Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for March, 2008

Lawry’s the Blog Post

Posted by beer_chris on 18-March-2008

I learned recently that those mavens of grocery store seasoning packets Lawry’s actually started as a steakhouse way back when – and that it all started with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. Customers loved this salt so much that the restaurant (a Beverly Hills institution) started selling it commercially. Eventually this led to the 59 cent seasoning packs I love so much today (along with acquisition by Unilever at some point)
Needless to say, The steakhouse is still going strong with locations across the US – and it has maintained that 60’s smoky back room name – ‘Lawry’s The Prime Rib’

I just love it. It makes me want to put on a blue blazer, get a buzz cut and put on a thin tie before I drive up to Dallas to have the ‘Diamond Jim Brady’ cut of prime rib – which is wheeled to my table on a cart!

I wonder if they have a company store where I can buy some Lawry’s spaghetti seasoning. And here’s a guarantee next time I mix it up with my fave Lawry’s seasoning packet:

‘What’s for dinner, honey’

‘Lawry’s The Tacos, dear’

🙂

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Top Chef thoughts

Posted by beer_chris on 9-March-2008

OK, two posts in one (contiguous) day? Well, I lose an hour tonight so I might as well go for it. That and I am such a TC fanboy I cannot resist.

I reviewed the bios of the upcoming contestants on Top Chef – here are my initial picks for TC season 4:

  • Ytee’s Preseason Win/Place/Show: Manuel/Lisa/Nikki

Manuel has an impressive resume and broad experience, and he’s from Texas. Lisa seems well put together and is only one of two that has a 4 yr degree. Nikki seems to have the level of experience that will matter in the later rounds. Stephanie is a wild card – another college grad who is not currently working but seems to remind me of <AHEM> Tiffani.

Previous winners/finalists have been absolutely solid in their cooking skills, and so I am happy to see that the Bravo casting folks have erred on the side of experience and age vs bringing in a bunch of young nobodies who look good in swimsuits (Candace, anyone?).

That said, there are still some self taught chefs here – but I cannot imagine they will be able to stand up to the challenges. Also, not one of them has listed any catering experience, which always pays off since many of the challenges are basically catering tasks (making huge amounts of food to be served all at once). There are a few wierdos – a larger than usual group of Adria ‘molecular gastronomy’ references, and something called a ‘culinary consultant’, whatever that means.

And YAY we have a sommelier again!! (Nikki)

I cannot wait – my DVR will be humming away on 12-March!

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Comfort pasta

Posted by beer_chris on 9-March-2008

Bacon. Egg. Parmesan cheese. Pasta. Cream.

Maybe it’s the richness of the cream and the beaten egg. Heck, maybe it’s just the bacon, so smoky and delicious. Perhaps it is the magic combination of all of these factors, but there is just something about spaghetti carbonara that smooths out the edges of a rough day, warms up a cold body or just makes a person feel better when the blues strike.

I had never had this dish until my mother bought me one of the America’s Test Kitchen ‘year in review’ cookbooks about 4 years ago. Among the tested and perfected recipes for steak Diane and fried chicken cutlets was a recipe for spaghetti carbonara. The goal of the ATK recipe was to come up with a recipe that was warm and satisfying without being gloppy and overwhelming. In typical ATK fashion the recipe takes nearly 90 minutes to make, and includes a step to cook and completely cool the bacon.

Needless to say, it only took one try at this bacon creamy goodness and I was hooked. It became a normal weeknight staple dish for my home, and fell right in line with tacos made with Lawry’s seasoning and two-alarm chili as comfort food – the type of dish that would get on my weekly meal plan and inspire excitement in the house for ‘carbonara night’. Sometimes it would be dressed up with a nice side and a bottle of wine, other nights it was slopped into a bowl and eaten as a meal by itself. It’s a versatile dish in that way and that is just another reason to love it so much.

