Knife and Mise | On Food, Cooking, and the Culinary Life

I Made Almost 2,000 People Happy Last Week

I recently read a gorgeous essay about being in the restaurant biz, by  Kylestyle, at Cocktails and Folklore (great blog name, BTW).

 

Just like every other great business person, I provide a product and a service to customers. I equip myself with great knowledge and the people skills to be able to provide the best service possible. The fact that I happen to sell food, wine, cocktails should not lessen the fact that I am in fact a business person who is providing a service. A service that the customer came to take part in….

I totally agree with Kyle’s assessment that a lot of customers do not think that Hospitality is a vocation worthy of respect. I know, there have been a million blog posts on this already, so I’m not going to beat that horse. If someone doesn’t respect my career choice, then I don’t care what they think about anything else, either.

I don’t need ignorant, or stupid, people in my life.

I’ve worked in other fields: banking, bookstores, car sales, catering sales. But I keep coming back to the restaurant, because I love it.

I love the rush of a busy service, orchestrating the fast-paced dynamics of getting cold drinks and hot food from the back to the front.

I love seeing the smiles on the faces and in the eyes of people enjoying themselves, eating the food that our team put together.

I love talking to the people and hearing their stories, about why they come to our restaurant, the dishes they enjoy, how they want to share an experience with family, or with friends from out of town.

Sure, from time to time there is that person who doesn’t get it. Or that just doesn’t like what we are producing. And it can grate for a bit, but I always get back up and do it all over again. Because for every Negative Nancy there are a thousand smiling faces that say, “it’s delicious, thank you for stopping by“.

That is why I do what I do, and I don’t care if some idiot thinks it’s not respectable. What could be more respectable than making people happy?

How many people, do you suppose, do they make happy every day?

 

How to Read a Recipe

Alton Brown has some great tips on how to read a recipe, so you don’t blow up what you’re trying to cook:

1. Sit Down: That’s right … sit down at the kitchen table and simply read the recipe all the way through. Don’t make notes, don’t make lists, just read.

2. Read It Again: Highlight any special procedures or sidebars that might change your timeline, i.e. bringing butter to room temperature or soaking dry beans (that’s the one that used to get me). Be careful to note punctuation. For instance, “1 cup chopped nuts” is not the same as “1 cup nuts, chopped.” Nor is 6 ounces of brown sugar the same as 3/4 cup brown sugar.

3. Gather Equipment: I always do this first because if there’s something esoteric on the hardware list, you may need to abandon the dish until you can procure a left-handed pasta roller.

4. Gather Ingredients: Pantry ingredients and dry goods should be corralled into a staging area. Anything that’s missing goes on the grocery list. I do the same thing with the refrigerator/freezer, collecting everything onto one shelf. Whatever’s missing goes on the grocery list. During this phase be especially mindful of ingredients that may need to be thawed, or brought to room temperature. Keep in mind, recipe writers list ingredients in order of use, typically from largest amount to smallest. This is also a cue for the cook as to how the ingredients should be measured and used. For example, if a recipe calls for both a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of oil, we call for the oil first so that the honey will be easier to measure.

Instant Mirepoix

A mirepoix is traditionally a roughly chopped vegetable mixture of onions, carrots, and celery, in a ratio of two parts onions, one part carrots, and one part celery. Raw, roasted or sautéed with butter or olive oil, mirepoix is the flavor base for a wide range of stocks, soups, stews and sauces.

I recently learned a new technique for making and using it in a soup, and it occurred to me that we can do up a big batch of it and freeze it for “instant” use later.

Roughly chop enough carrots and celery for 1 cup of each, and chop 2 cups of onion.

Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan on medium high heat. Add the carrots and give them a good, hard sear. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and celery. When the onions start to caramelize add 1 1/2 cups of reduced sodium chicken broth. Simmer until the carrots are tender.

Dump the whole thing into your food processor and puree until smooth.

Spoon the puree into an ice cube tray and freeze until needed.

Instant mirepoix

Voila!

Outlaw Cook – A Book Review

John Thorne is a brilliant food writer whom, I am ashamed to say, I only discovered recently. His website hasn’t been updated in years, but, there is plenty to discover and I have the luxury of reading his work at my pace, instead of waiting for each new thing to appear!

