Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for November, 2006

Thanksgiving thoughts

Posted by beer_chris on 24-November-2006

  • If when I host Thanksgiving, I'm getting my turkey smoked. I had a smoked turkey for the first time this year, and it was darn tootin' tasty. Not to mention my hosts (thanks Karen and Monnie Weddel of New Braunfels) only had to reheat the durn thing.
  • I like my stuffing with a rough chop of all types of things. I like little chunks of celery, onion, some boiled egg – heck, even a bit of unidentifiable meat-type objects are A-OK with me. I also like it to be moist, almost greasy.
  • Thanksgiving is all about corrupting side dish ingredients into things they simply aren't meant to be – or coloring them in ways that nature never intended. This is a bit odd of a statement for me because usually I'm the first to want to dress some veggies with a little salt and pepper and leave it at that. However, if would feel strange on Thanksgiving to eat side items in that way. I want my green beans slathered in canned mushroom soup and sprinkled with crunchy onions from a can. I wouldn't have it any other way then to eat my sweet potatoes with copious amounts of sugar, butter and of course, marshmallows. Side dishes and vegetables become simple butter and sugar delivery mechanisms – nothing more.
  • Fruit salad is not necessarily as important as having something sweet – like raspberry jello pudding.
  • The turkey isn't quite the heart of the matter – it's the sides, the pies and the folks.
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Is tone deafness real?

Posted by beer_chris on 22-November-2006

I had a choir director that said tone deafness was a myth – but regardless, this is COOL!

Tone test

The stats are the cool part. I scored 83.3% (I missed 7 of 36)

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If you're hungry, you tend to eat things

Posted by beer_chris on 18-November-2006

From The New York Times

Close Your Eyes. Hold Your Nose. It's Dinner Time.

By ERIC ASIMOV
Published: September 14, 1997

Got a hankering for some calf testicles?

Wait, don't gag just yet. In the Rocky Mountain states, calf testicles — sliced, lightly battered and fried — are considered a delicacy by people who themselves might turn vivid shades of green at the thought of devouring a clam. And if neither calf testicles nor clams repulse you, something in humanity's vast pantry will surely turn your stomach.

Humans eat just about anything that can be speared, hooked, shot or reared, from rooster coxcombs (the red things on their heads) to ox tails to grasshoppers to, yes, puppies and kittens. The species' wide-ranging tastes, which so easily arouse disgust among those who do not partake, are reflected in recent reports about two prized regional delicacies: squirrel brains, considered a treat in rural western Kentucky, and geoducks, freakishly large clams that thrive in the saltwater tidelands of the Pacific Northwest.

It seems that consuming squirrel brains can transmit to humans a fatal variant of mad cow disease, which essentially shreds human brain tissue. Scientists last month warned devotees to lay off the gray matter of the gray rodents, though those outside the Squirrel Brain Belt might argue that consuming the delicacy in the first place suggests that the damage has already been done.

And then there is the geoduck (oddly enough, pronounced GOO-ee-duck), a clam that can weigh as much as 16 pounds, with a neck like a flexible fire hydrant. Why a geoduck? Organized crime has apparently gotten into the business, smuggling this especially homely bivalve to Asia, where a single clam can sell for $50.

The mind may say ''Yuck'' to such formidable meals, but somewhere, sometime, a mouth first watered at the prospect. Who, after all, would have thought to eat an animal as hideous as a lobster?

''What's a lobster other than an insect, but slightly larger?'' asked Andrew F. Smith, author of ''The Tomato in America'' (North Carolina University Press, 1994). Mr. Smith, who teaches culinary history at the New School for Social Research in New York, noted that crickets and grasshoppers were commonly eaten in the United States through the 19th century. ''If you're hungry, you tend to eat things,'' he said, simply enough.

That logic might explain the cannibalistic Donner Party, settlers trapped in the Sierra Nevada a century and a half ago — but squirrel brains? ''I'm sure that people who lived on the frontier, if they shot a squirrel — what's wrong with eating the brains?'' Mr. Smith asked. ''What's wrong with eating eyeballs? In Asian societies, eyeballs are considered common foods. If I were hungry, would I eat eyeballs? You bet I would!''

