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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


The Christmas Stoop and the Tree in Woods


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 on most every page.

More later, as I digest this thing . . .

 


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
3 T EVOO
1.5 C chicken stock or broth
2 cloves garlic, pureed
S/P
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.


Thanksgiving Cactus 2014

We've had these cacti for at least 15 years. They summer outdoors and in late autumn are brought in. And then they bloom!


What To Do?

Brought home a can of crab meat from Costco only to discover that there was one in the fridge already, too yet. "Gotta use up some of this stuff." By chance, I also had bought a jar of basil pesto.

Why not pasta?

FOR ONE: Open the crab meat can, drain and take out 1/2C of crab meat. Boil off 2 ounces of spaghetti in salted water and drain in a colander. Add 1T of EVOO to a frying pan, toss in the crab meat and heat awhile, toss in the drained spaghetti and mix and heat some more, add 1/4C of pesto and toss thoroughly, add a few grinds of white pepper, add 2T of shredded Parmigiano Reggiano, and then a final toss. Serve in a heated plate with a seasoned bread stick (preferably one that is not half eaten, as shown).

The sequence is important here: Unlike tomato sauces that can take the heat and should therefore be the first added ingredient in a frying pan (then followed by the pasta), the basil and pine nuts in pesto don't heat all the well without losing flavor and breaking away from the EVOO base. Sooooooo, add the pesto last!

Come to think of it, you can add crab meat to any pasta dish with nice results. It would work wonderfully in Fettuccini Alfredo. OK, but maybe less well in heavy tomato sauced pastas.



BRAISED PORK RIBS (Rev)
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 wine 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 knives 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 knive 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 chuboknives.com.)


It's All In The Numbers

Nice large lobster tails at Costco, so I got a package of two even though I'm not a big lobster fan. What to do with them? I decided sous vide and to refer to my trusty iPad version of Modernist Cuisine At Home (see below). Under the lobster roll recipe, it suggested to first plunge the tail into boiling water for 90 seconds, then chill shock it in ice water--all done to make it easier to neatly remove the lobster meat from the tail before cooking it. That worked, though the real key is to cut away the underside of the shell with a scissors before prying the meat out with a large kitchen fork. The tail was then vacuumed sealed in a Food Saver bag with a couple pads of heavily peppered butter.

The recipe called for cooking the lobster sous vide in a 120F water bath for 15 minutes. That didn't work and upon reflection, I should have known since the core temperature for most fish starts at 120F. Obviously, the tail was not done at the thick end. So into an Iwachu cast iron pan (see below) for a few minutes, over medium heat, finished the tail. Then served, as shown, over butter with a sushi side. Further research strongly suggests that large lobster tails should be sous vide at 140F for 15 minutes. I have another in the freezer to do at the higher temperature, whenever . . .


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.


Rabbit Ragu alla Bolognese

According to Herbst, a ragu is a thick full-bodied meat sauce. A Ragu alla Bolognese is a pasta dish sauced with ragu--popular in Northern Italy. It's a low fat but heavy dish--a stew by another name. Last week, the local paper posted their contest winning recipes. Awarded first place was a Rabbit Ragu with Roasted Tomatoes. It looked inviting since, more than less, it followed the classic Mediterranean ragu recipes in my library, but calling for rabbit instead of beef, which is more traditional.

So I thawed a three pound package of rabbit that was well past its 'best by' date, spotted fettuccini in the fridge and canned tomatoes in the pantry. So why not spend Sunday afternoon putting them all together with inspiration from the award winning recipe.

So here is my version of this dish

Rabbit Ragu alla Bolognese

Yield:  about 8 servings
See Abbreviations, if needed

3 lbs rabbit, two critters each cut into six pieces
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, pureed,
1 28oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes (Cento brand is quite good)
10oz dry red wine
2T dry sage or Italian spice mix
1 cup chicken or beef stock (if needed)
4 large ripe tomatoes, halved and peeled
3 oz EVOO
2t fennel pollen or 1T fennel seeds
S/P to taste
-----------------------------------------------------
1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. In a very large Dutch oven, over high heat, brown the rabbit pieces in EVOO
3. Add the onion, garlic, canned tomato, wine and dry seasoning
4. Add the stock if needed to barely cover the meat in the pot
5. BTB, reduce heat to simmer, cover and simmer on the stove top for 4 hours or until meat is falling off the bones
6. Meanwhile, oil a half sheet pan with EVOO and place the tomato halves cut side up
7. Dust the tomato tops with a little fennel pollen or a little more fennel seeds (strong stuff)
8. Roast tomatoes in a 350F oven for one hour
9. Then, open the Dutch oven, when done, remove the all the meat and set aside to cool
10. When cooled, pull the rabbit meat off the bones by hand, set the meat aside and discard the bones
(make sure the meat is free of all the tiny rabbit bones)
11. Skim the fat off the still hot sauce in the Dutch oven, there won't be much but get rid of it
12. Scoop the hot sauce into a China cap or other medium mesh strainer and push it through the mesh into another large pot
13. When the roasted tomatoes are done, remove to cutting board, cut out white and stem parts and add to the strained pot of sauce
14. With a stick blender, puree the sauce in the pot (or use a standing blender but be careful the sauce is hot)
15. Bring the sauce to boil, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 30 minutes to reduce sauce volume
16. Taste the sauce and add salt and freshly ground pepper, then BTB briefly
17. Lower heat to medium low, add the pulled rabbit meat and cook a few more minutes
18. Serve over freshly made fettuccini.


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 https://global.rakuten.co.jp.

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.


Last Night's Repast

A sauteed salmon steak with summer pasta salad.
For the salad: Cube cut fresh tomato, some chopped fresh basil, diced olives, two crumbled or shredded cheeses (whatever), 4 or 5 piquant peppers drained and chopped, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of lemon infused EVOO and another of EVOO, fresh fettuccini, chill shocked and added to the mixture. Mix, toss and serve ambient with the sautéed fish that has been garnished with a little butter and a few capers.


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.)

Guacamole
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 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.


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 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!


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.


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.



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 NumbersOver 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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