The first book I discovered was Outlaw Cook, a collection of essays, biographical notes, history lessons and recipes. What a treasure!

Outlaw Cook by John Thorne Essays on food and cooking, with recipes

This is my kind of food writing. I found this book at Brattle Book Shop, in Boston, and when I read the description inside the front flap I knew I had to get to know this writer:

…the opening pages of Outlaw Cook evoke the slow time of childhood summers in Maine, where he first learned to taste…and the years as a college dropout , where hunger and solitude transformed an indifferent meal maker into an outlaw cook.
The rest of the book shares his struggle to keep his kitchen a private place, and his consequent culinary rebellion – against food writers who keep filling his head with the chatter of instruction…

Wow. I can identify with this sentiment. That is exactly what I want this blog to be, not a set of instructions but a cornucopia of inspirations.

His essay on the Plowman’s Lunch is simply the best piece of food writing I have ever read. (You can read an excerpt here on Google Books)

History lesson, cookbook, and philosophical journey all rolled into one. Bread and cheese and onion and ale. Four simple, basic ingredients that can be expressed in unlimited ways.

On their own, in their “raw” state, a hearty meal with carbs, protein, vitamins and flavor. But think about how these ingredients can be transformed (yes, I watch too much Chopped), just for starters:

  • Saute the onions and make a grilled cheese sandwich
  • Put the ale in a pot and make a Plowman’s Onion Soup (we’ll be doing this together soon!)
  • Bake the onion in the bread and swap the Cheddar for Brie, the ale for wine
  • Cheese and Onion Pie!

The creative mind reels.

The last chapter is as much a treasure trove as the first, entitled “The Culinary Scene”, it discusses a food community that was current in the late ’80s/early 90s (when this book was published) as well as books from the 50s and 60s. Books I may never have learned of, but will be ordering from Amazon soon!

 

UPDATE: I just finished reading the second book, Pot on the Fire. It’s just as good, entertaining and informative. Next up: Serious Pig

 

With an appetite for accuracy to match his appreciation of food at its purest (an issue of form as well as content), John Thorne tracks down the origins of dishes that have captured his heart and imagination along with his palate.
The book focuses mainly in three regional food-ways: New England’s pioneer and Atlantic coast cooking, with a focus on Maine (in a section titled “Here”); Louisiana’s Cajun tradition (in the section “There”); and Texas’s cowboy heritage of chili, barbecue and cornbread (in “Everywhere,” which includes brief looks at hamburgers, white bread and other all-American inventions).
Besides recipes, the reader will find thoughtful, informed and opinionated disquisitions on such as jambalaya, chili (16 recipes chart its development, the first from an 1880 cookbook) and a global survey of dishes made with rice and beans.

The Cubano Sandwich

I love the movie, Chef, with Jon Favreau. Sometimes on my day off I’ll make myself a late breakfast, pour a glass of wine, and watch it in my pajamas.

It often gives me inspiration to cook something for my Lovely Bride, but recently I have been fixated on the Cubano sandwich.

pressed cuban sandwichI have been roasting a Pork Butt every other week for the past two months, in search of the perfect marinade and construction.

I’ve tried different mustards, pickles, hams, etc. The following recipe is the one that I like the best.

For the sandwich itself you will need:

  • Ciabatta Bread
  • Quality Swiss Cheese, sliced fairly thin, two slices per sandwich
  • Black Forest Ham, from the Deli counter, again, sliced fairly thin, three slices per sandwich
  • Dill Pickles, preferably Vlasic Ovals
  • A panini press

I get all of this at the Deli counter, because I can get just enough for the number of sandwiches that I am going to make. We are going to prepare the Pork Shoulder Butt ourselves!

The Marinade

Start with a Pork Butt of at least three pounds and do your prep the day before you plan on cooking it. You will also need:

  • 2 quarts, less 8 ounces, of Orange Juice (we’re going to use the 8 oz for the Rub)
  • 1 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 1 Lime, quartered and squeezed into the marinade
  • 1 Navel Orange, quartered and squeezed into the marinade
  • 6 cloves of Garlic, put thru a Garlic Press
  • 1/2 large yellow Onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Red Pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon of Kosher Salt

Mix all of this in a bowl large enough to contain all of the liquid and the Pork Butt. Put the pork in the marinade, cover with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for 12 hours.

