Halloween starter-Buttermilk Pancakes and Pan Roasted Lady Apples

31 10 2009

Halloween. Start of a fun weekend, and here’s a great way to get it going with a bit of a fall flair. For breakfast or brunch try these hotcakes. I really like Alton Brown’s Instant Pancake recipe (available at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/instant-pancake-mix-recipe/index.html). It keeps for several months, is easy to use and follows the ratio guideline as espoused by Michael Ruhlman (2 cups instant mix; 2 cups butter milk; 2 eggs; 4 tbsp butter-everything is 1:1 except the butter which is 1:2; simple the way I like it early in the morning). The batter makes absolutely delicious pancakes and you can top them with anything. I used some recently purchased lady apples and pan roasted them with a little butter, raw sugar and pumpkin pie spice. Along with the perfectly brewed coffee (see last week’s post) it will get you Holiday weekend off to the right start.

It’s a Dead Chef Party

30 10 2009

Doctober is drawing to a close. Thus as Doctoberfest fades, we gather round the pyre one last time as both Halloween and The Day of the Dead arrive.  Halloween, or Samhain which can be traced back to at least to Celtic times, was originally about keeping some distance between the spirits and us. The Day of the Dead, which can be found as far back as the Ancient Maya in Central America, was about welcoming and connecting with the Spirits. Regardless, it seems this time of year is celebrated as a thinning of the veil between worlds. It is especially at this time of the year I like cook with some of my best kitchen mates. They are great chefs, and they happen to be dead. What I like to do is put together a menu featuring the recipes of some great chefs and follow those recipes to the letter. The only prerequisite is that the chef be deceased. You cannot use the recipes or inspiration of any of these current TV celebrity chefs even if it is clear that their palate died long ago. So, if you are planning a Halloween or Day of the Dead soirée it can be great fun to search and plan a Dead Chef Menu. Here’s an example:

Dead Chef Menu

Appetizer: Steak Tartare (James Beard-The James Beard Cookbook)

Main Course: Coq a Vin-Chicken in Red Wine Sauce-(Julia Child-use the recipe in Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, not the Mastering the Art of French Cooking tome)

Dessert: Poires Bell Helene-Poached Pears- (Friedman Paul Erhardt also known as “Chef Tell” and inspiration for The Swedish Chef of Muppet fame; recipe at http://www.mbctv.com/cheftell/desserts.html)

Whether you wish to keep the ghost of John Hess (NYT food critic) at bay or banter with the banshees it’s a fun party. From my perspective, personally, I always keep the inspirational spirits close to me when I cook, sometimes I even put the wine in the food.

How Whoppers and Windows will save The United States

26 10 2009

A good friend sent me an email to catch up on the CBS Morning Show featuring Dr. David Kessler, former head of the FDA. Those annoying emergencies had got in the way, but I got the web re-cap (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/25/sunday/main5419299.shtml)  later in the day. Dr. Kessler discussed the topics he has written about in his new book; The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. It is a great book (which I heartily recommend-yes, sleep deprived pun intended). You can hit the details in the references page over on the sidebar. I think the book is a good read, and I certainly agree with the content for the most part. The basic argument goes something along the lines that Americans are fed sugar, fat, and salt; the new culinary Axis of Evil according to the report. These are addictive substances, so we crave more. The Food Industry continues to supply us what we want creating a vicious cycle of dependency and resultant poor health. The basic hook and snag business plan of any good neighborhood dealer.

I thought this was great, the Good Doctor being given time in the media to educate us and help us break these chains of bondage; an Angel of Intervention. This is what the people need to hear, a truth I’ve been trying to speak about as well. These are great strides in public education, I thought. Excited I moved right on to the next article: Deep-Frying Is Where the Magic Happens (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/25/sunday/main5419975.shtml).

Are you kidding me?

Not only was the article about taking golden fried goodness beyond any sane extreme, it actually spoke about deep fried butter. I am writing it again because I realize you probably will need to re-read it, thinking there’s a mistake there. No mistake, they are really producing deep fried butter. If that makes you hungry, just wash it down with a deep fried Coke. Yes, really. In case the fat and salt of the deep fried butter left you needing the sugar fix for complete balance (if you put all three components together in the right way you can get a Food Pyramid-or an immediate coronary). This is totally beyond schizoid, it’s like trying to get Tommy Chong to quit pot while performing the intervention in an Amsterdam coffee house. Perhaps, I sulked, this was the Mayan Pyramid of Doom destined to destroy America by 2012. For the love of God, it could not get worse.

Then I read this: Burger King Japan and the 7-patty Whopper burger.

