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

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

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

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

Last Night's Repast

Sauteed fillet of Salmon on a bed of Basmati Rice Pilaf and Spicy Brussels Sprouts.

I just noticed that my Basmati Rice Pilaf recipe was posted in 2002. Basmati was hard to find then.
I've been doing Brussels Sprouts with bacon for years and have grown tired of it. Still, I like sprouts. So what's new here is Spicy Brussels Sprouts.
I am at a lose as to where I found the recipe that inspired this recipe since there are a lot of them out there. I've prepared them twice now to good
reviews and therefore plan on doing them for Thanksgiving.

Spicy Brussels Sprouts
See Abbreviations, if needed 

For four, as a side

1. Select 12-15 small sprouts and pull off their outer floppy leaves
• refresh root stem
• cut a cross pattern on the root stem with a paring knife (to help steam get in)
2. Steam for 11 minutes or pressure cook for 4 minutes, until tender
3. Remove and shock in cold water
4. Drain, cut sprouts in half and hold
5. Combine 3T red wine vinegar, 2T maple syrup, 2 cloves garlic
crushed and 1/2t red pepper flakes, crushed
4. Heat 2T EVOO in skillet, add combined mixture and cook briefly
5. Add the halved sprouts to the mixture cut side down, cook and stir until mixture glazes
6. S/P to taste, toss, then serve topped with sliced scallions or shallots

Thoughts on enjoying Geezerhood . . .Or what's working for me

1. Friends are harder to come by as we age. Stay in touch and nurture the ones you have.

2. If you don't have grand children, it is fitting and proper to brag about your grand nieces and grand nephews.

3. When cooking. And please do:
• Cross two fingers and hold them whenever leaving the kitchen with a stove burner on.
• Pay especial attention to high temperature events—deep fat frying, broiling and hot oil baths for tortillas.
• Check that every burner knob is really set to off when finished with the stove.
• Buy a timer with a loud beeper that can be heard over the din of the kitchen.

4. When driving:
• Beware of the left hand turn--be sure before turning the wheel.
• Be alert for pedestrians.
• Day dreaming is a distraction.
• Never back up an inch more than you have to.
• Make the effort to park accurately.
• Use a GPS.

5. Buying a new car? Select a model loaded with Geezer Mitigation Technologies (GMTs) such as cameras, lane drift, blind spot and auto brake.

• Use stair rails, always.
• Use walking poles or a cane in winter's snow and ice. "You’re old, a cane doesn't’ make you any older."
• Don't climb ladders anymore.

7. Don’t drop things. With a little effort over a couple weeks, you can train yourself to grasp objects a little more securely.

8. Forget about multitasking. It’s overrated.

9. Finished a worthwhile book? Page through it again to better remember it.

10. Regarding style:
• It’s important for old folks to dress well, and as well as they can afford. "Look good—feel better."
• Since you haven’t jogged in years, wear some dressier sneakers and shoes, not just Nike and NB..
• If you haven’t worn a garment in three years, give it to charity.
• The blue blazer is not obsolete.

11. Embrace today’s technologies:
• A smart phone with memory aid apps for note taking, reminders and shopping lists will become an indispensable companion, if you work at it awhile.
• Get familiar with emails, texting and messaging to stay in touch with friends and family.
• Use an Auto GPS, so you don’t get lost or distracted looking for signage.
• Explore personal emergency and home security service subscriptions that might add to your independence and sense of home-alone security.
(The “I fell down and I can’t get up” stuff, as well as monitored locks and entry codes).
• If you move, don’t waste money on a new land line. Learn to rely on your smart phone like everyone under 40, nowadays.
• A laptop computer is a truly wonderful source of social connectivity, current affairs, endless 'get smart' searches and entertainment.
You can while away pleasant hours lost in your computer.
• If you can’t distinguish between “cat” and “can’t,” you need hearing aids. The technology has advanced in the last ten years.
Once tuned for you, they really work, even in a crowd. Shop around, because some are better than others and because they're all overpriced. But go for ‘em.

12. You gotta work out:
• At a minimum: regular walks, stretches and hand held weight lifts.
• If you can afford it and have the room, set up a home gym so it’s there when you want it (no excuses). Otherwise join something.
• Twenty minutes a day on either/or free weights, tread mill, elliptical, resistance cords, stretches and floor routines, six days a week has worked for me
for decades.
• Take up tai chi or yoga and stick with it. With instruction and practice, a 20 minute routine can be memorized and enjoyed whenever-wherever.
I find the practice of tai chi rewarding—after a few years, I sensed something involved more than choreography.
• Do all at a set time: No value judgments, just do it on schedule every day—working out should become compulsive.

13. Get a dog or get a dog again. They make us more human. Cats too, I suppose.

14. Only me, but the less I drink and eat, the better I feel.

A Leather Hot Handle Holder From Lodge

Years ago, Calphalon carried a leather hot handle holder, but nothing like this one from the Lodge cast iron people. Lodge teamed with Nokona, a maker of baseball gloves, to come up with this heavy ball glove leather handle holder, beautifully laced, embossed with their logo and fitted with a insulator liner. The Calphalon's were unlined leather and not very protective. Lodge's are safe up to 600F, they say! I got two of them since I know they'll get singed on my stove top. Worth a look at Lodge's Web site. About $29.00 or $21.00 without the laces----but ya gotta go laces.

Last Night's Repast

I've mentioned earlier that I have been buying New York and Rib Eye steaks and then cutting them in two to make nice 3-4 ounce servings. A tray of five steaks from Costco thus makes ten servings--cut, vacuum sealed and frozen. If you're cooking for two or more, they can be packaged to fit your needs. For the potato, I got out the mandoline and sliced a whole skin-on potato very thinly, salted them and then sauteed them in a large cast iron skillet with about 1/8 inch of EVOO until done and rather crisp. A thermapen or infrared thermometer (see below) helps here to get the oil to 350-375F and keep it there to minimize fat absorption.

Not shown, but what made the meal was a ramekin of just received bold EVOO from Australia. This olive oil is highly rated and served admirably as a dip for each bite of rare steak. I never tried this before. It worked and was a wonderful change from a traditional sauce. (More about the EVOO later.)

