Friday, January 23, 2009

Cooking Week In Review with Pretty Food Porn

Oh, sweet beautiful butter. I've been cooking and creating at home most of the week since Sunday and I've been making all types of random goodies. Some of the things I put together this week for fun, research, study and or practice include: 28 hour shortribs, butter (as seen above and below), true buttermilk biscuits, cannele de Bordeaux, charred balsamic brussels and bacon chive creamy grits.
I feel at this point, I've got a real feel for making great butter and cannele. Butter is probably one of the easiest things to make in the world - requiring only great cream (I primarily use Straus, because I can't buy raw cream for less than $8 a pint) and patience. A lot of things are dependent on the quality of cream including taste, density and color. I've definitely made underwhelming butter with not-so-great creams. The cream also needs time to properly convert sugars to lactic acid. Many dairies add active cultures, but you can get a desired tang with butter by letting it sit for a period of time. I suggest keeping a dairy diary (say that combo 5 times) to track times and temperatures when letting cream sit. It's very important to getting a consistent product. All in all, it is super easy to get a good butter to the quality you desire.
Cannele are quite a different story. Do not attempt to produce cannele if you are an impatient person because you will inevitably fail the first 3-4 times getting the recipe straight and buying the right type of oil (for brushing the cannele mold/tin). Even then, it will take 3-4 more tries to get the cooking timing right and 2-3 tries to establish consistently. Did I mention each try is a 2-3 day process? Did I mention once you pass a 6 hour window to eat these suckers, they become soft and no longer crispy? Did I mention all that mis en place shown below only makes less than 20 of them? Yea, I will say the reward is worth the effort though... especially after the 6th time of making them.
Well, creating and cooking at home was good stuff, but last night, I worked Mission Street Food and assisted Ryan Farr. It was a rockin' good time. The line out the door seemed to be 50-60 deep throughout the night and we practically ran out of everything. The only thing left were wieners and pie. Nothing more American than that I guess. A photo update coming up soon!

Cheesecloth strain


Nice Big Ball

Cannele de Bordeaux mis en place

Nice Rack


Biscuit mis en place, with less butter of course

Chop chop, baby.

Beautiful Brussels

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Waters Under A Bridge?

"I'll tell you, Alice Waters, annoys the living shit out of me. We're all in the middle of a recession, like we're all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic. I mean I'm not crazy about our obsession with corn or ethanol and all that, but I'm a little uncomfortable with legislating good eating habits. I'm suspicious of orthodoxy, the kind of orthodoxy when it comes to what you put in your mouth. I'm a little reluctant to admit that maybe Americans are too stupid to figure out that the food we're eating is killing us. But I don't know if it's time to send out special squads to close all the McDonald's. My libertarian side is at odds with my revulsion at what we as a country have done to ourselves physically with what we've chosen to eat and our fast food culture. I'm really divided on that issue. It'd be great if he [Obama] served better food at the White House than what I suspect the Bushies were serving. It's gotta be better than Nixon. He liked starting up a roaring fire, turning up the air conditioning, and eating a bowl of cottage cheese with ketchup. Anything above that is a good thing. He's from Chicago, so he knows what good food is."

This little excerpt happens to come courtesy of TV icon Tony Bourdain during a interview with DCist. See link here. This seems to me that this is the second time in the last week that the iconic Alice Waters has been slapped around a little bit. The first time, coming from an interesting little meeting between a former White House chef and Alice, as reported in the NYTimes here. It seems she was quietly and politely put in her place about the issue of sustainable local produce being represented in the White House. All of this comes in addition to the new administration's lack of a reception towards Waters' dream for a sustainable foods cabinet.
Now, I really have no feelings about the intentions and ideals of Alice Waters. In fact, I feel a little bad for her considering how much effort (misplaced or whatnot) goes into her work, but, I have also heard rants and strong negative opinions from industry and chefs regarding her intentions versus her self promotion. This was very evident upon the release of the SF Victory Garden which was a short period landmark for the Slow Food events in the city. While the intention of having a live model for her philosophy was important, many have contended that building a temporary garden that cost the city millions of dollars was not necessary. Especially if the garden grew useless produce that may have been watered and fertilized with the finest of SF's homeless excrement.
I do personally agree that having the best product means being able to find great local produce grown with care, but I can say that this is probably the luxury that I can afford because of my environment and my current situation. I would imagine any chef would naturally agree that a locavore philosophy is the right one. I am also a fan (though probably not personally my style) of simple cooking approaches and letting seasonal food stand for itself (i.e. the Chez Panisse way), but I often wonder if the unnatural byproduct of this movement turns out to be starved creativity in our restaurants? Last spring, I dined out 3 times in 2 weeks at relatively nicer restaurants and found the same vegetable options and three similar shaved asparagus salads. We were just halfway past asparagus season and I was getting sick of seeing them.

