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GeezerGourmet.com seeks to foster a renewed interest in home culinary arts among experienced home cooks


The GeezerGourmet (brief bio) 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 God for that, press on regardless, and welcome.

                         This is not a Web site for food phobics or wellness hypochondriacs


Ketchup Without Tomato?

Remember, years back, when some lobbyist tried to get the Feds to define ketchup as a vegetable so it could be included in the school lunch programs? That didn't work. But now, maybe it could pass as a fruit.

Ketchup has reined supreme as our most popular condiment for decades. While is is now being challenged by salsa, ketchup remains hugely popular. It's a thick sauce with a tomato base, blended with vinegar, salt, spices and a lot of sugar. Along comes "Chups" a US maker of fruit-based ketchups.

I like 'em. This is unmistakably savory ketchup not pastry jam. Not yet sure which I like best, but the mango, cherry and peach are in the lead. These will pair with whatever you put ketchup on, and add a tasty element of surprise to hamburgers, fries, meatloaf and ribs. Is Chups just a curiosity or a niche condiment? Probably. While Heinz has nothing to worry about, Chups is a quality product with more richness and redolence per fruit than Heinz's per tomato. More comments to follow more tasting, but I will definitely get some more. They're at www.chupsitup.com.


T'is The Season . . .

Ah, market fresh tomato, home grown basil, mozzarella, salt, pepper and Agrumato (lemon infused EVOO).

Simple. Elegant.

What a lovely lunch.


My First Guacamole (after all these years)

Good deli's make good guacamole but the price is ridiculous. Then again, I could keep buying the stuff for awhile for the price of a Mexican lava rock molcajete y tegolete (from William Sonoma). But, if you're going to do it--do it nicely. Besides, there's not a more authentic way to present the stuff than in a molcajete.

Recipes abound. All call for onion, tomato, lime, chile pepper, cilantro and salt as flavor enhancers to the Hass avocado. However, the avocado is so buttery, rich and tasteful that 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. Since the avocado flesh discolors rapidly and guacamole doesn't keep very well, recipes calling for three avocados are fit only for a crowd (see photo above--a lot of guacamole). Here is a two-avocado recipe, drawn from many sources. I will work on a one avocado recipe.

Here's how: (Freshness and ripeness count here.)

Guacamole
Yield:  about 2.5 cups
6 servings as an appetizer or 12 as a nibble
See Abbreviations, if needed

1 fresh jalapeno, serranos or cow horn chile pepper
1/2 medium white onion or 1 large shallot or 5 spring onions, finely chopped
1 medium ripe tomato, red part only, finely chopped
2 ripe Hass avocados
2T fresh lime juice
3 pinches of salt
1/4C cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 dusting of cayenne (maybe)
------------------------------------------------
1. Roast the chile pepper directly over a gas burner or in a hot dry pan, when cool, strip off the charred parts
slice open and strip out the white and seeds, then finely chop 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 avocados and add to bowl
5. Add the cilantro but save a bit for garnish
6. Mash the avocado and all together to a course pulp
using a tegolete, large spoon or fork (don't overwork it)
7. Add half the lime juice and reserve the rest
8. Add 2 pinches of salt
9. Taste and adjust with more lime juice and/or salt
10. If still not zippy enough, dust and stir in a little cayenne
11. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate till service
12. On order, garnish with cilantro and serve with tortilla chips or on tacos
Note: Roasting chile peppers is optional, but they taste less harsh and more tender if roasted.


Paring Knives

Julia Childs said a home cook can get along nicely with two knives: an 8- or 10-inch chef's knife (see article below) and a good paring knife. OK, but more is better. Blade length of these knives vary from 3 to 5 inches. All of these knife blades are forged and not stamped. Here are the paring knives that I use daily:

The 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 as 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 edge.


Hey Mom, Wait For Me . . .


Well, It's a Fall Soup, But I Just Had To Have It

There's a very good Indian take-out in town, called the Curry Mantra, that offered a mushroom soup. It was good, but no longer on their menu.
Pity, since I need a bowl of mushroom soup now and then.
So what's to do? Make it.

