Archive for November, 2008

Bistecca alla Pizzaiola

Posted in Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2008 by restaurantouring

bistecca-1

So, in a previous entry that I wrote, I said that I was disappointed in a steak that I had ordered at an Italian restaurant.  I also said that I would make it at home myself, the implication being that I knew I could make it better.  This is normal for me.  I often think this about ordinary dishes from run-of-the-mill restaurants, not just because I think of myself as a decent cook, but because I am an asshole.

So, because the steak I had at Andrea’s restaurant in Metairie, Louisiana was so disappointing, I made my own bistecca alla pizzaiola for revenge.  The results were much improved, if I do say so myself.

For the record, I hope I’m not angering anyone out there, especially any Italians.  I’m not trying to be an asshole about these restaurants.  I’m just trying to pursue good food.

Anyway, for those who are interested in making this classic, rustic Italian dish at home, you will need:

– A heavy gauged pan, preferably a clad, stainless steel pan, although a well seasoned cast iron pan will do (A lot of people are afraid of cooking acidic foods in a cast iron pan.  As long as the cast iron is well seasoned, I don’t see any problem with occassionally cooking mildly acidic foods in it.  The flavor might be altered, but for this dish, it won’t be a very big deal)

– oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper

– a steak (Andrea’s used rib-eyes)

– tomatoes (fresh plum tomatoes are great when they are in season — summer to early autumn.  If they are out of season, it is best to use canned plum tomatoes rather than using the pale red, fresh, bland, flavorless, hydroponically grown tomatoes from Mexico or Canada.  Since it is November, I used the canned variety.)

– red chili flakes, 1 tbsp finely chopped onion or shallot, 1 tsp minced garlic, and some [preferably] fresh oregano, basil, and thyme.

– (optional) a shot of chicken stock and a shot of wine (red or white.  Doesn’t really matter.  Depends on your taste, and/or what you have on hand.)

You will also need to know how to properly sear a steak, and it wouldn’t hurt to understand why searing is important for your food.

bistecca-2

Begin by salting and properly searing the steak over medium-high heat.  Again, instructions for how to sear a steak can be found here.  Remove the steak to a plate, grind some black pepper onto it, and cover it with foil to keep the steak hot while you prepare the tomato sauce.

What a properly seared steak looks like

What a properly seared steak looks like

Turn the heat down to about medium-low to low.  Pour off any excess fat in the pan, add the onion or shallots first, followed by the garlic and red chili flakes (to taste.  Use your best judgment when dealing with spice).   Adding garlic after the onions can help prevent the garlic from burning and tinging the dish with the bitter disgustingness that is burnt garlic.

Sweat these aromatics for a couple of minutes until they turn translucent or until the pan is dry.  At this point, water, wine, or chicken stock may be added as needed if the pan gets too dry.  Otherwise, use the tomato.

bistecca-4

Add anywhere from 2 – 4 plum tomatoes, depending on how much you like tomato (dice them if they’re fresh.  Otherwise, canned tomatoes can be mashed with a wooden spoon or a spatula).  Turn the heat back up to medium, medium-high, and cook until the tomato mix has been reduced to a cohesive sauce-like consistency.  You don’t want your sauce to be runny and watery, since the flavors will be diluted.

Speaking of flavors, taste the tomato sauce and adjust for seasoning (you’ll probably need to add salt and some black pepper at this point).

Throw in the herbs shortly before you’re finished cooking the sauce.  You can chop, tear, or bruise the herbs — it doesn’t really matter.

Now, you can either return the steak to the pan to finish cooking (if you like your steak a little more done), or you can simply top the steak with the sauce if you like your steak on the rare side.

bistecca-5

That’s it.  Bistecca alla pizzaiola.  Simple, rustic, and you only need one pan.  I served mine with steamed broccoli and carrots, simply because I have too much of those two vegetables laying around.  At Andrea’s, I had a watery mound of spaghetti squash and I think some mashed potatoes.  John Mariani had his with a side of angel hair pasta with garlic and olive oil.  Whatever side you choose, this steak is a winner.

