Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn

Like most red blooded American men, I have the grilling gene. For many, many years I have been deprived of this primal joy. Using a grill pan or a stove top smoker does not scratch the itch of standing in front of a fire, tongs at the ready. Since buying a condo with a deck, I have been making up for lost time.

This summer's addition to the outdoor cooking arsenal has been a rotisserie attachment for my faithful Weber grill. The results so far have been wonderful. The spit roasting yields a very juicy interior and a wonderfully caramelized exterior.

Last night a small, boneless leg of leg was my latest experiment. I rubbed down the leg portion with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs de Provence. I let the leg come to room temperature before spearing it on the spit and taking it for a spin. An hour in a 350 degree grill getting the run around left us with a perfectly medium rare roast. The outside was a very flavorful crust while the inside was tender and juicy. E gave it her certified lamb fanatic seal of approval. If lamb is not your thing, I've had great results with a boneless turkey breast as well.

What ever your grill preferences are, you should look into spit roasting to add a little twist to your repertoire.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What a cheesy class!

But cheesy in a luscious, creamy, goat cheesy kind of way. Last night the folks from The Vermont Butter and Cheese Company taught a make your own goat cheese class at The Astor Center. I had visions of being elbow deep in curds and whey, but that was not to be. It seems that the lacto-bacteria used to make goat cheese takes it sweet old time of it, and two hours would not be enough time to create a chevre of one's own. Instead, the cheese maker Adeline Druart gave a quick demo of process using lemon juice. We then got to don latex gloves and relive our Play-Doh filled youth by rolling some fresh chevre into a log.

Some really wonderful dishes were served featuring the products from the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company. First, let me tell you to run out and buy some of their butter, especially if you are a baker. IT IS THAT GOOD. The melted aged goat cheese crouton was also a standout.

One of the owners, Allison Hooper, gave running commentary throughout the evening and regaled us with the history of the company. The company was pretty much started as a whim and is still going strong 25 years later.

So go ahead and seek out the products from this company, or the products of other artisan cheese makers out there. Spoiled milk has never tasted so good.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I just love using French cooking terms, they make things sound so much sexier and intricate. "Well I just ciseleed some onions and sauteed them in my sautoir" has a much greater air of intrigue than "I diced some onions and fried them in a skillet".

These terms do play a vital role in professional kitchens though. They act as a short cut language so that precise instructions can be communicated in a concise manner. My six month stint at the FCI has hard wired these terms in my head and I have to think to come up with the non-French term.

So, to impress your friends and neighbors at your next cook out, be sure to talk about the beautiful quadrillage you achieved on your steaks. They will ooh and ah and agree with you even though they have no idea what you mean. Quadrillage is the French term for cross-hatch grill marks. Bon Appetit!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Grilling While the Grilling is Good

A funny thing happened about a month ago. While the city of Hoboken slumbered, someone up and moved it lock, stock and barrel to Seattle. It has rained cats, dogs, monkeys and the rest of the critters for the past month, putting a huge damper on grilling season.

I was glumly riding the bus home, watching yet another rain storm deluge our fair city when a miracle occurred. The sun actually came out! There it was, in all its nuclear fusion glory, lighting up the still cloudy sky. I knew I had to take advantage of this break in the weather, put down "Ark Building for Dummies" and get my grill on.
I grabbed a chicken out of the fridge and quickly mimiced Bobby Flay's recipe for butterflied chicken marinaded in lemon, thyme, and garlic. While the chicken marinaded away, I whipped up a cauliflower gratin. I quickly blanched the cauliflower, made a Bechamel sauce, and grated some cheddar. These ingredients soon found a home in a baking dish and were popped in the oven. This gave me the opportunity to get the bird on the grill.

Since the chicken was butterflied, it cooked up really quick. About 35 minutes in total yielded a perfectly cooked bird with a nicely browned skin. The cauliflower was nicely creamy and cheesy. I managed to actually get something cooked on the grill without wearing a poncho and hip boots.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sound of One Hand Dicing

A funny thought came to mind while I was dicing an onion a few days ago, nothing. That's right, completely empty head. Some of you may be thinking, "What's so new about that?", but you'd be wrong. For the time it took for me to dice that Vidalia into tiny cubes I was totally living in the moment and the noisy internal dialog was turned off. A total Zen state.

This started off the seemingly contradictory activity of thinking about not thinking. I noticed that when I am in the process of cooking, my mind does not wander off on little side trips. It stays right were it should be while I slice, dice, and make great juileanne fries. This is basically the core of Zen philosphy, living in the moment and quieting the mind. In Zen, this is taught through zazen, sitting meditation, or one of the Zen arts such as flower arranging or archery.