Here's how:
La Creme De Champignons
Cream of Mushroom Soup

Yield:  6 servings (if strained)
See Abbreviations, if needed

5 medium-sized shallots, sliced
1 leek, white only, sliced
1 garlic clove, pureed
1/2t fresh nutmeg
1/2t tarragon
5oz unsalted butter
1.5 pounds mushrooms, sliced
64 oz chicken broth, none or low salt
S/P to taste (needs quite a lot of both) Use white pepper corns if you have them
1/2C half and half (for color)
parsley stems and pickled lemon slices for garnish (optional)
---------------------------------------------------
1. In a deep chef's pan, sweat shallots and leek to translucent in butter
2. Add garlic, S/P, nutmeg and tarragon
3. Add sliced mushrooms and simmer for 20 minutes
4. Add broth and simmer another 20 minutes
5. Strain out a dozen nice mushroom slices and set aside
6. Puree the soup in the pan with a stick blender, or decant to a table blender
7. Strain the soup through a 'china cap" or other strainer (see photo of strainers below)
8. Return strained soup to the pan, add the nice mushroom slices, heat again and adjust seasoning
9. Hold point (refrigerate)
10. On order, heat the soup and add half and half cream to get a lighter color (not too much)
11. Serve hot, garnished with parsley and paper thin slices of pickled lemon


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 a US internet company that markets Japanese kitchenware--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) but shipping service is fast.


Summer Time

It's time for the annual food safety lecture:

What should be said about food safety to this audience of seasoned home cooks? Got to say something.
Well, the first two of three bottom lines are that bacteria need temperature and time to grow and give off toxins. So, keep these numbers in mind:
• The “danger zone” wherein bacteria grow rapidly is 40ºF to 140ºF, with the highest growth rate between 90ºF and 110ºF.
• In four hours of accumulated time, in the higher end of the danger zone, growth of bacteria will occur.

Apply these data to a potato salad scenario for a charity affair and we have the following:

20 Minutes: Mayo is taken out of the fridge, mixed with Dijon mustard, diced olives, pickles, onions, lardons of bacon and whatever and set aside.
20 Minutes: Potatoes are then peeled, cubed, 20 Minutes: boiled and set aside.
20 Minutes: The eggs are hard boiled and set aside be sliced.
00 Minutes: The potatoes and eggs, now cooled a little, are added to the mayo.
60 Minutes: The salad—the cooked ingredients are now at about 90ºF—is placed in the fridge to await the trip to the charity event. It never cools to below 70ºF.
60 Minutes: The salad is loaded into the car and makes the trip to the charity event where it is placed on the serving table just in time for the buffet—a two-hour affair.
120 Minutes: There is a good crowd, but plenty of potato salad for the late arrivals.

Add up the time in the danger zone and we get 5 hours. The late diners are at some risk from the potato salad!

The third bottom line is “cross contamination”—that is, the transfer of harmful microorganisms from one item of food to another by means of surface contact (knives, boards and hands) or storage and thawing in contact with other food items. The villains here are pathogenic salmonella and E. coli, which are the source of most frequently reported foodborne infections. The heroes are space, soap, water and cooking temperatures. Prepare and store raw meat separate from other products. Wash all veggies (Don't believe the "wash and ready" labels). Wash knives, steels, boards and hands with soap and hot water upon completion. Make sure poultry and processed meats (hot dogs and sausages) are cooked to 160ºF.


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.


Kitchen Chopsticks

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 going in.)

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)

Skimming

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 you.

Straining

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 them in.

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


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.

Ice

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, not cold."

Wrong!

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 later.

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 . . .


The More Time I Spent With This Book The More I Liked It

The title of this cookbook "Pasta the Italian Way" is bit off. Oretta De Vita knows a lot about pasta. Her scribe, Maureen Fant, makes that clear again and again and, moreover, that there is only a 'De Vita way' of preparing, cooking and presenting pasta. Others ways are not worth mentioning, especially within ear shot of Miss Oretta. De Vita's magnum opus is her Encyclopedia of Pasta (2010), a James Beard Foundation winner. So, she knows . . .

However, a quick page through this book and its recipes will leave even the knowledgeable reader a bit confused, if not put off. You must read the introduction to understand the authors' taxonomy. What we call a dish, Lasagne, Ragu, Carbonara for example, the authors call a sauce but really want to call it a condimento. They explain: "Even though we use the word "sauce," we prefer the Italian word condimento as a generic term. Is a handful of cheese tossed on bare spaghetti a sauce? It is certainly a condimento. Condimento covers just about everything you can add to a bowl of pasta. . ."

Got it? This a cookbook about everything you can add to a bowl of pasta.

So, we're presented with about 27 last-minute sauces, and as many fresh vegetable, herb and mushroom sauces, 18 fish and seafood sauces and as many meat sauces--all authentic Italian family recipes. Each recipe is accompanied by a short and informative introduction of its history and relevance. And throughout, there are Oretta's rules. For example: "never put in the sauce what you put into the ravioli . . . mix cheese into the pasta before adding the sauce . . . exact quantities are not important: if you're short on mushrooms and long on tuna it will not make a bit of difference . . . pasta is the main attraction--not an excuse to eat sauce--the condimento should never drown the pasta . . . sauced pastas are properly served on a plate, not in a bowl . . . never use a spoon to eat them . . . never cut pasta with a knife . . . never stare at anyone eating spaghetti and they will not stare at you."

