Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Saucing Pasta

When you've got a really rich, great pasta, you want to sauce it minimally. A very accomplished chef, who has worked at America's most prestigous kitchens (Ducasse, Per Se, The French Laundry, Charlie Trotter's, etc and is now at Rae in Philadelphia) and just left Lacroix a few months ago, told me that Thomas Keller simply sauces his pasta with beurre monte, a simple water and butter emulsion. He on the other hand, like Ducasse, sauces his with creme fraiche. Butter is more of a straightforward flavor, whereas creme fraiche adds some seasoning. In addition to being creamy, creme fraiche adds a slightly acidic taste, adding a flavor profile to your basic, buttery pasta dish. Similarly, this same chef adds lemon juice to his butter when butter poaching lobster. Oftentimes we neglect acid as a flavor enhancer.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Everything Bagel

Look at that. An everything bagel. I pick up a dozen at a local bakery. The paper bag in which they were placed is already fragrant, the seeds and bread combining to let off an earthy, seedy, wonderful smell. Usually I crave simplicity; a few ingredients combining to create a final dish with distinct flavors. Not here. On my bagel I want it all. I want everything. Hence the name.

I realize why I like the everything bagel so much. The spices, seeds, and bread become an entity. An everything bagel isn't a bagel with garlic flakes, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, onion flakes etc. It's just an everything bagel.

Spread with cream cheese, and there are few greater breakfast pleasures.

Why did I think of this?

Hey! A man's gotta find a way to occupy his time in Spanish class.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Culinary Obsessions

I get food obsessions from time to time. During these time periods, I am consumed (pun intended) with trying all types and variations of something, all the time. Obsessions have included chocolate (which lasted most of my young life), nut butters (which ended after I tried some vegan, unsalted, raw soynut butter), artisan breads (which culminated with my pitiful attempt at a baguette), granola (Trader Joe's pumpkin variety is my fav), and now it is yogurt.

Though their coffee yogurt may be favorite kind (thanks Nana for turning me on to that) I'm branching out from the typical Dannon and trying new varieties. I'm kinda in love with Fage (2% or whole milk, 0% is too sour for me), and I really like the Rachel's exotic yogurts. Skyr, which my local whole foods now carries is pretty good too. On a less sophisticated note, I can't hate on those Yoplait yogurts with the Oreo cookies up top. I recently got Vanana (vanilla and banana if you couldn't figure that one out) from Trader Joe's and it's incredible. What about the pictured sheep's milk yogurt? That's not really my thing (at all).

Pumpkin Muffins

My gift to my English teacher, just before she read my essay.

Grade outlook: Pretty darn good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Humboldt Fog

My buddy just got a job at a local cheese shop and I'm sure she will soon know far more than me about cheese. Though she's only worked one day, she's already picked out a favorite: Humboldt Fog. Of course, I had to get my butt over to the shop and sample said cheese, and tell her all about it, therefore displaying my superiority in all things food. Just Kidding, just kidding. I'm not that big know it all who talks about food to other kids like he's Auguste Escoffier. At least I try my best not to be. Anyway, I had to try that cheese, so I stopped by this local cheese shop for a sample.The owner of this shop is quite knowledgeable, and when questioned, he jumped into a lecture about how he met the maker of Humboldt Fog, how the maker never got into cheese until she got into goats, how it's a natural rind cheese, how it's named for the fog that comes in from Humboldt Bay California, how it's got an edible line of ash through the center etc. I tried a piece...
The taste of Humboldt Fog is slightly more complex, yet similar to other fine goat cheeses, what's most interesting and appealing is the texture.
Chefs design cheese plates around textural, and flavor contrast to the selected cheeses. I guess you could say Humboldt Fog is its own cheese course. It goes from almost crumbly in the center, to smooth towards the outside, then Brie consistency just before the rind. As it becomes softer it progresses in flavor, the outside Brie-like part tasting noticeably more pungent than the center. I love discovering a new, unique cheese like this. Thanks Sarah!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Why do I tempt myself so with such beautiful food! Salami, pastrami, prosciutto, mmm. I'm getting more into charcuterie now. Cooking fillet Mignon is boring. Transforming measly, tough brisket into corned beef by brining for a week then simmering is totally radical! In goes brisket, out comes corned beef. Reminds me of my math homework relating to slopes and functions. In goes x, out comes y. In goes x out comes x (fillet Mignon) wouldn't be cool with my math teacher, though I doubt he would turn down a fillet. Look for related posts in the future.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Vetri's Pasta

I've talked many times about how much I like making pasta. The process is what I love most. Making the well of flour, then incorporating the eggs, and finally rolling out the dough- I feel like Nona, the only difference being that the flour used is far from my hair color.

There is nowhere better to get pasta in Philadelphia (arguably the whole U.S.) than Vetri. The product is the result of a master who trained in a Bergamo kitchen, perfecting pasta with little old Italian ladies. Though I had worked at Osteria (Vetri's newer restaurant that uses the same recipe) I was never able to get a hold of Vetri's almost legendary pasta recipe-that is, until just recently when Vetri was featured in a Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Now I have a tried and true pasta recipe already, from the French Laundry Cookbook, so I was eager to see how Vetri's would stack up. Thomas Keller also trained in Italy, so I guess this is basically a war of little old Italian ladies, to see whose pasta is superior. Will Vetri's little old Italian lady bring home the W for Bergamo? Or will Thomas Keller's Nona represent for Piedmont? Let's find out!

