GeezerGourmet.com seeks to foster a renewed
interest in home culinary arts among experienced home cooks
The Geezer Gourmet(go here for brief
biography) caters to clientele who have life-long experiences
in home cooking and now, as empty nesters
and retirees, have the time to renew their love of good food
and its preparation. The Geezer Gourmet assumes that
you routinely cook for one
or two people; eat out quite often; still like to entertain
and are experienced at it; have adequately equipped kitchens;
and enjoy life and good health.
If you have some of the above attributes but are not a
geezer nor even approaching pre-geezerhood, thank your parents
for that, press on regardless, and welcome.
This is not a Web site for food phobics or wellness hypochondriacs
Not Too Sure About This Finex
Grill Pan . . .
Readers know that I like cast iron cookware, see the article
below. Non-stick pans and copper have their place but as
the years go by, I favor cast iron more and more. There
are three unique things about them: 1. while slow to heat
up evenly, they retain heat like no other pan;
2. unlike any other pan, cast iron can be (should be) placed
dry on a medium hot burner and left there to pre-heat forever
until needed--no other pan can do that; and
3. they last forever. A family couple lost their home
in the Santa Rosa fire last summer. The only thing that
survived as still useful was their cast iron skillet!
Here we have a new grill pan by Finex. I bought it with
confidence, knowing the design and quality of my two Finex
skillets. The Finex people tout this grill pan as a fat
draining cooking surface that "...drains fat and grilling
juices to the pan's tapered margins, ensuring that grilled
foods gain flavor, not fat."
Well, OK. They show the Finex Grill Pan being used on the
BBQ. But a BBQ grill drains fat and juices to the fire below
without the need of a grill pan. In fact, that's the whole
ides of an open fire BBQ . I sorta sensed that before buying
the thing, but liked it for the gas stove top. So, here
it is on my stove top with a hamburger paddy, two hash browns
and a bun. It took more than ten minutes on medium low heat
for the grill pan to heat up evenly. Before then, there
was a 100+ degree difference from center to edge (this is
characteristic of cast iron cookware--hence the need for
a lengthy dry preheat).
The grill pan worked well here, surface temperature was
about 475F creating nice grill marks. Though I oiled to
pan well after the dry preheat and nothing stuck while cooking,
cleaning the pan afterwards was difficult and time consuming.
Maybe easier with use.
Bottom line: I don't see a use for this grill pan on a
BBQ grill. It's great as a useful speciality pan on a stove
top. I'll use it there . . .
Roasted Game Hens Asian
I like Cornish Game Hens and
have one recipe here and another
related, here. I try to find
small ones but without much success even at the town's speciality
butcher. These were smaller than the supermarket variety,
but still too large for just one person. So, they're split
to serve 6
See abbreviations if needed
Yield: 6 servings
- 1/4 C WWV
- 2 T soy sauce
- 2 T honey
- 2 T peanut oil
- 9 cloves garlic (that's right!)
- 2 C chicken broth--low salt
- 2 t red chili pepper flakes
- 3 Cornish game hens, split with backbone removed
1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. In a blender bowl, add the first six ingredients, blend
and set aside
3. Split the hens and then brown them well in oil in a
in series as space permits--this takes time to do right
4 . Arrange the browned hens in the Dutch oven and add
the sauce from the blender
5. Dust on the red chili pepper flakes
6. Roast uncovered in the oven for about 90 minutes until
the hens are very well done
7. When done, transfer the hens to a serving platter--see
photos--and keep warm
8. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce, leaving enough
sauce to serve 6
9. Pour the finished sauce into a gravy boat and keep
10. On order, serve the hens on heated plates over a bed
of rice pilaf and dress with
Next Dinner Party I'm Serving
Pasta Garnished With Fresh Pressed EVOO
Awhile back, the Wall Street Journal featured an article
about Mr. T.J. Robinson and his Fresh Pressed Olive Oil
Club. Robinson, an American, knows EVOO and EVOO producers--worldwide--know
Four times a year, club members receive three bottles (mild,
medium and bold) of the finest EVOO Robinson can find and
buy. The bottles come packaged with an effusive brochure
describing each selection,
how he found it, how it was processed and by whom. The brochure
is a fun read since the oil lives up to the hype.
According to Tom Mueller in his book ExtraVirginity
the "olive oil industry has been corrupt for a millennia
and still is . . .doctoring good oil with cheap oil to the
point that bad oil has driven out the good.
Mueller says that most consumers, even in the Med, "don't
know the real stuff when they taste it." Well, Robinson
is passionate about the real stuff. At $90 for three 8.5
oz. bottles every quarter, club members--including me--pay
willingly and eagerly wait for more. (The club's at freshpressedoliveoil.com.)
So here we have Fettuccini with piquant peppers, fresh parsley
and shrimp--garnished with the real stuff
1. Chop up a half cup of fresh parsley and set aside
2. Drain and dice about 6 piquant peppers ("Peppadew's")
and set aside
3. Peel and clean 16 large shrimp (11-15 count) and set
4. Grate about 1/3 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano and set aside
5.. Bring 3 cups of chicken stock, beer or water to boil.
Place the shrimp in the boiling liquid,
cut the heat and steep, covered, for 2 minutes. Remove the
shrimp and set aside
6.Boil enough fettuccini for four, drain and set aside.
7.When ready, saute the parsley and peppers in EVOO briefly
over medium heat
8.Up the heat to high, add the pasta, shrimp, cheese and
some fresh ground pepper and toss well
9. Place portions into heated pasta bowls
10. Drizzle your best EVOO generously over the pasta and
A Wok of Many Uses
In Trader Joe's freezer section is a veggie package labeled
Fire Roasted Bell Pepper and Onions. They tout it as a "quick
fix for fajitas or sausage and peppers."
Indeed. it's pretty good. The veggies come through better
than most frozen veggies.
I most often thaw veggies like this and then stir fry them
in a little EVOO in a wok instead of a frying pan.
Reason? The wok heats up more quickly to very hot (+450F)
and the EVOO spreads more thinly on its bottom and up its
The result is a very quick and even heating of an already
Nothing new here, save that when the veggies were done,
I transferred them to a heated serving bowl and then stir
fried the wild salmon in a little more EVOO.
Today's consensus is that fish should be cooked over medium
heat while sitting in a pan or on the grill. I agree with
But "nothing sits in a wok." The whole idea of
the wok is to cook in motion at high heat.
To that end, the wok's design makes tossing, flipping and
stirring easier to learn and do than in a frying pan.
The salmon was done in about four minutes, in motion.
Here again is the 'operational sequence' for the wok:
The operational sequence for wok stir frying is as follows:
1) Preheat the wok dry to very hot.
2) Add some oil and swirl it about (carefully).
3) Add and roast the dry aromatics: spices, herbs and the
4) Push the aromatics up the side of the wok, add the protein(s)
and stir fry to about three-quarters done. Then transfer
the aromatics and proteins to a warm plate.
5) Add and heat more oil, add the veggies and stir fry to
about three-quarters done.
6) Return the aromatics and protein to the wok and then
drizzle in the liquid ingredients and remaining seasoning,
deglaze, BTB and stir fry until the protein is done and
the veggies are crisp.
7) Serve immediately on heated plates or in heated bowls.
c.f. Grace Young's Stir Frying To The Sky's Edge
SECOND THOUGHTS ON TARTER
SAUCE AND REMOULADE--THIN 'EM OUT
Rémoulade Sauce is a classic mayonnaise-based
sauce. It's great with crab cakes, soft shell crabs and
shrimp. But it is heavy, loaded with calories and fat and
sorta cloying. So I started cutting it with sour
cream, which has 1/3 the calories of mayo and is lighter
on the palette--about 4 parts mayo and 3 parts sour cream
will do it. The recipe is reprinted below.
Now I still find it too heavy and overbearing. So, of late,
I've been adding rice wine vinegar. Do the recipe, taste
and decide how you want to go. Then whisk in enough rice
wine vinegar to really thin out the sauce. All the flavors
that make the sauce great will still be there. In fact,
I find the capers and cornichons come through better without
being so mayo-clad.
Try it, you'll like it!
See abbreviations if needed
Yield: 8 servings
1. Mix all together, cover and refrigerate
- 1/2C mayonnaise
capers, drained and chopped
cornichon (or small gherkin) pickles, very finely diced
fresh parsley, chopped
- pepper TT
- No salt (anchovy paste is loaded
- juice of
1/2 small lemon, not too much, taste and add
2. Serve at room temperature as a side for crab cakes
or other fish
A nicer and smoother sauce can be made more quickly using
a stick blender.
Hold the cornichons , blend the rest of the ingredients and
then add them.
TWICE BAKED POTATOES (revised
Sorta like mashed potatoes in their skins, but more texture
and flavor with bacon and cheese.
The extra effort make these potatoes a substantive side
dish that's fun to take apart and eat.
TWICE BAKED POTATOES
• 4 russet baking potatoes
• 5 oz shredded sharp cheddar
• 2/3 C sour cream
• 1/2 C milk (2% OK) or buttermilk, if you have it
• 4 T butter (ambient)
• 4 T spring onions or shallots, diced
• 1 clove (cube) garlic
• 2 t salt
• 1 t ground pepper
• 3 strips bacon lardons
1. Oil, dock and bake potatoes in the microwave with about
five 3minute bursts
or in the oven at 400F for one hour to fork tender. (If
microwaved, preheat oven to 275F)
2. Cut the bacon into 3/4" squares (lardons) and fry
to crisp and set aside
3 . When potatoes are cool, neatly cut off top quarter skin,
with serrated knife, scoop out
meat to an SSB leaving ¼” liner with shell
4 . Return shells to oven to dry for 10 minutes, and then
5 . Add ingredients (except bacon and some reserved cheese
for topping) to
the SSB and mix well, then add potatoes and mix with large
spatula to chunky or smooth
6 . Taste for salt and pepper
7 . Restuff the shells, punch in the bacon, and top with
cheese (hold point)
8. On order, reheat the stuffed potatoes in the microwave
(better and quicker than the oven)
9. Optional: After Step 8, place all under the broiler to
the melt cheese and brown the potatoes a bit
Great Dark Chocolate at a
I have one square of dark chocolate a day, about the only
candy I eat. This brand by Trader Joe's
is unsweet, snappy hard, yet melts deliciously in the mouth
with a nice after taste. It's as good or
better than the more expensive stuff at Balducci's.
Another Step Toward Aging
in Place (pun intended)
Steps from our atrium are steep and dark. Neither me, the
dog nor my friends are getting more
sure footed. So, I had bars of LED lights installed under
the nine steps going up and the five steps going down.
The low voltage lights are nicely controlled by a dimmer
and are on from reveille to taps.
Attractive and effective.
