Wednesday, April 29, 2009

“Ratio” Cookbook Is a Recipe for Cooking as Easy as 3 - 2 - 1 - Review -

I've not said much here about Ratio, Michael Ruhlman's latest book, because having helped hammer out some of the underlying philosophical concepts and science (I think that is a fair characterization of my contribution. But one can never be sure how much of an effect one has on another person's work.), I have not figured out a way to discuss it while maintaining my own credibility as a reasonably objective commentator.

So, I've chosen to sit back and let others do the work of making sense out of Michael's latest attempt to clarify a subject that is so freighted with nonsense that I have made gazing at books about cooking in my(Fabulous!) local bookstore into a kind of sport where the goal is to experience "awe and disdain" simultaneously.

Anyway, check out this review in the New York Times. It's a good one!

“Ratio” Cookbook Is a Recipe for Cooking as Easy as 3 - 2 - 1 - Review -

Now for something cheerful

Like a lot of you I have been busy getting my garden going. I built a cedar frame for a plot that last year was a pumpkin patch. There's radishes, beets and peas coming up in there now. Sick and tired of staking tomatoes with bamboo stakes, I decided to emulate something that Trent Hendricks put up on the farm last year and built a tomato trellis. If it ends up looking anything like his did, by the time the tomatoes start fruiting, it'll be a beautiful hedge.

Asparagus are coming in and I've eaten a few. Not as many as the damned ground hog who almost always seems to beat me to it. But I've got a surprise for him (or her) in the form a brand new 1000 feet per second pellet rifle. A .22 would be a better bet, but I'm not allowed to discharge firearms in my neighborhood. We are packed too closely together here for that. So the pellet gun will have to do. Now, if I can only learn to shoot straight...

Egypt orders slaughter of all pigs over swine flu

This is fraking crazy and cannot be interpreted and anything other than an expression of contempt for pork (and pork eaters). At the very least, it is an out of the ballpark overreaction.

Egypt orders slaughter of all pigs over swine flu

Nation of Dunces?

Are enough people stupid enough to cause a decline in pork sales because they are afraid becoming infected with swine flu? Apparently so, which is why American swineherds have lobbied federal officials to refer to the epidemic as an outbreak if H1N1 virus instead of swine flu.

U.S. officials want 'swine' out of flu name

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Balducci’s is like, gone!

I don't really care that the pretentious overpriced gourmet bloat mart that Balducci's had become by birth of the naught-naughts is going the way of the passenger pigeon. But it is worth noting that at one time it was a really cool place to buy stuff that you could not get at your local farm stand or Stop & Shop.

So say goodbye to Balducci's and count the seconds until someone buys the brand and opens an online store...

Balducci’s Makes a Quiet Exit From Manhattan Times

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ancient Nazi cattle species re-introduced to Britain

The title of the this post is accurate. The auroch or something very close to the auroch is now roaming fields and woodlands somewhere in Britain after having gone locally extinct sometime during the Iron Age (circa 800 BCE) thanks in part to the efforts of Luftwaffe leader Herman Goering.

It seems that apart from being a thieving, drug addled war-mongering Hitler wannabe, Goering was in every other respect a typical Nazi party big shot in that he pined for the days when the mythical Aryan people lived as hunter gathers in the primeval forests of the Fatherland. So he set up a back breeding program to recreate some of the real animals that the imaginary Volk had hunted to extinction (Or did the Nazis blame some other group for the demise of native species? I'll have to check on this.)

Ancient cattle species re-introduced to Britain - Science-

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Bull

Farmer Trent Hendricks, my butchery and charcuterie enabler, has been steadily increasing his stock of cattle over the winter months and now has a pretty healthy herd of grass fed animals whose ultimate fate is to become food. Almost all of the animals have been bought or traded into the farm as heifers, while a smaller number were born on the farm. He's raising black and red Angus, Devons and Limousin bulls (see slideshow below).

None of the males are castrated (i.e. there are no steers) so they are more or less free to have their way with the females. It is a hoot to watch the three huge angus bulls in the field just below the kitchen window vying for dominance and not at all unlike watching a trio of high school football players playing smackdown in front of a bunch of cheerleaders.

To date we have butchered about a half dozen bulls and cows. This week we are taking apart a Limosin (pronounced more or less as Lim-ou-zan) bull that came back from the slaughterhouse weighing 1070 pounds. Once the bones are removed and turned into beef stock, we will be left with about 650 pounds of meat (maybe more) for roasts, steaks, sausage, hamburger, biltong and dog chews.

Yes, that's right, dog chews.

A few weeks ago I realized that the tendons and other tough trim that would not got through the grinder and were not especially useful for stock, could be fashioned into treats for dogs. So I am now proud to say that I can add pet food manufacture to my curriculum vitae.

Life gets curiouser and curiouser.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ratio This!

See Michael Ruhlman on The Early Show (CBS) as he promotes Ratio, his- to my mind sucessful- first attempt to bring Platonic order to the fundamental preparations of western cooking.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bad Game

Padma Lakshmi, game show referee

For once I will not mince words and say exactly how I feel about television shows that present cooking as a competitive sport: I hate them, they suck.

Top Chef, Iron Chef, The Next Iron Chef can all metaphorically burn in Hell’s Kitchen and their ashes scattered across the field that holds the bones of similarly inane cooking shows like The Galloping Gourmet and Emeril’s Kitchen.

There are lots of reasons why I don’t like the idea of "cooking as contest". But the bottom line is I believe that cooking for a medal or prize money is contrary to what professional cooking is fundamentally about.

