December 07, 2007

Give us back our beer!

The subject is a quote from a Schlafly T-shirt that I own celebrating the passage of the 21st amendment -- which was two days ago.

When we're visiting my mom in Saint Louis, we almost always stop at least once at one of the two brewpubs owned by Schlafly Beer. I feel like I'm "sticking it to The Man" when I don't drink Anheuser-Busch in their hometown. Of course, the fact that I generally don't care for light American style beer doesn't hurt either. They also bottle their beer, but it's pretty hard to find outside of the Saint Louis area -- and shipping would probably end up being more than the beer itself.

My mom sent me a book on their history for my birthday: A New Religion in Mecca: Memoir of a Renegade Brewery in St. Louis. It's pretty good so far, although I think he could have used a better editor. The historical information and stories are interesting, but they aren't always presented in the best of ways.

Posted by dowdy at 03:33 PM

October 08, 2007

The Next Iron Chef

Yeah yeah yeah...I need to start writing again.

Anyway. Last night we watched the first episode of The Next Iron Chef. I'm a fan of the series on both platforms, even though everyone knows it isn't really a cooking ora game show. It's still real chefs making real food. Add my love of Alton Brown and pretty much a lock as far as fun TV goes.

The one interesting thing. The first episode takes place at the CIA. The kitchen they worked in was actually one of the ones that I did! On the show, the heat and poor quality fridge and freezers were complained about repeatedly. I know, because there isn't any air conditioning in that kitchen. It hit 120 degrees in there the first week I was in it. I write about it here. For some reason I don't mention the heat in that week's worth of blogs. The fridges were bad for us as well, because we often had gallons of stock that needed to be cooled down for the night. That's when I learned a great deal about cooling stock before storing it.

Traci de Jardins was kicked off. She had previously won an America Iron Chef, so I think most people expected her to hang in there a bit longer. I've eaten at her place. Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed. I really should go back some time, but there are plenty of places in San Francisco that I still haven't been to even once.

Posted by dowdy at 02:29 PM

December 10, 2006

Food definition site

While I was trying to find out names for various cuts of chuck roast (and boy are there a lot of them!), I ran into this web site with some great information.

The Cook's Thesaurus

Posted by dowdy at 11:25 AM

November 09, 2006

Hunt that Turkey!

This is great. The next time you go out bird hunting, you can inject flavor into the beast at the very instant your bring 'em down!

Shotgun shells made out of spices!

Posted by dowdy at 11:26 AM

July 12, 2006

Kitchen Disaster, avoided

One of the dishes we made for the summer party this year was a simple plate of grill seared scallops and a tomato vermouth beurre blanc.

This dish resulted in one injury and an almost failure, so it's worth pointing at least the later out. The burn was my own fault, after re-stoking the grill with charcoal I picked up the grate to place it on the grill. Bare handed. That was fine for the side that hadn't been on the coals. Less so for the other hand. It's recovered now, but looks pretty gnarly for a while there.

I've made beurre blanc sauces so many times now that I've gotten pretty cavalier about it. This is both good and bad. It's good because I know I can add one to a menu with fairly little thought. It's bad because when you take a recipe and start playing fast and loose with it, you need to know why it works in the first place, and what to do if something goes wrong.

Beurre blancs are a class of emulsified sauces that make use of the natural emulsion that's in butter itself. Butter can be thought of as fat and water, but something is keeping them together rather than broken apart like bad oil and vinegar. As long as you heat butter gently and not too high, the emulsion that's there remains and the sauce is smooth. Heat too fast, or too high, and the butterfat comes out of the suspension and you have a greasy pool on top of your sauce. The other thing is that unlike sauces that make use of melted butter and another emulsifier (such as egg) you can't have too much butter in a beurre blanc. Why? Because the butter itself is the sauce and emulsifier! All of the other things are just flavorings. The flavorings will obviously become muted as you add more butter, but the sauce won't break or fail because of it.

For the party, I had the half-pound of butter that goes into this sauce prepped and ready. This is how we normally do things at the party, and so it was sitting there until it was time to make the sauce. Several things set up for the potential disaster, however: a) the butter was out for several hours and it's summertime. That means it was already very close to being a sauce. b) I was at least partially distracted by the aforementioned burn. c) the party had been going for a while. Let's just say that there was less wine outside of me than there was earlier in the day.

The scallops were off being grilled and I had the gastrique being reduced and ready to go. Once I hit the right reduction point, I dropped in the tomato paste, stirred to heat, and was ready for the butter. OK. Pan's too hot because you normally reduce fire to low or off before adding butter and wait a bit (but I hadn't). Butter's way too soft. I'm in a hurry (those scallops are coming off any second) and drop the entire half pound in at once and start stirring. Whoa! It's clearly melting way too fast. Kill the heat. Stir like mad and watch in horror as the sauce hovers for five minutes just shy of breaking. Only luck, the stirring, and moving the pan completely off the stove so no more heat was being dumped in from the grate kept the sauce together.

So, I got away with it. But for the next time you do this, here's some hints:
- don't add all the butter at once. If you put in a tiny bit and see that things are too hot, you can stir and wait until things cool down.
- don't have the butter already melting. It doesn't have to be rock hard either, but kitchen are hot in the summer, ya know?
- have some ice chips handy (I usually do but, well, I think there was some wine or something). Tossing in one or two can very quickly cool a sauce if needed.

If I'd completely broken the sauce I could have started over. I had more vermouth, garlic, and tomato paste (and butter, of course). If I needed to rescue the gastrique (say I had no more vermouth), you can spoon off the grease, check temp, and start back in with fresh butter. It isn't quite the same, but it does work.

Posted by dowdy at 10:17 AM

June 29, 2006

On banning things...

Sometimes fark.com is just great. From a comment made today (Chicago is now trying to ban trans-fats):


"First they came for the foie gras.
and I did not speak out
because I did not care for foie gras.
Then they came for the Pork Rinds
and I did not speak out
because I was not really a big pork fan.
Then they came for the alcohol
and I did not speak out
because I was not much of a drinker.
Then they came for the coffee
and the great war began."

Posted by dowdy at 10:51 AM

June 09, 2006

Ratatouille

My CEO's other company has a trailer out for their next project. It played before Cars when we got to see that film today..

I happened to find said trailer as it was shown in France a while back. My French is pretty rusty, but I couldn't help but love the line: "Je ne veux pas manger la poubelle, papa."

The trailer in French is here. You'll need to know at least enough French to navigate the web site, or click on "Grand" next to the QuickTime logo.

Posted by dowdy at 03:19 PM

June 07, 2006

Beer for everyone!

Babies are very curious about adult beverages.

I don't know why I find that picture so funny. But at least they have the good sense to offer their child an appropriate quality beer. Looks like Anchor Steam to me.

And, no, before sending me hate mail, I do not approve of actually serving beer to children. Just teasing them with it.

Posted by dowdy at 03:48 PM

April 03, 2006

Fruit Plate

I've been watching the new Bravo show "Top Chef". While it contains the usual "reality" drama, it's interesting because the judging is set in San Francisco. This means that the guest chefs and judges are often from places that I know and respect. A recent show had a competition based upon a fruit plate. I called out early that several of the chefs would be down-pointed for using the top of the pineapple as part of their plating. That's called "non-functional" garnish, and was a common theme when I was at the CIA.

At least nobody put tomatoes on their plate.

Posted by dowdy at 09:33 PM

March 31, 2006

Cheap Vodka

There's been a meme on the web for a while now that says that if you take cheap vodka and run it through an ordinary pitcher-type water filter several times (around 8 or 9) the result tastes like higher end vodkas (such as Kettel One).

anne and I tried this out last weekend. We used a Brita filter as in the above blog, along with some really cheap vokda that's made in San Jose, CA. Yikes! Unlike the above experiment, we kept a shot of vodka from each pass through the filter along with the original pre-filtered, but were not drinking the vokda during the test.

Long story short: after 4 or 5 passes the quantity of bad smells did in fact reduce down the Kettel One quantity. However, the quality of those smells remained the same -- that of rubbing alcohol. Side by side, it was easy to tell the difference, even after 15 passes (at which point, we got tired and stopped). It makes sense that this doesn't work -- there are impurities in cheap vodka, but some of them are in the form of higher alcohols/esters that aren't going away by running through a filter.

Kettel One is about three times the price of this cheap vodka, but it's worth it unless you are consuming more vodka than you probably should be. But if that's the case, you probably wouldn't even mind the taste of the original unfiltered. And let's not forget that the filter cost $6, and it takes about 15 minutes for each pass through the filter.

Posted by dowdy at 01:13 PM

March 30, 2006

Automated Butter Delivery System

Only because I haven't posted anything in a while, and managed to find this great machine while surfing on the Internets (I use all 10 of them).

Posted by dowdy at 02:53 PM

February 03, 2006

You never forget your first

Well, here's a very nice little entry that meriko pointed me at.

In return, I probably should get to posting something a bit more regularly here. So far, winter has consisted of far too many slow cooked stews. They've been mighty tasty, but I'm sure that even if I had bothered to take pictures, they would all look rather similar.

We found entire racks of beef ribs the other day, cryovaced in twos, for $10 per two! Four of them are sitting in my freezer now, and I think next weekend it's time to start the BBQ season.

Posted by dowdy at 03:47 PM

December 13, 2005

Throwing Copper

anne threatened to get me a weird pan after this entry of mine. In fact, she said my complaining about that pan (and the pointing out of the TV ad every time it came on) just said that I wanted one of those pans.

Copper Pan

When she showed up with a rather large and heavy box, I sort of assumed that it was one of the dreaded pans to "help me cook like a pro", maybe with a brick inside of it to make it weigh so much.

I should have known. It is a beautiful copper saucier. It's shiny (but not for long) and heavy (the lid alone is 1.5 pounds!). The first thing I did the next day was to place the pan on my dirty dirty stove from the night before and take a picture.

Posted by dowdy at 07:23 AM

December 11, 2005

Spices!

