Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I'm Lovin' It?

Wow, I never realized how different advertising is between us and other countries. I was looking up some information for my thesis and came across some youtube.com videos that were advertisements for McDonald's. The difference however is that Ronald's daughter (?) is the headline for the current commercial.

I however was not shocked by the commercial as I recalled a report that was put out last year by McDonald's marketing committee. They found that advertising to children was not only seen as negative by parents, but that style of advertising was outdated and pas see. Before you ladies out there say that McD's is objectifying the female figure (in an odd and creepy way) make sure you ladies look at McD Junior here (equally creepy).

I gotta say though, do they really think people are going to buy into this? Eat McD's and look like that, or is it an attempt to be hip? Either way I think I'm a little creeped out and I'm still not going to eat McDonald's. Instead I am just going to have a little snicker and maybe watch the creepy Burger King guy.

Currently reading :
Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies (Hagley Perspectives on Business and Culture)
By Warren Belasco
Release date: 12 October, 2001

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Temporary Hiatus

My blog is on a small hiatus until after the holidays, as I am in the process of moving and then spending time with my family who I haven't spent time with in awhile.

Chef Christopher Allen Tanner

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Year in Boston Has Come to a Close

Alright, so the semester is just about over for me here at Boston University. I have one more class tomorrow in which I present my final paper. I'm sure it is going to be an odd feeling, as it is my last class for my master's degree. I am by no means finished, as I now go into thesis mode.

This last year here in Boston has been great. Not only did I learn quite a bit in school, I opened up my mind to a whole new look on food in general. Before BU I had a basic understanding of cuisine and culture, relegated mostly to the kitchen and business. This degree has given me the ability to analyze the social and historical aspects of cuisine.

Getting into this degree also inspired me to write even more, which this blog was born out of. When you work on research for a paper, so many other thoughts come out in the process which one doesn't always have time to put into another paper. This blog has been an outlet for some of that writing. I have also gotten the chance to try so many new restaurants and in the process many of you have been able to read about those experiences.

Now you are probably sitting there thinking, "but Christopher, you are not all that opinionated," oh wait no there is no way any of you could be thinking that. Anyone want to pull up an old post on the Food Network from the last few months on Batali, Emeril or The Next Iron Chef. It's funny though, I wouldn't write about that channel if I didn't have respect for them though. I'm sure I heard a saying somewhere, you criticize those you have the most respect for when they seem to be sliding. Here's to hoping that they have a plan to this whole change up that in the end we might enjoy.

Also while I lived here in Boston, I have been able to make so many great friends. I've made new friends while in classes at BU, but also in my wanderings around Boston. I have made some great friends and acquaintances at Cigar Masters in Boston's Back Bay, some nights are less clear than others haha. Then I have also met some great chefs and cooks that work in the restaurants here in Boston. With so much talent and skill in this city, I can certainly see this cit turning into a full-blown "foodie" destination city. Currently there are some awesome places that people should be visiting, such as Clio, No.9, The Butcher Shop, B&G Oysters, L'Espalier, Jasper White's Summer Shack, Hamersly's Bistro, Craigie Street Bistrot, Toro and others. Wow, I really go out to eat a lot.

In the last year I have also had the opportunity to meet so many influential people through the Boston University Gastronomy program and wandering through Boston restaurants and foodie events. In just this year alone I have had the opportunity to meet Warren Belasco, Jacques Pepin, Thomas Keller, Harold McGee, Shirley Corriher, Darra Goldstein, Masaharu Morimoto, Ken Oringer. I was supposed to see Judith Jones speak, but alas I had to miss meeting her as I had to be back in New York for something. I am sure I will be coming back on a regular basis to meet others while working on my thesis, or just as an excuse to come to Boston.

While here I was also able to start apprentice judging a couple of American Culinary Federa
tion competitions. Although I am not an official apprentice judge, the opportunity was still given to me by friends and colleagues that were hosting or lead judges for shows and those were great opportunities as well. I was also able to go down to Florida to compete in an ACF competition which I took first place in for my Festive assortment of Indian Hors D'Ouervre.

So this past year at Boston has been a rewarding trip and for at least part of it many of your were able to either take part in it directly, or by reading my blog. This blog in going to continue following me while I move back to New York and beyond. In the next month I am going to be working on expanding it into a larger site for some of you to find resources for different culinary and food activities, along with some other tidbits which you should all find exciting.

