Monday, April 5, 2010

Change we can believe in

I've decided to move the blog, if you follow this, please come with.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flavor combinations: a little taste of Spain

I was making dinner for my mom the other day, and we had some pan-roasted fish and sauteed fingerling potatoes.  To make the potatoes, I par-boiled them, and then sauteed them with butter, sherry vinegar, and smoked paprika.  After tasting the potatoes, the sauce was what we kept coming back for, basically to the point of licking the pan.
More than anything else, I think this demonstrates the power of combining classic flavor combinations that we can apply to any number of things.  Yeah, I know that butter isn't necessarily Spanish, just go with it.  For example, you've got a great Spanish wine, and you want to do something in that vein.  These flavors are a great combination to put together with soup, sauce for meat, pasta, rice, eggs, veggies, salad dressing, etc.  Of course, there is basic technique, but what really makes it sing is great flavor combination.
Quiche lorraine is a classic example.  Egg custard with onion, bacon, thyme in a pastry shell.  You can take those same flavors and make a veggie sautee, flatbread, pizza, topping for bruschetta, add to a salad (fried shallots, bacon, thyme).  Filet mignon with black pepper, cognac and cream, dry red wine.  Roasted red pepper, balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, caramelized onions.  Tomato, onion, cilantro, and lime.  Chocolate and raspberry.  Strawberries and cream.  Tarragon and chicken.  PB and J.  Carrot and ginger.  Caviar and champagne.
Case in point:  remembering that sauce combination, and scrounging for dinner the other night, I had some lamb chops that I had just thawed and I thought it would be good to add risotto to it.  Aside from standards of onion and garlic, I put smoked paprika and sherry vinegar in with the risotto as well, and it turned out really great.
Push the edges of these boundaries, combine them with some basic technique, and liberate yourself.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Braised beef short rib a la Nicoise

This recipe is inspired from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  It uses the technique of braising which I love but mostly equate with Winter.  Early Spring is very transitional (especially when you don't live in South Georgia), with cold and dreary followed by warm and sunny.
a la Nicoise is a Mediterranean variety that's kinda half Italian and half French, and has little black olives and tomatoes.  This recipe called for a braise of beef short rib.  I decided to leave the bones in although you don't have to, they can be cut out. This recipe served enough as a main course for 4 people.

8 beef short ribs, well-browned.  Drain excess fat and add

1 diced onion
2 celery stalks
2 carrots
2 garlic cloves
on low heat until aromatic.

Then add:
2-3 sprigs of thyme
28 oz of tomatoes (2 small cans, or 1 big one)
1/2 cup of pitted Nicoise olives
1 bay leaf
1 quart of chicken or beef stock
10 peppercorns

Put the meat back on top of that, making sure it's mostly submerged.  If not, add water as needed, depending on your pot.  Either put it in an oven at 225, or put it on low heat and let it go for a few hours until the short rib is fork tender.  I don't salt it until the end because I don't know how far I need to reduce it until it's done.  If you salt too heavily at the beginning, and you reduce the liquid, it's going to be inedible.
Here is decision time.  You can leave the braising liquid as is (chunky) or separate the meat and the braising liquid and blend it up into a puree (which is what I did in this case).  Serve it with something green for the color contrast (parsley, fresh thyme, etc.).

Side notes
  • Like any other braised dish, the more time you spend on browning your meat, the better it's going to be.
  • Think ahead on this dish.  Make it the day before you plan to eat it, and let the sauce and the meat sit together to really combine those flavors.
  • This can be served with wide egg noodles like papardelle or fetuccine.  Alternatively, you could serve with rice or bread.  Although the meat is great, the highlight of this is the sauce.
  • If you puree, realize that your going to emulsify whatever fat you didn't get rid of in the braising liquid.  Ideally, you defat your braise as much as possible before throwing it in the blender, because the flavor of beef fat is a little heavy.
  • Original recipe called for balsamic vinegar, which you definitely can add to give a little sweet acid.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Making progress on the outdoor kitchen. After having to completely repour the foundation to the house and have a structural engineer approve the plan...finally we have our outdoor structure and future site of the wood-fired oven! Potentially will be making pizzas here week after Master's. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pepin the genius!

I haven't posted in some time, but I have been cooking. Most things have been off the cuff and overall pretty good, but nothing particularly note-worthy. Last night, I threw a few things together a la Jacques (Fast Food My Way) that I had in my pantry, and in fewer than 10 minutes, I had a damn good meal.

Gnocchi, Egg, Truffle for 2

Supermarket Potato Gnocchi (I used 1/2 bag of the minis ~ 8 oz)
2 large eggs, whisked
1/4 cup ricotta
4 scallions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 T butter
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
fresh ground black pepper
white truffle oil and parmesean for finishing

Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil and aggressively season with salt, meanwhile melt butter in oil over medium low heat in a non-stick pan until the butter starts to brown. When the water has boiled, toss in the gnocchi and boil until they float (about 2 to 3 minutes tops) and remove ASAP to avoid overcooking. While the gnocchi cook, saute the scallions and garlic, taking care not to burn the garlic (will become too bitter). When the gnocchi float, transfer directly to the pan with a slotted spoon and saute until the water has evaporated and the gnocchi begin to brown. Toss in the chili flakes and saute for about 30 seconds. Remove pan from the heat and quickly stir in the eggs taking care to break up any large curds (don't want scrambled eggs here). After about 30 seconds, stir in the ricotta (creme fraiche or mexican crema would be dynamite as well), salt and pepper to you liking. Transfer to bowls, drizzle with truffle oil and dust with the cheese.