Cooking at home is great.  You save both time and money in this case, since this dish is so easy to make.  What more could you ask for?

A steak knife, perhaps.

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The Finer Points About Searing

Posted in General food knowledge, Home cooking and more with tags , , on November 16, 2008 by restaurantouring

img_0457_resize2

Searing, or browning, is the result of a complex set of chemical reactions collectively known as the Maillard reaction.  It is important to know the method for searing, because it is a very useful skill to have in the kitchen. To read a tutorial on how to sear something, please click here.

1)  Searing meat, in fact, does not lock in juices, as some people like to think.  The high heat required for searing actually ruptures more cells than gentler cooking methods do, so the food you are searing actually ends up losing more moisture than if you cooked the same food gently.

2)  Searing foods and giving it that golden brown crust is good for flavor.  The Maillard reaction results in deep and complex flavors, which can mean the difference between a delicious steak and a very bland, gray hunk of cow flesh.

3)  Usually, when searing food, browned bits are left on the bottom of the pan.  This stuff is delicious and should be utilized whenever possible by deglazing the pan with a liquid (preferably a flavorful liquid like wine or homemade stock, but water will do in a pinch).  The French call this stuck-on brown stuff le fond, or “the foundation.”

4)  Too much Maillard reaction results in burnt food, so be careful and pay attention.

5)  Searing is different from caramelization, because caramelization involves sugars, whereas the Maillard reaction involves proteins and carbohydrates.  Although the sugars in the food you’re trying to sear may caramelize, this alone is not the only thing involved in searing, or the Maillard reaction.  Some chefs refer to the brown crust on steaks and chops, etc. as caramelization.  This is technically wrong, but you probably shouldn’t be an asshole and point this out to the chef, especially if you work for the guy and want to keep your job and fingers.

6)  Do not overcrowd the pan you are trying to sear in.  Overcrowded pans, or pans with too much food in it, trap moisture and prevents water vapor from escaping as it evaporates in a hot pan.  This results in steaming your food, rather than searing it.

7)  The Maillard reaction occurs at around 230 degrees Fahrenheit and above.  Water can only reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit (the boiling temperature) at sea level.  Thus, to ensure proper browning, make sure the outside surfaces of the food you’re trying to sear is as dry as possible.  Paper towels are cheap.  Use them.

8)  Alternatively, if you choose to salt the food prior to searing (and, in most cases, you should*), there may be a lot of liquid on the surface of the food as a result of the salt pulling out moisture.  Some experts advise that this liquid be patted dry with paper towels as well.  Other experts say that this liquid is full of water-soluble proteins and insist that they will assist in proper searing.  I say leave the liquid on, unless there’s a ton of it.  You should probably leave it on anyway, if you’re planning on making a pan sauce.  I doubt the water-soluble proteins will assist that much in browning, since the water will still need to evaporate before browning can occur, but this may result in more fond on the bottom of the pan.  Yay, sauce!

9)  Properly searing meat is not possible in a conventional microwave oven.  Microwaves act on polar molecules such as water.  The radiation causes these polar molecules to vibrate very very quickly, which creates heat.  Since water is the main polar molecule that gets heated this way in microwaved food, browning is impossible since food in a microwave won’t reach temperatures hot enough to create a browned crust (unless you plan on nuking your food to death, but even then it won’t work very well).

10)  Oil can get much hotter than water and so is a very good conductor of heat from the pan or from the hot air in an oven.  Oil helps to ensure an even brown crust and also provides lubrication so that food does not stick as badly to the pan.  Of course, a little sticking is good, since it results in fond. Additionally, once the proteins have coagulated enough in a piece of meat, the food should more or less auto-release from the pan it is cooking in.  Oil the pan shortly before cooking, or (better yet) rub oil onto the outside of the food you are going to cook.