Now Here's An Idea With
There is a delightful series of twelve 20 minute episodes
on Netflix, titled Samurai Gourmet.
Short stories of a just retired 'corporation man' struggling
to fill his free time after forty years
of office life. And so he eats out each day.
In one episode, he pops into an high end Italian restaurant
for what turns out to be a three course lunch.
It started off with fresh baked bread and fresh string cut
veggie sticks served with a small side bowl of EVOO.
What caught his eye and mine was the addition of a dollop
of balsamic vinegar in the center of the EVOO.
He noted the contrast of smooth olive oil against sharp
vinegar, and liked it.
So, today for lunch, I had vegetable/shrimp/avocado spring
rolls from the sushi shop at Balducci's.
I set aside the cloying sweet orange sauce that came with
it and tried the EVOO/Balsamic combination.
It worked great with bread and very well with the veggies
and the shrimp--less so with the avocado.
I used a good quality balsamic vinegar from William Sonoma,
not the expensive Balsomica
from The Balsamic Guy.
It's well worth a try . . .
Chinese Five Spice Chicken
Chinese Five Spice Powder, by Penseys Spices, is comprised
of cassia, cinnamon, star anise, ginger and cloves. It make
meat marinade with 2T of the spice, 2T honey, 1t of soy
sauce (only a splash), a generous cup of limeaide or orange
juice and S/P.
Here, chicken thighs were marinated in the fridge for about
four hours, then browned in EVOO in a Foster Cast Iron Skillet
with some funky fingerling potatoes and shallot halves and
then finished in a 375F oven until tender, about 45 minutes.
The marinade should be discarded but enough will cling to
the chicken to lend lots of flavor.
Night's Repast--Dinner Salad
Four large shrimp, boiled in beer, chilled and halved.
Two kinds of lettuce. a couple tablespoons of four bean
salad. Kalamato olives, soaked in white balsamic
vinegar. A quarter apple pear, sliced. Shredded Parmigiano
Reggiano. Dressed with vinaigrette
wherein I substituted white balsamic vinegar for
Simple and satisfying . . .
Sometimes Less Tastes
Better (revised to include White Balsamic Vinegar)
I've liked A1 sauce since I was a kid, but of late it tastes
overwhelming. Or maybe the steaks I'm eating now are better.
So too with Dat'l Do-It,
another favorite sauce that is flavorful but quite strong.
Barbecue sauce is another example of a potion too thick
and strong sometimes. Of course, too much
Wasabi Sauce packs too big a punch in the nose. So, rather
than delete these tried and true sauces, why not delute
them? Water works but not nearly
as well as Rice Vinegar or White Balsamic Vinegar. Pour
a serving of sauce into a ramakin and then add about a fourth
as much of either vinegar, or to purpose and taste. Stir
to mix and emulsify and you have a new sauce that compliments
I much prefer to serve sauces like these as a side rather
than pouring them on the plate or, good grief, over the
meat or fish entre.
Try it, this is really a good idea. You'll like the results.
Coq Au Vin
The long simmer is done. Chicken parts are now ready to
be removed from the Dutch oven and hand-pulled from the
Ready to serve with pearl onions, chanterelles and bacon
lardons, added just before serving
Coq au Vin is the first dish I prepared from Julia Child's
Mastering The Art of French Cooking, back in about 1971.
made it now and then (twice for 30 people), but not recently.
Its preparation, while not at all difficult--it's only a
stew--requires techniques and sequences that embody much
of what French
cooking in all about. Hence, I've added a lot of steps.
Dark meat is traditional, but some white meat is OK, see
Allow for two pieces of chicken per person plus two for
COQ AU VIN
• 18 Pieces of chicken legs (skin on) and thighs (skin
off), a breast too, OK
• mirepoix (by volume = 3 parts onion, 2 parts carrot,
1 part celery) start with 2 large onions, roughly cut (It's
all going to be discarded)
• BG, a satchel of parsely stems, bay leaf, pepper
corns and fresh thyme)
• 3 garlic cloves
• 2T flour
• 6T tomato paste
• 3C chicken stock or low sodium broth
• 1 bottle of red wine
• 4 strips of bacon, cut into lardons (3/4 inch bite
sized pieces) and fried to crisp
• 30 pearl onions, boiled in water for about 7 minutes
• 20 mushrooms, sauteed in EVOO for about 5 minutes
1. Season chicken parts with S/P
2. In a large Dutch oven (hereafter "pot"), saute
chicken parts in EVOO to brown and set aside
3. Pour out the excess chicken fat and then add more EVOO
4. Add the mirepoix, saute to brown over medium high heat,
5. About half way through, add the BG and garlic
6. When mirepoix is done, return chicken to the pot, add
the tomato paste, add the red wine and stir in
7. Then dust the whole mess with AP flour and stir in
8. With a flat edge plastic spatula, dig down to the bottom
of the pot and scrape it to loosen the good brown stuff
9. Give all a final stir, add stock to barely cover the
meat, BTB and then reduce heat to simmer
10. Cover the pot and simmer for about 100 minutes
11. Meanwhile, prepare the garnish:
• Fry bacon lardons to crisp and set aside in a secure
place as they tend to disappear if there's traffic in the
• Blanch the onions, peel, season and saute until
tender, and set aside
• Half the cleaned mushrooms and saute in EVOO until
tender, and set aside
12. When the chicken parts are very done, turn off the heat,
transfer the chicken parts to a working surface and let
cool a bit
13. By hand, pull the chicken meat from the bones and break
into large bite sized pieces (don't use a knife), and set
14. As the sauce is now cooled a bit, skim off any fat clinging
to the edges of the pot
15. First Taste: add some salt and pepper if the whole mess
16. Now strain the sauce to remove the veggies:
• With help, place a colander or China cap over a
bowl and pour all the contents of the pot into it
• With a large spoon or spatula, aggressively push
the pulp against the porous sides of the strainer to get
all the liquid through
• Discard the pulp and return the sauce to the pot
over medium heat
• If you doubt there is enough sauce, add some water
(NEVER add stock or wine to a near-finished sauce)
• Final Taste, adjust for S/P
17. When about ready to serve, add the meat and garnishes,
stir in, BTB, then reduce heat to medium
18. Serve over white rice (not pilaf). Good dinner rolls
Note: If you want a veggie, serve parsley potatoes or buttered
Last NIght's Repast
Crab cakes on salad.
Instead of the usual seasonings, I used two proprietory
spice combinations that together worked quite well.
The Spice House, in Milwaukee, has a Southwestern chili/peppers
spice called Milwaukee Iron. It's great for corn on the
cob and worked
well here in combination with Penseys' onion/shallot/garlic
combination called Fox Point, One half teaspoon of each
plus a generous pinch of
cayenne and I had a winner.
Made paella on Saturday after Thanksgiving as a tutorial
for a nephew in law who received a paella pan for his birthday.
The dish turned out tasting better than all earlier editions,
hence this revs ion of the old
See abbreviations, if necessary
• 8 cups chicken stock or low salt broth
• 3 cups water (reserved for Steps 10 and 12)
• 2 lbs monkfish or grouper, cut to serving size
• 24 raw medium shrimp, shelled
• 3/4 lb squid, cut crosswise for rings
• 14 chicken legs, grilled
• 4 links chorizo, hot Italian and/or marquez sausage,
• 2 onions, diced
• 5 garlic cloves, pureed
• 3 cups Bamba short grain Spanish rice (Arborio will
do, but . . .)
• big pinch saffron, hand rubbed
• 1 T sweet paprika
• 1 t smoked paprika
• 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
• 3 dozen mussels
• 2 oz white wine (for the mussels)
• 3/4 cup peas (frozen OK)
• 1.5 cup artichoke hearts (canned OK), drained, halved
• 2 red peppers, roasted, bite size, square cut, or
10 piquante peppers, diced
• 5 pickled lemons, deseeded, cut in eighths (if you
• ½ cup fresh parsley leaves (garnish)
1. Prepare separately fish, shrimp and squid, set aside,
• Sauté lightly S/P'd fish in EVOO
• Flash sauté squid rings over high heat, no
oil needed (I seasoned the squid with Chinese
Five Spice Powder)
• Boil the shrimp in beer or broth (don't over cook)
2. In another pan or on the grill, season and sauté
or grill chicken legs and
sausage, set aside
3. In paella pan, add 3T of EVOO and sweat onion and garlic
4. Add the rice and coat the grains
5. Add a cup of stock, then saffron, paprika and diced tomato
6 Add more stock to total about 8 cups
7. BTB, then reduce heat to medium and cook rice for about
12 minutes until rice tastes soft to the bite
and a spoon leaves a trace on the pan bottom (Don't proceed
until . . .)
8. Hold point (pre-heat oven to 400F)
9. OO, in another pot, cook mussels in 2 ozs white wine
and 2 ozs stock, covered until they open--a few minutes
10. On low heat on the stove top: (allow 10 minutes for
• stir in artichokes, peas, peppers, squid and sliced
• nicely arrange and push in shrimp, fish, chicken
• add those platter juices that taste good
• taste again for seasoning
• check dryness and add water as needed (not stock
at this point)
11. Bake uncovered at 400F for about 15 minutes
12. Remove from oven, check again for dryness
13. Add parsley garnish
14. Serve from the pan onto heated bowls
Hear Me now?
My old three event timer died, so I got a new one from
Oxo only to discover that the beeper was so weak I couldn't
hear it over the roar of the kitchen vent system--with or
without hearing aids. (I somehow missed the review complaints
regarding the weak volume beeper.) So, an Amazon search
came up with this single event timer from ThermoWorks, the
same people that make the ThermoPen.
It features four volume settings. Volume Three (as shown)
can be heard outside the kitchen and Volume Four will disrupt
a conversation anywhere in the house. It's made for commercial
kitchens and is suitably rugged. It also features a fold
out stand and magnetic mounts. I taped over the logo to
number it, as I need two for two events. About forty five
dollars. A very good tool.
Last Night's Repast
Sauteed fillet of Salmon on a bed of
Basmati Rice Pilaf and Spicy Brussels Sprouts.
I just noticed that my Basmati Rice Pilaf recipe was posted
in 2002. Basmati was hard to find then.
I've been doing Brussels Sprouts
with bacon for years and have grown tired of it. Still,
I like sprouts. So what's new here is Spicy Brussels Sprouts.
I am at a lose as to where I found the recipe that inspired
this recipe since there are a lot of them out there. I've
prepared them twice now to good
reviews and therefore plan on doing them for Thanksgiving.