Time from conception to table, approximately 15 minutes. As good as anything I've made in weeks :) Next time, I may add some crumbled pancetta or bacon...though I'm not sure if more would be less.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Old garlic and camarones (shrimp) al mojo de ajo

As I understand, some Asian religions abstain from eating garlic and onions because they are considered too stimulating and passion-inducing, which thereby destroys the balance required for happiness.  Fortunately for me, I'm not Buddhist, so I cook a bunch of food with garlic and onion.  Sometimes, I even get crazy and add BOTH to a dish!  Go figure.
One thing I've heard cooks talk about is removing the green growth from garlic.  Have you ever tried to plant a clove in garlic in the ground to see what would happen?  Sure enough it grows.  The green is supposed to be bitter and a little difficult to digest.  I've never had much of a problem with it, but what the heck, remove it, it's easy enough, and represents yet another reason you don't want or need a garlic press.

From Drop Box
You can split whole cloves in half, and if they're old enough, you'll have some green sprouts in them. Simply remove them, and mince your garlic. The result stands to be not as bitter as you might normally encounter.

From Drop Box
From there, a recipe for Mexican style mojo de ajo, which roughly translated means smothered in garlic. This is one to try if you're worried about vampires invading your neighborhood because it's really garlicky.  It's really difficult, so pay close attention....

10-12 cloves of minced garlic
Olive oil, about 4:1 oil to garlic by volume
optional:  hot chile pepper or 2 (I added a couple of chipotles)

Put on the stove on super-low, and let it simmer until the garlic is barely brown, maybe a couple of hours. What have you made?

Infused oil and minced garlic confit (kohn-FEE).  Alternatively, you could just cut the fuzzy part of a whole head of garlic off, stick it in foil with some olive oil, and throw it in the oven while you're cooking something else, and you've got whole clove garlic confit, just like the stuff from the olive bar at the grocery store.  It's great stuff to have around, and a good way to make use of bulk garlic.  I can hardly use all the stuff up before it starts growing or goes bad.

From Drop Box
Strain the solids out of the oil. Use the oil to sautee your shrimp (or poach at 180-200F if you really want to be awesome), and serve with fresh salsa, tortillas, pouring the garlic on top of the shrimp.  If you've never had it, and you like garlic, you'll love it!

OK, so it wasn't that difficult, and really very little of it is when you apply a couple of basic techniques and plan appropriately.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Contraption: Lobster Style

So, what did you and your life partner do for Valentine's Day? Yeah, that doesn't sound nearly as good as what I did. Let's see... I placed an order early in the week for a special package to arrive on Friday. An order that I had placed only once before, probably 5 years ago. It was for two 2.5-pound live Maine lobsters to be shipped via FedEx, and arrive at my door in time for a Saturday Valentine's, since Laura was on call Sunday.

The order five years prior included a bisque, some clams, and a Maine blueberry cobbler, which were all good, but the lobsters weren't large enough. I got smart this time, and skipped the promotional Valentines package, opting for only lobsters. I paid about 1/3rd less, and got double the poundage in lobsters. If you've ever ordered live lobsters, you understand that they usually come in a styrofoam cooler, packed with an ice bag, wetted with a little sea water and seaweed, and a packet of sweet Maine sea salt for cooking.

Lindley and I were at home when they arrived, so we quickly checked that they were moving, and placed the container in the back fridge. Live lobsters are only guaranteed to stay that way for about 12 hours after they arrive, so the instructions will tell you to cook them the day of arrival. I figured the environmental factors were all working in my favor: cold temps departing the frigid coastal waters of Maine, flying in the unheated belly of a FedEx plane at 40,000 feet, and arriving on my doorstep on a day when we would receive a rare eight inches of snow. I did feel the need to check them every couple of hours, though. Lindley worked on ideas for Lobster-style Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), in the event that one was a bit too lethargic. Thankfully, we never had to implement that plan. The lobsters showed movement until dinner time.

Since announcing the arrival of live lobsters to both friends and family, I had gotten many comments or "questions" on the subject of lobster movement prior to placing them into the pot (e.g. "Are you gonna cook them alive?"). I say "questions", because they were more like concerns or statements than questions. "Questions" included:

LINDLEY (6 years old) - "Daddy, I saw on Discovery Channel where they rubbed the back of the lobster shell and it fell asleep before they cooked it";
THE PAMPHLET - it came with the lobsters and said you could place them in fresh water for 15 minutes prior cooking, which would kill them. This is basically drowning the lobster, which to me, isn't any better than boiling it alive;
JW - "Don't put a stethascope up to the pot like Bobcat Goldthwait, cause you can hear them scream".

So, what did I do? Well, I gave them about 36 hours to die on their own, then I let the steam do the work. See the pics below for the less than politically correct way to cook a lobster.