Wow! I just stumbled across this spice site while looking for "decorticated" about "Cardamom" (which has to do with removing the seeds from the pods, who knew?).

I'm particularly taken with the common names of each spice in a huge number of languages, as well as the relationships between the various spices. Obviously a labor of love. Joe Bob says check it out.

Posted by dowdy at 11:59 AM

October 17, 2005

Don't buy this

I was watching TV over the weekend and this weird shapped pan was unique enough looking to get me to back up the TiVo and watch the entire ad.

Circulon's campaign is oriented around "cook like a pro" and the implication is a) that cooking like a pro involves tossing things when you cook and b) that the shape of this pan somehow helps in this regard. I'll be the first to admit that I toss food when I cook, and that it looks neat, and is fun to do. But food doesn't cook when it's in the air so you are actually slowing things down if you are doing it constantly. "Pro"s toss pans once or twice when cooking because the last thing you need in a slammed kitchen is the food cooking slower.

If you want to learn to toss food, use any sloped sided saute pan. Put some dry beans in it, and a few more of a different type/color. Go outside and practice there. You aren't trying for height, the point of all of this is to mix the food. So watch the different colored beans and attempt to make them actually move around. Ignore the stares of your neighbors. You will also quickly find that launching the food poses little problem. The issue is catching it. The high far side of this new pan isn't going to help you here.

If you absolutely have to get a "special pan" for this, a saucier pan is much more useful. It has a higher side to "help" you launch the food. But the high sides continue all of the way around, which means you can use the pan for sauces, vegetable cooking, or just plain boiling water.

Posted by dowdy at 08:15 AM

October 16, 2005

Cooking with bacon

So, you know how you start making lots of dishes that use bacon? Coq au vin. Beef in red wine. Onion tarts. Clam Chowder. Bacon wrapped shrimp. And then you find yourself always running out of bacon, and so you start buying these enormous packages of thick sliced center-cut from your local warehouse store.

And time goes on and you keep making more dishes that use bacon. Quiche. Hamburgers. Bacon wrapped pop-tarts. And there's this never ending supply of the stuff. Every time a package is empty, there's another one in the freezer. And so you forget all about buying bacon, as if you're raising pigs on the back forty.

And then comes the day when it's time to make a dish that just cries to have bacon in it, and what's happened? That's right, you ran out of bacon.

...or maybe it's just me.

Posted by dowdy at 10:24 AM

September 21, 2005

Julie/Julia is out!

Not exactly sure just how it snuck up on me like this, but Julie Powell's Book is finally out. A link to the blog for the Julie/Julia Project is on the lefthand side.

I've been told by others that the book reads better, no doubt the result of editing. Obviously I have mine on order!

And just to prove that I haven't fallen completely off the face of the earth -- this weekend will feature a massive Clambake! Pictures and details to follow.

Posted by dowdy at 08:20 AM

July 27, 2005

At least it isn't Nestle's

Hershey's is buying Scharffen-Berger.

Not a huge fan of big company take-overs. But Hershey's is a bit more focused on the One Thing (than, say, Nestle's), and they do actually make acceptable dark chocolate when they put their mind to it. Hopefully this will be a mostly hands-off kind of thing.

I like Scharffen-Berger, but it certainly does have a unique and strong flavor (I get lots of fruit). As a result, I sometimes don't prefer to use it when cooking. Truffles, specifically, sometimes can be just overpowered by it.

Posted by dowdy at 08:12 AM

June 06, 2005

The Story of the Butter Pig

The butter pig. Well, I've been meaing to explain for a while now. This is one of those stories that maybe is more interesting or funny if you were there at the time. Still, I get enough questions via email that I'm going to take a shot here.

A few years back, I was getting ready for one of my winter parties. I'd purchased some or all of the ingredients that I needed, and was lazing around with some folks at work. I mentioned that I had 16 pounds of butter (this is neither the most or least butter that I've used at a party, but I think this is the first time I'd gotten so much at once, so it seems like quite a bit to me at the time).

The reaction around the table was one of both horror and fascination. What on Earth was I going to do with so much butter? Was I going to carve something out of it? "What," I said, "like a pig or something?" And so, the butter pig was born. The next comment sealed the fate when someone said, "Sure! Then you could roast it on a spit." This mental image of a 16 pound block of butter somehow being spit-roasted became the in-joke during stressful times at work.

Since then, we've found butter lambs in the store during Easter time, and have come to learn that there are butter carving contents held at various state fairs. But nothing will ever replace in my mind the butter pig.

Posted by dowdy at 08:58 AM

May 02, 2005

Odd Todd

The folks at America's Test Kitchen have gotten a new person to do their "food science" section. Odd Todd is best known for his Flash animations about being laid off. The first one was about flambe and was funny as well as informative. "No, you cannot flambe with beer."

Pretty interesting choice for someone as stuffy as Mr. Kimball. I only wish that they (or Todd himself) had the animations online.

Posted by dowdy at 11:13 AM

March 05, 2005

Looks like a pump, tastes like a sneaker

Grapple
No, I think you need to pronounce it with a 'C'...

A coworker told me about this new "fruit" called a "Grapple" which they speculated was a hybrid. As you can see from the above label (which I did not read prior to purchase, eating, or disliking) it is actually a "normal" apple that has been treated with some kind of artificial flavoring. I assume this is in the form of a gas.

I'll admit that the package and the fruits themselves certainly smell like grapes; however only in that ideal, chemically, floride treatment sense of the word. But, I was willing to give it a go, as I assumed that this was due to some sort of interesting hybrid activity -- there's been lots of that going around in the fruit world these days. I only saw "artificially flavored" when looking at the images I'd snapped. Hey, who checks labels for flavorings on a whole piece of fruit! Me, I guess from now on.

Unfortunately, smell was all these had going for them. The fruit wasn't even good as an apple. Slightly sour, not at all sweet, and very watery. There was no taste of grape, and once sliced the aroma also was so reduced as to be a non-player. At close to $1.25 per fruit, I think I need to pass on these.

Posted by dowdy at 06:38 PM

February 23, 2005

Sticky Timer

Wow! Check out this engadget entry for a new magnetic analog-old school kitchen timer.

I think I need four. Now if I could just find out where to buy them, or even how much they cost.

Posted by dowdy at 07:34 AM

February 17, 2005

Not a bit of food

I guess there's a meme going around the food-blogging community. Folks for some perverse reason want to know the musical tastes of various online people.

If you think that's interesting, here ya go. I'm actually somewhat horrified by this list myself.

What is the total number of music files on your computer?
763 songs. 2.7 days worth of music. 6.76 GBs. This isn't even close to the number of CDs that I have at home. While I listen to "songs" at work, I usually am more "album oriented" at home.

What is the last CD you bought?
Evanescence. Fallen. Pre-ordered ahead of release due to the hit single. I think that about half of the tracks are up to that level.

What is the last song you last listened to before reading this message?
"Just Like a Pill", Pink. Just goes to show you that even a metalhead/progressive rocker like myself can be listening to pop.

Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.
In no particular order, and informed by what I've been listening to in the past year or so. This is a bit of a misleading list, because I work on music software. There are lots of songs that I start playing as part of my work, but never really finish. But I'm going to assume that I use these as test files at least in part because I enjoy them rather than that they happen to be handy.
- "Distant Early Warning", Rush. I don't really care for much else on this album (I'm more of an old school Rush person) but the content of the song makes it worthwhile for me.
- "One Simple Thing", Stabilizers. Good luck finding this anyplace. I only know about it all because KOME (long since failed radio station here in the Bay Area) had a penchant for playing it more often than really made sense.
- "Best I Can", Queensrÿche. I used to listen to this in the car on the way to work almost every morning. It wasn't the greatest period in my life, but the song helped.
- "…And Jusice For All", Metallica. I actually like the entire album, but if I had to pick one song from it, this would probably be the one.
- "Dark Side of the Moon", Pink Floyd. Not a song, but it's really ment to be listened to all of the way through.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Since I really don't know any other people, I'm thinking that I'm the "dead end" to this meme that Derrick speculated upon. Sorry meme, but you've finished with this part of the internet.

Posted by dowdy at 10:51 AM

February 08, 2005

Could this be the end?

I've written before about my concern over Cook's Illustrated. They seem to be spreading themselves thin, re-using basic concepts or whole entire recipes in various media/forms, and just plain running out of new ideas. Two current examples (and I realize that a sample size of two out of a span of more than ten years does not a trend make) drive the point home.

The most recent issue of Cook's itself has only a single contribution from writers I have respected in the past. It seems that the 'A' team is off filming their TV show -- America's Test Kitchen -- instead of working on new concepts. America's Test Kitchen's new season also shows them in some snazzy new digs, which suggests that they may be headed in the "form over function" direction.

I also received a sample issue of "Cook's Country" which is their attempt to spin their franchise into the "more casual cook" territory. An awful layout in a "Family Circle" style. Recycled recipes from original Cook's, written in an attempt at the scientific approach. Recipes from readers?!? Tear out recipe cards?!? A salad "featuring" iceburg lettuce?!? Worst of all, some of the articles come to different and directly opposing conclusions from the original articles! This suggests a lack of editorial control or consistency, or worse yet, maybe nobody is checking up on this team at all.

Posted by dowdy at 09:26 AM

January 27, 2005

Alternative Meal

An "alternative meal" to be served to any "food-abusive inmate." I guess the idea here is it supplies all of the day's needs without actually tasting or looking very good.

This sounds suspiciously like a similar "food loaf" that Jeffrey Steingarten made based upon another goverment document in "The Man Who Ate Everything"

And it all sounds a bit too Big Brother/1984/Soylent Green/Demolition Man.

Posted by dowdy at 09:40 AM

January 25, 2005

Become a chef...

...or just embarass yourself on national television. PBS has a new show in the works, Cooking Under Fire.

I don't normally respond to requests for linkage, but since this is PBS, I don't feel too bad.

Posted by dowdy at 12:33 PM

January 17, 2005

"My Hand"

I watched the first of the new series of American Iron Chef's last night (with running commentary by none other than Alton Brown). The theme ingredient was tatanka, er, I mean, buffalo.

