Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Musings

So here I am, sitting at my computer, deep in food coma. I'm back where I was last year, and the year before- asking myself if I really needed that extra helping of pie. As I contemplate Thanksgiving, the holiday comprised of my two favorite things, cooking and eating, I determine the answer to be yes. My life wouldn't be the same without that gooey mess of fat and sugar that is pecan pie.

I watched a chef at Lacroix make gravy from scratch. I don't get paid at Lacroix. I go to learn. I love it when the chefs take time to teach me. The chef browned turkey bones and bacon in a rondeau. Duck Confit was warming up on the side. I proclaimed "We should eat duck confit instead of turkey on Thanksgiving." "Why?" he responded. For lack of a better answer I said "cause it's sooooo good." He told me he could only eat one duck confit leg, but he could eat a whole turkey. "I've accepted duck confit. I know it, and I'm over it" he said. "I guess I don't know it, I could eat five duck confit legs" I said. "Yea well you're 15, you still get hard-ons in math class." I told him I get hard-ons when I eat duck confit. Every time I think that I know and understand food so well, I get a slap in the face.

Stock cooling in the sink.
I feel like this Thanksgiving was special. Last year I just made bread pudding. This year I was much more involved, much more in tune with the holiday. I prepared some broccoli, I baked some bread, I candied nuts for an appetizer, I made an apple pie, I made chicken stock from frozen bones, and I brined and am about to cook a turkey (separate one for my immediate family). The day before Thanksgiving however, I found myself rubbing a cure on pork belly that will not be ready for weeks and today I found myself making eggnog to be aged until Christmas. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the food we have, and these two acts, like Ruhlman says, put me more in tune with the holiday than roasting any turkey could.

Pork Belly, 1/2 to be made into pancetta, the other to be made into bacon.

The Fam

I love being with family for Thanksgiving, but when I think about my ideal Thanksgiving, I see one with just a distinct bunch of my closest buddies. Everyone has come over my place, and they are sitting by the fire. We're stuffed to the brims, and are reminiscing about that time we left a team building day to go to Chipotle, but our band teacher pulled up at the same time and caught us. Or about the time we put a pita round in some jerk's pumpkin pie before the custard had set while it was baking. Or just about nothing at all. I spent all day cooking, and no one else brought anything, and I was happy, cause cooking is my equivalent to video games. I made sweet potatoes, cornbread, shitake mushroom stuffing, butternut squash soup, fork-mashed red bliss potatoes (none of that swank, french potato puree), brioche rolls, roast duck, apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie, and most importantly turkey leg confit. We would drink pumpkin spice lattes into the wee hours of the night and as the fire died down, we just kinda fell asleep. Next morning I wake up early and prepare sweet potato waffles for breakfast, then give everyone a turkey, avocado, and bacon fat mayonnaise sandwich to take home.

Holy god it's 2:30. My food coma is dying down. Goodnight.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Keller and Ruhlman at the Free Library

"Finally the day had arrived," I thought in science class. It felt like forever from the month or so ago that I had gotten my tickets. Buying these tickets was like making a reservation for Per Se, the time between making a reservation and actually eating there feels like forever. I got back to my test on polar and non-polar substances. I had been daydreaming about tonight for at least 10 minutes. I'd be lucky to finish my test.

I felt my phone vibrate in my pants pocket. I sit in the back, next to a window, a prime spot for both texting and daydreaming. I opened up my phone. My Mom, who had been workin the connections for me, trying to somehow allow me to meet Keller, wrote, "Possible 10 minute interview with Ruhlman and Keller at 7:10." I nearly squealed in my seat, like a pig that Keller might sous vide. I went back to daydreaming. At 4:30 however, I got an e-mail saying that Keller and Ruhlman were running behind schedule, and that I wouldn't be able to get my interview.

My heart drooped, but that wouldn't stop me, or my mom, who seemed to have a plan to get me that talk time. We arrived at the library two hours early, a whole hour and 15 minutes before the doors would open.

At once my mom found out the location of the office of the event coordinator, and before I knew it we were in an employees only area. I crept across the wall, as if I were James Bond, and we eventually found our way to the office of the event coordinator. We explained to him our situation and he promised to find us, if I would be able to talk to Keller.

So I sat outside the library's auditorium doors like a loner, for about 30 minutes before anyone else arrived, and about an hour before they opened the doors. My dedication paid off however, when I got front row seats.

Finally a white-bearded man went up to give an introduction, and said something along the lines of "Michael Keller uses this method to get the most out of his food." Yes, he said Michael Keller. Many from the audience, including me, quickly corrected him, and soon Keller and Ruhlman were on the stage. I'm sure most of you don't need me to describe either of them, but I will nonetheless.