I put another mark in the column for carbonara as comfort food because I have never been satisfied with the dish when I have ordered it at a restaurant. Like my mother’s meatloaf, a good bowl of soup or a simple bologna sandwich I just cannot find a restaurant version that can do it justice. Like other comfort foods I think that has less to do with ingredients, recipes or cooking technique as it does with context. Comfort food is eaten as a salve for some type of injury – physical or emotional – and (at least for me) it is exceedingly rare to get that anywhere but home.

I made carbonara tonight. It’s been a rough couple of days – the blues are here, I can feel them in my brain and sneaking around everything I’ve been doing and working on lately. Carbonara seemed a good fit to try and take these issues head on, and although tonight’s is not my best offering at the dish, it really hit the spot – both in my head and in my stomach.

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Barramundi – not quite what I thought

Posted by beer_chris on 5-March-2008

While in Dubai I had a lovely white fleshed fish called Barramundi at the fine restaurant that sits on top of the Burj al Arab. The fish was on the specials list that night, and was simply grilled with a beurre blanc sauce or something similarly rich yet mild tasting. I thought for certain that this was some type of locally sourced fish, found only in the Indian Ocean. The name invoked African languages (or so I thought), and so I had myself convinced this was the ‘sea bass’ of the Indian Ocean. The taste did not betray these assumptions, as it was mild and not oily at all with a nice bite. In short, it tasted and behaved on a plate very much like Pacific sea bass.

This post has been rattling around in my head since then, primarily because I could not remember the name of the fish. It is not listed in my ‘Fish on a First-Name Basis’ book (aside – a really interesting read by Rob DeBorde, a writer for ‘Good Eats’. See this link on Google books.) It does not turn up on any searches for ‘Indian Sea Bass’ or similar aliases. I was about ready to give it up and just figured I would try and find out more next time I am in the AP region, but last week I went to Mark’s for a company function.

I’ve been to Mark’s once before for a birthday, and was impressed – although I was not feeling well on the night of that previous visit it was clear that the restaurant is deserving of its reputation as one of the nicest in Houston. On my last visit Barramundi happened to be a special. Although I did not order it (I had a Kobe beef sirloin with Robuchon potatoes – yum!!), I immediately recognized the name and this time was able to put it to memory.

So, I’ve done completed my research. At that moment at Mark’s I was duly impressed. Here was this fish that I believed could only be sourced from the Indian Ocean (likely in Africa!) on the menu at a restaurant in Houston.

However, my research on the interwebs has pointed out that Barramundi is farmed across the world. Mainly this is because it is a freshwater fish which spawns in brackish coastal waters, kind of like the opposite of salmon – so it can live almost anywhere. It also comes from Australia and not Africa. The Wikipedia entry for this fish has a number of references to various stories about it’s commercial impact, but the link I followed was to an Australian company that maintains a US farm for growing Barramundi.

All of this sounds great, but I suppose I am a bit disillusioned. I tend towards ridiculously grand notions that fine restaurants obtain ingredients in an extremely rustic way that depends entirely on the vision of the chef to see the potential in an ingredient sourced from some faraway or otherwise unglamorous place. In the case of Barramundi I conjured up an image of the executive chef on a culinary expedition to Australia, meeting some local fisherman on the wharves of Perth and ‘discovering’ this Sea Bass of the Subcontinent. This fish, nothing special and just another thing to be eaten to the locals, had potential for greatness – a potential recognized by the gifted executive chef. So, he sets up a custom supply chain with this local fisherman to get some of this lovely new seafood back to his restaurant in Houston, and becomes the only proprietor in Texas (perhaps the entire USA) to have Barramundi on his menu.

To discover that my grand notions are hogwash is not a surprise, but that this fish most likely came from a farm in Massachusetts is a bit disappointing to me for some reason. Regardless, Barramundi is tasty and I highly recommend it for it’s good eating qualities, whether farmed or more romantically sourced.

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