Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Farewell, 2011! 

It was another interesting year for food, celebrity cook-types, wine, The Phils and of course, music.

A VERY quick wrap of some of my 2011 favorites.  

Dinner at Amis after ONE of the blizzards in February.  Guinness Export: first time in the states since- 1940s? Dope.  Eleven Madison Park and Rotis cookbooks.  

In concert, Aimee Mann, OMD and English Beat.  On TV: Portlandia, Workaholics, and Beavis and Butthead.  

2011 Philadelphia Phillies- 102 wins, 5th consecutive NLE Championship.  And on that note, Vance Worley's pitching.  Wilson Valdez's winning pitching effort in the 19th against the Reds! What the WHAT? Cliff Lee's first major league HR.  Hunter Pence (Good Game! Let's Go Eat!).  And following it all on Twitter was pretty fun, too.  

Beer got more delicious.  Produce got more local.  Good cheese became more available.  In addition to my 4 year old's penchant for seaweed, olives, bacon, salmon, and soba, we added shrimp and octopus!  Three or four dozen delicious Sunday dinners at M&D's (right?).  

The Chef's Table revival at the UWC.  Shigoku oysters from the West Coast (holy mother of God- over the top).  Foie gras and shrimp toast together in one dish.  Scallop dumpling and squab consomme.  Amazing locally foraged mushrooms- and monstrous porcini from Oregon. Kabocha squash (don't know how I missed this).  Barely Buzzed coffee-rubbed cheddar from Bee-Hive Cheese Co.  And, home-made Orange Grappa from Italy.  

Domestic sparkling from Argyle in Oregon and Gruet in New Mexico.  Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir, Estate.  Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc. Mission Estate Pinot Noir.  Barricadiero, carried all the way back from Italy (MiMi!).  Just about every wine I drank from Moore Brothers, especially the wines from Mas Amiel.  

Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones and Butter and the return of non-fussy food. Amazon's Cloud Player and Kindle App. for the Android.  

I caved in and for the first time watched episodes of Top Chef: Texas and Harry Potter.  I liked both.  

To anyone I cooked with, ate with or drank with in 2011, I'm looking forward to lots more in 2012.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Christmas: War is Over

"Sweet Bird of Truth"  Matt Johnson of The The, 1987

(Spoken) Flight leader, this is "Combat" your forward end controller
I have three targets for you
Your first target is a blockhouse, target number 11 at the north-east corner of the combat zone, request: Napalm
Rodger, flight leader, the identity of your request is, eh, batch of Napalm on the blockhouse in the north-east corner of the target area
Flight leader, understand, 30 seconds
White flag, this is "Combat", we have you in sight
Roll on to the west, call to confirm you have target area, a'ight

Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia
Six o'clock in the morning and I'm the last person in this plane still awake
Y'know I can almost smell the blood washing against the shores of this land that can't forget it's past
Oh the wind that carries this plane is the wind of change, heaven sent and hell bent
Over the mountain tops we go, just like all the other GI Joe's, adios
This is your captain calling (With an urgent warning), we're above the gulf of Arabia (Our altitude is falling)
And I can't hold her up (There's no time for thinking), all hands on deck (This bird is sinking)
Across the beaches and cranes, rivers and trains, all the money I've made, bodies I've maimed
Time was when I seemed to know, just like any other GI Joe
Should I cry like a baby, or die like a man while all the planets little wars start joining hands?
Oh what a heaven, what a hell, y'know there's nothing could be done in this whole wide world


I don't know what's wrong or right, I'm just a regular guy with bottled up insides
I ain't ever been to church or believed in Jesus Christ but I'm praying that gods with you when you die
This is your captain calling (With an urgent warning), we're above the gulf of Arabia (Our altitude is falling)
And I can't hold her up (There's no time for thinking), all hands on deck (This bird is sinking)
Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia, Arabia

Iraq War~ 2003-2011 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chef Quote of the Week: Roy Choi

“It’s like when you get stoned, sometimes things go into different worlds and fabrics and textures. It’s a little crispy, then it’s spicy and warm and soothing. It helps me bring in a whole pantry of ingredients that as a chef I may have considered not good enough. Using [classical] techniques but then balancing it with straight French’s yellow mustard, or bringing in some ghettos--- that you pull from your cupboard.”  Chef Roy Choi 
On inspiration (ahem) and where he gets his~

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

F&C Rewind: Just Like Honey

 Today, the NYTimes posted this piece about those in America who have shunned Facebook.  I was instantly reminded of my short stint with FB- and how it most resembled an unsuccessful experiment with drugs.  Whether you're on Facebook, kicked the habit or are still thinking about it, I offer this repost of what it was like. 

“Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the web, at the same time, we feel emptier, lonelier and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history.” from the novel (and film) "Contact" by Carl Sagan

Late last night, when I deleted my Facebook account, the captcha (random confirmation) words were "truffles out".  I kid you not.  If ever there were a sign from the cosmos, this was it.  I had to stare at it for a few minutes, completely amused and somewhat mystified.

I suppose I was asking for it.  I so resisted joining the "collective", only because I truly didn't miss what I didn't have.  My friends told me it would be a great way to promote my blog.  It seemed like the right thing to do; for an egotist.  As a reader of Ayn Rand, I didn't mind the "ego" part.  I had a lot to say, and I wanted to share my passion and love for all things food, wine, beer and creative thoughts alike.

