Showing posts with label how not to. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how not to. Show all posts

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's What's for Breakfast

Monday, May 10, 2010

A minimalist approach towards scholarship or editing?

At times it seems like one could make a career out of correcting the mistakes in the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times. Come to think of it, isn't correcting the mistakes made by journalists the job of an editor, whose job is to make a career out of finding and correcting mistakes? I don't know, maybe in this brave new world of declining revenue in the newspaper industry and the explosion of free content on the web, the Times can't afford to hire enough bodies who know enough about cooking to keep up with the mistakes made by some of their less careful writers, videographers and photographers.

After Lou  (aka Don Luis) pointed out this recent column about asparagus pesto  by Mark Bittman wherein he claims that the word pesto means "paste" (it does not, "pasta" means paste) I was reminded of this column about no-knead dough by Harold McGee where someone on the editorial staff decided that this photo of tight-grained bread was what was needed to illustrate the typically wide open grain of bread made using the no-knead technique. I could go on and point out many more instances where inaccurate and wrong information ends up being published in the Dining & Wine section of The New York Times. But the Times is already paying someone to do that job. Right?

The Minimalist - Asparagus Pesto Combines the Best of 2 Greens -

Monday, April 19, 2010


Since 1982 I have been collecting corks from bottles of wine that I have consumed in my home (s).  I decided to save corks only from bottles consumed in my home and not from restaurant and catering jobs in part because I knew that if I saved every cork that crossed my path I'd be swimming in stoppers before I'd have a chance to rethink why I was saving them. 

Now why I initially decided to save corks is not an easy thing to explain to anyone but myself. I've always saved things that I thought might be useful and I'd long used old corks for everything from plug covers for bolt heads in carpentry projects to knife blade guards. And I seem to recall thinking that I might use them to build a floor in one of my homes. 

But the primary reason for saving corks was a slightly drunken notion that by doing so I could use them as a record of my domestic life,  an aide-mémoire as it were. The almost immediate recognition that it would be impossible to recall anything about what was happening in my home by looking at unannotated wine corks dumped into a cardboard box did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for cork collecting  until last year when, after doing a bit of cleaning in my basement, I looked at the old Excersaucer box that house my cork collection and thought WTF having I been doing saving corks for 27 years? 

Unable to find an answer that could justify warehousing thousands of musty corks I decided that I was done with saving corks.  Unfortunately, even though I have stopped saving corks, my wife has not been able to break the habit that she graciously took up to support what I now realize was an absurd hobby. So, the corks continue to accumulate even though I've kicked cork keeping and am about to unload my once prized collection on the good people at ReCork. 


Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Minimalist of Technique

I'm torn between ignoring this guy altogether and making hay out of his mistakes and sloppy technique by way of reminding myself and others how NOT to cook .

Once again the author of the New York Times column "The Minimalist" shows us that cooking does not have to take a long time as long as we minimize the degree of care and skill that we bring to the kitchen. But first let me point out what Mr. Bittman gets right or does well as he shows us how to cook a Tri-tip steak with romanesco sauce.

1) He gets the pan hot before he puts the meat in to cook.
2) The sauce, although not to my taste, is well-crafted

Now the stuff that I don't recommend.

His take on bovine anatomy would get him in a lot of trouble if he was butchering a cow for someone who understood the retail value of a Tri-tip steak. Last time I looked, cattle were quadrupedal and bilaterally symmetrical, which implies that there are two of each distinct muscles for every animal, making this statement false
"First, there is only one per cow, so it is not all that common."

Tri-tips are located at the posterior-ventral end of the sirloin between the round (hind leg) and the sirloin (think of sirloin as the hip). Since each cow has two sides then there should be TWO tri-tips per cow, not one.

His 500 degree oven is much too hot. The evidence for the overheated oven is in the appearance of the meat after it is cut. Notice the thick band of well-done and the small lens of rare towards the center. That type of layering is indicative of very rapid heating associated with high oven temperatures and usually results in
  1. Higher rates of moisture loss
  2. Reduced denaturation of connective tissue due to reduce availability of water (moisture) for hydrolysis
  3. More rapid coagulation and shortening of muscle fibers resulting in tougher meat that is also more prone to squeeze out water

Making an already bad situation worse, despite his advice to let the meat rest  he does not let the meat rest before slicing so juice leaks out at an accelerated rate. Also, while the meat may have been at 125 degrees F when he took it out of the oven the meat ends up being almost well-done because the overheated oven made the outer layers of the meat too hot, thereby making the meat "carry-over" too much.if he had used a more moderate oven temperature, say 350 or 375 degrees F, there would have been less carry-over and the meat would have been more homogeneously red (rare).

