Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pickled Onions

Get a gander of my latest adventure in lactic acid fermentation: pickled (or more precisely "pickling") onions.

I started this project last Friday morning as I pulled into the farm and immediately began yanking onions out of the onion field adjacent to the parking lot. After about an hour of yanking, I rinsed them off with the hose outside the door of the milking parlor and hauled them into the kitchen for prepping (about 2 hours) and brining (30 minutes). Now the wait is on.

The slide show depicts most of the steps involved with captions written in a "How To" voice. None of the steps require a greater apprehension of culinary science and technique than might be found in a teenaged chimpanzee -albeit a teen chimp who hangs around kitchens.





Thursday, July 23, 2009

In Pickle

Like a lot of you, I've been bitten by the "make-pickles" bug this season.

Between an endogenous lust for fermented things (no idea how it happened) , the superabundance of my garden during this summer of wet and mild weather, and an ever-escalating awareness that anything worth eating is not that hard to make -I f--king had to do it.

Of course, I've been making pickled things for decades. But with the exception of sauerkraut, I am not aware that I have ever pickled anything via the naturally occurring lactobacilli that is present on all fruits and vegetables (and probably everything that is alive and lives on the surface of our planet).

My previous pickling experience has been limited to submerging foods in seasoned vinegar with pickling spices (c.f. mass market cornichon and bread & butter pickles) which produces a pickle with the aroma and taste of acetic acid. That kind of pickle is great, but it is nothing like pickles that have been fermented (allowed to be partially digested) by lactic acid producing bacteria.


Pickled sweat peas from my garden. They smell like pickles and eat like peanuts (salty, sweet, umami and -unlike peanuts- sour),

The turbid appearance of the pickling brine (below) is caused by pigment that leached from the three radishes I added in as an afterthought.


A cucumber juxtaposed against a pea- a "peacumber" if you will.


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The recipe for this kind of pickle could not be any easier it it had been constructed by a monkey. The basic algorithm is

1) make a 5% brine of salt and water ( for example to one quart or 32 ounces, by weight of water add 1.6 ounces of salt OR per 1 liter or 1000 grams of water add 50 grams of salt)
2) Add seasoning to the solution, heat to create an infusion and let cool to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (I added garlic, chillies and basil)
3) Add fruits and or vegetables
4) Place in an air tight container making sure that the fruits and or vegetables are covered with the brine
5) Cover tightly and shove into a corner of your kitchen
6) Check every two or three days. If after a week to ten days the mixture smells like pickle, it's probably done


For a more precise pickle recipe with much better photography see Tarragon-Garlic Pickles @ Ruhlman.

Near Proof

Finding a slice of pizza in my refrigerator 6 days after it was brought into my house is not quite proof that it was the worst pizza we have ever come in contact with (See Consumer Advisory Warning) , but it's damned close. I've never seen left over pizza last more than a day in my house, so for this cinnamon donut smelling abomination to still be here unmolested is pretty damning.

To be fair, there were a few more pieces left after Friday that seem to have met less discriminating guts than mine own. But still...
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the Need to Know

I never thought I did an especially good job of leading my students at The Culinary Institute of America to understand that knowing why food behaves in the ways that it does when we manipulate it, is just as important as knowing how to cook. I think at best I probably reinforced the belief that consistently positive outcomes in the kitchen are not possible if you don't understand the science to a few who already believed it. But I'm sure that my entreaties to question everything that happens and to not take anything for granted was lost on the majority of students who, in all fairness, were mostly of the popular opinion that an Institute was not, like a college or university, supposed to encourage skepticism as much as train them in a specific set of tasks.

However, expectations of the school and my role as a teacher there aside, the truth remains that unless you always cook from carefully vetted recipes in the same place on the same equipment with ingredients that are produced and stored under the same conditions, unexpected things are going to happen. And forget it if you, like most cooks, like to fiddle around with or develop your own recipes.

This point was driven home to me this morning during a reading of a method for making sour dough starter at Michael Ruhlman's blog. The method he described involved adding a cabbage leaf to a mixture of flour and water, letting sit overnight, dosing it with flour and water again and letting it sit for another night before using it. I don't doubt for a moment that the method produces the vigorously bubbling starter that he describes, but I'm not sure why it bubbles faster than a simple mixture of flour and water left to ferment for the same period of time.

