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

The GeezerGourmet (go here for brief biography) caters to clientele who have life-long experiences in home cooking and now, as empty nesters and retirees, have the time to renew their love of good food and its preparation.  The Geezer Gourmet assumes that you routinely cook for one or two people; eat out quite often; still like to entertain and are experienced at it; have adequately equipped kitchens; and enjoy life and good health.

If you have some of the above attributes but are not a geezer nor even approaching pre-geezerhood, thank God for that, press on regardless, and welcome.

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

Windows 10

I just installed Windows 10, over Windows 7, without difficulty. It took about 20 minutes and then another 20 minutes turning off MicroSoft's watch/feedback and record features--all designed to track activity and tailor advertising. (It's important to attend to Security and Privacy settings, upon installation of a new operating system).With that done, there isn't a lot of difference from Windows 7. MS Explorer is gone, replaced by MS Edge and Cortana, but since I use Chrome and Google News that's not noticed either. Most importantly, the four programs needed to run this blog all transitioned to Windows 10. So we're posting without a hitch.

A Better Grill Brush

This is the Grand Grill Daddy Grill Cleaning Brush. It has a water tank with a fill cap and an on/off valve. The idea is that, with the dirty grill hot and the water valve open, the water dripping through the brush's steel bristles will flash to steam and aid in the cleaning action of the brush. It does and it works. It is a beautifully designed and well made tool. At Williams Sonoma for about $65. Not cheap, but it's the best grill brush I've ever had and there have been many.

The High Costs of Summer

The hummingbirds are going through a cup of sugar a week!


Spinach with Shallots and Golden Raisins

A side of spinach goes great with steak and chops. Here we have baby spinach with shallots and golden raisins. Simple and quick.

Here's how:

Spinach with Shallots and Golden Raisins
See Abbreviations, if needed 
Serves 2-3

a generous pad of butter
3T of chicken stock or broth
1 large shallot, finely diced
1/4C of golden raisins
1 large package of baby spinach, washed
1. Place pad of butter and chicken broth in a big pot and heat to medium
2. Add the shallots and all but a dozen of the raisins
3. Heat and stir the mixture in the pot until the shallots have colored a bit and appear translucent
4. Add the spinach
5. Turn up the heat to medium high and cover the pot
6. Steam for about 2 minutes until the spinach is knocked down and appears cooked and tender
7. Season to taste with S/P and toss to mix in the pot
8 . Remove the spinach mixture with a slotted spoon to a heated bowl
9 . Add a small amount of the boiling liquid, now colored gold by the raisins
10 . Garnish the dish with the reserved raisins and serve

A Cheese Plate For Dessert At Home? Why not?

It's hard to find a cheese plate on a restaurant dessert menu. Reason? The cheeses have to be just right: not too hard, not too soft, not chilled. That means someone has to be paying attention in the buying, ageing and presentation of cheese. Who and at what cost? Not worth it, perhaps. Notwithstanding, it's a great dessert.

So why not at home? Here we have Port Salud (medium soft), Saint Agur (a decadent blue cheese) and Midnight Moon (a local hard cheese). All at ambient temperature. Nice, with some bread points and fruit slices too, if you have them. Plan ahead to select the cheeses and to get them out and plated well before service.

Last Night's Repast

Leftover chicken breasts, fresh fettuccini, no cream in the fridge but some creme fraiche and milk. Go . . .
Since chicken breasts are bland, bold seasoning is necessary to make them interesting. I opted not to go garlic and nutmeg so Fettuccini Alfredo, was out while the cream stayed in as did the technique for reducing it. I considered a whole tablespoon of herbes de Provence, rosemary, tarragon, or an Italian medley, but went instead for a medley called Japanese Seven Spices (Shichimi Togorashi) as prepared by The Spice House in Milwaukee. It contains orange peel, sesame, cayenne, ginger, pepper and nori (seaweed). It's a table top spice in Japanese soba shops. I use it on pasta and rice now and then. A little extra cayenne was added as a further hedge against blandness. Please note in the photo that this dish is light on pasta--about 60/40 chicken and pasta with lots of sauce.

Here's how:

Spiced Chicken in Fettuccini
See Abbreviations, if needed 
Serves one

2 oz fresh spinach fettuccini
8 oz 2% milk and 4 oz creme fraiche (or use 12 oz of half and half, which is OK but will be sweeter)
1 T Japanese Seven Spices (or other bold medley)
1/4 t cayenne
1 C cooked chicken breast, cubed
S/P to taste
grated hard cheese for garnish
some bread to mop up the sauce

1. Boil fettuccini in salted water drain and set aside, warm
2. In a container, combine milk, creme and spices and mix thoroughly with a stick blender or a whisk
3. Pour mixture into a large skillet and reduce over high heat while watching carefully for color change
4. When the mixture has reduced in volume and has turned a pale white, reduce heat to medium, add the chicken cubes and toss to warm
5. Add the pasta and toss until all is hot
6. Taste for S/P
7 . Place all onto a heated pasta plate
8 . Add garnish and serve

Blooms all Summer Long!