Spicy Brussels Sprouts
See Abbreviations, if needed
For four, as a side
1. Select 12-15 small sprouts and pull off their outer
• refresh root stem
• cut a cross pattern on the root stem with a paring
knife (to help steam get in)
2. Steam for 11 minutes or pressure cook for 4 minutes,
3. Remove and shock in cold water
4. Drain, cut sprouts in half and hold
5. Combine 3T red wine vinegar, 2T maple syrup, 2 cloves
crushed and 1/2t red pepper flakes, crushed
4. Heat 2T EVOO in skillet, add combined mixture and cook
5. Add the halved sprouts to the mixture cut side down,
cook and stir until mixture glazes
6. S/P to taste, toss, then serve topped with sliced scallions
I've put off writing about sous vide for years becasue
the cost of the equipment needed was so high that the majority
of home cooks would pass it by. Now a sous vide "circulator"
can be had for $200 (down from $800 five years ago). There
are now even ways to get started in sous vide without a
circulator and without a vacuum sealer (the other gadget
needed and that has also come down to $100 from $300). J.
Kenji Lopez-Alt's The Food Lab,
reviewed below, has a whole section on sous vide without
a circulator or vacuum sealer. (I'm not convinced, but there
Sous vide is just another way of cooking--it doesn't replace
frying, broiling, braising or grilling. Sous vide ("under
vacuum") was invented in France by chefs in institutional
kitchens. It is a method of cooking whereby a product to
be cooked is 1) vacuum sealed in a pouch, 2) immersed into
a container of water heated and maintained precisely to
a set temperature, 3) cooked slowly in the water for a set
period of time, 4. removed from the pouch and browned, sauteed
or tossed briefly to improve its appearance before serving.
Why bother? Well, sous vide has some remarkable advantages.
1. Once you've established the desired temperature and time
for a sous vide dish, you or anyone else in the kitchen
can repeat it exactly every time with exactly the same results
every time. (For example, 10 seasoned-in-the-pouch filet
mignons or lamb chops can be cooked perfectly every time
without anxiety and without monitoring while cooking.) Some
folks have complained that this takes the art out of coooking.
2. Cooking sous vide produces textual qualities that cannot
be achieved with other cooking methods. (It is not possible,
for example, to grill or saute a lamb chop or T-bone to
medium rare and have it medium rare from edge to center
to bone. If the center is medium rare, the meat attached
to the bone will still be rare or near raw). At a restaurant,
I can cut into a steak or chop and tell if it was done sous
vide because it will have the same degree of doneness throughout.
3. Because food is vacuum sealed in a pouch, nutrients,
seasoning, fat and flavor do not escape as with other cooking
methods. Shrinkage is also significantly reduced when cooking
meats, fish and poultry, especially fish.
4. Set it and forget it. Put the food in the cooking
bath, set the alarm, leave it and tend to your guests. But
wait--there's more. When the alarm does go off you have
up to 20 minutes to retrieve the pouches without overcooking
Pictured here is a stock pot with the PolyScience Pro Circulator,
the only one on the market in 2011. Powerful and accurate
to 1/10 degree F, it works great. PolyScience and others
now offer circulators from $200 to $300.
I admire and appreciate the ease, convenience, consistency
and precision of sous vide. I've been doing sous vide since
Modernist Cuisine came out in
2011. There are now quite a few sous vide cookbooks available.
One coming out in November looks especially promising. Of
course, if you have Modernist Cuisine,
go there first, since they started it.
I'm comfortable with the method and through trial and error
have acquired some practical numbers. The list suggests,
as well, the kind of products I've been doing sous vide.
SOME SOUS VIDE NUMBERS
Eggs Pasteurized 134.5F for 2 hours (for Caesar salads)
Halibut, thick 132/27 min
Filet Mignon 135/45 min
Lamb Chops 140/45 min
Leeks, Carrots 185/50 min
New York Steak 138/45 min
Pork Chops 132/60 min
Pork Tenderloin 138/45 min
Rib Eye Steak 134/45 min
Veal Chops 140/50 min
Veal Shanks 185/4 hours
What's not to like? Well, Since you have suitable pots
or containers for a circulator, the minimum price for a
sous vide setup (circulator and vacuum sealer) comes to
about $300, down from $1100. Or try The Food
Lab sous vide method. Just think about it:
you could cook steaks or burgers sous vide for a crowd and
go near the stove top, but twice!
I Really Like my
New Vacuum Sealer
Way back in 2001, I sang the praises of the FoodSaver
vacuum sealer. I've been using it all these years, first
to vacuum seal food for storage, keep perishables like lettuce
fresh longer and more recently to vacuum seal meats and
veggies for sous vide. They are quite popular now. Costco
carries the FoodSaver. Yesterday, while processing half
steaks and lamb chops (from Costco) the unit failed to complete
its cycle, failed to unlock the lid and just sat there unblinking.
All attempts to revive it failed.
After a little thought, I concluded that I really do not
want to be without a vacuum sealer. Trying to load lamb
chops into a Zip Lock bag and then trying to get enough
air out of it to make it sink when dunked in
the sous vide tank doesn't work very well. Also, without
a vacuum seal, brown sugar is rock hard in a month, while
rice, orzo, spices and other dry stuff go stale quickly.
So, I want a new one.
FoodSaver and others of its type are known as suction or
external vacuum sealers. They feature a small vacuum chamber
that holds only the open lip of a proprietary plastic pouch,
which rests external to the machine. The machine then evacuates
air out of the external pouch into the machine's chamber
and then seals the pouch. This works fine. The external
vacuum sealers are small and portable. Some are even battery
powered for hunters and fishermen, while in the field. But
they have two shortcomings: the pouches are expensive and
the machine cannot process liquids or wet products very
well. Not that vacuum sealing soups is all important, but
rather that it takes experience and care to prevent blood
from raw meats and juices from raw fish from being sucked
into the chamber and from there to the pump.
There is another vacuum sealer technology. Along came the
idea to greatly enlarge the chamber inside the machine so
it can hold a whole pouch and its contents inside the machine.
Then, close the lid, draw a vacuum, seal the pouch to hold
its vacuum and then release the vacuum in the chamber. These
are called chamber vacuum sealers. Advantages over the external
suction vacuum sealers: pouches are cheap, it draws a better
vacuum, it can process soups and such, and if the chamber
and lid are deep enough, whole roasts and even canning jars.
The chamber vacuum seal technique is used throughout industry
to vacuum pack everything from clothing to spare parts to
smoked salmon and soy sauce packs. Shortcomings of the chamber
machine for home use are its large size and initial cost.
Reviews of FoodSaver machines, now owned by a different
company and manufactured elsewhere, are OK but less favorable
than years back. Others of its type have better reviews
but share the same shortcomings and have prices approaching
chamber vacuum sealers that now are designed and priced
for home and delicatessen use.
So, here we have the VacMaster VP 112s Chamber
It's too big (24" deep x 14 wide x 9 high) for the
kitchen pantry, where the FoodSaver resided, but fits comfortably
in the utility room next to the second fridge. The VacMaster
VP112s is a beautifully designed and constructed machine.
Its performance is flat out impressive. If you are new to
this and interested, first look hard at the external suction
machines. If you've worn one of them out, or you want something
better, you'll be far happier if you upgrade to a chamber
to a long simmer
I had Red Snapper Veracruz
in mind for dinner last week for two family overnighters,
but the snapper was not fresh (never buy fish on Mondays)
so I got a fresh chunk of grouper. I followed the recipe
for the tomato sauce save for using a big can of Muir Glen
Organic Diced Tomatoes.
It simmered in a large evasee for an hour or so and then
tasted OK. OK meaning that it was not too acidic and the
cilantro was coming through. I put a lid on the pot and
turned the burner off, or so I thought. Four hours later,
I popped the lid to discover that the sauce was slowly bubbling
up like the lava burps at Yellowstone. The pot had a nice
ring around it showing that the sauce had reduced about
Taste time: WOW! No acid--all tomato--all blended spices--serious
depth and aftertaste. I thought of the movie GoodFellas
and the pot of tomato sauce on the stovetop lovingly attended
to all day despite the crises.
I usually don't take the time for this but I will in the
future. Lesson relearned.
ETERNIITY HAM SPREAD
An advanced thinker described eternity as a
couple with a ham.
Even buying a quarter ham leaves one dining alone with thoughts
of how to use it up. Fortunately, I like sandwich spreads
and often prepare chicken, egg or tuna to pile on good bread
with lettuce. Not so much with ham spread. But I got an
urging, bought a quarter ham, only to discover that I could
not find a recipe that came close to what I had in mind.
So here we have Eternity Ham Spread:
Eternity Ham Spread
9 oz. (1.5C) smoked ham, roughly dice with knife and then
pulse in an FP (Cuisinart) to a medium cut (not fine or
3 T mayo, maybe more
2 T Dijon mustard
6 squirts Tennessee Sunshine or other medium hot pepper
1.5 clove garlic, pureed
2 cloves, broken up and crushed with a heavy knife
1/2 t paprika
1/4 C shallot, finely diced
5 cornichon or gherkin pickles (about 2.5 T), finely diced
2 T red or green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 light shakes of cayenne, TT
1. Process the diced ham and set aside
2. In a bowl, mix together all the other ingredients
3. Add the ham and mix thoroughly
4. Add more mayo if too dry
5. Taste, then hold in fridge
An Enhanced Flavoring
Chilled Corn and Crab Soup
See Abbreviations, if needed
7 ears of fresh corn
4 T butter
2 shallots, sliced
2 C whole milk
2 t salt
5 grinds of pepper corn
1 T lemon juice
1 T EVOO
8 oz. crabmeat
5 sprigs of fresh chives for garnish, sliced into 1/2"
1. Husk the corn and cut off the kernels from each cob with
a sharp paring knife
2. In a large pot, melt the butter and sweat the shallots
3. Add the corn kernels to the pot, add the milk, warer
and S/P, then add the corn cobs (as many as can fit)
4. BTB and then simmer the whole mess until the corn is
tender, about 12 minutes (see photo)
5. With sturdy tongs, lift out each cob, rake it down with
the back side of your paring knife
and then discard each
6. With a slotted spoon, scoop out 1/3 C of the corn and
shallots and set aside for the garnish
7. Puree the hot soup in a food processor or blender and
strain if the kernels in the soup are
not completely broken up
8. Place finished soup in a container and fridge until cold
For the garnish:
1. In a small pot, add 1 T of EVOO
2. Add the reserved corn and shallots
3. Heat briefly
4. Off heat, add 1T of lemon juice and S/P to taste
5. Mix, let cool to ambient, then add the crab meat, mix
1. Remove the soup from the fridge and check seasoning for
2 . Serve even portions of soup with even shares of the
3 . Dress with the chives
James Beard Foundations's Book of the Year Award Winner
Chef/Owner/Author Michael Solomonov avers that " Israeli
food is not a collection of static traditional recipe. It
is an idea. Israel is only sixty years old and barely melted
pot of cultures from all over the world. There aren"t
really Israeli restaurants in Israel . . . there are Bulgarian,
Arabic, Georgian restaurants and many more . . .what connects
them, what makes them Israeli, is an approach to dining
and hospitality that is shaped by a shared experience."