Early in the program I hear Bobby Flay ask "where's that filet?" and the sous chef replies "My Hand, chef!" (mean, I'm on it, I've got it, I'll be ready) This is a bit of kitchen slang you don't hear that often, so it said to me that those helping Flay are the real deal.

As much as I enjoy the original Iron Chef, the American one does seem to match a bit better with my own cooking. I think the portions are ridiculous, and often they are serving 3 out of the 5 dishes as entrees -- the Japanese chefs seem to think more in terms of a menu and flow of dishes. But for the American show the camera spends a bit more time on the assistants prepping, and in this way shows that cooking is more about planning, thinking, and care than running around like a maniac (the aforementioned Flay seems especially prone to this).

I think Bayless should have won this one, but then again I almost always root against the Iron Chef. Bayless is more genuine Mexican, and I have a real respect for the research that he does. It is clear that he has a real love of the region, people, and cusine of that country.

Posted by dowdy at 08:24 AM

December 21, 2004

I'm just here for more food

We interupt the normal party posts (well, I swear I'll get back to them over the holiday break!) with a possible last minute gift for the baker in your life.

Alton Brown's: I'm just here for more food has just been released. This is a follow-up to his first book (which I also recommend), "I'm just here for the food". This second book is all about baking (the first was about cooking in general).

While I haven't yet finished it (I've made it through part of the "parts" chapter and also the first "method" chapter) I can already say it's going to be on the top of my lists for baking books, particularly for someone just learning the craft. Alton has decided to arrange the book by mixing method, which is how professional bakers usually do it. If you look at recipe "cheat sheets" made by bakers, they usually just list percentages of ingredients. They will then just specify the mixing method (and maybe baking temperature/time). Some of them will leave off the mixing method entirely and assume that a real professional would know it based on the order and ratios of the ingredients alone!

"I'm just here for more food" takes this approach solidly to heart, to the point of having little "flaps" with the basic method at the start of each chapter. This serves to drive home the commonality of the recipes in the chapters, saves on space, and also is a handy bookmark for what you are cooking at the time. I found this "method based" mentality a huge leap forward when I was taught it at cooking school -- but this is the first time I've seen it be such a core part of a cooking text.

This book is somewhere between an introductory text and a reference guide. It's certainly the first I'd recommend for the beginner. But unless you are a professional, or someone who's already become hip to the "method mentality", I think this book would be of interest even to experienced bakers. I certainly stayed up far too late last night reading it already.

Posted by dowdy at 09:40 AM

November 05, 2004

Toys! Toys! Toys!

Last night a really silly kitchen gadget showed up in the mail. A Raytek ST20 infrared thermometer. Basically, what this does is let you take the surface temperature of something (ie, pans, ovens, oil, BBQ/smoker chamber, fridge shelves, etc) from up to (get this) 12 feet away. And with a reading in half a second, it's also really quick.

As an added bonus, it comes all loaded with the battery and ready to play with. Literally seconds after removing it from the box I was pointing it all over the place and measuring. It shows the maximum temp since you started reading, and has a visiible laser pointer to show where you are aiming it.

Okay, so it isn't a "Phased-plasma rifle in the forty watt range.", but it's still darn fun.

Posted by dowdy at 08:32 AM

October 28, 2004

Stop that sprinkling!

Hungary has banned the sale of Paprika (and recommended people get rid of what they have in their home).
News article here

This is either reactionary, or a secret ploy to get everyone to buy new Paprika, due to this excellent line: "Aflatoxin could be dangerous to people if they consumed more than 1 pound of paprika a week." Okay, I think if I consume that much paprika per week, I probably have other additional health problems.

Posted by dowdy at 09:51 AM

October 10, 2004

To every season

Okay, so I'm sure I am going to get some nasty emails about this. The whole issue of "seasoning" pans is probably going to generate opinions on each side.

Black Pan

Here's what happens when you put a brand new 12" Iron Clad pan into my hands. I decided that I'm going to "season" the heck out of this one, which basically means burning oil onto the surface until it becomes quite black and slick. 30 minutes before this photo was taken, the pan was a pristine stainless steel color.

I am fairly certain that I am insane. But this is supposed to be the correct way to go about this. One thing for sure, the surface is currently slick as a pig. Gross looking, yet effective. This is what pans end up looking like eventually -- seasoning is really just sort of speeding up the process. I don't do this to all of my pans, and I'll probably leave the 14 inch alone for now, but I wanted to get this one up to speed quickly.

This is one of two new pans showing up at my house in prep for the holiday party. I've been meaning to get some new fry pans, and well, here one is. Or was.

Posted by dowdy at 12:21 PM

October 08, 2004

Super Sized Me

Last night I watched Super Size Me, a movie about a person who eats nothing but Junk Food for a month. While it has some good things to say about the state of eating in America, and also some valid points about corporate greed and industrial production of food, often the movie becomes stunt film making. I suspect that people who are worried about such things already know them, and those that do not will probably not watch the movie.

If you like your information in paper form, I recommend Fast Food Nation. The author provides much more detail than could be in a movie, and attempts (for the most part) to remain factual. The author, Eric Schlosser, was also interviewed for bonus footage on the DVD. He came across very even handed and concerned about food and eating.

I threatened my coworkers that I was going to get a whole bunch of french fries to eat while watching the movie, but actually ended up with delivered Chinese. I did get General Cho's chicken, however, to make sure that I had something deep fried.

Posted by dowdy at 09:36 AM

October 01, 2004

On Food and Cooking

Harold McGee has a new edition of his classic work On Food and Cooking coming out. I've got mine on order already.

This is, if I'm not mistaken, the 4th copy of this book that I bought. One went out on loan to never return, one was lost on a plane someplace, and my current copy is well thumbed on the bookshelf.

McGee writes about food, history, lore, and the process of food preparation from the mind of a scientist rather than an "artist." This is almost a complete re-write of the original (which I will be keeping) and in addition expands it by 2/3s!

If you are or know someone into food (especially if they are also into science), great Christmas List fodder.

Posted by dowdy at 07:58 AM

September 23, 2004

Twinkie the Kid in Trouble

Okay, so this is pretty arguably not about food in the sense of real food. However, in any case, Interstate Bakeries has filed for Chapter 11.

I was never really a Twinkie fan myself. HoHos always appealed to me because of the foil wrapping. Interstate also makes the all important "Chemical Pie" -- as I refer to them.

Posted by dowdy at 11:06 AM

September 15, 2004

Geek to Chef

Here's a blog in which the author changes careers to become a chef.

I also took a sabbatical and decided not to change paths as a result. I decided that I didn't need to turn a 2nd hobby into a career and risk losing some of the reasons that I love it.

Posted by dowdy at 06:37 AM

September 12, 2004

Ziti with the Meat Gravy

Saturday I sat down with my newly arrived special edition DVD of Goodfellas.

It was, of course, required the I make some long cooked pasta sauce to go along with it. I had a bunch of tomatoes from the garden, and got three kinds of meat from the store (pork, beef, and veal) and sliced the garlic thin (not using a razor blade as in the movie, but still quite thin). The sauce cooked down all day -- a total of about 6 hours of cooking time.

I thought I had Ziti in the house, but alas did not. So, instead I used Rigattoni, which is my favorite pasta shape.

Posted by dowdy at 09:39 AM

September 08, 2004

Odd sizes

I've been told that there's action afoot in the fruit aisle.

Specifically, there are all manner of new fruit hybrids that are on the market this year. I've seen mini pineapples, and 1/4 sized watermelons (which I have been told are seedless and also more sweet). And some weird stone fruit that's a cross between a pluot (itself a cross between a plum and an apricot) and some other fruit. Giant Mangos take things in yet another direction.

I can't help but wonder if this isn't all about Americans being more interested in size and variety in their food rather than quality. Of course, that isn't going to stop me from trying one of those watermelons -- we've had a week of 90 degree heat here, and nothing says hot summer day to me more than a watermelon.

Posted by dowdy at 08:17 AM

September 07, 2004

Bacon

I'm getting ready to make another batch of homemade bacon. Searching around the web for the BBQ-faq's on the subject turned up some interesting things:

Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato scented candles.

The Bacon-of-the-Month Club.

I mean, I love me some bacon, but that's just taking a good thing too far.

Posted by dowdy at 10:05 AM

June 01, 2004

Alton Brown in Wired

Alton Brown is interviewed in this month's Wired magazine.

Now if that doesn't define "geek's cook" I'm not sure what will.

Posted by dowdy at 10:19 AM

May 08, 2004

Alton! Alton!

Went to go see Alton Brown talk/demo at a book signing today.

He was every bit as entertaining in person as he is on his show -- probably more so because he ad-libs more, and also had one or two risque comments, always a plus.

The demo was nominally about making gaspacho, but he really used it as an excuse to talk about knives, cutting, knife skills, safety, butcher blocks, and men's inability to measure things.

The crowd was pretty thick, but managable. Alton was very friendly, showing up about an hour ahead of time to get the lay of the land and ask the crowd where to get some coffee. We recommended Peet's, and he could be seen wandering about the mall trying to find the shop, until a very burly man in a skull t-shirt ran after him and pointed him in the exact direction.

He popped up a few minutes before the demo and answered the crowd's questions. And then got down to the demo. He's also currently the spokesperson for a small line of Japanese knives -- but didn't really push the issue. Of course, he does have two models coming out later this year with his picture on the blades and I'm sure they will be a major source of income for him.

The demo itself was very informative. My knife skills are pretty well along at this point, obviously, but it's always interesting to hear someone explain them from the get go. Alton strives to make the reasons behind the message clear, and this alone make his take worth listening to. Plus, he's a natural ham in front of people which makes the demo entertaining even if you aren't interested in learning something -- although I'll bet anyone would pick up at least some of the points.

In any case, if Alton is swinging through your area, it's well worth the effort to catch him live.

