Tuesday, December 1, 2009

TV: Dinner With The Band

I just watched Dinner With The Band on IFC. You know, that Sam Mason (WD50 alumni and ex-Tailor chef/owner) TV show. This show will not resonate with a lot of traditional jerk off to food porn types that tune into the food network. But I suspect that IFC watching crowd that watch The Rollins Show, and watched Dinner For Five might have found a new show to glom onto. In fact, I think the show might be a pretty even mix of both, plus... uhm... cooking.

What You Might Not Like
The show is more about the music than it is about the food. It is far from being an instructional cooking show, and if you don't like the band, you are unlikely to make it through the episode. Right now, this is really a live music show with a chef-host. If it were my show, which it clearly isn't I would tip the scales to feature a little more cooking. Most people that tune in will know who Sam Mason is and not know who the band is.

What I Really Liked
Inside of the cooking segments are the mechanics of a cooking show I could really love. Mason doesn't dumb down the food and manages to talk through the food as he cooks it without being instructional. I don't really know why, but I found the use of graphics/titling is amazing. That's right, I said the titling was amazing. They define terms as Mason is speaking and label ingredients. It could be the nerd in me, but they are really effective and are every bit a part of the show (think Man On Fire remake with Denzel Washington). Each episode features a meal plus a cocktail/beverage. While I'd like to see more cooking time, what you do get to see is great, no bullshit cooking and very clearly Sam's food. They also publish the recipes (even the cocktails) online here.

In Closing
Worth Watching. Even if the music isn't your cup of tea, the cooking clips are better than just about any cooking show I've seen. It does conflict with The Daily Show, but that's why I have a DVR.

Monday, November 23, 2009

TGRWT #20: Pumpkin and Cooked Chicken

This month's TGRWT is being hosted by John Sconzo over at docsconz. There is some good discussion this page as to the definition of 'Cooked Chicken', and I think the conclusion was, as opposed to roasted (as opposed to Raw Chicken).

This is one of those pairings that is a little easier to combine, and google will refer people to all kinds of recipes from different cultures. Some commonalities will include:

  1. Rice dishes. Chicken/Pumpkin Risotto? How about we move over a a bunch of time zones make it a Pulao.

  2. Curries/Sauces. Both ingredients hold up well with anything curry-like or even sauces like a mole.

  3. Soups/Stews. You can also use both of these ingredients in a soup or stew from any cuisine that has something kinda pumpkin'y/squashy. Pureed Pumpkin Soup topped with chicken. Both ingredients in a more simple stock. Anything goes.

  4. Use of Pumpkin Seeds. Awesome tossed with salt and some spices then roasted. Can be used as a garnish or as part of a sauce (see Mole).
Just remember the deadline is coming up on December 8th.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ordering Technique Part I: The Screenplay

The restaurant is packed with beautiful people jammed into clothing that no human being should actually be able to fit in. At the table where these beautiful people will not have to be encumbered with his physicality, sit PABLO and his girlfriend PICKLED JALAPENO. PABLO is underdressed and waving his arms wildly as he is talking. PICKLED is trying to pay attention, but her phone is lighting up with text message after text message.

If a tip is to

"To Insure Proper Service"

why do we do it at the end of a meal? You can't insure your house after it burns down. It's really To Reward Proper Service. T-R-P-S. It's tuh-errrpppss.

PICKLED just stares at him, her eyes revealing that she is calculating the cost/benefit analysis of a nice dinner versus her ability to endure another evening with this raving lunatic. She looks over PABLO's shoulder noting that their waitress has overheard their conversation.

Hi folks, you doin' ok over here? Have any questions about the menu?

Trrrrrrrr-ppppsss. Yeah, what's good here?

Well, tonight we have a fish special, an 8 ounce butter poached Escolar fillet, served over a bed of micro algae with ferzizzled potatoes. Escolar is a delicious firm textured fish, with a fat content I know you will love.

Ferzizzled potatoes. Sounds Fancy! I'll take it.

(turning to PICKLED)
And what would you like?

I'll take the salad. Can I have the dressing on the side and a poached egg on top?

Coming right up.

As the WAITRESS walks off, a diner at the neighboring table motions to her. The camera pans over to the table where we see FRANK BRUNI is dining with SNOOP DOG.

Yo, that Escolar sounds tight. Can I get a --

Mr. Snoop, I assure you, you don't want the special --

Don't be tellin' me what I want. I want the frezizzled potizzles!

Snoop, an eight ounce portion of escolar

(pauses and leans close)
It's the culinary equivalent of

(air quotes)
"the shank"

The WAITRESS nods once, confirming FRANK BRUNIs statement.

Thats some cold shit.

The camera CUTS back over to PABLO's table.

Did you hear that? She just un-recommended my dish to snoop.

From The Wire?

No! The other Snoop.

You can't un-recommend something! The bond between server and patron is sacred! I am going to say something--

(through her teeth)
Don't. You. Dare.

It's totally coming out of her tuh-er-puh.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ordering Technique Part I: Servers As Advisors

There is nothing more infuriating than having someone scoop you on a topic you wanted to write about. Actually, that's not true. It is even more infuriating when someone gives it a really good treatment, like Adam Roberts, who had a great post over at The Amateur Gourmet about why you shouldn't ask your server for ordering advice at a restaurant. With a couple of exceptions, he breaks down a number of reasons for why you shouldn't ask "What's good?".

Reasons like: all of the items on the menu should be good (at a certain level of restaurant), they can't know your palate or mood, and that you never know if you would have been happier with your own selection. He also mentions the social awkwardness of asking for a suggestion and then not ordering it.