There are more ideas in this cookbook than anything I
've read since Food Lab.
Right off, I got stuck in the first section where Solomonov
carries on for forty six pages about tahini, tahini sauce
and humas. So convincing was all this that I got on Amazon
and ordered a half dozen jars of Zome Tahini, which he raves
about, and then went to the store and got a big bag of chickpeas.
I've made it twice. It's good beyond anything store bought--not
only because it's fresh but also that it contains none of
the commercial additives needed to preserve the stuff while
on a market shelf. The book offers many variations of basic
humas. The humas in the photo is simply dressed with paprika
and Agrumoto Lemon EVOO, which pair wonderfully with the
humas. The recipe makes a lot of humas so, my favorate neighbors
were delighted with presento plates of the stuff along with
some pita bread to wipe it up.
Solomonov's chapters on salads, small dishes, rice and meats
are especially inventive, inviting and uncomplicated for
the experienced home cook.
Award winning ZAHAV and
Food Lab, both reviewed on this
page, are cookbooks that make significant contributions
to the culinary literature. Awards happen every year, but
cookbooks like these don't. Both will make fine additions
to the libraries of your ambitious grand nieces and nephews.
Never Say Best, But
This is Close
Twenty years ago you could not find an artisanal loaf of
bread. Now good bakeries abound and folks wait in line to
pay for a great loaf. So too with coffee, tea and EVOO.
Not so with high quality kitchenware , which has been available
a lot longer. Cooks have been lugging copper pans home from
Dehillerin's in Paris for fifty years and are still using
them or have since passed them on to their kids--who are
still using them. For as long as I have been at it, quality
kitchen knives started and ended with Wosthuf and Henckel
until maybe ten years ago. Then, along came sushi and sushi
chefs. Japanese knives came into favor among american chefs
and home cooks. Their popularity has spread to the significant
degree that forged and beautifully crafted knives by Shun
and others are widely available at Sur la Table and Williams
Now, most recently, limited production, hand made knives
from Japan are sought after. Most desirable are knives made
one at a time by named craftsmen in their own shops. Here
we have a chef's knife ("gyutou") made by Itsuo
Doi that to my experienced eye reaches the highest level
of industrial art. Doi-san forges this knife from blue steel,
then adds carbon cladding, finishes the blade wonderfully,
sharpens it on both sides, adds an ebony handle with a sterling
silver band and then etches it with his signature. It weighs
in at 9 ounces, a bit lighter than the Wosthuf chef's knife
also shown for comparison but a bit heavier than most other
Japanese knives of its type. (Of note: the top angled, beveled
edge appears sharpened but is not.) Cost? I invite you to
visit Chuboknives.com where you will enjoy looking for it.)
I can't stop using this knife; I'm even slicing cherry
tomatoes with it. I won't argue the merits of these hand
made forged knives over production forged knives, save that
they are perfectly balanced in the hand, a pleasure to cut
with, do a better job (cut an onion and not tear up) and
are visually striking in every detail. All of this and more.
There is something unique, apart and ethereal about the
"Ain't nothin like it."
(BTW, The same hand forged knife tradition thrives in
the USA, where high quality knives are popular and collectable.
For example, W. D. Randal and sons have made fine knives
for 70 years. I bought my first Randal knife in 1948--waited
nine months to get it and paid $95 for it (a lot of money
then and for a kid in the 8th grade). They're still making
them for about $600 and delivery still takes nine months!)
Roasted Game Hens Mediterranean
Supper market game hens are large enough to split--one
bird serves two. If you have a source for "well husbanded"
poultry--where slow growth is the rule--birds will be smaller,
more tender and tastier. (See photo.)
So, make this recipe with five split or five whole birds.
Plenty of sauce to add a bird or two.
ROASTED GAME HENS MEDITERRANEAN
(Serves 10 (split) or 5 (whole)
See Abbreviations, if needed
• 5 game hens split w/ backbone removed, or five
whole smaller birds
• 4oz EVOO
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 4T oregano
• 1C prunes, pitted
• 1C dried apricots
• 1/3C pitted and sliced green or black olives
• 1/3C capers
• 1/3C pickled lemons, seeded (if you can find them
at a Middle East store)
• 8 bay leaves
• 1/3C brown sugar
• 4T chopped Italian parsley
• 1C RWV
• 1C WW
1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except hens
and white wine, and mix well
2. Cover and refrigerate overnight
3. Next day, split hens (if large), rub them w/ S/P
4. Grill or sauté the hens to brown the skin and
then set aside
5. Preheat oven to 350F
6. Add the white wine to the roasting sauce
7. Arrange hens in roaster, spoon over marinade
8. Roast for 60 minutes and check temp for doneness
9. Roast another 30 minutes until birds are above 165F,
AND the meat is tender (don't undercook the birds)
10. When ready, remove roaster from oven and skim off any
fat appearing at the edges of the roaster
11. Place each bird on a heated plate and add a generous
portion of fruited sauce. Top w/ parsley
12. Serve remaining sauce in a heated gravy boat
BREAKING NEWS: The Food Lab
won IACP's Cookbook of the Year award and James Beard Foundation's
General Cooking award for 2016.
The Latest "Science
of Cooking" Book With Much Much More (Revised)
In the bibliography, you'll
find the works of Harold McGee, Shirley Corriher, Robert
Wolke and Nathan Myhrvold along with brief reviews.
The saying goes "if you can read you can cook."
True enough, but cooking by rote has limitations--soon reached.
Exploring the science of cooking is educational as well
as entertaining and discoveries pay off, big time. Here
we have a book longer on techniques, good cooking practices,
good recipes, good photos and informed commentary than on
in-depth science of cooking. Therein lies it's approachability
and its relevance.
The Food Lab is a significant
contribution to the culinary literature. Here's why:
It's a wonderfully eclectic tome on the culinary arts with
just the right amounts of McGee et al, along with
essential info on the home kitchen, pantry, its tools and
equipment. It's what Lopez-Alt leaves out of this book or
treats briefly that makes it so readable. The index is telling:
20 entries on garlic, 60 on eggs, 158 entries on beef and
as many on poultry. Lots of pork, some lamb, one fish, no
veal, no pastry, no desserts, no TexMex but a good chili.
I especially applaud Lopez-Alt's knife skill tutorials that
attend the text from front to back. Kenji also loves force
meats. His section on how to cook and grill sausages is
inspired, as is the long section on eggs and everything
attending them at breakfast. His ten page treatise on The
All American Meat Loaf, complete with photos, analysis and
commentary, is alone worth the price of the book. I made
it following Kenji's recipe. I don't remember ever making
a better meat loaf. I've trashed my old meat loaf recipes!
His analysis of asparagus pee is also a must read. Otherwise,
he could have skipped sous vide as it is not a beginner's
cooking method but, if done, should be done with a sous
vide circulator or not done at all.
The book weighs in at 6.86 Lbs with high quality paper,
good photos (his own) and a binding that lays flat when
opened on the countertop. Kenji Lopez-Alt, is an author
and contributor to The Food Lab series of articles on the
Web site Serious Eats. There he has a large following who've
waited five years for the publication of this book. I've
never heard of guy but I'm delighted to have met him now!
Think of this cookbook as an all in one primer
for home cooks with enough experience to have caught the
culinary bug and who are determined now to cook smarter
and expand their repertoire.
The Food Lab is a shoo-in for
an IACP and James Beard Cookbook Award.
Thick Pork Chops
Costco had a tray of five thick boneless pork chops at
a very good price, so I got them, vacuum sealed them and
have been gnawing on them for awhile. I over cooked the
first one as they get done far more quickly than one would
think, given their thickness. I started by browning a sliced
shallot, setting it aside while browning the chop in a La
Cuisine casserole. For the sauce, I found an old can of
celery soup with a best buy date of 2014. To that I added
a quarter cup of chicken broth, a generous tablespoon of
Vadouvan (French 'Masa La Curry'-- a mild curry powder that
has got some press lately. I like it and have been using
it for years), and a generous teaspoon of garam masala (a
highly aromatic Indian spice mix that tells all the neighbors
that you are preparing curry tonight). Then mixed the onions
into the sauce and added it to the casserole. When baked
at 375F, the pork was done in about 15 minutes. I watched
the meat temperature carefully and took it out at 145F.
Nice easy dish, served with a little Patak's Major Grey
Chutney and a slice of lime.
Another Night's Repast
Light dinner tonight: Here we have, on the right of the
photo ,a tossed salad with a cheese and creamed dressing
and four large shrimp, which were poached in chicken broth.
On the left is a nice portion of a Greek pasta salad from
the deli, with a few cherry tomatoes added.
BTW, there are a lot of bottled salad dressings on the
market. I have found that the high end ones have, as a rule,
admirably en tense favors--so en tense they're also often
labeled as dips. But there's opportunity here: Buy a bottle
of the stuff, open it, pour out a generous dollop and taste
it. Too thick? Add some rice vinegar. Not complex enough?
Add some dijon mustard or a spice. Then always add some
fresh ground pepper and you have an in-a-hurry salad dressing
that is seriously good.
But wait there's more: Since you paid too much for the stuff,
your additions add volume to give you more for the buck!.
Last Night's Repast
If red snapper is not my favorite fish, it's close. It
started with Red Snapper Veracruz,
which I've favored for decades. But last night, another
tomato sauce'd fish was not going to happen. Instead: I
looked in the pantry to find a huge jar of fire roasted
whole red peppers and in the fridge a fresh jar of capers,
drained and refreshed as described lower down on this page.
So, here's how:
In a small skillet, make a simple sauce with the peppers,
capers and a tablespoon of unsalted butter--simmer for awhile
(don't burn) and then hold on the stove top. Meanwhile,
trim and skin (optional) the red snapper fillet. Season
it with a spice medley. This time with one called Japanese
Seven Spices (orange peel, sesame seeds, cayenne, ginger,
pepper and nori [dried seaweed] and salt--available from
The Spice House and Penseys. But any spice medley you happen
to have will do (herbes de Provence, fines herbes, Mexican,
Then, in another skillet, saute the seasoned red snapper
fillet in oil over medium high heat for about eight minutes,
You now have two skillets on the stove top: one with the
butter sauce and the other with the red snapper. Here's
the trick: When the red snapper is done, re-fire
the sauce skillet and then transfer the fish to the sauce
skillet, leaving behind all the saute oil, which has died
for the cause.
When ready, transfer fish and the sauce to a heated plate.