I get one of these Mandevilla Vines every spring, year after year.
It stays in bloom from May through September--just add water--lots of it.

Cast Iron Skillets: Try Them Again for the First Time

First from Japan and now from the USA, come re-thought cast iron skillets of the highest quality and design. A new (2012) company called Finex in Portland, Oregon has come out with hand crafted heavy cast iron skillets in 8",10" and 12" sizes. Pricey at $125 to $195, with covers at additional cost (don't buy covers for skillets). The octagon shape is eye catching and allows for easy and accurate pouring. The cooking surface is computer machined to a very smooth surface and then pre-seasoned. Pictured is the 12" skillet, new out of the box. The smaller sized skillets are available at Williams Sonoma and the whole line at

I like using cast iron skillets. Non-stick pans and copper have their place but, as the years go by, I favor cast iron more and more. The two unique things about them are that they conduct and retain heat like no others and that they can be placed dry on a burner, fired low and left on the burner until ready to use. That can't be done with any other dry pan, even enameled cast iron. The practice saves time in a professional's kitchen ensuring a hot skillet when wanted. So too at home.

There are other cast iron pans in the house by Lodge, Griswold and Le Crueset, but the Iwachu and now the Finex are, by far, the most attractive high quality cast iron skillets I have ever come across. Much to like here--the polished stainless steel "speed cool" handle, the heft, the finished cooking surface, the shape and balance. These hand crafted skillets remind me of the advertisement for the Patek Phillipe watch wherein they tout that you never actually own one, but merely look after it for the next generation. The Finex is indeed an heirloom skillet.

A BLT tonight, with four stripes of bacon, should be the perfect inaugural fry.

Postscript: The new skillet did the bacon proper. However, the "speed cool" handle, while "cool" style-wise, is still attached to cast iron, which is super conductive (that's why we use them). Therefore, like all other fired cast iron skillets, the Finex should always be handled with a towel between it and you!

Beautiful Non-stick Iron Skillets From Japan

This skillet is made by Iwachu, a company in Japan well known worldwide for their cast iron tea pots and kettles. Iwachu has been casting iron for centuries. I read about their "omelet pan" earlier, lost the reference, then saw it again and decided to get it from an Amazon like company in Japan called Rakuten Global Market. Amazon now carries the Iwachu skillet in two sizes" 9.5 inch and 8.5 inch for $101US and $78US. That puts it in the price range of All Clad and Le Crueset, which is fine since it's functionally as good if not better than what they offer and far more attractive.

About the pan: At 9.5 inches across, it is of medium heavy cast iron (lighter than the Finex) with fine design lines--beautifully shaped with a long graceful handle and sloping cavity walls about 2 inches deep at the far edge and little more shallow at the near. It is so designed to promote the flipping of an omelet, which it does nicely. The surface is treated in a manner like Le Crueset cast iron, with the result that not much sticks to it. The 8.5 inch pan is identical--just smaller. The larger pan is best to brown steaks and chops when done sous vide; for three-egg omelets or scrambled eggs and for grilled cheese sandwiches. The smaller one is handy to fry two eggs or a hamburger or to warm up a leftover of any sort. And, since cast iron pans enjoy an oven visit now and then, both sized pans work great for an oven-finished frittata or baked corn bread.

OK, IBM's Watson Can Win at Jeopardy, But Can it Cook?

Here's the idea: IBM has this huge mainframe computer, dubbed "Watson," that processes petabytes of information as a idea generating tool. IBM, with the in depth collaboration of a team of professional chefs, decide to stuff Watson with massive amounts of culinary related data including tens of thousands of recipes, food products with their chemical make ups and all manner of seasonings--all cross referenced to regional cultures. Then they programmed Watson to search for food pairings, flavors and ingredients that compliment each other. All with an end toward discovering food combinations not yet tasted by human kind. Watson's keepers believe that "This relentless hunt for novelty would fuel its [Watson's] creativity." They also believe that professional chefs could employ Watson's "surprising concepts and ingredient pairings" to create culinary delicacies.

Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson is a demonstration of culinary collaboration between man and machine, a collection of "never-before-seen-recipes." The IBM team and staff from the Institute of Culinary Education, see the effort as the beginning of "cognitive systems that may help people compose unique and tasty recipes tailored to special needs and environments, such as schools and hospitals.