You may as well ask who was brave enough to taste a tomato. Mr. Smith said northern Europeans considered tomatoes too revolting to eat when Spanish conquistadors first brought them back from the New World. ''Squeamishness depends on cultural background,'' he said, noting that slime from the surfaces of rivers and lakes was a prized food of the Aztecs.

While Mr. Smith's personal diet has occasionally included calf testicles, he does draw the line at the durian, a spiked, football-shaped fruit popular in Southeast Asia that is so famously stinky that Singapore, for one, prohibits slicing them open in public places.

It's a shame people can't do a better job of adapting to foods they consider gross, argued Calvin W. Schwabe in his 1979 book ''Unmentionable Cuisine'' (University Press of Virginia); he asserted that the world, and Americans in particular, may face dire long-term consequences by irrationally rejecting such foods, which can help sustain the food supply and are often cheap, nutritious and tasty. He has collected recipes for foods that are actually eaten, somewhere in the world, including Samoan baked bat, Turkish lamb tongues and Hawaiian broiled puppy.

''How strange that we think it natural to eat some arthropods — even crabs, which are notorious scavengers of the deep, but just the idea of eating any of our really beautiful bugs and caterpillars, which feed on clean vegetation, makes us shudder,'' he lamented.

Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies human choices, says foods that disgust are almost all animal products. Asking why humans find a few scattered animal foods disgusting is the wrong question, he said. ''We eat so few animal products that the real question is, why aren't all animal products revolting?'' he said.

In the United States, which he termed ''basically a muscle-eating country,'' viscosity — that state between solid and liquid that characterizes, say, squirrel brains — generally repulses, as does the odor of decay. But he pointed out that every culture has its exceptions.

''We prize cheese, which is rotted milk and smells that way,'' he said. ''Fish sauce, which is rotted fish, is prized in Southeast Asia.''

Clearly, people's tastes in food depend on what they grew up eating. Those who vow that rodent entrails will never pass between their lips think nothing of eating strips of pig flesh. But maybe if people were more familiar with the smells, squeals and butchery required to turn the pig into bacon, they would be less likely to shrink back from the innards and oddities of other cultures. Or maybe they would give up bacon.

Perhaps examining the food on the plate too closely is something we should all avoid. Have you ever looked closely at a Cheez Doodle? Now you can gag.

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Top Chef Ep 5 – duo of losers

Posted by beer_chris on 18-November-2006

I don't really understand what a 'room service chef' is – I'm sure Elia has been professionally trained, has been to cooking school and so has all of the fundamental skills – she can cook circles around me. But the title of room service chef gives me visions of someone whose only real professional challenge is cutting a club sandwich into equal parts. Perhaps harping on Elia is unfair. A 'salad chef' won was runner-up in the last Hell's Kitchen (although I think that show is much more produced then Top Chef). I suppose my issue with Elia is my issue with the season 2 contestants in general – there just doesn't seem to be a lot of creativity – certainly not as much as was on season 1. Where is the cutting edge food? The default response seems to be to 'survive', and so most everyone is cooking what they know – not going with the ingredients and making something really great. Sam, my previous fave, is an exception, as is Cliff and Ilan, and probably Marcel. But that's it. Michael and Carlos seem clearly overmatched, Betty and Mia seem totally focused on cooking dishes they already know no matter the challenge, and Elia, well, as I said I just don't get it.

In Season 1 there was one really massive screw up – the salt for sugar incident that cost Miguel his spot. 5 eps into season 2 and there have already been 2 mistakes that strike me as completely boneheaded. Betty trying to use Splenda in meringue was madness – and speaks volumes about a fundamental lack of knowledge about how eggs 'work' in cooking. This week's mess up – Elia forgetting (or simply not knowing) to soak kidney to remove the residual waste material. I've never cooked kidney and I knew that had to be done.

Her performance in the elimination put her in the bottom, and her and Carlos' choice to use the pomegranate concentrate instead of the fresh ingredients in the walk-in was another boneheaded move showing an utter lack of creativity. Although I agree that Marisa and Josie did poorly enough to be kicked off, I think Elia should have been sent home instead of Josie, who has some real talent.

At the bottom line, I'm glad to see Mike win – but he's still overmatched. Ilan is my new fave – not only because I think he has the best balance of solid skill and creativity of the bunch, but also because he's taking Mike with him to Miami – he is a classy, solid competitor. I like him.