This must be a joke. Let’s see, it is not April and then there is circumstantial evidence:


Thinking this had to be a web hoax I performed a quick bit of detective work with my contacts in Japan. The horror was confirmed as true. But why, I asked myself, on a day which started out with a glimmer of hope for America (cue patriotic music here), we not only laid the groundwork for our own deep fried demise, but proudly exported  means to allow the rest of the industrialized world to duplicate our current and ever increasing assets. Somehow my brain could not wrap around (probably because of his large assets) the idea that this was being led by the smartest guy on the planet (well, at least the richest). Then, unto like a vision from the Lord, (cue angelic choir music here) all was revealed! This was a brilliant, unstoppable plan to fix the US economy, eliminate US greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the need for US Healthcare reform and restore our international standing as The Number 1 country. In fact, I am sure now that the entire TARP bailout and all the healthcare reform ballyhoo was simply a cleverly designed ruse to get Bill Gates to sell burgers. Why? Simple, like Dr. Evil, only Bill Gates has the money and reach to execute this master plan. With the US economy, international standing, the real estate market and the value of the dollar crashing the government had to recruit the only guy who could fix it. If this economy were a patient in the ICU we’d be withdrawing the life support. The US population is obese, healthcare is a mess and global warming threatens to drown all of us less than 40×40 cubits (not a lot of us-see Deep-Frying Is Where the Magic Happens for details). Motivating Bill by the threat of government interference/control from any company “too big to fail” (really, who’s bigger than Microsoft?), Bill has taken over tech support himself and brought us back from the brink of the blue screen of death (Mac users, call a PC friend to clarify reference). All this with the help of The King. But how?  Well, follow along; the story goes something like this.

  • Cattle are responsible for a large portion of the methane contributing to Greenhouse emissions. The United States has a lot of cattle. Kill them all now and make hamburger. Sell a 7 patty burger for about 8 bucks so even the sweat shop kids in China can buy one. This single burger comes in at over 2500 calories (without a supersize fry and Coke). This is roughly the entire daily caloric intake for an average male. I am sad to tell you this part I am actually not making up. Sell it overseas, not available in the US. Link it worldwide to the Windows 7 launch (a 666 burger would have been way to obvious-you notice there was no Windows 6) so it appears totally innocuous. Given the low price and addictive nature of this beast it creates such a demand for 7 patty burgers that cattle become extinct, being all sold by greedy people for burgers. US greenhouse emissions will plummet. The price of the hamburger at home will skyrocket and in the US no one will be able to afford to eat them. People will eat cheap veggie burgers from the unused feed.
  • It starts in Japan for “7 days” as currently advertised. The program is such a hit it is other nations clamor for inclusion and it is offered worldwide-and expanded to 7 weeks.
  • The populations of the other countries consume our”sleeper burgers”. With more than full day’s calories in each one, after you eat it you can’t help but fall asleep. This is good because if the workers are sleep after consuming the burgers, they will fail to realize Windows 7 is no better than Vista. Without the flood of tech support calls, Bill gets all the burger subsidy money back by not having to send it to India. Worker productivity in all the other countries drops off. The result: the US has the most productive economy in the industrialized world.
  • Consuming the equivalent of almost 2 pounds of meat the intestinal equivalent of the attack of the flying monkeys ensues. Workers worldwide will call in ill for weeks after the promotion ends, too embarrassed to return to work after they had fallen asleep at their cubicle and crapped their pants. International productivity is now irrevocably in the pooper and second to the US. Emissions of gas skyrocket in other countries.
  • Seven weeks of seven patty burgers is enough to raise the BMI of the entire planet (except us). Comparatively, we are now the healthiest nation on earth. We’re also the most productive and have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any place on earth. This causes the real estate market to wake up as the US is the only place worldwide that doesn’t smell like Fat Bastard after all you can eat taco night..
  • US international leadership and prestige is restored.  No need for healthcare reform in the healthiest country on earth-in fact, the world turns to us as we must be doing it right. With no more cattle and hamburger left, the transient spike in methane levels will fall below Windows 7 launch values. We export the deep fried magic to all our little junkie countries to maintain the status quo. So there you have it:
    • Healthcare crisis-fixed
    • Health of US population-fixed
    • Real Estate Market-fixed
    • Economy-fixed
    • US World Leadership-fixed

Like the King says, you can have it your way after all-and they thought Enron had the smartest guys in the room. Step away young Padawan, Yoda is bringing the Beef.

Simply Done

25 10 2009

It was pleasantly chill on this cloudy morning. The crows were flying as, well, the crow flies; which is to say rather noisily. The last of the mosquitoes were so slowed by the cool temperature you could swat them lazily out of the air. A satisfying turn of Fate considering how they were horrible buzzing biting tormentors from spring through early fall. My coffee left a steam signal letting everyone know I was out and about outside. Yet, it was so early no one was there. No noise from the road beyond the woods, and only occasional birds and squirrels moving about there. Zeppelin drifted from the kitchen speakers onto the porch. A simple experience and moment of respite enjoyed with a simple cup of coffee. So today, dear readers, we have some simple advice; how to make a really good cup of coffee. After all, it is Doctober and we have to brew something.

