Sunday, January 27, 2008

New Quote of a Lifetime

"I be chef like da-da."

- The Lad

(after three years to the day, at that. No, dammit, I just got some onion in my eyes from cooking. Shut up.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Quote of the Day

A Tip of the Toque to Princess Haiku.

"Everyone is a visionary if you scratch him deep enough. But a Celt is a visionary without scratching."

W.B. Yeats

Sous What?

Once again, blogging buddy Professor Chaos writes:

doubt I can word this in such a way that you can respond directly in a post (like the last one), but my new cast-iron fetish has led me to a new appreciation of marinades and how they flavor meat/fish/fowl.

So could you do a post about water, oil, vinegar, tomato, etc. based marinades and how they flavor what you cook?

I ask because for beef and pork I usually use (with great results) a half and half mix of A1 and worcestershire, and with chicken I mostly use water-based hot sauce. But tonight I used balsamic dressing on chicken and it worked amazingly well, and the other day I soaked a beef filet in ranch dressing and it came out quite tasty too.

Now I'm marinading an ahi steak in balsamic dressing and a salmon steak in A1 (because it's tomato based -- usually I poach them in a tomato-based soup). My options are many, and these are just guesses at this point as to how they'll ultimately taste.

I guess what I'm asking you to do is give us a metric about the various cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and fish and advice as to which base and herbs/spices/etc. marinades will flavor each variety and cut and how. As with my original challenge in this regard, the more simple the better.

A tall order for sure, but isn't this what you're an expert in? Not an easy post to write, so take your time, and keep it to what a normal person has in the fridge.

Actually, I think YOU worded it fairly well, and I'd be happy to tackle this one.

But first, let me address your gracious but misguided sentiment at the end. I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert. I'm a trained novice, an initiate, if you well, and while brines and cures and marinades are an integral part of two of my passions -- charcuterie and barbecue -- I still have much to learn.

Having said that, I think I can address a few of the good professor's questions:

So could you do a post about water, oil, vinegar, tomato, etc. based marinades and how they flavor what you cook?

I've partially addressed this before, and really dropped the ball on it. So let's ignore that first attempt of mine at explaining brines and marinades. Let's start with a quick course on what is a cure, what is a brine, and what is a marinade?

A cure is a form of dry rub, usually made up mostly of salt and some source of sweeness -- sugar, etc. -- that is applied directly to the meat. Originally, cures, like brines, were intended to help preserve the meat. They're still used for thast purpose in specialty applications, but nowadays their main purpose is to impart flavor.

Now, if instead of rubbing the cure onto the meat being prepared, you mix it with water, you have a brine -- a highly salty liquid in which the meat is submerged for a period of time in order to accomplish the same goals as a cure -- preservation and/or flavoring.

A marinade is closely related to a brine. The main difference is that brines rely mostly on salt and sweet to impart flavor, and marinades rely on acids. The most common acids used are citric acid (from citrus fruit, duh), acetic acid (from vinegars), and wine (the acids present in wine are varied, two of the most common being tannic and tartaric). As the professor mentions, tomato-based liquids can also be used, they have quite a bit of ascorbic acid (vitamin c).

Acids can o a lot of things to the meat when marinating. They impart... wait for it... acidity, which translates to the taste sour. They can also be useful for unlocking flavors in the other ingredients in the marinade. They do NOT, despite popular belief, do much in the way of tenderizing the meat. Maybe a little, because they will denature some of the proteins, but not enough to make tough meat tender -- slow cooking is key for that to happen. But the denaturing will alter the taste and flavor of the meat and how it reacts to cooking.

In fact, the acid can actually cook the meat -- that's what ceviche is -- and can easily overpower it. That's why it's important to regulate how acidic your marinade is. The best way to do this is to dilute it with another, preferrably neutral, liquid -- water and oil being the most common choices.

So which to use?

Well, a general rule of thumb is to use oil-based marinades with lean, easily dried-out cuts of meat, such as white fishes and lean beef like filet mignon. Be careful using them on already fatty meats such as cap-on brisket, salmon, etc., which are best with water-based marinades. Pork and chicken tend to be versatile, and can take either.