Really curious about next week – looks like the producers are really going to kick the 'getting Marcel under our skin' machine into high gear. I still am giving him the benefit of the doubt – but he is no Stephen Asporino – Stephen could back up his talk with extremely solid cooking. Marcel hasn't really shown much of a flair for executing against all his talk.

– thanks Brendan for the correction on last season's Hell's Kitchen

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Weeknight stock

Posted by beer_chris on 16-November-2006

Been meaning to post on this for a while. I don't actually remember where I picked up the idea to make stock in a crock pot – it certainly wasn't my own – I did read it somewhere – but I don't really have a 'source' recipe I'm using for this.

The bottom line is that this is so easy it can be done over consecutive weeknights – and that's no lie – I've done it now a couple of times.

Starting with chicken and then I'll suggest how to modify this for beef stock. Butcher a roasting chicken or use a packaged cut up whole chicken. Butchering your own will guarantee that you get the back – although I've had pretty good luck in getting the back in my packaged cut up chickens lately. Cut the primals into halves such that the marrow in the large bones (thighs, wings, legs, back) is exposed. Trim off the tail and other fatty pockets (the excess skin and fat from the thighs is a good piece to remove). Reserve the giblets for another use!!!

Place in a roasting pan and sprinkle a few tablespoons of oil, roast for about half an hour at 450 – until the skin turns brown and the fat renders. You can do this on the stove as well, but the oven is easier.

Quarter an onion (don't even worry about peeling, just get the dirt off), cut up a carrot and 3 or 4 celery ribs (again – just get the dirt off and cut it very roughly – no peeling the carrots needed). Toss the whole bunch – chicken (including pan drippings), veggies – into the crockpot. Add a tbsp of peppercorns and a bouquet garni. If you have the spent remains of a clutch of roasted garlic, throw it in too (I tend to have these since I use them in mashed potatoes). Hell, add a tbsp of 'autumn rain' scented Cheer if you think it will make good sauce down the line.

Toss it around until it's mixed up pretty well. Fill with water to the tippitiest toppitiest point in your crockpot and set it on high. Let 'er go for about 8 hours (or overnight). Don't worry about skimming if you don't have the time.

Next morning (or whatever), strain out the hot stock and refrigerate immediately. Reserve the meat for another use if you want.

Wait about another day – until the fat coagulates and solidifies on the top of the stock. Remove it and what you have left is chicken jello (that's why I call it stock and not broth). Resist the urge to serve in a dessert glass with whipped cream on top – bag it in Ziplocs in 1 cup increments, freeze and you've no got 3-4 cups (in a normal sized crockpot) of super tasty chicken stock for use in sauces – no super salty stuff from the store – season to taste when you use it.

For beef broth/stock use 3-4 pounds beef and bones – the more marrow bones AND THE CHEAPER the better – mad cow be damned. I've used oxtails, neck bones, cheek, the mystery 'stew meat', short ribs (gasp!), rump roast, blade chops, you name it. It all makes tasty stock – but you do need some bones (prob 1/2 by weight??) for the jelly they provide. Ground beef will work but adds a lot of fat – use sparingly.

The recipe doesn't make all that much stock – traditional method (using a 'stockpot' instead of a crockpot) makes about double this – but this recipe is so easy you can do it on a weeknight, and I really don't use the results up all that quickly. Also, I think it is impossible to get good beef stock/broth at the supermarket – there is workable commercial chicken broth available, but I've yet to find beef broth that doesn't taste like someone boiled a box full of nails with an old shoe and then salted it so much hoping that you wouldn't notice the result tasted like sucking on the infected toe of a dead sailor whose corpse washed up on the beach four months after being unceremoniously buried at sea for being 'the stinky one' on his ship.

But I really don't have a strong opinion either way.

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Ancho chile sauce appetizer

Posted by beer_chris on 14-November-2006

We're getting going in a new dinner club with JD and Whit and few others. I've signed up for appetizer, and decided tot ry and replicate on a small scale the Santa Fe chicken I had at the Greenspoint Club.

Initially I thought I would put the chicken pieces in scoops chips then thought I would try a nacho-esque creation as well. I also decided to try a trio of meats – chicken, crab and chorizo.

