Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tradition (good stuff here)

I tend to like tradition. It's something that remains constant, something you can grasp on to. Change is necessary, though often not welcomed; not so for tradition, which is welcomed and comfortable. Change is the wooden stool you must adjust to, tradition is the old rocker.

An example that comes to mind is Facebook. Because it is such a young site, Facebook is constantly changing and evolving. During my time on Facebook, there have been two major times where it has completely rearranged the site and the way it functions. For about a week after the change, all that I heard from kids my age is how much they hate the new facebook. Groups arose on the site itself, requesting that Facebook revert to its old setup. While all this went on, I chuckle to myself. There was really nothing wrong with the new Facebook, it was more efficient than the old one, but people weren't comfortable with the operating style. Everyone had snuggled up and gotten cozy with the old version, but were thrust out of bed with the new one.

I didn't necessarily approve of the new Facebook at first, but I accepted it. Everything must change and evolve if we want to move forward, and I support that. Traditions don't keep us grounded, but rather let us relax before we've got to move on with our lives.

Recently, I've become aware of two traditions that I'm quite jealous of. Frankly, I wish that these traditions were my own. The first, involves family and suckling pig. My friend Maggie lived in a bunch of places before moving here in middle school. You can usually tell who the kids are that moved to a new district after elementary school. These are the kids with few friends who often separate themselves, or are separated from, and are seen as outcasts. Not Maggie. No dearth of friends there, and if you told me you didn't like her, I simply wouldn't understand.

She moved here from North Carolina, and I guess she made some good friends there, because each year, her whole family travels down to a friend's house in North Carolina for a cookout. We're not talkin burgers and dogs however. It's North Carolina and the men spend all day cooking a huge hog for supper. Good food good friends, what's better? This year she sent me a picture of a sandwich from the event. I think she was trying to make me jealous.

The second tradition involves a couple. Marta and Ben have only been going out for a few months, though they started this towards the beginning of the year. I met Ben when I started cross country in the beginning of the year. He was a too-cool-for-school, non-conformist type kid; the kind that "don't take shit from nobody" (most notably the school librarian). He wasn't like many kids though, ya know, like the ones that completely change their personality in front of the opposite sex, grownups, etc. I thought this unrelenting attitude would hinder him in maintaining a relationship, but then came Marta, and my theory was completely disproved. I never thought I would use the word compliment in this blog when referring to personalities as opposed to food, but Ben and Marta's personalities undoubtedly compliment each other.

Both of Marta's parents are from Poland, and from their strong cultural background comes great food. Every Sunday, Marta and Ben go to Marta's house and make crepes, using Marta's grandmother's recipe. They invite someone new each time to the "Marta and Ben experience," and I've been lucky enough to get the invite a few times. The first, I wanted to use my favorite recipe (Thomas Keller's version) for their crepes, but I had no idea that they had been using Marta's Grandmother's version, and I soon realized that Thomas Keller's got nothing on a Polish grandmother.

Marta and Ben have the crepe-making system down to an art. The way their personalities compliment each other is similar to the way they work in the kitchen. Each knows what they are doing and means business. All one wants to do is stand back and watch the performance, the interaction, the crepe acrobatics.

And of course, the end result is delicious. I find that Keller's crepes are heavier and richer, whereas these are light, and lend themselves completely to condiments (which is what crepes should do). Taste is not important however, it is the tradition that I admire, no, envy. I want a girlfriend, and every Sunday will be our omelet day, or pasta day, or even braised short-rib day.

This past week, my track coach attempted a motivating speech for the team. Her enthusiasm was there but the delivery wasn't. The speech was just a bunch of scattered thoughts that didn't really come together. She just jumped from point to point without culmination. I do that a lot with this blog, and I'm usually aware of it, but I don't mind. This isn't school and my writing doesn't need to be completely structured or focused. But with this post, I hope to tie everything together, because tradition is so universal. It's so applicable to every aspect of life. Ruhlman has received criticism for basing Ratio on French technique, but without French culinary tradition, cooking would be nowhere. Not dissimilar to how without strict military tradition, we may not be as safe as we are today. But now I appear to be contradicting myself, traditions aren't necessarily there just to "let us relax before we move on with our day." They allow us to move forward too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New Picture

Since the two chefs in my old one no longer worked at Lacroix, about a week ago I decided to put up a new picture for my profile. Hope you like!


I waste a lot of money on cookbooks. Half the cookbooks I buy, are just kinda to say I have them, or to have them around. I'm still kinda hitting myself on the head for buying the Alinea cookbook. Most cookbooks I rarely use, whether it be for inspiration or actual recipes. Just a select few tend to make the cut.