I guess what I want to question is this, does this good idea and philosophy need such a face as Alice Waters to be poignant? Is the idea of sustainable really sustainable for regular people in this economy? Is SF cuisine and approach stuck in an Alice Waters' philosophical black hole - especially considering the realities of such an economy don't justify the process/price? Does a local California cuisine philosophy prevent the development and evolution of its food?

Beats me.

A Food Lover's Tryst In New York

I was in NY from 12/28-1/4 and I enjoyed my trip tremendously. I have always felt a passion for NY - it's lifestyle, my friends, romanticism, food, SOHO women, transit system and grandeur always pull strings in my heart of hearts. Most of the time, I enjoy myself so much that I fear telling my NY friends. This, of course, would only drive them to wonder more about my lack of a desire to live there.
While it may be an untamed passion that I have for the city of blinding lights, there is an equal and opposite reaction that I harbor towards her. The noise, the cramp spaces, the ugly buildings, the drab signs, the true New Yorkers, the Yankees, the greasy douche suits, the produce, the humid summer stench and the claustrophobia all contribute to my worries about properly enjoying my life there. Can rest and space be found in a city that never sleeps? Would I ever be able to find balance there?
Maybe the stars just haven't lined up yet, because who knows what the future may hold. I may just end up there. NY will always be my stripper with a heart of gold, metaphorically speaking.
Whether the move ever happens or not, it certainly doesn't change the fact that I happen to have had a few of the best meals in my life there. On this trip, my meals at Jean Georges and Ocean Jewels (dim sum in Flushing) certainly qualified. In fact, they were near flawless and both meals were 10+ courses.
Recently, I've had some friends ask me where I went to eat during this trip and I thought it only appropriate to throw a list out there for everyone. Caution, it's a long list and nothing on it was even remotely close to average. Everything was good if not great making this almost a perfect East coast food trip.

Standouts were: Jean Georges, Caracas, Fleur De Sel, Noodle Village, Ocean Jewel, Big Wong, Porchetta, Blue Ribbon, Ramen Setagaya, O Ya and Aroa

Lots of love to my family, buddy Shi Wen, Nellie and Chad for making it a rocking trip.


Poste Brasserie
555 8th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20004

Eastern Market
225 7th St SE
Washington, DC 20003

713 H St NW
Washington, DC 20001

Mark's Duck House
6184 Arlington Blvd # A
Falls Church, VA 22044


Caracas Arepa Bar
91 E 7th St
New York, NY 10009

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave New York, NY 10003 more info »
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003

Petrossian Boutique & Cafe
911 7th Ave
New York, NY 10019

Jean Georges Restaurant
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023

Fleur De Sel
5 E 20th St New York, NY 10003

Noodle Village Corporation
13 Mott St
New York, NY 10013

# A 150 W 10th St,
New York, NY 10014

Crumbs Downtown Inc
37 E 8th St
New York, NY 10003

Ramen Setagaya
34-A St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003

Big Wong King
67 Mott St # A
New York, NY 10013

Ocean Jewel Seafood Restaurant
13330 39th Ave
Flushing, NY 11354

110 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10009

Dumpling Man
100 Saint Marks Pl
New York, NY 10009

Ah Rhee Soo Korean Japanese Cuisine
38 10 138th St, 2nd Floor
Flushing, NY 11354

Tai Pan Bakery
194 Canal St
New York, NY 10013


Whiskey Smokehouse
885 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116

Blue Ribbon Barbeque
910 Massachusetts Ave
Arlington, MA 02476

O Ya Restaurant
9 East St
Boston, MA 02111

Flour Bakery & Cafe
1595 Washington St
Boston, MA 02118

Hei La Moon
88 Beach St.
Boston, MA 02111

Aroa Fine Chocolate
1651 Washington St.
Boston MA 02118

All that and I didn't even list the bars I went to...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Market Report from Saturday 1/17

I got lazy on Sunday and didn't get to update the blog with pictures and notes from the market. Basically, I will try to provide a summary of what I see in the market and what is truly seasonal. I'll try to provide an idea of what's good out there that week and what might be new and unique. There doesn't seem to have been a dramatic change in the produce in the last month, but since this is my inaugural report, I will offer you a slightly more encompassing update.