11)  Foods that have been seared or that have been exposed to high heat for long periods of time (a roasted Thanksgiving turkey, for example), should be allowed to rest so that the juices can settle and redistribute inside the meat before cutting or carving.  Heat excites water molecules and meat that has not had a chance to rest after cooking will leak a lot of its juices if cut or carved too soon.  Be patient!  Aim for 10 minutes for smaller items, such as a steak.  Aim for about half an hour for larger items, like that Turkey or a slowly roasted pork shoulder or Boston butt.

There’s no doubt more to know about searing, but I think I’ll leave it at that.  If I think of anything important to add, or if anyone has any suggestions, I’ll come back and edit this entry.  Other than that, go out and sear something!  Happy browning!

* More delicate foods should not be salted too far in advance to cooking.  For example, soft, white-fleshed, delicate fish may be adversely affected by too much salt too soon.  Additionally, some foods, such as scallops, may be “burned” by the salt and develop an unpleasant appearance and texture on the surface.

How to Sear a Steak (or any piece of meat)

Posted in General food knowledge, Home cooking and more with tags , , , on November 15, 2008 by restaurantouring
The signs of a properly seared steak

The signs of a properly seared steak: even golden brown crust, no gray or dull spots, no black or burnt bits

This tutorial explains how to properly sear a steak (or any piece of meat, really).  Hopefully, this will help beginners who read this post to become better cooks.  For more information about some of the finer points of searing, please check this blog entry.

Lots of foods that are high in protein (a steak, for example) are better when they are seared.  This is not to say that this is the only way that these foods should be cooked, but searing results in a lot of great flavors.  Too much searing and you get burnt food, so care should be taken in avoiding this by paying attention, watching your food and flame, and by using your nose.

To sear:

1)  It is first necessary to ensure that the surface of the food is dry.  Wipe off any excess moisture from the food (especially if it has been washed or rinsed under running water) with a paper towel.

2)  Salt should be added for seasoning, but probably not pepper, since pepper can burn easily and create bad flavors.

3)  Prep a pan by placing it over medium-high heat for several minutes, depending on the pan*.  Cast iron pans are excellent for searing.  Clad pans are also excellent.  Otherwise, any heavy guage pans will do**.

4)  Add oil to either the hot pan or to the target food.  Rubbing oil to the outside of the food you are going to sear is probably the better choice***.

5)  Introduce the food to the pan.

6)  Don’t touch anything.

7)  Wait for about two minutes, depending on how hot the pan was, how cold the food was, etc.

8)  The food may stick to the pan if it has not finished searing yet.  Proteins love to stick, but as foods sear, proteins coagulate and release from the pan.  Check if you are unsure.  The surface should be a deep brown but never gray or dull.  If it is, or if there are parts that are not browned, proper searing has not been achieved (probably due to either water or the fact that the food has not had enough time to brown).

9)  Repeat the searing on all the sides you wish to sear by flipping your food with tongs.  Searing is best done on fresh metal, so flip onto a clean part of the pan if you can help it.

*  Cast iron is a pretty bad conductor in comparison to other common metals used in making pots and pans.  Thus it takes much longer to heat up than a clad pan.  The benefit of cast iron is that once it gets hot, it tends to stay hot.  Thus, it can dish out some serious hot loving to any steaks or fingers that touch it, so be careful — always use a dry side towel to grab hot pans.

**  Generally speaking, the heavier the pan is, the more heat the pan can hold onto.  This is very important in searing food, since as soon as the food hits the pan, it absorbs a ton of heat from the pan.  If the pan has a lot of heat to give, searing is enhanced, thus heavier pans produce better sears.

***  If oils heat up too much, they start to smoke and produce off flavors, since the chemical composition of the oil is compromised.  The “smoke points,” as they are called, of different fats vary from oil to oil and fat to fat.  In general, animal fats have a lower smoke point, so refined vegetable oils might be a better choice for high temperature searing.  Canola oil is a good and economical choice.