For those of you who read my blog through MySpace, I will have links posted on a regular basis to get you to come over to the new site. For those of you that do not know, this blog is actually at http:www.gastronomicalinspirations.com I repost it on MySpace. Myspace is a pain however, because each time I goto put something new in there, it seems to screw up something else. So after January I'm going to promote you guys to come over to the regular website so that you can get the full effect. I will let you all in on when the site changes.

So, although the year still has a few weeks left in it, my year here at Boston comes to a close this week. As such I thought I should thank all of you who have been loyal readers of my blog. I assure you there will be many many more fun things to come in the next year, I will also keep you all apprised of my thesis, as I am hoping to have it be my first published work. So thanks again, and here's to the "next step" in the process.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Does the Unted States Have a National Cuisine?

Do you think a national cuisine of the United States even exists? It is a question I have been pondering for the last year and quite honestly it is an issue of quite heated conjecture at times with my friends and I. I myself used to spout off about how we are a capitalist economy, and as such the fast-food model of hamburgers and fries fits the bill. Simple, economical, fast like main stream America. It is also exportable, as there are now American fast-food joints all over the globe.

I eventually earlier this semester, amended that proposal to state that there is a "meat and potatoes" diet that stemmed most probably from Protestant simplicity from our colonial roots. Especially when I began to read about how mutton and other English ingredients were no longer eaten as boycott against the various "Acts" Britain placed upon the colonists, and the Scottish and Irish immigrants began growing larger amounts of cattle for meat during that time (See Townshend Act, Stamp Act, Boston Port Act, etc.) In addition, colonists began growing more potatoes as they were easy to grow and kept well, where as most wheat for bread at the time had to again, be imported from Britain and the West Indies.

Strengthening this was our national leaders, such as John Adams, who was an avid beer drinker and tea drinker, but changed to cider and coffee as protest against the "acts" as did much of the burgeoning country. Linked together with presidents like Thomas Jefferson, whom were isolationist, we get a picture of self-dependency. However, what many of us miss is the alliance with the French during the American Revolution, which brought many of them to our country and then afterwards the French Revolution that brought even more of them to our country to open restaurants and work for men like Jefferson.

So we then arrive at the arrival of this giant melting pot that people spout off about all the time. "We can't have a national cuisine because we are a country of immigrants." Well where do you think all of the other people came from prior to the founding of France, Italy, Germany and most of the other Western cultures, mostly from the Eastern cultures and other areas. Pretty much all nations at one time were nations of immigrant, well most Anthropologists will argue, not Iraq or most of the Middle East, but that isn't really the point here.

Everybody came from somewhere else, and in order to create a cuisine, you need a model. A model built from a previously acknowledged cuisine to map your upon. Is there such a map available today? I think there is, and it is part of my current study of American cuisine and building around another persons work to help identify ours. We live in an age where books are easily printed, restaurant guides proliferate, not only the amateur rated Zagat guide, but also the Guide Michelin is in the US now, along with the Mobil guide and AAA which rate restaurants now.

The chef of Alinea (who happens to have tongue cancer right now, which is heart breaking for someone so young 33 years old) Grant, along with Charlie Palmer of Auorele fame, and Wylie from WD-50 all claim to be New American Cuisine, what is New American Cuisine though.

What about James Beard, did he not write the book American Cookery in 1972? Seems like a while ago, but it really isn't. Then we have the changes to The Joy of Cooking, starting back in 1997 the book is now edited by a large number of chefs in the United States, and food writers that specialize in certain aspects of cooking, many considered to be American cookery as well the once ethnic recipes all have American equivalents written with them.

I think I have seen a little light turn on back in perhaps the 1970's that has been slowly getting brighter and brighter and I believe we may be on the cusp of what could actually be called a national cuisine. I figure I'd post this and get some people's opinions.