Recorded coffee history dates back to the 800s in Ethiopia, but it use likely predates the recorded word. There it was known as bunn or bunna. It was spread by Arab traders who named it qahhwat al-bun (wine of the bean). The Turkish pronunciation being kahve was further corrupted by the Dutch into koffie, from which our current term, coffee, is likely derived. Coffee is now produced worldwide.

We will start with a 4 simple tips:

  • Use fresh (preferably filtered) cold water
  • Use freshly (this means just before you brew-not ground in the store 2 weeks ago) ground beans
  • Use the correct proportion
    • Too little coffee to water  results in over extraction and bitter coffee (the bitter flavors are extracted last)
    • Too much coffee to water results in under extraction of the flavors and weak cup of coffee (again, sometimes more results in less!)
  • Use fresh coffee beans-preferably Arabica- (air, light and moisture act to degrade the quality of the beans), an opened bag should be used within a week

Buy your bag of beans, either freshly (check on this) roasted at your local coffee house or if you get them from the supermarket make sure the vacuum sealed bag has the one way valve (to vent off the carbon dioxide from freshly roasted beans) and is less than 2-3 months old. Use a ratio of approximately 2 heaping tbsps of coffee for every 6 oz of water. The perfect temperature for maximum extraction is just short of boiling (yes, that’s why those Starbucks cups are so hot). Whatever method you use (electric or manual like French press) make sure the temperature is where it needs to be. A good steep time is 4-5 minutes; although this can vary a bit by grind size, coffee and personal preference.

Simple done well is not always easy, but it is usually delicious.

Top 10 Worst Dining Trends

23 10 2009

I’d like to take a bit of a departure today. I read this article  (http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/dining/chi-091021-worst-dining-trends-pictures,0,5192606.photogallery) from the Chicago tribune regarding the top 10 worst dining trends and thought it was spot on. I implore you to check it out and see what you do and don’t agree with, in terms of what is listed there. For those too lazy to click the mouse, here’s the list (and my opinion).

  • 10. Fried onion blossoms- I hate these things. They remind me of Outback, where I have never had one that didn’t contain an Exxon Valdez recreation on the plate. I have several friends from Australia; they do not have “bloomin’ onions” there. Anywhere. Here’s a tip to the places that serve these: You eat it. All of it. If you still want to serve this stuff after that, then my little sadistic friend, you need help.
  • 9. Molecular gastronomy- I have to agree here with Chef Chang who noted that a lot of these trends started out as something good. The problem here is everybody jumping on board to do a cutesy version of the latest trend. There are people and places, like Wylie Dufrense at WD~50 that pioneered this style and do it well. Done well, it takes dining to an exciting adventure level occurrence. For most experiences, it is like being at the stadium sitting through the Titans 59-0 loss to the Patriots, forced to watch because they’re “professionals” and it’s a professional game! When you suck, you suck-do what you do well or don’t do it at all.
  • 8. The $40 entrée- If it doesn’t have foie gras, Kobe beef, caviar or truffles, WTF?
  • 7. The communal table- If I wanted to sit with them, I would have brought them along. What’s next? Are they going to keep screaming babies and crying kids on the side so they can put them at our tables and have a “family experience”? There’s a reason we left everyone else at home.
  • 6. Proudly obnoxious fast food options- A 1,400+ calorie hamburger from Hardees. When we consume food as a dare do we really need to ask why 67% of America  is obese?
  • 5. Knee-jerk online reviews- OK, got to disagree here. I like on-line reviews. I like opening night reviews. I’ll either go to a place and make my own determination (yes, I trust my palate) or not. However, I do find the pre-visit commentary amusing, if not always helpful. As for saying it’s wrong to judge a restaurant on opening night is like saying it’s OK for some surgeon to screw up the operation because it’s his first one. If you open the doors, you best be ready and accountable.
  • 4. Foam- Another idea that started out well intentioned and in moderation is a good thing. If I see foams on everything it conveys to me that the Chef has no restraint. I want to taste, experience and eat the food. I don’t want to sit through courses of some attention deprived hack screaming “look at me.”  If I wanted to spend my evenings and money that way I’d still be married to my ex-wife.
  • 3. The menu as book- Agreed. I came to eat, not to read. See above comment. ’Nuff said.
  • 2. The chef as media whore- Rocco Di-Spirto.
  • 1. Deconstruction- This was so well said by Joyce Goldstein I’m just going to quote her here: “I do not want a poached egg on top of carbonara sauce and the pasta on the side. I don’t want the ingredients laid out before me anymore. I want a chef to show me how it is brought together. Cooking has become an intellectual thing, but it’s not a sensual thing. We have all gotten so smart about food, we are losing touch with sex appeal. Everything else is getting so exhausting — a lot of chefs saying, ‘Look at me,’ and ‘Look at this technique,’ and, next decade, I would prefer not to look at them for a while.”