These are high aspirations. Right up there with Modernist Cuisine. In fact, if you are not conversant with the taxonomy of Modernist Cuisine (in all of its five glorious volumes) this book's recipes may be out of reach. The authors also suggest, by omission at least, that innovative pairings are something new. Culinary Artistry by Dornenburg and Page has list upon list of "flavor pals" more organized and useful than the pairings in this book. The science of cooking has been revealed by Harold McGee in his magnum opus On Food and Cooking and his other works. Shirley Corriher's Cookwise too. In short, the word pretentious comes to mind as I read through the introduction and recipes. An included bibliography would have helped to ali my assessment.

But what's to like? First off, it's a beautiful cookbook with great photos on fine paper--all for a good price. It's fun to page through the book and note the pairings that Watson comes up with that the author chefs make work. Lamb and shrimp or olives/basil/saffron/lobster and balsamic, for example. I cross checked some of the pairings with those in Culinary Artistry. There are enough similarities to suggest that Watson is not all that far off the worn path. There is also a chapter titled "Dueling Dishes" wherein two chefs each work with a common list of ingredients to create their own dish. Sorta like Market Basket Day in the final month of cooking school.

In all, Cognitive Cooking records the creative efforts of the staff at the Institute of Culinary Education to make something of IBM Watson's output. If the result of all this is the creation of an widely accessible software program that chef's could query Watson for specific interests, then they may have something of value.

Osso Buco

It just doesn't get any better than cooking for three beautiful women: my big sister (house guest) and two grand nieces (in town grad-schooling). I was going to prepare Game Hens Mediterranean, but my sister had heard of osso buco, never had it and so asked me to prepare it. Osso Buco ("pierced bone") is veal shanks braised in EVOO, white wine, veggies and Italian seasonings as done before in Osso Buco Tagine.

We went over to the local Organic Butcher and got four veal shanks--at great expense. (I have stated many times in this blog that I won't spend an extra dime for organic produce but will pop for meat and poultry from well husbanded farms and ranches, where value is clearly added and higher quality is evident. These veal shanks did not disappoint.)

So, with the veal shanks in hand, I had to do something different with them. This time, I ditched Italian and went with seasonings favored along the northwest coastline of Africa in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Thus we have:

Osso Buco Maghreb.
See Abbreviations, if needed 
Serves four

4 veal shanks, each tied around their circumference with butcher string to hold their shape
2T of baharat or ras-el-hanout powdered spice mixtures (Moroccan), or S/P is you don't have, but . . .
1/2t of turmeric and cumin, each
A pinch of saffron
1t of ginger and sweet paprika, each
12 grinds of pepper corn
1t+ salt
A sachet of parsley and cilantro, with stems
2 large red onions, diced
4 pickled lemons, quartered and deseeded
3-4C chicken stock or broth
1C red wine
1C green and black olives, pitted
1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Dry rub the shanks with baharat, ras-el-hanout or S/P
3. In a large Dutch oven, brown the shanks well in a little of the EVOO,
then remove and set aside
4. Add the rest of the EVOO and sweat the onions to translucent
5. Add the spices, heat them for awhile and then add two cups stock and the wine
6. BTB, reduce heat and then return the shanks to the pot
7. Add the sachet and the lemon quarters
8. Add more stock to a level about 3/4 up the sides of the shanks
9. BTB, then turn off the heat
10. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the preheated oven
11. Set the timer for 2 hours
12. Remove the Dutch oven to the stove top's large burner
13. Check the shanks for doneness, they should be falling off the bone
14. With a spatula (not tongs), very carefully remove the shanks to a shallow pan
and place it in the now turned off oven
15. Skim the braising liquid of the fat hugging the sides of the Dutch oven
16. Bring the braising liquid to boil and reduce to make sauce (if there is not enough
liquid to reduce by half, add water not stock and then BTB to reduce
17. A la minute, add the olives
18. Place osso buco shanks on heated plates and dress with the sauce
19. Serve with roasted or sauteed veggies and/or with couscous

Another Change of Oil

This Muffuletta Olive Salad, from Greece, looked inviting at Costco this morning so I got a couple jars. Got it home, tasted it and found it to be quite good but with an unpleasant after taste. Good stuff in the bottle too: green and Kalamata olives, red peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery, capers and seasonings (oragano, parsely, garlic)--all swimming in sunflower oil. I then skimmed off a teaspoon of the sunflower oil, tasted it and (whew) knew what to do . . .

If you scroll down on this page, there's an article touting the benefit of changing oil, since producers always go cheap. I dumped the salad into a colander, drained and pressed out the sunflower oil, did not wash, then transferred the salad to a stainless steel bowl, added 2T+ of seasoned rice vinegar and 1/4 cup of good EVOO. Mixed it well and returned all to the jar.