Posted by dowdy at 02:59 PM

March 23, 2004

"Dye"ing for Indian food

This story in the Guardian claims that the food colors used to make tikka masala its trademark color is hazardous to your health.

I usually use tandori spice blend along with my own spices. I know the blend has powered food color in it, but I think I'm way under the limit here.

Posted by dowdy at 06:48 AM

January 16, 2004

The Internet is out of control

SPAMmers and others trying to game the public space that is the internet are going to break the whole darn thing. Here's an excellent email I got SPAMmed with today:

I am contacting you about cross linking. I am interested in poubelle.com
because it looks like it's relevant to a site for which I am seeking links. 
The site is about cosmetic treatment company, which offers acne treatment,
laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, removal of stretch marks and other
services.

I suppose if I write an article on how to scald a hog there might be some relationship to "laser hair removal" but I somehow doubt it.

Posted by dowdy at 08:50 AM

January 02, 2004

To market, to market

I'm sure this is going to turn into a rant by the end of it. But at least like Jake Johansen (when is someone going to release "This'll take about an hour" on DVD?) I'm telling you up front...

As I was preparing to step out of the house this AM in order to pick up foodstuffs, I found myself dispairing at the current state of food markets here in the wilds of suburbia. And no, if you live in a city where you've got these neato daily markets within walking distance I am not interested in hearing how good you have it. I already know how much you suck. Hmm, sliding downhill already I can see.

Now I'm not going to include individual meat markets, and produce stores, and farmers markets, and bakeries. a) these are few and far between and b) the hours just stink unless you don't work. What I'm talking about is trying to find a good quality, reliable, one-stop, not-break-the-bank expensive place to pick up the half-dozen things I typically need for a given meal.

When I first moved to California, the markets were not nearly so bad. I've watched the one most convienient to my house steadily head down hill, and it has now gotten to the point where I only use it when I must. The problem is that no one good alternative exists, and thus any reasonable shopping trip involves multiple stops. My current options are thus now:

Safeway -- the above mentioned chain. The prices are reasonable enough, but you've got to enroll in their stupid frequent shopper program. Meat department is now good only for battery raised chickens. Reasonable selection of beer and wine here. For some strange reason they carry a good assortment of Indian prepared condiments. Much more troubling is that like most chains now they seem to carry more non-food items than food items. And the bulk of the food is prepared/frozen. Not my bag, baby. Open 24/7, however. That can come in handy.

Trader Joe's -- a west-coast based chain. Strange assortment of goods, sometimes at good prices. They carry my beloved Plugra butter at basically the same price as I would pay for normal butter at another chain, and less than half what a high-end store would charge. But there is always something you need that Trader Joe's won't carry (a recent example is that they have every sugar related product you can think of, but no molassass), so you have to also stop someplace else. If I recall they carry every variety of non-dairy based frozen ice cream like products, but no actual ice cream. Reasonable bread selection. But they also suffer from the "huge aisles of frozen prepared foodstuffs" problem. They also don't open until 9 AM.

Andronico's -- a high-end mini chain. Everything you need, and usually pretty high quality, but at jacked up prices. They carry a good cross section of Bay Area artisinal bread. I usually go here for speciality meat, or basic produce if I don't need to buy a large amount. They of course have plenty of prepared foods, but not at the cost of not carrying the basics. Also, the frozen stuff tends to be a better quality. For example, they carry a locally made frozen raviolli rather than national brands. And their frozen puff pastry is made with butter rather than shortening. If I just don't have the energy to run around to everyplace, I go here and try hard to limit the quantities of the purchases to avoid sticker shock.

Draeger's -- an even higher-end mini chain. The prices here are insane, but if you need it, they probably have it or can get it. Quality of goods generally even better than Andronico's, but boy do you pay for it. Did I mention expensive? The one nearest to me also isn't their best. meriko used to live in San Mateo near their mega-store and man is it sweet! I'd probably ignore the prices and shop there if I lived close to it. But I don't, and I don't.

PW Super -- a mini chain. Reasonably close to home and what looks like a good replacement for Safeway. They also "feature" a frequent shopper card, but I've noticed that if you don't have one the checkout people will scan theirs. For some reason I never leave here satisfied. It might be the dank lighting and a certain hard-to-place dingy-ness. What I probably should do is some week or three make a point of always driving home that way and stop there. Maybe if I got myself more oriented to the store I'd do better.

Cosentino's -- another mini chain. Actually, they are probably the best bet for me for a single source shopping experience. They're price-wise someplace between a chain and a higher-end grocery store. Unfortunately, they are "the other direction" away from my normal vector of travel down a city street with more than the normal share of cops and lights that always seem against you (I know, I lead a hard life). A plus is that this same said street gives me a return trip past Ranch 99, PW Super, and Safeway. So if I miss something, I can always grab it that way.

Costco -- you never get out of Costco for under $200. But for sub-primal cuts of meat, recently cut, generally Choice quality, at rock bottom prices they are pretty hard to beat even with the yearly $35 "membership fee." Also handy for that 25 pound bag of potatoes, or 6 pounds of mushrooms, or 4 pounds of lettuce. Cheapest and best source of lamb racks around. But you can never tell for sure what they will have, specialty items are of course out of the question, and sometimes you just don't really need that much nutmeg. Not open until 11 weekdays, and 9:30 weekends. But I probably go once a month or so to stock up on canned goods (tomato products mostly) or pantry staples like oil and rice or large cuts of meat or "root cellar" items.

Smart & Final -- another warehouse style store. They sort of place themselves as the 7-11 of the resturant industry. It's fun to shop here, but you are bound to need something they don't have. Only cheap and ready source of subprimals for real BBQ (like pork butt and packer cut brisket). They also carry "manufacturing cream" in large and cheap sizes.

Whole Foods -- increasingly growing national chain. Great for produce, good priced bulk foods, and (in what always seems to me to be non-obvious) an excellent meat department. But they let their politics get in the way of selling stuff I actually need, so it turns again into another stop on the drive. Whole Foods replaces the aisle of useless non-food toys and greeting cards and Christmas lights with aisles of useless supplements and annoying smelling potions and lotions.

Ranch 99 -- I think a West Coast based mini chain. Specializes in Asian food. As such, it is the best place to pick up seafood. Also duck priced like chicken. Only cheap and easy source of block-frozen shrimp, live clams, live crab, live lobster. They'll also sell you the smallest quantities of meat you can imagine if you need only a bit. But it obviously isn't going to fill out Joe American's shopping list. And, sad to say, that includes me. An added bonus, however, is that when you spend more than some amount you get coupons that you take into the deli and pick up free pork buns. Mmmmm, porks buns.

On today's shopping list is:
- charcoal
- ice
- some kind of chutney
- naan-style bread
- lemons
- cillanto
- bell pepper
I've got chicken marinating in a tandorri-style sauce, and am going to grill and serve with bread and perhaps also make a side of channa masala. Also, I've got everything I need to make a duck gumbo except for the bell pepper. I think I'm going to make a play for Cosentino's and see if I can't do this in one shot.

Wish me luck, it's a nightmare out there.

Posted by dowdy at 07:56 AM

December 11, 2003

Too much champagne?

Too much champagne or sparkling wine in your life? Turn those cork-cages into something useful!

Design Within Reach's Chair Contest

Posted by dowdy at 12:38 PM

End of Julie/Julia

Well, she's finally packing it up. But she's got a book deal. We've all got a while to wait, but I'm sure it will be worth it.

"When I come crawling out of my hole with my (our) book in the spring of 05"

Posted by dowdy at 11:16 AM

November 28, 2003

Wine from Missouri?

Carol and I went over to our friend's house for Thanksgiving. Derrick did the cooking (I helped a little). His dad provided a very interesting assortment of wines, including one from my parent's state.

We had a Chambourcin that was amazingly good and just look at that price! I've had Missouri wine before, but I don't think I ever had a red before, or if I did it certainly wasn't one memorable enough to recall.

Advance cooking/prep for the party continues. I've finished the stocks:
- 1 gallon oxtail
- 2 cups glace de viande
- 2 quarts dark vegetable
- 1 quart vegetable demiglace
- 2 quarts light chicken
- 2 quarts light vegetable

On Sunday Derrick is coming over to help make:
- crab bisque base
- crab butter
Bisque is a rich soup that you make by crushing the shells of the shellfish (lobster, shrimp, crayfish, and crab are all common to use). It is thickened by rice that has been long-cooked and also then ground. The whole mixture is strained through a very fine mesh. At this point, the base can be safely frozen.

The shells are then ground (in a Kitchenaid via the paddle attachment) with butter and the butter melted/heated for about 45 minutes -- it turns a very bright orange/red color. Water is added and the mixture again strained. Placed in the fridge, the butter rises to the surface and solidifies where it can be taken off and frozen.

For service the bisque base is re-heated and heavy cream added. The crab butter is then whisked in as well.

Bisque wins the contest for "most creative use of kitchen equiptment" by a long margin. It also makes an enormous mess. Not that difficult, just messy. Did I mention that it starts with live crabs? Certainly one of those things to get out of the way prior to a real day of cooking.

- sun dried tomato gnocchi
- spinach gnocchi
- butternut squash gnocchi
All three of these are the same basic potato and flour mixture with various flavorings/colorings added. We'll form them up and freeze them raw. For cooking, we will boil them and shock them in ice water a few hours prior to service (with a light coating of oil to keep them from sticking). For service they will be re-heated in butter with some sage leaves added.

I almost always have a stuff/filled type pasta on the menu. They are easy to make ahead. Because of this so you can be creative/fancy with them without adding workload the day of the party. I actually find they tend to cook better from a frozen state. They also are easy to make flavorful and keep them vegetarian.

- foie gras terrine
I've got the foie already. You can buy it cryovaced in a frozen form -- most producers flash freeze and cryovac a pretty decent percentage of their product. Butchers get it in this frozen state and you can ask for them to give you one that is still frozen, or to order some if they don't have it already. In the month leading up to the party I ask at high-end supermarkets and when they have it frozen I pick it up. I have it defrosting in the fridge right now.