Contrary to The French Laundry Version, which uses only AP flour, Vetri's recipe calls for semolina and 00 flour, both of which I had on hand. Vetri's recipes also requires 9 egg yolks. 9!!! That's a whole lotta yolk. I put all the ingredients in a paddle-fitted kitchen aid, and blended until they came together. The fact that this recipe uses a kitchen aid, as opposed to the well method kinda turned me off. I prefer getting my hands dirty. Basically I'm like a five year old. The Kitchen aid method was quicker though, and soon I began kneading the dough. Unlike Keller's recipe which calls for excessive kneading, and states that "you can't over knead this dough," Vetri's only calls for five minutes.

Vetri's dough is noticeably wetter and easier to work with. Keller's is rather tough. Both recipes call for some resting time, and then, you roll out.

After blanching in salted water, I tossed the pasta in the frying pan with some butter and some of the pasta water. Vetri's pasta is soooo (for loss of a better adjective) yummy. It gives a slight bite, it's not as tough and Keller's, and seems smoother. Though it contains a higher egg yolk to flour ratio than Keller's, it's not noticeably richer. It does seem smoother however.

So who will take home the Nona throwdown crown back to their little old, humble abodes, with salami hanging in the kitchen, and olives growing in the backyard, and truffles in the rice, and wild boar grazing in the distance? Vetri's Nona gets the slight edge. But don't worry, I still love you Tommy K (who by the way is coming to the Philadelphia free library soon)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

To cook, or not to cook? That is the question.

6:00 is the worst time of the day for me.

I face that daily dilemma of whether I should cook, or do homework.

(Lancaster grass fed fillet Mignon)

Cooking usually wins.

(Fillet Mignon, mashed potatoes, bordelaise sauce)

My First Doughnuts

I think it's safe to say,

that my first doughnuts came out better than my first baguette.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Mmmmmmmm. I smell cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger going into pumpkin bread batter at Lacroix. Fall is here, and I love it. As the leaves begin to disappear, truffles, apples, pumpkins begin to reappear. The spices we seldom use out of season, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, perfume the kitchen once more. Fall is a beacon of light, shielding me from the impending doom and darkness of winter. The importance of traditions like jumping in piles of leaves, and trick-or-treating wane each year, whereas Thanksgiving and making use of the season's bountiful harvest, only grow on me.

Perhaps that is why I'm doing my best to make use of the 28 pounds of apples my family picked up at a local orchard. Granny Smith, Macintosh, Golden Delicious; they all serve a purpose. Apple pie tastes so much better now than it ever can in the summer.

Pumpkin is the same. Canned pumpkin is available year round, yet there is nothing like biting into a muffin made from fresh, pureed Japanese Pumpkin. Pumpkin has become my new obsession. Pie, cheesecake, scones, soup, ravioli, cake, bread, the list goes on. The "to try" list in my kitchen notebook has been taken over by these recipes. This will be the first year I thank Linvilla Orchards, as opposed to Safeway, for the success of my pumpkin pie.

(pumpkin scones)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


(the flat top)
I've had my fair share of, "wtf was I thinking" moments at Lacroix. Like the time my pan for my water bath for the potato gratin was too small, and I spilled much water, along with much cream while trying to take it out of the oven. Or the time I was making croutons, and burnt the bread, got some new bread, cut it into croutons, then burnt them again. Or maybe the time I was making the vinaigrette for the night's service, and though I had made the same vinaigrette at home many times before, it broke just before service. The list goes on.

Last Saturday I was helping prep for the "Matthew's Salad." I was to char tomatillos and corn. I grabbed some tomatillos which I quartered, then seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. I charred these in the center of the flat-top, moving them around with a fish spatula. I then grabbed 8 ears of corn, and cut them off the cob. I seasoned these, grabbed my spatula, then plopped them on the flat top. They started off silently, pop pop, and I barely took notice. Pop Pop, I began to contemplate the origin of the sound. POP! POP! wow, we got a problem here. I checked to make sure I wasn't Orville Redenbacher then decided I didn't want popcorn. The popping continued, only now it was more frequent and vigorous POP! POP! POP! POP! I was getting stares from all over the kitchen. I tried as best I could to move the corn to the edge of the flat top, but the kernels slipped through the perforated fish spat. "I think I just got hit with a piece of corn" someone said. Someone was cracking up behind me, I ignored it. By now I was getting THE STARE, from one chef. If you don't work at Lacroix, you don't know what I'm talking about, but if you do, let's hold hands and sing Kum by yah, cause you understand. I've gotten THE STARE, throughout my time at Lacroix, and it is never a good thing. Like an anvil cloud to a sailor, it looms down on you, foreboding, dangerous and terrifying. The storm just ahead, you anticipate the lightning strike. I glanced over, he shook his head in disappointment. The simple head motion was worse than a yell. He wasn't mad, he was just disappointed. He could have yelled all he wanted, and it wouldn't have made as big an impact. The shake of a head signified shame, lack of potential, inability. He came over, not yelling, nor screaming, and told me that next time, I grill the corn before cutting it off the cob. He grabbed a dough scraper and cleared the rest of the corn from the flat-top, and placed it in a bowl.

(former Matthew's salad)
"Damn, I screwed up," I thought. I felt like Desean Jackson when he dropped the football before reaching the end zone, a few weeks ago. Deep in shame, I quickly thought to myself, "what do most people do when they're sad and upset? They eat!" I dropped a hand and grabbed a few kernels from the bowl. "Hey! these actually taste pretty damn good!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Damnnn. Look at that! Fresh out of the package.

I know you're jealous.

This is undoubtedly the latest and greatest cookbook to hit the market, and it's stuffed with enough food porn to last you plenty a lonely night. The pictures are amazing, and the philosophy is new and unique, yet understandable and logical.

The only downside? Um, well, considering I don't have an immersion circulator, antigriddle, or a dehydrator, it looks like I won't be cooking out of this book anytime soon. It's ok though. Did I mention the pretty pictures?