Sunday, June 28, 2009

Me, a gavone?

Call me whatever you like, but I don't think you can call me a gavone unless one day of virtual filter feeding in New York City is enough to make me a glutton. Wow, did I ever eat and drink a lot last Saturday during a gastronomic ramble through NYC’s Chinatown and Little Italy. Last year’s tour of Little India in Flushing, NY did not involve one 1/3 of the calories that I ingested during this masticatathon.

It began with a desultory train ride in a dirty grey Amtrak train through Philadelphia and some of the most miserable hyper-industrialized landscape in North America, viz. the marshlands (Really called The Meadowlands; but my standards of literacy will not permit me to refer to a swamp as a meadow .) of New Jersey. It was not until the train slid into the tunnel that leads into Penn Station that my mood blew up over what I was about to do.

See, I love Manhattan. When I’m in Manhattan my heart beat slows down and my mind goes into a state where it is perfectly alert to its surroundings yet it daydreams like mad. It tosses up images of what the city looked like when I was a kid or what it imagined it looked like when my grandparents lived there as children. It even throws in images of things I read in books and saw in movies. The city becomes a split screen experience where now plays opposite to the imagined past and the living walk side by side with ghosts.

My brain did not start amusing itself by populating the city in earnest with ghosts until I was in my ‘30’s and was working on 34th Street at the New York Restaurant School. I taught classes at night that ended around 11PM. It was during my walks up to Grand Central Station that my brain started to embroider the present with the past in earnest. Now it happens every time I’m in there, and I love it like salt. But whoa, I’m running way off topic!

I checked into my hotel in Union Square (Way cool digs!) around noon, grabbed a cup of coffee at a Starbucks where some guy with red spots on the back of his neck was milling around asking people if they’d seen the bottle of detergent that had been given to him by the "Health Department" (more like "Brain Police"). Coffee-in-hand and heart-in-mouth hoping that the guy wouldn't accuse me of stealing his soap, I made my way down to the corner of Mott and Pell St. to meet up with my crew.

Mike Pardus had called me to say that he and Megan Jessee were going to be a few minutes late because their GPS –probably cold cocked by the same stupid inducing radio waves that caused the recent economic crisis- got confused in the Financial District. But Krishnendu Ray and David Livert were already there munching on ice cold perfectly ripe lychee fruits. Kris had a big bag of them and man, they tasted great as we stood there sweltering in the heat of the midday sun. My hands soon became sticky from the sugar and I got a little annoyed when no one would let me wipe them on their clothes. (I mean: WTF?) Then out of the crowd Pardus and Megan appeared, then Anne E. Mcbride materialized and we were off.

It was pure coincidence that we met Pardus’ friend and collaborator Wendy Chan with her family as we were deciding whether or not to go into Aji Ichiban to ogle and sample its snack food. Instead the Chans proposed that we join them for lunch at Ping for dim sum (see slide show). After Ping we stumbled into Aji Ichiban and rummaged through bins of sweet squid, tiny crispy and sweet crabs and a whole lot of stuff that would make my kids recoil in horror at the mere thought that anyone would eat such stuff (What else is surprising thank you?)

After Aji Ichiban the afternoon was a blur until we stopped at Oriental Garden for beer and a big bowl of whole stir fried shrimp (Don’t worry, the eyes only look cool, they don’t have much taste.). Then a hurried walk to Bahn Mi Saigon Bakery and another Vietnamese sandwich shop so that Pardus could check their Banh Mi against the version he makes at CIA (the geek was actually taking notes), a chop stick shop (YunHong Chopstick Shop) with chop sticks that made me sad that I eat with a knife and fork unless I’m eating Chinese or Japanese food (which is not very often)and a tea shop whose name I forgot long before I will ever forget the beauty of its design.

We stumbled into a fierce and beautiful downpour as we made our way east past not much of interest except a 40 plus story cobalt blue glass apartment building that was the most beautiful ugly piece of architecture I’ve seen in a long time until we reached our final stop, Kuma Inn on Ludlow Street where we had a reservation for dinner at 7:00PM.

Of course by this time I felt like eating like I always feel about prostate exams. However, I had very good reasons to overcome my queasiness over swallowing another dose of food. King Phojanakong, the chef and owner of Kuma Inn had been my student in Introduction to Gastronomy in 1996 and again after he returned from his internship at Restaurant Daniel for my class in Advanced Culinary Principles (aka Experimental) class. He was also in Mike Pardus’ charcuterie class. In other words the chef was one of us.

I’m going to leave it to Mike Pardus to explain what the meal was like and how King is doing in what is probably the most competitive restaurant market in the world. Suffice it to say here that the food is highly idiosyncratic to King’s acculturation as a Thai-Pilipino, native New Yorker who is highly trained in French culinary technique, design and philosophy. I came away gob smacked by the experience.