Currently reading :
James Beard’s American Cookery
By James Beard
Release date: 30 Septem

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Recipe for New England Pie

In my research for my term papers, I was reading A Tramp Abroad to look for some Americana quotes. I came across this hilarious line that Mark Twain made in expression of American cookery. (Bet you thought I was going to be sharing a serious recipe here haha)

Recipe for New England Pie

To make this excellent breakfast dish, proceed as follows: Take a sufficiency of water and a sufficiency of flour, and construct a bullet-proof dough. Work this into the form of a dish, with the edges turned up some three-fourths of an inch. Toughen and kiln-dry it a couple days in a mild but unwavering temperature. Construct a cofer for this redoubt in the same way and of the same material. Fill with stewed dried apples; aggravate with closes, lemon peel and slabs of citron; add to portions of New Orleans sugar, then solder on the lid and set in a safe place until it petrifies. Serve cold at breakfast and invite your enemy.

-Mark Twain
A Tramp Abroad (1897)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wine as a Vehicle for Discourse and Discussion

Wine has the ability to transform conversation from the mundane lecture to an elaborate show. Wine was the pivotal device used during Roman convivium as well as Greek Symposiums, the word symposium in Greek meaning drinking together. A dozen or more men would drink wine in this formal occasion and discuss the subjects of the time. Today we have events where social elite gather sometimes a dozen at a time for a class, or other times a multitude numbering over one thousand participants for discussion and discourse. Wine is prevalent at these events as well; however wine is the center of discussion at these events. Instead of wine being the vehicle to spur discussion, the wine itself not only spurs the discussion, but is the center of the conversation.

During the time of the Greek and Roman social gatherings, wine was not what we think of wine being today. Although texts speak of the social elite of the time drinking a fuller-bodied wine than the lower classes, this by no means is to relate the difference between Beaujolais and Bordeaux. Instead the differences were more on the difference of wine being fermented from grapes or a liquid fermented from the addition of water to grape skins and stems which had already been pressed for wine to be drunk by the upper classes. The wine was also heavily adulterated with any manner of spices, herbs, honey and was watered down to a lower alcohol level. One would surmise that this watering down of the wine, would explain the ability for people at these gatherings to drink vast quantities of wine and still be able to speak. The wine was mixed at different proportions but the standard measures of water-to-wine seem to be 3:1, 5:3, and 3:2. Evidence in carvings does show us that the occasional "social" drinker of the time, did succumb to vomiting from the excessive drinking of wine, so the social speaking may not have always been of the utmost of character or content.

Although there were certain differences in the custom of the events between the Romans and the Greeks, a few things were constants. The groups were of varying sizes ranging from a dozen or more men. They were attended to by young boys, women who could have been dancers or prostitutes, and musicians were there for entertainment as well. The attendants were of varying use, perhaps in the beginning of the evening, more there for attendance to bring more wine or in the case of the convivium where food was present, more food would be brought to them. On occasion, women were also allowed to partake on occasion of wine that attended from the same class. This was a debated issue in both gatherings, as women who drank were often seen as harlots and easily succumb to adulterous ways when influenced by drinking wine. As the evening progressed in "social" conversation it would not be uncommon for men to excuse themselves from the conversation to partake in the sexual use of one of these attendants, be it one of the young boys or women or even one of the other members of the event. The men obviously had no issue of adultery when it came to their own practice. The theme of such events could range from varying ideas, but often the Greek or Roman Gods of wine Dionysus and Bacchus would be proper discussion.

We fast-forward to the 21st century to see the changes from the Greek and Roman days, to the days of wine gatherings here in Boston. Wine has now not only become the physical stimulant that it was during the past, but it is now part of the intellectual conversation. Here in Boston, the largest expo of wine exhibits some of the top producers of wine in the world along with its own symposiums on wine including topics such as New Zealand Pinot noir, food and wine pairing and emerging wine regions of the world. The Boston Wine Expo even offers a Grand Cru Wine Lounge. One could compare this lounge to the small group of men discussing their topics in their chambers, except in this case, the wine surely again is the topic of discussion. One would surmise in this case that this room is of the more elite social members of the event. Classes are held at Boston University through it's Wine Studies at Boston University's Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center. As well as a Readings in Wine History class offered to Boston University's Masters Of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy students.