I think menus can be deceptive, descriptions are terse and sometimes inaccurate. At a restaurant you have never been to, your server is the only interactive window you have into the food. The real issue is that the question "What's good?" is not going to get you to the best answer. Some will tell you what is most popular, some will give you an honest opinion, and I am sure it has happened at least once that a server will push an item that the restaurant needs to move.

I remember when I was teenager I went to a restaurant where the waiter prevented me from ordering a dish. By prevented, I mean, he drew on the menu, crossed out what I wanted to order and circled a different dish. I took his advice and ordered whatever he had circled. While I was waiting for my entree to arrive, someone at the table next to us had ordered what I had originally wanted. I heard them say "This is disgusting, I can't eat this." Now granted, this establishment one can draw on a menu, but still, your waitron may know things you don't.

I think if you engage your server properly, you can get really great advice. Don't ask what's good and end it there. Ask what they like about their recommendation. Tell them the general range of what you are craving. I am almost always debating between two dishes.

I do have to admit that I have a fear that I am going to end up in some Larry David like nightmare at the restaurant. Maybe a yelling match because I don't follow her advice. Or perhaps ...


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

NYPL: Achatz And Myhrvold

Sadly, I had this post mostly written for the better part of a year. I finally sat down, listened to the audio again and finished the post. It is important to note that this reflects my understanding and take on their conversation, and I am may have unintentionally misrepresented them.

As mentioned previously, I had the privilege of attending "WIRED & LIVE present GRANT ACHATZ & NATHAN MYHRVOLD Moderated by Mark McClusky The Cutting Edge: Tales from the Culinary Frontier" way back in october. Of all the events I have attended recently, this was the only one with really good moderation. In attendance, I saw Jeffrey Steingarten, Tim Zagat, Alex and Aki from IDEAS IN FOOD, and even one of the teachers from cooking school. Best part of all of this is: you can listen to it yourself. Don't want to listen to it? Here were my take-aways:

On The Beast That Shall Not Be Named

Mark was pretty relentless in trying to get Grant and Nathan to discuss the labeling of this style of food. Molecular Gastronomy, Modernism, Techno Emotional Cuisine... call it what you will. They managed to avoid putting a label on it, citing how different the cuisine is between the chefs that play in this sandbox. However, Nathan described the Modernism/Molecular Gastronomy as a movement instead of a style, comparing it to art and architecture. I really liked this analogy. A lot.

Some of defining characteristics of this movement:

  1. breaking rules and making the diner think.
  2. drawing inspiration from science.
  3. novelty, originality and invention.
He went on to say:
A lot of this kind of food doesnt necessarily have to be delicious. [...] great poems aren't always fun to read, they aren't always happy.

Where is it ok to make someone think, to give a dish that may not be conventionally delicious but as part of the dialogue with the diner evokes thoughts or emotions versus just saying every single thing has to be finger looking good. Making profound food is not the same as making totally delicious food. [...]

A lot of the food that is done in this new style, like a poem, plays on an earlier theme, has the equivalent of a literary reference, makes a culinary joke or counterpoint.

While Grant didn't really reply, I have to believe that his goal is to do both. I think one of the most challenging things about being a chef is that their art has to be delicious. A restaurant has to survive long enough for someone to be able to look back on it and remember its genius. Another thing that makes this period of time exciting for me is that restaurant culture (for all of its downsides), has given more and more diners the language to understand these references and emotional touchstones. As a result, chefs can produce more challenging food, and still succeed.

On Alinea, Chicago and Spain

In Grant's intro he described his background, in which he dropped this little gem:
... manipulating and controlling a period of time in people lives, to try to evoke emotion. Doing this through food, through service, through ambiance was very exciting to me.

This quote really put my dinner at Alinea into perspective. My meal at Alinea literally challenged me from every direction. Now I think the meal was over four hours long, but I was more intellectually exhausted by the end of my meal.

They also delved into the fact that this kind of cuisine is being driven out of Chicago more than any other city. In fact, Nathan actually said:

ny is a backward hick kind of place when it comes to this type of modern food

They both gave huge credit to Charlie Trotter and the alumni of his kitchen (and others) for opening Chicagoan's minds. Grant and Nathan both basically stated that Spain is the new France.

Leading me to tweet:

france : spain :: new york : chicago

Sous Vide

Sous-vide was a thread that ran through the conversation. There were questions about botulism, the NYC health department and whether or not sous-vide would enter the home.

Turns out the number of US botulism fatalities in a year is unbelievably small (and by small I mean 2-3), with a disproportionate number of cases coming from Alaska. That doesn't mean we should throw caution to the wind, but the concerns are overblown.

The NYC health department has draconian requirements that are more strict than both US FDA and EU standards. The result is that it discourages restaurants from utilizing the technique. As of August 2008, 19 restaurants were approved by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Nathan didn't think it would be as common as the microwave, but Grant countered that there is "level of convenience that hasnt been explored" with sous-vide. gachatz went on to talk about prepackaged food designed for SV and that PolyScience working on a kitchen sink that doubles as an immersion circulator.

nathanm had a great response to the concerns that sous-vide will take the soul out of cooking:

What you want to be a thermostat for a living?