They walked out smiling, and are both strikingly tall. Ruhlman seemed more at ease with the crowd. He is blond with wavy hair and very laid back- a potential surfer dude. My mom later told me that his aura surprised her. Ruhlman is one of the most admired authorities in the food world, he's "strikingly handsome," and he's book touring with Thomas Keller, yet he isn't the least bit condescending or egotistical (from what I observed). Keller seems to still have a little chef in him, meaning he's not as comfortable in the public (out of the kitchen) as Ruhlman is. Ruhlman is more at ease with the world, Keller seems more perfectionist. What Keller has said about cooking ("perfect is only an idea, once you reach it, it disappears") seems to translate into aspects of his life.

Ruhlman gave an introduction. He talked about how Keller had failed every cooking job up until the French Laundry. He talked about how when he was at Rakel, he was asked to serve Caesar salad, but refused and left, because he wouldn't compromise his standards. All of this I knew, yet I listened intently to every word. Ruhlman is the one of the greatest food writers today, not because of the information he gives (which is top notch), but because of the way he tells the information. Ruhlman's more than a writer, he's a storyteller. He turned Thomas Keller's journey through the restaurant industry into an epic.

The presentation was Keller answering Ruhlman's questions about sous vide cooking (its history, its use at his restaurants, safety, application for the home cook, future of sous vide). The presentation was interesting, though I'd heard most of it before. The introduction was my favorite part, I prefer stories to fact books.

The audience asked questions as the presentation concluded. I debated whether or not to ask a question I had been pondering. Would I sound stupid? Would my heart start beating fast? I felt like I was about to talk to a really hot girl for the first time. The first question was asked-something about sous vide in grocery stores, "ah what the hell, you only live once right," I thought. I raised my hand. "You in the front" said Ruhlman. The library worker nearly gave the mic to someone in the next row. I let him know it was me. Early in the presentation Ruhlman had said something about a Vegas Steakhouse having sous vide bins filled with steak cooked at rare, medium rare, medium and well done. I asked him and Keller about this, "Do you believe sous vide will turn restaurants into production lines?" I have no recollection of Ruhlman's response, I was trying to suppress the butterflies in my stomach. As Keller began to answer, my butterflies receded. He told me that places like steakhouses are kind of already production lines, that they are doing large volume cooking each night, and that they need that consistency that sous vide bring. "For places like steakhouses, the production line aspect isn't necessarily a bad thing." I could accept that. Someone else asked if Keller would open a Bouchon in Philly. He responded "I like Philly so much, I wouldn't wanna have to work when I come here." Smooth Keller, real smooth. The presentation ended.

Stay Tuned for part 2, which includes a lil one on one time with me and Keller.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I met Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman

I met Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman. The first part of my life is complete. The 2nd? Creating a restaurant to equal his.

More on the event after I get some sleep.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thomas Keller at Free Library

Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman are coming on Monday to the Free Library in Philadelphia. Don't be a moron, get your tics!

Check this post out

If you get a chance, check out the post I wrote about chefs and society. My favorite foods to cook are the ones that require a thought process, the ones that you can't just throw together. Same with blog posts. The ones I enjoy to write most have some deep thought behind them. So skip over that last one I wrote about pumpkin fudge and read this.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pumpkin Fudge

-Possibly the best pumpkin dessert I've ever had.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wait! Broccoli can be good without bacon wrapped around it?

Thank you Amateur Gourmet. I may never cook brocolli another way again.

-For the best broccoli you've ever had, simply take off the stems, make sure they're real dry, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and crushed garlic cloves.
-Place in a 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.
-Remove, top with grated lemon zest and parmesan cheese and chopped pine nuts if you got em (if you don't no biggie they will be delicious no matter what).
-Dig in
-Eat more
-And more
-And more

Honestly, the parmesan and lemon zest only enhance the broccoli, if you don't have either on hand (though you prob should), simply roast the broc with the salt pepper and olive oil. It's that good.

Oh yea, and thank me, actually Adam Roberts, later.

Cooking for others

So many people ask me to cook for them. I end up cooking for a small percentage of those people. Some times, the people I most want to cook for, have no interest in trying my food. I don't particularly like when girls ask me to cook them food, though I get that often. At this point, I obviously don't own a restaurant, and my cooking for people won't make me money. My cooking is not part of our free trade economy. It's a gift. I love cooking, and I love making people happy, but please don't tell me to cook for you. I'm not yet a chef who gets paid to do these things. I'm a regular kid who invests his time to do something for you. Remember that.

My second point. The people I most want to cook for are people who will understand and appreciate what I've done for them. I love to give the "pumpkin dessert connoisseur" my pumpkin creations. I would love to cook more often for my buddy who loves good food, and would love my braises. I'm not too interested in cooking for my friends who are on the "pasta and apples diet." Just the other day, I was talking to a friend about Osteria (gourmet pizza and pasta restaurant I previously staged at). I asked her if she liked it. She hadn't. I asked her why. She replied by saying "It was so gross they had an egg on top of a pizza!" I'm not jumping to cook for her either.