You may recall The Contraption I wrote about back in the spring of 2009 that we used at the oyster roast. I had been to the 06 Oriental Market a number of times to procure a contraption for myself after that. After a dozen or more visits I finally managed to obtain one close to the size of the contraption loaned to me for the oyster roast. My contraption is 36cm, whearas the borrowed one was a 40cm version. Not enough to justify waiting any longer, so I purchased it back in September, and placed it on a shelf in the laundry room. I had forgotten the contraption until I was searching for a way to cook the lobster without losing too much flavor. Steam seemed to be the best option, and the contraption did the trick. With two layers, I put 2.5 quarts of water and a cup of sea salt in the bottom, which I let come to a boil, then gingerly placed a lobster and some seaweed on each of the two layers while wearing my silicone Orca gauntlet gloves, and placed the lid on.

Seventeen minutes later, the layers were removed, and two succulent lobsters were paired with twice-baked potatoes from the New York Butcher Shoppe, and some Schramsburg Blanc de Noirs. The audible pleasures heard emanating from the dining room could have been mistaken for "What About Bob?" on the DVD player or pre-Valentines festivities.

As an aside, I saw either a Bordain or Andrew Zimmern show recently that was filmed in Thailand. Hundreds of street vendors were using well-worn versions of the contraption made from bamboo, drums, etc. to serve up steamed dumplings. I may have to try some steamed pork buns on it soon- the 06 market has frozen ones.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dissection-how to read a recipe

Recipes are starting points, not destinations.   The more we liberate ourselves from them, the more fun and creative our home cooking experience can be.  It helps to understand that most recipes work in someone else's kitchen with their cookware and represent pure anecdote.  Aside from baking, every step of a recipe represents a potential divergence, and most every ingredient serves a specific purpose and is potentially replaceable.  The Food Network, all the cooking magazines, and the dizzying number of recipe books have made cooking today easier than ever, but the quality of the end result isn't as dependent on how well you follow the steps as it is on fundamental technique.  Is it all just getting lost in translation?  Take a look at this chili recipe I found on Epicurious.

Active time: 1 3/4 hr Start to finish: 6 1/2 hr (plus 1 to 2 days for flavors to develop)
Yield: Makes 8 servings
Active Time: 1 3/4 hr
Total Time: 6 1/2 hr (plus 1 to 2 days for flavors to develop)


2 oz dried ancho chiles (4 large), stemmed and seeded
6 large garlic cloves, 3 of them finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder (not pure chile)
4 lb well-marbled beef brisket or boneless chuck, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
1/4 cup canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 lb white onions, chopped (4 cups)
1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled
1 to 4 fresh serrano or other small green chiles, finely chopped, including seeds (1 is fine for most tastes; 4 is the eight-alarm version)
1 (12-oz) bottle beer (not dark)
2 cups water
2 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (optional; 30 oz), rinsed if canned

Soak ancho chiles in hot water to cover until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain well.
While chiles soak, mince 1 whole garlic clove and mash to a paste with 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/2 tablespoon cumin, and 1/2 tablespoon chili powder. Pat beef dry and toss with spice mixture in a large bowl until coated.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wide 6- to 7-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef in 3 or 4 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch (lower heat as needed; spice mixture burns easily). Transfer beef as browned to another bowl. (Do not clean pot.)
Purée anchos in a blender along with tomatoes (including juice), chipotles in adobo, cilantro, remaining 2 whole garlic cloves, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon salt until smooth.
Add enough oil to fat in pot to total 3 tablespoons, then cook onions and chopped garlic over moderate heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits from beef, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add oregano, remaining tablespoon cumin, and remaining tablespoon chili powder and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add chile purée and 1 chopped serrano and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes. Stir in beer, water, and beef along with any juices accumulated in bowl and gently simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and checking often to make sure chili is not scorching, 2 hours.
Taste sauce, then add more serrano if desired and continue to simmer, partially covered, until beef is very tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 hours more. (If chili becomes very thick before meat is tender, thin with water as needed.)
Coarsely shred meat (still in pot) with 2 forks and cool chili completely, uncovered, then chill, covered, 1 to 2 days to allow flavors to develop.
Reheat over low heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 30 minutes. Add beans (if using) and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes.

 6 1/2 hours?  That right there is probably enough to discourage a lot of people from making this recipe.  If you look at this a little closer and apply some basic fundamentals, this is not a very complicated recipe.  There are a few ingredients, but it all comes together pretty quick.  Most of the cooking time is spent simmering if you plan well.  Let's dissect this and figure out how they made it, and see if there's an alternative.

 Soak ancho chiles in hot water to cover until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain well.  Nothing too mysterious.  This is one way to treat dried chiles (read:  peppers).  Alternatively, toast them dry in a hot pan to add another flavor layer or fry them to infuse oil that you might use to sautee with later.  Regardless, in the end you need these peppers to soften because they'll be pureed.  And all that you're making is a Mexican-style Adobo sauce.  Seemed like an easy step, right?  Let's keep reading.