I can't actually write any more. I have listened to bits and pieces of this talk a bazillion times. You owe it to yourself (and me) to listen to it once.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Carbonation Not Just A Sensation

When you are drinking that can of cola you aren't just feeling those tiny bubbles, you are also tasting them, according to a new paper entitled "The Taste Of Carbonation". From the press release:
Ryba added that the taste of carbonation is quite deceptive. "When people drink soft drinks, they think that they are detecting the bubbles bursting on their tongue," he said. "But if you drink a carbonated drink in a pressure chamber, which prevents the bubbles from bursting, it turns out the sensation is actually the same. What people taste when they detect the fizz and tingle on their tongue is a combination of the activation of the taste receptor and the somatosensory cells. That's what gives carbonation its characteristic sensation."
There are two crazy factoids here. The first is that the sensation is identical when the bubbles aren't bursting, which seems to defy logic. You'd think there would be some sensory difference. Second, somewhere people are drinking and dining in a pressure chamber.

The scientists found that if they eliminated CA-IV from the sour-sensing cells or inhibited the enzyme's activity, they severely reduced a mouse's sense of taste for carbon dioxide. Thus CA-IV activity provides the primary signal detected by the taste system. As CA-IV is expressed on the surface of sour cells, Chandrashekar and co-workers concluded that the enzyme is ideally poised to generate an acid stimulus for detection by these cells when presented with carbon dioxide.
Given that CA-IV is expressed on the surface of sour cells, and that we can mask sour flavors using Miraculin (the active ingredient in Miracle Fruit) and other taste-modifiers, can we do some home brew experiments at home? I suspect you will still taste the fizz with Miraculin/Soda as I think Miraculin is used as a sweetener in soft drinks in Asia.

Why do mammals taste carbonation? The scientists are still not sure if carbon dioxide detection itself serves an important role or is just a consequence of the presence of CA-IV on the surface of the sour cells, where it may be located to help maintain the pH balance in taste buds. As Ryba says, " That question remains very much open and is a good one to pursue in the future."

I saw Dave Arnold speak awhile ago where he expressed a dislike for some of the culinary uses of carbonation, citing that the effect was similar to spoilage. Combine the fact that carbonation is detected by the sense of sour, and I think this really makes sense. It took a long time for me to have any tolerance for stronger sour tastes (yogurt, sour cream), because well, they tasted like spoiled product to me.

What really blows my mind is how little we understand about something as basic as taste. Growing up, we only had sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Today we have umami (savory). Maybe future generations will have ten tastes. And each time we discover one along the way, chefs will figure out how to coax those flavors out in a delicious way.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sous Vide Supreme: One Small Step For Cooks...

If you read this blog then you know (and probably agree with me), that some form of sous-vide device is going to be the next microwave oven. It seems weird and scary to the general public today, but my great grandkids won't remember life before them.

"Great Grand Pa-Pa, what does overcooked mean?"

Ok, maybe a little far fetched, and, uhh, did my great grandkids grow up in Bavaria? But the first big step forward towards my utopian future will be available for pre-order on October 23rd. What is this, you ask?

Why it's the Sous Vide Supreme, of course.

Sous Vide Supreme With Rack
SousVide Supreme With Rack

Introductory pricing is going to be $399, which puts it between DIY style PID Controller like the Sous Vide Magic ($140)/Rice Cookers ($0-100) combo's and professional immersion circulators (~$1000). This price point is excellent news, because if a small company can produce them and make money at $449 MSRP, then when the Kenmore's of the world produce them, the price will drop further.

Even though this is the first sous-vide appliance really aimed at the consumer market, I think PID Controller
types will have a number of potential reasons to upgrade:

  1. Better temperature regulation. The biggest issue I have with the PID controller today compared to an immersion circulator is the ability to precisely regulate temperature. It doesn't matter too much for the home cook, but if you have a PID controller now, you probably aren't your average home cook. All of this is, of course, assuming this isn't a PID Controller glued to a rice cooker taped inside of a fancy case.
  2. Aesthetics/Ease of Setup. When guests come over and see your set up they should be thinking: "The Future Of Cooking". Instead, they are thinking: "Meth Lab". Also, the PID controller/rice cooker setup takes up a fair amount of space, and is kind of annoying to store.
  3. Built-in Rack. The lid has a rack builtin to it, making it a lot easier to keep bags that might float over time submerged under water.
  4. Reclaim your rice cooker. You can cook rice while making your 198 hour short rib!

One of the challenges I think the Sous Vide Supreme will have face is educating the consumer market.
  1. Changing The Way People Cook. Sous-vide is going to change the way people think about cooking, as well as change the way people prepare food at home. I give them a lot of credit already for the use of the term "water oven". So much more friendly than "immersion circulator" or "temperature controlled water bath". That being said, change is scary. That means we are going to see a lot of:

  2. Fears over health. Just like the microwave oven, there are going to be a ton of health concern objections. Long cooking time in plastic. Botulism. These were all questions that came up when I tried to learn about sous-vide, and I was actually excited about cooking.
  3. Additional Costs. A hidden cost for the average consumers new to sous-vide will be the vacuum sealer and bags, which adds to the cost of using the device. EAT should really figure out a way of bundling a vacuum sealer in the future.
Very promising snippet from their about page:

The Eades also consulted with world-renown chef Heston Blumenthal, who added decades of gourmet sous vide cooking expertise to the product's research and development and ensured the SousVide Supreme would meet the highest culinary standards.
Besides their website, you should also check out this blog post from the folks bringing this to market.

Either way, I am really excited to see sous-vide march forward. And I wish the EAT team the best of luck. May your product succeed (and not suck).


On my walk home today, I stopped underneath Katz's awning (or ledge, whatever that thing is) to get out of the wind and rain. Almost as soon as I ducked under the awning, a man with one of those secret service type ear things walked out holding a laminated sign. I watched as he tried to affix said laminated sign with some tape to one of the windows.