Top Chef Season 5 update

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by restaurantouring

I don’t mean to post twice in one day, but I think I’m in love with Leah, from season 5 of Top Chef. Her must-have ingredients are SALT, olive oil, gaarrrrrlic, butter (thank you!), and any pork product. PLUS, she loves to make homemade pasta! Oh, I wonder if she’d marry me if I made her a ring from a tortellini?

Seriously, though, Leah rocks. She and Eugene are definitely my top two favorites. I KNEW she rocked that quickfire with the apples and scallops dish!

Okay, sorry for stalking all of you on the Bravo website!

P.S. Jeff works at a beach club called DiLdo DiLido. *snickers*

Thoughts on food and cooking

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by restaurantouring

Cooking is a very sensual thing for me.  It involves all five of them to varying degrees, some of which are obvious (taste, smell), and some of which may not be (sound, for example). I guess I’ve always known this somehow, but I’ve only recently consciously realized this (I’m slow.  Leave me alone).

I was watching my roommate cook earlier with his headphones on, blasting some random music, when I thought to myself, “I used to do that.  Man, I could never do that now.”

The sense of sound is just too important in the kitchen.  I used to cook with headphones on, too.  Big, honkin’, ridiculous-ass headphones, with the volume turned all the way up.  You know what happened when I was listening to music as I cooked?  Stuff burned.  I couldn’t hear any sizzling when I wasn’t looking, while trying to multitask (I’m a guy, therefore I stink at multitasking.  I admit it).  When the water bubbled away and the sizzling turned to extreme browning, which quickly became straight up burning, I didn’t know it until I smelled it.  Too late.  I stopped putting headphones on while cooking pretty quickly after that, and things got better, slightly.

The sense of smell is likewise important.  While we can only taste salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami, our olfactory system is what’s responsible for detecting the millions of aromatic compounds that influence flavor.  Taste, after all, is the most important thing when it comes to food.  Why eat food that tastes bad?

The sense of smell is useful in the kitchen as well.  It helps you determine what foods might taste good, and what food still needs to cook more.  What seasonings would work well together?  What aromatic ingredient are you forgetting?  Is something burning?

Which is why I hate it when my roommate smokes in or near the kitchen.  It stinks and it fucks up my senses and all of a sudden I can’t seem to focus my nose on my food anymore.  Is something burning?  Yes.  Yes, it is.  Your God damned cigarette.  Put it out, please.  And quit.  You suck at soccer now, anyway, which is reason enough.

Fernand Point would  have his waitrons bring patrons the check for their meal if they lit up a cigarette between courses.  “Obviously, you are done with dining.”

“We eat with our eyes,” and so visual appeal and plating are important.  Vegetables should be cut with care.  Certain foods (vegetables, for instance) should be uniformly cut not only to ensure even cooking, but to ensure that it looks good on a plate.  Food cooked in a pan should be cooked with the presentation-side first.  The idea is that the side you present the food on should be made to look as good as possible first.

Thought and consideration should be taken when developing a dish or recipe.  Does this dish need more color?  Maybe some red pepper, tomato, or red onion for color.  Maybe yellow pepper or lemon.  Maybe some parsley, dill, or cilantro for a touch of green, for example.  Are you making a terrine?  Add some visual appeal, some interior garnish.  If a dish looks good, it will probably taste better than an equally tasty but monotone, boring-looking dish.

Touch.  Experienced cooks can tell how done a steak is, for example, just by touching it.  Bread and some pastries will have a certain level of springiness to them.  Ripe avocados and ripe pears have some give to them, are absolutely delicious when ripe, and are fairly terrible when not.

But also, mouthfeel comes into play.  Is the okra slimy?  You’re doing it wrong.  Fat, besides being really, really tasty, coats the tongue and makes things tastier.  Gelatin has a similar effect, which is why gelatinous stocks are soooooo good.  Vegetables can either be crunchy and raw, al dente, or soft and mushy.  Same goes for dried pasta.  Some people prefer to have lumpy mashed potatoes.  Fried foods should be crispy.  Why is there eggshell in my omelet?  The crunch of a potato chip, the softness of a chocolate chip cookie, the crispness of a fresh, autumn apple.  Let the bubbles of champagne tickle your tongue.

