Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Question

I wonder if any of you know if (the sugars in ) onions actually caramelize when they brown. I have never detected the aroma of caramel in what most people call "caramelized onions" and for a long time have assumed that folks mistake the effects of the maillard reaction and the concomitant increase in sweetness due to concentration of sugars via evaporation for caramelization. What do you think?

Bourdain Ruhlman Pardus

In Mike Pardus' classroom kitchen 9.22.2009 at The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So you wanna be a Food TV Star?

Those TV guys, they have it sooo easy. They jet around the world, meet cool people, eat the coolest food, and actually get paid to do the stuff you and I would pay to do on vacation - right????

It's cool, and it's fun, and I'm glad I got to be part of it, but it is a SHIT LOAD of work - this ain't no night club, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around.

Three weeks ago, I was informed by the Media Relations people at CIA that Bourdain wanted to shoot part of a No Rez episode in my school problem...controlled environment...lots of professional equipment and a brigade of 16 students to back everything up and make it look slick.
Then Ruhlman came to visit."Tony's coming up in a few weeks" I said "You need to be here too". He agreed and e-mails started flying - "What else should we do while we're there?"; "What else should we see?". Ruhlman, tongue in cheek at first, I think, proposed that "Pardus dig a Pig Pit in his back yard and we have a BBQ". That was all it took, Bourdain took the bait, and I was on the hook.

The production crew wanted pix of the yard so they could figure out their shots; and once I looked at the pix, I realized that my back yard was about to be immortalized in the American Foodie Psyche as, more or less, a trailer park. The pile of bricks which had been slated to turn into a patio, the fence that was promised a new coat of stain, the sod assured new and fallow ground suddenly reared up and collectively demanded to be heeded. I had 10 days to not only compose and prep a Vietnamese BBQ menu for 30, I had to conceive, produce, direct, and host and un-televised episode of DIY Landscape 911.

Amazing GF Megan, Daughter Sierra, and an army of diligent friends replaced the paid set design and production crew and we went into overdrive. 1 sod cutter, 1500 bricks, a few gallons of stain and 6 bags of potting soil later, we made it to the finish line and, I think, showed well. In the absence of a good production budget, it takes a village to look good on TV.

I have no idea what it will all edit out to be, or how much of our hard work will show up on the tube, but I'm both exultant and exhausted; thrilled and tuckered out. Most of all, I know who my best friends are and how much of themselves they are willing to give to help at the crunch and for us all to have a great time together. I'm blessed. Thanks everyone.

Oh, yeah...sod cutters are really cool machines!

Mangalitsa Mania!!

Former CIA colleague Tom Schneller on butchering and eating a mangalista hog.

The Butcher's Info Blog: Mangalitsa Mania!!

Evidence of Genius: Salami Fighting

I wonder what Jacques Derrida would make of this.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

No Reservations and [worries over] Pardus' Soul

Last Wednesday I drove up to New Paltz to the Mike Pardus house for a barbecue that was to be taped for an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations. Although I would have loved to have gone up earlier in the week and helped with prepping the food and setting up, I could not because my wife was away on business and I wasn't able to get someone to watch the kids until the day of the BBQ.

I arrived at 1:00PM to find Megan Jesse (Pardus' much-better half) and their friend Caitlin McNally bustling around the yard setting up tables and chairs. A pile of bricks waiting to be laid was on a newly built terrace, and the air had that smell that I always associate with the build up to dinner service or a big catering gig. The smell is a combination of the aromas of food and sweat and something that is less olfactory in affect and more tactile and cerebral: subdued panic.

In the kitchen I found a bunch of loaves of bread that had been baked by Michael Ruhlman -who'd come down the previous Sunday to help out and costar in the No-Res episode- and all sorts of plates and platters and food stuffs piled onto every horizontal surface. I wasn't surprised by the prep-list that was lying on the dining room table with my name on it , but I'm pretty sure I laughed out loud when I saw that Pardus had signed me up to mince garlic, julienne carrots, and chiffonade savoy cabbage and much more.