But, something crept in.  Not what I expected.  It wasn't an addiction, as I know it.  It wasn't a fad.  It wasn't even vanity.  Ok- maybe a little.  But, ultimately, it was a trap.  I began to think that the only way people would listen to me, appreciate me, notice me- was through Facebook.  It makes me feel a little ashamed, now.  Posting on FB is supposed to be like stepping into a virtual town square and screaming, "HEY! Check out what I'm thinking!  'Listen' to this!  'Watch' that, 'join' us!  But, in reality, it was more like doing stand-up at an open mic, unable to see if anyone is in front of you listening, yawning or sleeping.  You long for a "like" or emoticon of approval. 
It began with the naive thinking that sooner or later we were all destined to become a part of the hive.  But, when I began to search for the people I knew had consciously avoided joining and then failed in finding them, I was silently jealous. 

Since creating an account last September, I've read some of the most interesting viewpoints on FB, and been exposed to some of the most idiotic and ignorant rants at the same time.  I met some wonderful new people and introduced some people to each other.  I've laughed my ass off at some of the most ridiculous videos and comments.  And, when there was nothing interesting going on in my real life, I surfed other peoples comments, profiles, photos- but, that's the whole point, right?  So, why then did it feel so unsavory?  When did it go from being fun to feeling dirty?  It was like being stuck in the mall, but without the fountains and Cinnabon.

It was a tremendous platform for advocacy.  And lunacy.  There were 1.7 million people who "liked" the prayer for Obama to Die, yet only 800,000 (at my last check) to petition FB to remove the page for its blatant racist and hateful bent.  My most memorable experience was watching a particular page climb in membership from 750,000 fans to just over 1 million in less than a half hour!  Each time you hit refresh, it would climb exponentially.  The page was about as harmless and vacuous as you can imagine:  "If I can get 1 million fans, my sister said she will name her baby 'Megatron'".  The site now has 1.7 million "fans".  The baby, a boy, is due in August.   

People would cut and paste "status" updates that advocated awareness for anything from special education and autism, to spousal abuse, human rights and cancer.  It was the platform for me to create my very own page condemning the anti-immigration law recently passed in Arizona.  It raised awareness for approximately 70 people who joined.  I posted information and updates daily from articles and websites both conservative and liberal, mainstream and private, ethnic, domestic and foreign.  I learned a lot on the subject and still feel strongly about my views.  But, it was a bit like preaching to the choir.  I knew the people who joined the page were intelligent, compassionate people who had a firm grasp on morality and altruism.  So, who was I hoping to convert?  The person who would rather feed their virtual guppie than discover the US Constitution being flouted daily?  Not gonna happen.

To connect with others in my field, it was about as ideal as it could get.  Chefs work a lot.  To be able to share ideas, photos, specials, inside jokes, and gripes while at work or after a shift, was the ideal.  And in many cases, I found myself visiting their establishments to say "hello" in person and eat their marvelous creations, drink their spirits.  And I'll continue to do so.

I hated high school.  It was never a secret.  So when I found so many people coming out of the creases of the internet to be FB friends, I did so with caution. Why would these people want to know about my life after all these years?  Did I really want to know about theirs?  Let's just say that the most ironic part of friending former classmates was that of the 50 or 60 I reconnected with, I found that the same 7 or 8 people I regularly hung out with and genuinely enjoyed being with in school were the same 7 or 8 I shared regular conversations, jokes, stories and photos with on Facebook.  I will miss the sarcastic and subversive posts of my friend Steve.  Picking up with our friendship in the last six months was like we had never stopped.  Yet, we've already decided to get together (with a "new" chef friend, no less!) and reminisce over some good food and cold beer.  I'll miss occasional updates from my former art teacher, though it goes without saying that we'll stay in touch through emails and possibly even visits.  My buddy and pal, Penny, and I have already met up and shot the breeze, and I've no reason to doubt we will again, after so many years, some shit is still funny!

But, despite the boundless nature of FB, the ability to connect with people from all around the world felt the same as connecting with someone I just saw an hour ago at work.  It became soulless.  The fact that most recent comments, messages or posts of interest were electronically whisked right into my pocket made it even less interesting.  Normally, I'd be bowled over to see photos of food from the former sous chef I worked for in France; but, something got lost in translation (and it wasn't the French).  At times I would sit and stare at the screen the same way Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson would look out their hotel window in the movie of the same name.  With millions of people zipping about in a city that never seems to come down from a neon buzz, it was about as exciting for them as watching a lava lamp.  Sober.

Keeping up on how the business of Facebook was evolving and how it was slowly, incrementally implementing their mission statement to make the business of information gathering profitable became a daily exercise for me.  I tried to believe that I had the right to my privacy, when at the same time there were approximately 270 people I was sharing my morning breakfast with and digital moods.  My sister sent me an email about a site called Spokeo.  She explained that just by typing in your name, email address or phone number, all the information that you thought was secure on websites like Amazon, Facebook, blogs, message boards that require sign-in or memberships- it's all available for anyone to view online.  For only $2.95 a month, you could get a membership for a year that gave you full access to the personal information of just about anyone who has ever used a computer.  And in some cases, there is information that is shared from sites that aren't even online (census).

The business model for Spokeo isn't so much to get people to buy access to other people's information.  Oh no- that's so 1990's.  When people see that someone is pimping their personal and private information online, the immediate response is not "who got it and how did they get it?", it's "how do I get it OFF this site??".  And lo and behold, what does Spokeo offer just below the memberships that legalize identity theft??  A product by Reputation Defender called MyPrivacy.
"Delete private information from Spokeo, Peoplefinders, People Search and other online databases using My Privacy."  
Talk about good cop, bad cop?!?  You can also go to the bottom of that same page and delete yourself from Spokeo for FREE.  Just carefully follow the directions.  If you still can't do it, Google "how to...".

