GeezerGourmet.com 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
Pepper the Poodle is at the
"We're all gathered up and waiting . . ."
Sigh . . .
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
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
• 1/3 C grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano or cheddar
• 1 garlic
cloves chopped or pureed
• 6 medium to
small red potatoes, skin on
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
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
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
(chubuknives.com). Chubu 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
By The Way . . . .
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
Place all in a heated pasta serving bowl. Add the grated
cheese. Add the prosciutto.
Note: The salsa and prosciutto make the dish! I will serve
this to friends soon and add it to the recipe file. It's
The Latest "Science
of Cooking" Book With Much Much More
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 analysis of asparagus pee
is 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
a James Beard Cookbook Award.
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 finexusa.com.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
17. A la minute, add the olives
18. Place osso buco shanks on heated plates and dress with
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!
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.
Spanakopita is not just
an hors d'oeuvre
(sauteed spinach, onion and feta cheese in phyllo) are
a hassle to make but are usually available in upscale market
freezer sections. And they're quite good. Just pop a few
in the oven and they're ready to go in 20 minutes or so.
They're great as a hors d'oeuvre, but they serve equally
well as a veggie side to fish or pork. Here, five of them
are guarding fillets of halibut. A nice combination.
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 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
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 2C+
apple 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 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
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 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.
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 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 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!
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
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.