A few weeks ago I made the cookies pictured above for one of my best friends. She hadn't asked or expected anything. That's how you know I like you.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup M&M's*
1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 300, and cover three baking sheets with parchment.
2. Cream the butter and both sugars.
3. Add in the egg, vanilla and baking soda.
4. Combine the flour and salt, then add them to the mixture.
5. Mix in the chocolate chips, M&M's and nuts.
6. Make the cookies as big or small as you want.
7. Bake for around 18 minutes.

*Dave uses 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, but I like the crunch of M&M's, and I knew this girl liked M&M's.

Oh, and I hope I'm not coming off as a jerk who doesn't like to cook for anyone. Quite the opposite actually.


Just had my first season's eggnog (freshly grated nutmeg on top), and it's not even Thanksgiving.

Pretty badass right?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chefs and society

I've worked at Lacroix for over two years now. That's a pretty long time. One of the perks about this, is that I get to see people come and go, and I get to see them evolve (this is magnified because I only work Saturdays). I remember my second Saturday working there. The then-chef de cuisine had just left. I asked another chef if he was the new chef de cuisine. He laughed, and said no, with a kind of "yea right" attitude. Shortly after he was given that position.

Some people don't change. I can think of a few people who in all my time working there, are exactly the same. I guess either their change is not noticeable to me, or they're done evolving. Conversely, some people change magnificently. I remember a cook who used to be constantly yelled at. Now he's one of the leaders. The appointed chef-de cuisine has gone from rather uninspiring, to "most looked up to."

Last week at Lacroix, a cook was behaving rather "strangely," as some would call it. Said cook had started working here long after I, and I've watched him go from timid, with little personality, to crazy yet likable. I asked him a question I'd been pondering for some time. "Is it working in kitchens that has turned you crazy?" He replied "No, I've always been like this. I really think it's the other way around. Crazy people flock to kitchens because it's the only place where this kind of behavior is acceptable. We're kind of like the outskirts of society." I asked him, half jokingly, if the sommelier (religious french dude) is what grounds them from going totally out of their minds, but in all honesty I think it's more than that. I think the crazy, inappropriate, and often obscene behavior ends with the realization that when you walk out the kitchen doors, society doesn't end. That when you take off your checkered chefs pants, and remove your white jacket, no matter how far on the border, you're still a part of regular life.

Gives you a little somethin to think about eh?

Granola Bars

So I was watching Top Chef last week and I suddenly got a craving for chocolate and peanut butter. I often get these night time cravings yet usually do little about it. This day however, I had an excuse to stay up late (Top Chef), and so I found a quick, no bake recipe, and while the dude from Team Rainbow was making gummy noodles on national television, I prepared these granola bars.

Recipe (adapted from Slashfood)

2 1/2 cups Rice Krispies*
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup granola cereal
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter*
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Combine Rice Krispies, rolled oats, granola and choco chips in large bowl.
2. Bring corn syrup and brown sugar to a boil over medium heat.
3. Turn off heat and whisk in pb and vanilla extract, then pour this mixture into the cereal mixture, stirring to evenly distribute the peanut butter mixture.
4. Press into a greased 9x9 pan.
5. Let cool (I kinda ate them hot) then enjoy!

*You can really use almost any kind of cereal in your granola bars. I think I'll throw in some Honey Bunches of Oats next time.

*I don't think the type of peanut butter matters. I personally always buy the natural, 2 ingredient (peanuts, salt) kind, so I tried that and it worked fine.

And the next day I brought them in for some friends.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pumpkin Spice Coffee

- The Fall equivalent to eggnog.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Kindai Tuna

(new Kindai tuna dish at Lacroix being plated)
Blue Fin tuna is in danger. Unsustainable fishing practices have rendered it nearly extinct- yet the overfishing continues- it's just too damn good. Recently, light has appeared at the end of the tunnel.Researchers at Kinki University in Keten, Setouchi-cho, Oshima-gun, Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan have begun to farm raise blue fin tuna- literally farm raise them. The tuna isn't caught from the wild, the eggs are born in the laboratory. Moreover, the tuna are raised without drugs, on organic feed, and are given plenty of room to move around, unlike the majority of farmed fish. Only a few, however, are shipped to the U.S. each week.
The chefs at Lacroix were ecstatic, as they were able to get their hands on some a few weeks ago. The Chef de Cuisine approached me shaking, "I'm horny right now holding this fish." And a beautiful piece of fish it was. With ultimate reverence he explained to me how he got lucky, and was able to get the fish only cause "he knows somebody." "The Kobe Beef we get is some of the best you can buy, and it costs around $40 a pound. This Kindai costs about 64."
He held out a piece for me. Shivers ran down my spine. Lacroix is a very upscale restaurant. The chefs have seen everything. I don't think I've ever seen them so excited about a product. I took the piece and placed it on my tongue. At once I tasted oily, velvety, slightly sweet. A wonderful fishiness was apparent. The fish melted in my mouth, before I was ready to let it go. I heard another chef make a joke about using it for tartare. I laughed out loud. Though the title does the tuna little justice, I hereby pronounce Kindai Tuna, tuna on roids. x10 x10 x10 x10.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pulled Pork