The similarities and differences abound between the Roman/ Greek events and the modern day events. Both are centered on wine which is obvious. One could argue that both events attract a particular class of individual. Although the Boston Wine Expo has become quite large in it's sixteen years, it still requires an entrance fee, and the individual classes require an average of eighty-five dollars for the tasting fee. The classes at Boston University range from twelve hundred dollars and upward of twenty-five hundred dollars, while a semester at Boston University is upwards of seventeen thousand dollars. With these price-points as reference, one would say that they are generally priced out of the common-man's price range. So like the Greek and Roman events, these modern day events are centered on an elite and usually educated class of individual that looks toward at time a "class distinction" that the "wine-culture" brings to them. Differences abound however, the debauchery associated with the prior events of sexual discourse are publicly not evident; as well the normalcy of the regular attendee vomiting from excess is not readily seen either. Both of these ideas in modern civility are frowned upon.

One can see that wine has changed in matter and form from the days of the Greek and Romans to modern day. What was once a vehicle for discussion has now become a topic of civility and social/cultural phenomenon. Although the debauchery of days past has left the modern style of wine centered symposium, what has not left is the idea that wine is an integral part of our society. The modern events not only have added true civility to wine, but have all but removed the uncivil acts that were once part of the wine drinking elite's events. Wine events have now come to a point where we actually study these events of the past and are able to draw conclusions such as these, that wine is an integral part of our society and will remain so into the distant future as it was with our Greek and Romans ancestors.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Term Paper Break

I just wanted to let everyone know that I will be off line in my blogging capacity until the end of the week as I am working heavily on my term papers. I will give a couple posts over the weekend however and then all my papers are due the first few days of next week. So I will talk to all of you soon.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Coffee and Coffee-Houses Symbols of Conquered Lands

Coffee much like other beverages in the world, has a mysticism attached to it. Much like wine and distilled beverages coffee has a unique history that links it to a time and place. However unlike many of these other beverages, coffee is a beverage of conquest, world domination and intellectual stimulation based upon superiority over other cultures. Whereas wine and other beverages already existed in Europe, coffee had to be discovered, taken and then worshiped in its own local, the coffee-house.

It is true that alcoholic beverages had their place in cafes and restaurants when coffee became popular, but the creation of the single location for coffee alone shows the subjection of the foreign drink for the civilized members of society. This subjugation of coffee was not unlike tea conquered from Asia. However, tea had already been an important part of European, especially British culture for some time. These other beverages could be enjoyed by the common man, however coffee was reserved for those of wealth and intellect.

Coffee-house such as Llyod’s Coffee-house were created where intelligent discussion could take place. Unlike the drunken conversations taking place in taverns and cafes, the conversation in coffee-houses was of a sober nature. Some noted that caffeine was a stimulant that promoted intellectual conversation. The manner in which coffee was served was special in itself; served by a barista that would custom mix blends of coffee and additives for additional flavor, one is reminded of the modern day Starbucks cafes that proliferate on college campuses with intellectuals ordering the same way today.

Other coffee-houses in the 17th-18th century, such as Tillyard’s, were havens for student’s clubs that read poems and handed out material on the intellectual culture of thetime. Political conversation was also a hot topic in coffee-houses of the time. So much so that spies would be sent into coffee houses to check up on those who were meeting behind the secretive, exclusive doors. Conjecture has been made that these gatherings gave way to secret college clubs (“invisible colleges”) and private political societies, but that idea can only be taken at face-value as many clubs come out of informal gatherings such as these.

The question that remains however is, why the coffee house for such gatherings? These gatherings were surely taking place before the discovery of coffee and the creation of the coffee-house. These locations were largely English Spanish and French, which were all world powers and land conquerors from the 17th-18th century. This leads one to the possible conclusion that coffee wasn’t just another beverage and not just another way to gather. It was a beverage to be controlled as were the conquered lands it came from.

One simply did not go to the coffee shop and order a cup of coffee, it was served in unique china which civilized the coffee which was from an uncivilized land. Next the coffee was poured and served by a barista. The barista was given an order by the patron to make the coffee the way they desired it. The barista may represent the slaves that the conquerors subjugated in the lands where the coffee was taken from. When the barista made the beverage, it had other ingredients from subjugated lands added to it, such as sugar. In addition very European additives such as honey or otherwise which civilized the beverage even further. Finally it was enjoyed in a coffee-house with all male, intellectual and political figures who were potentially in charge of theirr countries’

Coffee’s appearance in the European world was extremely unique. Unlike other beverages, it earned its own place in society. Not in main stream society however, but in the elite social, political and intellectual realms. This seat in European culture can easily be said to be offered by its symbolism for what the European countries of the time were trying to accomplish, which was the expansion of their known borders and subjugation of all lands they came into contact with. So coffee becomes a symbol of the European conquest for power and as such earned its place in separate coffee-houses during the 17th-18th centuries.