A Good Vinegar-based
Slaw With Heat
The Washington Post, in their food section today, had a
slaw recipe to go with a pulled pork article. They took
it from a Jim Shahin, a culinary columnist. It looked good
so I made it with three modifications: I never use distilled
vinegar in food except to crowd poached egg whites, otherwise
it's always rice vinegar, white or red wine vinegar. I don't
stock Tabasco but buy Tennessee Sunshine by the case. I
added radicchio for color and sharpness.
You will need a shredder or better yet your Cuisinart with
a thin slice blade for the cabbage and medium shredder blade
for the other veggies.
So here's how:
Alabama Style Slaw
Serves 8 to 10
1/2 medium green cabbage, cored and slicer processed
1 small radicchio, cored and slicer processed
2 medium carrots, shredder processed
1 small red onion or large shallot, shredder processed
1 green pepper, shredder processed
1/2 C French's yellow mustard
1/4 C dark brown sugar, or light if it's all you got
1 t salt
10 grinds of fresh ground pepper
2 t Tennessee Sunshine or 1 t Tabasco
1. Toss the first five ingredients and the mustard thoroughly
in a large bowl
2. Place the sugar, salt, pepper and hot sauce into a small
3. Stir and heat the dressing until hot but not boiling
4. Taste and adjust
5. Pour the heated dressing over the slaw and toss thoroughly
6. Serve ambient or slightly chilled
7. Store in the fridge
Here's The Idea . .
Cocktails and The Big Game for eight. As excitement rises,
someone surely picks up the wrong glass. Annoying to all,
really annoying to some.
The solution: set out eight different wine glasses. Looks
great, draws comments and puts potential miscreants (usually
me) on guard.
Anyhow, wine glasses break and it was time to restock.
Sur la Table had five nice ones at low cost. Williams Sonoma
had the glass front left for a bit more and the others are
Standup Potato Gratin
Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of The Food Lab, profiled
below, has this great idea for presenting potatoes
gratin. It's different, attractive and promotes better
baked slices. So, here is my standup potato gratin:
Stand Up Potatoes Gratin
Yield: 2 servings
• 1 pad butter
• 6 oz half and half or 2% milk
with creme fraiche added (4 parts milk to :2 parts creme
• 1/3 C grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano or cheddar
• 1 garlic
cloves chopped or pureed
• 6 medium to
small red potatoes, skin on
1. Butter a straight sided ramekin or pan (a 5.5"
copper ramekin, is shown above)
2. In a bowl or container suitable for a whisk or stick
blender, add garlic, salt (quite a lot), pepper, cheese
3. Whisk all thoroughly or use a stick blender, then transfer
mixture to a large bowl
4 . Slice the potatoes thinly with a mandoline or knife
and place them in the large bowl
5. With your hands, toss the potato slices until every slice
is well coated
6. Holding the ramekin at an angle, layer in the potato
slices vertically, packing them tightly
7. Drizzle in the re-stirred cream mixture to fill the ramekin
almost to the top
8. Reserve the rest of the cream mixture
9. Cover the ramekin with foil and bake at 400F for about
45 minutes (Use tray since tamekin will bubble over a bit)
10. Remove the ramekin from the oven and remove the foil
11. Drizzle in some more of the re-stirred cream mixture
(if there is room)
12. Return the ramekin to the oven and bake, uncovered for
another 20 minutes until potato slices
are fork tender (be sure about this--nothing worse than
an underdone potato)
13. Optional, when potatoes are done, turn on the broiler
and brown the tops nicely, as shown
Note: Leftovers? Fry 'em up for breakfast with eggs
Do You Need An Infrared
An infrared thermometer (IRT) measures the amount of infrared
energy radiated by the surface of the target it's pointed
at. If you fry a lot, an IRT is quite useful. The usual
way to determine if a skillet is hot enough to brown a steak,
for example, is to wave a hand over it and guess, or dash
a few drops of water on the dry surface to see if they dance
on their own steam. If that is not accurate enough, or you're
worried about non stick coatings, or you're living in the
California draught where spare drops of water are hard to
come by, an IRT will tell you in an instant the precise
temperature of the skillet surface or the surface temperature
of anything in the kitchen or beyond (your cooking oil or
baby's bath water, for example).
Sous vide is the only way I do thick steaks and lamb chops.
However, when done, they come out of the vacuum bag gray
in color, un-browned. Standing by for the task is a cast
iron skillet. Heat the skillet until the IRT reads 450F
and slide the meat into it for quick browning. In time,
as I keep score, I will determine with the IRT, the optimum
browning temperature for steaks and chops, whereby they
brown quick and deep without re-cooking the meat within.
(I think that temperature is well north of 450F.) Now, regarding
non stick skillets: it is accepted that non stick coatings,
Teflon and the like, are stable at temperatures below 600F,
some say 500F. Rather than throw out your non stick pans,
buy and use an IRT and get over the anxiety.
This model is manufactured by Fluke, a very respected company.
It cost about $90. They can be had for a little as $20 or
much much more.
A Japanese Hybrid Vegetable
Pictured above are two fine Japanese kitchen knives. On
top is a "santoku" a Japanese chef's knife. At
the bottom is a "nakiri" a Japanese vegetable
knife. The santoku has gained wide popularity in the West
over the past twenty years. I bought this one in Yokosuka,
Japan in 1977 solely on the advise of the knife store owner
(I didn't know what it was). At about the same
time at the same store, I bought a "nakiri" (again
not knowing much about it). While the santoku has been
in constant use over the years, the nakiri sat in the drawer
(I finally gave it to a starving nephew). While
I liked its broad blade, I didn't like the flat cutting
edge, which is, or at least was at the time, the traditional
shape of nakiris. Perforce, it was only good for chopping.
Now comes along a hybrid nakiri with the same broad blade
for chopping but with a slightly curved cutting edge, which
enables it to be rocked a little like a santoku. The
blades on both of these knives are 7" long and both
begin to curve up 6" from the tip. However, the santoku
curves up 3/4 of an inch, raising the tip to enable rocking/slicing
motion used to cut. This nakiri curves up only 3/8 of an
inch raising the tip slightly but enough that the knife
can be used for more than chopping veggies.
I'm all in for this new knife. I got it from Chubo knives
(chuboknives.com). Chubo offers an impressive selection
of fine Japanese knives most all in stock, which is unusual
for knife vendors. This nakiri is hand forged and finished
by a third generation blacksmith, Shosui Takeda. It is made
from hard carbon steel, clad with stainless steel, I have
another of his knives as shown far down on this page. The
strengths of this type of knife are light weight, fine balance
and sharpness. Their weakness is high price and higher maintenance.
Like a Lamborgini, which needs shop care more often than
By The Way . . . Cherry
tomatoes are in, whole ones are out
I've grown to prefer cherry tomatoes over the big ones,
which I rarely buy anymore. Here's why: They always taste
good, even in winter. They keep well. They're all red with
no white veins, but a little less juicy. They're versatile--with
a little knife work they look great in salads, fit nicely
on hamburger patties, pop into the Vitamix blender and they
dice neatly. They make a great amuse-bouche (see way down
on this page). Oh, and there is less waste (no Saran wrapped
half cut tomatoes lost in the fridge for a week.
Try 'em--you'll like 'em.
Last Night's Repast
The Balducci Market makes a nice Orzo Greek Salad with
strips of mystery sausage, olives and feta chese. Bob Nueske
makes great smoked brats (though I think the casings he
uses come from Under Armor). This is a quickie: Take the
orzo salad out early and let warm to ambient. Skin the brats
and saute in oil to 165F. Plate and garnish with pepperoni.
Enjoy with a glass of zinfandel.
Last Night's Repast
Salsa Fettuccini with Shrimp and Kicker Garnish
Balducci's, our local high end grocery store, prepares
a very good, very spicy fresh salsa every Friday. I get
it about twice a month, scoop it up on chips for two days
and then use what's left (more than half) as sauce for pasta.
It turned out particularly good last night since I added
kicker garnish! Here's how:
In a medium pot, bring beer, chicken broth or water to
a boil. Add peeled shrimp, bring back to boil, cut the heat
and cover for 45 to 120 seconds depending on the size of
the shrimp. When pink and just barely done, remove shrimp
from pot to colander and chill shock under cold running
water, then set aside.
Boil the pasta in salted water, check for doneness, remove
from heat, drain into colander and set aside.
For garnish: Have some grated Parmigiano Reggiano ready.
Cut some strips of prosciutto di Parma or prosciutto de
San Daniele (used here) into nice one inch squares.
When ready, place the salsa in a skillet, add medium heat,
add the shrimp, add the pasta and then toss or fold thoroughly
but briefly over high heat. Add some fresh ground pepper
Place all in a heated pasta serving bowl. Add the grated
cheese. Add the prosciutto.
Note: The salsa and prosciutto make the dish! I will serve
this to friends soon and add it to the recipe file. It's
A Cheese Plate For Dessert
At Home? Why not?
It's hard to find a cheese plate on a restaurant dessert
menu. Reason? The cheeses have to be just right: not too
hard, not too soft, not chilled. That means someone has
to be paying attention in the buying, ageing and presentation
of cheese. Who and at what cost? Not worth it, perhaps.
Notwithstanding, it's a great dessert.
So why not at home? Here we have Port Salud (medium soft),
Saint Agur (a decadent blue cheese) and Midnight Moon (a
local hard cheese). All at ambient temperature. Nice, with
some bread points and fruit slices too, if you have them.
Plan ahead to select the cheeses and to get them out and
plated well before service.
Cast Iron Skillets:
Try Them Again for the First Time
First from Japan and now from the USA, come re-thought
cast iron skillets of the highest quality and design. A
new (2012) company called Finex in Portland, Oregon has
come out with hand crafted heavy cast iron
skillets in 8",10" and 12" sizes. Pricey
at $125 to $195, with covers at additional cost (don't
buy covers for skillets). The octagon shape is eye
catching and allows for easy and accurate pouring. The cooking
surface is computer machined to a very smooth surface and
then pre-seasoned. Pictured is the 12" skillet, new
out of the box. The smaller sized skillets are available
at Williams Sonoma and the whole line at finexusa.com.
I like using cast iron skillets. Non-stick pans and copper
have their place but, as the years go by, I favor cast iron
more and more. The two unique things about them are that
they conduct and retain heat like no others and that they
can be placed dry on a burner, fired low and left on the
burner until ready to use. That can't be done with any other
dry pan, even enameled cast iron. The practice saves time
in a professional's kitchen ensuring a hot skillet when
wanted. So too at home.