Did I mention earlier that it was raining?

Yah, didn't work too well. He finally managed to kind of get it stuck to the window, giving me a chance to finally read it. My dreams that the secret services were forcing Katz's to discount were quickly dashed as I read that they were filming Gene Simmons' reality TV show. Looking inside, I saw people crowding around Gene, gawking and taking pictures.

While I was peering through the window to get a better look (never said i was better than those other gawkers), a guy leaves with his two sons. At least I hope they were his kids.


It is raining Katz's and Dogz's as a PECULIAR MAN with a goatee peers through the gigantic windows, staring at the trainwreck formally known as GENE SIMMONS. His head tilts like a confused dog while a FATHER exists the famous deli with his two sons.


Are people still taking pictures of him?




I don't get it, he's only been famous for a couple of decades. That pastrami's been famous for like a hun'red years.


(tugging on arm)

Daaaad. Let's gooooooo.


Heh. Didn't think of it like...


Hey, where's that knishery?


(in unison)


The KIDS grab their FATHER's sleeve pulling him down the street (away from the knishery), leaving PECULIAR MAN to stand there... being peculiar.

TGRWT #19 Tomato and Tea: Round Up

Hi TGRWTers!

Tomato and Tea seemed to have pretty mixed results. I think there is a tremendous number of possibilities with these two ingredients, especially with tea. Black tea has a bazillion different varieties, which: can be used to smoke, can be steeped into a liquid, added to a crust or rub, etc.

Lapsang Souchong Tomato Bisque and Sun-Dried Tomato CrostiniLeanne Opaskar made a
Lapsang Souchong Tomato Bisque and Sun-Dried Tomato Crostini. She writes:

The soup is smooth, tomatoey, smokey, and pretty tasty. I'd like to play with the balance of flavors just a bit, because I'd like a little more depth with the clove and anise flavors. They're kind of swallowed up in the smokey tea taste. This is very satisfying for a first pass, though.

The crostini are also tasty, but there's really not much tea flavor to them. I'm not quite sure how I'd play with that to improve it, but they taste good as it is. I didn't think about it at the time, but I should have saved the soaking liquid -- it would have made a fascinating vegetable stock.

Black Tea Souffle with Caramelized Tomato-Plum SauceFrom Lab To Kitchen whipped up a Black Tea Souffle with Caramelized Tomato-Plum Sauce. She writes:

The souffles tasted really good (pretty much like tapioca milk tea in a warm and fluffy form), and so did the sauce (tartness of the plum, sweetness of the tomato). And did TGRWT? Overall, I thought this was an eccentric but successful pairing. When I first smelled the tomato and black tea together, I thought it made sense--it reminded me almost of a tomato and herb combination. Implementing it was more difficult, but nonetheless, I thought the bold and earthy black tea was offset well against the sweet and tart tomato-plum combo. The tomato here showed off its true "fruitiness", being treated as such in the puree, but it also kept its distinctive "heartiness" in the aftertaste.

five o'clock bloody maryAnu Hopia, Elli Laukkanen and Kristiina Niemi over at molekyyligastronomia went to the bar to make us a tea infused bloody mary.

Tea and tomato worked well together & tea made tomato smoothie flavor rounder and also more complex. This is actually a nice version of Bloody Mary for those who prefer lighter drink for a change. The tea flavor was not too strong: if one does not know about the tea, it would be difficult to identify it from the smoothie. However, as we compared smoothie with hot water only, the difference was obvious and it was not difficult to pick the watery version out. The acidity decreased and the tea versions were significantly less acidic.

Chicken Breast With Tomato Tea SauceLinda Roberts wrote in to tell us about her Chicken Breast with Tea Tomato Sauce

First I simply sliced the tomatoes. Before taste testing them with tea I tasted them plain, with soy sauce, and with a blend of soy sauce and sugar (just a tiny tiny bit, don't tell!). Then I tried sprinkling the instant tea powder on the tomatoes. I didn't really like the results at this point, but I had a subtle sense of what this pairing could turn into.

At this point I dumped the can of tomatoes into the Vitamix machine (a food processor or blender would work as well) with a heaping teaspoonful of the tea powder. Gave it a whir. Guess what! That was IT! I really liked the results, the tea really did enhance the tomato flavor. So I served it up with my piece of chicken breast, added some nori flakes and sliced tomato for garnish - it was tasty! Even if I were not on the diet from hell, I don't think I would want to add anything else to this sauce, but I think it might also go well with meatballs and pasta.

Rukiiset tomaattimuffinssit black teaThe Finnish blog, Sisters Cook, rocked it out with a Rukiiset tomaattimuffinssit black tea. I am pretty confident tomattimuffinssit means something akin to "tomato muffin".

Was it then the black thanks to the tea or not? I think it is a bit difficult to say what proportion of the black tea is a taste of the end. Although the first to separate the black tea properly when the mouth is full of muffaria, after taste is clearly yes black tea aroma. [...] Maybe Assamissa would have been even more taste and half-dried tomatoes would have emphasized better than this sekoitelmani fresh and sun-dried?
Bill Trost wrote in to tell us about his lasagne making adventures:

Details on the lasagne: I made my own lasagne noodles using the pasta recipe from _La Tavola Italiano_, and throwing in a bit of homemade pesto. So much for simple! The pesto didn't seem to add much flavor, but the pine nuts certainly added to the texture of the noodles. After spreading a thin layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom, I spread out a layer of noodles, a layer of ricotta thinned a bit with the tea so that it would spread easily, a thin layer of mozzarella, and a grating of parmigiano, and then the next layer of pasta et seq, ending with a layer of pasta, the bulk of the tomato sauce, and another grating of parmigiano. All told, it was about two eggs-worth of pasta, a pound of ricotta, a pound of mozarella, and a fair amount less parmigiano.