The reason I laughed was that I realized that, unlike other professionals, we chefs almost never go to a party without spending time in the kitchen. Firemen don't usually go to parties and get asked to put out fires and medical doctors don't go to barbecues with the expectation of examining patients, but we chefs are often tapped to help out in the kitchen. I can't speak for anyone else, but as someone who lives to cook, I'm thrilled to be able to help out.

Three hours and one change of clothes later, Bourdain, Ruhlman and the production crew rolled in and the taping commenced. I'm not going to bother to describe the party in detail. But there were a few stand-out moments that deserve to be aired.

At one point Pardus' 10 year old daughter started chatting up Tony who must have immediately realized that the kid was a ringer because in an instant the cameraman was on them. They talked on camera for about 30 minutes. I'll be very surprised if at least some of that conversation does not survive the final cut.

Another high point of the event was when Ruhlman and Bourdain praising Trent Hendrick's cheese (a 3 year old "parmesan," 2 yr old "Swiss" and a 10 day old "Camembert") and my salumi. I sure hope that dialog finds air time.

But the coolest part of the whole deal was was seeing Pardus getting so much attention. Dude's a wonderful parent, a great chef, a serious gastronome, and a fabulous teacher. It's very, very gratifying to see that I'm not the only one who knows it. It choked me the f---k up.

You might think that now that Mike Pardus is going to be on the boob tube -and probably the YouTube- that we need to be worried about it all going to his head. Well, don't be. I've known Mike for a long time and I'm confident that his ego reached its maximum allowable size long ago.

Still, I am uneasy about the state of his soul, although I'm not sure why. Let me explain.

Earlier in the evening Ruhlman came into the kitchen where I was prepping and told me that he had to make a dish with celery root for the shoot and what did I think about making celeriac remoulade? I thought it was a fine idea but when he told me how he was going to build the sauce, I suggested adding Dijon style mustard which, I believe with all my heart, compliments celeriac in same way that butter justifies bread. He agreed and we started to search the kitchen for mustard. Mike's cabinets and fridge were loaded banana blossoms, fish sauces, chili pastes, noodles and wrappers from Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia, China and Japan but no mustard.

There is something about the absence of mustard in Pardus' kitchen that worries me. It felt kind of like going into a house where there are no books: damp, empty and creepy.

I've heard that the show will air in February or March of 2010. Let's hope Pardus buys some mustard by then.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A ‘French Chef’ Whose Appeal Doesn’t Translate -

This NY Times piece about how the French are largely unaware of Julia Child reminded me that she wasn't always "all that" in American professional kitchens either. When I began my professional cooking career in 1981, most of the people I met were who had been working in kitchens for a while were either dismissive of her, or in some instances hostile.

Rene Chardin, a chef born in Champagne, France and for whom I worked from 1982-83, often teased me by comparing my technique to Julia Child's. In the 1990's when I was teaching at the New York Restaurant School, there was an instructor there who had been a sous chef at the Rainbow Room when Julia Child came in to do a spot as a guest chef. Jim (not his real name) told me that the kitchen staff thought she was a joke; a home cook that did not belong in a professional kitchen. They called her "shoemaker" behind her back and some refused to work with her.

Of course, my anecdotal experience does not prove that anti-Julia sentiment was widespread in American professional kitchens, but I'm certain that there was more of it then than now.

A ‘French Chef’ Whose Appeal Doesn’t Translate -

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Beef goes to College

Our farm is now supplying grass fed beef burgers to the University of Pennsylvania. As someone who attended state and city run universities (SUNY & CUNY) I can assure you that it is thrilling to finally make it into the Ivy League, albeit vicariously as hamburger.

The Burger Stop
The Burger Stop, located on the ground floor of 1920 Commons, features 100% grass fed beef purchased locally from Hendricks Farm.

Alt-Del Grosso Tomato Sauce

If the people who make this sauce are related to me, I won't know unless we volunteer to have our genomes analyzed. I've spoken to one of them who told me that his ancestors were from a part of Italy that was hundreds of miles from my father's ancestral village. So, if we are related, our families branched apart a long time ago.