But how could I not have been? I was in the city I love more than almost any other place on the planet with great friends eating and drinking with a former student (Who doesn’t seem to hate me!) and -wait a minute, I almost forgot to mention Neil Guillen, another former student was working there too- you know, I may not be a gavone for food, but I wish I could eat that kind of experience all day every day. Sigh.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Quickie

I am just about to blow out the door to catch a train to NYC to meet up with Mike Pardus, Kris Ray and a bunch of other culinarians for a walking tour through the markets and eateries of China Town, so I am not going to spend too many words on this post.

Here is a slide show of some of the work I did at the farm last week.

And some follow up shots of the same product the way they looked this week.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Garden Update

My garden as of this evening.

Time For [Slow] Lunch @ School

"It’s time to provide America’s children with REAL FOOD at school."

I suppose many districts will have to cut the salaries of administrators to be able to afford trained chefs to run their kitchens, but hell, I know plenty of people who would not mind losing an assistant-assistant superintendent if it meant that their kids would not have to eat cheese sticks and pizza or biscuits and gravy for lunch.

Time For Lunch : Home : Slow Food USA:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The state of the oven

My aging mind is such a blur of past events that I really don't remember when Jerl Pino took over the completion of the Tuscan style wood fired oven that Trent Hendricks and I began in September of 2008. The date he took charge doesn't matter anyway. What's important is that he took over the job, because unlike me, he's actually going to get it done.

I took these photos last Saturday (6.20.09). I'm guessing that working at his usual rate of 1 or 2 days per week, Jerl is two weeks away from completing it to the point where we can begin to fire it up to baking temperature. He needs to build the chimney, build the outer wall (with block) then fill in the gap with insulation (mortar and vermiculite). When that's done, we will build a series of increasingly hot fires to temper the masonry before firing it up for baking.

I have no doubt that baking in this thing is going to be like learning to bake all over again.

In Case You Were Wondering

I despise the term “foodie” as it applies to people who, like me, center their lives around food and cooking. Because it ends with the diminutive suffix “ie,” foodie trivializes a habit of mind and craft that very many of us take seriously enough to try to earn our living by it. Foodie also symbolically lumps, professional chefs, food historians and Food Network fans into a silly sounding category similar to the one inhabited by obsessive fans of Star Trek (trekies) rock bands (groupies) and dope (junkies).

However, even though I think the word demeans everyone who uses it and everyone it applies to, I use it anyway because I know of no other term in popular speech that works as well to describe the mostly loosely affiliated network of people who spend most of their time thinking through food and cooking.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Nicholas Kristoff takes up the cause

As the newly released documentary Food Inc. makes its way through the movie theaters of the nation, it seems to be churning up a wake of outrage over the way that food is treated within the black box of the gastro-industrial complex.

Op-Ed Columnist - Lettuce From the Garden, With Worms -

Here is a trailer for Food Inc.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

For Pork Lovers Only

I took this picture of forty pounds of fat flensed from the outside of pork loins (fatback) yesterday (6.19.09). I used some of the fat for salami and and some I cured as lardo. I'll follow up with shots of the salami (I made 100 pounds) later in the weekend.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cereal Killer on The Loose

This sounds like real trouble

"The Ug99 fungus, called stem rust, could wipe out more than 80% of the world's wheat as it spreads from Africa, scientists fear. The race is on to breed resistant plants before it reaches the U.S."

A 'time bomb' for world wheat crop - Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Alcohol’s Good for You? Some Scientists Doubt It

So what are these scientists going to doubt next: the health dealing benefits of pastured acorn fed hog fat and grass fed beef; the wisdom of universal vaccinations against flu viri; the existence of god and reality of life after death? I mean: how dare they?

Alcohol’s Good for You? Some Scientists Doubt It -

Monday, June 15, 2009

Christian Albin, Four Seasons chef, dies

Chef Albin died 5 days after he was diagnosed with cancer. I suppose he might have been one of those people who put his job ahead of his health. RIP Chef.

Christian Albin, Four Seasons chef, dies --

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Slow Salami Sunday UPDATE

Last Sunday I wrote about how I acted on an urge to make a batch of Tuscan style salami. The post outlined the process up to the beginning of the fermentation of the meat. Today's post picks up the process on Wednesday when I retrieved the meat from the refrigerator in my garage and ground it.
It was my intention to stuff it at home too. But I decided against it when I realized that the stuffing attachment for my Kitchenaid stand mixer would ruin the texture by pulverizing the fat -which I wanted to remain in ~1/4" chunks- as it worked along the worm gear. So I took the forcemeat to the farm and expressed it into hog casing with the piston stuffer then brought it home to age.

Salami Stuffing Process

At the farm I always age the meat in the cheese aging room which is well controlled for humidity, temperature and air flow. But whenever I've aged meat at home in the past, I've winged it by hanging it in the basement and crossing my fingers. Well, I've decided not to do that anymore and build an aging room. But before I start shooting nails into the foundation and putting up studs I'm going to tinker around with different prototypes by way of determining how big the room needs to be, how often the air needs to turn over etc.