The lasagne I served at the dinner party was rather disappointing. The lasagne as a whole lacked depth, possibly because I didn't bake it long enough or because I served it too soon after baking. The leftovers were much better. The sauce tasted like -- well, roasted tomatoes, but the sauce never did develop any depth. The tea didn't seem to have any impact at all.
What? You made it through the whole post? Well, here is my entry:

I made a vietnamese-ish summer roll, steeping the rice vermicelli in pot of a smoky tea (I think it was Lapsang Souchong). Then I took the tomato and just julienned it and rolled it up in rice paper with some fresh herbs, the tea infused vermicelli, and some fried tofu. The tea infused vermicelli was nice, didn't necessarily feel any benefit for having used the tomatoes, or synergy with the tea. Also, not super inspired, but I was crazy exhausted.

Friday, September 4, 2009

TGRWT 19: Tomato And Black Tea

Special Note: We are extending the TGRWT#19 deadline to October 5th!

Hot on the heels of TGRWT18, Martin Lersch was foolish kind enough to let me host TGRWT 19. In case you've forgotten, They Go Really Well Together (TGRWT) is a challenge where you are encouraged to find creative ways of pairing flavors (that may sound unusual) but have one or more key odorants in common.

I've written and quasi-contributed to TGRWT several times, mostly cause I think it gets you thinking about food. If Michael Pollan is right, then now more than ever we need ways to inspire people to actually cook.

This isn't a competition, as such there can be no winner and there will be no fabulous prizes.

But, maybe, just maybe, you can use this to get your creative juices going, and find your way back into your poor, neglected kitchen. I wanted to choose common ingredients that were familiar, seasonal and could still be exciting for people to riff on. I also wanted to choose things that would let our vegetarian/vegan friends contribute.

While you go and look at the fancy logo and the guideline, I'm going to go and enjoy a refreshing, venti tomato-chai latte. Ciao!

I am Jack's Fancy Logo (color coded with the ingredients).

This is how you can participate in TGRWT #19:
  1. Prepare a dish that combines tomato and black tea. You can either use an existing recipe (if there is any) or come up with your own.
  2. Take a picture of the dish and write an entry in your blog by October 1stOctober 5th with TGRWT #19 in the title. Readers will be particularly interested in how the flavour pairing worked out, so make an attempt at describing the taste and aroma and whether you liked it or not.
  3. A round-up will be posted here (with pictures). Please send an email to pablo.escolar.tgrwt@gmail.com with the following details: Your name, URL of blog, URL of the TGRWT #19 post and a picture for your entry in the round-up. If you don't have a blog, email me your name, location, recipe and a brief description of how it worked out and I'll be glad to include it in the final round-up.


first things first. this is built on the shoulders of others.

[caption id="attachment_336" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="prosciutto consomme"]prosciutto consomme[/caption]

fat's rendered. stock's clarified.

notes on prosciutto:

  1. Obtain Hocks. ask deli person about the hocks. don't let them slice it. also, sometimes you can get the superior quality prosciutto in hock form for the same price as the lesser ones. fortune favors the bold.

  2. Trim Fat and Render. rendered prosciutto fat is amazing. you also get prosciutto cracklings if that's your thing. i popped the cracklings into the oven afterwards.

  3. Boyle ye meats. you are going to think you want to add other flavors, but put the bay leaf down. be careful not to overcook. it goes from tasting like prosciutto to not in the blink of an eye

  4. (Optional) Clarify. i'm still weeks behind the interweb and using gelatin clarification.
risotto made with prosciutto stock? sv or confit with prosciutto fat? infuse the consomme into melon? cook or pre-soak beans or pasta? serve with fish or ravioli?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch Reflections

Michael Pollan wrote a pretty excellent article on the rise of food related television programming contrasted with the decline of home cooking. You should read it now and then come back and finish reading this. I don't even mind if you don't come back.

When I read the article, I started thinking about how much of our cultural identities are passed down by home cooked meals. When families get busier (e.g. both parents working, single parents), we have the potential to lose our cultural identity. I have been thinking about what I ate as a kid, and I cannot remember a meal cooked by either of my parents that reflected our heritage. I remember baked sole, burgers, some kind of orange chicken dish, and tv/microwave dinners.

This is probably a social indictment, and/or an indictment of my all too frail memory, rather than my parents. They raised 2.75 children (I was 1.75 of a child, especially when measured in units of trouble). We just don't have time to cook. As a result, we lose a very critical cultural connection. Now being a mutt of irish, german, russian, eastern european descent, I used to think that I was spared from the bevy of boiled vegetables and cheap cuts of meat that I think of when I think of these cuisines.

Going back a generation, I remember my grandmothers' both cooked from their roots. I don't remember much, but I clearly remember my grandmother's brisket, and I could swear it was served with these crispy, roasted potatoes. Of course there were religious events like seders, which carried along the standard seder flavors. We also had Hamantashen. Potato Pancakes. Gefilte Fish. Little chocolate coins. Matzoh and of course, matzoh ball soup.

