All posts by Stephen

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!

Bread and Cheese Pudding

Bread pudding is most commonly seen as a dessert, with sugary sweet or liquor-based sauces, served at the end of a meal.

My first encounter with a savory bread pudding, designed to be an entree, was in The Mediterranean Slow Cooker, a cookbook by Michele Scicolone. The recipe for Mozzarella, Sausage and Sun-dried Tomato Bread Pudding is a knockout (check it out here on Google Books: Mediterranean Slow Cooker p 58).

We have had it for dinner a couple of times, we like to jazz it up by changing the seasonings and making different sauces. A Tomato Basil Cream Sauce goes very well with it, as does a rich Marinara-style sauce.

In the previous post we discussed John Thorne’s Outlaw Cook and his essay on the Plowman’s Lunch, so we’d like to share the results of an experiment we did with one of the recipes in Thorne’s book: Bread and Cheese Pudding.

The recipe is ridiculously simple, as are the techniques involved. Even if you have never made a bread pudding you can’t mess this up.

Since this was an experiment I cut down the recipe a bit, you can scale it up as needed. This makes enough for two.

  • 4 slices of Gluten-free bread, lightly toasted (I use the Glutino Multigrain)
  • 4 ounces of Aged Cheddar, grated
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 small Onion, (1 cup) chopped fine
  • 6 ounces of beer (I used Anchor Stout)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Butter

Your Mise

Components for bread & cheese pudding

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the egg, beer and cheese in a large bowl. Add the salt, pepper, cayenne and onions. Stir well to distribute the yolk and the seasonings.

Cut the bread into 3/4 inch squares and stir them in to the liquid. Let it set for a few minutes to soak up the beer.

Use the butter to grease a baking pan, I made this batch into a mini-muffin tin. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size and shape of your pan, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

These took 35 minutes.

Bake bread and cheese pudding at 375 for 35 mins. Until toothpick comes out clean.

Mini bread and cheese puddings

Eat them while still hot!

Toppings

While this savory bread pudding was delicious on its own, crispy on the outside and creamy inside, we tried a few topping and condiments.

Here they are cut in half, topped with a small slice of the aged cheddar and a teaspoon of Sweet Onion Compote:

Bread & cheese pudding topped with cheddar & sweet onion compote

Delicious. We also tried them with Stone Ground Mustard, Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard, and French’s Yellow Mustard. This particular combo was best with the Stone Ground.

Final Thoughts

We will definitely be making this again, with some small changes, depending on the rest of the meal we are putting together. I’d like to try it in a bread-pan, about 2 inches deep, so I can cut it into slices and make an open-faced sandwich with Ham and Cheddar. Or change the bread to Rye and top with Pastrami and Swiss.

So many possibilities!

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!

Experimental Recipe – Scallops Poached in Champagne

Pretty much the entire month of October was taken up by preparations for a little gaming convention this past weekend, so I have been busy painting little soldiers instead of cooking and blogging…

Tuesday was my first full day off since then and I decided to have some fun with some scallops. Because I am a bit of a planner I wrote out a menu for the night’s festivities, something to give me a foundation to build upon.

menu plan on whiteboard

At least one Twitter follower thought it was “meticulous”. It’s just the way I do things.

Gathering the Mise

  • Scallops, preferably large dry sea scallops
  • Champagne, I used Freixenet
  • Radicchio
  • Arugula
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1/2 Lemon
  • Green Onion Aioli
  • Red Onion
  • Green Onion
  • Artichoke Hearts
  • Red or Yellow Sweet Bell Pepper
  • Shallot
  • Paprika
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Preparation

First I started to marinate the Red Bell Pepper, some Green Onion and Red Onion in the Lemon Juice with some fresh-ground Black Pepper and a Teaspoon of EVOO.

aromatics marinating in lemon juice(Do this part first so the vegetables have time to absorb that Lemony goodness)

Next I put about 1/4 cup of the Balsamic Vinegar with the sliced Shallot in a pan over medium heat to reduce a little.

Poaching the Scallops themselves only takes a short time, so we save that step for last. The next thing I did was start to assemble the salad ingredients on the plate. Since the Scallops and the Balsamic reduction were going to be sweet I wanted there to be some bitterness to contrast that flavor, with the acid of the Lemon juice bringing all of the pieces together.

bitter greans for poached scallop dishCut out a thin slice of the Radicchio, this will be the base of the salad. I also roughly chopped some more for a garnish, alongside Green Onions cut on a bias and the Artichoke Hearts (the kind that come in a jar, packed in oil – drain them but do not rinse). I also gave the plate a dusting of Paprika and a few drops of the EVOO.

When the Balsamic was where I like it I took it off the heat and put it in the fridge to chill. I put another sautee pan on the heat and poured in a cup or so of the Champagne, turning up the heat too.

Time to finish building the salad. Pile some of the Arugula atop the Radicchio slice, add the marinated vegetables:

set up the salad

Finally, add your Scallops to the boiling Champagne and cook them to your desired level of doneness. I like mine firm, perhaps a little underdone. Place the Scallops on top of your salad, then drizzle with the Balsamic Reduction and Green Onion Aioli.

And Voila!

Scallops Poached in Champagne with Bitter Greens

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…

I Feel Like an Omelette Today

On Saturday, wonder of wonders, I had the day off! So the Lovely Bride and I went to the movies (we don’t do that very often).

This movie was so wonderful, and not just the parts about the cooking!

We laughed, we got teary-eyed. Simply a beautiful story of hard work, of love, of family and determination.

I have been thinking about it for days now, and this morning it made me feel like making an Omelette. I had some stuff that I wanted to use and thought it would work nicely together:

  • Andouille Sausage – cooked whole, then chopped
  • Chopped Red Bell Pepper
  • Coarsely chopped fresh White Mushrooms
  • Grated Smoked Cheddar
  • 1 Garlic clove, minced
  • 1 slice of Onion, chopped
  • and a Green Onion for garnish

(this makes enough filling for two omelettes)

sausage onions peppers garlic cheddar

Melt some butter in a saute pan and cook the Onion and Pepper until they start to get tender. Add Mushrooms and Sausage, continue to cook for about two more minutes, then add the Garlic.

When the Garlic starts to caramelize remove the mixture from the heat and reserve in a bowl. Return the pan to the heat.

saute-veggies-and-sausage
Don’t burn the garlic!

For each omelette get a mixing bowl –  combine 3 eggs with a 1/4 cup of Milk, a dash of Salt & Pepper and a pinch of Paprika.  Whisk assertively for 30 seconds and pour into the pan.

Let the egg mixture on the edges of the pan set, then use a spatula to slide under the edge, allowing uncooked egg mixture to flow beneath and cook. Take your time and be gentle.

When most of the egg is cooked, add the cheese, scattering it all over the surface of the omelette. Next, add the filling mix to the pan, in a line across the omelette:

add-veggie-cheese-and-meat-filling

Voila!

omelette with cheese and sausage
Yum! You can garnish with Green Onion, Sour Cream, Salsa… you name it!

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…