Derrick has never cleaned foie before, so this should be fun. It is a weird substance and between the newness of it and how expensive one knows it is, can be a bit off-putting at first. But it is actually very forgiving, especially when the end product is going into a terrine. I usually wear latex gloves for this, which helps with the slippery nature of the foie, and also because you are going to cook it very rare. Duck itself is not a large carrier of salmonella. However, I like to avoid transfering anything from myself onto the meat.

The terrine itself is simple. The foie (after being cleaned and sliced) is sprinkled with salt, pepper, a dash of nutmeg, and cognac. It is layed into the terrine mold with a line of truffle wedges down the middle. Baked in a water bath at 250 for around 20-25 minutes. The internal temperature gets to around 110-120 -- although I usually go by the sight of the melted fat. The fat is poured off and reserved. The terrine is then pressed in the mold with a board and a brick and placed thus into the fridge. Once it has firmed back up, the reserved fat is re-heated and poured on top to seal the terrine. I then wrap the entire thing in several layers of film wrap. The terrine needs to rest a few days at least in the fridge, and can easily keep for multiple weeks with the fat-seal in place. Making it 6 days ahead is no problem.

For service, one simply runs a knife around the edges, unmolds, removes the fat (which one saves for later use in making potatoes!) and slices like a meatloaf. Okay, that's probably not the proper comparison...

We'll probably do the foie first. I don't want to flavor the terrine with any stray crab bits, and I also want to avoid cross contamination that way (both from a sanitary and possible alergic standpoint). The crab will be next followed by a complete wash-down of the kitchen, and then the gnocchi last because it is the easiest -- plus the potatoes can bake while we are working on the bisque.

Posted by dowdy at 07:39 AM

October 11, 2003

Jumped the Shark?

I'm reading through the latest issue of Cook's Illustrated. and I'm starting to wonder if maybe they haven't Jumped the Shark.

I've been a big fan of them over the years and especially have a fondness for their investigation of various cooking methods. After all, I certainly don't want to cook 500 pounds of roasts in an effort to find the best method. A few things about them have started to bothered me, however.

Chief among them is what I often find to be an almost hypocritical approach to time management and recipe complexity. Within the same article they will discuss using canned chicken stock (because real stock is "too time consuming") and then proceed with multi-step processing of the other ingredients. Often they call for exact timing of various cooking processes, which while it may reduce the overall time a dish takes, is more of a workload for a home cook. So are they for easy or not? It's sometimes difficult to tell.

But this month's recipe for "A different holiday roast" just takes the cake. After dismissing Rib Eye Roasts as "too complex" and expensive, they proceed to make a "strip loin" roast with instructions about how "exact timing matters or you go from rare to gray in a matter of minutes." The meat they are cooking is basically an entire strip of New York steaks -- not exactly the the least spendy of meats! The process of searing the meat first prior to roasting is referred to as "novel." It is an absolute low-point in terms of useful information, interesting experimentation, and self-promotion.

Derrick points out (in his review of Perfect Vegetables) that they are "masters of repackaging." That's putting it mildly. I'd venture to guess that for any one given recipe there are at minimum four different ways to obtain it in book form, and two electronically. Hey, I'm all for pimping out after hard work has been done -- but I think they really are starting to get a bit overboard here.

I'm still a subscriber, but I'm less of an enthusiastic one. I still can strongly recommend their earlier works both in original form (as year-worth books collected together) or in their various recipe collections. I'm just hoping this most recent issue is more of an anomaly than anything else.

Posted by dowdy at 06:13 AM

October 10, 2003

You're mocking me

Saucier pans are probably one of my favorite cooking tools. I've been using a two-quart size for all kinds of things for over a year now.

What I like about then mostly is the fact that they serve as both a sauce pan (in which role the curved sides allow for easy whisking and faster reduction) and a sautee pan (in which role these same sides allow for the "flipping" of the contents). The pans work equally as well for boiling vegetables, cooking rice, making pasta, and other tasks where you need a depth of liquid as part of the prep.

Just about the only thing I don't use my Saucier for are dishes that one starts on the top of the stove and finishes in the oven, such as my beloved rack of lamb. For those I continue to use more traditional sautee pans.

I'm partial to All Clad because of the thickness of the metal and the fact that it remains the same thickness up the sides of the pan. All Clad's handles also seem to stay cooler to me, and have a better feel to my hands. I buy whichever All Clad model is on sale or the cheapest. They have lines with black outer cladding, shiny metal, matte metal, and copper. I think they all function pretty much the same.

But, with the birthday party starting to approach, I knew I needed something that could hold a larger amount. So I broke down and got a shiny new Three Quart Saucier Pan.

But, of course, I'm currently too busy to make use of it, because that's the way the world works. And so after taking it out of the box and placing it on the stove, there it sits each night. Mocking me.

Posted by dowdy at 05:58 AM

September 27, 2003

50 (thousand) pounds of flour

I've been organizing the pantry, and one of the side effects of that was to get lots of bins and containers and so forth. One of the bins has been labelled (with my new snazy label maker) "Bread Flour" and so it was that a 50 pound bag of organic bread flour was purchased.

Even I, who normally buy my All Purpose flour in 25 pound bags wasn't quite prepared for just how much flour that is. And so, tomorrow will be bread baking day. I'm going to start a pre-ferment this afternoon, so hopefully I can end up with some pretty decent loaves. I've been doing way less bread baking over the past year than I'd prefer and want to get back into it.

I picked up a really good book Artisan Baking Across America that covers lots of info about Baker's Percentage style bread baking. It's probably not a book for the feint of heart with recipes clocking in at 30 hours or more. Also, for those of us living in the Bay Area, you have to be really serious about bread making to bother with it yourself -- there are just far too many great bakeries out here.

Actually, tomorrow is going to be a cooking all day fun-fest. I'm also BBQing a brisket and doing various chores around the house. This may not sound like fun -- but I've been spending 16 hours a day at work for the past 3 weeks and the idea of being "homemaker" for an entire day appeals.

Posted by dowdy at 08:33 AM

September 02, 2003

Dilly Bread

As a kid growing up, this was my favorite bread. It still has very positive taste/smell memory for me, so I made some on Saturday.

This is from a class of breads known as "batter breads" that are somewhere between true breads and quick breads. They also are a bit more foolproof or forgiving as a result. This particular bread won a Pilsbury bake-off in the 50s or 60s and has appeared in a bunch of church and PTA published recipe collections. I've made it so many times, I've drifted away from the original due to making it from memory.

- 1/2 C warm water
- 2 pkg yeast
- 2 C small curd cottage cheese (1 sm container)
- 1/4 C melted butter
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp dill seed
- 3 T dried onion flakes
- 1 T salt
- 4-5 C flour

1) proof yeast in water, 5 minutes
2) blend or mix well remaining ingredients except flour (easiest if you allow cottage cheese to warm up, You can use a blender or a stand mixer).
3) combine wet ingredients with yeast
4) Add flour, mix well. Dough will be sticky
5) Cover and allow to rise until doubled
6) Divide into two, place into greased loaf pans.
7) Cover and rise again until doubled
8) Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes or until browned
9) Remove from pans. Coat top with butter and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Posted by dowdy at 11:16 AM

August 07, 2003

Alton Brown on Stock

This week's Good Eats features Alton Brown talking about making stock. If you've got FoodTV, be sure to try to catch it.

He pretty much lines up with what I have to say about stock (it's about the biggest bang for the buck you can do to improve your cooking) and how to go about making it. He also features a rather clever approach to draining the stock (use of a steamer basket).

He uses slightly less meat per pound of water than I do. And I don't generally add garlic to my stock, but other than that I really can't argue with any of his ideas.

I sort of wish that he had mentioned that the basics also apply to other kinds of stock -- he focuses on chicken stock for this episode. This is fine because I think most people are going to be able to easily get chicken. Unfortunately, while one can get decent chicken stock in cans, the same cannot be said for beef stock.

Posted by dowdy at 08:22 AM

July 30, 2003

Certainly not food

Octodog -- I just don't really know what to say. Except that maybe I can't really believe that I just linked to it.

Posted by dowdy at 11:03 AM

July 27, 2003

Adorables

I'm lucky enough to have a large "pantry" area located in my utility room. The previous owners had installed some really stupid shelves/cabinets in there, but I recently ripped them out and installed industrial post-wire shelving.

This is the stuff you see in restaurants, computer stores, warehouses, and so on. It comes in all kinds of sizes and "patterns" (half shelves, corner pieces, etc). It's not exactly cheap, but it's incredibly strong. For what it does, it's inexpensive. It's never going to sag, you can re-arrange how you put it together, and (most importantly) it holds an amazing amount of pantry stuff. I don't really use that much from cans, but bottles of oil, spices, rice, flour, beans, and huge onions and potato bags do eat up the space.

I looked all over the web at sites targetted for the industry and checked prices. All of them were high. The lowest prices that I could find were still only pennies less than I could pick up at a local Storables (or as we refer to it "Adorables" due to all of the cute bins and crap you can also buy there). They only sell packages of the stuff on their web site, but at their stores you can pick up all manner of post/wire shelving.

Yesterday I drove The Elephant on over to the store to pick up more post/wire for the garage. This was my first chance to actually fold down the seats in the 2nd car to see how much crap I could haul in it. The answer is: a whole lot of crap. I didn't really even push it.

So this morning, I'm going to be assembling it all. Before the heat hits. Supposed to be 100 today. I swear, I'm paying good money for California weather, and this was not in the contract. Who do I sue?

Posted by dowdy at 06:29 AM

July 26, 2003

So Many Chicken Wings

Wings

This is probably the last of the oil before I need to dump it. So, wings it is. Above you see my definition of the perfect plate of wings. All "drumettes".

Back at the CIA one item of discusssion was what kind of wings folks prefer -- the drumettes, or the 2nd joint. As with all things at the CIA, when you get a bunch of "food-geeks" together with some beer, there's no end to the arguments. But after all, since you have to test out the theory by eating the examples, there really are no losers.