The obvious answer is that there is yeast on the cabbage leaves that is introduced to the starter. But why would we assume that the yeast that lives on cabbage is capable of colonizing wheat? There are thousands of species of yeast, many of them quite host specific and not all of them capable of digesting starch. There is very little starch in cabbage so why would cabbage host significant number of starch digesting yeast?

Another possibility is that the cabbage is adding in invert sugar which the yeast gobble up. However, neither Ruhlman nor the person he learned the method from (Carri at Two Sister's Bakery in Homer, Alaska) report crushing the leaves to release sugar from the cells which, I think would be required to extract enough of the cabbages' measly <3% sugar content to produce the dramatic bubbling they report.

It is possible that what is introduced to the starter by the cabbage is some type of bacteria. Bacteria will produce gas just like yeast, and if the right kind are introduced will drop the pH and make the starter sour. One type of bacterium that is always found on cabbage that has not been cooked or fumigated is Leuconostoc bacteria which produces prodigious amounts of bad smelling gas. However, if Leuconostoc bacteria is present in Ruhlman's starter culture he reports no off odors. Not yet at least.

Not knowing what the cabbage is doing in his starter is not great. Professional bakers have been making starter in very specific ways from flour only for generations because that is the best way to assure a microflora that be built exclusively of a specific population of yeasts and lactic acid producing bacteria. I would not be at all surprised to find that in a few days he discovers that his starter has a big colony of funky smelling bacteria blooming on its surface. I've had that happen to me a few times after I've added something unique to my starter.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Consumer Advisory Warning

The Worst Pizza I've Ever Tried to Eat

Last night I had pizza that was so bad that I could not believe how bad it was. There was nothing redeeming about, nothing. The sauce was sweet and thin, the cheese was typical pizza shop quality mozzarella (tasteless and rubbery) but the kicker was the crust.

One has to be clever to construct pizza crust that is mushy on the inside, crispy outside, under baked, absent of yeast flavor and salt, pale and ugly. But whoever designed this recipe shows himself to be an evil genius of pizza couture in the way he managed to make the pizza smell like a CINNAMON DONUT!

Yes, you read that correctly, the crust has something in it that makes it smell like cinnamon. And no, it wasn't an accident, I searched (googled) for posts about PEACE O PIZZA (apparently it's a franchise operation) and found others who made the same comment.

Peace O Pizza makes the frozen stuff in the supermarket and public school cafeteria pizza look like high art.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Evidence of Genius: Exhibit 1

Not that anyone has ever had any reason to doubt the depth and breath of my intelligence. But it can't hurt to publish a reminder of how miraculously smart I am to warn off those who might try to get over on me during one of those moments when I pretend to be in a weakened condition.

For example, this morning I decided to tackle a problem that afflicts millions but until today has proved to be unsolvable.

As everyone knows fly-swatters are reasonably green, cheap, and low tech devices that in the right hands are pretty good at killing flies. However, many people who use them have terrible aim and timing and do not manage to kill too many flies. Plus, killing flies by smacking them with a fly swatter often results in the dismemberment of the fly which leaves the killing area littered with fly parts and guts - a real liability in a kitchen where sanitation is a major concern.


My solution to the problem is to combine an ordinary fly swatter with a can of fly spray. Now, when I want to kill flies, I pop the cap on the spray, depress it with the paddle of the swatter, and no matter how bad my aim is the flies drop like flies.


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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Crawling

by Mike Pardus*

Bob and I and a few other foodies started getting together a couple of years ago for occasional (mostly biannual) binges of food, drink, and discussion.

This year we decided crawl around Lower Manhattan-Chinatown. Armed with a map of the area and a list of well recommended street stalls, markets, dives and restaurants. Six of us met at the corner of Mott and Pell Streets and set out to eat everything in sight.

Before we even had a chance to get our bearings and choose a direction, we ran into an old friend with whom I'd toured Singapore and Vietnam. She was out for Dim Sum with her husband and invited us along. First stop Pings, on Elizabeth Street for Dim Sum.

After about an 90 minutes of "tea snacks", our friends left us to find our own way, so we wandered across the street to Aji Ichiban - a Japanese snack shop which sells typical sweets (gummy worms, that sort of thing) but also dried, fried, and flavored fish bits and fruits , that are pickled dried, and seasoned in ways most westerners can't imagine. We were soon buying tiny sacks of interesting - sometimes unidentifiable - tidbits for sidewalk snacking and later inspection: dried shredded sweet squid, tiny sesame glazed whole fried crabs, baked cuttlefish slices, salt pickled and dried plums...mouth explosions every one; some interesting but not compelling, while others begged to be loaded into a bag with deionized water and hooked into an IV line.