In my view, the baseline purpose of all professional cooking is to provide nutrition to others in an aesthetically pleasing form. If high income is generated along the way, or one becomes famous for the rare aesthetic value of her work, all the better, but entertainment (which is the primary purpose of all of these shows that pit chefs against each other) should never be thought of as anything more than an unintended coincidence.

Of course, the environment within a kitchen can be competitive, and it can be healthy for cooks to compete with one another to see who can do the best work in the least amount of time. But I think it is not only silly to turn a process whose fundamental purpose is to keep others alive and edified in art into the culinary equivalent of a boxing match, it also degrades the profession.

Surgeons and dentists are charged with a job that is similar to that of professional cooks and understand that their fundamental job is to attend to the health of their patients in manner that assures their survival and sense of “well being.” Yet there is no reality TV show where teams of heart surgeons compete against a clock to replace heart valves or a contest where dentists perform root canals while being judged on the aesthetic value of their work.

I’m sure there are many reasons why there is nothing on TV called “Iron Thoracic Surgeon” or “Hell’s Dental Chair,” and one of them has to be that most doctors understand that participating in such things is undignified and would lower the public’s opinion of their profession. So why are there so many chefs willing to risk appearing as if the most important thing in the world was winning a game?

Friday, April 10, 2009

More Chaff from the Genuis Mill

If you don't have a headache now you might be pounding down aspirin after you discover that a company called First Flavor is about to roll out it's first batch of peel and lick ads. This can be seen in a number of ways but it's undoubtedly not something that is going to be used to market real food. Lickable ads for grassfed beef? I think not.

Daily Headline Blog

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Like F-ing Natural Artisan Mumbo Jumbo

It may be only children and pedants who believe that once a word is coded into more than one dictionary its meaning becomes fixed and immutable. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider the "f-word" which can mean virtually anything depending upon the context in which it is used. The word "like" is equally adaptive and, in the mouth of a skilled user, can indicate a simile (as in "I'm like wasted."), affinity or affection ("You like what?") indecision ("I was like what?") or nothing at all ("Like, you know.").

Likewise, in the world of commercially produced food, there are many words and whose applied meaning have little to do with their formal definitions. Take the word artisan, for example, which normally indicates a person who is skilled in a trade and works largely with his hands and hand tools.

Nowadays, most supermarket bakeries sell artisan bread that is made in factories. The flour for the bread is ground in automated mills, sifted by mechanical sifters, mixed in dough mixers and baked in automated ovens. If it is hard to imagine a role for an artisan in the process of making thousands of loaves of bread a day, it's only because you don't know that the baking industry has expanded the definition of artisan to include a minimum-wage worker with only enough skill to cut and slash a loaf of bread in exactly the same way 10,000 times a day.

People who sell chickens and turkeys can label them as fresh even though their poultry has been frozen because they have a different understanding of definition of the meaning of the word frozen. According the National Turkey Federation
"evidence exists that (freezing) occurs somewhere between 0 and 10 degrees F, but the precise temperature eludes us."

It doesn't matter at all that meat is mostly water and that the public understands that water is widely defined as freezing at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (okay, the water in chicken contains solutes so it's freeze point is probably around 28 degrees) because the poultry industry understands that language is mutable, and either assumes that the public understands that it knows which versions of the words fresh and frozen it is using or, to take a more cynical view, is too dumb to know that it's being duped.

Forgetting for the moment that since the fundamental definition of the word natural means "present in or produced by nature" only foods that are still in their native habitat, or are not in anyway added to or reduced by human hands or their machines can truly be said to be natural, it is possible to see a broad range of natural food products that appear to be natural in ways that would give nature pause to wonder if it knew what it was about. Tyson and other chicken producers sell "100 percent Natural" chicken breasts that are injected with salt water and seaweed extract. Since salt water and seaweed are natural products, adding them to chicken does not, according to Tyson and the USDA, render the chicken unnatural anymore than smoking tobacco or injecting narcotics turns a natural born fool into a manufactured dope.

Even highly processed foods like ketchup and frozen fish sticks can be labeled natural as long as they don't contain anything that was synthesized in a laboratory. According to the Code of Federal Regulations a natural additive is:
"the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice ..."

Well, I suppose that enzymolysis is natural enough.

Of course, unless you believe that you are being harmed by eating fresh natural artisan chicken that is not fresh, not produced by an artisan and not natural, there is no reason to rise up in arms about the loosey-goosey ways that food companies are using your language. On the other hand, it is like (f-word) annoying when like, think you are being played for a like, dupe.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Be a Vessle of Virtue

Now for the price of about 600 half-liter plastic bottles of water, you can prevent 600 half-liter plastic water bottles from entering the waste stream and look totally hot with this $90 canteen from US Canteen.

This has been a public service announcement by A Hunger Artist.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Time Must Have a Stop (I wish)

Getting older has it's advantages. If you haven't ruined your nervous system with drink or drugs, the accumulated experience of years of interacting with thousands makes it easier to see the truth behind the lie and the absence of evidence behind the statement of conviction. False friends are easier to spot and if you are really lucky, it begins to become easier to know what it is that makes you happy.

I don't remember thinking much about what I needed to make me happy before the age of 11. Happiness kind of just rolled in on it's own in small waves made up of simple things like digging holes, eating, camping, shooting trap and clamming with my father and his buddies and, as you see in this photo that my brother posted on Facebook last night, trying to tease a meal from Long Island Sound.

I'm the chubby guy in the middle. The kid in the foreground with the bamboo pole is my brother Gary and the kid in the background is Ed Hart who lived across the street from us in Glen Cove, NY.

Where does the time go people? Ah, to be ten again!