I had never smoked. I'd heard it's addictive, that once you start you never stop. Supposedly it relaxes you, makes you feel good. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. I'm talking about smoking on a grill.

At the time we were working on a project in English class pertaining to the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I hope you've read it, it's an interesting novel, but if you haven't it's basically about a group of boys stranded on an island, who go crazy and hunt pigs and paint their faces and such. Our project consisted of choosing 6 smaller projects from a list of about 12. One of the options was to make up your own project related to the novel. At once I thought about food, but then hesitated. The previous week we had been asked to write our thoughts down about a specific chapter. When it was my turn to present to the class, I showed a picture of a pig on a spit and described it "a large Berkshire hog, roasting over an open flame, the meat cooking evenly as it roasts on the spit, and the fat slowly rendering out to produce wonderfully crispy crackling." My deviance from the topic (yet wonderful imagery) produced a stern look from the teacher. What would she think if I tried to relate smoking a pork shoulder to the novel?

"You know how they cook pig for food in Lord of the Flies, well, could I bring you a pulled pork sandwich as a project?" She excitedly obliged! Great!
I bought a pork shoulder the previous day then spent 8 hours on Sunday changing wood chips, making barbecue sauce, and allowing the hickory smoke to permeate my nostrils as my shoulder cooked down to tenderness. During the last 2 hours I basted the shoulder with a "mop" of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and cayenne.

Finally I pulled it out, let it cool, then tossed the fork aside and pulled it apart with my fingers. I tossed the meat with some barbecue sauce, heaped it on a hamburger bun, then brought it in to school the next day for one happy teacher.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bread Revisited

A few months ago I thought I was big daddy in the house. I could make Thomas Keller's brioche with ease. I was ready to start signing autographs.

And then came the baguette.

Just look at that disgusting piece of _____. Don't say it. Don't call it bread, cause it's not. I couldn't live with such a failure. I had to improve my bread.

And so I scoured the Internet, and my local Borders, reading all I could on sites like The Fresh Loaf, and Bread Cetera, and books like The Bread Baker's Apprentice, to understand the fundamentals of bread making.

Once I believed I had learned enough, I ended my hiatus and began to bake bread once again. First came this focaccia from Ideas In Food, which I've baked probably 5 times now (and in my opinion perfected),and then came this more complicated batard, which is actually 100% whole wheat sandwich bread that I shaped into a batard. I have to say, I'm pretty proud of how my bread baking skills have improved. In the near future I will conquer my nemesis, the baguette.

Recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

soaker (mix together fully one day ahead, cover with plastic, and let sit at room temp)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water

poolish (mix together fully one day ahead, cover with plastic, and let sit in the refrigerator)
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
¼ tsp instant yeast
¾ cup water

2 cups whole wheat
1 1/3 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tbs honey
1 egg (optional)

1. Remove the poolish and let sit at room temp for one hour before making the dough.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix together the flour salt and yeast.

3. Cut the poolish and soaker into small 1 square inch pieces then mix into the dough with a paddle.

4. Add the honey and the egg, mixing with a paddle until the mixture become a rough dough. Transfer to a cutting board and knead for about 10-15 until a tacky but not sticky dough is formed. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic and let rise for two hours.

5. For sandwich loaves, divide the dough in two equal pieces and place in oiled loaf pans, then let rise again for about 90 minutes covered in plastic.

6. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes until the dough is golden brown on all sides and sounds hollow when tapped.

Let cool, then enjoy!

My very controversial hierarchy of Halloween candy

Reese's is the best.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Smoked Black Pepper

Marvelous on meats, perfect on poultry, and ehmazing on eggs. Smoked black pepper is one of my favorite spices. This pepper has such character. It's so pungent, so flavorful. Be wary, don't use on fish, and use sparingly on eggs. This spice craves juxtaposition, and the only foods that do it justice are bold, flavorful foods that can stand up to it's wonderful pungency. Think steaks, braised meats, and barbecued meats, but don't let your imagination stop there. The possibilities are endless.

This Morning's Breakfast

There's not much better than egg, bread, butter and fleur de sel.