That's not to say that it's not great to have plenty of cookbooks for reference. I thought I would never touch Alice Waters' Chez Panisse fruits and vegetables, but when I wanted to make lemon curd to put on crepes (that's a whole other post), that's where I turned.

I think, however, that I've found a keeper. A book that will be indispensable in my kitchen, a book that I see myself carrying with me for the rest of my life. Ratio by Michael Ruhlman is that book, because it's so much more than a cookbook. Often when reading cookbooks, I feel restricted by the recipe. Ruhlman's book lets me run free, by teaching the fundamentals from which one can expand. Teaching me a recipe for a potato-rosemary bread really isn't going to help me much in life, whereas if I know the ratio for bread in general, well those are guidelines that will aid me throughout the years.

With the knowledge of a basic ratio, the possibilities are endless, and it allows for better understanding of the cooking process; why pie doughs turn out different then biscuits, how the interaction between sugar, fat and flour makes a quick bread.

I would go as far as to say that this book has the potential to alter this country's dependence on recipes. My mom follows recipes word for word. She's stepping in a stranger's car and hoping that the end result will be that she gets home safely. If she understood the principles of what she was doing, she would be a much better cook. She might even do some stuff on her own, hint, hint.

Michael Ruhlman, keep doing what you're doing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A la Carte at Per Se

To be honest I really don't understand the recession. How can it really be so goshdarn serious, and why can't we just fix it, or make more money, or something of the like. Clearly I know the system doesn't work that way, but I mean to say that the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs is just kinda going over my head. It's hard for me to comprehend without concrete examples and evidence, and so far, I haven't been affected much by it.

The restaurant industry, on the other hand, has. Lacroix has been giving out bargain dinners along with many others. Restaurants' low-profit margins makes it hard to stay afloat. One restaurant however, that I thought would never change it ways, has. Per Se recently adopted an A La Carte menu, and they are accepting walk-ins. Yes, reader, you read that correctly. In the paragraphs below, I will attempt to give my opinion on the matter.

Though I've been to Per Se thrice, I remember my first trip vividly. The place held an aura of sanctity, that I've seen recreated nowhere else in the world. Stepping through the sliding glass doors is like entering Mount Olympus (of all the great places in the world i don't know why I chose Mt. Olympus). Walking through those doors, I could be almost sure that I was one of the lucky few, who had called exactly two months to the date, at exactly 10 o' clock in the morning. And dodging janitors while trying to make a reservation at school? Come on, that's half the fun! I knew that I would be dining for hours on a multi-course feast.

I feel that with the A La Carte menu, that sanctity is gone. Per Se is no longer Mount Olympus. Mere mortals can graze in those sliding glass doors, and casually eat. I bragged about my Per Se reservation tactics, I was an authority almost, having dined there three times. Now those tactics are no longer necessary.

What's more important though, is that I feel this change eliminates much of what Per Se stands for. The restaurants has always been the center for extravagance, the entrance to opulence. Doesn't Per Se's nature lie in memorable, expensive multi-course feasts, that you can only afford once a year, yet the experience lasts the wait, and validates the price, cause it's so goddamn good. Being able to go whenever ruins the experience. It ruins the anticipation for a return visit. When I wrote about Per Se in December, I quoted "I would throw away $298 on a single meal. This would be my third time going, and I am often asked why I am continuously drawn back to Per Se." I've described "why I am continuously drawn back" in the writing above, and with this change, the magnet in my body that lures me to Per Se is growing weaker, it will never die, but its strength is dwindling.

Note: I am completely aware of the fact that this opinion is biased, subjective, selfish, etc, whatever you wanna say. I'm 16 years old. I don't have to pay taxes, or keep up a family. I'm lucky in that I have spare money and not much to spend it on. I understand that this is not that case for many, and that for them, this a la carte menu will be a dream come true. From my perspective however, this goes against the restaurant's concept, and it has taken away the "specialness" of a Per Se visit.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

That time of year

I'm happy it's this time of year, and I don't mean spring, I mean duck-laying time. To be honest I really don't know the schedule, or whether they could potentially lay eggs all year round, but what I do know is that my friend's ducks are laying again. That's good news for me. I wrote about these duck eggs last year, but I think I have a few more readers this time around, so I will say it again.

Regular readers know that I am obsessed with eggs and their culinary "powers." I buy the best, freshest eggs I can find. The difference between your average mega-mart eggs, and some fresh, local, cage-free eggs is substantial, and I find that my mood is significantly diminished, when I run out of the good ones and am forced to use the others.