Further capitalizing on an already nearly ruined piece of beef he uses a serrated knife which exacerbates moisture loss by "sawing" instead of "snipping" the muscle fibers thereby maximizing their surface area for water loss. The serrated knife also makes ugly "wavy" looking slices for a highly unprofessional presentation.

"The Minimalist - Tri-Tip Is a Delicious Cut of Steak, but Hard to Get -

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.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Unfortunate Marketing Language

Don't like our Game Burgers? You can always feed them to your dog.
(I promise you that I have not purposely altered a single word.)
Game Burgers have little fat in them but produce a moist, tender and flavourful taste that provide a healthy alternative to the traditional beef. Always cook ground product till juices run clear, but because of the lack of fat you need to stay with your burger, so you dont over cook. PS makes great pet food.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tourists acting like tourists

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Pardus does Pizza...sort of

My CSA is the Huguenot Street Farm ( Ron and Kate Khosla are the owners/farmers/brains+brawn behind the operation, and they do an incredible job of growing great product and creating great community.

Early this season they constructed a cob oven using materials from the farm itself. The Wallkill River runs through the property and they collected clay and river rock for most of the construction.

Anyway, throughout the summer, on Thursday evenings - Thursday is "distribution day" when members come to pick up their shares - fresh bread and pizzas topped with just-picked ingredients were made and sold to augment the produce.

Apparently, the guy who did the actual baking wasn't very flexible or open to suggestion, he and Ron had a falling out, and the guy quit...6 more weeks in the more pizza or bread....not good.

So, I was recruited to fill in..."Guest Chef"...what a riot!

We got together on Sunday afternoon and brainstormed a plan and divided up the work. Ron and Kate would supply the raw ingredients and wood,Laura, another member, would prep the toppings (cheese,roasted veggies, etc.), I would make the sauce,dough, handle logistics, and work the oven. On the way out, I culled through a pile of soft tomatoes and came up with enough to make 2 gallons of tomato sauce.

On Wednesday I made 20kg. of dough using Ruhlman's 5:3 ratio, adding in some crushed red wheat berries and spelt for texture. Ron and I portioned them into 340 gram rounds and set the produce cooler to 34F to keep fermentation under control over night. Laura, roasted about 15# each of eggplant, and peppers, and a whole bunch of garlic and onions. Kate roasted some cheese pumpkin, sliced a few bosc pears, shredded 4# pounds of locally made smoked mozzarella and some blue cheese, and hand picked her beautiful baby arugula.

The plan for Thursday was for Ron to light the fire at about 1:00 and slowly build it up to baking temp - 600-800F - until I got off work and could start making pies. Service was set to begin at 4:30.

When I arrived at 3:45 it was a gorgeous Hudson Valley autumn sky dotted with clouds over the mountains, baking-friendly 60 degrees temperature...everything seemed damned near perfect. Except...

Being a farmer on distribution day is like being a cook on Saturday night - you focus on your mise en place and your station and anything else gets done later. Like lighting the oven...the oven didn't get lit shortly before 3:00.If you've ever made pizza, you know that the crucial part is having a hot deck to bake on. Pretty much everything else can be tweaked, but if that deck ain't hot the pizza sticks like glue to the cool bricks.

I stoked the fire with a bunch of small oak logs, got a roaring blaze going - hoping I wouldn't bring the temp up too fast and crack the dome - and went about setting my station, silently praying that the oven reached temp before the customers reached the farm. Didn't so much work out that way...

At 4:30 everything was in place, it looked great.A perfectly set up station under an awning, a wide array of toppings picked from the land we stood on, a wood fire crackling in the rustic oven...and the deck of the oven cool enough to rest my hand on.

I raked the coals to the back of the oven, stoked them with more wood, mopped the deck free of soot, and ran a few test pies - as I feared, they stuck to the cold deck, refusing to be turned without ripping, tearing and leaking sauce and topping everywhere.

Customers were arriving, most, I'm sure, expecting to find a laid back dude, standing in the bucolic field, happily and leisurely making pizzas and chatting about the choices of toppings and the beautiful day. What they got was a frenzied, frustrated cook trying desperately to look cheerful and laid back while explaining that there were "temperature problems" with the oven and that we hoped to be able to start baking soon.

The people were pretty cool about it, it was, after all, a CSA, and they were enjoying the day - "no hurry, we'll just leave our order with you and come back in a little while" the time the oven was even CLOSE to being hot enough, we already had a backlog of twenty pizzas, and as I started working down the list, another page was started and the weeds got deeper. Laura had come with the vegetables and helped by taking orders, shaping dough and talking to customers while I worked the oven, face and arms covered in soot, cursing as quietly as I could...