But most of all, taste.  Why eat food if it doesn’t taste good?  Life’s too short to eat bad food.

Top Chef Season 5 premiere

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Food on TV with tags , , on November 13, 2008 by restaurantouring
Stolen/linked from the interwebs

Stolen/linked from the interwebs

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE

While watching the season premier of Top Chef, season 5, I chatted with a friend online. She was watching it, too. Here’s our live conversation (with irrelevant bits deleted). Apologies in advance if anyone is offended. Please be aware that none of this will probably make sense if you either haven’t seen this episode, or if you’re not watching along with the conversation. This is the first time I’ve attempted doing a sort of live update / live blog, so bear with me. It’s not like anyone actually reads these things anyway [except for the 3 of you out there who I know]. Without further ado:

Me: my prediction: today’s elimination, if there is one, will be a girl
Friend: lol
Me: my other prediction: a girl definitely won’t win this season
Me: and my last prediction, maybe: there won’t be a single female in the last 3
Friend: lol

*Let me interrupt here to explain myself. I am not sexist and I do not mean to sound misogynistic. Girls just really need to step it up in the kitchen, man. It doesn’t even make any sense to me. Girls have more sensitive senses of smell. The olfactory system is a HUGE part of taste. You’d think that girls would have a better grasp about what tastes good and what doesn’t, just based on biological fact. And then there’s the stereotype of women in the kitchen. It really just doesn’t make any sense to me, because women should be KILLING men in the kitchen. Yet, the professional cooking industry is dominated by men, and recent winners of various (especially televised) cooking competitions have mostly been men (Stephenie, from last season, was the first woman to win Top Chef and she deserved it). So, ladies . . . please. . . . step the fuck up.*

Friend: i like him [Eugene]
Me: Me too. Dude, I hope this guy goes far
Me: I wanna be him. A dishwasher.
Friend: he looks Beshy [Jeff]
Me: He looks like a douche
Me: Yeah, he does

*Chef Besh is way too talented. This doppelganger, Jeff, is worse than just a cheap imitation. He’s a disgrace.*

[information about Ariane appears on the screen]
Me: hahaha
Me: like
Friend: nj
Me: i’m not trying to be misogynistic
Me: but man
Friend: Montclair too
Me: yeah
Me: i should go eat there
Me: since i live so close
Me: what’s it called again?
Friend: no idea
Friend: find it online
Me: i’ll catch the replay
Friend: bravotv.com

[info about Patrick appears on the screen]
Me: that dude is gonna fail
Me: recent grad?
Friend: hes still in school
Me: man
Me: that’s even worse

Me: he’s got his head in the clouds

[Richard appears on the screen]
Friend: aw, he loveable gay
Me: did he say queen?
Friend: ❤
Friend: yea
Me: lol
Friend: the queens
Friend: as in gays
Me: gotcha
Me: and yeah
Me: i got that hahaha
Friend: lol

