still High

I lost my writing mojo a couple of weeks ago following the death of close friend. I'm usually pretty resilient in the face of heartbreak but as my friend Michael Ruhlman wrote in a recent email "sometimes life drops a ceiling beam on your head" and there is nothing you can do until consciousness returns. Well, I'm not yet fully conscious yet. I still feel like a sailor who was about to come about on a good run on a smooth sea and got knocked overboard by the boom. However I am awake enough to realize that if I'm ever going to write anything of moment again, I should start taking baby steps now.

So here is my hand coming up out of the water and grasping the gunwale. I hope to be flopping around in the bottom of the boat coughing up sardines soon. In the meantime, please accept my apologies for appearing to have jumped ship and consider for a moment how much worse life would be if our livelihoods were dependant on cheap chicken wings.

"Shares of Buffalo Wild Wings may be overcooked, as soaring wing prices and a recession threaten to take a bite out of the fast-growing restaurant chain's profits." (Star Tribune)

You knew this was coming

I've been saying for years that people who are only worried about themselves consuming antibiotics in food are missing the point of why putting antibiotics in animal feed is a bad idea

The likelihood that you will cultivate a strain of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics by eating food that contains trace amounts of antibiotics is very small. (Not so if you consume hi-doses of antibiotics on a regular basis.) However, feed hundreds of thousands of farm animals prophylatic doses and now you have a hug breeding ground for resistant bacteria. Well, now it appears that the worst has happened.

Five out of 90 samples of retail pork in Louisiana tested positive for MRSA — an antibiotic-resistant staph infection — according to a peer-reviewed study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology last year. And a recent study of retail meats in the Washington, D.C., area found MRSA in one pork sample, out of 300, according to Jianghong Meng, the University of Maryland scholar who conducted the study. (NYT)

See also this excellent blog that tracks the MRSA phenomenon: Superbug

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oh Really?

"Last week, protesters from PETA showed up at a Hempstead [Long Island, New York]elementary school, unannounced and uninvited, to try to convince youngsters leaving at day's end that circuses mistreat their animals. The protesters handed out coloring books with stickers that read, 'Circuses are no fun for animals.'"


Monday, March 16, 2009

Vintage TV: David Susskind and Six NY Restaurateurs

Watch five once-famous restaurateurs and Sirio Maccione talk about what is takes to make a great restaurant. You will notice that none of them are chefs and recall that it was not that long ago that chefs became the principal public representatives of the restaurant business. Before chefs, it was the "suits" who ruled the roost -and still do in many cases. However nowadays, if a suit is in charge of the house he puts the chef out front because he knows the public likes us better.

Why the public prefers to see chefs out front is not something that I pretend to understand. It is not in any way obvious to me that cooks are, as a species of worker, intrinsically more or less entertaining than a matre d' hotel or a busboy for that matter.

This is from Hulu.com which seeds in short commercials.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Handmade whiskey

by Mike Pardus

I've been seriously remiss in not documenting and thanking my friends Gable and Cathy Erenzo from Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, NY, for sharing the "fruits" of their labors with me for almost a year now. Hand crafted, using only locally grown grains and fruits, doing everything from scratch ( most distillers buy spent mash from beer brewers, Tuthilltown buys their ingredients fresh from local growers), they are turning out a product that puts thought back into the past time of drinking distilled spirits. If you're a foodie, everyone you know is fluent in wine. When was the last time you sipped a glass of rye whiskey? When was the last time you discussed the nuance of Bourbon? Can you actually taste the corn in clear corn whiskey?

Of course, it takes serious discipline to taste 7 high octane beverages without losing focus. Needless to say, serious discipline is not what this has been about. I have tasted these products and given thought to each - but just long enough to decide that they were good; after that, all hell broke loose, things were spilled, raucous behavior ensued, and silliness prevailed...isn't it nice to know that you can support local agriculture, explore new flavors, and still act like a frat?

I strongly endorse finding 6+ like minded friends, getting some easy to prepare food (or take-out) and planning a tasting sleep-over. I can pretty much guarantee that a good time will be had by all.

Oh, yeah, strong coffee, fatty foods, and your "pain killer of choice" is recommended for the next day.

Have fun! Be Safe! Don't drive!

Sunday Dinner @ Saturday

Last night (Friday) we celebrated our daughter's 15th birthday by hiding in our bedroom with the door locked while she and four of her friends had a "sleep-over" party. Actually, I'm kidding about hiding in the bedroom. I thought about doing something like that all week but it turned out to be unnecessary because the kids were extraordinarily well behaved. I suppose I can thank my daughter's computer for keeping them occupied by tricking them into spending hours making videos and posting them on Facebook along with comments that might have been written in glyphs for all the sense they make to me. But the better part of the credit for how well they all behaved has to go to them, because they are all good kids. And now I think I know why.