"Beer" said Kris Ray, fellow founding crawler "we need beer." 'Nuff said.

After establishing our position on the map and reconciling it with our list of approved sites, we crossed the street and walked into Oriental Garden. The somewhat formal sit-down restaurant was nearly vacant at 3:30 pm, and the Maitre'd hotel was glad to seat us. Fresh, live shrimp by the pound, stir-fried with garlic, was the perfect snack to give us and excuse to order beer. Heads, shells and all, they were like so much crunchy popcorn and enticed us to sit through 2 rounds of Tsing Tao.

2 meals and a snack in less than 3 hours, we allowed ourselves a leisurely stop to check out the fancy chop sticks at Yunhong Chop sticks and expensive, exotic teas at TenRen's Tea.

On another day I might have been content to stumble from one place of food and drink to another, but unbeknown to my increasingly hyperglycemic colleagues I was on a mission. For a month I'd been asking everyone and checking out websites, looking for the best Bahn Mi (Saigon Sub Sandwich) in Manhattan. I'd narrowed the search down to three, but we only had time (and appetite) to check out two of them.

The first choice was Saigon Bakery at 138 Mott St. A sandwich shop literally in the rear of a jewelry store, there was a line five deep when we arrived at 5:00 PM. "No more, we are closed" pronounced the proprietress.

The look of dismay on my face must have flipped a sympathetic switch in her heart ( or the greed button in her purse) because she said "For you, we have one left - but only chicken. " And I walked out ahead of the line, undoubtedly with someone's dinner tucked under my arm. My five accomplishes on the side walk passed it around, relishing each sweet, savory, and tangy bite. Bits of marinated and griddled chicken thigh were packed onto a warm bun slathered with mayonnaise and made succulent with cucumber slices and sweet pickled daikon and carrot shards.

Then, after a few of our crew made a pit stop at an unremarkable looking chocolate shop for coffee sodas, we headed over to Kuma Inn for dinner.

* I found this post by Pardus in our "Drafts" folder. It was written on June 29, 2009 a day after we'd concluded our trip to Chinatown, NYC. -Bob dG

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I'm a bloody rock star!

I've wanted to be a rock star ever since I first saw real live rock stars on the stage at the Fillmore East in, I think, 1969. I was 13 when I saw Albert King, Chuck Berry and The Who tearing it up a what was arguably one of the two best venues for rock concerts in the world (The Fillmore West being the other). And given how thrilled I was to see Chuck do whatever that dance he did was called (duck walk?) and the maniacal Keith Moon breaking drum sticks as he played faster, and with more skill than any rock drummer I can think of, you would be forgiven for thinking that I ran home and formed a band.

But no, I've never been serious enough about music to actually learn how to play and instrument and singing loud enough to be taken seriously as a R&R singer has always felt to me to be, I don't know, impolite?

So, even though I've always wanted to be a rock star, I never bothered to become one, until now.
And check it out: I did not have to pick up a guitar or open my mouth to do it. All I had to do was butcher.

See, according to Kim Severson writing for the New York Times, butchers are competing with chefs to be the rock stars of the culinary world. (So as a chef and a butcher I must be competing with myself? Odd.) She cites people who say butchers are hot, and that they like the fact that we wield big knives and are often covered in blood.

So now I'm a rock star and I've got Kim Severson and the NY Times to thank for it. Of course I have to thank my audience too, because without my fans, I could have never become the bloody awesome super star that I always knew I was but was too lazy and untalented to achieve on my own!

Never mind the bollocks, here's the butcher



Give me some skin


It's a little embarrassing to admit this, but there was a time in the early 1980's when I used to pull the skin off of chicken to make stock. I seem to recall thinking that removing the skin would make it easier to degrease which, of course, is true. However, skin is loaded with flavorful molecules and contains a large amount of collagen protein which, when heated in the presence of water, breaks down to gelatin. And as most of you know, it is gelatin that gives chicken stock, or any meat stock its "body" or "heft." So removing the skin is stupid.