By about 6:00 pm we'd managed a few pies and the deck was finally hot enough to really cook on. The list dwindled quickly,by 7:00 we were pretty much done; night was falling, customers were leaving, happy with their pizzas. We heaved sighs of relief and made a dinner from the left overs...standing out in the field, warmed by the oven, under the starry sky.

Ron apologized profusely, I light-heartedly threatened his life, we all hugged, counted the money (we sold 45 pizzas...) and agreed to do it again next week - with a hot oven - maybe even adding bread to the menu. I'm a glutton.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Why do people need to do this sort of thing? I'm sure I could spin a half-dozen credible reasons that explain this kind of behavior, but no way could I explain it to my or to your satisfaction.

Feel free to chime in. I'm chiming out for now.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Unfortunate Names for Restaurants

Some restaurant names are so weird that I wonder how anyone could even think of walking into them, let alone order food. I don't know, perhaps I'm overly sensitive to the sound of certain words and their literal and implied meanings. Or maybe I just think too much about the wrong things. Perhaps I should lighten up and not invest so much of my exiguous intellectual capital in thinking and the meanings of words. Maybe I should get a life. Nah...

Here's a very short list of names of restaurants that make me wince. Please feel free to add to the list.

The name may be a combination of the chef Willie Dufresne's initials and the street number of the restaurant but it's much too close to WD 40 a fabulous highly inedible, petroleum based anti-corrosive spray lubricant. I've used so much WD 40 over the years that when I see or think the name the smell becomes palpable. There's no way I'm going to sit at WD~50 and not be thinking of the sickly sweetish aroma of WD 40.


Is a relatively new restaurant in Philadelphia that is currently receiving some very nice press. I wish then the best of luck but I doubt that my inner 14 year old would be able to sit through a meal in a restaurant with a name that evokes, Ahem, the peristaltic contractions of the esophagus.

Buca di Beppo

Buca is Italian for hole and Beppo is a nickmane for Giuseppe (Joseph). So Buca di Beppo is literally "Joe's hole."

Frankly, I am unmoved to know that buca also refers to basement.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pagan Xmas Dinner

The ancient Romans, some of whom I knew personally and who were very nice people, were very keen at the sort of thing you see going on in this picture. They loved to stuff big things with little things that were in turn stuffed with even littler things.

I have always thought of the practice as a cheap culinary trick that was designed more to impress guests with how much meat a host could give away, than something that was created to highlight the intrinsic qualities of the animals to be consumed. And I've never seen or heard anything to the contrary that would cause me to change my mind about this.

Oh yeah, sure you are going to eat it chef.



A turkey weighs in on the practice of shoving birds into its body cavity

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

This is Seriously Painful

Watching this chef from Olive Garden cook is like watching someone having a root canal performed by a silverback gorrilla that is suffering from dementia. Notice how his pan is never hot enough before he begins to cook. Listen to him recommend substituting penne for fettuccine (as if it mattered) and explaining how his pant belt thick red peppers have been cut "julienne."

He makes no fond, deglazes nothing then adds insult to injury by finishing the dish with things that Olive Garden would never use: flour, good white wine, heavy cream and Italian parmigiano. OMG, this is too sad. If this dude had been working for me I'd have cleaned his ears with a pot brush.
And lest I leave out the most obvious horror: the dish it totally disgusting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ctrl-Alt-Del Cooking Techniques

Today begins a news series of posts on what I am calling Ctrl-Alt-Del(ete) Cooking Techniques. For Mac users like my PC challenged colleague Michael Ruhlman, for instance, who are unfamiliar with the term, pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del is what you do in Windows when you want to terminate an open but wonky application. So from hereon a Ctrl-Alt-Del cooking technique is one that for one reason or another should be terminated.

Whether it is dangerous, inefficient, too costly to justify the expense or just plain stupid just hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and stop it before it ties up so much RAM space that our great culinary operating system crashes.

What got me thinking about this is a section in Cooks Illustrated magazine where cooking tips from readers are posted. Some of the offerings are pretty good, but some are, Ahem, kind of silly. Consider this one for example:

"When my mom fries fish, she uses a
blow-dryer to remove moisture from the skin."

Why, was she so inspired by her fried hair that she wanted to try the technique on fish or was she making a clever fugu metaphor? If you want to dry off the fish wouldn't isn't it more practical to use a towel?

How about this tip for pit free lemon juice?

"Cut the lemon in quarters and put the quantity you need in a plastic bag. Squeeze the lemon quarters in the bag."...then use scissors to cut a hole that is smaller than the seeds.

Uhm...ever hear of a strainer?