Sous Vide

I've put off writing about sous vide for years becasue the cost of the equipment needed was so high that the majority of home cooks would pass it by. Now a sous vide "circulator" can be had for $200 (down from $800 five years ago). There are now even ways to get started in sous vide without a circulator and without a vacuum sealer (the other gadget needed and that has also come down to $100 from $300). J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's The Food Lab, reviewed below, has a whole section on sous vide without a circulator or vacuum sealer. (I'm not convinced, but there it is.)

Sous vide is just another way of cooking--it doesn't replace frying, broiling, braising or grilling. Sous vide ("under vacuum") was invented in France by chefs in institutional kitchens. It is a method of cooking whereby a product to be cooked is 1) vacuum sealed in a pouch, 2) immersed into a container of water heated and maintained precisely to a set temperature, 3) cooked slowly in the water for a set period of time, 4. removed from the pouch and browned, sauteed or tossed briefly to improve its appearance before serving.

Why bother? Well, sous vide has some remarkable advantages.
1. Once you've established the desired temperature and time for a sous vide dish, you or anyone else in the kitchen can repeat it exactly every time with exactly the same results every time. (For example, 10 seasoned-in-the-pouch filet mignons or lamb chops can be cooked perfectly every time without anxiety and without monitoring while cooking.) Some folks have complained that this takes the art out of coooking.
2. Cooking sous vide produces textual qualities that cannot be achieved with other cooking methods. (It is not possible, for example, to grill or saute a lamb chop or T-bone to medium rare and have it medium rare from edge to center to bone. If the center is medium rare, the meat attached to the bone will still be rare or near raw). At a restaurant, I can cut into a steak or chop and tell if it was done sous vide because it will have the same degree of doneness throughout.
3. Because food is vacuum sealed in a pouch, nutrients, seasoning, fat and flavor do not escape as with other cooking methods. Shrinkage is also significantly reduced when cooking meats, fish and poultry, especially fish.
4. Set it and forget it. Put the food in the cooking bath, set the alarm, leave it and tend to your guests. But wait--there's more. When the alarm does go off you have up to 20 minutes to retrieve the pouches without overcooking the ingredients.

Pictured here is a stock pot with the PolyScience Pro Circulator, the only one on the market in 2011. Powerful and accurate to 1/10 degree F, it works great. PolyScience and others now offer circulators from $200 to $300.
I admire and appreciate the ease, convenience, consistency and precision of sous vide. I've been doing sous vide since Modernist Cuisine came out in 2011. There are now quite a few sous vide cookbooks available. One coming out in November looks especially promising. Of course, if you have Modernist Cuisine, go there first, since they started it.

I'm comfortable with the method and through trial and error have acquired some practical numbers. The list suggests, as well, the kind of products I've been doing sous vide.

Eggs Pasteurized 134.5F for 2 hours (for Caesar salads)
Halibut, thick 132/27 min
Filet Mignon 135/45 min
Lamb Chops 140/45 min
Leeks, Carrots 185/50 min
New York Steak 138/45 min
Pork Chops 132/60 min
Pork Tenderloin 138/45 min
Rib Eye Steak 134/45 min
Veal Chops 140/50 min
Veal Shanks 185/4 hours

What's not to like? Well, Since you have suitable pots or containers for a circulator, the minimum price for a sous vide setup (circulator and vacuum sealer) comes to about $300, down from $1100. Or try The Food Lab sous vide method. Just think about it: you could cook steaks or burgers sous vide for a crowd and go near the stove top, but twice!

Still a Very nice and Useful Tool

Way back in 2001, I sang the praises of the FoodSaver vacuum sealer. I've been using it all these years, first to vacuum seal food for storage, keep perishables like lettuce fresh longer and more recently to vacuum seal meats and veggies for sous vide. They are quite popular now. Costco carries the FoodSaver. Yesterday, while processing half steaks and lamb chops (from Costco) the unit failed to complete its cycle, failed to unlock the lid and just sat there unblinking. All attempts to revive it failed.


After a little thought, I concluded that I really do not want to be without a vacuum sealer. Trying to load lamb chops into a Zip Lock bag and then trying to get enough air out of it to make it sink when dunked in the sous vide tank doesn't work very well. Also, without a vacuum seal, brown sugar is rock hard in a month, while rice, orzo, spices and other dry stuff go stale quickly. So, I want a new one.

FoodSaver and others of its type are known as suction or external vacuum sealers. They feature a small vacuum chamber that holds only the open lip of a proprietary plastic pouch, which rests external to the machine. The machine then sucks air out of the external pouch into the machine's chamber and then seals the pouch. This works fine. The external vacuum sealers are small and portable. Some are even battery powered for hunters and fishermen, while on site. But they have two shortcomings: the pouches are expensive and the machine cannot process liquids or wet products very well. Not that vacuum sealing soups is all important, but rather that it takes experience and care to prevent blood from raw meats and juices from raw fish from being sucked into the chamber and from there to the pump.

There is another vacuum sealer technology. Along came the idea to greatly enlarge the chamber inside the machine so it can hold a whole pouch inside the machine, close the lid, draw a vacuum and then seal the pouch. These are called chamber vacuum sealers. Advantages over the suction vacuum sealers: pouches are cheap, it draws a better vacuum, it can process soups and such, and if the chamber and lid are deep enough, whole roasts and even canning jars. The chamber vacuum seal technique is used throughout industry to vacuum pack everything from clothing to spare parts to assembly packages to smoked salmon and soy sauce packs. Shortcomings of the chamber machine for home use are its large size and initial cost.

Reviews of FoodSaver machines, now owned by a different company and manufactured elsewhere, are OK but less favorable than years back. Others of its type have better reviews but share the same shortcomings and have prices approaching chamber vacuum sealers that now are designed and priced for home and delicatessen use.

So, here we have the VacMaster VP 112s Chamber Vacuum Sealer.

It's too big (24" deep x 14 wide x 9 high) for the kitchen pantry, where the FoodSaver resided, but fits comfortably in the utility room next to the second fridge. The VacMaster VP112s is a beautifully designed and constructed machine. Its performance is flat out impressive. If you are new to this and interested, first look hard at the suction machines. If you've worn one of them out, or you want someting better, you'll be far happier if you upgrade to a chamber machine.