Difference? You betcha. The salad is cleaner on the pallet with an after taste that asks for more.

So, for dinner, we have a filet of halibut, with Hot Cajun Seasoning (for blackening), sauteed in EVOO and topped with pan heated Muffuletta. It was delicious (though a bit salty). I'll do it again for friends and allow for the fact that the Cajun seasoning (from the Spice House in Milwaukee) contains a lot of salt.

Haven't Posted for Awhile, but . . .

Have you seen the articles touting the benefits of mind games and exercises for geezers? I've tried them and--whatever their merit--they get boring fast. So instead, why not learn a new computer operating system? It shouldn't take but a few hours and you'll then have a new toy to while away even more hours ad en finitum?

So, after using DOS and Windows for 30 years, I bought a new Mac Book Pro laptop as a second computer. It runs on a Unix based operating system called OS X Yosemite. With the help of a manual titled Switching to the Mac, the transition has been fun and continues to be a challenging brain game. For an experienced computer user, the two systems are not all that different in that they both address the same tasks.

As a member of the Apple family for years (iPad, iPod and iPhone), I expected that the Mac computer would have the same quality, elegance and thought 'throughness' of Apple's other devices. It does! It's quite impressive.

That said, I will not be switching the four PC programs needed to run this blog to the Mac.

What a Pleasant Surprise . . .

I've bought bacon from Nueske's in Wisconsin for a decade or more. I always include in the online order a pack of his smoked pork chops, which are lean and tender. Because, in my childhood in central Minnesota, smoked pork chops with red cabbage was a special favorite. Good German comfort food. I've liked the dish ever since.

Well, a couple nights ago I sauteed a single smoked pork chop with red cabbage, leaving a half a jar of Hengstenberg's cabbage leftover. Then along comes a salmon fillet: sauteed last night with caper infused butter and baked small red potatoes with creme fraiche. More leftover salmon tonight, poached in chicken stock with--would you believe-- red cabbage. They sounded good together and it turns out that salmon and red cabbage are indeed flavor pals!

Really. They go quite well. I'd put it on the lunch menu at Chez Cullen.

Try it, you'll like it!

Universal Lids

If the frying pan, chef's pan or pot your looking for comes with a fitted lid at no extra cost, then OK--buy it. If the lid costs extra, don't buy the lid. Truth be told, lids are not needed very often. You won't find many in a commercial kitchen and you don't need many at home--certainly not for every pot and pan. Nonetheless, over the years, you've probably acquired a kitchen drawer full of pot lids, seldom used. You only need fitted lids for your double boiler, ricer, popper and Dutch oven, but that's about it. Toss the rest, but if you still feel the need, get a couple universal lids that fit all your pans

I got the copper lid, in the photo, with a heavy cast iron handle at Dehillerin's in Paris about 45 years ago and have not seen one like it since. But maybe they're coming back in popularity. All-Clad has just come out with shiny stainless steel universal lids at 9, 12 and 15 inches for about $35 to $55. They're light, well made, work great and don't take up much drawer space.

Spanakopita is not just an hors d'oeuvre

(sauteed spinach, onion and feta cheese in phyllo) are a hassle to make but are usually available in upscale market freezer sections. And they're quite good. Just pop a few in the oven and they're ready to go in 20 minutes or so. They're great as a hors d'oeuvre, but they serve equally well as a veggie side to fish or pork. Here, five of them are guarding fillets of halibut. A nice combination.

What to do with the last three quarter pound of not-so-fresh salmon?

Even a small filet of farm raised salmon (about 1.5 Lb.) is a lot of food for one guy and his dog. Night one was sauteed salmon with blackening spices topped with caper'd clarified butter. Night two was sauteed salmon finished with spicy salsa. End cuts and trimmings both nights poached for the poodle. Come night three and invention was necessary, with inspiration (from a salmon burger recipe in Gourmet Cookbook).