There are other cast iron pans in the house by Lodge, Griswold
and Le Crueset, but the Iwachu and now the Finex are, by
far, the most attractive high quality cast iron skillets
I have ever come across. Much to like here--the polished
stainless steel "speed cool" handle, the heft,
the finished cooking surface, the shape and balance. These
hand crafted skillets remind me of the advertisement for
the Patek Phillipe watch wherein they tout that you never
actually own one, but merely look after it for the next
generation. The Finex is indeed an heirloom skillet.
A BLT tonight, with four stripes of bacon, should be the
perfect inaugural fry.
Postscript: The new skillet did the bacon
proper. However, the "speed cool" handle, while
"cool" style-wise, is still attached to cast iron,
which is super conductive (that's why we use them).
Therefore, like all other fired cast iron skillets, the
Finex should always be handled with a towel between it and
Iron Skillets From Japan
This skillet is made by Iwachu, a company in Japan well
known worldwide for their cast iron tea pots and kettles.
Iwachu has been casting iron for centuries. I read about
their "omelet pan" earlier, lost the reference,
then saw it again and decided to get it from an Amazon like
company in Japan called Rakuten Global Market. Amazon now
carries the Iwachu skillet in two sizes" 9.5 inch and
8.5 inch for $101US and $78US. That puts it in the price
range of All Clad and Le Crueset, which is fine since it's
functionally as good if not better than what they offer
and far more attractive.
About the pan: At 9.5 inches across, it is of medium heavy
cast iron (lighter than the Finex) with fine design lines--beautifully
shaped with a long graceful handle and sloping cavity walls
about 2 inches deep at the far edge and little more shallow
at the near. It is so designed to promote the flipping of
an omelet, which it does nicely. The surface is treated
in a manner like Le Crueset cast iron, with the result that
not much sticks to it. The 8.5 inch pan is identical--just
smaller. The larger pan is best to brown steaks and chops
when done sous vide; for three-egg omelets or scrambled
eggs and for grilled cheese sandwiches. The smaller one
is handy to fry two eggs or a hamburger or to warm up a
leftover of any sort. And, since cast iron pans enjoy an
oven visit now and then, both sized pans work great for
an oven-finished frittata or baked corn bread.
It just doesn't get any better than cooking for three beautiful
women: my big sister (house guest) and two grand nieces
(in town grad-schooling). I was going to prepare Game
Hens Mediterranean, but my sister had heard of osso
buco, never had it and so asked me to prepare it. Osso Buco
("pierced bone") is veal shanks braised in EVOO,
white wine, veggies and Italian seasonings as done before
in Osso Buco Tagine.
We went over to the local Organic Butcher and got four
veal shanks--at great expense. (I have stated many times
in this blog that I won't spend an extra dime for organic
produce but will pop for meat and poultry from well husbanded
farms and ranches, where value is clearly added and higher
quality is evident. These veal shanks did not disappoint.)
So, with the veal shanks in hand, I had to do something
different with them. This time, I ditched Italian and went
with seasonings favored along the northwest coastline of
Africa in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Thus we have:
Osso Buco Maghreb.
See Abbreviations, if needed
4 veal shanks, each tied around their circumference with
butcher string to hold their shape
2T of baharat or ras-el-hanout powdered spice mixtures (Moroccan),
or S/P is you don't have, but . . .
1/2t of turmeric and cumin, each
A pinch of saffron
1t of ginger and sweet paprika, each
12 grinds of pepper corn
A sachet of parsley and cilantro, with stems
2 large red onions, diced
4 pickled lemons, quartered and deseeded
3-4C chicken stock or broth
1C red wine
1C green and black olives, pitted
1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Dry rub the shanks with baharat, ras-el-hanout or S/P
3. In a large Dutch oven, brown the shanks well in a little
of the EVOO,
then remove and set aside
4. Add the rest of the EVOO and sweat the onions to translucent
5. Add the spices, heat them for awhile and then add two
cups stock and the wine
6. BTB, reduce heat and then return the shanks to the pot
7. Add the sachet and the lemon quarters
8. Add more stock to a level about 3/4 up the sides of the
9. BTB, then turn off the heat
10. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the preheated oven
11. Set the timer for 2 hours
12. Remove the Dutch oven to the stove top's large burner
13. Check the shanks for doneness, they should be falling
off the bone
14. With a spatula (not tongs), very carefully remove the
shanks to a shallow pan
and place it in the now turned off oven
15. Skim the braising liquid of the fat hugging the sides
of the Dutch oven
16. Bring the braising liquid to boil and reduce to make
sauce (if there is not enough
liquid to reduce by half, add water not stock and then BTB
17. A la minute, add the olives
18. Place osso buco shanks on heated plates and dress with
19. Serve with roasted or sauteed veggies and/or with couscous
What a Pleasant Surprise
. . .
I've bought bacon from Nueske's in Wisconsin for a decade
or more. I always include in the online order a pack of
his smoked pork chops, which are lean and tender. Because,
in my childhood in central Minnesota, smoked pork chops
with red cabbage was a special favorite. Good German comfort
food. I've liked the dish ever since.
Well, a couple nights ago I sauteed a single smoked pork
chop with red cabbage, leaving a half a jar of Hengstenberg's
cabbage leftover. Then along comes a salmon fillet: sauteed
last night with caper infused butter and baked small red
potatoes with creme fraiche. More leftover salmon tonight,
poached in chicken stock with--would you believe-- red cabbage.
They sounded good together and it turns out that salmon
and red cabbage are indeed flavor pals!
Really. They go quite well. I'd put it on the lunch menu
at Chez Cullen.
Try it, you'll like it!
If the frying pan, chef's pan or pot your looking for comes
with a fitted lid at no extra cost, then OK--buy it. If
the lid costs extra, don't buy the lid. Truth be told, lids
are not needed very often. You won't find many in a commercial
kitchen and you don't need many at home--certainly not for
every pot and pan. Nonetheless, over the years, you've probably
acquired a kitchen drawer full of pot lids, seldom used.
You only need fitted lids for your double boiler, ricer,
popper and Dutch oven, but that's about it. Toss the rest,
but if you still feel the need, get a couple universal lids
that fit all your pans
I got the copper lid, in the photo, with a heavy cast iron
handle at Dehillerin's in Paris about 45 years ago and have
not seen one like it since. But maybe they're coming back
in popularity. All-Clad has just come ut with shiny stainless
steel universal lids at 9, 12 and 15 inches for about $35
to $55. They're light, well made, work great and don't take
up much drawer space.
BRAISED PORK RIBS (Rev)
We had these rather uniquely
textured and seasoned rack of pork ribs in Milwaukee over
Thanksgiving two years ago. My niece prepared them
expertly. For New Years dinner, I got out her recipe
(which came from Bon Appetit) and did them.
Braising the ribs (Bon Appetit wrongly called it
roasting) lends a soft tenderness to the rack that cannot
be done on the grill. The original recipe called for
grilling the racks of ribs fter two hours of braising to
reheat them and to impart a glaze to the barbecue sauce.
Try it if you like, but the braised ribs are already falling
off the bone and moving the racks to the grill without breaking
them will prove very difficult. It's not worth it. Instead,
finish racks uncovered for the last half hour to dry them
out a bit and make them table sauce receptive.
Here is my version and
complete rewrite of the recipe:
Braised Racks of Pork
See Abbreviations, if needed
Rule: Allow five ribs per person)
racks of baby back pork ribs
ginger, fresh grated or dry ground
cinnamon, fresh grated or dry ground
Pan Roasting Mixture:
cinnamon stick, broken
ginger, freshly grated 2C+
apple cider (not apple cider vinegar)
rice wine or white wine vinegar
1. Remove silver skin
from back of ribs, trim off excess fat and set aside
2. Prepare dry rub by
mixing all ingredients together in a small bowl
3. Hand rub the ribs
with the dry rub, cover and chill for a couple hours
4. Spray or rub sheet
pan or roasting pan surface with EVOO
5. Place roasting pan
mixture (less apple cider) in pan
6. Lay ribs in pan meat
side down, then add apple cider to cover pan bottom
by a quarter inch
7. Cover pan with foil
and place in preheated 325F oven (FYI: covered is
braising--uncovered is roasting)
8. Place sauce ingredients in a pan and heat gently to simmer
and set aside
9. Braise until ribs
are very tender and meat is pulling away from the ribs (about
2 to 2.5 hours). Remove cover for the last half hour
Remove pan from oven, uncover and let stand until grill
is hot (1 hour max)
remove rack of ribs from roasting pan onto serving platter
12. Cut racks with a
sharp serrated knife into one or two bone servings
13. Reheat barbecue sauce
and serve as a side.
This is Such a Good Idea, I'll
Post it Again
I opened another big (32 oz) jar of capers this evening
and again dumped them all into a colander, cold sprayed
them, washed out the jar, filled it with one part of rice
vinegar, scooped the capers back into the jar and then topped
the jar off with 3 parts of tap water. Try it next time
and taste the capers and not the salt!
It's hard to pass up the olive bar at your favorite super
market. The selection is too hard to resist with olives
green and black, pitted, stuffed or unstuffed along with
mini onions, mushrooms and maybe an artichoke heart or two.
All swimming in oil. We learn from Tom Mueller, in the book
profiled below, that the oil used in the olive bar selections
is probably refined olive oil or, at best, low grade EVOO.
So here's what to do:
Having spooned your selections at the olive bar into a
deli container, bring them home and dump them all in a colander.
Spray wash them thoroughly with luke warm water and put
them in a fresh container. Then add a tablespoon or so of
your best EVOO. Toss and enjoy. You will taste a big difference.
So too, I found about a year ago with capers. I get the
big jar from Costco, dump them into the colander, wash off
the inegar, place them into a cleaned jar and then add little
water and some rice vinegar. Result: The capers are remarkably
less salty. You can actually taste them!
A New Classic and James Beard
Since 1977, A. J. McClane's The Encyclopedia of Fish
and Cookery has been my go to reference on all matters
of fish cookery. I learned a lot of classic fish stuff from
the text and photos in this book. Though somewhat dated
now, it remains a significant and lasting contribution to
the literature. If you come upon one at a book sale, get
it. Then along came James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish
in 1996. It too is rather complete, but its not as
much fun to read or page through.
Like Fish & Shellfish, this book is organized
by cooking methods--baked, braised, broiled, steamed, grilled,
fried and sauteed. Within these headings the recipes are
presented in a rough order of difficulty: from Sauteed Trout
to Soft Shell Crab Saltimbooco; from New Jersey Baked Fish
to Crab Stuffed Roasted Lobster. Every market fish and shellfish
has a recipe here. Classics such as ceviche, shrimp cocktail,
poached salmon, dover sole and gravlax are included. Pollinger
imparts each recipe with his own "ands" and "withs."
