|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
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!
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
(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.
Football Potatoes for Super
If you attend a French cooking school, you're going to
make Les pommes de Terre Risolees. Small potatoes
carved into eight-sided footballs, then browned in a hot
skillet in EVOO and finished in a 400F oven. Served with
a little butter, S/P and parsley, you have a French classic
most appropriate for Super Sunday. You need a sharp paring
knife and time to carve these potatoes. While cooking at
The Georgetown Club in Washington DC, we prepared a bunch
of them, now and then, and placed a few on each plate as
an amuse bouche. I love the whole process of making these
The rest of Super Bowl Sunday dinner was a standing rib
of beef and steamed and sauteed beans with toasted black
and white sesame seeds. Proceeded, of course, with guacamole,
chips, cheese, wine and beer. And followed by apple pie,
vanilla ice cream and espresso. It don't get no better .
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
Cubed Seasoned Salmon and Spinach in Hot Oil with
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
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
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
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.
Beef Tenderloin Butt Tagine
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
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
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
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
BRAISED PORK RIBS
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
See Abbreviations, if needed
Rule: Allow five ribs per person)
racks of baby back pork ribs
ginger, fresh grated or dry ground
cinnamon, fresh grated or dry ground
Pan Roasting Mixture:
cinnamon stick, broken
ginger, freshly grated
cider (not apple cider vinegar)
rice wine or white wine vinegar
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
Remove pan from oven, uncover and let stand until grill
is hot (1 hour max)
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
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 chuboknives.com.)
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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 invented 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
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
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.