Ultimately, it just makes me think: Should I regain this culture to pass on to my children (which at this time remain imaginary)? Or will I be feeding my children Frozen PB&J's or Flapsticks (think corn dog, but sausage wrapped in a pancake).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Molecular Gastronomy Nomenclature Debate

Molecular Gastronomy often refers to a form of modern cuisine characterized by use of newer ingredients, techniques and equipment. Many industry folks really dislike the name, preferring Technoemotional, Spanish Avante Garde, Modernism or more truthfully, not being labelled at all. Dave Arnold sums up the reasons for this, but I will condense it for you here:

  1. Offputting. Molecular gastronomy does not sound delicious. I think this is also why most chefs that find themselves in this bucket don't want it to apply to them. Out of all the reasons, this one is of particular concern. The term discourages people from trying the food, as it sounds like food with chemical additives and that's scary.

  2. Too encompassing. Many of the chefs that fall into this bucket. Dave's example is comparing WD~50 and Alinea. Which I actually think is a bad (or good) example, because the average diner is not going to be nuanced enough to understand the different approaches Grant and Wylie have.

  3. And yet at the same time, inconsistently applied. Most of the techniques used by restaurants described as MG, are also found in many 4 star restaurants in NYC.

  4. Inaccurate. Molecular Gastronomy as a term to explain cooking is nonsensical.

This BIiF is such a sucking chest wound, that I am finding myself (like the flesh eating virus) sucked in to offering a counter-argument. Not because I disagree, but cause I am disagreeable. While the term can be totally Offputting, let's look at the 2009 S. Pellegrino List of 50 Best Restaurants:

  1. El Bulli, Roses, Spain

  2. The Fat Duck, Bray-on-Thames, UK

  3. Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark (Chef's Choice)

  4. Mugaritz, San Sebastián, Spain

  5. El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain

  6. per se, New York, US

  7. Bras, Laguiole, France

  8. Arzak, San Sebastián, Spain

  9. Pierre Gagnaire, Paris, France

  10. Alinea, Chicago, US
I count no less than 5 of the top 10 list to fall under what most people would consider the MG umbrella. My simple counter would be to say that there is a fair amount of power in being associated with a style frequently encountered in the top restaurants in the world.

With regards to being Too Encompassing, I think that, to the average diner, one could make an argument that Wylie and Grant's cuisines are more similar than different. One of the reasons I think that it gets Inconsistently Applied is because most of the 4 star restaurants that use these techniques already have a label, most likely of a regional origin. Which leaves us with Inaccurate, where I really don't have a counter point other than to say that sometimes the wrong word sticks. There is certainly precedent for that.

Every time I hear the "Don't call it Molecular Gastronomy", I am immediately reminded of every awkward occasion a friend has tried to describe a relationship to me where they don't call someone their girlfriend because they don't like labels. I don't know, maybe real money is lost because people won't go to a place that has been labelled Molecular Gastronomy. But I think it's avoiding the core issue. A lot people find new things scary. The person that doesn't find Methyl Cellulose or Transglutaminase appealing, doesn't want to eat it at an "Molecular Gastronomy" restaurant, a "technoemotional" restaurant, a 4 star restaurant or even McDonalds.

Don't get me wrong, I try hard not to call it Molecular Gastronomy (usually opting for "Modernism") because I respect the people that don't like the term, but it feels like a tempest (*) in a tea-cup.

(*) notice how I didn't do something cliche like say tempest-foam (***) or a tea-cup fashioned entirely out of tempest.(**)
(**) i should lose all credit for bringing it to your attention
(***) just by conjuring up the word foam, I defeat my own argument

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Calçotada: A Catalan Allium Bacchanal

The Calçot is a scallion varietal that is grown in Catalonia. Commonly accepted folklore (e.g. Wikipedia) tells us that Xat de Benaiges, a Catalan farmer, grew Calçots by covering the edible part in dirt. This induces a phenomenon called etiolation. There I go again using one of those sexy food words. Etiolation occurs when plants don't receive sunlight, preventing chlorophyll from forming, keeping them a pale white color. This is the same process used to create white asparagus. A similar process, that involves burying me in work, is used to induce etiolation in Pablo.


The Catalans or Catalonians as they would probably rather not be called, throw barbeque like parties called Calçotada's, where calçots are grilled over dried vines and then smothered in sauce and eaten while drinking ridiculous amounts of wine.

I don't live in Spain, which makes me sad for a whole host of reasons. But fortunately, in my own neighborhood, I discovered:


Wintered leeks (about as close as you are going to get in NYC) substituted for Calçots. It was pretty fucking awesome. I could go on about how delicious everything was, (which everything really f'n was), or I can tell you how you can actually put together your own Calçotada. Right here, Right now.

The components:
  1. Leeks. Again, you probably aren't going to find Calçots. Leeks are just fine for this.

  2. Fire. Used to grill the leeks (and also meat). Unlikely you are going to be able to build a fire out of vines. Wood or charcoal should be just fine.

  3. Meats. Sausage and Lamb Chop. Keep it simple and carnal (big pile of meat).

  4. Romesco/Romescu Sauce. Catalan ketchup. A nut (hazelnut or almond) based garlicky, pepper sauce. There is also a regional variant called Mxylplyx. Oh no, wait, it's called Salvitxada. I'll be honest, I haven't deduced what the difference between the sauces are yet.

  5. Wine. Red, Rose or Cava. More important than type of wine, what you really need is a...

  6. Porron. This is basically a beer bong for winos. Imagine a vase with a spout that comes to a narrow point coming from the bottom. Can't imagine it? Here:


    Tip the point into your mouth and extend your hand holding the Porron as far from your face as you can, keeping the narrow jet of wine pouring into your mouth. When you can't take any more: bring the point close to your face and return it to an upright position, attempting, but most likely failing, to prevent pouring wine on your face and shirt. Repeat ad nauseum... sometimes literally.
Congratulations! Now you can have your own Calçotada.