As for what flavors to use, the same rules apply to marinades as do to any other methods of flavoring, like sauces and even rubs -- it all depends on how flavorful the meat is to begin with. If it has a delicate flavor, like most fish, go with subtle flavorings. More flavorful, stronger-tasting meat like game or lanb or mutton, go with stronger, bolder-flavored herbs and spices. With beef, it depends on the cut and what your goal is. Remember that the more tender the meat, the less flavorful, and the tougher the meat, the more flavorful. If you have a filet mignon, for instance, you're not going to want to overpower it -- rub it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill it -- let Mallard do his stuff. Brisket? Go to town -- it's very flavorful, and it lends itself well to lots of spices. Once again, pork and chicken are your workhorses -- they lend themselves well to either approach, depending on what you want to showcase. This is especially true of chicken, which has little flavor on its own, and makes a great "blank canvas". If you want to get fancier, go find some good ethnic cookbooks, and experiment with some spices. The other day I made a great Spanish dish called Pinchitos Morunos, cubed meat marinated in paprika, cumin, coriander, lemon juice and olive oil -- simple, delicious.

I hope that was simple enough without being too vague.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Storytellers

My recent post linking to a Townes Van Zandt video got me thinking. I've always been a big fan of not just singer-songwriters, but what I call Storyteller-Songwriters -- people whose songs tell stories -- be they epic or small, they're always human stories.

So who are my favorites? I thought I'd take a shot at listing the ones I've grown to appreciate the most, based on how many of their songs I know, how many of those songs tell stories, and how much ompact those stories have on me. I've come up with a top 7:

7. Townes Van Zandt -- He's new to me, sbut I'm already taking an interest in him, and his song Pancho and Lefty alone puts him on my list. I look forward to getting to know him better.

6. Loretta Lynn -- It's the autobiographical nature of her work that impresses me. Coal Miner's Daughter, by itself, gets her on this list, but it's by no means her only success in this regard.

5. Willie Nelson -- More a Singer-storyteller-songwriter, since as many times as he's written a good story, and as many times as he's composed for others, he's also taken many another musician's work and made it his own.

4. Kris Kristofferson -- another songwriter who can thank others for helping establish his creds, this time in that those others have taken HIS songs and made them famous -- Sunday Morning Coming Down and Me and Bobby McGee come to mind.

3. Johnny Cash -- He'd be higher on the list, but a lot of his best songs were written by others. However, he still has enough of an impact to merit 3rd place.

2 Gordon Lightfoot -- If each person on this list was allowed only one song to be presented for their resume for membership in this list, Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald would be enough to ensconce him in first place. But that honor, based on the weight of his body of work as well as the quality of each song in question, goes inarguably in my mind to...

1. John Denver -- Country Roads; Grandma's Feather Bed; Rocky Mountain High; Two Ducks... the list goes on and on. Hands down my favorite storyteller-songwriter.

So who are yours?

Monday, January 21, 2008

...And Your Breath's as Hard as Kerosene

Bob over at Eugene Rant has a link to a You Tube video of Townes Van Zandt singing Pancho and Lefty. If it doesn't give you chills, you don't know good storytelling music.

Quote of the Day

"Food tastes better when you're not wearing shoes."

- Anthony Bourdain

Friday, January 18, 2008

Since You Asked

Blogging Buddy... well, we've never met, so I'll say Highly Regarded Fellow Blogger Leopold Stotch writes with a culinary-type question. Following is his query and my response in italics:

A question that you might post on if you think it's relevant:

What the hell, I need some material, and this comes in handy.

I retired my George Foreman in favor of a pre-seasoned cast iron grill pan (which I seasoned several additional times just to be sure), and I'm loving it. The Foreman dries out the meat and usually burns one or both sides, but the cast iron with a grill press has completely changed the flavor and texture of everything I've cooked.

Good man. Cast iron is untouchable for meat cookery dry cooking methods. Its density gives it great heat retention, that and its heat conductivity means even heat with relatively little "spot heat", where some parts of the surface are significantly higher than others.

When I've been to places with open kitchens, they rub down their grills with a towel and I'd like to clean mine with one instead of paper towels or a brush (the former tears up while the latter scrapes off the seasoning).

Actually, when they rub down a big commercial grill like that, they're not cleaning it, theyre re-seasoning it. They've already cleaned it with a brush. I'll make some cleaning and care recommendations in a minute, but since you asked:

What kind of towel is appropriate for this? Does it matter? At the places I've been it's looked like a chamois, but maybe it's just a normal cotton towel worn with usage.

Bingo. It's a cheap terry side towel that's been rolled up in a... well, roll, and soaked in vegetable oil. Reoeated use wears off the piling.