Cubed Seasoned Salmon and Spinach in Hot Oil with Pasta

3/4 Lb fresh salmon fillet
1.5t soy sauce
4C fresh spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped
2 shallots finely diced
1t prepared chopped ginger
1 generous pinch of salt
4 grinds peppercorn
4-6oz peanut oil or grape seed oil
2oz pasta, cooked and drained
1oz lemon infused EVOO
3T shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Place salmon fillet in freezer for 45 minutes to stiffen, then remove and slice salmon accurately in half-inch cubes
then place all in a large bowl
2. Add the soy sauce, spinach, shallots, ginger and S/P
3. Prepare the pasta, drain and set aside and keep warm
4. In a high wall sturdy pan (cast iron in the photo), fill the pan to a depth of 1/8 inch and heat the oil to 375F--precisely!
5. With a towel or other protection, carefully slip the salmon mixture into the hot oil
6. Deep fry the salmon mixture for 2-3 minutes until fish cubes appear opaque
7. With a hand strainer, carefully remove the salmon mixture into a fresh large saute pan
8. Quickly add the pasta and toss over medium heat
9. Add the lemon infused EVOO and toss once and quickly place all onto a heated plate
10. Garnish with the Parmigiano-Reggiano

Scampi Revisited

Haven't made this dish in years and forgot how good it was. The recipe version I used called for placing the scampi over buttered pasta. I must have been using an old recipe, since the scampi recipe here does not call for butter, which of course is not needed as the scampi is rich enough. Did not have feta so shredded extra sharp cheddar did just fine. It's an easy dish to prepare on a cold week day night.

A Modernist Italian Chef

Modernist Cuisine emails members quite often. Last time they had an offer from Phaidon for a 35% discount on Chef Massimo Bottura's magnum opus, so I got it. At 300 pages and 2.75 lbs of text and photos, this is more a coffee table book (a good one) than a cookbook (with 49 impossible recipes for the home cook). But it's a fun read, with 3-star kitchen war stories of modernist bent, local color and all things Italian.

First of all, none of the recipes in this book are remotely doable in a home kitchen. But Massimo Bottura is a three star chef who lives and breathes Italy. So let's start there: To make some sense of this book, start in the middle by reading "Come to Italy With Me" followed by "The Key to Italy" (pp208-218). Here Bottura finds his thesis: ". . .[to] dislocate ingredients from their traditional dishes . . . that chained them to single interpretations. We ask the diner to set aside their preconceptions of what Italian cuisine is, and imagine what it can be." Further, Bottura's perspective of Italian dishes is influenced by a story of an famed artist, who placed a dot on a canvas and then announced to the patron that his portrait was finished. "This is your portrait from ten kilometers away." Bottura says that the more he thought about this, the more he saw it as ". . . the perfect metaphor for both defining and defending what we were trying to do: to see tradition from a distance." As a result, all of Bottura dishes are creative departures from tradition. Most are uniquely named. Some are not and I have a problem with that.

For example, Bottura makes a Caesar Salad. However, a reading of his recipe, without the title, will not reveal it to be a Caesar Salad. OK, so its modern. But Nathan Myhrvold makes one too in his Modernist Cuisine, Vol. 3, p. 373. Read his recipe without the title and "Oh, its is Caesar Salad!" Bottura not only has the historic origin of the Caesar Salad confused, but the essence of the dish as well.

So go from there . . .

Last Night's Repast

Beef Tenderloin Butt Tagine

A rather large hunk of the butt end of a beef tenderloin would usually be cut up and prepared as tenderloin tips. But I have been hankering for a pot roast. This cut of beef will work just fine braised in a tagine if you don't simmer it too long since it's already tender. Simmered for 1.25 hours it came out moist, well done and pull apart tender. If I make one again, I would simmer it for only an hour and then take a look. This is an easy dish to prepare. Here's how:

Beef Tenderloin Butt Tagine
See Abbreviations, if needed 
Serves about three

2 lb beef tenderloin butt
A medley of veggies: onion halves, carrots, potatoes all cut rather large to hold up for a hour of braising
1.5 C chicken stock or broth
2 cloves garlic, pureed
2 T Herbes de Provence
1. Trim off excess fat and silver skin from the tenderloin
2. S/P the meat generously
3. Heat the cast iron tagine bottom over high heat and then add enough EVOO to coat the bottom surface
4. Brown the tenderloin thoroughly on all sides--get some color on it
5. Reduce heat to medium and arrange the veggies around the meat, as shown (use more veggies for more people)
6. Shake a generous amount of herbes de Provence over the meat and veggies (another spice medley will do)
7. Bring the tagine bottom back to high heat and add the garlic
8. Add chicken stock to a level 1/4 inch below the rim line (which will reduce to 1/2 inch, as shown)
9. BTB, then reduce heat to simmer and cover with the tagine top
10. Braise for one to one and a quarter hours: meat and veggies should be tender
11. Serve on heated plates as shown

PS: Tagine recipes abound on this site: here, here, here, here, here and here.