Here is my first prototype aging room. I put it up on Saturday in about an hour. Humidity is controlled by a vaopirizer hooked up to a timer. The air is turn over twice a day by a small fan (also on a timer). I expect that future versions of this will include a larger humidifer with a humdistat and a larger much slower turning fan.
Aging Room

Bread Heads

These are religious (Buddhist) icons but still, don't you think you could totally nail Ruhlman's BLT challenge with one of these? I'd pry open a mouth, stuff the bacon lettuce and tomato in there, maybe pipe some mayo...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


if you chose to watch this, turn off the sound. The soundtrack is terrible.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Garden Pics

A few readers have asked me to publish recent photos of my garden. I humbly oblige them here.
I took all of these pictures tonight (6/9) after diner and the obligatory clean up.

The matrix adds another node

The Coca Cola company has developed a "soda dispenser" capable of blending drinks and transmitting what it sells and how much it sells back to Coke.
"Freestyle will become Coke's front-line robotic army for business intelligence, sending massive amounts of consumption data back to the beverage company's Atlanta headquarters."

Gary Allen (who sent this link to me this morning) wrote

" When they add a credit card slot, there will really be something to worry about."

Coke's RFID-Based Dispensers Redefine Business Intelligence

Monday, June 8, 2009

Slow Salami Sunday

I must be more of an idiot than even my 9th Grade math teacher believed me to be. The guy was a former Wehrmacht commando and competitive water skier so you can imagine how convincing his opinions were.

Sunday (6/7) was a beautiful sunny spring day. I had lots of garden related stuff to do: a huge pile of composted mushroom soil to move, shrubs to dig out and replant and a googoplex of weeds to pull. But instead of taking the rational course and spending the entire day out of doors, I spent about a third of it in the house starting a batch of Tuscan salami, taking pictures and writing this post.

Okay, no use beating myself up over doing something that I love to do, I suppose. Here’s what I did today with a description of how I did it.

Step 1) Determine weight of available meat and the weight of the proportion of fat.

I had a bone-in picnic shoulder ham from the supermarket. Since I could not use the bone or skin in the salami, I had to filet and skin it and determine how much meat I had to work with.

After the bone and skin was removed I had 2576 grams (~92 ounces) of meat. I like the salami to be smooth and fatty so I decided to add some belly fat at the rate of 20% of the meat or 504 grams (18 oz). Fatback would have been a better choice because it's firmer and holds up better during aging (So slap me!).

Step 2) Write a recipe from the master recipe in my secret book of salumi recipes.

Since my secret book has all the data for what percentage of the meat and fat each ingredient should be. All I had to do to work up the recipe was add up the weight of the meat and fat and multiple that number (3125 grams) by the percent value of each ingredient ( Column III in the table below) and determine how much of each thing I needed (Col. II)

Ingredient Weight (g) % ingredient Notes
Meat 2576 1 Grind fine
Belly fat
504 0.20 Grind coarse

Total meat and fat






Instacure #1



Fennel seeds, whole



Toast them
Garlic, fresh



Fine mince
Pepper, black



Coarse grind
Red Wine



Dextrose powder



Bactoferm F-RM-52



Disperse in water
Water, cold



If I'd been at the farm where we almost always have some lactobacilli rich whey, I'd have omitted the Bactoferm and used the whey to lower the pH instead. Whey is way cheaper to use than Bactoferm and works the same way: the bacteria ferment the meat giving it a slightly tart taste and reduce the nitrate in compounds that brighten the color of the meat and destroy pathogenic bacteria.

After the meat has fermented for a few days in the refrigerator, I'll grind it. Then I'll take it to the farm where we have a proper sausage stuffing machine, stuff it into hog or beef casings, tie it off, bring it back home and hang it in the basement. I'll try to remember t take pictures of the rest of the process and post them here forthrightly.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Warning for Substituting Baker

If you bake hearth bread often you may have had this problem:

You decide to substitute a fraction of very coarse flour or cracked or whole grain for processed flour. You add the normal amount of water to the recipe but when you mix the dough it looks too dry so you work in more water. The dough proofs well, looks a little wet, seems fine after shaping but when you put it in the oven it spreads out rather than springing up.

Here is what may have happened:

Coarse flour, cracked and whole grain absorb more water than processed flour. When you added the water to the recipe, the coarse fraction absorbed more of the water than the fine fraction. You thought there was not enough water so you added more. The dough then had too much water so when it went into the oven it spread out instead of springing up.

This is a hoot

The Dark Side is closer than you think. (Thanks to Trig for bringing this to our attention.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Get Ready to be Indignant

Not pissed off enough over how big business has taken over the means of production and distribution of food? Would you like (or do you need) the validation of your belief that the people who have taken charge of feeding the world are more interested in undermining your enslavement than they are in your nutrification?

Then you may want to whet your disaffection and anger with this trailer for the movie Food Inc.