Friday, November 30, 2007

WikiProject Food and Drink December Update

The Wikipedia WikiProject Food and Drink newsletter has been sent out to all members of the project. I've also updated the "mighty" Food Portal for the month of December. I'm featuring an article on French cuisine, there is an interesting quote from Mary Cornelius from The Young Housekeeper's Friend (1854), some updated news items, a great picture of a holiday food display and the featured person for this month is Justin Wilson. A new section has been added for a featured recipe, this month is Christmas Pudding, a traditional English Christmas dessert.

As of today we are up to forty-nine members. New articles are created daily and topics are vast. The past month included some great articles created for the chefs on The Next Iron Chef as well as an article on the show itself.

We are deeply in need of more members with special knowledge on different culinary sections. I personally work on project upkeep, while working on cuisine articles and other items on the side that catch my attention or that someone insists that I take a look at. I would love to see some of you from here come and help out and help others learn more from your experience and knowledge.

We also have a number of sister projects you may be interested in which are WikiProject Cheeses, WikiProject Wine, Wikiproject Ice cream, WikiProject Beer, WikiProject Soft drinks, WikProject Mixed Drinks, WikiProject Foodservice and WikiProject Herbs and spices. Not all of these projects are incredibly active, so having new members join and work on them would be a great boost to their validity. I've been working on updating their main pages and giving them assessment ability for articles tagged with their banner.

I hope to see some of you on Wikipedia soon and remember kiddies, don't use Wikipedia as a source for primary research. Although some of us are able to put together quality, well-researched articles, other articles are written by the guy you rent your videos from at Blockbuster. It is a fun place to gain some knowledge and seek out other sources for knowledge, but we do have our flaws. With more and more academics and knowledgeable experts joining however, Wikipedia could be a viable location for attaining knowledge.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Vosges Haut-Chocolat, The Pursuit of Chocolate Perfection

Last spring I wrote a term paper on the American consumer appeal of artisanal single estate and locally produced chocolates. As part of the research for the paper I took a trip to NYC to go on a couple chocolate tours. There are two tours offered by a young woman with her company Chocolate ZOOM. One tour is called the Luxury chocolate tour, which features all European chocolatiers, such as La Maison du Chocolat and Michel Ricart.

The second tour is called the New Cuisine Chocolate Tour. This tour takes you down to the Greenwich Village area where the American chocolate makers show off their wares. A few of them make their chocolates on the spot, while one of the shops, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, imports their chocolate from their Chicago shop. The chocolatier for this shop is truly unique in her approach to flavors.

Katrina Markoff is truly a unique chef. Before she started her business she worked at El Bulli in Barcelona for Ferran Adria. Seeing as his cuisine approach is very eclectic, emphasizing the molecular gastronomy approach to food, it should come to no surprise that Katrina would come up with some of the interesting flavor combinations for her chocolates.

However, her inspiration not only comes from just knowledge of food, but a use of different art forms to influence her creativity. She will often look to different music forms, such as blues or cultures. Listening to her talk about how she comes up with her chocolates can be sorta odd for those who think of food in a very traditional sense, but when one thinks about composing a piece of music, there is a synergy that must work to make all of the parts come together, she shares the same thought process with her flavor combinations.

Quite honestly, the only way to really understand her approach is to listen to her and watch her in action talking about her inspirations. So this video here is her talking about her inspirations and I think many of you will enjoy it.

I can't tell you how great her collections are. She creates a number of unique truffle lines. You might think, of well it is just chocolate, but think about this. Her Zion Collection is inspired by Rastafarian culture and Jamaica, if you watch the video above she talks about her early influence of Bob Marely. She also has a Groove Collection, which she takes inspiration from African American musical genres for. The Aztec Collection, takes inspiration from as you would guess Aztec culture. She also creates a number of traditional chocolate lines, such as a Dark Truffle and Milk Chocolate.