Me: damn
Me: culinary school dude is gonna get eliminated
Friend: vicious
Friend: eh, i dont think so
Friend: they showed him talk
Me: i think so
Me: ooooooooohhhhhhhh [someone cuts his finger]
Friend: u gotta think TV
Me: true
Friend: the non talkers are usually out sooner
Friend: bc they arent deemed interesting
Friend: when they mixed this ep they already knew the outcome
Friend: skinny chick w blonde hair will go home
Me: hahaha
Me: EWWWWWWWWWW [Images of bloody apples show on the screen]
Me: gross
Friend: eww
Friend: what is tom going to say
Friend: fuck
Friend: ew
Me: his old restaurant is mad expensive
Me: gramercy tavern?
Me: like 85 bucks for TWO courses, I hear
Me: damnit
Friend: other girl
Me: the island dude failed [Eugene]
Friend: green headband
Friend: out
Me: geez
Me: brunoise is tough
Friend: ooof
Me: bust out your mandoline!
Friend: that is tiny
Me: yeah
Me: there’s two kinds of brunoise
Me: there’s regular
Me: and fine
Me: fine is like 1/16 of an inch square
Friend: this is like 1/8
Friend: or 3/16
Me: 1/8
Me: 3/16 is waaaaaaaaaaaay too big
Friend: she is gone
Me: whew
Me: island dude finished
Me: dude
Friend: haha
Me: that’s it
Me: listen to me
Me: TOMORROW
Me: i am going out and buying two knives
Me: a chef’s knife and a paring knife
Me: and i’m PRACTICING
Friend: lol
Me: i’m gonna buy a huge bag of carrots
Me: and i’m gonna practice
Me: she’s so effing southern [Lauren. She’s actually from Cincinnati, Ohio]
Me: she might get by just on charm
Friend: red tank
Me: yeah

[An image of a Shun 10” chefs knife shows on the screen]
Me: nice
Me: shun knife
Me: that’s what i wanted
Me: this salad is not creative at all [Lauren’s salad]
Me: thoroughly weak
Me: i missed that last one [Patrick’s]
Me: scallops, if they tasted good, will win [Leah’s dish, I think]
Me: nice
Friend: lol

[The judges pick the two possible losers]
Me: that leaves salads
Friend: aw
Friend: cul school is so sad
Me: yup
Friend: of course they have to break this up
Me: yup

[Commercial break]

Me: PATRICK
Me: GO
Me: FREAKING
Me: HOME
Friend: theyre def gonna eliminate another person later too
Me: yeah
Friend: crazy
Friend: 17 [people] is high tho
Me: DAMNIT
Me: i missed his dish again [Patrick’s]

[Lauren gets eliminated]
Friend: i told u
Friend: cul school aint leavin
Me: i called it tho, didn’t i?
Me: salad was too plain
Friend: he talked to much
Me: i called a lot of shit hahaha
Me: i can’t say i called anything
Me: dude i should blog about top chef
Friend: go for it
Friend: but u gotta post it tonite
Me: i should do a live update
Me: hahahahaha
Me: i’ll use this convo
Friend: yea
Friend: as ur notes
Me: yup
Me: or maybe i’ll just post the convo, taking out irrelevant stuff and our sn’s

[Top Chef house is revealed to the contestants and to the audience. It’s awesome.]
Me: swanky
Me: i should cozy up to gladware too
Friend: lol
Friend: where the fuck are they
Friend: i think its queens
Friend: where else is there a track?

[The two gay guys and the lesbian girl cozy up on some chairs on the balcony. They call themselves “Team Rainbow”]
Me: wow
Me: team rainbow
Me: nice hahaha
Me: there’s a rainbow t-shirt online
Me: that says “i’m a quitter!”
Me: and there’s a stupid looking, happy stick figure girl
Me: i want it

[Danny and Stefan, I believe, get into an argument about emulsions and vinaigrettes]
Me: he’s wrong [Stefan]
Me: vinaigrette IS an emulsion
Friend: dude hes gone

[Preview of the next segment of this episode of Top Chef shows. Jeff is running around like a chicken with his head cut off]
Me: what a spaz
Me: i hope this island dude goes far
Me: i wanna be a dishwasher, too
Me: she’s cool [Jamie]
Me: i like her

[Someone has to do Russian food for the challenge. He’s never done Russian food before.]
Me: do pelmeni, dude
Me: pelmeni sucks
Me: at least most pelmeni seems to suck
Me: do a tasty one

[Jeff talks smack about the Italian guy, Fabio. He basically says that Fabio doesn’t know shit about Latin food cuz Italy is on an entirely different continent.]
Me: uhm
Me: latin?
Me: another continent?
Me: spanish people are of latin descent too, you know