I suppose I was really never pushed over the edge by something like Spokeo or that someone could get or would want my credit score.  I mean, really?  But, having considered deleting my account and even threatening to do so a few times on FB (an empty threat if ever there was one), it seemed the right time to end the Facebook Experiment.  It only required my FB password and typing the randomized phrase "truffles out". *delete*

And then, there was a virtual silence.  A great, glorious silence so golden, it was if all the engines of every car on the information super-highway had stalled, coming to a screeching halt and then- were silenced forever.  I stepped away from the computer in the most confident and contented way, toward the front door and walked out into the Spring night.  I stopped and took the deepest breath- and then exhaled.  And, then I smiled.

I was Bill Murray coming out of the elevator of the hotel and walking into the crowded streets of Tokyo.  Hitting "delete" was like chasing Scarlett in that last moment before he might never see her again, and in that instant- as if on cue- I could hear in my head the echoing snare drums and the impudent reverberating guitar from the opening bars of the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" as the credits rolled:

"Listen to the girl
As she takes on half the world
Moving up and so alive
In her honey dripping beehive
It's good, so good, it's so good
So good"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"...And then- there's Copper...!"

It's that time of the year again, in Delaware, when we are rewarded for living in a state with no sales tax and enormous tax loopholes for huge businesses to incorporate!  I mean- uhmm, er, uh- Christmas!  For cooks, chefs and gastronauts alike, it also means the Emile Henry/Mauviel Warehouse Sale in New Castle.  And if you're a copper ho, like me, you'll be wanting to add another piece to your collection.  Yes, Mauviel also makes a gorgeous stainless steel collection, but, none gives the love that French copper gives a cook.  Glorious, gleaming, heavy-duty copper sauteuses and sautoirs, roasters and rondeaus, round paella and oval Dutch ovens, and the precious 1/4 quart cocotte for the escargots lover.  They give the feeling of preparing a meal for royalty.  The touch of one in your hand is like holding a precious stringed instrument or rare bottle of wine. 

Along with Emile-Henry cookware, Rősle stainless steel utensils, Cuisipro multi-purpose kitchen gadgets and other high-quality brands of kitchen helpers, the annual event is now a three-day warehouse sale that is open to the public, offering them the chance to purchase all that these companies stock at up to 80% off the retail price.  My new 2012 Slogan:  "Copper: It Costs Money, Because It SAVES Money!"

Chef Quote of the Week: Michel Richard

"Before nouvelle cuisine, no chef had the right to create their own dishes. You had to copy Escoffier.”  

Chef Michel Richard
on the late Jean Louis Palladin's contributions to the culinary world.

The mentality among the rank-and-file chefs back in France, notes Richard, went something like this: “Creating your own dish when I was a young man? Are you sick? You’re not smart enough to create your own dish.”

Richard is honoring Chef Palladin ten years after his death with a multi-course tribute meal at his DC eatery.   Read the article in the Washington Post here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

F&C Rewind: By The Book: A Cook's List of Essentials

At this time of year, it becomes very challenging to focus for an hour or two on producing a new post.  As such, I like to pull out particularly poignant posts and put them back up to keep you interested!  Since it is the gift-giving time of the year, I thought it'd be apropos to re-run my list of favorite or must-have cookbooks to add to your arsenal.  In revisiting this piece, I found that while I have since added many more to my collection, those I originally chose for The Top still retain their standings.  Bon appetit!
I've lost track of how many cookbooks I own.  Yet, I always know when one is "missing".  I do know that as I get older, I buy fewer.  But, the other night I thought that it had been some time since I pulled out a cookbook just to peruse the contents for pleasure.  I grabbed the Frog Commissary Cookbook, an oldie, but a goodie.  I had actually just gotten a copy, so while it was published in 1985, it was new to me.  

By all standards of what a cookbook should be, it's one of the best.  It has simple, succinct recipes with quick, informative descriptions of ingredients, methods and dishes that may not have been common knowledge in the Decade of Greed.  My favorite part is the "how to" in the margins.  I think it's useful to know, for example, the items and quantities to set up a proper bar for a cocktail party of 50.  Or, the essentials of setting up a raw bar, hors d'oeuvres buffet or continental breakfast.  This is real, practical stuff.  The style of food is eclectic and not pretentious.  But, by today's standards, the book would never sell more than 1000 copies.  

It wasn't designed for the coffee table.  More like, it was designed to put your coffee cup on.  Nor does it have full page, glossy, sexy food porn shots.  It doesn't praise the farmer who delivers their eggs, it doesn't feature drawings or paintings from staff, and it doesn't cost $55.  It's a true utilitarian cookbook.  

The Moosewood Cookbook of old is another with easily-soiled, coloring book quality pages, and matching hokey drawings of dancing broccoli from a time when vegetarians weren't so annoying (yeah, I said it).  Another paperback, it may be the gold standard for diverse, non-meat recipes that runs the full gamut of appetizers to desserts.  And, I dare say they're healthy, too.

The Silver Palate is another crossover book that should sit on the shelf of the serious cook.  It too is from an age when the author sought to give not just a broad spectrum of current, creative and healthful recipes, but it came from an accomplished cook who, like Julia Child and James Beard, wrote for the everyday cook.

So, why then, do I have so many cookbooks if I already know how to cook?  I'm trying to figure that out myself.  After much consideration, beyond the obvious answer of "recipes", my collection provides inspiration.