The "leftover" 2nd joints either get used for chicken wings when I'm not feeling so picky, when other folks are over who prefer them (or don't care), or for use in making stock. Chicken wings are great in stock because they contain gobs of gelatin, which is what makes stock have a good "mouth-feel."

The one real unfortunate thing about chicken wings is that now that they've become popular, they are also expensive. An 8 pound frozen bag of wings now costs almost as much as a similar bag of frozen chicken breasts. I never buy frozen chicken breasts any more -- I think they taste just awful, and I'd rather use whole chicken that I cut up myself anyway. I'd also make some statement about not wanting to support factory farming, but buying frozen chicken wings is just as bad.

Posted by dowdy at 01:35 PM

July 23, 2003

New Book -- Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen

Alton Brown has a new book coming out. Apparently, it focuses on general purpose kitchen items -- often from non-kitchen supply places. For example, using a flowerpot as a garlic roaster.

Alton surely is the Geek's Cook. I first got wind of this new book in last month's issue of Wired of all places.

Posted by dowdy at 01:52 PM

Hack the Cafe

It's been so hot here that recently lunch has consisted almost every day of salads at the Apple Cafe. I'm not real impressed with the Ceasar Salad glop that they use for dressing, so I've been making my own:
- two small packets of mayonaise
- 10 shots of worchestershire sauce from the condiment bar
- 8 or so lemon wedges from the iced tea line, squeezed
- pepper
Not too shabby, and fairly close to the Real Deal (tm). It's got all of the basic ingredients in it -- the egg's just not coddled.

Posted by dowdy at 09:39 AM

July 10, 2003

Meet the Meat

I've been remiss in doing entries. But I have a good excuse -- I've been getting ready for the big Tom and Carol summer bash.

One thing that I get asked pretty often is how to estimate food for parties. Specifically people seemed concerned about how much meat to purchase (which is a bit misguided -- vegetables can cost just as much or even more than meat purchases).

My rule of thumb is between half a pound and one pound of meat per person (for a real, eating, kind of party). I usually start assuming 3/4 of a pound per person (this includes any non-vegetable items, meat, chicken, shrimp, fish, etc). I adjust it a bit as follows:

- This is uncooked, on the bone weight (ie, chickens). I adjust up if the meat is all high in bone content (ie, ribs) and down if it contains none (ie, hamburger)

- My parties have about 10% of people who don't eat meat, or limit their consumption. Adjust up or down if you have less or more vegetarian guests.

- I usually serve a pretty large number of dishes. If you are only having one single large meat item, I'd probably adjust down. People tend to eat more when variety is there.

- I always have lots of side dishes, usually of a vegetarian bent. If for some reason your dinner is a "meat only" fest, adjust up.

- For my summer parties, it's BBQ. So most if not all of the cooked meat will keep just fine afterwards. If I'm making fancy dishes that don't re-heat and contain expensive ingredients (ie, quails) I adjust down to keep costs until control.

- People tend to eat more when it's cold and less when it's warm. That having been said, BBQs seem to bring out the pig in everybody.

Posted by dowdy at 10:58 AM

June 11, 2003

Most Expensive Beer

Sam Adams has produced the world's most expensive beer.

At $100 per bottle, I'm not sure I'm going to be buying any. However, I did buy some of the Triple Bock when it was available back in 1994. It was great stuff -- and much less expensive than this new tipple.

Posted by dowdy at 01:36 PM

May 15, 2003

New Calvin Trillin!

Calvin Trillin has a new book out that's about food! Feeding a Yen: Savoring Local Specialties from Kansas City to Cuzco

I don't know if it's any good or not, but his past food writing made me laugh out loud multiple times. The Tummy Trilogy consists of three books originally published under the names : "American Fried", "Alice, Let's Eat", and "Third Helpings."

Here's to "Le Maison de La Casa House"!

Posted by dowdy at 09:59 AM

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

March 26, 2003

Dishmaster 2000

When I moved into my house, I found an interesting thing in the Kitchen. Called a "Dishmaster" it's a wacky kitchen faucet that also includes a combination spray wand/scrubber. Even wackier, a button you push to have soap come out of the spray. Wonderful 1950s throwback look as well.

I figured I'd live with it until I was no longer house-poor and could afford to replace it. But it sure didn't take very long to start to appriciate it! It makes kitchen cleanup much faster, and generally you can keep your hands out of the water most of the time. Pretty soon, I wasn't sure how I'd live without it.

I was also sure they were no longer made, and that once it broke I'd end up with something a bit more, well, from this century. A few years back the soap dispenser part broke, and recently the washers on the faucets have started a slow spiral down into constant leakage. It was time to replace it.

Some basic searches on the web turned up that the Dishmaster is highly loved by those who live in the midwest, and specifically those from its home state of Michigan. It also quickly showed that Dishmaster, the company, is alive and well and still turning out the "Imperial Four" that I had grown so attached to.

They even have a new design that while not the height of fashion, sticks out a bit less than my old model. Those who are looking for a 1954 facelift will be glad to know they still make all of their older models as well. And so I am now the proud owner of a Dishmaster 2000! Check out the Dishmaster web site. You just have to love the name, especially since it is printed on the front of the faucet itself.

Well, okay, so I'm not proud (yet). I've installed the main faucet-head, but need to pick up new flexible hose lines before I'm all done. Installation so far has gone pretty smoothly -- I just didn't realize I'd want to replace the supply lines, and here in California, there aren't too many home supply places open at 9 PM. I figure I've got maybe 20 minutes of work left to be cleaning away.

Now, if only I'd get back to cooking so there would be more dirty dishes!

Posted by dowdy at 07:00 AM

March 03, 2003

Safeway for Chefs

I'd never been to a "Smart & Final" before (they also go by the name "Cash & Carry" in some locals), but recently found out that there was one located near to me. It's sort of a strange cross between a warehouse store, a grocery, and a restarant supply place. They bill themselves as more of the later, and I did in fact see several chefs from local chains picking up random stuff they needed.

I went there specifically for packer cut brisket, which is hard to come by around here, but they had for $1.30/lb. They also had full pork butts, cryovacs ribs, and lots of other BBQ things (guess what I did on Sunday!).

Other interesting things I saw:
- lots of variety of pots and pans and so on at reasonable prices. Also, lots of LARGE sizes you wouldn't find in anything shy of a true restarant supply place.
- an "endcap" consisting of 25 bags of sugar and 1/2 gallon containers of red and yellow food coloring
- #10 can's of just about everything you can imagine

Not a place to pick up fresh, local, ingredients. But a great source of large quantities, industrial supplies, stuff for parties, and fairly low prices (from what I could tell).

Posted by dowdy at 09:55 AM

February 19, 2003

James Beard

My friend Sean did a dinner at the James Beard House in NYC a while back. He said it went very well. Here's the incredibly fawning announcement.

Hopefully this link will remain valid -- the Statesman took down the V-Day link I did earlier. Bleah.

Posted by dowdy at 09:40 AM

February 12, 2003

V-Day in Austin

Don't even think of trying to get a table at this late date, but my friend Sean's place in Austin has another nice writeup -- this time on the subject of prix-fixe menus on Valentine's Day.

Jean Luc's Bistro Valentine's Day Story

Sean says they started getting calls as early as October this year. His place was packed last year -- both on Valentine's Day and the next night as well.

Posted by dowdy at 08:23 AM

January 26, 2003

10 more things -- If I Had $1000000

So, going along with my top 10 kitchen essentials, here's 10 more things I really rely upon, but could certainly make do without (with each, what I'd use if I didn't have it). I actually had to work pretty hard to come up with 10 items here -- I guess I use less stuff in the kitchen than I thought.

I have a bunch more stuff that I use, but much less often. For example, my food processor and blender are the only ways to really do a good job for some foods -- but they probably see use maybe one a month. That puts them on the list of "nice to have, but not really." And while I adore my chinois strainer -- I know that only a small fraction of people can afford $50, or make stock, soups, and sauces often enough to justify it.


1) Aluminum Half Sheet Pans. I have four of them, two not quite as heavy as the others (you can easily tell when you pick them up). A half sheet pan is also known as a jelly roll pan, or a cookie sheet (although technically, cookie sheets are flat where sheet pans have sides). Get ones from heavy stamped aluminum. The reason these are called "half sheet" pans is that they are half the size of full sheet pans used in commercial kitchens. Most home ovens can't fit full sized sheet pans. The cheapest source is restaurant supply places. In a specialty store you'll probably pay around $20 each -- but they last much longer than more home-directed versions.

Used for baking, keeping mis en place organized, set next to the stove to catch drips/hold spoons/tongs. Placed under things you don't want to drip (like pies, lasagna, etc). You can roast bones for stock in them in a pinch.

If I didn't have them I would: Use sheets of aluminum foil for lightweight work, use large saute pans for roasting work.

2) Small glass bowls. I have about 75 of these (used for soup service at parties) but they get used all year round. I'd probably have a dozen or so even if I never had parties. Any size is fine, but these seem to hold about a cup and a quarter.

Use for mis en place. This is such an important part of my kitchen working process than I do it without really thinking about it. It basically means preparing the items you need together, before you begin cooking. It results in a cleaner kitchen, more organized cooking, and a better flow.

If I didn't have them I would: use paper plates, other plates, bowls, paper cups, plastic cups, coffee mugs, etc.

3) Large Roasting Pan. I'm not especially enamored with mine, but it does the job and doesn't need to be overly fancy. Get one with as heavy a construction as you can afford, and don't get non-stick. Stainless or anodized aluminum (same purchasing guidelines as for saute pans apply here).

Used for roasting large meat items, but more often (for me) roasting bones for stock.

If I didn't it I would use: Large saute pans or Half Sheet Pans.

4) Plastic Squeeze Bottles. They are cheap, get them from beauty supply stores, less than $2 each. Get the kind without a screw adjustable top, you'll need to cut the top in order to let the product out. Get two or three, so you can cut some of the tops to different diameters.