Breakfast of Champions

21 10 2009

I am not a breakfast guy. That is, unless you count a late Sunday Champagne Brunch as breakfast. What I write and concentrate on preparation-wise is lunchtime/dinner time items. Generally, being up early, it’s a pot o’ Joe for me until late morning. However, I was reading an article by the venerable Dr. Oz this am and he spoke of the importance of breakfast. Now, whether you are an Oprah screaming supporter or really pay no attention to the man behind the surgical mask, Dr. Oz does raise an interesting discussion point. He states his usual breakfast is “steel-cut oatmeal, usually mixed with raisins, walnuts, and flaxseed oil.” Now that may be a little too granola or tasteless for some, but I think his general concept is right, with one important caveat. As I mentioned, when I get up early I am not hungry. But I do get “the munchies” in the late morning. I recommend listening to your body. In general, I eat when I am hungry, not at specific times. This can set a response in which you are “hungry” because it is “time” to eat instead of hungry because it is actually time for you to eat. So if you’re like me and not a breakfast person when you get up-don’t eat if you don’t want to eat. Where I think Dr. Oz has a point, is that when you do get hungry in the morning that is the perfect time for a sensible snack/meal. I may not really want an apple or banana for dessert after dinner, but as a mid-morning stop on the Crazy Train it makes perfect sense; even a quick bowl of healthy cereal (including oats, etc.) is not only tolerable but can be quite delicious this time of day. So whatever time of the morning is right for your “breakfast” (Since the term literally means to break the fast from sleeping the night before whenever you eat the first meal it is “breakfast”), the take away point for me from Ozzy’s message is to err on the healthful side. Keep the Eggs Benedict, bacon, sausage, French toast, etc. for the occasional Sunday Brunch. Absolutely stay away from the fast food “breakfast sandwiches” unless you’d like your intestines to experience the equivalent of an attack by the Flying Monkeys. I think this is a good 90/10 rule, follow it 90% of the time, enjoy the occasional Champagne Sunday Brunch and as my generally healthful friend pointed out on Face Book this morning, every so often you just have to have chocolate cake for breakfast.

The World is Flat

19 10 2009

Yes, I totally stole the title off a book I had to read in business school, but that’s not the point. I was reading an article by Mark Miller, Chef and owner of Red Sage (Washington, D.C.) and Coyote Café (Santa Fe, NM) about taste. He brought up a very interesting point regarding the way flavors and cooking are approached in the East and West. In the West, we generally categorize taste into the 4 flavors; Salty, Sweet, Sour and Bitter. Our meals are generally constructed along a linear tasting progression. You may start with salty and work your way through the gamut to end on a sweet note. All the flavors are experienced, but in a linear progression.

In the East, however, there are more than 4 basic tastes recognized. There is spicy, and aromatic or pungent. There s the component of umami, recently of intense scrutiny. It is often described as a savory, but I prefer the analogy to a pleasant mouth feel. I think it would be comparable to assessing the “body and feel” when tasting a wine. Regardless, the Eastern concept is a more “Wholistic” approach. Miller describes the Eastern approach as one that likewise utilizes all the available tastes, but often together. This allows an experience of sweet, sour bitter and salty, etc. all in varying degrees and balances to be experienced in each course. Just look at that take out staple, Sweet and Sour pork, for an example. This approach to flavor profiles is much more circular in construction. I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment.

I think what is really fascinating is to see much more of the melding of approaches going on today in the culinary world. Just watch any of these shows on Food Network for 5 minutes and you’ll hear chefs talking about the balance of the dish, the combination of flavors, etc. I had the opportunity to be exposed to these authentic Eastern dining concepts through my martial arts almost three decades ago. Having seen this recent exchange of concepts develop with roots in both the East and West is very exciting. I see this as a real “global fusion cuisine”. Yet the regional and ethnic elements accentuate and differentiate so there is no homogenization of taste. It is a merging of Yin and Yang; together they form the whole circle, yet they retain their individuality in doing so. As I have written before, Food and Medicine share common roots. What is really exciting is to see these trends starting to move into medicine. We see acceptance of “alternative “therapies. I really do not like the term “alternative” as it implies you exclusivity. I prefer the term adjunctive therapies as it implies working together in an auxiliary capacity. I hope that Medicine will follow the same path and continue to integrate. This integration of once disparate approaches to the same problem, whether it be cooking a meal or healing a cold, decreases the distance between Ideas. Since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, as opposed to a circumference, the world of Ideas becomes flatter. Perhaps that very ancient concept has some modern day merit after all.