I own every cookbook from Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter, because I admire their style, their philosophy, their creativity and probably above all else,  their discipline.  I can pick up one of their books and feel their unique style ooze out of a phrase of admonishment.  To prepare food at that level requires a certain work ethic and commitment on the part of the chef.  At times, I'll open the books and page through them simply to look at their pictures, presentation or what ingredients they combine.  Maybe even peruse a particular season to get ideas.  Often, I just like to revisit an idea.  But, I rarely prop them open and "cook from them".  They are conceptual books meant for the lover of food and art.  This is the style of cookbook most common on the shelves today. 
In this same genre, I have the Inn at Little Washington books.  Along with Trotter and Keller, they tell of the building of their brand:  the loyalty of their staff, faithful customers and what a unique dining experience they are.  It's like buying the program at the ballgame.  You saw the show, now take the glossy keepsake home for years of enjoyment to come.

Another section of my culinary library is built on the "must haves".  My go-to book for classical Italian is Marcella Hazan, my Japanese, Nobu.  Baking, CIA and Cheese, Steve Jenkins.  Some genres require more than one, and as a Francophile, I own no less than 20 French cookbooks.  Paris cooking is covered by Patricia Wells, while country cooking is beautifully and completely rendered in Anne Willan's recent Country Cooking of France.  I have a rudimentary, yet useful book of recipes from the Basque region (in French).  I have the masters; Blanc, Ducasse, Guerard, Bocuse, Troisgros, Girardet.  Then, cross over into the US for the expats, and I have Ripert, Boulud, Robouchon, Richard, Jean-Georges and Pepin.  

Recipes from Da Fiore of Venice focuses on the gorgeous seafood and regional ingredients of the Veneto.  While the publisher BK (from England) has put out several primers on ethnic cuisine, of which Indian Cuisine has been the most useful to me.

Saveur's three book series on American, Italian and French cuisine is a must for their "real" recipes, grounded in tradition and authenticity.  It doesn't hurt that they have some of the most beautiful photography of any food magazine today.  

Back when I was just a waiter aspiring to take over the world, I bought a copy of Larousse, Gastronomique.  It is the mother of all culinary tomes, both encyclopedia and recipe collection at once.  It has entries on Antonin Careme and Julia Child.  It has the origins of salade nicoise and the proper way to make a vegetable "charlotte".  It's very...old school.  If, on the other hand, you need a reference guide, whether you're a newbie or want to check your spelling on a menu, The Food Lover's Companion is the most user-friendly resource on the market.  There are three editions, two editions of the Wine Lover's Companion and now the Cheese Lover's Companion, the last husband-wife collaboration before the founder, Sharon Tyler Herbst passed away just a few years ago.

I suppose if there were one book that was a game-changer for me, it would have to be Gray Kunz "The Elements of Taste".  For an advanced cook, you long for a collection of thoughts and ideas that encompasses and sums up the building and layering of flavors from a conceptual standpoint with examples to back it up.  When this book was released, I read it from cover to cover.  I began to think differently in the way I wrote menus, created dishes, the way I seasoned food and more importantly, the way I corrected my seasonings.  The book is broken into four categories:  Tastes That Push, Tastes That Pull, Tastes That Punctuate and Taste Platforms.  And, rather than arranging food by course or primary ingredient, they identify 14 basic tastes (salty, sweet, floral, herbal, "funky," meaty, etc.).  The binding on my copy is beaten up, the pages slightly stained with wine and demi-glace.  It's the one book I don't loan out anymore, and it's because it's not in print anymore.  New copies on Amazon start at $355 each (*$136 today-R.A.L.).

I have several books on only one subject from, pancakes and foie gras, to truffles and duck.  Soups, sauces, shellfish and seafood, mostly by James Peterson.  You need Harold Magee to answer those nagging questions about which boils faster, hot or cold water?  Or, how to hard-boil an egg without the green sulfuric ring around the yolk.  It goes without saying, but Beard and Child belong on your shelves, and should be readCraig Claiborne, Deborah Madison and Mario Batali have earned the right.  There are so many other great books- all of which have contributed to the enormous array of talent we experience today.  

Whatever reason you like buying a particular cookbook, it is personal and you don't owe it to anyone to explain why.  The above mentioned books have broadened my knowledge and creativity in the culinary arts, and I hope you find the list of use.  No matter what your level of cooking, is there ONE cookbook that changed your life?      

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Take this APP and Shove It!

It's time to take another glance at technology, pop culture, and the world of food.  Along with political protests and Famous Dictator Deaths (for $500, Alex), 2011 will likely go down as the year of the Tablet, the popular digital gadget and "must-have" of toddlers, students and adults, alike. 

My alma mater just released last month a fully interactive tablet application for "The New Professional Chef", the exhaustive, comprehensive Bible for all CIA students and grads.  And, in good turn, after testing it out and piling on a little kindling (ahem) to the fire, The New York Times asked the incendiary question, "Are Cookbooks Obsolete?"

I suppose the same question has been asked recently of magazines and newspapers.  We're already in the midst of a sea change in traditionally printed materials.  Gourmet Magazine is dead and burried. But, cookbooks obsolete?? Let me begin by acknowledging that tablets as teachers have an edge over texts as they promote space saving, speed and accessibility.  Putting a reference such as Pro Chef into a compact, highly convenient, interactive application for mobile devices was brilliant.  Mostly, because it's meant to be used as a teaching tool.  But, you ask, "Aren't all cookbooks teaching tools?"  Hardly.  There are several styles of cookbooks- and yes, utilitarian is one.  But, the real question is, "Of all the cookbooks you have, what percentage of them do you actually cook from?"  Are we talking single digits, here?  

I guessed as much.  