Used for placing sauce on plates in fancy artistic manner. Can also hold chocolate and caramel sauces for longer periods in the fridge (although then you need to warm in a water bath before use). Can hold flavored oils, but I don't recommend this for more than a few days (due to the chance of botulism starting).

If I didn't have them I would use zip lock bags with a corner snipped, or cones of parchment paper.

5) Small paring knife. Most folks will tell you this is the 2nd knife you should get. I disagree. A combination of a chef's knife and serrated knife will do you just as well in all but fancy cooking situations. But, if you do sometimes need to do fine cuts, a paring knife is really the only way to do it well. I've actually got 6: 1 very nice plain one. 1 very nice "bird's beak". 1 cheaper plain. 1 cheaper bird's beak. 1 cheaper flat nose. 1 very very cheap stamped one (which I use for things that I don't care if I damage the knife). If I had only one it would be the nice plain one.

Used for fine mince, shallots especially. Vegetable carving, small dice, tournee vegetables, etc.

If I didn't have them I'd use a smaller chef's knife, but probably wouldn't try fancy cuts like tournee unless I felt like cutting myself.

6) Bowl scraper. I tried to find a link to this because it's hard to describe, but failed. It's a teardrop or "schmo" shaped bit of thin white plastic. Often has a hole at one end (I guess for your thumb) to help you keep a hold on it while in use. They're very cheap. You can find them at specialty kitchen stores. In commercial kitchens and trade shows, they are often "gimmes" from various food and service companies.

Used for, well, scraping bowls out. Way more efficient than a spoon or spatula. One or two swipes and a bowl is completely empty and clean. Excellent and fast for folding cake batter, egg whites, etc. A bit messy to use because there's basically no way to not get some on your hands. Can't be used in pans (they melt).

If I didn't have them I'd use a spatula for some stuff, and my cupped hands for others. You just haven't lived until you've folded cake batter with your hands!

7) Ramekins, various sizes. Plain ceramic, white, fluted outside. I have half a dozen 1/2 cup sized, half a dozen even smaller, and an assortment of larger sizes going up to about 8 cups.

Used for baking items like gratain, custard, souflees, beans, mac-n-cheese, molten chocolate cakes, etc. Use can also use them for serving items, as mis en place cups, salt wells and so on. Can take the place for anything you'd cook in a non-square pan.

If I didn't have them I would use oven proof glass/Pyrex (including measuring cups, which I've made souflees in twice!), plain glass bowls for non-oven use, straight sided oven proof coffee cups or mugs for small cakes and souflees.

8) "Lexan" square containers. I have four of these heavy-duty clear plastic containers with snap top lids. Two hold 1 gallon, two hold 1.5 gallons. Non-staining. You can find them at specialty stores, but again will pay less at restaurant supply places. The 1 gallon sees more use.

Use for holding stock for cooling. Storage of dry goods (short term, they are too expensive to use as your only "storage jars" technology). Brines for, well, brining things. Leftovers.

If I didn't have them I'd use gallon zip lock bags for storage & brining. Stainless bowls for stock cooling.

9) Pizza stone. Get the largest rectangular one that will fit in your oven. Round ones are cute because they remind people of pizza, but are much less useful. Get one as thick as possible also. The point is to hold heat and more mass == more heat.

Used for pizza (obviously), baking bread. Also, I often leave it on the bottom rack of the oven just to help maintain an even temperature in the oven. In fact, it's usually there most of the time. If you have a gas oven, you probably want to consider this -- it's a cheap way to really even out the heat.

If I didn't have it I would use unglazed quarry tiles, which are cheaper and what I used before. But they are a headache to get in and out of the oven, or to move from the bottom rack up to where you want to cook on it.

10) Mixer. Okay, a specific brand is all I'd get: KitchenAid. I really hesitated to put this on here, as I don't like gadgets in the kitchen, and this is an expensive one. But it is one I use fairly often. If you do a fair amount of baking (breads or desserts) consider getting one. It takes making of bread from a somewhat time consuming process to something you can do on a week night if you have time to allow for the rise. I use mine at least once a week, so it goes on the list, while the other appliances don't. Your milage may vary depending upon what you cook.

Things I look for: as heavy a motor as you can get, particularly if you are going to use it for bread. Large capacity (5 or 6 quart). Ability to take attachments (if you think you might want that in the future). I personally prefer the kind where the bowl lowers from the bottom rather than a head that "tilts up." Most pros agree, and the reason for this is twofold: a) up until very recently, large motors (and > 4 quart) were not available in the tilt-up variety and b) you'll see professional chefs "bumping" the bottom of the bowl in order to raise it up and allow the sides to be scraped without stopping the motor. One other plus of this design is that you can more easily apply heat in the form of a blowtorch to the underside.

I recommend getting all three beater types: paddle, whisk, and dough hook. I use all three regularlly. I wouldn't get a multi-purpose device (ie, mixer, blender, food processor, lawn edger, all in one!) unless you neverintend to make bread in it. The motors just aren't as strong, and you end up with a device that's less useful at all jobs and not very good at any one of them. If you are going to use such a device mostly as a food processor and only sometimes for batter work, it can make do. But, then you're not really getting a mixer, are you?

Why all the obsession with the strength of the motor? Aside from the bread making issue, you'll find that in regular use the motor will get hot. Making compound butter, or whipping cake batter often involves upwards of 10 minutes of continuous mixing. A smaller motor will wear out if you do this, because it is being forced to work too hard for its design.

Use for breads, cakes, batters, compound butters. Bowl serves as an extra stainless bowl. Fairly inexpensive meat grinder attachment available and worthwhile. The only reasonable way to make lobster butter (I'll do an entry on that at some point).

If I didn't have it I'd use whisks, bowls, and my own arms like everyone (and I) used to do. For lobster butter, I'd use a blender, but boy is it a pain!

KitchenAid KP2671XWH Professional...

Posted by dowdy at 07:25 AM

January 22, 2003

Top Ten Equipment

What would I have in my kitchen on a limited budget? Here's what I think I could "make do" with if I had to. Specific items I own and strongly recommend I have links to. This list is also roughly in the order in which I'd buy them -- although I would be fairly hard pressed to do major kitchen work without all of these.

1) Chef's Knife and Knife Care items. If I had to have only one knife, it would be a major chef's knife. Knives are very personal things, and the best one to buy tends to depend your hands. I personally use Wusthof Classics, and my 8 inch Chef's Knife is my current favorite.

Size: You may prefer a larger 10 inch, or a smaller 6 inch. In general, shorter knives give you more control, while longer ones speed chopping of larger quantities. I think if you are only going to buy one, error on the side of longer rather than shorter.

Brand: Again, there isn't a "best" here. If you prefer lighter knives, look into Global. If you like those with less of a curve or "rock" to the blade, Sabatier is a good choice. My knives have a squared handle, which some people find uncomfortable, but for some reason fit my own hand well. If possible, use a variety of knives at friends houses prior to purchase.

Sets: In my opinion, knife sets are a waste of money. Typically, one or two knives in the set account for 90% of your use in the kitchen. Spend more on those one or two, and then get cheaper knives if you must have more variety.

Once you have a knife, you'll need:
- steel
- wood or poly cutting board
- sharpening stone
There no point in spending money on a knife if you aren't going to use a cutting board to keep it from going dull, a steel to keep the edge keen, and a sharpening stone to resharpen as needed. If you are uncomfortable sharpening knives, you can save some effort and money by having them done professionally. Butcher shops will usually offer this service for around $2 per knife. Since knives need sharpening once or twice a year (for a typical home cook), you can have this done a fair number of times before you hit the price of a sharpening stone.

Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife
Wusthof Classic 10-Inch Cook's Knife

2) Sautee Pan (not non-stick). 10 or 12 inches. Again, I'd error on the side of being larger rather than smaller. Get the thickest metal you can. Make sure the entire pan is the same thickness, or you'll tend to have burning at the edges.

Material: I personally prefer stainless coated aluminum and like All Clad. They are expensive, but widely available. Anodized Aluminum is also a possibility, but isn't my first choice. With time, the anodized layer will wear down. Copper is great, but quite expensive (unless you happen to be in Paris).

Handle: Must be metal and oven-proof. Many dishes will start on the stovetop and then finish in the oven.

Sets: Like with knives, I generally don't recommend purchasing sets of cookware. You are often paying for thick metal in pots (such as large stock pots) that don't require it. You are also often getting pots that will go unused. You'll be tempted to save money by getting a cheaper set when in the long run it is better to spend the money on one or two higher quality pieces and then economize on the less important ones.

All-Clad Stainless 10-Inch Fry Pan
All-Clad Stainless 12-Inch Fry Pan

3) Tongs. The cheapest best kitchen investment you'll ever make. I use them constantly and every day. Use for turning food in sautee pans, stirring things (including sauce, stock, pasta), helping pans out of the oven, and even spooning out small amounts of sauce. You can find these just about anyplace and shouldn't need to pay more than $8 for them. Some have locking handles, which are fine, but not required -- most chefs hate the locks and will remove them. I tend to prefer a medium length for kitchen work, but have a longer set for the BBQ grill.

4) Saucier Pans. 2-3 quart. These are amazing. I have a 2 quart and a 3 quart, but could get by with only one of them. Much more flexible than straight sided sauce pans, and yet you'll almost never find them in a set of cookware! You can boil things in them, reduce sauces, and even sautee items. In a pinch, you could get by with a Saucier instead of a sautee pan (although I'd rather not).

All-Clad Stainless 2-Quart Saucier Pan
All-Clad Stainless 3-Quart Saucier Pan

5) Cheap serrated knife. It's hard to sharpen these knives, so I usually just buy stamped (rather than forged) ones. They stay sharp a reasonably long time, and when they get too horribly dull, I just toss them and by a new one (maybe once every 5 years or so). A bunch of chefs have started using offset or "L-shaped" serrated knives during service. I don't have one yet, but may pick one up before too long.

6) Large stock pot. Don't spent lots of money on this one. Don't get wafer thin metal, but you don't need copper either. You'll mostly be boiling pasta and potatoes in it. I consider 6 quart a minimum size here, but if I could only have one, it would be 5 gallon.