It might be worth a trip to meet Oretta De Vita, the other person in Rome who speaks ex cathedra.


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 the US.

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 Pasteurize 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!


Computer was down for two weeks, but not the camera . . . Behold the May Apple Patch


An Important Refinement.

Dinner for six tomorrow evening: TLW's Caesar Salad and Paella a la Mclean. And an amuse-bouche of some sort (stay tuned).

As you know, the recipe for Caesar Salad calls for raw eggs, and has so since chef Caesar Cardini invited the salad in Tijuana in 1924. If you have a sous vide setup, there is no excuse for not taking the time to pasteurize the eggs. Place them in a water bath and circulate at 134.5F for two hours. I've done this three or four times. When cooled, the eggs come out still raw with the white a bit cloudy. Otherwise no worse for the experience, but now safe to eat. Do it.


A Classic

Maybe its a 60's thing, but I still need a shrimp cocktail now and then to stay grounded. The keys to perfection are not to overcook the shrimp and to put some heat into the cocktail sauce.

Here's how:

For the shrimp: Get some big ones (11-15 per pound). Peel. Pour a bottle of beer into a pot and bring to boil (scim off the suds). Place the shrimp in the boiling beer. Boil for a minute or less. Then turn off the heat, cover the pan and steep for another minute, not more. That's all folks! Remove the shrimp, chill and hold.

For the sauce: 4 parts ketchup and 1 part horseradish, a generous squirt of lemon juice, a few grains of salt, 3 or 4 grinds of pepper corn and a dusting of cayenne.

Why pepper and cayenne? Both contain capsaicin but they work differently. Pepper is spicy and hot up front in the mouth while cayenne is warm and hot in the back on the mouth. You taste pepper right away and feel cayenne later.


Robotic Hands and Knees Scrubber

Do you remember the Two Second Rule: "If food falls on the kitchen floor and you retrieve it in 2 seconds, it's OK?" Well, it is not. Kitchen floors are dirty. Floors in restaurant kitchens are scrubbed every night, if not every shift. They're designed to be scrubbed--special tiles and multiple drains. But at home? Not so much. Once a week maybe. Swept or maybe dry-mopped in between a wet mopping.

Here at home, the kitchen has 100 square feet of flooring. The cleaning lady comes but once every two weeks while I push a damp Swiffer around in between. Spill something and the paper towel comes up always showing dirt. It bothers me. It's UNSAT.

A company called iRobot makes an array of mobile robots for military, commercial and home applications. They have just come out with a robot that scrubs hard floors. It's called the iRobot Scooba 450. Place it on the floor, punch the start button and it sweeps, pre-soaks, scrubs and squeegees while making multi-passes for 20 or 40 minutes, as set.

It works . . . !

The kitchen floor is noticeably cleaner. I use it there every three days and every week in two other tiled rooms. It's fun to watch and doesn't annoy the dog.


There's Now an App For That

I have sung the praises of Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine at length on this blog. In my view, it is a modern classic of lasting significance and import--a major contribution to the literature of culinary science and practice. His research has changed the way I cook something's and introduced me to new techniques, especially sous vide and pressure cooking.

Inkling Systems Inc., an application builder, has teamed up with Modernist Cuisine to create MC@H as an app for iPhone and iPad. The result is a beautiful e-book as spectacular as the book itself. Ah, but the bottom line: Amazon sells MC@H for $105--down from $140 when it first came out and I got it. Inkling is selling the app for $79. ". . .An app for $79!!!???"

How Inkling priced this is anyone's guess, but for starters: they rebuilt the book for the screen--they did a lot of reordering while leaving nothing out; it is a sophisticated interactive app; has a notebook feature, a glossary and index--all more easily navigable than the book. And it's huge: 1.4 GB's! This app is all you need and it's $26 less than the book set. But, it has no coffee table value and it lacks the weight, heft and pleasure of paging through the real thing. Otherwise, it is all there, text and photos (spectacular). "But wait, there's more:"

The app has 260 additional recipes, 359 additional photos and 37 videos. (which I assume they got from MC Labs).

It will wow ya.

So for $79, you can now get into Myhrvold's world of culinary art and science. You might wish to make the trip.


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 water 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!


We Might Not Need This, But Then Again . . .

 

This is a tool, called a Coravin, that accesses wine from a bottle without removing the foil nor pulling the cork. Neat trick. But why?

Well, the argument goes that the Coravin allows you to have a glass or two of wine and then replace the bottle in the cellar essentially unopened, in that the wine remaining in the bottle has not been exposed to oxygen. Here's how it works: A thin hollow needle is inserted through the cork; the bottle is then pressurized with argon gas and tipped over to pour; the needle is then removed from the cork and the cork reseals itself. The remaining wine can then be enjoyed by the glass, a day, week or months later. Neato.