Cookbooks are a very unique way for people to connect with food.  When we choose a book for our collection, we attach ourselves to its personality.  The beautiful photography can activate Proustian memory in some, salivating in others.  We can see ourselves sitting in folding chairs at the long vineyard or farm table with carafes of rose and fresh cut flowers, kids, dogs, family and huge bowls of colorful pastas, salads and breads.  The freshly baked cake on a decorative ceramic pedestal looks a lot nicer than it does on the heirloom cookie sheet with foil.  And, the people in cookbooks are more beautiful than we are.  We live vicariously through the culinary landscapes they depict.

Last week was the release of another cookbook, possibly the most anticipated of 2011,  Eleven Madison Park.  The boys at EMP are riding the crest of some remarkable recent publicity, a well-deserved three stars from Michelin Travel Guide and the news they are branching out on their own from Big Daddy Danny (Meyer) to not only purchase EMP, but open a new hotel next year.  This book is the modern equivalent of The French Laundry cookbook or Grant Achatz's Alinea; beautifully photographed, extra-large format books that define an era and critical genre of American cooking.  EMP is a stunningly gorgeous book that leaves you shaking your head and licking your lips at once.  For advanced cooks, it represents a cuisine you must grasp or risk being left behind.  At the criminally priced $25.77 on Amazon, this book could easily fetch $100 or more, specifically because it is so revered as a "must have" for foodies.  Yet, I cannot imagine sitting down with a smart phone or tablet and getting a fraction of the pleasure I get from reverently leafing through the heavy, white pages of culinary artistry it provides.

A dish from Eleven Madison Park Cookbook; Photography by Francesco Tonelli
Whenever I am writing a menu of great importance, I open a mature bottle of wine and pull the big boys off the shelf: Ducasse, Blanc, Kunz, Robuchon and their American counterparts, previously mentioned.  The same consideration given to appreciating the wine's nuances is given to the genius and years of professional and creative contributions these artisans provide.  Charlie Trotter who helped define this type of modern, food-as-art cookbook is famous for saying of his first book, and I'm paraphrasing, "Use this book as either a collection of recipes to try or simply use the pictures and recipes as inspiration; but think outside the recipe."  

Mood has as much to do with inspiration as source.  As I slowly turn the pages and sip history, I am reminded that a cook's collection of cookbooks define his style and philosophy on the subject.  A method here, a shortcut there- even if you flat out copy a recipe, it'll never come out the same way twice.  Reducing that tactile experience to sliding screens of reconfigured 1s and 0s seems unromantic at best, and more like being cheated of some really creative ideas.

No, I'm not willing to give up aesthetics for convenience.  Yet, I confess that I bought Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones and Butter for my phone with Kindle technology.  I couldn't wait to read it, and I knew at that time of year, I was more likely to read it digitally because of my work load.  I loved it; it was convenient and quick and it was always there when I had a few moments to spare for another chapter or two. And the built in book light was a bonus for these aging eyes.  But, I feel as though someone has stolen from me a book that should now be nestled right between Comfort Me With Apples and The Soul of a Chef on my shelf at home.  Instead, I have it on my phone.  Sigh.

Even more preposterous is the idea that people would stop giving hardcover cookbooks as gifts.  Culturally we all benefit from reading and cooking from cookbooks.  I suppose I love the Pixar film Ratatouille so much because of its message- which, by the way is NOT "Anyone Can Cook" (Linguini can't cook- and is relegated to waiting tables at the end).  The resounding message to all ages is, and should be, encourage creativity.  After all, what is a cookbook if not a collection of ideas meant to evoke a visceral connection to food?  If it was to feed ourselves or to learn to cook, surely we would have all starved to death by now.

Friday, November 4, 2011

La Truffe au Coeur

One of the few remaining ingredients that must be foraged to make it to a high-end restaurant's kitchen is the elusive and exotic truffle.  The price for bringing them to the table is so high specifically because they can't be cultivated, only foraged, and only in a few choice locations in the world, such as Alba, Italy, Burgundy, France or the Northwestern United States.

A tiny bit of black truffle properly coerced by a hot pan will yield layer after layer of intense, earthy flavor that can cause the head to spin when paired with mushrooms, wild game and a big, bold red wine.  Shaved like hard cheese over risotto, pasta or eggs, the white truffle is the most expensive and highly prized of the various types of truffle available.  Unlike the black truffle, it requires no cooking or heat to activate the heady aromas.  They currently are priced at $2800 per pound.  Considering the dollar value of truffles, they far outpace the cost of street drugs or the risks associated with smuggling them.  Their intended uses are the same: unadulterated, decadent pleasure.

There is an entire culture throughout Europe where truffles are found.  Among those who hunt them and those who buy, the comparison to drugs is quite accurate, because if you reveal your source or your location, you're toast.  But, there is a romantic lure to truffles, as well.  Long considered an aphrodisiac, menus and dishes that contain fresh truffles have a way of making grown adults giddy as school children.  Or, lovers penning poems with comparisons to the moon, diamonds and women.  

This tribute is from The Illustrated London News, Saturday, August 26, 1882.  
(Author unknown) 

Telle est la Truffe
Riche et Parfumée
Unique et Pure
Fille de la Terre
Féminine et Veloutée
Etonnante et Imprévisible
Noire elle Parait
Or en Fait Elle Est
Inimitable et Irremplaçable
Rare et Raffinée
Envoûtante et Inoubliable

This is the Truffle
Rich and Fragrant
Unique and Pure
Daughter of the Earth
Feminine and Smooth
Amazing and Unpredictable
It Appears Black
Gold, In fact It Is
Inimitable and Irreplaceable
Rare and Refined
Haunting and Unforgettable

Truffles as poetry?  At the very least, yup.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

F&C Rewind: Sunday Suppers: Meatloaf


When the weather gets damp, cool and gloomy like it's been the last week, some recipes come out of hibernation and make it into the heavy rotation of Sunday suppers.  One of our faves is meatloaf. 