The Rub

In a sauce pan, add the 8 oz of Orange Juice over medium-high heat.

Add:

  • 1/2 teaspoon dry Cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup finely chopped yellow Onion

Reduce to 1/2 volume. Add 1 Cup of Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard and 1/4 Cup of Bread & Butter Pickle Juice. Bring back to a simmer, reduce heat and let it reduce until it is thick and creamy. Add Salt to taste. Remove from heat and cool down. Store in the fridge until you are ready to roast the Pork Butt.

The Roast

Take the Pork Butt out of the marinade and put it in a roasting pan on the counter one hour before cooking. Pre-heat your oven to 275 degrees. Pour the Rub over the pork and smear it all over, top, bottom, sides, all over. Finish with the Pork Butt in the pan with the fatty side up.

Roast the pork for 3 hours, or until the temperature in the center is 130 degrees. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Cut some slices of the Butt, about 1/4 inch thick, two per sandwich. The rest will hold in the fridge for a week, you can cut more for sandwiches later, too!

The Sandwich

Spread French’s Yellow Mustard on one side of the Ciabatta. Use a little more than you think you should, you want it thick, there is a lot of meat on this bad boy! This is the bottom of the sandwich. Next, lay down the Black Forest Ham, then the roast pork slices, followed by the Swiss cheese and finally the pickles on top. Cover with the other half of the Ciabatta and press until the cheese starts oozing out the sides.

Delish!

Notes from the Larder – Book Review

My cookbook collection continues to grow, with the latest addition being a wonderful offering from Nigel Slater, Notes from the Larder, a Kitchen Diary with Recipes.

nigel-slater-notes-from-the-larderThis is my favorite kind of cookbook, because it is formatted with stories about food, cooking and the seasons with recipes interspersed throughout. Presented as a chronology of sorts, it begins in January with the baking of bread and moves through the year with stories and anecdotes detailing the changing of the seasons.

Slater writes about his garden, the marketplaces he frequents, the produce and the fish with a friendly and easy-going style.

lamb-osso-buccoThe recipes, unlike those found in ‘chef-ier’ cookbooks, are definitely the kinds of things you can make at home. The photography is excellent as well, featuring mouth-watering displays of most of the dishes contained in the book. I mean, look at this one!

(You can actually download this recipe for Lamb “Osso Bucco” from Amazon for free.)

I am looking forward to cooking some of these recipes and sharing the results with you here. Things like Salmon Marinated with Beets, Dill and Orange, or the Salad of Crab, Avocado and Lime!

Here is a video of Slater making Pepper, Tomato and Basil Pasta, from his show Nigel Slater’s Simple Cooking. I can almost smell the Basil right now…

Playing with Pattypan Squash

I found some lovely Patty Pan Squash at the Farmer’s Market and have been using them as side dishes. Just a simple saute in butter and garlic, maybe with a little shaved Parmesan Cheese.

patty-pan-squashBut, last night I decided to play around with them some, add more ingredients and see how they play together. I shaved the kernels off of a fresh ear of corn and threw them in a saute pan with the halved Patty Pans and some butter, on medium heat.

While the squash and corn were cooking I minced some Garlic, Red Onion, Green Onion and Radicchio, threw them in the pan, and turned down the heat a bit.

patty-pan-saute with garlic, onionsThe aroma was heavenly, earthy and sweet at the same time. The taste, well, it needed something. So it got a pinch of Salt & Pepper, some dry Cilantro and a 1/4 cup of Heavy Cream.

Better, but it needed some punch. Hey, Texas Pete is right there…Boom! Toss in some Feta Cheese crumbles and top with a shake of Paprika and now you’ve really got something:

patty-pan-with-feta-and-cream

Delicious.

This might make a pretty good “cream of” soup, too. Or a sauce for a Chicken and Pasta dish…

 

Experimental Recipe – Green Onion Aioli

Last night I had a friend over after work. We drank a couple of beers and talked about food and cooking. He is going to come over next week to spend some time with me in the kitchen, I am going to teach him how I make some of my favorite dishes (yes, there will be pics and posts!).