There's something to it

I had Red Snapper Veracruz in mind for dinner last week for two family overnighters, but the snapper was not fresh (never buy fish on Mondays) so I got a fresh chunk of grouper. I followed the recipe for the tomato sauce save for using a big can of Muir Glen Organic Diced Tomatoes.

It simmered in a large evasee for an hour or so and then tasted OK. OK meaning that it was not too acidic and the cilantro was coming through. I put a lid on the pot and turned the burner off, or so I thought. Four hours later, I popped the lid to discover that the sauce was slowly bubbling up like the lava burps at Yellowstone. The pot had a nice ring around it showing that the sauce had reduced about 20 percent.

Taste time: WOW! No acid--all tomato--all blended spices--serious depth and aftertaste. I thought of the movie GoodFellas and the pot of tomato sauce on the stovetop lovingly attended to all day despite the crises.

I usually don't take the time for this but I will in the future. Lesson relearned.


An advanced thinker described eternity as a couple with a ham.
Even buying a quarter ham leaves one dining alone with thoughts of how to use it up. Fortunately, I like sandwich spreads and often prepare chicken, egg or tuna to pile on good bread with lettuce. Not so much with ham spread. But I got an urging, bought a quarter ham, only to discover that I could not find a recipe that came close to what I had in mind. So here we have Eternity Ham Spread:

Eternity Ham Spread
See Abbreviations, if needed 

1.5 C smoked ham, roughly dice with knife and then pulse in an FP (Cuisinart) to a medium cut (not fine or pasty)
3 T mayo, maybe more
2 T Dijon mustard
6 squirts Tennessee Sunshine or other medium hot pepper sauce
1.5 clove garlic, pureed
2 cloves, broken up and crushed with a heavy knife
1/2 t paprika
1/4 C shallot, finely diced
5 cornichon or gherkin pickles (about 2.5 T), finely diced
2 T red or green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 light shakes of cayenne, TT
1. Process the diced ham and set aside
2. In a bowl, mix together all the other ingredients
3. Add the ham and mix thoroughly
4. Add more mayo if too dry
5. Taste, then hold in fridge

An Enhanced Flavoring Trick

Fine Cooking offered a standard summer corn soup with an added idea. Namely, after cutting off the kernels from the corn cobs, throw the cobs into the pot along with the kernels.
Good idea, since the corn is garden fresh, the cobs are healthful and flavorful. So here is my take on their recipe. The recipe requires that when done the soup should be pureed and then strained through a fine mesh China cap. Well and good if you use a food processor such as the Cuisinart or a stick blender. Instead, I pureed the whole batch of soup in a Vitamix Pro. After a minute or so at high speed the soup was creamy and smooth with nothing left to strain out. (Again, as a safety precaution, always drape a towel over the blender cap when processing hot stuff.) Also, as written, the crab meat garnish calls for more butter, shallots and corn to be prepared, which is a hassle. There's a better way . . . Step 6.

Chilled Corn and Crab Soup
(Serves 4)
See Abbreviations, if needed 

7 ears of fresh corn
4 T butter
2 shallots, sliced
2 C whole milk
1.5 water
2 t salt
5 grinds of pepper corn
1 T lemon juice
8 oz. crabmeat
5 sprigs of fresh chives for garnish, sliced into 1/2" lengths
1. Husk the corn and cut off the kernels from each cob with a sharp paring knife
2. In a large pot, melt the butter and sweat the shallots to translucent
3. Add the corn kernels to the pot, add the milk, warer and S/P, then add the corn cobs (as many as can fit)
4. BTB and then simmer the whole mess until the corn is tender, about 12 minutes (see photo)
5. With sturdy tongs, lift out each cob, rake it down with the back side of your paring knife
and then discard each
6. With a slotted spoon, scoop out 1/3 C of the corn and shallots and set aside for the garnish
7. Puree the hot soup in a food processor or blender and strain if the kernels in the soup are
not completely broken up
8. Place finished soup in a container and fridge until cold
For the garnish:
1. In a small pot, add 1 T of EVOO
2. Add the reserved corn and shallots
3. Heat briefly
4. Off heat, add 1T of lemon juice and S/P to taste
5. Mix, let cool to ambient, then add the crab meat, mix again, taste
On Order:
1. Remove the soup from the fridge and check seasoning for S/P
2 . Serve even portions of soup with even shares of the crab mixture
3 . Dress with the chives

James Beard Foundations's Book of the Year Award Winner

Chef/Owner/Author Michael Solomonov avers that " Israeli food is not a collection of static traditional recipe. It is an idea. Israel is only sixty years old and barely melted pot of cultures from all over the world. There aren"t really Israeli restaurants in Israel . . . there are Bulgarian, Arabic, Georgian restaurants and many more . . .what connects them, what makes them Israeli, is an approach to dining and hospitality that is shaped by a shared experience."

There are more ideas in this cookbook than anything I 've read since Food Lab.

Right off, I got stuck in the first section where Solomonov carries on for forty six pages about tahini, tahini sauce and humas. So convincing was all this that I got on Amazon and ordered a half dozen jars of Zome Tahini, which he raves about, and then went to the store and got a big bag of chickpeas. I've made it twice. It's good beyond anything store bought--not only because it's fresh but also that it contains none of the commercial additives needed to preserve the stuff while on a market shelf. The book offers many variations of basic humas. The humas in the photo is simply dressed with paprika and Agrumoto Lemon EVOO, which pair wonderfully with the humas. The recipe makes a lot of humas so, my favorate neighbors were delighted with presento plates of the stuff along with some pita bread to wipe it up.

Solomonov's chapters on salads, small dishes, rice and meats are especially inventive, inviting and uncomplicated for the experienced home cook.

Award winning ZAHAV and Food Lab, both reviewed on this page, are cookbooks that make significant contributions to the culinary literature. Awards happen every year, but cookbooks like these don't. Both will make fine additions to the libraries of your ambitious grand nieces and nephews.

