So Perfectly Awesome it's Painful

on Friday, April 17, 2009

A blog devoted to one man/woman's love, nay obsession with cilantro.

This raises the bar for mind-blowing.  This is more awesome than a flying monkey carrying a blender of frozen drinks showing up unexpectedly.

Broadly Regarding the Recent Talk of Mussels

on Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Just a quick thought in retrospect, regarding the mussel recipe: it's got a fundamental factor that I find really relevant to broader thoughts about cooking... aioli.

This falls into an area that I've found intriguing about "Simply Ming", the televised cooking of Ming Tsai.  Each episode (of the few that I've seen) introduce elements that can be used in a myriad of ways, and an assortment of techniques and backdrops are used with said element.  So, in that light, a tag for "element" will be added for anything of that kind going forward.

Aioli is an element that can be used and explored with different ingredients, whether green herbs, or curry or anything that can strike your fancy.  Vinaigrettes, beurre blanc, mirepoix, and other preparations fall into this same category.  Whether it's a blend of herbs/spices, or a technique, these elements add the capacity to take methodologies and expand them to work on your own voice and your own set of flavors.

And yes, I did get that pompous about a blend of mayo and other crap.  The swollen head is hard to avoid.

Discomfort Food

on Friday, April 10, 2009

So hey!

What have you (entirely hypothetical) folks been up to?



I've been struck with Chilean Hopping Death Plague.

That doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about ways to make simple delicious fare for yourself and your loved ones...

So in that light, I've discovered a really great trick:

Take some of these (apparently they're called "bouillon cubes")

I don't know where to recommend looking for them, I have had some luck finding them at my local green grocer's.

There are versions available that are based on the essence of seafood, of beef, and even of vegetables, but I've stayed here with the traditional chicken... it has that certain something.

Measure out a portion, prepare precisely two cups of water, in a pot, with the "bouillon cube", and bring to a boil.

Be absolutely certain that it has fully incorporated, you may want to whisk it in one small piece at a time to be certain that you the soup doesn't break... once complete, simply serve in a bowl!

Best enjoyed while sweating under a blanket, watching infomercials while you are in too much pain to find the remote and look through your tivo list.

Mussels with Smoked Paprika Aioli

on Thursday, April 2, 2009

Now for something stolen, changed, and about to be claimed as a bit more of my own.

Chow had a recipe for Broiled Mussels with Sweet Paprika Aioli which I loved the idea of.

This goes to a certain question of eco-friendliness, as the seafood that makes its way onto the American table is often among the worst for fish stocks, or the environment.  Salmon, tuna, and shrimp are disastrous as dining choices, and they are what you inevitably find in supermarkets, and other fish are sometimes incredibly expensive to salve the conscience.

There is hope, though, and it comes in the form of the humble Blue Mussel.  I can hear you now, there are plenty of people who just plain dislike mussels, and my wife was among them.  The chow folks do not lie, this will change the minds of people who don't think they like mussels.  Here's how they find out (or you find out) that there was something you didn't know...

Mussels are farmed, but the farming is done in such a way that there are neglible environmental consequences, and they represent a limited carbon stream: filter feeding, and grown local to the point of consumption, they are a poster child for sound and responsible aquaculture.

Follow the recipe, if you want to follow it start to finish, more power to you.

However, there were a few changes I made, namely the use of smoked paprika, which I've been absolutely in love with recently, and looking for any excuse to use, a bit of ancho chili and chipotle chili powder in substitution, and aioli made from (gasp!) pre-made mayonnaise.

Making your own mayonnaise will be covered in a subsequent post, but for now it's not only a huge headache, it's also possibly more expensive than just using it from the good people at Hellman's.  I hate to admit it, but there are times where I can't compete from scratch, and where I do a worse job from financial and aesthetic perspectives.

The proportions listed for the aioli are reasonably good, but with this you need to follow your own palate above all else.  Much of this process is down to what you happen to like... more dijon?  Less?  More Garlic?  Straight mayo with chocolate chips?  Think WAY out of the box, if you want.

Take it as a template, and with any recipe begin by doing it pretty much from the book once, and then freelancing a bit.  This truth does not obtain for pastry or bread, things that are done inside the oven demand rules, while things done "above the oven" on top of the stove demand flexibility... as the saying goes you are either a cook, or a baker, and this is exactly what they mean by that.  Baking demands measurement, cooking demands some degree of slopping things around and poking things to see if they are done.  I'm not much of a baker, despite the fact that both pieces of cooking so far have involved the oven; don't be fooled, okay?  I think they're on here because they are what I'm weakest at, instead of the other way around.

The time estimates are reasonably accurate, and it is a fair amount of manual prep, but it is tremendous once it's done, and other than opening and stripping the mussels, it's really not too challenging.

Doing this with a pastry/piping bag, if you have one, is probably worth it... you would replace food prep time with dishwasher time, or handwash time.  It's your call, I spooned them this time, but next time will do this with a piping bag and keep the baking sheet cleaner.  I wish I had had parsley on hand, but I didn't let it stop me, don't let it stop you either...

And by the way, I still haven't convinced my in-laws to eat mussels.   My wife, she was brought around to seeing the light, though.


Soul of a Chef

I'm not employed in the industry, I can't claim experience in that regard.  I'm a home cook, at best with a few ideas or thoughts to share.

That said, I've just been reading "Soul of a Chef: The Pursuit of Perfection" by Michael Ruhlman, and can't recommend it highly enough.  It takes the experiantial journalism style you find in Bill Buford's "Heat", and adds it's own personal touch, with a progression of different experiences.  Ruhlman begins by observing and mulling over the CMC exams at the Culinary Institute of America... a harrowing ten-day skills test by master examiners.

While the CMC is not a broadly recognized certification, the description of the process is more than harrowing, and is certainly well more than humbling... far be it from me to develop a recipe on the spot for complex forcemeat and other charcuterie presentations.

The book transitions to a description of life and events at Michael Symon's restaurant Lola at the point where Symon was selected one of Food & Wine's Top 10 New Chef's, and finally comes to rest in a long reflection on time spent at Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Yountville, CA.  An intriguing tidbit is the presence at the time of Grant Achatz, who has since moved on to fame and madness at Alinea.

I'm not a high cost foodie, and I like to keep the pretension pretty well limited, but seeing a window into the ways and thought processes of people at that level of creation is truly fascinating.  Among other details, the ways in which every "fiddley" bit of trimming and scrap is used in other dishes in a way that you can never do as a home cook.  Trimming perfect little circles of truffle is fine if you're making truffle butter or truffle coulis later in the evening.  Trimming them just to make perfect little circles and having to throw away raw material is just preposterous.  Hence, homemade dishes have a more homemade look and quality.

Pick it up, amazon has them used for a song (if you happen to get paid $10 a pop to do songwriting, that is) and it's worth a read.

Or, you can be a retro-futurist and do the ultimate in file sharing... get it at the library.  It's a revolutionary concept, but I'm finding it pretty spectacular.  The man doesn't want you to know about it, but it's out there... books for free.  You will, however, need to bring it back eventually... just in case you'd forgotten how that process worked.

I feel like I just finished writing "My Summer Vacation" or a book report for the fourth grade.