I had him try some baby potatoes with garlic aioli – a recipe that I made out of a Tapas cookbook I picked up this weekend – and he just about fell over. It’s a dead-simple thing, making aioli, but getting the proportions right is the key.

This morning I woke up thinking about that aioli, and how would it taste if I subbed out the garlic for green onions? I let the thought simmer on the back burner of my mind while I took care of some housekeeping and decided to try an Experimental Recipe.

Extracting the Green Onion Flavor

The most important part of this experiment, for me, was getting the most flavor out of those fresh green onions. They are one of my favorite garnishes, with such a lovely green flavor and lightly pungent aroma.

I took five of them, cut them down to 2″ lengths, and put them in the NutriBullet with a 1/4-cup of water and about a 1/4 teaspoon of fresh-ground peppercorns (I am using a blend of Black, Pink and White peppercorns right now). I pureed this for about 40 seconds, making sure all of the stems were broken down.

The result was an intensely green onion-flavored froth with an amazing aroma.

Green Onion Puree
Green Onion Puree

The second step was to get some of that extra water back out of the puree. I put it into a small pan and reduced it on low heat for about five minutes, stirring gently to release the air. When it began to look more ‘liquid’ I took it off the heat to cool down to room temperature. I also stirred in one tablespoon of Champagne Vinegar so it could start working on permeating the onion puree.

Mixing Your Aioli

      Puree:

    • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
    • 5 Green Onions
    • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 tablespoons Canola Oil

Separate the yolk from a large egg and put it in a small dish to warm up to room temperature. When the yolk and puree are right, add them together in a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of lemon juice and whisk.

Note: When I initially made this I did not include the lemon juice. When I tasted the finished product I found it needed a little more ooomph, so I whisked in the lemon juiceBoom! Perfect.

Once the sauce has achieved a creamy, uniform consistency, start drizzling in your olive and canola oil while whisking briskly.

Serving Ideas

I had some blanched veggies left over from the other night’s dinner so I used them for dipping:

Blanched Chilled Veggies with Green Onion Aioli
Blanched Chilled Veggies with Green Onion Aioli: Asparagus, Red Bell Pepper, Zucchini, Carrot, Mushroom and Snap Peas

I have to say that it is simply amazing with the asparagus and the snap peas.

Give it a try, I’d love to hear what you think.

Souped-Up Short Stack Pancakes

The Lovely Bride has a favorite breakfast – pancakes!

Before I learned about my gluten-sensitivity I used to make them for our breakfast almost every Sunday. When I decided to eliminate gluten from my diet (as much as possible, anyway) this little tradition fell by the wayside.

Recently we discovered a gluten-free pancake mix, Glutino, which is very tasty and easy to use.

Glutino gluten-free pancake mix

The directions say to stir together equal parts of pancake mix and milk, plus oil and an egg. Starting with 1 and 1/2 cups of mix, I put in the oil (I used Olive Oil, of course!) and the egg first, then started stirring in a cup of milk. The batter was very wet and runny, so I opted not to add that additional 1/2 cup.

I let the batter sit while the electric griddle warmed up and I fried a few slices of Black Pepper Encrusted Turkey Pastrami (in lieu of Bacon). I brushed the griddle with butter and poured out eight medium-sized pancakes.

gluten free pancakes on the electric griddleThe pancakes fluffed up nicely and turned a beautiful golden-brown. I took them off the griddle and put them in the warmed-up oven while I fried a couple of eggs over-easy.

My Favorite Breakfast “Sandwich”

To make the Souped Up Short Stack you’ll need some American Cheese slices and Bacon (I sub in the Turkey Pastrami). When the eggs are fried the way you like them, start building your sandwich (starting with the foundation). You can use as many layers of pancakes as you want:

  1. Pancake
  2. Fried Turkey Pastrami
  3. Pancake
  4. Slice of American Cheese
  5. Pancake, smear with a little butter
  6. Over-easy Egg
  7. Pancake
  8. Over-easy Egg
  9. Drizzle with Maple Syrup and Sriracha Hot Sauce

Enjoy!

Souped Up Short Stack Pancake Sandwich