I've known about the "tomato sauce DelGrossos" for over forty years.

When I was about 10 years old my father came home from work one day with a can of DelGrosso meat sauce. I don't know how he got because in those days the sauce was only available in Pennsylvania and we lived on Long Island in New York State. However, I suspect that it wasn't easy to get because the can was never opened. Never. That can stayed in my mother's pantry for 25 years until she tossed it out ahead of building a new kitchen.

Of course, we all loved looking at the can so no one wanted to open it and risk wrecking it. Moreover, my mother never used canned sauce and my Dad, well he was the son of a professional chef and a mother who was a very accomplished practitioner of the cuisine of Emilia Romagna -so there were several reasons why that can lasted so long. (Including being frightened to open it after years of incubation in the pantry.)

Nowadays I can look at DelGrosso sauce labels virtually any time by walking into my mudroom where a big MEAT SAUCE label hangs in a red frame. Their sauce is in most of the supermarkets here in Pa. and, my youngest brother tell me, at least one supermarket in our hometown. And, of course, I can pull up images like the one at the top of this post anytime from the web.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Science in the Service of Mammon

Growing-finishing trials with feedlot cattle have not revealed
consistent differences between tallow, yellow grease, blended
animal-vegetable soapstock, cottonseed soap stock or soybean soap
stock (Lofgreen, 1965; Brandt, 1988; Zinn, 1989a, Tables 1 to 18).
There is nothing like reading an out of context quote to perk up the senses. I pulled this one out of a animal science paper while researching the relationship between fats in the diet of cattle and the quality of fat produced in the cattle body.

The references cited here are dated so it's not clear if the assertion all of these fats produce more or less the same results (rates of growth, marbling, flavor etc.) in feedlot cattle. But it does give one the heebie jeebies to recognize that the feeding of things such as tallow (rendered beef fat) and yellow grease (used frying oil) to cows has been the object of serious scientific scrutiny.

Click the title of this post or HERE to read the paper from which the excerpt was excerpted.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Simple Tomato Sauce (Salsa di Pomodori) Redux

Inspired by this morning's harvest of the last of the tomatoes from my garden here in south -eastern Pennsylvania I decided to re-post (with edits) this post from last year. -BdG

I learned to make this sauce thirty ago from Helen Federico, (Scroll down to "1943") a dear friend whose cooking skills are equaled only by her talent as a parent, illustrator and graphic designer. In those days Helen only made this sauce during the last week of August or the first week of September -the end of the growing season for tomatoes in lower NY State- when she would buy a couple of bushels from local growers and put the sauce up en masse.

Although it is cheapest and most satisfying to make this sauce from fresh tomatoes, it can also be made with good canned San Marzano tomatoes or their equivalent.

Equipment needed
Deep 2qt+ pot
Potato masher (For canned tomatoes: I hate cutting up canned tomatoes)
Blender or even better, an Immersion Blender

Cooking time
About 10-15 minutes
  • 2- 35oz (#20) cans of whole plum tomatoes or 4 lbs fresh ripe plum tomatoes cut into 1/4's
  • 4-6 oz good olive oil
  • 5-6 med cloves of garlic, sliced up crudely (it's going into a blender so who cares what it looks like?)
  • 12 leaves of fresh basil (you can use less, no big deal)
  • Salt to taste or approx. 1/2 tsp
  • Pepper to taste
Heat the oil just hot enough to smell it. Throw in the garlic and let it cook for a minute or two but for god's sake down let it brown. If it browns throw out the oil and start over.
Drop in the tomatoes. Mix them around a bit to stop the garlic from frying. If you are using canned tomatoes mash them up with the masher. Bring the sauce up to a simmer, let it cook for 10 minutes. Add the salt and Basil then emulsify it with a blender or an immersion blender.

I prefer to use the immersion blender because there's less to clean up and you can puree the sauce hot without having to worry about it flying all over the kitchen.

One of the many things that's nice about this sauce is that because it is emulsified, it doesn't run off the pasta or break up into puddles of oil and chunks of tomato. Just be careful not to boil it and break the emulsion when you reheat it.