Thus we have with "oyster mushrooms, creme fraiche
and tarragon--coconut, lime and mint--ustardy celery root
salad--red miso broth--pea shoots, sugar snaps, walnuts
and orange vinaigrette." Pollinger's ands and withs
make the book! He has also added many personnal-based tutorials,
tips and preferences. Great photos too. With all this, the
experienced home cook should have little difficulty putting
any of these recipes together.
In all, these are the most inviting recipes I've seen in
a cookbook in years. I know fish but I can't wait to get
into Pollinger's recipes. School of Fish is a complete,
authoritative and user friendly cookbook inspired by a chef
who really knows fish. It will
be the new reference on home fish cookery.
Zesters and Graters Get Dull Too
Legend has it, that about fourteen years ago, a home baker
somewhere pulled out her old zester—which had done honorable
service since the Eisenhower administration—scraped it over
a lemon with such poor results that she said, “this thing
has got to go.” But so did her lemon cookies that
were off to the bridge club in three hours, no matter what.
She left the kitchen and headed for the garage workshop
to tell her husband to drop everything and go get her a
new zester. At the moment, husband was smoothing the
sawed edge of a nice piece of hardwood. She looked
at the lightweight stainless steel tool he was using and
said, “gimme that!” The rest is history.
The line of graters and zesters are called Microplane and
are made by Grace Manufacturing, a heretofore woodwork tools
outfit. They are made of stainless steel and have
pressed-out and honed cutting edges that shave rather than
shred. The zester is so good that it is a standard
issue tool to new students at the professional pastry course
at L’Academie de Cuisine.
Last week, I wanted to finish off a pasta dish with a little
freshly grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano. Granted, the block
of cheese was pretty old and quite hard but I expected my
Microplane grater to shave it. Nope, it just bumped along
the surface of the cheese block and took off a flake or
two. So, I ran the grater over my fingers (never a good
idea) but again it just bumped along.
It was dull. Throw away dull, as they can't be sharpened.
As luck would have it, someone recently gave me a gift card
from Williams-Sonoma, so I have some new ones.
UPDATE: Beautiful Non-stick
Iron Skillets From Japan
Last year, I hesitated to write about this pan since getting
one was a bit of a hassle. While the pan cost $75US, shipping
added another $50US. That put it in the price range of All
Clad and Le Crueset, which is fine since it's functionally
as good if not better than what they offer and far more
attractive. The pans are made by Iwachu, a company in Japan
well known, worldwide, for their cast iron tea pots and
kettles. Iwachu has been casting iron for centuries. I read
about their "omelet pan" earlier, lost the reference,
then saw it again and decided to get it from an Amazon like
company in Japan called Rakuten Global Market that has a
vendor that carries it. They can be found at https://global.rakuten.co.jp.
Ah, but now Amazon carries Iwachu. And
the pan is available in two sizes" 9.5 inch and 8.5
inch for $101US and $78US (about 20% less than if ordered
About the pan: At 9.5 inches across, it is of medium heavy
cast iron with fine design lines--beautifully shaped with
a long graceful handle and sloping cavity walls about 2
inches deep at the far edge and little more shallow at the
near. It is so designed to promote the flipping of an omelet,
which it does nicely. The surface is treated in a manner
like Le Crueset cast iron, with the result that not much
sticks to it. The 8.5 inch pan is identical--just smaller.
The larger pan is best to brown steaks and chops when done
sous vide; for three-egg omelets or scrambled eggs and for
grilled cheese sandwiches. The smaller one is handy to fry
two eggs or a hamburger or to warm up a leftover of any
sort. And, since cast iron pans enjoy an oven visit now
and then, both sized pans work great for an oven-finished
frittata or baked corn bread.
There are other cast iron pans in the house by Lodge, Griswold
and Le Crueset, but the Iwachus are, by far, the most attractive
and versatile cast iron pans I have ever used.
One Avocado Guacamole (Rev)
Good deli's make good guacamole but the price is ridiculous.
So make it yourself. (A Mexican lava rock molcajete y tegolete
lends a nice authentic touch, both in the making and presentation
Recipes abound. All call for some combination of onion,
tomato, lime, chile pepper, cilantro and salt as flavor
enhancers to a Hass avocado. Since a ripe Hass avocado is
so buttery, rich and tasteful it doesn't need much enhancing.
In a pinch, just go with avocado and salt (pun intended)
or avocado and salsa. But each of the above enhancers compliments
the avocado while adding bulk, zip and texture.
Most recipes call for three avocados, which is OK for a
crowd (see photo above = a lot of guacamole). The problem
is that avocado flesh discolors rapidly, so guacamole keeps
for hours, not days. On the
proven theory that it is easier to enlarge a recipe than
to cut it, here is a my one avocado guacamole recipe.
Here's how: (Freshness and ripeness count here.)
Yield: a generous cup
4 servings as an appetizer or 8 as a nibble
See Abbreviations, if needed
1/2 fresh jalapeno, serranos or cow horn chile pepper
3T white onion or shallot or spring onion, finely chopped
1/4C ripe tomato, red part only, skinned and finely chopped
1 ripe Hass avocado
1.5T fresh lime juice
1 generous pinch of salt
3T cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 dusting of cayenne
1. Roast the chile pepper directly over a gas burner or
in a hot dry pan, when cool, scrape off the charred parts
slice open and strip out the white and seeds, then finely
chop half of it and place in the molcajete or bowl
2. Finely chop the onion and place in bowl
3. Remove the white lines from the tomato flesh and chop
the rest into small bits and add to bowl
4. Scoop out the flesh from the avocado and add to bowl
East and West
Good knives have been in the hands of man for a long time.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a knife, known as a scramasax,
with a decorated hilt and fifteen inch blade. It's still
functional but worse for wear as it dates back to the late
8th century. When not used for self defense, knives are
used for cutting. They have probably been in the kitchen
as long as they have been in the field.
Julia Childs said a home cook can get along nicely with
two knives: an 8- or 10-inch chef's knife and a good paring
knife. The chef's knife comes first. In the photo above
are two such knives--the finest of their type. These knives,
with their high rise handle, broad tapered shape and durable
edge have been the most used knife shape in kitchens for
centuries (along with the Chinese cleaver). On top, is my
school-issued Wüsthof Trident 9-inch chef's knife from
Germany. It has a forged non-rusting blade that takes and
holds a very good edge. It is heavy, rugged, durable, has
a massive choil (where the blade leaves the handle) and
resharpens well. Below it is an 8-inch chef's knife, known
as a gyutou. It is hand made by Kagekiyo in Japan. It has
a forged steel-clad blade (typical of fine Japanese knives)
comprised of a layer of hard carbon steel positioned between
layers of non-rusting steel with only the carbon steel cutting
edge exposed. It is thinner, lighter, balanced, far less
rugged (fragile choil) and takes a sharper edge than the
western chef's knife. It also is more expensive.
I've used the more common Japanese chef's knife, called
a santoku, and three other Japanese knives for decades--all
bought in Japan. More about them here.
The Kagekiyo gyutou is new. I bought it from an internet
company that markets Japanese kitchenware from Japan--www.chuboknives.com.
Chubo has an attractive and informative Web site featuring
all Japanese knife types from the finest manufacturers.
Their knives are in stock (in Japan) and shipping service
is fast (about five days).
Another Smoke Book
Awhile back, we profiled Seven Fires Grilling the Argentine
Way by Francis Mallmann, a French trained Argentine.
I found that book rather far out but with some interesting
recipes. So too with SMOKE. Both these chefs, upon hearing
a fire engine, might rush in behind it--not to help put
the fire out but rather to cook on it. Smoke won the James
Beard Foundation Cookbook award for general cooking. However,
there is not much 'general" about this book save for
some great spice mixtures, marmalades, pickles and salsas
in the first chapter. The rest of the book is quite like
Seven Fires only far more cook friendly, instructional
and ambitious while using familiar cuts. It's a beautiful
cookbook with heavy paper and great photos.
Most all of the recipes can be prepared on most any charcoal
grill or in smokers like Weber's 'Bullet' or The Green Egg.
If you have a grandson that wants to get into outdoor big
fire smoke cookery. This is the starter book: educational,
practical and entertaining. Hardest part thereafter will
be finding a well-husbanded whole pig to roast and then
sixty people to help eat it.
I grew to admire much of Japanese art, furniture, artifacts
and culture over forty years of visiting the country while
in the navy and later on business. I've acquired tonsus,
hibachi pots, imari dishware, pagodas, ikats, tapestries,
woodblock prints, ceramics, woodworking tools, kitchen knives
and chopsticks. (Art galleries and hardware stores in Japan
are like no others. I don't recall ever walking by one without
Chopsticks for kitchen use are long and sturdy. I find
them useful to turn over small pieces in a hot skillet,
such as shrimp or lardons of bacon and ham. They're also
handy for tossing salads, extracting olives and other round
things from narrow jars, and managing the shabu
shabu pot for your guests. In the photo, the second
from left chopsticks, with black handles and delicate steel
shanks tapered to a fine point, are called plating chopsticks.
They have been used for years in Japan for plating sashimi
moribashi and quite recently by american chefs to fine tune
plate presentations immediately before serving---arranging
salad leaves just right or placing a single pomegranate
seed precisely where it belongs or grasping a flake of prosciutto
and lapping it over the pineapple in the amuse-bouche featured
on this page below.
Yes, plating tongs work as well and are easier to use.
But less fun.
Good Cooking Refinements (Revisited)
Over the holidays, we were invited to a spaghetti dinner
prepared by one of the guests who loves to cook and is good
at it. I stayed clear of the kitchen until called in at
the last minute to make an emergency salad dressing. Our
cook for the evening was just finishing making his tomato
sauce with Italian sausage that he constructed lovingly
and simmered long and slow. A side glance at the pot and
a distant sniff suggested a promising deep red sauce. “Skim
off the fat and it'll be great,” I said to myself.
But the cook gave it all a good stir and poured the sauce
over the steaming pasta. It was good, a fine dish.
It would have been cleaner on the palette, better tasting
(more complex) and more healthful if he had skimmed off
the fat, which mostly came from the Italian sausage.
Stocks, soups, sauces, chilies con carne, meat loaves—just
about every product that's cooked long and slow (simmered,
roasted or braised) should be skimmed of discolor and fats.
It doesn't take all that long. Your seasonings will then
come through. The food will look better and be better for
Awhile back, I put together a pork tenderloin roast at
my sister's house as dinner for eight. Her husband was in
and out of the kitchen watching the proceedings. He loves
veggies and commented that the carrots, onions and celery
I sautéed in the roasting pan were sure going to
taste good. An hour later, the roast was on the table along
with a salad, baked potatoes and sautéed green beans.
"Hey this is great, especially the gravy," raved
my brother in law, ". . . but what happened to the
carrots and onions? My sister preempted my reply with "they're
is the sauce, dear," She knew that because, earlier,
I opened every drawer and cupboard in her kitchen looking
for a strainer.