 While chiles soak, mince 1 whole garlic clove and mash to a paste with 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/2 tablespoon cumin, and 1/2 tablespoon chili powder. Pat beef dry and toss with spice mixture in a large bowl until coated.  In order to cheat a little bit and both increase flavor depth and help the meat to brown, a paste is made with garlic, salt, cumin, and chili powder.  Already, there's a flaw in this step:  garlic.  If you've ever smelled burned garlic, it's inedible because it's terribly bitter.  Frankly, this step is unnecessary.  You can sprinkle the powders and salt onto room-temperature meat and sautee at high heat.  Browning the meat is the most critical step that will majorly impact the final product.  The browning causes the proteins on the surface to undergo Maillard reaction which gives browned meat the salty, sweet, crunchy goodness we love.  If you don't brown the meat properly, you'll either steam it or poach it, neither of which will be as good as well-browned meat.  And if you brown your garlic coated meat at the required temperature to do it properly, the garlic will burn, almost without question.  Alternative?  Add either some roasted garlic cloves to the finished product prior to puree or just skip it all together. 

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wide 6- to 7-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef in 3 or 4 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch (lower heat as needed; spice mixture burns easily).   This is the step that will separate good from great, and requires attention.  For starters, what cookware should you use?  The ideal for me here is an enameled cast iron dutch oven 5-7 quarts.  If it's too big, the liquid will evaporate too quickly, if it's too small, you may not  have enough liquid to stew in.  Next question, how deep should the oil be?  The volume of oil they give works in their dutch oven, maybe not yours.  The principle is that you want to maximize contact between meat and fire to evenly brown, and oil is the middle man, so, this is basically pan frying.  Therefore, your meat should be neatly cubed to provide flat surfaces, and you'll need enough oil to fill the pan about 1/8 inch.  They want you to heat the oil pretty hot, but not to the smoke point, so watch your oil selection and your temperature. You want batches where the meat doesn't touch each other, because if they touch, they're more likely to produce steam which cooks without browning.  5 minutes per batch seems way too short, but maybe the normal laws of physics and heat transfer don't apply to their kitchen.  Brown for as long as they need to be nice and dark which will give a nice flavor to the meat, create a strong flavor base, and leave behind fond in the bottom of the pan which will be used (more on that later).  The bigger you cut the meat, the less likely you'll be to overcook it.  This recipe has you shredding the meat anyway.  If you buy precut stew meat, they're a little small and totally nonuniform in size because it's otherwise throwaway scraps.  Consider a chuck or rump roast that you can cut into the pieces you want.

Transfer beef as browned to another bowl. (Do not clean pot.)   
Don't get in the habit of resting meat in a bowl.  It won't matter for this preparation, but it will for temperature sensitive stuff like steak, lamb, fish, etc.  Resting on a wire rack prevents steam from forming and overcooking your meat.  It's a good point to not clean the pot, because the fond (charred brown bits on the bottom of your pan) holds a ton of flavor and will be the base of the "stock."

Purée anchos in a blender along with tomatoes (including juice), chipotles in adobo, cilantro, remaining 2 whole garlic cloves, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon salt until smooth.  This is how you make a standard Mexican-style adobo sauce.  You want softened ancho chiles, canned tomatoes, and garlic.  Wouldn't it be great if this is where you replaced raw garlic cloves with roasted ones?  Couldn't you also cook your tomatoes?  What about tomato paste to add some depth?  Yes, yes, and yes.  This will be dependent on your tomato selection.  Local grocery store brand probably needs some doctoring to taste better.  If you can find DOP-certified San Marzano tomatoes, they're awesome and really sweet.  OK, so they're 4-5 bucks or so per can.  You're already saving money by using cheap meat, so splurge.  As for the cilantro, I personally wouldn't add herbs at this point.  Why?  The aromaticity of the herbs will be lost because you're going to be cooking with them.  Fresh cilantro is best used as a garnish at the end.  

Add enough oil to fat in pot to total 3 tablespoons, then cook onions and chopped garlic over moderate heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits from beef, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes.   Straightforward enough right?  Maybe not.  Onions behave very differently depending on how they're cooked.  There's a big difference between French onion soup and onion rings.  The former depends on caramelization created by deep browning, the latter fries batter while trapping steam internally.  All you're doing in this step is sweating the veggies to make them aromatic.  This is similar step to creating stock, you're just leaving out the carrots and the celery/green peppers/fennel/etc.  The other thing your doing is deglazing your pan.  Going with low heat here will cook the veggies with steam from their own water that can act as a solvent to help you get the brown stuff off the bottom of your pan.  Whatever you do, don't wash this part off and throw it away, because you worked really hard to get it.  It's the same stuff (fond) that you use when making a pan sauce, and it has concentrated flavors of the browned meat.  Low and slow, you don't want your veggies to brown because burned garlic tastes bad, and browned onions are sweet but probably not what you're going for here.

Add oregano, remaining tablespoon cumin, and remaining tablespoon chili powder and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.  Not much to say about this step except that crushing dried oregano prior to putting in the pan is a good idea, gets the aroma going, and that anytime you use seeds instead of powder you're getting more flavor.  If you had cumin seeds, you could just toast them, grind them in a mortar and pestle, and add.  Once they're ground, the flavor decreases over time.  Extra chili powder is just more flavor, but now that your veggies are wet from softening, it should stick.