Solomanov's Humas

Never Say Best, But This is Close

Twenty years ago you could not find an artisanal loaf of bread. Now good bakeries abound and folks wait in line to pay for a great loaf. So too with coffee, tea and EVOO. Not so with high quality kitchenware , which has been available a lot longer. Cooks have been lugging copper pans home from Dehillerin's in Paris for fifty years and are still using them or have since passed them on to their kids--who are still using them. For as long as I have been at it, quality kitchen knives started and ended with Wosthuf and Henckel until maybe ten years ago. Then, along came sushi and sushi chefs. Japanese knives came into favor among american chefs and home cooks. Their popularity has spread to the significant degree that forged and beautifully crafted knives by Shun and others are widely available at Sur la Table and Williams Sonoma.

Now, most recently, limited production, hand made knives from Japan are sought after. Most desirable are knives made one at a time by named craftsmen in their own shops. Here we have a chef's knife ("gyutou") made by Itsuo Doi that to my experienced eye reaches the highest level of industrial art. Doi-san forges this knife from blue steel, then adds carbon cladding, finishes the blade wonderfully, sharpens it on both sides, adds an ebony handle with a sterling silver band and then etches it with his signature. It weighs in at 9 ounces, a bit lighter than the Wosthuf chef's knife also shown for comparison but a bit heavier than most other Japanese knives of its type. (Of note: the top angled, beveled edge appears sharpened but is not.) Cost? I invite you to visit where you will enjoy looking for it.)

I can't stop using this knife; I'm even slicing cherry tomatoes with it. I won't argue the merits of these hand made forged knives over production forged knives, save that they are perfectly balanced in the hand, a pleasure to cut with, do a better job (cut an onion and not tear up) and are visually striking in every detail. All of this and more. There is something unique, apart and ethereal about the Doi.

"Ain't nothin like it."

(BTW, The same hand forged knife tradition thrives in the USA, where high quality knives are popular and collectable. For example, W. D. Randal and sons have made fine knives for 70 years. I bought my first Randal knife in 1948--waited nine months to get it and paid $95 for it (a lot of money then and for a kid in the 8th grade). They're still making them for about $600 and delivery still takes nine months!)

This Cookbook is Not a Primer

Lots of cookbooks dedicated to braising, roasting and grilling. Most of them more thorough than this one. What's attractive here is that Justin Smillie presents balanced dishes--entre plus sides. For example, it will be fun to prepare his signature dish: Peppercorn-Crusted Short Ribs over a Celery, Olive, Horseradish and Toasted Walnut Salad.

His basic cooking technique is to prepare dishes in series, that is ". . . to lavish extra care in certain places along the way." That's a hallmark of French cooking, namely paying attention to each ingredient, its preparation and timely addition to the dish. He's good at this with seventeen dishes to braise, roast and grill--along with sides, which include their own sides of dressing, sauces and the like. Nice.

He braises oxtail, pork shanks and lamb shoulder, then roasts beef, fish and poultry and grills sausages, quail and a whole pig--each attended by sides selected to complement the whole mess. Smillie loves anchovies, compound butters, creme fraiche, and veggies slow cooked. He brines all his meats, cooks in cast iron and browns everything. What's not to like?

Experienced home cooks that favor Mediterranean cooking, cherish heavy pots and pans and know all about the Maillard Reaction will find this book very attractive and a substantive addition to their library.

Roasted Game Hens Mediterranean Revisited

Supper market game hens are large enough to split--one bird serves two. If you have a source for "well husbanded"
poultry--where slow growth is the rule--birds will be smaller, more tender and tastier. (See photo.)
So, make this recipe with five split or five whole birds. Plenty of sauce to add a bird or two.

(Serves 10 (split) or 5 (whole)
See Abbreviations, if needed 

• 5 game hens split w/ backbone removed, or five whole smaller birds
• 4oz EVOO
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 4T oregano
• 1C prunes, pitted
• 1C dried apricots
• 1/3C pitted and sliced green or black olives
• 1/3C capers
• 1/3C pickled lemons, seeded (if you can find them at a Middle East store)
• 8 bay leaves
• 1/3C brown sugar
• 4T chopped Italian parsley
• 1C RWV
• 1C WW
• S/P

1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except hens and white wine, and mix well
2. Cover and refrigerate overnight
3. Next day, split hens (if large), rub them w/ S/P
4. Grill or sauté the hens to brown the skin and then set aside
5. Preheat oven to 350F
6. Add the white wine to the roasting sauce
7. Arrange hens in roaster, spoon over marinade
8. Roast for 60 minutes and check temp for doneness
9. Roast another 30 minutes until birds are above 165F, AND the meat is tender (don't undercook the birds)
10. When ready, remove roaster from oven and skim off any fat appearing at the edges of the roaster
11. Place each bird on a heated plate and add a generous portion of fruited sauce. Top w/ parsley
12. Serve remaining sauce in a heated gravy boat

BREAKING NEWS: The Food Lab won IACP's Cookbook of the Year award and James Beard Foundation's General Cooking award for 2016.

The Latest "Science of Cooking" Book With Much Much More (Revised)

In the bibliography, you'll find the works of Harold McGee, Shirley Corriher, Robert Wolke and Nathan Myhrvold along with brief reviews.

The saying goes "if you can read you can cook." True enough, but cooking by rote has limitations--soon reached. Exploring the science of cooking is educational as well as entertaining and discoveries pay off, big time. Here we have a book longer on techniques, good cooking practices, good recipes, good photos and informed commentary than on in-depth science of cooking. Therein lies it's approachability and its relevance.

The Food Lab is a significant contribution to the culinary literature. Here's why:

It's a wonderfully eclectic tome on the culinary arts with just the right amounts of McGee et al, along with essential info on the home kitchen, pantry, its tools and equipment. It's what Lopez-Alt leaves out of this book or treats briefly that makes it so readable. The index is telling: 20 entries on garlic, 60 on eggs, 158 entries on beef and as many on poultry. Lots of pork, some lamb, one fish, no veal, no pastry, no desserts, no TexMex but a good chili. I especially applaud Lopez-Alt's knife skill tutorials that attend the text from front to back. Kenji also loves force meats. His section on how to cook and grill sausages is inspired, as is the long section on eggs and everything attending them at breakfast. His ten page treatise on The All American Meat Loaf, complete with photos, analysis and commentary, is alone worth the price of the book. I made it following Kenji's recipe. I don't remember ever making a better meat loaf. I've trashed my old meat loaf recipes! His analysis of asparagus pee is also a must read. Otherwise, he could have skipped sous vide as it is not a beginner's cooking method but, if done, should be done with a sous vide circulator or not done at all.