In my ongoing search for eggceptional eggs, I've set up a little network of purveyors. A cute girl gives me chicken eggs from her Americauna Hens, and my other buddy Jake gives me duck eggs from two ducks (Shawntrel and Goose) that he lovingly (I'm sure) cares for in his backyard. Life is good right?

This connection is important to me. You know in The French Laundry Cookbook, how Thomas Keller includes sections glorifying his purveyors? This is my equivalent. I remember when I went to Per Se, my server described one of the butters for bread. He said that it comes from seven cows, that produce butter, exclusively for The French Laundry and Per Se. When you have something like that, it's special. I'm Jake's only client.

As I said, his ducks have just started laying again, and my days have been transformed. Now that I can scramble up a few ducks eggs before I go to school, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day for me, not to mention the most looked-forward-to.

I tore through the dozen eggs he first gave me, and I will make quick work of the 18 he just gave me. I feel like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and I like it. Now if I could only imitate his tactics with women...

PS: That's my whole wheat bread!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Great Bread

I rarely eat white bread anymore. I find that bread made with whole grains is often more flavorful, not to mention healthier. There is a Great Harvest Bread shop nearby my house, that bakes an incredible honey wheat bread, made with 100% whole wheat flour. It's literally unlike any whole grain bread you've ever tasted. I often find myself eating this bread plain, no butter, no nothing- it's really that good.

I've baked whole grain breads in the past, and my attempts haven't failed, but I wouldn't say that they've succeeded either. The standards have been set so high by this bread from Great Harvest, that I felt like I may never be satisfied with anything else.

I was determined however, and after a long hiatus, I recently tried again. I made Peter Reinhert's sandwich loaf, from his whole grain bread book, and it turned out fantastic.

The bread is soft, and has great flavor, not the bitter, off-putting flavor often associated with whole grains, and it's perfect for sandwiches. This bread easily matches its counterpart from Great Harvest, and I'm debating baking a loaf every sunday. I really can't get enough of this bread, and though I would feel guilty if I put the recipe up here (i'm sure you can find it elsewhere) I urge you to try this for yourself, if not for the health benefits the taste.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Last Rounds

At this point, I'm really over this whole March Madness food thing. This is really clogging up my blog, preventing me from putting out other posts. I've got a huge backlog that I really wanna get out, so let's just finish this tournament in one fell swoop.

4th Round

Sweet potato versus apple
Apple is the iconic, the legendary, the all-American. In the fall, I can go and pick apples nearby, and never run out of uses for them. Apple pie, apple butter, applesauce, apple crumble, the list continues. I fancy sweet potatoes, but I doubt I'd write a two sentence ode to them like I've just done above. Apples are going to the final four!

Short Ribs versus Duck Confit
Short Ribs are tender, succulent, fatty, savory. Duck confit is all those things, + crispy and salty. Duck confit wins.

Pizza versus Mac and Cheese.
Mac and cheese is great and comforting, don't get me wrong, but when they take on the powerhouse pizza they have no chance. Pizza is just so cheap, so readily available, so convenient to eat. Yea there are plenty of crappy pizzerias, but usually when I'm looking for pizza I'm not goin gourmet. And that's fine. Pizza is so good, that it doesn't need to be good to be good. In other words, pizza is just so overall fantastic, that it doesn't need to be of high quality, to hit the spot. Plus, I can just drive on over to my friendly neighborhood pizzeria and get mac and cheese pizza, and it doesn't get better than that.

Apple Pie versus Choco Chip cookies
These are two of my favorite things to make from scratch, but I think it's the fact that 75% of the time that I see choco chip cookies, they're not homemade. Whether it be artificial grocery store variety, or nestle slice and bake, I feel choco chip cookies have been relegated in society. The apple pie I eat is almost always homemade so we kinda share a connection. AP wins.

5th Round
Apple versus Duck Confit
I think every round, and rightfully so, I bring up that pull-apart texture, and fatty goodness of duck confit. I dream of duck confit. I want to take baths in duck confit. Bathing in apple juice? Eh not my cup of tea. DC goes to the finals.

Pizza versus Apple Pie
Pizza has always been good, but apple pie has always been GREAT. It's that special treat that I make with grandmom, that I indulge in only every so often, but when I do, its fulfilling and memorable. When I indulge in pizza,,,, not so much. AP in the finals!!