The appetizer needed two key qualities – to be small enough such that it could easily be popped as one piece into a mouth, and also to be dry enough on the outside so as not to get sauce or melted cheese all over fingers. With the scoops this was an easy bill – just needed to make sure the chips did not get soggy. With the nachos I was sacrificing one-bit efficiency and so needed to make sure of a couple of things: avoiding soggy became even more important – soggy nachos cannot be picked up and eaten in two bites – and I needed a 'glue' to hold the meat/sauce on the chip.

But before I did all of this calculating of the physics of tortilla chips, I needed a good recipe for an ancho chile sauce. I started with two likely looking candidates online, here and here.

I liked the basics of the first recipe – especially the raisins – but as an enchilada sauce I was worried it woudln't really thicken up without some type of thickening agent added (flour, cornstarch, dairy) – especially given how little fat was in it. It also had very little seasoning. The second recipe also seemed very lightly seasoned, and it used evaporated milk of all things, as well as sour cream and cheese to thicken it. This seemed destined for gloppiness, and so I was on my guard. I ended up with something in between – based primarily on the first recipe but with more spices and some cream to thicken it up.

CHW Ancho Chile Sauce

2 tbsp butter or equiv in pan drippings
2 ancho chiles
1 med onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic (pressed)
2 small tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 c chicken stock
2 tsp dried leaf oregano
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seed
1/4 c raisins
1/3 c heavy cream
1 tbsp butter
salt, pepper to taste

Rehydrate the anchos in a bowl of water for 30 minutes. Seed & chop. Heat the butter in a skillet until the foam subsides and solids are just browning. Add onion and saute until soft. Add chiles and pressed garlic. Add all dry spices, bloom for thirty seconds and add tomatoes. Stir to combine and add chicken stock – whisk briefly and add raisins. Bring to a rolling simmer and reduce by half.

Puree result in blender. Return to pan and bring to a low simmer. Add cream, simmer until just thickened. Lower heat and add last tbsp of butter, whisking to combine. Taste and correct for salt and pepper.
——-

Thoughts on the sauce: not really creamy enough. Probably needs more butter and cream at the end to bring it together. Additionally, did not like the tomato flavor – verging on vegetal. Either bring that out or replace it with a small amount of paste. Cumin was right on, oregano could be kicked up a bit. Coriander seed maybe didn't add much, but I'm thinking it sharpened the flavor of the cumin. I'm afraid to leave it out for now. Needed about a half tsp at the end of salt, and I think overall the spiciness could be increased – perhaps by leaving some of the ancho seeds in.

Note, discovered I actually used New Mexico chiles – slightly different then anchos, which are dried poblanos – New Mexico chiles are dried anaheim peppers. Slightly less heat in an anaheim as I remember.

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I am such a userpic whore

Posted by beer_chris on 11-November-2006

OK, aside from the one I have been using over the last 6 months or so I have completly stolen/lifted/right-click bandited/thieved/picked/outright and clearly taken from someone else as my own every userpic I have ever had on this danged site.

Here's another one.

I laughed out loud when I saw it on a comment from on the community

I HAD TO HAVE IT!!!!!!

OK, not feeling so bad. Turns out (as I suspected) that userpic gankery is pretty common around here. There are some rules of etiquettte about it and I discovered an entire community , although I did not find this icon.

So, I'll use it with pride until I find another icon worthy of stealing.

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Is a burrito a sandwich

Posted by beer_chris on 11-November-2006

This is a really important question – especially to Panera Bread Company.

Is a Burrito a Sandwich? Judge Says No

Friday November 10, 3:25 pm ET

Massachusetts Judge Settles Food Fight by Ruling Burrito Is Not a Sandwich

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — Is a burrito a sandwich? The Panera Bread Co. bakery-and-cafe chain says yes. But a judge said no, ruling against Panera in its bid to prevent a Mexican restaurant from moving into the same shopping mall.

Panera has a clause in its lease that prevents the White City Shopping Center in Shrewsbury from renting to another sandwich shop. Panera tried to invoke that clause to stop the opening of an Qdoba Mexican Grill.

But Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke cited Webster's Dictionary as well as testimony from a chef and a former high-ranking federal agriculture official in ruling that Qdoba's burritos and other offerings are not sandwiches.

The difference, the judge ruled, comes down to two slices of bread versus one tortilla.