The book weighs in at 6.86 Lbs with high quality paper, good photos (his own) and a binding that lays flat when opened on the countertop. Kenji Lopez-Alt, is an author and contributor to The Food Lab series of articles on the Web site Serious Eats. There he has a large following who've waited five years for the publication of this book. I've never heard of guy but I'm delighted to have met him now!

Think of this cookbook as an all in one primer for home cooks with enough experience to have caught the culinary bug and who are determined now to cook smarter and expand their repertoire.

The Food Lab is a shoo-in for an IACP and James Beard Cookbook Award.

Hoosier Mama Pie Company in Chicago: One of the best . . .

My niece's husband in Milwaukee makes seriously good pies--all with crusts that confirm that he "knows". He recently bought this book, was impressed with it and insisted that I buy it and start baking pies again). Paula Haney "knows" pies: She was a former pastry chef in high end restaurants before opening her hole-in-the-wall pie store in Chicago. Not surprisingly, she starts out with 32 pages devoted to demystifying the black art of making proper pie crusts, complete with lots of photos, a "dough cheat sheet" and "Pie Dough Trouble Shooting Guide." (I'm doing a table for eight next week and can't wait to make a crust following her recipes and advice. The book then includes all the traditional pies and much more. Since we can assume that every pie in the book is sold at her shop, it should not be chancy to try the Vinegar Chess Pie, the Amish Funeral Pie, the French Onion Soup Pie or maybe the Ratatouille Hand Pie. Formats include the traditional single and double crust pies, turnovers, quiches and hand pies. Fillings go from creams, custards and curds to veggies, poultry and sausages. Haney concludes the book with an delightful, eclectic and informative chapter of "sub recipes" that stretch from Candied Pecans to Ras El Hanout to Bratwursts to Home Chicken Stock!

This book is a fun read. Stuffed with promising recipes with good professional advise--all by an experienced chef/author devoted to the task.

Thick Pork Chops


Costco had a tray of five thick boneless pork chops at a very good price, so I got them, vacuum sealed them and have been gnawing on them for awhile. I over cooked the first one as they get done far more quickly than one would think, given their thickness. I started by browning a sliced shallot, setting it aside while browning the chop in a La Cuisine casserole. For the sauce, I found an old can of celery soup with a best buy date of 2014. To that I added a quarter cup of chicken broth, a generous tablespoon of Vadouvan (French 'Masa La Curry'-- a mild curry powder that has got some press lately. I like it and have been using it for years), and a generous teaspoon of garam masala (a highly aromatic Indian spice mix that tells all the neighbors that you are preparing curry tonight). Then mixed the onions into the sauce and added it to the casserole. When baked at 375F, the pork was done in about 15 minutes. I watched the meat temperature carefully and took it out at 145F.
Nice easy dish, served with a little Patak's Major Grey Chutney and a slice of lime.

Another Night's Repast

Light dinner tonight: Here we have, on the right of the photo ,a tossed salad with a cheese and creamed dressing and four large shrimp, which were poached in chicken broth.
On the left is a nice portion of a Greek pasta salad from the deli, with a few cherry tomatoes added.

Nice dish.

BTW, there are a lot of bottled salad dressings on the market. I have found that the high end ones have, as a rule, admirably en tense favors--so en tense they're also often labeled as dips. But there's opportunity here: Buy a bottle of the stuff, open it, pour out a generous dollop and taste it. Too thick? Add some rice vinegar. Not complex enough? Add some dijon mustard or a spice. Then always add some fresh ground pepper and you have an in-a-hurry salad dressing that is seriously good.

But wait there's more: Since you paid too much for the stuff, your additions add volume to give you more for the buck!.

Last Night's Repast

If red snapper is not my favorite fish, it's close. It started with Red Snapper Veracruz, which I've favored for decades. But last night, another tomato sauce'd fish was not going to happen. Instead: I looked in the pantry to find a huge jar of fire roasted whole red peppers and in the fridge a fresh jar of capers, drained and refreshed as described lower down on this page.

So, here's how:

In a small skillet, make a simple sauce with the peppers, capers and a tablespoon of unsalted butter--simmer for awhile (don't burn) and then hold on the stove top. Meanwhile, trim and skin (optional) the red snapper fillet. Season it with a spice medley. This time with one called Japanese Seven Spices (orange peel, sesame seeds, cayenne, ginger, pepper and nori [dried seaweed] and salt--available from The Spice House and Penseys. But any spice medley you happen to have will do (herbes de Provence, fines herbes, Mexican, Italian).

Then, in another skillet, saute the seasoned red snapper fillet in oil over medium high heat for about eight minutes, turned once.

You now have two skillets on the stove top: one with the butter sauce and the other with the red snapper. Here's the trick: When the red snapper is done, re-fire the sauce skillet and then transfer the fish to the sauce skillet, leaving behind all the saute oil, which has died for the cause.

When ready, transfer fish and the sauce to a heated plate.

A Good Vinegar-based Slaw With Heat

The Washington Post, in their food section today, had a slaw recipe to go with a pulled pork article. They took it from a Jim Shahin, a culinary columnist. It looked good so I made it with three modifications: I never use distilled vinegar in food except to crowd poached egg whites, otherwise it's always rice vinegar, white or red wine vinegar. I don't stock Tabasco but buy Tennessee Sunshine by the case. I added radicchio for color and sharpness.
You will need a shredder or better yet your Cuisinart with a thin slice blade for the cabbage and medium shredder blade for the other veggies.