 Add chile purée and 1 chopped serrano and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes. As the ingredients warn, this is where your heat is going to come from.  Serranos are a little hotter than jalapenos, either can be used here.  The heat doesn't come from the seeds as much as it comes from the white membranes holding the seed pods in place.  Taste a little bit of them raw, because there is a lot of variability in how much heat they have, mostly dependent on how young they were when picked.  In general, the more mature, the hotter.  The chile puree/adobo is your liquid base and will continue cooking your meat.

Stir in beer, water, and beef along with any juices accumulated in bowl and gently simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and checking often to make sure chili is not scorching, 2 hours.  I guess the beer is for flavor, there's really no reason you couldn't use dark beer, but it depends on what you want your final color to be.  The alcohol (not that there's very much) may help act as a solvent to blend your flavors, but frankly is unnecessary.  Just think about what color you want your chili to be:  brown or red.  If you want your broth to be darker, then add some dark beer.  Otherwise, don't waste a good beer, just drink it!

 Taste sauce, then add more serrano if desired and continue to simmer, partially covered, until beef is very tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 hours more. (If chili becomes very thick before meat is tender, thin with water as needed.)  Good points, that you should always taste.  Here's where you should consider salinity.  Should you salt to taste now?  NO!  Why?  Because if you cook it the way they tell you, partially covered, you'll concentrate the liquid, also concentrating salt.  At this point, the salt doesn't really do anything for you, so add it at the end.  You can also cover with a parchment lid if you want. Leaving the pot partially covered does something else, also.  Moreso with a braise, the top of the meat is just covered, and the liquid is close to but not boiling.  Sort of.  Some of the water is boiling and producing steam, other parts are not.  The steam, if trapped by a tight lid, will superheat and overcook whatever is exposed, and if that's meat, it will become tough.  If you have a loose lid, the heat will escape and cook lower and slower on the exposed meat, if there is any.  Of course, you can't heat liquid water more than 100C, but you knew that.  Right?  So if the meat is in the liquid, it has to cook low and slow.  The times here are all relative, and you cook it until the meat is tender.  However long that is.  Mine cooked for about 12-14 hours without ill effect.

Coarsely shred meat (still in pot) with 2 forks and cool chili completely, uncovered, then chill, covered, 1 to 2 days to allow flavors to develop.
Reheat over low heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 30 minutes. Add beans (if using) and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes.  Final steps.  Shredding the meat just makes it easier to eat.  Chilling and reheating does bring everything together.  I don't know if the flavors develop as much as they blend.  This is a good point about the beans.  Canned beans would work well for this, they're already cooked, and you add them at the end so they don't overcook.

I know it was wordy, but you can see that there are a couple of steps that will make the difference in this dish, and cooks at different skill levels will make two very different dishes.  Just to review, look at the steps strictly from a technical point of view.  Should it go without saying that this dish needs to be made at least a day ahead of time?

1.  Create the stock and your adobo sauce.  This is what your doing with the ancho chiles, tomatoes, onions and garlic, and fond from browning the meat.
2.  Brown the meat.  Sets the foundation, and the battle will be won or lost here.
3.  Stew the meat.  Straightforward technique.  The flavors are already developed, you just need to cook your meat.
4.  Chill, allow the flavors to homogenize, and serve.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The fish cooker

Speaking of contraptions, I've got one that I've been trying to find the right context to share.  It's a custom-welded fish cooker that the wife's grandparents have down in Tallahassee, FL.  On the day when the refrigerator is most full of leftovers, the family tradition is to have a fish fry.  Don't question, just enjoy it!
The fish cooker pictured here is welded out of stainless steel with a custom burner underneath.
From November 2009
I thought it was also interesting to note the fish-breading box pictured here that houses flour in a "well" underneath a plastic grate where the meat that you're going to cook sits on. Give it a shake, forget about dredging and splattering flour everywhere.
From November 2009
Here are some marinated oysters about to hit the fryer. A little of Essence of Emeril (otherwise known as a mixture of paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, etc.), oyster liquor, and oil.

From November 2009

Can you say Po Boy?

From November 2009

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Three Couples and Limo - Part Deux

If You Missed Part I, Click HERE
From San Fran Sonoma 2009

Chapter 3 – I had a memorable meal at Slanted Door

Our trip continued with less food and more wine, which was both exciting and overwhelming. We completed a lovely stay in San Francisco by eating at one of my favorite Spanish restaurants – Zarzeula. I don’t believe it has ever won a culinary award, but I am inclined to dine there every trip I make to San Fran. I easily convinced my travel mates, and we took the cable car the short distance from Union Square to Russian Hill. Luckily, Zarzuela is a corner stop for the cable car. We made our way to a table in the back, proceeded to order Sangria and a number of tapas. I can recall garlic shrimp, eggplant with goat cheese, sardines, choriza, Padron peppers, pork medallions, and chicken on a stick. We had a few others, but considering the culinary experience for the remainder of the trip, I’m lucky to recall anything from Zarzeula. They never disappoint, but the meals only increased in quality from Thursday-nite Spanish to Sunday-nite Vietnamese.