Zen is also famous for using seemingly unanswerable riddles, called koans, to break the mind out of its normal way of thinking. The most famous one of these is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?". I think a new koan needs to be added to the cannon. What is the sound of one hand dicing?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rustic Fruit Desserts

You can learn an amazing amount of things from a cookbook, new techniques, new ingredients, the need for reading glasses. I somehow made it 45 years without the need for vision correction, but when you read 2 tablespoons of baking powder instead of 2 teaspoons of baking powder, tis time.

I was looking forward to making a recipe from this beautiful little book since I won it as a semi-finalist in Culinate's May blogging contest(Thanks alot!). I picked out the raspberry aprioct cobbler and E ran across the street to get the fruit for the recipe. The A & P did not have apricots, so I ended up making a raspberry peach cobbler. One has to be flexible in the kitchen. I put everything together, popped it in the oven and sat down while it baked. Curious as to why so much baking powder was required, I looked at the book again(in better light). "Oh, two teaspoons of baking powder!", I laughed to myself as I got up to spy on the cobbler in the oven. I peered in, half expecting to see some huge cobbler blob filling every nook and cranny. It was kind of fluffy, but not too bad.

The timer chirped the end of the cooking time and I removed it from the oven. I was happy I was not pinned againt the wall by the cobbler ala the "I Love Lucy" episode when Lucy attempted to make home made bread. A subsequent taste taste, ok scarf down test, proved the cobbler to be pretty tasty. Looking forward to tackling more desserts from this book, after the trip to the optometrist!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Steaks are High

I did not know what to expect when I entered the James Beard House on Tuesday evening for the Kansas City Steak Feast. The chef was Charles d'Albaing from the restaurant Webster House in Kansas City, MO. Well, of course I was expecting steak, but the quality and preparation remained unknowns. I made my way to the backyard and was handed a glass of sparkling wine. Yes, I said backyard and yes the James Beard House is in downtown Manhattan, and yes I am jealous of said backyard. The sparkling wine, a Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs NV, was fabulous. This was going to be a very good evening.

I saw my friends Lee and Wendy and meandered over to join them. Their friend Deborah joined the group as we discussed the Big Apple BBQ and how awesome the sparkling wine is. Then the appetizers started appearing. From the buffalo stew served in a spoon, to the crispy pigs ear on a Johhny cake, to the short ribs and the venison with a blackberry chutney, each was tastier than the one before. We went on the try the next wine, a Grgich Hills Fume Blanc. Once again, the sommelier Kathy picked a winner. After going through a few more rounds of the appetizers, we hit the final wine. This was a Pinot Noir from Ayres in Oregon. It was another winner, especially with the venison. The cherry and other fruit flavors of the wine complemented the blackberry chutney perfectly. We were very excited to see how the dinner will unfold.

We made our way upstairs and searched for our respective tables. Soon, the first course arrived, a confit of pheasant. The first course continued the winning streak of the appetizers. The pheasant itself was very flavorful and the sides served with it were great, especially the sweet corn puree. The Alban Vineyards Viognier poured with it provided a perfect counterpoint to the dish.

The beef portion of the evening began with the next course, braised beef cheeks wrapped in fried zucchini. The fried zucchini added a nice textural contrast to the buttery soft beef cheeks. The Qupe Syrah worked very well with this plate.

We segued into a beef tenderloin with sweet potato hash, served with Dain Syrah. This paved the path for the last beef dish, a NY Strip with thumbelina carrots with a K Vintners Syrah. Both of these dishes proved that Chef d'Ablaing nows his way around a cow. The wine choices proved that sommelier Kathy has a direct line to Bacchus.

A rose sparkling wine from Gruet in New Mexico and a strawberry rhubarb crisp put the exclamation point on a excellent dinner. We made our way out of the house, everyone floating a little bit off the ground, buoyed by the joy of having just eaten a truly memorable meal.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All choked up

We've fallen into a bit of a veggie rut lately. While we have been enjoying Spring's asparagus bounty, we were looking for a supplement to it. We wanted to add something new and exciting to the flora part of our dinner plate.

I was wandering through our local Whole Foods last Sunday after visiting Mom. It never fails that a trip to buy one or two items results in three bags and an empty wallet. I was perusing the selection in the produce aisle when I saw them in all their knobby glory, sunchokes. Although this North American native tuber was enjoyed by Native Americans, it does not grace many tables these days. Seeing them I recalled the time i had cooked them in one of my myriad cooking classes. I had enjoyed them but never got around to making the dish at home. With this thought in my mind, I tossed them into my market basket.