So here's how:

Alabama Style Slaw
Serves 8 to 10
1/2 medium green cabbage, cored and slicer processed
1 small radicchio, cored and slicer processed
2 medium carrots, shredder processed
1 small red onion or large shallot, shredder processed
1 green pepper, shredder processed
1/2 C French's yellow mustard
1/4 C dark brown sugar, or light if it's all you got
1 t salt
10 grinds of fresh ground pepper
2 t Tennessee Sunshine or 1 t Tabasco
1. Toss the first five ingredients and the mustard thoroughly in a large bowl
2. Place the sugar, salt, pepper and hot sauce into a small saucepan
3. Stir and heat the dressing until hot but not boiling
4. Taste and adjust
5. Pour the heated dressing over the slaw and toss thoroughly
6. Serve ambient or slightly chilled
7. Store in the fridge

Here's The Idea . . .

Cocktails and The Big Game for eight. As excitement rises, someone surely picks up the wrong glass. Annoying to all, really annoying to some.
The solution: set out eight different wine glasses. Looks great, draws comments and puts potential miscreants (usually me) on guard.
Anyhow, wine glasses break and it was time to restock.
Sur la Table had five nice ones at low cost. Williams Sonoma had the glass front left for a bit more and the others are old reliables.

Standup Potato Gratin

Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of The Food Lab, profiled below, has this great idea for presenting potatoes gratin. It's different, attractive and promotes better baked slices. So, here is my standup potato gratin:

Stand Up Potatoes Gratin
Yield: 2 servings

• 1 pad    butter
• 6 oz     half and half or 2% milk with creme fraiche added (4 parts milk to :2 parts creme fraiche)
• 1/3 C  grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano or cheddar
• 1         garlic cloves chopped or pureed
• 6        medium to small red potatoes, skin on
•  S/P

1. Butter a straight sided ramekin or pan (a 5.5" copper ramekin, is shown above)
2. In a bowl or container suitable for a whisk or stick blender, add garlic, salt (quite a lot), pepper, cheese and cream
3. Whisk all thoroughly or use a stick blender, then transfer mixture to a large bowl
4 . Slice the potatoes thinly with a mandoline or knife and place them in the large bowl
5. With your hands, toss the potato slices until every slice is well coated
6. Holding the ramekin at an angle, layer in the potato slices vertically, packing them tightly
7. Drizzle in the re-stirred cream mixture to fill the ramekin almost to the top
8. Reserve the rest of the cream mixture
9. Cover the ramekin with foil and bake at 400F for about 45 minutes (Use tray since tamekin will bubble over a bit)
10. Remove the ramekin from the oven and remove the foil
11. Drizzle in some more of the re-stirred cream mixture (if there is room)
12. Return the ramekin to the oven and bake, uncovered for another 20 minutes until potato slices
are fork tender (be sure about this--nothing worse than an underdone potato)
13. Optional, when potatoes are done, turn on the broiler and brown the tops nicely, as shown
Note: Leftovers? Fry 'em up for breakfast with eggs

Do You Need An Infrared Thermometer?

An infrared thermometer (IRT) measures the amount of infrared energy radiated by the surface of the target it's pointed at. If you fry a lot, an IRT is quite useful. The usual way to determine if a skillet is hot enough to brown a steak, for example, is to wave a hand over it and guess, or dash a few drops of water on the dry surface to see if they dance on their own steam. If that is not accurate enough, or you're worried about non stick coatings, or you're living in the California draught where spare drops of water are hard to come by, an IRT will tell you in an instant the precise temperature of the skillet surface or the surface temperature of anything in the kitchen or beyond (your cooking oil or baby's bath water, for example).

Sous vide is the only way I do thick steaks and lamb chops. However, when done, they come out of the vacuum bag gray in color, un-browned. Standing by for the task is a cast iron skillet. Heat the skillet until the IRT reads 450F and slide the meat into it for quick browning. In time, as I keep score, I will determine with the IRT, the optimum browning temperature for steaks and chops, whereby they brown quick and deep without re-cooking the meat within. (I think that temperature is well north of 450F.) Now, regarding non stick skillets: it is accepted that non stick coatings, Teflon and the like, are stable at temperatures below 600F, some say 500F. Rather than throw out your non stick pans, buy and use an IRT and get over the anxiety.

This model is manufactured by Fluke, a very respected company. It cost about $90. They can be had for a little as $20 or much much more.

A Japanese Hybrid Vegetable Knife

Pictured above are two fine Japanese kitchen knives. On top is a "santoku" a Japanese chef's knife. At the bottom is a "nakiri" a Japanese vegetable knife. The santoku has gained wide popularity in the West over the past twenty years. I bought this one in Yokosuka, Japan in 1977 solely on the advise of the knife store owner (I didn't know what it was). At about the same time at the same store, I bought a "nakiri" (again not knowing much about it). While the santoku has been in constant use over the years, the nakiri sat in the drawer (I finally gave it to a starving nephew). While I liked its broad blade, I didn't like the flat cutting edge, which is, or at least was at the time, the traditional shape of nakiris. Perforce, it was only good for chopping.

Now comes along a hybrid nakiri with the same broad blade for chopping but with a slightly curved cutting edge, which enables it to be rocked a little like a santoku. The blades on both of these knives are 7" long and both begin to curve up 6" from the tip. However, the santoku curves up 3/4 of an inch, raising the tip to enable rocking/slicing motion used to cut. This nakiri curves up only 3/8 of an inch raising the tip slightly but enough that the knife can be used for more than chopping veggies.

I'm all in for this new knife. I got it from Chubo knives ( Chubo offers an impressive selection of fine Japanese knives most all in stock, which is unusual for knife vendors. This nakiri is hand forged and finished by a third generation blacksmith, Shosui Takeda. It is made from hard carbon steel, clad with stainless steel, I have another of his knives as shown far down on this page. The strengths of this type of knife are light weight, fine balance and sharpness. Their weakness is high price and higher maintenance. Like a Lamborgini, which needs shop care more often than a Ford.

By The Way . . . Cherry tomatoes are in, whole ones are out

I've grown to prefer cherry tomatoes over the big ones, which I rarely buy anymore. Here's why: They always taste good, even in winter. They keep well. They're all red with no white veins, but a little less juicy. They're versatile--with a little knife work they look great in salads, fit nicely on hamburger patties, pop into the Vitamix blender and they dice neatly. They make a great amuse-bouche (see way down on this page). Oh, and there is less waste (no Saran wrapped half cut tomatoes lost in the fridge for a week.

Try 'em--you'll like 'em.