7) Large coarse mesh strainer. Again, spend as little as you can get away with, and try to get the largest you can find. Use for straining pasta, getting larger bits out of sauces, add a dishtowel to strain stock, etc. If you want to add fine mesh, I go with a smaller one. Unless you do serious stock and sauce work, skip the very expensive chinois -- although if you do buy one, try to find it for closer to $50 than to $100.

8) Stainless steel bowls, various sizes -- at least 3 of them. My most used one is a 2.5 quart size. Plain is fine. The more rounded the bottom, the better. Cheaper, better. Use for prep work, making sauces, salad dressing, whipping egg whites, batters, bread, etc.

9) Whisk. I own two, a long sauce whisk and a larger balloon whisk. If you have to buy only one, get the longer kind. You can whip egg whites with either (although it is easier with a balloon whisk) but only a long sauce whisk works well in a saucepan. Get one with a solid metal handle with the wires firmly embedded -- this type is slightly more expensive, but easier to keep clean and it won't give out on you.

10) Heat proof silicon spatulas. This is a relatively new item to kitchens (in general, and in mine specifically). You can use them to stir sautee pans (you'll think you shouldn't at first, but they really do stand up to 800 degree heat), and they also serve as a spoon if you find the right kind.

Posted by dowdy at 09:57 AM

January 13, 2003

Plugra

I'm sitting here at the end of the night, and my fingers thin coated in butter. The sour, sweet, cheesy, milky scent is unmistakable. Washing has no effect -- even in scented soap -- five minutes later the milk laden fat smell comes through. My parents would not approve.

I've had the most unbalanced dinner imaginable. A loaf of french bread, freshly reheated in the oven (450 for 10 minutes, wetted down first to render a crispy crust), and almost a quarter of a pound of fresh Plugra butter. To enjoy with it, a half bottle of Pinot Noir. Heck, it could have been any wine. Look, I went for Indian Buffet for lunch. I had rice. Lamb. Chicken. Sauces. Chickpeas. More food than one should really have. Time for something -- simple. Uh. Light. Sure.

Arriving home, finding a loaf of bread and reanimating it in the oven. Ah. The butter. Can you get Plugra where you live? I can. In fact, Trader Joe's (a semi-local chain) sells Plugra for less than more boring butter from supermarkets. It is more fat laden. It's real butter, the kind you can smell throughout the house when it is being melted, sauteed with, or baked. It is butter that is in fact a food, not an ingredient. And, as these things go, a cheap indulgence.

But first let it come to room temperature. Soften. Spread it upon the soft white centers of bread with shatteringly crisp exteriors. As you close your mouth you can taste the butter before it is even in your mouth. And then, the taste spreads in hurried speed over all sides of your cheeks. My. Dear. God. In. Heaven.

Crazy? Drunk? Neh. Not I -- not drunk on ethenol. Drunk on butter. For I am truely, The Butter Pig.

Posted by dowdy at 09:16 PM

January 08, 2003

When did it ever leave?

Article in the Washington Post entitled Butter Is Back.

Posted by dowdy at 11:35 AM

December 27, 2002

Movies about Food

Did you get a DVD player for Christmas? Do you need something to fill it? Here's my list of movies about or containing food.

Babette's Feast
This is probably my alltime favorite movie. I think that the respect and attitude towards food is fantastic -- but the plot also moves me. Subtitles. Some opera. This may throw off some folks, along with the "yearning" aspects of the story. But, for me, there is no other food movie.

The Big Night
The earlier scenes in this movie are funny, and the "big night" itself is a fantastic whirl of food and cooking and eating. I found the end to be a bit of a cop out/let down -- but the final scene of a real time making of an omelette in one take is pretty neat.

Eat Drink Man Woman
Both a slice of family life, and a view of how Chinese food and culture and intertwined. Lots of interesting cooking scenes. Subtitles.

Tampopo
"The last of the great noodle westerns." High Noon meets Iron Chef. While noodles are the focus, it's really about the Japanese obsession with food in general. Subtitles.

Chocolat
A recent film, which I just saw. The "food" is really Chocolate and pastries. Some found the going slow and the subtext of "religion as evil" too much too take. I wouldn't put it high up on my list of favorites -- but it was a fine way to spend two hours. The cooking scenes and info are accurate, although sparse.

Like Water for Chocolate
This is one of my least liked food movies. The discussion of food and the cooking scenes are great -- but I find both the story and style so incredibly overwrought as to be a distraction. I know that stylistically this is how the story should be told -- but for me I find it turning what should be serious scenes into near comedy. Subtitles.

American Cuisine
Hard/Impossible to find. I only saw it via Lifetime or Bravo or some such cable channel -- maybe made for TV? Jason Lee plays an American who moves to France to learn to cook and finds himself in the middle of the traditional apprentice system. Story is pretty trite, but there is some great food scenes, and the behind the scenes stuff is accurate, although it may not seem so. English and French with subtitles as I recall.

Here are some films with lesser amounts of food in them that can still be somewhat interesting.

The Tavern
An interesting little film about two men who decide to open a tavern. Almost by accident they find success in the form of good food. A kid on the skids turns out to have a knack in the kitchen, which I also found very enjoyable.

Who is Killing the Great Chef's of Europe?
VHS only. It came from the 70s -- but some neat scenes in the more traditional-industrial-hotel style of kitchens of this era. Comedy.

My Best Friend's Wedding
Kind of strange to have this one on here. Julia Roberts main character is supposed to be a food critic (quickly tossed aside) -- and at the start of the film we see a real kitchen with a real Charlie Trotter playing himself, "If you don't get this right, I'll kill your entire family." Supposed to be set in NYC, with the remainder of the movie in Chicago, the restaurant looks to my eye to be Charlie Trotter's actual place in Chicago.

Addicted to Love
Not a particularly great movie -- and why two stars would want to be in a comedy about stalkers boggles the mind. Still, there's a chef, some cooking scenes, and a reviewer used as comedic foil.

Posted by dowdy at 08:31 AM

December 12, 2002

Sous Chefs: You got my back

One of the great things about cooking for friends once or twice a year is the fact that I'm helped by a great set of workers. Because it's not every day, they work hard, creatively, and for them it's a fun time. This is why I refer to them as my "Sous Chefs" rather than a bunch of line cooks.

But the most amazing thing about cooking with a set of friends year after year is that we become something of a team. It lets me relax to know that I can trust them to handle anything if I'm not around or busy with something else. The recent phrase used has been "You got my back."

One story from 2002 might explain something of what this is like. I was prepping some sauce for reduction -- basically just measuring out some things into a sauce pan. I'd added the stock and a few other things into the pan and was turning around to get the red wine. There was William with a bottle of red wine elevated in his hand. He knew what I needed. I hadn't even said "I'm going to make the sauce now." He just knew.

Plating is another area where folks have become familiar with what I'm needing and wanting. I can tell any them what I'm looking for in general terms and they'll be able to handle it. I know that the platters will look great.

Someone also commented on how well we work together in the kitchen. There are 4 or 5 of us in there at any one time, and the kitchen is fairly small. But the flurry of activity seems smooth and unhurried -- even in the heat of service.

Because of all of the help -- and because the help is so reliable -- I can try things I'd never consider doing. As a result, the quality and scope of the dishes we do has become more complex over the years. I know I can push it and do more than I did at first.

Posted by dowdy at 09:46 AM

December 10, 2002

Cooking for Crowds

Every year I have a large party on or around my birthday. I invite friends over who I think will enjoy having the food that I cook. It's always a great time, and I can't imagine any other way to spend this day of the year. But lots of people can't imagine how it is possible to cook more than a dozen dishes on a four burner stove. Here's some things I've learned over the years.

1. Have help

You can't pull off this much work without at least one person helping. I have a team of four very talented amateur cooks who help me. This includes prep work, setting up the ingredients, cooking, plating, and even cleaning.

2. Know your limits

I've cooked with as few as one helper and as many as four. Depending upon how much help I have, I adjust the complexity of the dishes. I also plan more dishes that are "make ahead" when I have less help.

3. Test recipes

Complex dishes that you haven't made before need a trial run. Weeks or months before, I'll make the dish. I'm testing a few things -- does the taste match up with what I want, does the assembly work, are the temperatures and times accurate?

4. Preparation

You have to do things ahead of time. During service, there should be no cutting of vegetables and other tasks that can be done ahead of time. All of the ingredients for a dish need to be measured out before hand. I use disposable containers such as drink cups or paper bowels. I place the ingredients into disposable aluminum sheet pans and cover with plastic wrap -- writing the dish name on top.

For cooking, the entire pan can be brought to the stove, unwrapped, and is ready to go.

5. Lists

I cannot live without lists. Typical prep sheets run 3 to 4 pages. I write down the steps to each recipe or dish. Each step also has a number of the dish it goes with, so that people can tell what they are slicing carrots for. I then place next to each one a time when I think that step should be started. I then re-order the list sorted by time. If I see too much stuff at a given time (such as around 2 o'clock) I see if I can shift some of the tasks around to eliminate the bottleneck.

During the day, items are crossed off the list as they are completed. During service, likewise, steps are crossed off to keep track of what needs to be happening. Any of my helpers can also see what's next and what needs to be done.

I typically shoot for all prep work to be done by four in the afternoon for a six o'clock start time. We usually hit this or slightly early. This leaves time for final checks and run-throughs before we start. Anything that gets missed will likewise have time to be corrected.

6. Menu Development

You can't cook 16 dishes if every one requires 4 burners plus the oven. You need to have dishes that require no cooking, or just reheating. Some dishes that use the oven, others that use the top of the stove. If the oven is at 450 degrees, you can't also have a dish that needs 325.

A good mix of cold, warm, last minute cooked items, and those done in the oven lets you produce combinations of dishes that go out together. That having been said, it is difficult to get out more than two of these dishes at once time, so a typical course (which will have four dishes) is usually served two and two, with a small delay between them.

Posted by dowdy at 08:21 AM