Here's how I would recommend caring for your new grill pan: After you're done using it, while it's very hot, run it under HOT water. You're essentially deglazing the pan, but not to make a sauce -- you're just lifting off the residue. Use a long-handled brush or handled scrubbing pad to clean it off, then immediately wipe it drywith a clean, dry dish towel. If it looks like you've lost any of the cure, heat it back up, rub it with a bit of oil and re-cure. A thorough and indepth cure shouldn't be necessary -- get it hot, rub in the oil, and wipe off the excess. For curing, a paper towel should be ok for this, but if you insist, see my earlier comments about the type of towel they use. From your comments on curing, I'm going to assume you're aware of the evils of strong chemical detergents on cast iron.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Suffering for my Art

I gotta tell you, folks, it ain't easy.

On Tuesdays, I have Advanced Cooking Theories 2, which covers International Cuisine (Cooking Theories 1 was Garde Manger, Cooking Theories 3 will be American Regional Cuisine. The format is this: Class meets at 2:30. From 2:30 until 3:00 we have homework review and lecture. From 3:00 until 5:00, we are assigned recipes from one of the two countries coveredthat night and must cook them. From 5:00 until class lets out at 5:50, we eat the dishes cooked and review, then clean up. This week we covered Spain and Portugal. Dishes included Gazpacho, Lobster Paella, Scallops in Black Truffle Butter, and Empanadas.

I then had to rush up to my 6:30 elective vlass, Culinary Adventuring: Oregon Wine Country, where I was asked to sample two Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Noir Rose, and a Pinot Gris from Van Duzer Vineyards (who, by the way, have not only some of the best wine in Oregon, but the most gorgeous of labels on their bottles), along with the obligatory foods that they suggested paired well with them: Manchego Cheese and Blanched and Roasted Almonds with the Rose; Prosciutto-Wrapped Honeydew with the Pinot Gris; Stuffed Crimini Mushroom Caps with the Estate Pinot Noir; and Pannarello Cheese and Shortbread dipped in Deep Chocolate Creme with Raspberry Coulis to go with the Westside Pinot Noir.

As if that wasn't bad enough, today was the first dry run for the Ren Room -- this term, we second years are being traned to supervise, the first years do the cooking. After the dry run we cooked off all the remaininf food and ate it family style -- Risotto, Filet Mignon with White Beans, Mussels in White Wine and Creme Fraisch, Schnitzel with Applesauce, Potato Rosti, Bread Pudding and Chocolate Creme Brulee, etc....

These are the times that try mens souls waistlines.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

(D)amned if You Do, (D)amned if You Don't

A tip of the Toque or two (or three) to the Llamabutchers.

You know, I almost pity Democratic voters this primary season. If they don't vote for Hillary, they're sexists. If they don't vote for Obama, they're racists. And ultimately, it doesn't matter WHICH way they vote, because Sith Lord Rove has it all rigged anyway.

It's a common thread among pundits and talking heads on both sides of the political divide, but it's definitely more prevalent on the left (for the most part, because they're the ones who have commandeered the rhetorical means to do so, namely, the language of victimhood): any failure, any political or social outcome that doesn't go your way is the result not of a failure in your policy or your strategy or your position, but rather is caused by some combination of dark motives and darker forces oppposing you.

That's really too bad. It's too bad in general, because it silences any discussion of the issues and reduces our political debate to a name-calling session. And it's especially too bad for the Democrats this primary season, because it reduces the race not to a question of who's the better candidate, but rather to one of who's the biggest victim.

I daresay the Democrat voter is.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Muy Bueno

Tonight's dinner was a couple of Spanish-style tapas: Tortilla Espanola, Pinchitos Morunos, good rustic bread, and a Nice Spanish red wine: Jumilla, from Bodegas Luzon.

Not expensive, yet delicious.

Joy and Sadness

First, the good news.

Lurch, my best friend of 20 years, one of three musketeers from my college days, is finally getting married to a sweet and lovely young woman. They've been courting for a couple years now, and have worked through good and bad times together. If anyone deserves love and happiness, it's Brian.

Now the bad news.

Due to financial difficulties and the demands of my school schedule, I won't be attending. I was to be a groomsman, I won't be able to even be a guest.

This really breaks my heart.

Before I met TFR, Brian and I would commiserate over our loneliness and lack of female companionship. For years I've wanted him to find someone as badly as I ever wanted to myself. And now that he has, I won't be there to celebrate with him.

So on February 29th, I'll sit back, crack open a Vernor's, and raise a glass to the world's most deserving groom.

To Valhalla!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Vindication and VIN-dication

Two of my classes today were International Cuisine and Culinary Adventuring: Oregon Wine Country.