One of my personal favorites was something my boss (a six foot four inch red headed coke freak and self-proclaimed chef) did when I was working at his parent's shop in 1981. After days of being reminded about the case of chickens that was sitting in the walk-in, he finally yanks them out and finds that they now smell like a supermarket loading dock. "No problem" he says "Get me a bottle of bleach" and proceeds to dump the case of chicken into the pot sink and fill it with water. Then he pours in 2 quarts of bleach and says "Just let it sit for an hour and we'll put it in the terryaki sauce. Noboby will know the difference.

If you know of a technique that should be or should have been terminated, please add it in a comment or email it to me at and I'll feedback.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

be careful what you ask for, it may not be real

When I recently found one of my former students from The CIA working in a local hardware store, it gave me pause to consider something I had not thought about for a long time. Why would someone make the effort to go through a program of study that is extremely narrow in it's scope of subject matter, is expensive to fund but is designed to provide workers to a field that has a surplus of unfilled jobs, end up changing careers so soon after graduation?

I'd always assumed that what drove ambitious chefs-to-be from the kitchen had something to do with the working conditions. I know that as a young cook I was not prepared for the reality of kitchen life (I did not go to culinary school, BTW.) of split shifts, a 6 sometimes 6.5 day work week, 12 hour days on my feet, having to scrub dumpsters crawling with maggots -and worse.

Then there were the co-workers: the drug-addled line cooks who would disappear for days so you had to cover their station and yours; the dishwasher who disappeared for a week only to return beaten-up and smelling like a phone booth because the trick who stomped him had given him a golden shower.

(Ahem!) Anyway, I'm sure the "rigors" of kitchen life are in many instances responsible for why culinary grads decide to leave the profession so early in their careers. But it seems that some significant number of grads are struggling to stay in the business because they are having trouble paying off their student loans. Apparently many of these grads were not aware (or in denial) about the reality of the pay scale for professional cooks. Some blame their schools for not telling them that the typical salary for a line cook is about 10 dollars an hour. Other's claim to have been misled into thinking that they were going to score jobs as chef de cuisine paying 70K right out of school.

An article in yesterday's NY Times (sent to me by The Foodist. Thanks!) suggests that some of these grads were self- deluded into expecting instant success and glamor by media images of successful and highly remunerated chefs. But the creepiest thing that came out of the article is the suggestion that some private culinary schools are willfully misleading students into taking non-government subsidized high-interest loans in order to pay some pretty steep tuitions.

I'll bet this is true.

There are a lot of privately run, for-profit culinary programs out there that do not have to justify their recruitment and retention practices to any oversight agency. I'm not going to name and names, but if I were counseling someone who was thinking of entering a culinary ed. program at the post secondary level, I'd tell them to make sure that the school is accredited by an organization like the Middle States Association. When I was working at the Culinary Institute of America we went through the process of getting accredited by Middle States. It was an extremely rigorous process that involved divulging virtually everything about the institute: financial records; faculty credentials; curricular materials and learning outcomes etc. And, of course, the institute had to justify how it recruited students and how they paid for their tuition.

Do some number of CIA grads become disillusioned with the profession and have trouble paying off their loans? You bet. But I'm not at all comfortable with the idea that this is the CIA's fault.
Actually, I think the CIA does an excellent job of trying to steer students into the sector of the hospitality field where the pay is best and the potential for growth is greatest. I'm referring of course to the corporate sector. Trouble is that this sector of the field is not especially glamorous and a lot of grads instead choose to work in the restaurant business in the hope that they will have greater creative freedom, get recognized for their efforts and score a show on The Food Network. But you can only steer a horse to water. If he doesn't want to drink, that's his choice.

Finally, I'd like to add that while it is largely true that corporate jobs are not the best platform for launching a celebrity chef career, they can offer the opportunity to be creative. I've had many opportunities to stay in some very upscale hotels in Europe and the US, and have been amazed by the quality of the cuisine in some of these places. It's a shame really that FoodTV doesn't publicize the work of chefs who work in places like the Ritz Carlton or the Four Seasons.

Perhaps if corporate chefs enjoyed more media exposure, more culinary grads would choose to listen to their school's job counselors and and choose a job that offered a decent salary, benefits, a clear career path, the potential to be creative and a media darling (Ouch! That sounds tacky.)

Top Chef’ Dreams Crushed by Student Loan Debt - New York Times

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

bittman thrashing

No way is it this easy to make a pate de campagne. I admire Mark Bittman but he's wrong here. You can't dump peppercorns, eggs and and bacon into a food processor, mix in up with pork shoulder, bake it and produce a decent pate. He must have been under the gun to produce something. This is whacked.

Meatloaf Made Meatier - New York Times

Update: After posting this I went to bed and had a nightmare about this. I made pate de campagne the way that Mr. Bittman did in the video and had to eat it. The fat had run out because it'd been ground too fine and overheated. The meat was mealy and full of whole pepper corns. It was horrible.