When time came to cook them, I could not find the recipe I had to cook these things. Here I am surrounded by binders loose paper bearing the logos of the CIA, ICE, The New School, etc. The only things the papers were not bearing was a recipe for these things. So faced with a food stuff I have no idea how to prepare I reach for the one tome that probably will, "The Joy of Cooking". While it may not be au courant and it certainly lacks any food porn panache, it certainly has completeness going for it. It tells you how to scramble eggs, can peaches, grill a steak and braise a bear(page 530 in the 75th anniversary edition). I looked in the index and sure enough, two recipes for sunchokes.

Since I was going to roast some potatoes anyway, I opted for the roasted sunchoke recipe. I just peeled the sunchokes, which was a little challenging due to their scraggy nature. Tossed with some olive oil, salt, pepper, a couple of bay leaves and some sprigs of thyme from the deck. I then popped them into a 425 degree oven for 45 minutes, giving them the occasional stir. When 45 minutes had elapsed, a quick stab with a paring knife proved they were ready to be served. While the sunchokes were roasting, I had quickly grilled some lamb chops on the Weber. I plated everything up and served it to E waiting for her to praise the wonderful sunchokes. Her praise consisted of her pushing the sunchokes onto my plate with her fork. Oh well, at least I really enjoyed them. They were a little sweet, a little nutty and have a slight artichokish flavor to them. I would certainly like to experiment with them some more. I'll just have to make sure to make more spuds for E on those days.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Big Apple BBQ

Much like the swallows returning to Capistrano, early each June the Pitmasters return to Madison Square Park. I look forward to this event with an enthusiasm on the level of an 8 year old waiting for Santa.

As the hordes exit the subway(hordes is the only way to describe the amount of people here), they walk following their noses, sniffing the sweet smell of hard wood and pork, till they reach Madison Square Park. There they are greeted by the sight of nearly 20 elaborate barbeque cooking rigs. These things bear about as much resemblence to your backyard grill as a rubber ducky to an ocean liner, they both kind of do the same thing, just one does it on a much grander scale. They are also greeted by great throngs of people. The Big Apple BBQ attracts around 100,000 ravenous carnivores each year.

I arrived just after the 11AM opening time and got right to business. My first stop was Jim 'N' Nicks to taste their sausage and pimento cheese. The sausage was a definite hit, a charred outside crust lead to a wonderfly juicy inside. The pimento cheese rocked. They should have sold this in pint containers like ice cream. Just give me the pint and a spoon then carefully back away please.

My next stop was my perennial favorite Ed Mithcell's The Pitt. Ed always does whole hog and he always does it well. Add a classic North Carolina vinegar based sauce and you have the recipe for porcine Nirvana.

I took a break from scarfing down these wonderful offering and was just wandering around to take a few pictures. I ran into some of the folks from the AOL food page. I met these fun and knowledable foodies the night before at the Craig Claiborne celebration. When a passing shower had us looking for shelter, they deputized me as media and let me hide with them in Mike Mill's area. Mike makes some of the best barbeque there is, and you can't argue with a man that has a fountain that spouts bbq sauce!

Along with all the wonderful eats, the Big Apple BBQ also offers a full slate of cooking demos and seminars. This offer a needed respite from all the required eating. They also have live bands performing. The music certainly adds an even more festive mood to the wood smoke athmosphere.

Now, for pure theater, there was no comparison to Martins from Tennesee. They elevated the act of extracting a whole hog from a cooker into art. Weddings have the ceremonial throwing of the boquet, Martins has the tossing of a pigs foot. That's hard to top.

All too soon my day at the Big Apple BBQ was over. As I headed uptown to a friend's home, smelling of hickory and pecan, I was already dreaming of next year.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Craig Claborne

One of the main driving forces in the American culinary revolution was Craig Claiborne. Unfortunately, his legacy does not seem to get the same accolades as Julia Child, James Beard, and MFK Fisher. While his contributions go mainly unsung, he fundamentally changed how food and cooking are written about.

In the long ago dark ages of gastronomy in the US, the only coverage of food was relegated to what was referred to as the "Ladies Section". The stories were mainly recipes and cooking tips, not the realm of serious journalism. Restaurant reviews were mostly seen in the society pages, more concerned with whom was eating where, than whether the food was worth eating. In 1957, this began to change when Craig Claiborne was named food editor of the NY Times.

Food started to get serious coverage in the NY Times just as the NY Times was becoming The New York Times. Craig covered Michelin both starred chefs and home cooks with the same journalistic gusto. His coverage launched the careers of many a chef. He began to review restaurants with a degree of rigor. He was one of the first, if not the first, to actually talk to the chef. A notion that was completely novel at the time.

A bit of scheduling serendipity turned last week into Craig Claiborne week in NYC. Thursday night, The New School featured a panel discussion on Craig as part of its Culinary Luminaries series. This was followed on Friday by the Southern Foodways Alliance's celebration of Craig on Friday.