In the International Cuisine class, we were assigned one of two tasks: Cooking a dish fro tonights covered region, or test-cooking one of the dishes for the Ren Room menu for the term. I was assigned a Ren Room dish -- a dessert, specifically a Pear Tart Tatin from a Jamie Oliver Recipe. As most of you who read me may know, I'm not a baker -- in fact, pastries and baking are my Achilles' Heel.

I nailed it. It came out looking gorgeous, and tasting heavenly. When I brought over the presentation plate for the menu photo shoot, I almost cried, I was so thrilled.

Then in the Culnary Adventuring class (an electve pass/no pass class class where passing requires that you show up), the instructor let me share something I saw on the news recently:

Riedel Crystal has developed a new varietal stemware specifically for Oregon Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is the grape found in Burgundy wine, so for a long time that's been the kind of glass recommended for Oregon Pinot, but our terroir is entirely different from Burgudy's. Now, the validity/necessity of a new glass is already being debated, with some thinking it's just a marketing gimmick, and others arguing that there really is a difference in the experience of the drinker depending on the glass. Personally, I'm still not enough of a wine expert (which is why I'm taking this class as a start -- a chef should know wine) to contribute to that debate, but I do know one thing -- either way, Riedel woudn't bother unless Oregon Pinot had become a significant part of the market -- something also backed up by the fact that Benton Lane, a winery about half an hour from here, was named to Wine Spectator's top 100 Pinot Noirs of the World list.

We really are blessed here in Oregon with an abundance of wonderful, fresh foods -- seafood, fruit and nuts and berries, free-range livestock, artisan cheeses, and some of the best wines and beers in America, and now, the World. As an aspiring culinarian, one of the things I desire to do is develop a cooking style that highlights the food and drink of my birthplace, a place I consider as close to heaven as I'll get this side of the Veil.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Swamped

This term, I'm taking 21 credit hours. That classload includes a Restaurant Kitchen Supervison lab, working in the Renaissance Room (our student-run restaurant), that counts for exactly zero credit hours, but meets for nine hours a week. On Thursday afternoon, I have a job interview. Saturdays will still be spent with The Lad while TFR is at work.

You'll understand if my posting levels sink back to their previous sporadic near-nonexistent levels.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Link Worthy

Go watch, over at the LlamaButchers. Trust me.

Seattle, Washington

Final:
Seattle Seahawks 35
Washington Redskins 14

All week long I've been growing more and more weary of hearing how red hot the 'Skins were, how emotionally driven by the "Win One for the Gipper" factor they were, how they had the best record in the NFC over the last four weeks of the season. It seemed that everyone, apparently including the Redskins, forgot that there was another team scheduled to show up in Seattle today.

The 'Hawks reminded them of that fact, in no uncertain terms. The defense especially was dominant, rushing and sacking Collins all game long. They even had something resembling a running game, and they overcame a late surge by Washington, who came back to lead 14-13 before they missed a field goal and let Seattle back in it.

Well played, 'Skins,way to go 'Hawks!

It's Snowing

Right now, right out my window. Big, thick, heavy, wet snowflakes. It just shifted from rain to snow, so nothing's sticking yet, but it's snowing. It's gorgeous. I've been hoping for a little snow since mid-December, since I love white Christmases. Each morning I would wake up and listen, hoping to hear... nothing. Under normal weather conditions, I can hear plenty of traffic in the distance. If the roads are wet, I'll hear the splash of cars driving through the rain, or I might hear the raindrops themselves. But when it snows, the cars slow down, and the snow absorbs the sound coming off of tires. Silence in the morning means snow. The only days I was thrown off by this significantly were Christmas itself and New Year's Day, for obvious reasons.

But as I sat here blogging on other matters, the pitter-patter of the rain outside decreased and eventually silenced, and my head was immediately drawn to the window... sure enough, there it was.

I'm gonna bundle up and go out in it with The Lad, I'll talk to you folks later.

UPDATE:

It's sticking. Like little frozen paratroopers, the first waves of flakes lowered the temperature, and thus the defenses, of the ground, and the follow-on flakes have established a foothold. It's still nowhere deep enough to play in, but The Lad enjoyed watching it fall and lay on the ground as we walked to the store. I killed two birds with one stone, because we were out of... wait for it... ice.

Since You Asked

In response to an earlier post today, a generous but anonymous commenter suggested that I compose an Amazon wish list and put a button linking to it on my blog.

Well, the truth of the matter is, I DO have an Amazon wish list, and the button has been on my blog for some time. I only recently added a significant number of items to it, but it's there.