But, not any old meatloaf.  This jazzed up meatloaf has mushrooms, peas and mire poix.  It's crusted with pine nuts, and layered throughout is hard boiled egg.  "HERESY", you scream!  Not really.  It's made very similarly to what meatloaf really is, and that is a type of forcemeat.  Pates and terrines are forcemeats, as are sausages, hot dogs and bologna.  Olive loaf?  Forecemeat numero uno.   
When making a forcemeat, a traditional French method of charcuterie, there is a standard ratio of meat to fat, followed by what we call "garnishes".  Most often people think of parsley and lemon crowns or large plouches of herbs that lie next to a finished dish as a garnish.  But, garnish refers to ingredients studded throughout the forcemeat that give it its unique flavor.  For example, a traditional dish made in this method is a duck galantine.  A boned out duck is filled with a mixture of finely ground duck meat and fat, along with garnishes of pistachio, orange zest and other vegetables.  After it is stuffed, it is rolled into a cylindrical shape and cooked.  When it cools, it is sliced down into discs resembling meats like salami that have a flecked appearance  and texture.  An example of a popular type of galantine is turducken

So, how did your mom figure out how to make a meatloaf without grossing out the family?  First of all, there are few meatloaf recipes out there that I know of where you are actually grinding your own meat at home.  If growing up our culture had more variety meats at the supermarket, we very well might be eating some version of game meatloaf or duck terrine on a Sunday at mom and dad's.  And some do!  But, as such, we used what was commonly available to us and affordable: ground beef.  Older generations will tell you they almost always used a blend of ground beef, pork and veal.  That's because their meats came right from the butcher, and it was readily available.  Only recently have uber-grocers caught on to marketing this blend which they call...wait for it...the meatloaf mix.  

But pates and terrines are cooked in hot water baths to evenly distribute the heat of the oven while gently poaching the meat, thus keeping the fats  from separating.  It's a sophisticated, yet time-consuming method of cooking.  So, home cooks needed a less complicated way to cook their forcemeats; and, so they just roasted them in the oven.  
The texture of a meatloaf is decidedly chunkier and not as smooth as pate. For that smooth texture, a tamis is often used.  A tamis is a fine mesh sieve used on forcemeats by passing the meat mixture through the screen to promote a silky, smooth and even consistency.  "Okay, Captain Loquacious, can we get back to this meatloaf??"  Yeah, yeah- I just wanted to make sure proper credit is given to all those home cooks who make a killer meatloaf. If you didn't like meatloaf growing up, it's because your mom didn't make this one.

1 1/2 # ground beef, pork and veal
1/2 small yellow or sweet onion, minced
2 pieces garlic clove, minced
1 stalk celery, small dice
1/2 carrot, small dice
5 white button mushrooms, finely chopped
1 raw egg
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 piece of fresh bread, pulled into small pieces
3-4 good-sized squirts of ketchup
1 good-sized spoonful of Dijon mustard
1-2 dashes of worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper

1/4 cup of fresh or frozen peas
2-3 hardboiled eggs, peeled
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped
More ketchup and mustard and some more fresh bread crumbs

In a saute pan, slowly cook the mushrooms in a little butter and oil until they steam.  Add your mire poix, or carrots, celery and onion.  When softened, add the garlic and cook until you smell all the ingredients together.  Turn them out onto a plate and let them cool down completely.  Place the mixture into a bowl with the ground meat, raw egg, grated parmesan, fresh bread, parsley and wet ingredients.  Season generously with salt and pepper.

Note: I've grown accustomed to making a small patty and cooking it to taste.  It only takes a minute or two, but it's a good way to tell if you've put enough salt and pepper in without going the "tartare" route.

Now, mix the ingredients by hand until just incorporated for a rougher texture.  For a denser texture, mix more.  Now drop in the peas and mix.  In your roasting pan, turn out the mixture and form your loaf.  Using your fingers or a spoon, take out an egg-sized portion of meat to make room for the eggs.  Drop them in a tight line so they are end to end.  Push the loaf together from the ends and then drop the scooped meat on top of the eggs to cover them.  Like at Easter, hide the eggs.

For your topping, mix all the ingredients into a paste and spread evenly over the meatloaf. 

Place in a 375 F degree oven and cook for about 35 minutes, depending on the thickness of the loaf.  When the loaf is firm, or around 155 F degrees in the center, it is finished.  Use a sharp knife to make slices and a spatula to lift them so the egg doesn't fall out.

Serve gobs of Dijon mustard, ketchup or steak sauce if you like, along with some Ugly Betty veggies and warm bread.  Like Thanksgiving turkey, there are few wines that do not work with meatloaf.  I like earthy reds, but drink what you enjoy.  And- well, you know- enjoy

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chef Quote of the Week: Olivier Desaintmartin

"The true French bistro still needs to be owned by a French chef, because we grew up with this cuisine. We know all the stories behind it because our mothers made those dishes."

Philadelphia chef and bistro owner Olivier de St. Martin has some other choice words for the faux-bistro craze that's hit big cities.