From San Fran Sonoma 2009

We made our way to the wine country beginning Friday morning. Based on experience, we intentionally planned little, while leaving most to chance. Our first stop was Gundlach-Bundschu, in lower Sonoma County. It was an excellent choice, provided a nice selection of Tempranillo, Zin, and Syrah, and also gave us some next-stop suggestions, which proved to be the pattern for our weekend tastings. We left Gundlach for Bartholomew Vineyards, which is owned by the same group. It was not disappointing, however, we procured less wine there than our first stop, and I’m sure the inclimate weather slightly dampened our experience . We again got suggestions for our Saturday limo tour.

We then drove into Napa Valley, and decided to sample Thomas Keller’s Bouchon for lunch, but realized we didn’t want to wait long for a table, nor did we want to spoil our appetite for Zazu that nite. I was personally less disappointed than my fellow travelers were, since I had experience Bouchon at the Venetian in Las Vegas a few years back. We opted for the adjacent Bouchon Bakery. In my opinion, six hot sandwiches overwhelmed the two-person bakery counter staff, which managed to warm our sandwiches to the point of no return on the Panini press. We requested that they be removed just in time (the staff reluctantly obliged), and enjoyed them on Smith and Hawken furniture in the recently rain-soaked courtyard, along with the obligatory pastry. The overall experience was exceptional, since after the long drive from lower Sonoma, we were more than relieved to relieve ourselves in the Bouchon potty. Although the Bouchon Bakery staff was sub-par, the foodies in the group still had to say, “How do I love thee Thomas Keller? – Let me count the ways”.

It happens that a wine festival was occurring on the weekend, and we had not purchased tickets to participate. After receiving rave reviews from fellow Southerners we met at Gundlach, but mixed reviews about the festival from others, we decided to taste wine primarily at the locations not participating in the wine festival, in order to avoid the crowds. That was probably one of the best decisions we would make all week.

After a long drive in a Suburban over a treacherous mountain road from Napa to Sonoma, bravely driven by our Atlantan, we arrived at the hotel, and settled in for a quick nap, then the 20 minute drive to Zazu. Zazu grows much of what they serve, and is a very casual dinner location. I would love to wax on about the food; however, I had the worst case of heartburn I had experienced in years, and was not able to enjoy my meal, or drink wine even though I pre-medicated with Zantac 150 – four of them. My companions were impressed with the food, but distracted by the close-talking couple at an adjacent table that maintained an unmoving gaze literally inches from each others eyes while speaking OR eating. It was distgusting, distracting, and unappetizing. It reminded me of the “Schmoopy” Seinfeld episode. No, you’re a schmoopy.

Chapter 4 – Limo Tour in Sonoma County
Our wine country experiences had taught us that the limo tour of wineries was more of a sure thing than a hooker and less expensive. Learning the backroads of wine country while trying to find obscure wineries is not my idea of fun. The gang agreed, and we spent a wonderful day celebrating Neecie’s birthday while sampling wines from many wineries that we had never heard of, and a couple of old stand by’s. We began with Rodney Strong, whose Pinot Noir I’ve enjoyed since well before Sideways, where we tasted, purchased, again asked for suggestions, and proceeded to Armida (Excellent Zins and excellent view from an unimpressive 1970’s almost A-Frame).
From San Fran Sonoma 2009
Next was Zichichi (the owner poured our tastings in V.E.R.Y small portions – almost too small to taste), lunch from the Dry Creek Kitchen, which we ate on the grounds of Dry Creek Vineyards with a bottle of Syrah, then on to about three others where the crowds were too thick for us to stop the limo. We ended the day at Frick. Frick is one of the smallest, most unassuming wineries you will ever visit. It reminds me of a charming double-wide with a porch. The staff was the friendliest of the day, and the wines were very unique. Frick bottles a number of wines that are often used to blend with other wines, like Cinsault, which is typically blended with Grenache, but at Frick is bottled as a Rosè. Our dinner after the long day of touring was early and unassuming. We were all in bed by 8:30pm (except for Nigel, who apparently found a local pub).
From San Fran Sonoma 2009

Chapter 5 – The Slanted Door
Sunday began with a visit to the Dry Creek Olive Company, where tasted and procured small batch olive oil and pomegranate vinegar, then took a nice (and less winding) road from Santa Rosa to the Napa Valley so we could stop at the new kitchen store at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone campus, and so we could swing by to get my camera bag and lens from the limo company. Something I inadvertently left the day prior.

From San Fran Sonoma 2009
We finally made our way back to San Francisco, the SUV filled with great anticipation for the greatest meal of our trip – The Slanted Door, located in the Ferry Building. We made a reservation a couple of months in advance, and were eating early to ensure we would make it to the airport in time for our red eye flight. We arrived at 6:30 for our reservation, and the place was completely packed. After getting suggestions from our waiter, we ordered

  • Cellophane Noodles with fresh Dungeness crab,

  • Snow Pea Pods,

  • wood oven braised niman ranch short ribs with lemongrass, daikon, watermelon radishes and baby carrots

  • niman ranch shaking beef cubed filet mignon, sausalito springs' watercress, red onions and lime sauce

  • barbecued willis ranch pork spareribs with honey-hoisin sauce

  • mesquite grilled lamb sausage and kusshi oysters, chinese black olive and preserved lemon relish

  • chicken claypot with caramel sauce, chilies and fresh ginger

Every dish had enormous depth of flavor and texture and, thanks to our waiter, were all complementary. I can honestly say that this meal was the highlight of a trip filled with unforgettable experiences. I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco, but I think I left part of it in Sonoma County, part in Foley’s Irish Pub, and the rest in the Slanted Door.

