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?      


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