Last Night's Repast

The Balducci Market makes a nice Orzo Greek Salad with strips of mystery sausage, olives and feta chese. Bob Nueske makes great smoked brats (though I think the casings he uses come from Under Armor). This is a quickie: Take the orzo salad out early and let warm to ambient. Skin the brats and saute in oil to 165F. Plate and garnish with pepperoni. Enjoy with a glass of zinfandel.

Last Night's Repast
Salsa Fettuccini with Shrimp and Kicker Garnish

Balducci's, our local high end grocery store, prepares a very good, very spicy fresh salsa every Friday. I get it about twice a month, scoop it up on chips for two days and then use what's left (more than half) as sauce for pasta. It turned out particularly good last night since I added kicker garnish! Here's how:

In a medium pot, bring beer, chicken broth or water to a boil. Add peeled shrimp, bring back to boil, cut the heat and cover for 45 to 120 seconds depending on the size of the shrimp. When pink and just barely done, remove shrimp from pot to colander and chill shock under cold running water, then set aside.

Boil the pasta in salted water, check for doneness, remove from heat, drain into colander and set aside.

For garnish: Have some grated Parmigiano Reggiano ready. Cut some strips of prosciutto di Parma or prosciutto de San Daniele (used here) into nice one inch squares.

When ready, place the salsa in a skillet, add medium heat, add the shrimp, add the pasta and then toss or fold thoroughly but briefly over high heat. Add some fresh ground pepper (no salt).

Place all in a heated pasta serving bowl. Add the grated cheese. Add the prosciutto.

Serve immediately.

Note: The salsa and prosciutto make the dish! I will serve this to friends soon and add it to the recipe file. It's that good.

A Cheese Plate For Dessert At Home? Why not?

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

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

Cast Iron Skillets: Try Them Again for the First Time

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Non-stick Iron Skillets From Japan

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

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

Osso Buco

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

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

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

Osso Buco Maghreb.
See Abbreviations, if needed 
Serves four

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

What a Pleasant Surprise . . .

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

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

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

Try it, you'll like it!

Universal Lids

If the frying pan, chef's pan or pot your looking for comes with a fitted lid at no extra cost, then OK--buy it. If the lid costs extra, don't buy the lid. Truth be told, lids are not needed very often. You won't find many in a commercial kitchen and you don't need many at home--certainly not for every pot and pan. Nonetheless, over the years, you've probably acquired a kitchen drawer full of pot lids, seldom used. You only need fitted lids for your double boiler, ricer, popper and Dutch oven, but that's about it. Toss the rest, but if you still feel the need, get a couple universal lids that fit all your pans
I got the copper lid, in the photo, with a heavy cast iron handle at Dehillerin's in Paris about 45 years ago and have not seen one like it since. But maybe they're coming back in popularity. All-Clad has just come ut 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.
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 fter two hours of braising to reheat them and to impart a glaze to the barbecue sauce. Try it if you like, but the braised ribs are already falling off the bone and moving the racks to the grill without breaking them will prove very difficult. It's not worth it. Instead, finish racks uncovered for the last half hour to dry them out a bit and make them table sauce receptive. 

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

2      racks of baby back pork ribs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having spooned your selections at the olive bar into a deli container, bring them home and dump them all in a colander. Spray wash them thoroughly with luke warm water and put them in a fresh container. Then add a tablespoon or so of your best EVOO. Toss and enjoy. You will taste a big difference. So too, I found about a year ago with capers. I get the big jar from Costco, dump them into the colander, wash off the inegar, 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--ustardy 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.

Zesters and Graters Get Dull Too 

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Beautiful Non-stick Iron Skillets From Japan


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

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

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

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

One Avocado Guacamole (Rev)

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

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

Most recipes call for three avocados, which is OK for a crowd (see photo above = a lot of guacamole). The problem is that avocado flesh discolors rapidly, so guacamole keeps for hours, not days. On the

proven theory that it is easier to enlarge a recipe than to cut it, here is a my one avocado guacamole recipe.

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

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

1/2 fresh jalapeno, serranos or cow horn chile pepper
3T white onion or shallot or spring onion, finely chopped
1/4C ripe tomato, red part only, skinned and finely chopped
1 ripe Hass avocado

1.5T fresh lime juice
1 generous pinch of salt
3T cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 dusting of cayenne
1. Roast the chile pepper directly over a gas burner or in a hot dry pan, when cool, scrape off the charred parts
slice open and strip out the white and seeds, then finely chop half of it and place in the molcajete or bowl
2. Finely chop the onion and place in bowl
3. Remove the white lines from the tomato flesh and chop the rest into small bits and add to bowl
4. Scoop out the flesh from the avocado and add to bowl


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 an internet company that markets Japanese kitchenware from Chubo has an attractive and informative Web site featuring all Japanese knife types from the finest manufacturers. Their knives are in stock (in Japan) and shipping service is fast (about five days).

Another Smoke Book

Awhile back, we profiled Seven Fires Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann, a French trained Argentine. I found that book rather far out but with some interesting recipes. So too with SMOKE. Both these chefs, upon hearing a fire engine, might rush in behind it--not to help put the fire out but rather to cook on it. Smoke won the James Beard Foundation Cookbook award for general cooking. However, there is not much 'general" about this book save for some great spice mixtures, marmalades, pickles and salsas in the first chapter. The rest of the book is quite like Seven Fires only far more cook friendly, instructional and ambitious while using familiar cuts. It's a beautiful cookbook with heavy paper and great photos.

Most all of the recipes can be prepared on most any charcoal grill or in smokers like Weber's 'Bullet' or The Green Egg. If you have a grandson that wants to get into outdoor big fire smoke cookery. This is the starter book: educational, practical and entertaining. Hardest part thereafter will be finding a well-husbanded whole pig to roast and then sixty people to help eat it.

Kitchen Chopsticks

I grew to admire much of Japanese art, furniture, artifacts and culture over forty years of visiting the country while in the navy and later on business. I've acquired tonsus, hibachi pots, imari dishware, pagodas, ikats, tapestries, woodblock prints, ceramics, woodworking tools, kitchen knives and chopsticks. (Art galleries and hardware stores in Japan are like no others. I don't recall ever walking by one without going in.)