I think all of them, including my 12 year old son, is extremely religious. This surprised me a little because I'm not a very spiritual being at all, and am always slightly taken aback when I witness others who reference gods or God in casual conversation. So imagine my surprise when I hear these 5 teenagers and my son offering practically every other comment that came from their mouths up to the Creator. If I had a dime for every time one of them said "Oh My God!" I could forget about the miserable condition of my investments and put a down payment on Bernie Madoff's Palm Beach house.

Of course, I'm kidding around about the religiosity of the kids. But they did keep me up way past my normal bedtime with their OMGod-ing. So, today I decided to stay home and get a leg up on Sunday dinner.

Earlier in the week I made 3 pounds of pasta dough and today cranked it out and into 2 lasagna. There was some dough left over so I rolled and cut that into pasta alla chitarra and two forms of short noodles. I also baked off a loaf of bread. You can see most of this in the slide show below.

Tomorrow I will pull out the pork shoulder that I brined (10 days) and studded with garlic and rosemary. Then I will cook it, low and slow, on the charcoal grill.

By the way, this is the style of cooking that I grew up around. It's not anything I learned in school or from a book. It's the way my mom and my paternal grandparents and all of my relatives from Borgotaro and Porcigatone, Emilia Romagna addressed a meal. It's odd to think that someone might consider this fancy cooking when in reality -my family's reality anyway- it's just Sunday dinner.

Here is the basic menu. I'm sure it'll change a bit by tomorrow evening.

Antipasto of grilled sardines, olives, bresaola, tuscan salami, fennel
Lasagna al forno alla Bolognese
Roasted pork shoulder & broccoli rabe
Salad of spinach, endive, raddicchio, pears with pine nuts Balsamic vinaigrette (emulsified)
Cheese and fruit (St. Andre, Hendricks F&D Bavarian Swiss, Fromage d' Affinois "Florette")
Ice cream (for the kids)

Pizza in the news

Two products named Let's Pizza have appeared in the marketplace in recent weeks. One is a vending machine that makes pizza from scratch in three minutes. The other is an iPhone application that allows the user to make a virtual pizza and eat a virtual slice. (Yum) The vending machine is kind of cool, but WTF would anyone want to make a virtual pizza on an iPhone?

In Italy, a Vending Machine Even Makes the Pizza - NYTimes.com

Rome, Italy - Movenda, "The Mobile Solutions Company", will present at Mobile World Congress 2009 (16-19th Feb. in Barcelona) its latest iPhone application, "Let's Pizza". Let's Pizza is the first and only iPhone application which transforms your iPhone into a traditional pizzeria, allowing to prepare and eat a virtual pizza step-by-step. It allows choosing your preferred ingredients, cooking and eating the virtual Pizza. It's very easy, very funny and delicious... and also really fat-free! When the Pizza is finally cooked just touch a pizza slice to grab it, then bring your iPhone towards your mouth to "eat" your favorite and fat-free pizza slice. [Source]

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Acai SuperFood BS

Why are we so willing to believe health claims about foods that are not supported by strong empirical evidence? Is our desire to be healthy without having to think too much about what is required to maintain good health so strong that our innate skepticism buckles whenever an earnest friend, slick salesman or too-eager-to-write-good-copy journalist blathers about some hitherto unknown or overlooked enzyme rich, chock-full-of-antioxidant plant or animal product?

I've been seeing products made from Acai berries for awhile now, and I treat them in the same wariness that I've always treated the foods and diets that flood into the marketplace tethered to promises of better health. Nothing promotes good health better than a varied diet and lots of rest and exercise.

But never mind. It's fun to watch the experts who push this stuff on the public squirm when the evidence turns against them. To wit: the words of a celebrity dermatologist who sells an acai supplement

“I certainly think açaí, the fruit, has great health benefits,” he said in an interview. “I would call it a superfood, but I’ve always spoken generically.” [Source: The New York Times]

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rare Photo

After almost 30 years of working in the service of the gods of the hearth, you would think that a narcissist like me would have lots of pictures of himself in uniform. But the startling truth is that I'm not sure that I have any...until now. This is a photo of me (wearing my typical dégagé -sang froid aspect) and student Pamela Pruett, taken in the late 1990's in my classroom kitchen at The Culinary Institute of America. It's from Pam's FaceBook album and was brought t0 my attention by Paul Redman, Pam's former classmate and a frequent visitor to this blog.

Thanks Paul!

Service Announcement

I uninstalled that piece of junk TypePad Connect comment string doo-dad. It worked well for about a week before developing a bug that splashed the screen with the longest error message I have ever seen. Then adding insult to injury it caused would-be posters to have to click "Post" several times resulting in a doubling or tripling of their comments.

The uninstall should be unalloyed good news. However, the TypePad team that put the piece of junk together has not yet included a method to import the comments from the Typepad server back into my blog (server) so all of the comments that were made between now and when I installed the crap-app are gone.