The strainers in the photo take up a lot of storage space
but they're needed. Straining cooked liquids serves two
purposes. The first is to remove ingredients added to impart
flavors and never intended to be on the table. Veggies,
herbs, bones, tough meats that get cooked to death and fall
apart in the process. Having served honorably in the pot
and given their all for an hour or two they have got to
go. That's how stocks and sauces are made. Also, it is best
to strain cooked liquids before reducing them over high
heat to a desired consistency, if that is what you have
in mind. When you know that you are going to strain what
is in the pot, you can save time in the preparation. No
need to pluck leaves off of fresh thyme or parsley branches.
Toss them in whole (yes, they are a little stronger) and
stain them out later. Chop veggies rough and quick and toss
Straining serves a second purpose. Namely, to refine the
texture and thickness of soups. our 'country soup' or French
'soupe' is served with chunks of food, unstrained. At the
other extreme, is a consommé, so finely skimmed and
strained that you can read the date of a coin at the bottom
of the pot. Other soups are strained more or less to relieve
the pallet of too much coarseness, fiber or calories. Vichyssoise,
Cream of Cucumber, Butternut Squash and Roasted Tomatillo
soups are better if some of the bulk is strained out. If
you plan on straining a soup, be sure to make enough of
it. You will lose volume. That is why consommé is
the most expensive soup on the menu and why rich smooth
bisques cost more than their country cousins.
Puréeing is about smoothness, thickness and texture.
So too is straining. Are they the same? No. Are they related?
Yes. Where's the distinction? Pour a product through a strainer
and some goes through and some doesn't. So, to strain is
to remove unwanted ingredients. Subject a product to the
whirling blade of a food processor or a stick blender and
it is broken up violently but nothing is removed.
Often, straining is all that is needed to achieve a nice
texture of, say, the braising liquids for lamb shanks done
in a Dutch oven or tagine. While, puréeing alone
will do the trick in many soups where you want everything
in the pot to stay but it's all a bit too heavy on the spoon.
(The beauty of the 'stick blender' shown in the photo, is
that it allows you to plunge it in and out of a hot pot
on the stove without transferring the liquid it to a food
processor or standing blender.) Gazpacho for example, smoothed
out with a stick blender, should have a nice consistency
without staining. But most heavier soups need to be puréed
and strained. I find that my Vichyssoise usually needs to
have some of the bulk strained out before its puréed.
Soups with high fiber content, such as Butternut Squash,
Roasted Tomatillo or Asparagus (I'm working on it) must
be puréed to break up the fiber and then strained
to get some of it out. For soups: purée first and
then strain or strain and then purée? Your call,
no fast rule that I know of.
On the first day of school, I was surprised to find a huge
ice maker in the kitchen. “Must be for the pastry
class,” I surmised. "Cooking is all about heat,
Just as a takes time to heat a product hot enough to cook
it, it takes time to remove heat and stop the cooking process.
For example, Shrimp need to be cooked just right. The difference
between underdone and overdone shrimp is less than 30 seconds.
Worse still, they will continue to cook when removed from
heat and let to rest on the cutting board. Whatever the
degree of desired doneness, it will be long gone if the
shrimp aren't served immediately or cooled quickly when
taken off heat. So, if shrimp are to be prepared ahead of
time they must be chilled in an ice bath for a few minutes
and then drained and held for cold service or for reheating
So too with veggies. Pigmentations in veggies are altered
during the cooking process. While carrots and tomatoes lose
little color, spinach, asparagus and broccoli lose a lot
of their chlorophyll pigmentation. When preparing veggies
ahead of time, whether blanched, boiled or steamed, they
will retain their color and degree of doneness if placed
in an ice bath for a few minutes and then drained and held.
This is not a “nice-to-do-if- I-have-time” thing.
When I prep green veggies, an ice bath is always prepared
as soon as the water boils.
Another essential use of ice baths is to retard discoloration
of raw fruits and veggies that are cut and exposed to air.
The phenolic compounds in raw potatoes, apples, eggplants,
bananas and avocados will quickly oxidize and turn brown
or gray unless the product is held in cool water—sometimes
with a little lemon juice added for fruits.
So, if you have chomped through a tough shrimp in a cold
salad, tried to pick up a limp spear of asparagus, spied
brown apple slices in the pie, cringed at the sight of gray-brown
guacamole or off white potato slices in the German potato
salad, you know the problem and now know the solution.
Can't cook without ice? Who'd thunk . . .
If You Need Just One
Cookbook on Poultry--This Will Do!
Culinary Birds is the 2014 James
Beard Foundation book award for a single subject cookbook.
The authors note going-in, that while the price of cars
has gone up 14 fold over the last 50 years, the cost of
a chicken today is less than twice the price back then.
So, we eat a lot of chicken--about 90 lbs/year/person in
This is a recipe book. About 45 for chicken, 25 for turkey,
20 with eggs and as many for duck, goose, small birds and
upland game birds--some 170 recipes in all including some
very nice soups and sauces. All the traditional ways of
preparing The Great American Bird are covered along with
many inviting international recipes. I especially like the
rich variety of turkey recipes that go way beyond the tired
Thanksgiving bird and the fate of its leftovers. The section
on eggs--from strata to deviled--has lots of ideas but no
mention of how to asteurize eggs at home, sous vide. With
six pheasants from a generous neighbor resting in my freezer,
I'll try their Roast Pheasant Stuffed with Wild Rice, which
is pretty close to Mom's recipe at home in Minnesota some
65 years ago.
Introductory articles are informative, covering the history
of the birds and most of the farm-to-fork issues of the
day. The book is well edited with great photos. In all,
Culinary Birds is a significant
contribution to the literature. It's thorough and follows
proper cooking practices and techniques. Culinary
Birds will give good service in the kitchen
of your favorite grand niece or nephew.
I'll keep it!
Do You Need Another Tea Pot?
At last count there was a British teapot retired to the
garage, a very small Chinese teapot in a kitchen cabinet
somewhere and on display an elegant cast iron "tetsubin"
from some ancient iron works in Japan, featuring a raised
relief dragon. So why another?
I always have a carafe of iced tea in the fridge, made
in the carafe with boiling water poured over tea leaves
in a fitted basket. I sometimes drink it over lunch and
often with dinner. But I seldom make hot tea. It's
a hassle and too hard to get the tea-to-water ratio right,
not to mention the temperature of the water. It always tastes
too tannic. The tea industry has
settled on the optimum temperatures for each type of tea
leaf and how long each should be steeped. There's a lot
of folklore too, mostly consistent with industry standards.
Assuming that there is something substantive to all of this
"how to make a proper pot of tea," a machine that
makes it precisely 'by the numbers' should produce a superior
product.Along come my good friends and tea lovers from Williamsburg--raving
about a new teapot that Santa brought, after much research
(by them not Santa). It's an Australian designed tea maker,
made for Breville in China. It is high tech and very well
made. It has settings for the type of tea leaf--matched
to the proper water temp for each, settings for desired
strength, an auto timer and other options. These settings
heat the ater and control a tea basket inside the pot that
rides up and down a magnetic shaft in and out of the hot
water to steep.
I keep in stock white, green, black and oolong teas. This
tea maker makes better tea of them than I can, and it does
so quietly, quickly, precisely and consistently. I'm impressed.
And it's fun to watch, too. What's not to like? Price!
How to Sharpen Serrated Knives
baked a red onion last night to go with a small pork tenderloin.
Looking at the recipe for the baked
whole onion I took note of Step 5, which reads in part
" When ready, slice each onion in half across the root
stem (a sharp serrated knife works best) . . " I pondered
to myself: how many sharp serrated knives have I used in
other kitchens? Few if any. And cutting a hot, soft onion
with a dull knife gets messy.
However, serrated knives can be sharpened with the right
tool. Namely a round tapered diamond stone, as made specific
to the task by DMT (Diamond Machining Technology). Since
one of these sharpeners cost about $26, you will have to
decide if your knives are worth it. The other thing to consider
is that the type of metal in cheap knives does not take
well to sharpening. But if you have some good ones worth
worth the effort, Here's how to restore them to sharp-as-new:
The DMT sharpener is a round taper. Somewhere along its
length you will find a match in the width of the taper and
the width of the knife's scallops. Marry the two and then
line up the angle of the taper to match the angle within
the scallop so that the diamond dust on the sharpener brushes
the edge of knife to be sharpened. Then gently move the
sharpener in and out. This takes time and dedication as
you must sharpen the scallops one by one. When the scallops
are done, turn the blade over and sweep the sharpener lightly
against the smooth surface side to finish the edge.
sThe two knives on the left are from Japan. The three on
the right are from Germany by Wüsthof, a very well
known brand worldwide. On the far left is a long wood handled
knife hand forged and finished by Shosui Takeda, a third
generation blacksmith in Okayama Japan. It is not as sturdy
and therefore not as practical s the others but it is beautiful,
amazingly sharp and agile. It's the Ferrari of paring knives
with a price to match. Next on the left is a western st
lye paring knife by Nenox, more nicely finished and with
arguably better steel and better edge than the Wüsthof's.
The center knife is your essential paring knife--what Julia
Childs had in mind. You gotta have one. Next is a serrated
paring knife--great for slicing bagels and buns and opening
boxes large and small. I use this knife a lot and know how
to keep it sharp (see the article lower down on this page).
The knife on the far right is a "parrot's beak"
designed for peeling potatoes, apples, pineapples, etc.
Works wonderfully but it is tricky to sharpen its curved
A Tomato Amuse-Bouche
After reading and reviewing Extra Virginity
(see below), I ordered two bottles of Agrumato--the
lemon pressed EVOO (again see below). Great stuff! Now what
to do with it? Here's a suggestion:
1. Find good tasting cherry tomatoes--no easy task but
essential for this dish. 2. Have them at ambient temperature
and slice each in half and arrange all on a work surface
cut side up. 3. Take a pinch of sea salt and carefully,
by hand, drop three or four grains on each tomato half.
4. Repeat with a few bits of freshly ground black pepper.
5. Then a few flakes of finely chopped fresh basil. 6. Then
a few white bits of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. 7. With
all that done, drizzle three or four drops of the Agrumato
Lemon EVOO. (All in moderation: not too much of any one
ingredient.) 8. Gather up portions and place in nice small
bowls, as shown above. Serve with a small fork. Before seating
your guests at table.
Now, quite obviously, one could add the above ingredients
to a big bowl, toss in the tomato halves and be done with
it. You would then have a tomato salad. Done my way you
have consistent, perfectly seasoned, dressed tomato halves,
specially prepared and contrived to amuse your guests and
invigorate their palates. The very definition of an amuse-bouche.