Nowadays, I not only leave the skin on when I make stock, but I often add extra skin to bulk it up. At work we ask the farmer who raises, slaughters and butchers our chicken to save the skin which he sends to us in 5 pound bags. I don't use all of the skin he sends in stocks, some I add into poultry sausages when i think the meat is too lean. But I'll be damned if I'll be tossing it out the way I did when I was a wet-behind-the-ears chef wannabe.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Critic’s Notebook - The Cult of the Artisanal Pizza - NYTimes.com

Recently they have tried to convince us that hamburgers are worthy of endless permutations, concomitant criticism and marketing buzz. Now it looks like the hipsters of the restaurant establishment are gearing up to turn pizza into an "it" food. Yawn. What is going to be next, hot dogs or salad perhaps?

Of course I know that these trends involving gussied up low food cost products are fueled by economic necessity. And I certainly have nothing but respect for the people who make the stuff well. It is the sturm und drang of the critics and consumers that I find so tedious in its sameness from fad to fad.

Critic’s Notebook - The Cult of the Artisanal Pizza

Monday, July 6, 2009

Coffee deal

After reading my post about Doma Coffee, he became overwhelmed by a fit of chutzpah I suspect is not at all atypical of people who spend half their lives on ocean going ships and asked if my name could get him a deal on coffee. I blew the comment off, but Terry Patano, Doma Coffee Roasting Company's owner and principal rotisseur des cafes, read and took the comment to heart and offered TyroneBcookin (and anyone else who wants to sample Terry's work) the following deal:

Between now and August 6th, 2009, order one pound of Doma coffee and Terry will add in a half pound of another coffee of his choosing. Just make sure to fill in the line on the order form that asks for your company's name with the words "A Hunger Artist."

Also please keep in mind that I have no financial interest in any of this. I'm only trying to promote the work of a fellow artisan and expect no financial or material gain from any transaction that anyone makes with Doma Coffee Roasting Company.

Ratio: Best Nonfiction of 2009... So Far

Michael Ruhlman's Ratio continues to astound and amaze me. The book, already in it's 4th printing following it's publication in April, just picked up a kudo from Amazon for Best Nonfiction of 2009 (So far).

When he first told me that he was going to write it, I thought it was a great idea. But I figured that it would only sell to professional chefs, culinary students and cooking geeks looking for a way to simplify their cooking and the way they think about recipes. Well, there is either a hell of a lot of people who fit that description or the book has much wider appeal than I'd assumed.


Best Nonfiction of 2009... So Far

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Coffee roasting made dope or fly

If you have a hard time believing that there is anything fly or dope, about roasting coffee this promotional video for Doma Cofee Roasting Company, might just change your mind. Doma Coffee Roasting Company is owned and operated by Terry Patano, who, even though I've never met him, I regard as something of a homeboy or "homie" in the street parlance of my particular hood.

Seriously now, I first tried Terry's coffee last year when he graciously sent some samples to my crib. Then I tried it again when he sent more and now that he sells the stuff online my wife, who gets goofy when she drinks the stuff, orders it about once a month. It's certainly the best coffee I've ever been able to buy on a regular basis. No Starbuck's style blast furnace treatment here. Every bean is roasted just enough to acheived a complex and robust nose, and no more.





Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Pork Fat's Tale

Okay, so the title is a reference to Canterbury Tales and probably indicative of nothing more or less than I do not know what to call this post about one of the many acts of charcuterie that I committed this early summer week. Time to move on...

Vegetarain bones make easy cracking

Cannibals who prefer that their livestock abstain from meat eating apparently know what they are doing.

A joint Australian-Vietnamese study of links between the bones and diet of more than 2,700 people found that vegetarians had bones five percent less dense than meat-eaters


Surely the weaker bones of vegetarians makes it much easier for the anthropophage to extract the marrow.




Vegetarian diet 'weakens bones' - Yahoo! News

Thanks to Tags for sending this to us.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

3 cents on the Kuma dollar

by Mike Pardus

I'm not even going to try to recall the avalanche of plates that consumed us on Saturday night. Suffice it to say that King has his chops DOWN. All of the basics are solid - braised things are meltingly tender, fried things hot and crisp, reductions unctuous and powerfully flavored, dressings and dips balanced and suited to their accompaniments. I think the highlights for me were the steamed edamame ( so simple, but perfectly cooked and dressed with such a light touch of Lime/thai basil oil that there was debate at our end of the table as to weather it was there at all, or just in our imaginations) and the braised-then-grilled baby octopus - a difficult protein to do properly. Tender but chewy, soft interior-crisp outside, briny and spicy...yum.

I have some photos of various plates to upload later. One warning - when you go looking for Kuma Inn don't be put off by its exterior. The Blade Runner chic entrance is just the way it should be and says, in effect,

No "Tourists" Allowed