Friday, January 15, 2010


There you have it.  Richt and Evans have hired Todd Grantham from the Dallas Cowboys as the new athletic director for a 3 year deal worth 750K/year.  Take it as a positive that they're dedicated to do what it takes to get UGA back in contention in the SEC.  The process, while a little nerve-wracking, worked, and it sounds like we shouldn't have ever doubted Richt and Evans.  Whew!  Breathe a sigh of relief!  Of course, I don't think any UT fans felt like they ever should have doubted Kiffin and company. 

What kind of guy is he?  He runs a 3-4 defense which is what several other pro teams have (Steelers, Cowboys, Patriots, etc), which means that we're going to need linebackers.  I personally would have loved to see Rennie Curran in this defense.  As to his philosophy, in his words:

"I look forward to developing an aggressive, physical, attacking style defense that offenses will not look forward to playing against."

"After the game is over," he said, "the team you just played is happy they don't have to play you anymore."

So how should we feel?  Why don't you ask Mark Richt?

“I think we hit the jackpot,” Richt said.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You can't spell slu- umm, I mean irony without UT

Look I don't have to make this up. Ah, the irony.

Hamilton also made it clear a permanent coach will be on board rather than going forward with an interim coach.

"Men’s Athletic Director Mike Hamilton is in charge of the process to both address the immediate needs and to hire a new head football coach," UT Interim President Jan Simek said in a statement this afternoon.

At least the head coach can be permanent, even if the president isn't.  Good luck with all that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There is no Keyser Soze! Kiffins screw the Vols in the middle of night and move to Southern Cal.

We'll have to wait and see how much destruction the UT crowd left in the wake of the angry mob.  I read some reports on Rockytoptalk that said the fans were trying to barricade the street to prevent Kiffin from leaving.  Between ineffective rioting, some tear gas, and a couple of burning pieces of furniture, UT fans have really shown us something.
As much as I express concern about this whole defensive coordinator business, I have to say that I'm eternally thankful that Mark Richt is UGA's coach.  In the end, time will tell how this works out for UGA and Tennessee.  Just another good example of what hired guns will get you. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What do Mark McGwire and Kenny Rogers have in common?

You be the judge.



The Gambler


Monday, January 11, 2010

The lateral move and difficult decisions

Kirby won't be the next DC at UGA.  It sounds like a lot of fans were really counting on this, and are beyond pissed.  I'm not one of them, because of what I posted last week:  despite what many UGA loyalists think, there was no way Kirby Smart was going to be better off short- or long-term in Athens than in Tuscaloosa.  And for everyone that doesn't believe his moving to be UGA's DC was a step down, get over yourselves.  UGA is currently a second-tier program (we hope) in the SEC.  Not that it's a bad thing, because Alabama was, also, a couple of years ago.  And that's all subject to change from season to season.
Being something of an expert on "lateral moves" I can say that tons of factors go into making these decisions, not the least of which is consideration of the upside of each place.  As long as Smart and his wife are happy in Tuscaloosa, the only thing that could have brought him to Athens was a coach-in-waiting position, and I bet that despite the money he may have been offered (which was way too much in my opinion based on what is being reported, but was supposedly matched), that wasn't on the table.  Again, another important clue as to what Richt's plan is for the program and his career.  Of course, it's all speculation because he refuses to talk about it.  Considering the upside in Tuscaloosa (didn't they win the other night?) and Smart's apparent goals to be a head coach somewhere, the only thing that Alabama didn't have was that it wasn't Athens.  Otherwise, it has everything else going for it.  The were few to no net benefits to moving to UGA.
What worries me now, as a fan, is that we appear to have been waiting and expecting this deal to go through, and apparently had some level of commitment from Smart that he would go through with it. 
What if 'Bama had lost the national championship game?  Would things have been different?  What if the freakish hadn't happened, and Colt McCoy didn't wind up with a case of the "dead arm," Texas didn't commit 5 turnovers, and was able to embarrass the 'Bama defense?  Maybe verbally committing to UGA was a "smart" insurance policy.
Regardless of whether Smart is really responsible for the defense or not, it brings up an interesting and sobering realization that perception is everything.  Even if he's eating M&Ms in the bleachers during practice while Saban is literally doing all the hands on coaching, the longer the program is successful and the longer he sticks with it, the greater will be the perception that he can reproduce it wherever he goes.  And that he can parlay into a head coaching job.  Because his success is more guaranteed at Alabama than in Athens.  I'm sure Saban reminded him of that this weekend.

What's next?  I still think it's going to be at least one person from the NFL, and it's going to cost us.  If we don't know something by next week, I think we're going to have a serious problem on our hands in the way of fan mutiny and recruiting class.  Which means that the cut-off on the Hartmann fund will be significantly lower! See, the glass is half-full.