You're welcome Internet.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Zero Effort Pulpo A La Gallego

Octopus is a notoriously finicky ingredient. You are usually battling flavor and texture. As McGee writes:
The recipes themselves are all over the map with their advice for making octopus tender. Salting is essential to tenderness, or fatal; brief dips in boiling water tenderize, or long slow cooling, or a rubbing with grated daikon, or the addition of a wine cork to the cooking liquid.

McGee continues to perform his own experiments with which he does come up with two ways to prepare octopus. Brine/simmer and self-braise at low temp.


While I am sure they both work really well, I found that sous vide is hands down the way to go. And it makes sense, because it is sort of like a self braise. One of the best things about cooking Octopus is that you can cook it at a temperature perfect for cooking vegetables. Starches break down around 80C, while pectin doesn't break down until around 85C. And when I think Octopus and starches I most certainly think of Pulpo A La Gallego.

Pulpo A La Gallego is a spanish dish that is basically boiled octopus and potatoes drizzled with olive oil and paprika. It was crazy easy to do this SV-stylee. Bag of potatoes with olive oil, s&p, garlic powder and smoked paprika. Other bag is octopus tentacles with olive oil, salt and lemon juice. 180F for 4+ hours to get the octopus nice and tender.

Take out potatoes and arrange on a plate.

When the octopus is done, you'll have a bag of mostly octo-juice as octopus are mostly made up of said juice. Remove tentacles, retain the octo-goodness in the bag, its pretty gelatinous, reuse for a sauce. Slice tentacles, squeeze more lemon juice on them, and put on top of potatoes. A drizzle of olive oil and some paprika and boom you're done.

As far as breaking down the octopus and the tentacles post water bath, sharp kitchen shears are definitely the way to go. Cut out eyes, innards, beak, removed head then cut through the webbing to get each tentacle whole.

Friday, May 8, 2009

easiest way to enjoy octopus.


olive oil, salt, lemon juice. 180F. drop and go to work.

TGRWT17 Redux: Apple/Rose

Two months in a row with rose based food pairings. This time it's Apple/Rose. It is pretty hard to get around the whole persian/middle eastern connection. So I am not going to shock you with MORABAA-YEH SEEB, an apple jam with citrus (usually lime, sometimes lemon) and rosewater. Will you be dazzled with the Rose Scented Apple Pie? What if I were to tell you of a tree that produces a fruit called the Rose Apple, which is neither Rose nor Apple and is yet reminiscent of both?


That's right... the Syzygium jambos produces a fruit that is according to some random sources on the internet both apple and rose like. The above picture comes from here, where you can also find some recipes.

I think when:
  • nature itself
  • the ancient persians, and
  • the mother-f'n food network
have managed to combine the two flavors, we can call this pairing a lay up.



Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blog Migration

I am going to be moving to Blogger soonish. To minimize disruption, I am going to ask that you make sure that you are subscribed to Medellitin via FeedBurner.

Sorry, but wordpress.com isn't doing it for me anymore.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Food Cliche: Spring

It must be spring, because i just saw {ramps, morels, fiddleheads} at the farmer's market. If you wrote this in 2009, you need some new material.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Thoughts on TGRWT16: Chicken and Rose

TGRWT-16 was Chicken and Rose. I am pretty late to the party on posting this, but the gears of work are grinding away at my free time. However, I did make a note to myself:
I am sure there is a persian or middle eastern recipe for this already. Something old school.

Googling around, I did manage to find a recipe:
Take Orenges or Lemmons pilled, and cutte them the long way, and if you can keepe your cloves whole and put them into your best broth of Mutton or Capon with prunes and currants and three or fowre dates, and when these have beene well sodden put whole pepper, great mace, a good peece of suger, and some rose water, and either white or claret Wine, and let all these seeth together a while, & so serve it upon soppes with your capon.

So old school, this recipe is simply called "To Boile A Capon With Orenges And Lemmons" and which according to the some random site on the internet was first published in the 1594 classic cookbook, The Good Huswife's Handmaide For the Kitchen. This shakespearian era cookbook was one of the earliest cookbooks targetted towards the middle class (perhaps because that was the first time in history the middle class was literate). As you may know, I am not going to rely on just one random internet website when I can rely on a couple. Ay, there's the rub.

That SCA joinin', armour wearin', spellin' armor 'armour' wearing mother fucker had his attribution totally wrong. The true source of this recipe is from the way more contemporary smash hit The Good Huswife's Jewell of 1596. There is a similarly named recipe in The Good Huswife's Handmaide For The Kitchen called confusingly enough "To Boyle A Capon With Orenges Or Lemmons".

The recipe from that book is:
Take your Capon and boyle him tender,
and take a litle of the broth when it is boiled,
and put it into a pipkin, with Mace and
Sugar a good deale, and pare three Orenges
and pill them, and put them in your pipkin,
and boyle them a litle among your broth, and
thicken it with wine and yolks of Egges, and
Sugar a good deale, and salt but a litle, and
set your broth no more on the fyre, for quailing,
and serue it in without sippets.

Well, Boyle Me Tender
So anyways, we clearly have evidence of Chicken and Rose flavor pairings dating back to a time where our mouth breathing ancestors could point at someone, call them a witch and then burn them alive. Today, we could do it a little more humanely. Like vaccuum seal them and toss them in a temperature controlled waterbath at the precise temperature required to kill a witch (note to nathanm/baldwin or keller/ruhlman: please produce a temperature chart for properly cooking witches at various thicknesses).