Most of the items on it, truth be told, are far more than I think anyone should ever spend on me. But it's a nice way to keep track of "someday" goals, and if someone does feel like buying mer a little something, that would be nice -- but I don't want people thinking I expect it, or feel entitled. The fact that someone would even suggest wanting to see that list is flattering.

In fact that's why I don't usually mention it, despite having it there. If someone notices it, and feels generous, that's wonderful. But this blog isabout expressing myself, and the feedback I get when people get something from it -- not about any material gain.

But before you do, go here and help someone who actually NEEDS it.

Pressing Matters

This is the last weekend before school starts up again (ironic that the blogging bug should wait until now to re-infect me, eh?), and I'm rather excited. I gave one of my chef instructors, Chef Clive, a call the other day and told him I got the charcuterie book for Christmas, and his immediate response was, "So what recipe do you want to try first?" I told him I needed to think about it, but I have, and the winner is... Soppresatta, an italian sausage similar to salami -- the word is derived from the Italian for "pressed".

Despite my obvious pride in the pancetta last term, our efforts were met with mixed success. My classmate's duck breast prosciutto also turned out well, but several other projects went bad. The main culprit, as always, was contamination, with high humidity being a big co-conspirator. The weather here is dry in summer, but it gets damp when it cools off. What we really need is a dedicated refrigerator with a dehumidifyer. Chef Clive says that he talked to the folks at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, and their charcuterie club (!) uses a EuroCave, originally designed for wine storage. We can't afford anything like that for our program, but Chef Clive has a couple of ideas. We'll see how it goes.

I'll post more on this later in the term after I've had a crack at the soppressata.

Full Kit?

My Kershaw fillet knife finally arrived. It turns out that while Kershaw's headquartered here in Oregon, the knife's made in Japan. Oh, well. It's as nice a knife as I hoped for -- good comfortable grip, incredibly flexible blade (inportant in a fillet knife), solid feel. The scabbard that came with it is obviously for use by sportsmen and fishermen -- it's plastic with a drainhole. It's a bit bulky for my knife bag, but not impossibly so.

But that brings me to the bleg/query portion of this post, and it's directed at any fellow culinarians/cooks/chefs who might read this blog.

It's going to be a while before I am in the market to buy another knife, but when I am, what should I set my sights on next? Bear in mind that I'm still in school, and I don't expect to be put in a position to specialize any time soon, and while my passions lie in the area of meat cookery and charcuterie, I am trying to develop as a good all-around culinarian. Here's what I have in my kit so far:

Messermeister bird's beak paring knife
AvantGarde Pro 3" paring knife*
Wusthof 4" chef's knife
AvantGarde Pro 6" boning knife
ChefWorks 8" chef's knife*
ChefWorks 9" serrated bread knife
Kershaw 9" fillet knife
Forschner honing steel

*The "AvantGarde Pro and ChefWorks brands were the knives that were issued in our kits when we started school. They're not the big prestigious brands, but they're quality knives -- forged in Germany and assembled in China. They're all full tang, X50 Cr Mo V 15 stainless.

I was thinking that eventually I'd like a big gun -- a 10" chef's, but a cleaver or scimitar both seem like good choices too, especially considering my interest in charcuterie and meat cookery.

Thoughts?

Musical Geography Trivia Question

If your travelling companions are ghosts and empty sockets, to what city are you going?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Catty Remarks

A tip of the Toque to buddy Lurch.

The truth of this sentiment is why I'm a "Dog Person":

Quote of the Week Month Year Lifetime

II don't want to be healthy, I want to be big like Dada."

-- The Lad

*sigh* Time to diet.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Took The Lad sledding this weekend up at Santiam Pass. It was the first time I'd driven the Subaru in snow, and I loved it. The AWD is considered a traction device, so we didn't have to mount our cables, and the car grabbed the road very nicely. Only twice did we swerve at all, and that was while making U-turns. While driving the road normally, I felt no drift or slippage at all. I got a little cocky, though, and parked us in snow a TAD too deep -- but with myself and another person pushing, we got out with very little effort.

The Lad loved the snow, as did Little Big Dog -- lhasa apsos are from tibet, and despite the 20 degree weather, she never even shifered.

As for sledding, that was another story. This fat man almost killed himself carrying The Lad and a sled up the hill, and when we finally took off, The LAd seated in front of me, the hill was super fast, and displaying a bit of over-protectiveness, I kept braking with my boots -- throwing copious amounts of snow into my face and The Lads. One run was enough, and he was ready to go. But all in all it was a fun day, and we hope to get up there at least once more this winter.