He serves a classic duck for two at his Zinc Bistro au Vins, complete with silver bone crushing duck press for every last drop of ducky goodness.
"You're eating the duck in his own juices," Desaintmartin said. "To me, that's respecting the animal. You're using everything. And there's nothing else added. You order a duck, you get a duck. You order a hare, you get a hare. Nowadays, you go somewhere and, say, order tuna, and what do you get? Four ounces of tuna and then a bunch of b------- around it."  Original article- Philadelphia Daily News

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ten Years That Changed My Life: An Ode to My Ipod

 Sometimes we aren't fully aware of greatness until the ones who embody it are gone.  This is not a eulogy for Steve Jobs, and I am not a member of the world's largest cult known as Apple.   I have never owned an Apple computer (although I did learn how to use a computer on the Macintosh).  I don't currently own an IPad, nor do I have an IPhone.  I never felt left out of the  phenomenon that is the Apple craze, but the day I discovered the device called the IPod and what it could do, my world changed forever.

I grew up surrounded by music, with all members of my immediate family playing an instrument, singing or reading music. We had the requisite console stereo that played vinyl albums, which was later augmented by the 8-Track player.  We were very fortunate to have an uncle who was in vending (read that anyway you want) and my parents got us our very own jukebox that played 45s.  I spent my allowances on the latest releases, loading up the player to sound just like my favorite AM station.  But the most significant perk was being able to control what played.  It was rigged so you didn't have to put money in.  And, we discovered the "eject" button in case we had a fat-finger mistake or couldn't wait to hear the latest single from The Knack.  All this was novel and drove the fun at family functions, but the game changer was the all-in-one "media center" that allowed you to record from vinyl or radio to cassette or even- gasp!- from cassette to cassette!  All for about $159.99 at your local Sears or K-Mart.

Not long after that, the Walkman strode into our lives.  A Star Trek tri-quarter looking device that was no bigger than a box of Crackerjax with personal mini-headphones, so much cooler than the ear sweat-inducing Princess Leia head-huggers. Now that we were all listening to cassettes, naturally, we all wanted to record our own.  Blank cassettes started around 45 minutes in length- 22 1/2 minutes each side.  And, that was fine, because a typical album only lasted about that long. But then came the 60 minute and 90 minute tapes.  What, pray tell, do you do with these??  Soundtracks were really hot in the 70s, with movies like Animal House compiling a bunch of hit singles to make a shoulder industry out of movies along with toys, posters and other marketable tchotchke.  And with that, the mixed tape was born.  Favorite Love Songs.  Party Rock.  Christmas Hits.  Best of the Beatles!  Stoner Tunes.  Are you kidding me?  The mixed tape became an art form.  Creating a mini-soundtrack that could set the mood which lasted anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half.  But sadly, once you played the tape to death, you had memorized the play order and it got stale.  Fast.

My first job was working in the record section of a department store.   Shortly after that, I worked at Wall-to-Wall Sound and Listening Booth, your one stop mall shopping for audio equipment and the latest (and oldest) hits.  Having the privilege of buying music at deep discounts when you're a teenager AND at the height of a musical revolution (punk and new wave) is not only exhilarating, it's downright dangerous.  Very often, I'd just hand my paycheck back to them, hoping to clear my tab from the latest vinyl binge.  But, just when you've built up a formidable library worth bragging about, deep with selection and breadth like a good wine cellar, another new form of technology comes- and you start over again.  

Switching to the compact disc was a no-brainer for people, because it couldn't be scratched the way a record could (and that presented its own problems for another emerging musical genre) and eliminated a crackling, gravelly sound that I never imagined I would miss.  As this technology evolved, the next phase in having complete mastery over your music library came with the "shuffle" function.  No longer would you have to stare blindly at the album cover and listen to the same songs in the same order ever again.  Shuffle was huge.  And, just when it seemed like it couldn't get any more exciting, there came the three-disc, then the five-disc and even 10-disc CD changer.  A benchmark in music listening came when I could load up all of my Smiths CDs and shuffle them at once, allowing for hour upon hour of pathetic whining and self-pity.  Even if owning a 10 disc player was the antithesis of suffering.  

Upon announcing I wanted the new 400 disc changer with programmable remote from Sony for Christmas, my family pronounced me officially insane.  But, I got it and gamely filled it completely up, creating my own categories of genres, which included 80s, Classical, Classic Jazz, Acid Jazz, World and VH1, that burgeoning category others knew as adult contemporary, but alas, a genre a thirtysomething didn't want to admit to owning.

Sony jumped right on the dwindling interest in the Walkman and created a device the size of a Big Mac capable of playing single compact discs (also with shuffle) aptly named the Discman.  How could this little metallic sandwich produce the kind of intense sound as my full-size stereo, all while I clocked 3 miles on a treadmill??  (Author's note: just because you can use it on a treadmill, doesn't mean you should.  Wipeouts are expensive, but not nearly as damaging to your ego as when the entire gym watches you go down in flames and your player belches the disc across the room as a final indignity.)  

CDs were smaller and lighter, and thus easier to store.  No longer did you have to schlep a pleather suitcase of mixed tapes around on a vacation, getaway or long roadtrip.  Neatly compacted, zip-up books with plastic sleeves could hold 100 cds, and it took up no more space than a phone book.  To drag 100 cds all the way to Europe while attempting to travel light seems nerdish and excessive, that is, of course, until you whip out the perfect dinner jazz album watching the sunset on the Basque coast.  Or have the ultimate disc to fall asleep to when you can't.  Or need to access the right party tunes, when one unexpectedly crops up- you become a hero, a Renaissance DJ.  Close friends know I used to travel to dinner parties, friends homes and the occasional after-hours gig with my own music. 