Making things even more annoying is that I think that I'm going to have to republish all of the posts that I put up following the installation of Type(My-Middle-Finger-In)Pad.

BLOODY !@#$%^&*!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Yeast Poll Results Reveal Pattern of Bread Doping

What do bread bakers who work from starter, students who pay other people to take tests for them and professional athletes have in common?

Well, from my poll results (look left) it appears that most of them are not above doping their path to success. Of the 22 bakers who respond positively to the statement "I occasionally add commercial yeast to bread starter," only 5 answered "Never."

So now it's official people. The epidemic of cheating and dishonesty that has been plaguing our society and has corrupted and undermined the integrity everything from politics to banking, professional sports and academia, has begun to work it's way through what is perhaps the last corner of virtuous endeavor: the subculture of bakers who eschew the use of unsustainable factory made yeast in favor of culturing yeast that is ambient in the atmosphere and the flour itself.

Who's next?

Organic farmers who dope manure with Miracle Grow? Vegan chefs who fry their setan in bacon fat to get a leg over the neck of competitors who use hydrolzed vegetable protein to add umami? Do we now have to worry about raw milk dairy farmers spiking their milk with melamine?

Look, I occasionally add yeast to my bread starter. But I'm no hypocrite so don't think that just because I do it, it's okay for you to do it too.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Big Adventure at The Culinary Insitute of America

Behind the concierge's desk in the entry hall of the Escoffier Restaurant at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY is a photograph of the brigade de cuisine of the Hotel Pierre in New York City as it was at the hotel's grand opening in 1930 . In the front row is Auguste Escoffier, the man to whom the "E Room" (in CIA lingo) is dedicated and whose book "Le Guide Culinaire" did more than any book -before or after- to establish the haute cuisine as an international standard for sophisticated western culinary art.

To Escoffier's right is the hotel’s owner, Mr. Pierre, and Charles Scotto a former apprentice of Escoffier and the hotel’s executive chef. Flanking the three leaders and in several ascending rows, is one of the biggest kitchen brigades I have ever seen. It is hard to give an exact head count but I estimate that there are over a hundred people in the photo. In the second row behind Chef Scotto is my paternal grandfather, Giovanni del Grosso. (Shown in an earlier photo above, second from left in the second row.)

It's difficult to write about this picture without sounding like I'm bragging or lamely trying to boost my credentials by indirectly associating myself with one of the most famous figures in western culinary history. (After all, my grandfather worked for Chef Scotto, not Escoffier.) However, when I saw that photo last Tuesday, moments before I was to give a presentation on Food Blogging, I have to admit that I felt something like pride commingled with the sense that like that photo, I was not only in the right place, but that I was meant to be there. This was not the first or the last occurrence that prompted me to understand that there are many reasons why I feel a special affinity for that place, but it was certainly the most eerily metaphysical.

The runner up for the most peculiar event that caused me to recognize that I was in a place of kindred spirits occurred the previous evening.

Monday evening (2/23) I gave a presentation on my work at Hendricks Farms and Dairy in Telford, Pa. in The CIA's Danny Kaye Theater at the Hilton Library. The final third of the presentation was a tasting of the charcuterie products I make at the farm and two of Trent Hendricks' raw milk cheeses. On the plate were two forms of air dried beef, three salami, two cheeses and something that I brought on a hunch that someone other than myself would find it interesting. Earlier in the month I had almost pitched the thing into the furnace because it stunk and mites had drilled into the bone leaving dust trailing in creepy brown filaments. Small wonder, it was an eleventh month old leg of lamb.

In 2008 I cured four legs in a simple brine of salt and sugar for three weeks, glazed them with a mixture of lamb fat, pepper, salt and juniper berries and hung them in the aging room to dry.

We'd sold one leg of after 6 months, but the response to the product was so tepid that the remaining three were shunted aside and forgotten until one day when a local chef came to visit and expressed interest in trying one. After he called to say the lamb was inedible, I tossed the rangiest of the remaining two into the wood furnace and put the fourth out of my mind until the week before I was scheduled to give my presentation when, something told me I should bring it.

You could have knocked me over with a sprig of thyme when, after I'd finished the tasting and had asked the audience which meat they thought was the most interesting, about 2/3 responded that it was the lamb.

I suppose that I would have gotten a similar response from any group of of chefs and cooking students. But I prefer to think that the reaction was an idiosyncratic response by a unique group of people whose devotion to craft is so complete that they are able to overlook the obvious (the meat looked like wood and smelled like dirty sweat socks) to see things for what they really are.

I'm sure my grandfather, who ended up working at The Pierre Hotel for more than thirty years and who, because he spent so much time on his feet in lace-up leather shoes and was "old school" when it came to hygiene, would not have thought twice about the smell of that lamb.

Sunday, March 1, 2009