Now that I've gotten all Federman on you, allow me to get back on topic...

Apart from Elizabethan era cookbooks, you are most likely going to find rosewater in middle eastern/persian recipes. For example, Djaj Bel Loz (Chicken with Almonds and Honey) is a Moroccan dish that can contain rosewater. Feeling some south of the border love? Try adapting the Quail With Rose Petals recipe found in Like Water For Chocolate.

I am going to call this flavor pairing a win.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spherification and Molecular Gastronomy

A lot people involved in Molecular Gastronomy (the modern cooking revolution, Modernism, Molecular Cooking, Techo-Emoti{ve,onal} Cooking) use the term spherification to describe the technique of forming food into spheres. Some folks hate the term Molecular Gastronomy (for many reasons, some good, some bad) and rail against its use to describe a style of cooking. A lot of energy is expended debating the term, or attempting to change this part of the culinary zeitgeist.

While it rails against one word, it invents another. That's right. Spherification is not a word. The closest Merriam Webster provides (in Mar. 2009) is:
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): sphered; spher·ing
Date: 1602
1 : to place in a sphere or among the spheres : ensphere
2 : to form into a sphere

Do I really care about this? No, I actually like that language is fluid and that made up words can become real words.

Up next, actual spherification sphering.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Top Chef: 3 Steps To Predicting The Loser


I started to reliably predict who was going to be eliminated around season two of Top Chef. This isn't because I am a super genius, it's on top of me being a super genius.

If you think about competition-based, reality television, each episode is a story with a winner and a loser. The winner and loser of an hour long television show are likely to get more airtime. When there is someone going home, it is in their best interest to make you as invested in that person as possible. This breaks down to three simple rules:
  1. The loser is the star of the episode.
  2. The star needs facetime early and often.
  3. The star of the show needs to have in-episode strife.
Today's episode (Season 5, Episode 7) is a great example. While livetweeting (f'ing shoot me now, I livetweeted something), I called Gene and Melissa being eliminated at nine minutes into the episode. This episode was extra easy as it was a double elimination. Here is a fourth rule:
  1. Double eliminations will often group the two losers together via editing
So, let's watch some Top Chef. Below this graf is a quick cheatsheet I put together watching a second time using my DVR. I had to clarify that because I don't want you thinking that I actually annotate Top Chef as I watch it.

02:32Gene comments on being pissed off and stands behind his dish, immediate cut to
02:40Melissa not realizing how much pressure there is on her, immediate cut and...
02:54Music goes from melancholy to upbeat
04:27Padma says there is a catch, cut to melissa's eye bulge, which cuts to gene looking uncomfortable, which cuts to sugar.
04:38Gene things he is F-'d
08:00Gene and Melissa edited back to back in elimination challenge.
08:39Melissa's one on one interview, complete with raspy voice and red eyes.
10:42Padma: "... least favorites" cut to melissa, cut to gene. Then they cut to the actual bottom three in the elimination: carla, ariane and jamie.
12:45Gene talking about how he needs to win and that he misses his family.

And the hits keep on coming... at minute 36 we see Gene and Melissa editing neighbors yet again.

I am about 80% accurate in the first 10 minutes. Funny thing is, usually I go off the rails as I get into the episode.

Don't believe me? Try it next week. Look for someone who is:
  • Disproportionate amounts of attention, especially early in the episode
  • Is especially emotional or going through a personal crisis
Report back here next week with who you think it is.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Altered Tastes: Unholy Mackerel

It is really uncomfortable to admit my love for fishing. Even before I started my culinary love affair with fish, I have always enjoyed the simple pleasure of casting a line out into the water and waiting for something to happen. And waiting. and waiting. Most of my angling experiences were in a southern Vermont lake, teeming with perch, large and small mouth bass, and trout. In the ten years we went up there, I think we caught about three fish that the state would allow you to keep.

In later years, I would occasionally get out on the ocean, mostly in New England and primarily blues and stripers. Just before new years I had the chance to go ocean fishing in the Florida Keys. According to our first mate, are likely to catch (in order of my personal preference): Blackfin Tuna, Grouper, Wahoo, Mackerel, King Mackerel, Sailfish, Barracuda.

As luck would have it, we caught about 15 fish in three hours, which was mostly barracuda, king mackerel and 1.5 Mackerel.

Mackerel and Kingfish Pile

"One point five", you ask?

One of the fish we reeled in was half eaten by a Barracuda as it was being reeled in.

Anyways, when I think of mackerel, my mind immediately conjures up the fishy, oily and almost always uneaten piece of sushi on any chirashi I order. So, I was pretty damned skeptical when we left the dock with a plastic bag filled with mackerel fillets and ice.

Mackerel Fillets... Will They Be Yummy?

At the captain's suggestion, we immediately drove to Dante's. After getting seated, we handed them the bag and said, "Cook it every way you can". About 30 minutes later, during which we were all anticipating what we were going to order after a disappointing round our lest favorite fish, the waitress put down a platter containing fried, blackened and grilled mackerel and kingfish.

Catch Of The Day

This fish was unbelievable. There was no ultra fishy flavor. No oiliness to report. It was a firm, white fleshed fish, that was just moist and delicious. All three preparations were equally amazing.

Maybe it was angler's bias. We caught the fish, surely that will make it taste better.

Maybe it was the freshness. I have never had mackerel that was an hour old.

This experience will go into the cold case files of... Altered Tastes.

Escolar: The World's Most Dangerous Fish

Escolar is the most controversial fish that you are likely to find in your fish market. This firm, white fleshed fish has an incredibly ric...