We had these rather uniquely textured and seasoned rack of pork ribs in Milwaukee over Thanksgiving two years ago.  My niece prepared them expertly.  For New Years dinner, I got out her recipe (which came from Bon Appetit) and did them.  Braising the ribs (Bon Appetit wrongly called it roasting) lends a soft tenderness to the rack that cannot be done on the grill.  The original recipe called for grilling the racks of ribs after two hours of braising to reheat them and to impart a glaze to the barbecue sauce. Try it if you like, but the braised ribs are already falling off the bone and moving the racks to the grill without breaking them will prove very difficult. It's not worth it. Instead, finish racks uncovered for the last half hour to dry them out a bit and make them table sauce receptive. 

Here is my version and complete rewrite of the recipe:
Braised Racks of Pork Ribs
See Abbreviations, if needed 
Ribs:  (General Rule:  Allow five ribs per person)

2      racks of baby back pork ribs

Dry Rub:
1T     salt
2T     brown sugar
2t       dry mustard
2t       thyme
1t       ginger, fresh grated or dry ground
½ t     cinnamon, fresh grated or dry ground
½ t     cayenne

Pan Roasting Mixture:
1       onion, sliced
1        cinnamon stick, broken
1T      ginger, freshly grated
2C+   apple cider (not apple cider vinegar)

Barbecue Sauce:
½ C    brown sugar
1 oz    butter, melted
¼ C    bourbon
¼ C    rice wine or white wine vinegar
2T    Dijon mustard 

1. Remove silver skin from back of ribs, trim off excess fat and set aside
2. Prepare dry rub by mixing all ingredients together in a small bowl
3. Hand rub the ribs with the dry rub, cover and chill for a couple hours
4. Spray or rub sheet pan or roasting pan surface with EVOO
5. Place roasting pan mixture (less apple cider) in pan 
6. Lay ribs in pan meat side down, then add apple cider to cover pan bottom by a quarter inch
7. Cover pan with foil and place in preheated 325F oven (FYI: covered is braising--uncovered is roasting)
8. Place sauce ingredients in a pan and heat gently to simmer and set aside
9. Braise until ribs are very tender and meat is pulling away from the ribs (about 2 to 2.5 hours). Remove cover for the last half hour
10  Remove pan from oven, uncover and let stand until grill is hot (1 hour max)
11. Carefully remove rack of ribs from roasting pan onto serving platter
12. Cut racks with a sharp serrated knife into one or two bone servings
13. Reheat barbecue sauce and serve as a side. 

This is Such a Good Idea, I'll Post it Again

I opened another big (32 oz) jar of capers this evening and again dumped them all into a colander, cold sprayed them, washed out the jar, filled it with one part of rice vinegar, scooped the capers back into the jar and then topped the jar off with 3 parts of tap water. Try it next time and taste the capers and not the salt!

It's hard to pass up the olive bar at your favorite super market. The selection is too hard to resist with olives green and black, pitted, stuffed or unstuffed along with mini onions, mushrooms and maybe an artichoke heart or two. All swimming in oil. We learn from Tom Mueller, in the book profiled below, that the oil used in the olive bar selections is probably refined olive oil or, at best, low grade EVOO. So here's what to do:

Having spooned your selections at the olive bar into a deli container, bring them home and dump them all in a colander. Spray wash them thoroughly with luke warm water and put them in a fresh container. Then add a tablespoon or so of your best EVOO. Toss and enjoy. You will taste a big difference. So too, I found about a year ago with capers. I get the big jar from Costco, dump them into the colander, wash off the vinegar, place them into a cleaned jar and then add little water and some rice vinegar. Result: The capers are remarkably less salty. You can actually taste them!

A New Classic and James Beard Award Shoe-in

Since 1977, A. J. McClane's The Encyclopedia of Fish and Cookery has been my go to reference on all matters of fish cookery. I learned a lot of classic fish stuff from the text and photos in this book. Though somewhat dated now, it remains a significant and lasting contribution to the literature. If you come upon one at a book sale, get it. Then along came James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish in 1996. It too is rather complete, but its not as much fun to read or page through.

Like Fish & Shellfish, this book is organized by cooking methods--baked, braised, broiled, steamed, grilled, fried and sauteed. Within these headings the recipes are presented in a rough order of difficulty: from Sauteed Trout to Soft Shell Crab Saltimbooco; from New Jersey Baked Fish to Crab Stuffed Roasted Lobster. Every market fish and shellfish has a recipe here. Classics such as ceviche, shrimp cocktail, poached salmon, dover sole and gravlax are included. Pollinger imparts each recipe with his own "ands" and "withs." Thus we have with "oyster mushrooms, creme fraiche and tarragon--coconut, lime and mint--mustardy celery root salad--red miso broth--pea shoots, sugar snaps, walnuts and orange vinaigrette." Pollinger's ands and withs make the book! He has also added many personnal-based tutorials, tips and preferences. Great photos too. With all this, the experienced home cook should have little difficulty putting any of these recipes together.