I think the sauce is best served the way Helen served it. Spooned over the pasta after it has been put in the individual pasta bowls. Then grate some Parmigiano on top with a Mouli (I'm devoted to these and have used this type for almost thirty years.) follow it with a liberal grinding of black pepper then pause, take in the aroma and sit back and think about it for a moment before you lift your fork -just like the Helen's late husband Gene used to do.

That part of the recipe I learned from Gene and it's the one ingredient I never vary, ever.

I'll bet their kids don't either.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Last week I had a surfeit of pork shoulder, so I decided to make what many Italo-Americans call gabbagool. In goomba-speak gabbagool is, in reality, capicola or coppa -something I've been eating since I was knee-high to a mutzarelle (mozzarella).

If I wanted to be anal about this project and make a coppa that was true to the meaning of it's name, I would not have bothered. Since the word coppa refers to the nape of the neck, an authentic coppa would only be made from meat that is taken from ahead of the shoulder (top of the foreleg) running beside the spine below the dorsal region. Shoulder meat (I used chuck) would be wrong.

However, in Italy it is not uncommon for coppa to be made from shoulder. So even though coppa means nape, and capicola neck, I decided it was okay to make it from chuck.

There is a joke in here. I just can't see it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Op-Ed Contributor - Big Food vs. Big Insurance -

Michael Pollan:

The citizens of the United States spend too much on health care in part because many of us are too fat. And we are too fat because we overeat and we eat too much processed foods.

That works for me.

Op-Ed Contributor - Big Food vs. Big Insurance -

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bagels for Suckers

The spirit of PT Barnum is alive and well in the Florida bagel maker who, not only claims that NYC water has special properties that enable NYer's to produce the best bagels in the US, but also claims to have duplicated Brooklyn water for bagel making, or not.

[Fassberg] says his water is actually better than the Brooklyn variety because he leaves out such less-than-desirable elements as lead and chlorine.

So, let me see if I can follow the logic of what this guy is claiming.

Brooklyn water makes the best bagels. To make the best bagels he uses water that is the same as Brooklyn water but leaves out lead, chlorine and any other things that might be in Brooklyn water that he thinks should not be there like protozoans, viruses, algae and their breakdown products.

So he doesn't really think it is necessary to duplicate Brooklyn water to make the best bagels. Hello! 

For the record. I believe that if NY bagels are good (and not all of them are, there are plenty of crappy bagels made in NYC) their quality is almost entirely the result of what is left out (sugar, dough conditioners etc) rather than what is put in, flour quality and superior mixing, proofing, boiling and baking technique. What water you use is not irrelevant, but it is far less important than the other ingredients and the process by which the bagels are made. The same is true for pizza -that other product of NYC whose quality is often attributed to the type of water used. 

When I was teaching Advanced Culinary Principles (a food science class) at CIA some of my students made bagels with water from Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.  A blind tasting turned up no significant differences among them.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Branding the old fashioned way

Most times nowadays when you want to brand something, you have to think real hard about stuff like "brand identity, " run focus groups to find out what people think about your brand before it hits the ground. But sometimes branding involves no more thought than is required to saddle up, herd them out, rope them and caress them with a branding iron.

Here is a slide show of a branding at Hendricks Farms and Dairy where I toil in the service of Salume (goddess of salami :-) and, this week anyway, a bunch of truly lovely people who came to the farm to help Trent Hendricks brand his herd of about 100 cows (my earlier estimate of 75 was low).

The cowboys were from various parts of central Pennsylvania and came down on their time and dime(s) to help out for no more reward than three meals a day and the opportunity to spend time doing what they love to do. You can't make this stuff up folks, it's real.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cash Cows

In France some people are adding cows to their investment portfolios. I suppose that in protectionist France, this is a pretty good idea as demand for French dairy products is pretty stable. But I wonder if this makes any sense in a United States that imports so much of the milk and beef products that it consumes.

Hatchery Horror

One of the less appetizing aspects of industrial food production.