Duck Confit versus Apple Pie
Here is it. This is what we've all been waiting for (or trying to get over with) THE FINALS of this 64-food tournament. Duck Confit has fought its way here, destroying tough-to-beat pork belly, and finger-lickin-good fried chicken. Apple pie has had no easy road either, beating cinnamon buns and most recently the powerhouse pizza. So who has what it takes to be crowned the ultimate food? Apple pie is special to me. It always has been and it always will be. Duck confit is more of the cute girl I recently picked up off the street, that I'm obsessed with now, but will soon enough forget about. Though I will once more sing its praises, fatty, tender, succulent, crispy, satisfying, apple pie is my old standby. The winner of the 2009 March Madness of Food is APPLE PIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Regular posting will now resume. Thank Goodness.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


More posts coming tomorrow night, I assure you.

Monday, April 6, 2009

3rd Round (full)

Good god, where has the coverage been on this tournament lately? It seems the reporters have slacked, and I can tell you from first hand experience, indeed they have. But anyway, let's get on with the action.

1 Potato versus 11 sweet potato
Potatoes are more versatile, they're more universally loved, they're the classic. But the fact of the matter is, I just frikin like sweet potatoes more than potatoes. That's all there is to it. Sweet potatoes win and an 11 seed goes to the elite 8!

3 apple versus 10 mango
Every reason I just gave for potato being better than sweet potato can be applied to apple versus mango, except in this case, apple wins.

1 pizza versus 4 waffles
Pizza is simply put, better than waffles, unless I'm really in the mood for waffles, which is often, but not enough for waffles to win.

3 pancakes versus 2 mac and cheese
Some kids have imaginary friends made out of thin air. Mine is made of mac and cheese. Mac wins.

1 Bacon versus 13 short ribs
Short ribs just put on that tough, rib-stickin defense and won the game. Essentially, I'm just avoiding a regular explanation of why I like short ribs better because if I didn't, my words word be ridiculed by bacon fans everywhere. Not that they still won't, but it's better this way.

12 Duck Confit versus 7 Fried Chicken
Both are cooked submerged in fat, which makes them both tough competitors, but like a commenter said, too often is fried chicken reduced to KFC-quality. That rarely happens with duck confit. Plus, that pull-apart texture of duck confit is to die for.

9 Cinn Bun versus 6 apple pie
I've been making apple pies since I was like 5. I made my first cinnamon buns on Christmas. Perhaps it's unfair that apple pie just has this aura of superioty in my mind, but then again maybe not, since these pics are based on my preferences. Apple pie wins.

3 Choco chip cookies versus 10 fudge
Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, chunks of chocolate in the middle, yummy throughout. While fudge is uniform, ccc's are the total package. CCC wins!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

2nd Round part 2

1 Bacon versus 9 pastrami
Let's go head to head: both bacon and pastrami are smoked. Both are cured. Bacon is fattier. Bacon wins.

11 smoked salmon versus 13 short ribs
I absolutely love both of these contenders, but there's just nothing like short ribs braising away in your dutch oven, perfuming your house, and then finally eating them, and watching them fall apart when pierced with a fork. I could go on....

14 pork belly versus 12 duck confit
The texture of the duck confit just makes it for me. The crispy skin, the soft, pull-apart meat. Ahhh. Pork belly you're still great in my book, but duck confit wins.

7 fried chicken versus 2 filet mignon
Because I think I have soul, fried chicken wins. Extra crispy please.

On to the desserts

16 carrot cake versus 9 cinnamon bun
Head to head: both are great with cream cheese frosting, both are moist, cinnamon buns smell infinitely better. Cinnamon buns win.

6 apple pie versus 13 pecan pie
Ahhhh the great pie showdown. I love that brown sugar and crunch you get from pecan pie, but, I'm American, and I've been making apple pies with grams ever since I was five. AP wins.

3 choco chip cookies versus 12 cheesecake
I gotta go with the classic, the treat that fills kid's lunches, the treat that everyone loves, the treat that would make cheesecake better if added to it. Choco chip cookies win in a bigtime blowout!

10 fudge versus 2 oreos
Many people were surprised that oreos beat dark chocolate in the last round. They'll be glad to see that cream-filled cookie go down in this round. Sorry oreos, even you can't compete with dense, rich, vanilla fudge, slightly melting in my hand as I eat it on the beach. Fudge is half the reason I look forward to summer. 10 percent is Mac and Mancos, 5 percent is Kohr Bros frozen custard, 5 percent is girls in bikinis, 25 percent is no school, and the last 5 is other. Back on topic, fudge wins.