Citrus has been emerging from a month ago and many varietals are starting to show up at the market. You can find a good mix of oranges, grapefruit, pomelo and lemons all over the market now. Pears and apples can still be found, but apples are beginning to slowly dwindle as the weeks past. There are a lot of nice greens showing up including nettles, mustard greens, kale, escarole, broccoli raab and a bunch of beautiful Asian greens. Marin Farms had a very nice layout of choices as well as a very colorful winter salad mix. Root vegetables, brussels (beautiful little ones from Iacopi), cauliflower and romanesco heads can still be easily seen around different stands. A few weeks ago there were a few signs of early onions, but this week there was definitely more. I found 4-5 farms carrying them and happened to come across some very young Torpedo and Cipollini onions. I definitely bought some and I'm planning on cooking it into my homemade vadouvan. More on that later, but for now, here are some pics of the scene this Saturday morning:

Bruised Hammy and Ego...

This is a D'Artagnan Heritage Applewood Smoked Ham. I happen to very much love ham and I happen to very much love reading Serious Eats. So when Serious Eats had a competition for a holiday ham giveaway, I thought I should totally throw in my 2 cents and enter in the competition. I salivated at the chance of being the proud owner of this tasty ham. See link here. The criteria for judging was simply "What's on your favorite ham sandwich?"
Unfortunately and without much surprise, I lost. For most people on this planet, this is not particularly special because I've practically never won any sweepstakes in my life. I was Publisher's Clearing House finalist for 10 million dollars for like 5 years straight, but I just figure my luck ran out when they stopped sending me mail. I don't mind losing, but I figure the winning entry had to be amazingly brilliant or some sort of orgasmic mind blowing/numbing sandwich. Of course, seeing as to how these things do work, it isn't. The winner, identified as kobetobiko, simply listed the winning entry as, "iberico ham and nothing else is needed!"
When I initially read the winning entry, I was immediately demoralized. I had realized that this response could quite possibly be the most asinine and ridiculously wrong entry for the competition. Let me list you the reasons for poor kobetobiko's catastrophic failure in responding to the question and Serious Eats' serious mistake in selecting this undeserving winner:

1. The competition is about a favorite ham sandwich, which leads me to think that a sandwich is defined at least by two simple things: two pieces of bread with something put in between them. Ham alone a sandwich does not make. Doesn't good bread make or break a sandwich? I mean, he could have said poo on white and that would have been a legit sandwich. What if it was iberico ham on stale moldy bread? Would it be tasty then? Clearly, this should have been grounds for immediate disqualification if you ask me.

2. The competition was misleading. Show me a heritage applewood ham and announce a winner with an iberico ham entry. What the hell is the point of that? This simply means that he will win the ham, but won't be able to make the sandwich. Is this some sort of twisted joke that Serious Eats decided to play on kobetobiko? I would think the natural reaction to that can only be WTF.

3. "What's on your favorite ham sandwich?" To paraphrase the question, it sure sounds like, "what in addition to ham should make up your favorite ham sandwich?" Maybe kobetobiko meant that he liked iberico ham on top of regular ham, but I'm not giving this guy too much credit. Are you telling me that if I put truffle butter and foie on the sandwich, then kobetobiko would still prefer "just iberico ham?" This guy is clearly lying to himself and skirting the truth. I'm cool with liars, but I'm not cool with them beating me out for ham.

4. A sandwich with just ham is going to be ridiculously dry. No condiments? Think about the taste for a second. Sandwiches need lubrication - it's an essential part of putting meat in places.

5. This entry couldn't be any less sexier, the following all could have been winners. And, these are only a few examples of the awesome mouth watering entries:

-Country ham, scrambled eggs, and grape jelly on a biscuit mad anywhere below the Mason Dixon line.
-Honey rye bread, fig jam, drizzle of maple syrup, smoked gouda and a fried egg
-Ham, brie, mayo, lettuce & spicy brown mustard. Heat the sammy in a Panini press until the brie is melted. Delicious!
-Ham sliced thin, jarlsburg, spicy brown mustard, warm crusty Kaiser roll with poppy seeds. ohh how I miss NYC... (no good rolls in VA)
-Ham on toasted sourdough and a slice of Emmentauler cheese and finish with a spicy mustard. A nice pickle on the side!
-whole grain bread, ham, havarti, lettuce, tomato, sprouts and galric aioli mustard
-Zatarian's creole mustard, mayo, baked ham, Munster cheese, red leaf lettuce, sliced Heirloom tomato, sliced pickled mild banana peppers, on a 6 inch slice of crusty baquette.
-Like a Monte Cristo: Sourdough, dijon/mayo combo, swiss, sauteed onions, pickles, egg battered and pan fried

Whoever picked the winner on Serious Eats really needs some explaining to do. I think the best entries are the specific ones where you can just visualize the flavors playing around in harmony in your mouth. Man, the creole mustard entry wasn't mine, but I would even consider going that one over my own.