“A sandwich is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans,” Locke wrote in a decision released last week.

In court papers, Panera, a St. Louis-based chain of more than 900 cafes, argued for a broad definition of a sandwich, saying that a flour tortilla is bread and that a food product with bread and a filling is a sandwich.

Qdoba, owned by San Diego-based Jack in the Box Inc., called food experts to testify on its behalf.

Among them was Cambridge chef Chris Schlesinger, who said in an affidavit: “I know of no chef or culinary historian who would call a burrito a sandwich. Indeed, the notion would be absurd to any credible chef or culinary historian.”

Quoted from the AP wire story

So who is Chris Schlesinger? Looks to me to be an east coast chef who writes cookbooks about grilling meat. I cannot find a web page or a bio of the guy – all I can guess is that he seems to be pretty well known – and he seems to own (or at least be directly involved with) a restaurant that serves nothing but sandwiches – the All Star Sandwich Bar in Boston. And if the home page is to be taken seriously, Panera better not try to establish that wraps are sandwiches. Schlesinger likely would be first to defend, as the page proudly declares the All Star to be 'Wrap Free since 2006'.

Further thoughts – the All Star menu is a bit deeper then Tom Colicchio's 'wichcraft restaurant chain in NYC – which (no pun intended) opened a few years ago. Clearly the same concept though. Aside, I think it was ep 2 of Season 1 of TC I researched this, and it was Ep 7 where the QuickFire was to create a sandwich for the 'wichcraft menu? As I remember Harold won – I don't quite remember what his sandwich was – I think it had artichoke on it. Not as close as I thought. Thanks to a a Houston Chronicle TV blogger I now know that Harold won the first challenge with a mortadella, grapes, roasted peppers and sunchoke mayo concoction. Doesn't look like it's on the 'wichcraft menu anymore.

So Schlesinger is at least a Colicchio copycat a few miles to the north? And perhaps a shill for the fast food industry when they need someone to weigh in with snobbish hyperbole on important topics like whether a burrito is a sandwich?

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I owe the Hershey company an apology

Posted by beer_chris on 9-November-2006

In this entry I blogged my experience finding an infested Hershey bar. In righteous indignation I wrote to the Hershey company, whose response (save from the 10 bucks in coupons) left a bit to be desired. Paraphrasing, the email basically said, “not our fault, probably happened in the store”.

Well, bunk, I thought. I'll never buy another Hershey bar as long as I live, and I'll tell all my friends about it too! Screw you and your “it happened in the store” nonsense!

I did tell everyone. I posted it here on the web for all to see. And next time through I bought a Ghirardelli bar just to spite 'em.

Trouble is that when I opened that Ghirardelli bar yesterday there was a big hollowed out spot in the middle, filled with webbing and the same 'worm poop' that I munched on in the Hershey bar. Also, there was the shed skin of some type of fly/maggot thing, and a little hole in the corner of the wrapper.

In other words the worm was gone this time – but the infestation problem appears to be an issue with Kroger and not with the Hershey company. I'll be sending a followup email to Hershey to let them know this – in case they are interested, of course.

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When in doubt, I cook rice

Posted by beer_chris on 8-November-2006

Didn't have a clue what to do tonight. Had a pair of NY Strip steaks I got out of the Kroger discount bin on Saturday – hand intended to cook them Sunday night but forgot that was Jim's birthday dinner.

Absolutely had to do something with them tonight, and really didn't have either the oomph or the sides to have steaks.

So, I cooked rice.

I cut the steaks into pieces and made some rice, sauteed the steak bits in some butter and used the fond to mix up a little pan sauce.

The spice mix I used for the sauce was too spicy and not quite balanced, but I'm sitkcing it down here for future reference:

Pan sauce with Wednesday night NY Strip steak chunks

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp ground coriander
sprinkle salt
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp Northwoods seasoning
2 tbsp dried thyme
1 cup beef stock
1 tbsp butter (for polishing) + drippings from steak chunks

MUCH too spicy – the Northwoods and freshly ground pepper bloomed way too much before I added the stock and it was overwhelmingly peppery. I aslo sprinkled some freshly ground pepper on the steak while it sauteed.

The coriander seed really added a lot of flavor. I've been focused on the 'earthy' flavors lately and this is a spicy earthy flavor.

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