Seriously, the world hasn't ended because we couldn't get Kirby Smart.  Jobs like these are all about timing.  We've had some timing issues with the people we've approached, although I really think that we'll all soon realize that Smart wasn't the "right man" for the job.

Left Overs...

Posting has been pretty slow for me, I'm still cooking up a storm, but not cooking much new... In the past week, I've made steak frites, various pizzas, a ton of bread, roasted chicken, and homemade sausage with lentils (see previous posts regarding all of these). Not much new to write about. However, I did want to mention a terrific side-item that keeps well for several days, potato pave.

The beauty of this thing is that you can make it as rich or lite as you wish by varying the liquid added to the potato prior to baking. What makes it better than "au gratin" is the ability to saute and add some textural contrast to the creamy potatoes. Pictured above are New Year's Day leftovers (1/2 of a cornish hen, black-eyed pea and collard gratin, and potato pave).

For my preparation of the pave you'll need

Heavy cream
4 russets
salt & pepper

2-8 inch square pyrex dishes
Something heavy and oven proof like a good cast-iron skillet
aluminum foil.

Preheat oven to 400F. Start by lining one of the baking dishes with foil and butter generously. Butter another piece of foil for the top and set aside. Square the potatoes (the dish is called pave, pavers, get it?) and slice thinly, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Could use a mandoline or show off your sick knife skills. I prefer the latter. Pour cream (a cup or two) into a bowl and dip each potato slice in the cream then transfer to the dish, overlapping very slightly. After half of the potatoes have been layered, give a good sprinkle of salt and pepper, then grate a good amount of parmesan over the first half. Repeat with the second half and top with the other piece of foil. Place the second dish inside the first, give a good press and weight with the iron skillet. Bake for about an hour and a half. Remove from the oven and cool. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably weighted.

When ready to serve (about 10 minutes beforehand), pull the entire pave out of the dish using the foil and carefully peel off the foil. Using a very sharp knife, cut rectangles/squares etc from the center. Next in a hot pan, saute for 2 to 3 minutes per side in the oil of your choosing, or even on all sides for extra crunch!

You can serve these in place of any potato dish and look like a Rock Star, or better yet, a television star on The Learning Channel Trauma show!


Monday, January 4, 2010

America: Too Stupid To Cook

America: Too Stupid To Cook

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Defensive coordinator salaries: the UGA effect

As of January 4th, UGA still has no defensive coaches other than Rodney Garner.  It seems as though we waited one year too long to make a change.  Had we done it last  year, Chavis might well have been our coordinator.  As it stands now, there's no one in sight.  Reportedly, Richt has contacted at least 3 people:

  • Bud Foster from Virginia Tech-leveraged VT for a contract renegotiation
  • Vic Koenning-wanted to go to UGA, but they dragged their feet and Ron Zook (Illinois) scooped him up
  • John Chavis-leveraged LSU for a contract renegotiation

Sounds like we're willing to offer 600K a year and a 3-year contract.  As long Richt is confident, I guess we should be, too.  Maybe it's all a big scheme to either bankrupt these other schools or lock them into someone that may not work out.  Evil Richt strikes again?

So what do you think Richt will do?  There are tons of variables that go into this, most of which we'll never know, but I think it's interesting to contemplate a few questions.

  • Is there a role for someone like Kirby Smart to come in as head coach in waiting like Jimbo Fisher or Will Muschamp?  In other words, how much longer would Richt be willing to stay at UGA?  If  you need precedent, look no farther than his mentor, Bobby Bowden.  He took a program that hadn't done much and turned them into a perennial powerhouse.  And he stayed for the remainder of his career.  Growing up close to FSU and having folks in the family reminding me of all the Bowden wisdom, there are major similarities between Richt and Bowden's style, whether it's in handling the media, other coaches, the players, etc.  So my answer to question number 1 is no, the answer to 2 is a long time.
  • Do we benefit from Kirby Smart?  Likely not.  I for one can't believe that he is responsible for getting Alabama to the national title game.  It's mostly Saban, who's the brains behind their success, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.  Besides, Smart's stock likely can't rise as high at UGA than it can at 'Bama unless there's a potential role for a head coaching job.  And if there's not that potential for him at UGA,  he'll be gone when the offer comes from elsewhere.
  • Do we need to go out and get an NFL coach?  That's likely to be the case, but if Richt has a young guy out there that he's interested in that's not quite ready for prime time, maybe he could set up a scenario where a senior NFL DC comes in and tutors a young coach into a star.  That would be great planning for the future, and would be a much more sound investment than buying the most expensive thing out there, just because we can afford it.  Look at the two guys he made a seriously play for, Foster and Chavis:  both experienced and in the latter 1/3 of their careers. They never made a serious run at Koenning, which is why he's in Illinois, freezing his ass off.
  • How should we interpret Richt's choice of defensive coordinator?  I think it's going to be a turning point in his career.  If he chooses something that looks like a long-term plan, he's more likely telling us (as he always has, but then so did Tubby) that he's in it for the long haul.  If he hires a flashy name for a bunch of cash, I would take it as a sign he's going to give it one good try, and if it fails, he's done.  And it will likely be our own fault.