[Melissa, I believe, says she has no experience cooking Italian food]
Me: how could you not have experience cooking italian?
Me: italian food is like
Me: the first cuisine in America [to be elevated to haute cuisine status]

[Eugene says he’s never cooked Indian food before]
Me: dude, these guys seem pretty inexperienced
Me: never cooked italian
Me: never cooked indian

[Patrick talks about the Chinese dish he’s going to make]
Me: sounds boring
Me: i hate bok choy

[Carla complains about bones in her smoked trout]
Me: is she serious?
Me: she bought a whole smoked fish
Me: and she’s surprised there are bones in it?
Friend: yea
Friend: she will prob be gone
Me: COME ON
Me: don’t make me angry

[Jeff runs around like a chicken with his head cut off]
Me: he is Beshy
Friend: hellll yea
[Again, he just physically resembles Chef Besh. Otherwise, he’s trash]

[Ariane is having trouble cooking her farro all the way through]
Me: LID IT
Me: OMG
Me: PUT A LID ON IT
Me: it’s a grain
Me: water to grain ratio, 2:1
Me: put it on the heat, lid it, and let it steam to perfection
Me: quit futzin with it
Friend: what a dummy
Me: that was bad
Friend: no runnin in the kitchen [about Jeff again]

[Team rainbow shows on the screen. Meanwhile, Jean-Georges Vongerichten is revealed as a judge]
Me: team rainbow!
Me: holy crap
Friend: this bitch will be gone fast
Friend: within 2 weeks i say
Me: jean-georges vongerichten!
Me: he’s amazing
Me: which bitch?
Friend: black caterer
Me: the tall awkward one?
Friend: yea
Me: LOL

Me: big gay dude [Richard]
Me: he’s awesome
Me: oh, she’s cool too [Jamie]
Me: but i think he’ll win it
[Richard was facing Jamie in this challenge. His lamb was overcooked, so no one liked it.]
Me: aw damn. Overcooked lamb. That sucks
Me: nevermind

[the two chefs cooking Jamaican style present their dishes]
Me: neither dish was really “jamaican” to me
Me: just cuz you’re using jerk spices doesn’t make it Jamaican

[Tom comments about salting food, in criticism of a dish]
Me: oooh. Salt. that’s killer
Me: salt and pepper
Me: that’s killer
Me: salt is one of the most important things in the kitchen
Me: arguably the single most important thing

[Eugene ends up unknowingly making an amazing, classical, South Indian dish]
Me: eugene!
Me: mah boy!
Friend: he randomly made somethign real
Me: yeah

[Vong favors the European guy over Eugene]
Me: freaking euro connection [clearly, I’m very disappointed in the choice]
Friend: lady is gone [Ariane]
Me: i think so too
Me: but i dunno
Me: i think Patrick had a weaker dish
Friend: damn
Friend: they called her out [about the farro and about the dish in general]
Me: totally
Friend: that was like a TABOOO
Me: he’s playing the pity card [Patrick is arguing that he should be allowed to stay because he’s so young, fresh, and willing to compete for the experience]
Friend: hes stayin
Me: yeah
Friend: the producers love that shit
Me: i think he is too
Me: yeah
Me: she’s gone
Me: hell yeah

[Commercial]
[Tom gives his insights on Ariane’s and Patrick’s dishes]
Me: oooh
Me: the way he’s saying it
Me: makes it sounds like Patrick is gonna get eliminated
Me: no inspiration
Friend: damn
Me: wow
Me: so i don’t remember
Me: did i call that?
Me: i said a lot of shit earlier lol
Me: i don’t remember
Friend: u said a woman
Me: yeah
Me: but that was before i realized there was a culinary student here
Friend: culinary school dude is gonna get eliminated
Friend: yea
Me: yeah
Friend: but u didnt specify it was for THIS ep
Friend: lol
Friend: but ill allow it
Friend: not like i knew
Me: hahahahahaha
Friend: i was sure theyd keep him
Me: yeah
Me: i know
Me: aww
Me: she’s crying
Friend: shes gone
Me: i’m definitely gonna go eat at her restaurant
Friend: shes on my list

That’s it. Sorry again for the disjointed feel of the text. I’ll try to include time stamps if I choose to do this again, too.