The only thing I thought was left to evolve in this ever-changing universe of musical convenience was creating a recordable compact disc.  That was it:  copy your music (or your friend's music) onto a disc that you could load onto a multiple disc player? Or, record your old vinyl back onto disc, retaining that golden sound of yesteryear (even if the mid-section had been completely gutted out by the transfer of analog to digital).  And, finally, using a mixer board to create seamless tracks of beat-mixed music while burning your own copy??  Bonanza!

The technology was evolving exponentially now.  The new way of obtaining music was to get a computer with a fast enough internet connection so you could download a large file known as an MP3 that mimicked the ones that were created by the record companies for disc format.  It seemed like the computer was poised to become the new jukebox- the future of condensed listening.  No actual tangible disc to insert, just tiny bytes of compressed information magically making music out of digital information.  Napster and Kazaa music-sharing services changed the way we thought about obtaining music.  They created a huge shake-up in traditional music sales. It seemed everyone could get it, very often for free, and at a time when there were hardly any rules to the internet, let alone rules about digital file sharing.  

It was a chaotic period.  Formats were changing so quickly, no one wanted to spend their money anymore on re-replacing their music libraries- so they went where they could get the latest incarnation- and for free.  Online file sharing.  Musicians and record executives were crapping themselves, wondering how they would be able to survive when their final product had become something you couldn't hold, didn't need packaging for, could easily be shared with millions and no one to govern the dozens of sites that were giving it away for free (see Radiohead for how that turned into a plus for the band).  

I owned every last one of these devices and gadgets.  Some improved upon design, some on price.  I flirted with free downloading and creating a library of MP3s.  But, it seemed like I was starting over, yet again.

"Someone needs to figure this shit out," I thought.

I had heard only tangentially about the Ipod, but I was mostly convinced they were the next Mini-Disk player, a lead balloon if ever there was one in the  progression of music players.  My first encounter with an Ipod was a wedding gift I had received from a friend who is the biggest Applemaniac I know. I was not interested in being converted to the Apple way, so I proceeded skeptically.  I also knew there were proprietary drawbacks that made me scoff even further. 
The packaging was an eyebrow raiser:  smooth, clean, minimal and compact.  The first generation Ipod resembled a futuristic passport or high-tech pacemaker.  Still, I was not sold.  With only one port for listening and one for charging, I wondered how it would actually work.  And I wondered.  And wondered.  There was no manual on how to operate the damn thing!  Am I supposed to just "get" what to do?  I bought the Missing Manual and spent days with my Ipod, laptop and guide hoping a light bulb would go on.  Ripping, burning, uploading, file conversions- WTF- I was pissed.  And what's with these earbuds?  I had the thing a week before there was any music on it.  Most of the problems arose from not knowing where the music was going once it was transferred to the hard drive.  And so, even though it was foretold the songs would go directly into my Music Match Jukebox (the software that would run it), it became clear, Apple had not made the MMJ, and thus, there were some square peg-round hole issues.   I had to use their software (Itunes) for this to really work.

But then it clicked- I could rip 10 albums a half hour to my hard drive!  They would go instantly to my Ipod upon plugging it in.  All my previously pirated files from Napster would upload in an instant of dropping and dragging.  And they were all alphabetized!  And put into genres!  And I could click one button and browse by artist or song!  Eureka!  A revelation.  The first generation IPod was 5 gigabytes, capable of holding some 1000 songs right in your pocket! 

This was the moment I had been waiting my whole life for.  

Every hurdle to the perfect listening device had been cleared.  I held in my hand the soundtrack to my life, which I could take anywhere, and with one very simple patch cord, I could plug it into any stereo, old or new.  I could plug in computer speakers and listen.  I could rock out the surprisingly efficient earbuds, or buy up to the noise-cancelling DJ version.  I could transfer all my music- vinyl, CD, MP3- into one neatly organized, efficient and flexible digital card catalog.  I already owned a cassette converter for my Discman- so I could listen to my IPod in the car, as well.  I even read in my manual there was a super-secret feature that could record voice (and it did!).  Switch to disc mode and I could store files like Christmas shopping lists.  And you could strap it onto your arm and run, jump, roll and flail about without creating a public incident (well, it didn't affect the Ipod, let's say).  In place of the mixed tape came the "playlist"; as easy to make by dropping and dragging songs on your computer as it was by double-clicking the songs on the device itself.  No time limits, no duplicates, and fully shuffleable depending on my mood.  This was the Holy Grail for me.  

Naturally came the proliferation of Ipod products:  The ITunes Store, Ipod docking stations, different colored cases and earbuds, car radio adapters- it was time to diversify.  As Apple started to put their tiered pricing into place, they realized they could make these things smaller and thinner, they could hold more data and they could keep the price about the same, or make it less for people who couldn't afford the big boy.  Variations like the Mini, the Nano,and the Shuffle; a Genius button, full color screens, picture files, video, whole movies- HOLY CRAP! SLOW DOWN!!  Finally- and inevitably- the IPhone was born, merging just about everything a hand held device ever was into one. I don't own an IPhone, and again- I don't want one.  But, evolution marched on.

Ten years later, I'm on my fourth Ipod and it's still an Ipod Classic- 6th Generation, with 80 gigs of storage, capping out at just around 15,000 songs.  I've since dumped all my pictures and video so I can store more music.  And, I'm already preparing to step-up to the next level, the 7th Generation Ipod which holds 160G of information.  It's rumored to be the last of the Classic Ipods. 

I take my RoPod with me everywhere.  It's another limb.  An angel on my shoulder.  My orchestra in the pit.  My musical muse.  

Were the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt alive today, I'd want to give as much credit to the slaves who built the pyramids, and not just the architects.  And so it is that I thank anyone and everyone who made the Ipod possible.  Not the least of whom was Steve Jobs.


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