The New School event was quite interesting. Noted food writers recalled their personal relationships with Claiborne as well as discussing his impact and legacy. The Southern Foodways Alliance celebration was just that, complete with Champagne and bourbon. Jacques Pepin related many stories of his long relationship with Claiborne. Others, such as noted restaurateur Zarela Martinez, talked about what a huge impact Claiborne had on her personal and professional growth. Everyone left a little teary eyed, maybe even a little tipsy, but certainly more appreciative of Craig Claiborne's legacy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bartender, Another Glass of Context Please

Imagine you are sitting at a seaside cafe in Nice. The azure blue of the Mediterranean acts as the background, beautiful people sitting at surrounding tables the foreground. The waiter comes by and places a huge, tannic, California Cabernet on your table. I just jolted you out of your revelry, didn't I? This is one example of what Tyler Colman, the web's Dr. Vino, means when he talks about drinking with context.

Tyler recently did a presentation and Q & A session for his new book "A Year of Wine". Unlike Tyler's previous book about the politics and economics of wine, this book is geared towards actually drinking and enjoying wine. The basic tenet the book is seasonal drinking. A wine you find wonderful sitting on your deck in the summer, may not be the perfect quaff while you are in of winter's icy grasp.

This concept of drinking in context also applies to eating. How many times have we recreated some beloved family recipe to have it only disappoint? Was that Salade Nicoise in Provence really that good? Maybe the scent of wild rosemary and lavender just added that tad bit of special sauce to make it so memorable? It seems that we eat with more than just our eyes and mouths, we eat with our minds as well.

So, the next time that dinner is a little below par, be sure to use context to your best advantage. Get out the good table linens, light some candles, put on some great music, and open that special bottle of wine. Dinner will never be more delicious.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The James Beard House Dinner Experience

Every time I cross the threshold of the James Beard House for a dinner, I get zapped with a little spark of excitement. The one thing I have learned after years of going to events there is that you cannot predict what the experience will be like. The only thing you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

A chef being invited to cook at the James Beard House is the culinary world's equivalent of a musician being asked to perform at Carnegie Hall. This is also where fate starts to roll the dice. A chef needs to uproot his operation and move it to NYC for the night. The chef also needs to procure all the food needed to cook for 80 or so people. The chef will often have some intrigueing food stuffs shipped over to NYC to insure that the dinner is special. More than once, this important ingredient goes off on a Big Apple tour of its own, leaving the chef and his staff scrambling to find a replacement. On one unfortunate occasion, the poor chef had to be replaced. A sudden illness laid the chef low and a brief hospital stay was required to set him right.

The biggest roll of the dice for a James Beard dinner is who you will be sharing the table with. Unless your party is big enough to commandeer an entire table, you will be sharing your table with strangers. I have yet to crap out in this regard. I have shared a table with a bachelorette party from Ireland, a Tony Award winner, and a crazy artist. People from the entire spectrum of humanity congregate at the Beard house to break bread. The food(and the wine) offer an easy entree to a conversation that can, and often does, go anywhere. I'm sure James Beard would have it no other way.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Galloping Gournet Rides Again

I have been drawn to cooking shows on television for ever. One of the best things about staying home sick from school was wathcing Julia Child on PBS. So, there was no way I was going to miss the Culinary Historians of NY event about the history of cooking shows on television. While the discussion of the very earliest shows such as James Beard’s “I Love to Eat” and Dione Lucas was interesting, the appearance of a slide of “The Galloping Gourmet” caused my nostalgia to rear up on its hind legs.
For those of you who don’t know, “The Galloping Gourmet” was the affable Brit Graham Kerr. It hit the airwaves in 1969 and blazed a new trail in culinary broadcasts. Instead of being strictly pendantic, the show capitalized on Kerr’s natural comedic abilites to overtly incorporate entertainment in a cooking show. It was the first cooking show to have a live audience. This was used to maximum effect as cameras caputured the audience’s reaction to Kerr throwing in another pound or so of butter or taking a “slurp” from his ever present wine glass. It seems that Emeril was a big fan of this show as well.
The discussion of this show transported me back to being 6 years old again. I would lay on the carpet in front of our console TV, taking in all of Graham Kerr’s antics. Watching the show was a family affair, I enthralled by the banter and the energy, Dad studying the cooking and Mom studying Graham Kerr. Dad would often try out some of the recipes he gleaned from the show. Usually, the TV fantasy was better than the kitchen reality.
“The Galloping Gourmet” only lasted for a few years on the air. Graham has returned to TV a few times, but his later shows never quite had the elan of the original. “The Galloping Gourmet” did set me off trotting along my personal gastronomic journey, and it did take cooking tv off on a new entertaining bridal path.