Heretofore at home, I've used a vacuum sealer pump to better preserve wine after opening by reducing the oxygen within the bottle. It works well enough for another day--maybe two--not more. I've since used the Coravin on a flight of three wines and let them stand for a week--no worse for being accessed. So, this tool allows an imbiber to access any number of wines, new or old, again and again, until the bottles are empty--first drop as good as the last. I have a modest number of wines in the cellar that are 15+ years old, along with some mags. They are not getting any better but I hesitate to open them for myself, since I never finish a whole bottle. A mag may not be finished even with a few guests.

Hail to the Coravin!

P. S. It should be noted that the operating cost of the Coravin is high. The proprietary argon gas cartridges cost $11 and are good for about 15 bottle charges, which comes to 77 cents very time you push the trigger. (Other wine dispensing systems use argon as well with their cartridges costing $4 to $7.) So, if you're intent on sampling that bottle of Two Buck Chuck you cellared ten years ago--it's going to cost you more than the original price of the bottle!

 


How to Sharpen Serrated Knives

I 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 harpening. But if you have some good ones worth the sharpener, 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.


Yup, It's a Three Pepper Kitchen

 

The tall grinder is filled with Tellicherry--from India, the most common black peppercorn. The one on the left grinds Muntok white peppercorns from Malaysia. The grinder on the right has Ecuadorian black peppercorns. All from The Spice House in Milwaukee. White peppercorns are really black ones with the outer skin removed by soaking in water. They're appropriate for peppering where black specks are not appreciated in white sauces and most soups. The pepper from Ecuador is twice as hot as Tellicherry, but it is no longer available from the sources that I use. I intend to send an email or call the Ecuadorian Embassy's trade rep and see if they know where some is--it's that good. I love it atop salads, salsa, pasta sauce and soft cheeses such as Saint Agur. The grinders are from Unicorn. They're very good, save that the round filler door works itself open at the worst times if not pinned with a removable screw.


A Beautiful Non-stick Iron Skillet From Japan

I've hesitated to write about this skillet since getting one is a bit of a hassle. While the pan costs $75US, shipping adds another $50US. That puts it in the price range of All Clad and Le Crueset, which is fine since it's as good if not better than what they offer. The 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" about a year ago, lost the reference, then saw it again and decided to get it. There is an Amazon like (huge) company in Japan called Rakuten Global Market that has a vendor that carries the skillet. They can be found at https://global.rakuten.co.jp.

About the skillet: At 9.6 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, but better, with the result that nothing sticks to it. I have two old Griswold iron skillets, that love high heat and are therefore used to brown steaks and chops when done sous vide. Also have a large and heavy short handled Le Crueset iron skillet used mostly for soft shell crabs.

Ah but the Iwachu is, by far, the most attractive and versatile cast iron skillet I have ever used.


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 some 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.


Simple Flavor Enhancement Tricks

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 vinegar, place them into a cleaned jar and then add little water and some rice vinegar. Result: The capors are remarkably less salty. You can actually taste them!


Some Sous Vide Numbers

Over the last few months, I have put my sous vide to some use. Making good food. In all events, I have placed a product in a vacuum bag, added seasonings and butter, sealed them with the Food Saver vacuum machine and then placed them in the fridge until ready. I have kept a record of the temperatures and times, since sous vide books are fine but real cooking yields real numbers. Here is what I have so far:

  • I've done a lot of lamb chops--usually two in a bag but as many as six. I am now confident that a water temp of 144°F and an immersion time of 55 minutes yields chops at a perfect pink 137°F. Every time!
  • One guest wanted lamb chops well done, so 165°F for 60 minutes produced two nice moist chops well done without a trace of redness.
  • A two inch thick choice sirloin at 135°F for 46 minutes yields a rare steak at 129°F.
  • A 3 ounce filet mignon at 135°F for 45 minutes came out rare, about the same as the sirloin.Boneless veal shank (two pieces glued together) took four hours at 185°F to become tender and flaky.
  • A one inch thick prime veal chop at 140°F for 50 minutes comes out rare at 126°F (Christmas day dinner).
  • A 7 ounce filet of halibut was un bagged with a nice core temp of 125°F after 27 minutes at a water temp of 132°.
  • Four cleaned and halved leeks, seasoned with herbes de Provence and butter, came out tender but not falling apart after 50 minutes in 185°F water.

In general, premium cuts of meat, done sous vide, need a water temp about 5% higher than the desired core temperature of the meat, when cooked for 50 minutes. Tough meats like veal or lamb shanks take a long time. Hearty veggies need a temperature of about 185°F for 50 minutes. All the meat products, when removed from their bag,were browned in a hot iron skillet with their sauces added at the last minute or heated aside.


 

 

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