April 28, 2003

Potato Gratin

My company released the product that I've been working on for the past 9 months. It's a huge relief to be done, and a pretty darn cool product. If you've got a Mac, and have a US mailing address, check it out.

Dinner was a simple celebration. Steak. Mushrooms. And a potato gratin. This is both the simplest and best gratin you can make:
- potatoes, sliced 1/8-1/16th of an inch thick
- salt
- pepper
- nutmeg
Layer in a dish of your choice to about 1 inch total thickness, then cover with:
- as much heavy cream as you need to cover
- place one or more bay leafs on top
Place the dish in another pan to catch any boil over
- Bake at 375 until soft thoughout (about 45-60 mins)

It's foolproof, sinful, wonderful, and creamy. It can be made in lasagne pans, circular ramikins, pie tins, whatever you have on hand. It can be made in any size from a single serving up to a huge hotel pan for a crowd. The "secret" (if you can call it that) is the incredible use of 100% heavy cream rather than flour, butter, cheese, onions, or other distractions from the pure dish.

You can serve it boiling hot from the oven, or wait about 30 minutes for a more "servable" style.

Posted by dowdy at 06:00 PM

April 23, 2003

Charcoal Review Site

I guess on the internet you can find everything. Just ran across a web site full of lump charcoal reviews. His site is pretty slow, but has useful information if you've never used "real" charcoal.

In other news, I finally bought a Weber Chimney Starter.

I guess these two things go together.

Posted by dowdy at 01:51 PM

April 18, 2003

Heavy Metal, er, Cream

About a week ago I picked up a half gallon of "Manufacturing Cream" from Smart & Final. This appears to be a "unique to West Coast" item as when I asked chef-instructors at the CIA about it, they hadn't heard of it.

The attributes of it are: higher in butterfat than most heavy cream, and no additional ingredients. Most heavy cream has stablizers in it, which can make for less than ideal chocolate truffles and whipping behavior. So I'm Told. I've never myself had any problems in these areas.

In any case, I've got quite a bit of very heavy cream in the fridge now. So last night I made a quick chicken stew in heavy cream.

I cut up a really nice and small chicken I managed to find into four pieces. A quick browning in clarified butter. Then fine minced onion and sliced mushrooms. Some white wine, chicken stock, and thyme. I then returned the chicken to the pan, covered, and simmered for about 10 minutes. Removed the chicken, reduced the sauce and then added about a cup and a half of heavy cream. Reduced this again to thicken.

Served the whole thing over noodles.

Posted by dowdy at 07:57 AM

April 16, 2003

Beans on a Schoolnight?

I have no idea why I've been craving beans of late. But it finally got to the point that I just had to make them, even though beans are supposed to be hours worth of cooking -- and work has been recently keeping me there until close to 8 or 9 every night.

But, I remembered to start the beans soaking before leaving the house in the morning and I also remembered to make use of the most important bean-cooking tip. Use not nearly as much water to cook them as you think!

Beans are interesting in that they cook faster in less water. You have to keep them at least covered by it, of course, but in no way do you need to use a large pot. Mine got done in just over an hour!

Added some chicken stock, chilli powder, cumin, oregano, garlic, and onions to the batch. And I held off the salt until the end (this also speeds the cooking a bit). Oh yeah, and some really great chipolte salsa called "Bufalo".

I served it with homemade tortilla chips and some finely shredded very sharp cheddar cheese. Boy did it hit the spot.

Posted by dowdy at 08:22 AM

April 04, 2003

That's Pathetic!

As winter slowly gives way to spring, my thoughts begin to run to Sauvignon Blanc for drinking. It's a light, crisp, white wine (at least when it's the style I like best) and plays well with shellfish. Here's a rundown of the various regions and which ones I tend to have on hand.

The original is Sancerre from France. The style traditionally was tight and crisp and minerally. It also often had a "vegital" or "herbaceous" quality. The word most often used to describe it was "grassy". When taken to extremes, some said it smelled like "cat piss". The non-extreme variety is what I prefer. Unfortunately, a large number of French folk figured out that Americans prefer a most fruit-oriented taste and adjusted to produce it. One Sancerre that I regularly still buy that's fairly "old-school" is "Les Charmes" by Andre Vatane (sp?).

Californians are largely responsible for producting huge quantities of inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc of most often a citrus or other fruit flavored style. When well balanced with acid, I can drink this, but it's not my favorite. More grassy styles are often labelled "Fume Blanc" which is the same grape with a different marketting name. I enjoy the wines from Dry Creek and Murphy-Goode. The later's Fume Blanc is an especially good value. In general, I steer towards Sauvignon Blanc's from the Sonoma Valley in California. Unfortunately, the prices of all wines from this region have been inching up over the years.

New Zealand has recently been taking the Sauvignon Blanc world by storm, most notably with wines from the Marlbourgh region. Just about any Sauvignon Blanc from this region is excellent. Cloudy Bay is the landmark wine from the region and is responsible for "breaking" it in the minds of many wine writers. It's fame is starting to cause the price to creep up, however. Goldwater is another great one I'm a fan of, along with Villa Maria. Both of these are really value-priced. One interesting thing to note is that many of the New Zealand folks have started using screw-top openings for their Sauvignon Blanc. It's a low-risk approach, actually, as this wine isn't usually kept around for very long -- so while nobody really knows if screw tops are a smart idea for aging wine, it's safe here. And approximately 2% of all wine ends up being "corked" because of bad or contaminated cork closures.

South Africa also makes some very nice wines. I've become a fan of Maulderbach's (sp?) Sauvignon Blanc. It has a very distinctive label (a long vertical stripe the entire height of the bottle) and thus is easy to spot even though I can't properly spell the name. I think it's priced just a tad higher than I would ideally like -- but it's not so expensive that you shouldn't give it a try if you can find it.

So, the end of all of this explaination is that recently I've been so tired from work that when selecting between all of these excellent white wines to drink, the ones with the screwtop have been chosen more often than not because...well, they're easier to open.

As my father once said to a student in class -- "That's Pathetic!"

Posted by dowdy at 08:42 AM