Chopsticks for kitchen use are long and sturdy. I find them useful to turn over small pieces in a hot skillet, such as shrimp or lardons of bacon and ham. They're also handy for tossing salads, extracting olives and other round things from narrow jars, and managing the shabu shabu pot for your guests. In the photo, the second from left chopsticks, with black handles and delicate steel shanks tapered to a fine point, are called plating chopsticks. They have been used for years in Japan for plating sashimi moribashi and quite recently by american chefs to fine tune plate presentations immediately before serving---arranging salad leaves just right or placing a single pomegranate seed precisely where it belongs or grasping a flake of prosciutto and lapping it over the pineapple in the amuse-bouche featured on this page below.

Yes, plating tongs work as well and are easier to use. But less fun.

Good Cooking Refinements (Revisited)


Over the holidays, we were invited to a spaghetti dinner prepared by one of the guests who loves to cook and is good at it. I stayed clear of the kitchen until called in at the last minute to make an emergency salad dressing. Our cook for the evening was just finishing making his tomato sauce with Italian sausage that he constructed lovingly and simmered long and slow. A side glance at the pot and a distant sniff suggested a promising deep red sauce. “Skim off the fat and it'll be great,” I said to myself. But the cook gave it all a good stir and poured the sauce over the steaming pasta. It was good, a fine dish.

It would have been cleaner on the palette, better tasting (more complex) and more healthful if he had skimmed off the fat, which mostly came from the Italian sausage.

Stocks, soups, sauces, chilies con carne, meat loaves—just about every product that's cooked long and slow (simmered, roasted or braised) should be skimmed of discolor and fats. It doesn't take all that long. Your seasonings will then come through. The food will look better and be better for you.


Awhile back, I put together a pork tenderloin roast at my sister's house as dinner for eight. Her husband was in and out of the kitchen watching the proceedings. He loves veggies and commented that the carrots, onions and celery I sautéed in the roasting pan were sure going to taste good. An hour later, the roast was on the table along with a salad, baked potatoes and sautéed green beans. "Hey this is great, especially the gravy," raved my brother in law, ". . . but what happened to the carrots and onions? My sister preempted my reply with "they're is the sauce, dear," She knew that because, earlier, I opened every drawer and cupboard in her kitchen looking for a strainer.

The strainers in the photo take up a lot of storage space but they're needed. Straining cooked liquids serves two purposes. The first is to remove ingredients added to impart flavors and never intended to be on the table. Veggies, herbs, bones, tough meats that get cooked to death and fall apart in the process. Having served honorably in the pot and given their all for an hour or two they have got to go. That's how stocks and sauces are made. Also, it is best to strain cooked liquids before reducing them over high heat to a desired consistency, if that is what you have in mind. When you know that you are going to strain what is in the pot, you can save time in the preparation. No need to pluck leaves off of fresh thyme or parsley branches. Toss them in whole (yes, they are a little stronger) and stain them out later. Chop veggies rough and quick and toss them in.

Straining serves a second purpose. Namely, to refine the texture and thickness of soups. our 'country soup' or French 'soupe' is served with chunks of food, unstrained. At the other extreme, is a consommé, so finely skimmed and strained that you can read the date of a coin at the bottom of the pot. Other soups are strained more or less to relieve the pallet of too much coarseness, fiber or calories. Vichyssoise, Cream of Cucumber, Butternut Squash and Roasted Tomatillo soups are better if some of the bulk is strained out. If you plan on straining a soup, be sure to make enough of it. You will lose volume. That is why consommé is the most expensive soup on the menu and why rich smooth bisques cost more than their country cousins.


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

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


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


Just as a takes time to heat a product hot enough to cook it, it takes time to remove heat and stop the cooking process.

For example, Shrimp need to be cooked just right. The difference between underdone and overdone shrimp is less than 30 seconds. Worse still, they will continue to cook when removed from heat and let to rest on the cutting board. Whatever the degree of desired doneness, it will be long gone if the shrimp aren't served immediately or cooled quickly when taken off heat. So, if shrimp are to be prepared ahead of time they must be chilled in an ice bath for a few minutes and then drained and held for cold service or for reheating later.

So too with veggies. Pigmentations in veggies are altered during the cooking process. While carrots and tomatoes lose little color, spinach, asparagus and broccoli lose a lot of their chlorophyll pigmentation. When preparing veggies ahead of time, whether blanched, boiled or steamed, they will retain their color and degree of doneness if placed in an ice bath for a few minutes and then drained and held. This is not a “nice-to-do-if- I-have-time” thing. When I prep green veggies, an ice bath is always prepared as soon as the water boils.

Another essential use of ice baths is to retard discoloration of raw fruits and veggies that are cut and exposed to air. The phenolic compounds in raw potatoes, apples, eggplants, bananas and avocados will quickly oxidize and turn brown or gray unless the product is held in cool water—sometimes with a little lemon juice added for fruits.

So, if you have chomped through a tough shrimp in a cold salad, tried to pick up a limp spear of asparagus, spied brown apple slices in the pie, cringed at the sight of gray-brown guacamole or off white potato slices in the German potato salad, you know the problem and now know the solution.

Can't cook without ice? Who'd thunk . . .

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!

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 ater 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!

How to Sharpen Serrated Knives 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
worth the effort, 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 soThe two knives on the left are from Japan. The three on the right are from Germany by Wüsthof, a very well known brand worldwide. On the far left is a long wood handled knife hand forged and finished by Shosui Takeda, a third generation blacksmith in Okayama Japan. It is not as sturdy and therefore not as practical s the others but it is beautiful, amazingly sharp and agile. It's the Ferrari of paring knives with a price to match. Next on the left is a western st lye paring knife by Nenox, more nicely finished and with arguably better steel and better edge than the Wüsthof's. The center knife is your essential paring knife--what Julia Childs had in mind. You gotta have one. Next is a serrated paring knife--great for slicing bagels and buns and opening boxes large and small. I use this knife a lot and know how to keep it sharp (see the article lower down on this page). The knife on the far right is a "parrot's beak" designed for peeling potatoes, apples, pineapples, etc. Works wonderfully but it is tricky to sharpen its curved edge. me 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.



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