In all, these are the most inviting recipes I've seen in a cookbook in years. I know fish but I can't wait to get into Pollinger's recipes. School of Fish is a complete, authoritative and user friendly cookbook inspired by a chef who really knows fish. It will be the new reference on home fish cookery.

Heavy Japanese Knives

I've been on a knife replacement kick for about a year, retiring four good but tired school-issued Wüsthof knives (see additional articles below) with hand made nives from Japan. The knives shown above are the last to be purchased. They are hand made, from forging to sharpening, by Saji Takeshi, a master blacksmith who has been crafting knives for forty years.

He's gotten pretty good at it.

Takeshi-san uses R2 (SG2) powered steel (whatever that is) to forge Damascus modern-pattern welded steel blades. This steel, while hard to work with, is said to have remarkable hardness and edge retention. The knives are heavy. The 9 inch slicer weighs in at 7.7 ounces while the old Wüsthof slicer that it replaces weighs but 5.6 ounces. The smaller utility knife above weighs 5.5 ounces. That's quite unusual. Hand made Japanese knives are generally sharper, lighter but more fragile than western knives.

These Saji Takeshi R2 Diamond Damascus knives, with their Damascus pattern blades, cow bone handles and meticulous finish, are flat out exquisite in appearance. They're a handful and should be high performing and exceptionally functional over time. (From

Zesters and Graters Get Dull Too 

Legend has it, that about fourteen years ago, a home baker somewhere pulled out her old zester—which had done honorable service since the Eisenhower administration—scraped it over a lemon with such poor results that she said, “this thing has got to go.”  But so did her lemon cookies that were off to the bridge club in three hours, no matter what.  She left the kitchen and headed for the garage workshop to tell her husband to drop everything and go get her a new zester.  At the moment, husband was smoothing the sawed edge of a nice piece of hardwood.  She looked at the lightweight stainless steel tool he was using and said, “gimme that!”  The rest is history.

The line of graters and zesters are called Microplane and are made by Grace Manufacturing, a heretofore woodwork tools outfit.  They are made of stainless steel and have pressed-out and honed cutting edges that shave rather than shred.  The zester is so good that it is a standard issue tool to new students at the professional pastry course at L’Academie de Cuisine.

Last week, I wanted to finish off a pasta dish with a little freshly grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano. Granted, the block of cheese was pretty old and quite hard but I expected my Microplane grater to shave it. Nope, it just bumped along the surface of the cheese block and took off a flake or two. So, I ran the grater over my fingers (never a good idea) but again it just bumped along.

It was dull. Throw away dull, as they can't be sharpened. As luck would have it, someone recently gave me a gift card from Williams-Sonoma, so I have some new ones.

UPDATE: Beautiful Non-stick Iron Skillets From Japan

Last year, I hesitated to write about this pan since getting one was a bit of a hassle. While the pan cost $75US, shipping added another $50US. That put it in the price range of All Clad and Le Crueset, which is fine since it's functionally as good if not better than what they offer and far more attractive. The pans are made by Iwachu, a company in Japan well known, worldwide, for their cast iron tea pots and kettles. Iwachu has been casting iron for centuries. I read about their "omelet pan" earlier, lost the reference, then saw it again and decided to get it from an Amazon like company in Japan called Rakuten Global Market that has a vendor that carries it. They can be found at

Ah, but now Amazon carries Iwachu. And the pan is available in two sizes" 9.5 inch and 8.5 inch for $101US and $78US (about 20% less than if ordered from Rakuten).

About the pan: At 9.5 inches across, it is of medium heavy cast iron with fine design lines--beautifully shaped with a long graceful handle and sloping cavity walls about 2 inches deep at the far edge and little more shallow at the near. It is so designed to promote the flipping of an omelet, which it does nicely. The surface is treated in a manner like Le Crueset cast iron, with the result that not much sticks to it. The 8.5 inch pan is identical--just smaller. The larger pan is best to brown steaks and chops when done sous vide; for three-egg omelets or scrambled eggs and for grilled cheese sandwiches. The smaller one is handy to fry two eggs or a hamburger or to warm up a leftover of any sort. And, since cast iron pans enjoy an oven visit now and then, both sized pans work great for an oven-finished frittata or baked corn bread.

There are other cast iron pans in the house by Lodge, Griswold and Le Crueset, but the Iwachus are, by far, the most attractive and versatile cast iron pans I have ever used.

Recently, I presented the small pan to good friends as a house warming present for their new townhouse. They promptly parked it atop the back burner of their Wolf range, where I suspect it will reside forever--like a show piece, which it is.