Also, if I can manage, I will eat at Ariane’s restaurant, CulinAriane tomorrow.  I live 15 minutes away.  If I can get a seat and grab a plate or three, I’ll let you know how it was.  I’ll grab my camera, too.

Herbs, Spices, and Buying in Bulk

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts with tags , on November 12, 2008 by restaurantouring

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I admit, I buy spices in bulk.  I mean, I know the advice is to always buy fresh stuff in small quantities so that you don’t have a ton of product laying around getting stale, but who has the time for that?  Plus, that stuff is usually pretty expensive.

To me, why should I pay a few bucks for an ounce of spice when I could get a few ounces for the same price?  “Well, you don’t know how long that stuff has been sitting there,” some people say.  Well you don’t know how long the small bottles have been sitting around, either!

No.  I trust my spice guy.  A guy named Mark Stuart comes to my workplace every few weeks or so.  Brings a ton of herbs and spices with him.  He carries just about everything that you can think of that you might use on a day-to-day, regular basis AND he orders it as fresh as he can get it every time.  That way, he’s not selling old product.  For 2-3 dollars a bottle, you’re hard pressed to find a better deal, especially since you’re getting easily 10x the amount of spice from him as you are from your local grocery store.

Mark carries a lot of stuff — I won’t say he carries everything, cuz certain things like saffron, grains of paradise, and a few other exotics are just too tricky and expensive to carry.  For those spices, you have specialty stores on the internet.  But Mark has a lot of stuff.  It’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s good.

Hell, half my spice collection/cabinet is from Mark’s Harrington Farms.  And I have a biiiiiig spice cabinet (massive).

Look, if you’re concerned about quality and flavor, you really shouldn’t be too concerned, as long as you’re buying whole spices, toasting them, and grinding them yourself.  Use up anything you grind within six months.  Use up any whole spices within a year or two.  And if you don’t use up that whole big bottle, what’s two bucks?  If you’re serious enough about cooking to be buying spices in bulk like me, you’d probably be spending as much, if not more money on smaller quantities of spices than if you bought from someone you trusted, like Mark.

Hell, you should be toasting whole spices and grinding them yourself anyway (check back for a tutorial on how to toast and grind your own spices).  That’s how you maximize flavor.  I do it.  I have a coffee grinder, dedicated to grinding spices.  New coffee grinders are easy to clean, too.  You can either disassemble them and wash them, or simply grind up some uncooked rice in it to clean it.  Easy.  The flavor is unbeatable.

And if you’re still concerned about letting these spices sit around for too long, don’t worry too much.  Buy what makes sense to you.  For example, I can never seem to keep my cabinet stocked with allspice, fennel, coriander, and black peppercorns.  So, I buy those particular spices in bulk frequently.  I rarely use cayenne pepper since I have my own cayenne plant which produces plenty of chillis for me to use, dry, or pickle.  Finally, consider the possibility that you may not be using enough spices in your cooking to begin with.  On the other hand, maybe you simply don’t cook enough to begin with?  Either way, I still think that it’s a good idea to have some of this stuff around, just in case.  Whole spices last longer, too, so you’re doing yourself a huge favor and extending shelf life by buying whole.

Whatever you do, do me a favor and buy from Mark.  I don’t get anything out of this — I don’t get kick backs.  I wish I got kick backs.  If I did, though, I wouldn’t be writing about Mark — no offense (HEY!  ALL CLAD!  CALPHALON!).

Mark Stuart

Harrington Farms

78 Highland Ave

Harrington Park, NJ 07640

P:  201-660-7022        F: 201-784-9634

Email: Mandlstu@optonline.net

S&H on orders over $25 is free.