One Avocado Guacamole (Rev)

Good deli's make good guacamole but the price is ridiculous. So make it yourself. (A Mexican lava rock molcajete y tegolete lends a nice authentic touch, both in the making and presentation of guacamole.

Recipes abound. All call for some combination of onion, tomato, lime, chile pepper, cilantro and salt as flavor enhancers to a Hass avocado. Since a ripe Hass avocado is so buttery, rich and tasteful it doesn't need much enhancing. In a pinch, just go with avocado and salt (pun intended) or avocado and salsa. But each of the above enhancers compliments the avocado while adding bulk, zip and texture.

Most recipes call for three avocados, which is OK for a crowd (see photo above = a lot of guacamole). The problem is that avocado flesh discolors rapidly, so guacamole keeps for hours, not days. On the proven theory that it is easier to enlarge a recipe than to cut it, here is a my one avocado guacamole recipe.

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

Yield:  a generous cup
4 servings as an appetizer or 8 as a nibble
See Abbreviations, if needed

1/2 fresh jalapeno, serranos or cow horn chile pepper
3T white onion or shallot or spring onion, finely chopped
1/4C ripe tomato, red part only, skinned and finely chopped
1 ripe Hass avocado
1.5T fresh lime juice
1 generous pinch of salt
3T cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 dusting of cayenne
1. Roast the chile pepper directly over a gas burner or in a hot dry pan, when cool, scrape off the charred parts
slice open and strip out the white and seeds, then finely chop half of it and place in the molcajete or bowl
2. Finely chop the onion and place in bowl
3. Remove the white lines from the tomato flesh and chop the rest into small bits and add to bowl
4. Scoop out the flesh from the avocado and add to bowl
5. Add the cilantro but save a few leaves 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 the salt
9. Dust in the cayenne
10. Taste and adjust with more lime juice, salt and/or cayenne
11. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until service
12. On order, garnish with cilantro and serve with tortilla chips or on tacos
Note: Roasting the chile pepper is optional, but it tastes less harsh and more tender if roasted. Do it.

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 s the others but it is beautiful, amazingly sharp and agile. It's the Ferrari of paring knives with a price to match. Next on the left is a western st lye paring knife by Nenox, more nicely finished and with arguably better steel and better edge than the Wüsthof's. The center knife is your essential paring knife--what Julia Childs had in mind. You gotta have one. Next is a serrated paring knife--great for slicing bagels and buns and opening boxes large and small. I use this knife a lot and know how to keep it sharp (see the article lower down on this page). The knife on the far right is a "parrot's beak" designed for peeling potatoes, apples, pineapples, etc. Works wonderfully but it is tricky to sharpen its curved edge.

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 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.

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)


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.


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 is about smoothness, thickness and texture. So too is straining. Are they the same? No. Are they related? Yes. Where's the distinction? Pour a product through a strainer and some goes through and some doesn't. So, to strain is to remove unwanted ingredients. Subject a product to the whirling blade of a food processor or a stick blender and it is broken up violently but nothing is removed.

Often, straining is all that is needed to achieve a nice texture of, say, the braising liquids for lamb shanks done in a Dutch oven or tagine. While, puréeing alone will do the trick in many soups where you want everything in the pot to stay but it's all a bit too heavy on the spoon. (The beauty of the 'stick blender' shown in the photo, is that it allows you to plunge it in and out of a hot pot on the stove without transferring the liquid it to a food processor or standing blender.) Gazpacho for example, smoothed out with a stick blender, should have a nice consistency without staining. But most heavier soups need to be puréed and strained. I find that my Vichyssoise usually needs to have some of the bulk strained out before its puréed. Soups with high fiber content, such as Butternut Squash, Roasted Tomatillo or Asparagus (I'm working on it) must be puréed to break up the fiber and then strained to get some of it out. For soups: purée first and then strain or strain and then purée? Your call, no fast rule that I know of.


On the first day of school, I was surprised to find a huge ice maker in the kitchen. “Must be for the pastry class,” I surmised. "Cooking is all about heat, not cold."


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 asteurize eggs at home, sous vide. With six pheasants from a generous neighbor resting in my freezer, I'll try their Roast Pheasant Stuffed with Wild Rice, which is pretty close to Mom's recipe at home in Minnesota some 65 years ago.

Introductory articles are informative, covering the history of the birds and most of the farm-to-fork issues of the day. The book is well edited with great photos. In all, Culinary Birds is a significant contribution to the literature. It's thorough and follows proper cooking practices and techniques. Culinary Birds will give good service in the kitchen of your favorite grand niece or nephew.

I'll keep it!

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 sharpening. 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.

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.

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 .
    Lobster tails: 140F for 14 minutes.

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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