There are currently five shops to visit if you have the chance. There are two in Chicago, two in New York City and one in the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. At her shops, you can buy all the items on her website, but they also feature individual truffles which you can buy so that you don't have to buy the full collection. These following places also sell Markoff's chocolates:

New York City - Bergdorf Goodman
Honolulu - Neiman Marcus
Los Angeles - Neiman Marcus
San Francisco - Neiman Marcus
Ann Arbor, MI - Zingermans

In addition her chocolate bars, which follow the same ideas of her truffles are sold at Whole Foods markets. I often purchase them there, but at a steep $6.99 a piece, they are not a regular purchase. They are well worth it though for pure enjoyment. I had a friend recently tell me "but a Hershey's bar is only $1.00", said friend does not deserve to eat this chocolate. You need to remember when eating this chocolate, that it is so much more than consumption of flavors, it is an experience.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kickin' It Down a Notch, Emeril Live No More

As I am a late night poster, I am far behind in the blog sphere on posting about the demise of Emeril Lagasse and the Food Network, but perhaps some of you have not heard about it. I will also give you my regular conspiracy theories which make reading my blog so much more interesting haha. So, for those of you that have not heard, an announcement has been made stating that Emeril Live will no longer be in production after December 11th. The Food Network states that Essence of Emeril will still be in production, but for any of you that watch on a regular basis, when was the last time you saw a new episode? I think it has been some time and this is another "feel good" ploy by the network that is hurting in the ratings department.

I will say that I am sad to see one of the final chefs left on the Food Network to leave, but worse yet, he is the chef that made the Food Network. However, Emeril Live has been playing five days a week, for 10 years in the prime time slot. That is an unheard of time for a prime time show. Quite honestly, how many more BAMS, Kick it up a notches, and Yeah Babies does he have left in his repertoire. I can't tell you the last time I've seen him cook Cajun or Creole food, which he is supposedly known for. His restaurant empire is pretty big now as well, so maybe it is time to give up the slot for some new blood. The problem with me is that the new blood could be one of these recent Next Food Network Stars (No offense to those of you on here that have been trying out for the spot), but it just isn't the same. Please tell me we aren't going to have Prime Time Rachael, I might just have to toss myself on my chef knife. Why aren't fresh faces from the restaurant industry being brought in like the Food Network used to?

What is interesting to me is the sudden succession of change on the Food Network. Since the Next Food Network Star and Iron Chef America shows started, there has been a massive shift for the Food Network to go from a cooking channel, to a "food lifestyle" show. Food lifestyle meaning, that although there is still food in the shows, there is little cooking emphasized in the show. If there is cooking in the show, it is not "other" cultural at all, but a homogeneous American image that hosts like Rachael Ray, Paula Deen , Giada De Lauentiis, Sandra Lee and the like. We still do have chefs, but as I have stated they are in the competition sphere or are wearing street clothes to play down their expertise.

So the Food Network is having issues with ratings over the last few years. So they toss in these reality shows, toss out the chefs and bring in the lifestyle shows. Is the formula working? I don't know, you tell me. I honestly rarely watch the channel, even when I am near a TV. There is not a single new show I have enjoyed. In fact I have found each new show more repugnant than the prior. Next Food Network Star is a catastrophe of a show, If the Next Iron Chef was not a loaded series with personal bias from day one I must be insane, these designing kitchen shows belong on the Fine Living channel or DIY or Home and Garden, not the Food Network.

One last comment I talk of both Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse who are two chefs who helped to make the Food Network what it is. Both have stated that there are no hard feelings between them and the Food Network for not renewing their shows, but in the end these men are both fine in their careers, multiple restaurants, families, money, etc. The Food Network however could have handled both of these instances with more professionalism, making proper announcements and acknowledging the past commitment and contributions of these two chefs. The network also attempted to save face with their comment that Batali would remain on Iron Chef America, when in fact he has now stated he and the network had completely parted ways, what they had meant that was his episodes will play in rerun, hence his absence at the judging in The Next Iron Chef.

In the end I fault the Food Network for not just letting chefs down, but for letting the public down. They were at one time the energizer for the restaurant industry and gave many of us in the industry the possibility to work in an industry that they were promoting. Now with them turning their backs on the restaurant industry and chefs it seems, they may end up hurting our industry by promoting the fact that anyone can do what we do at home, and as a "home chef" you no longer need to go out and have a chef prepare a meal for you. Be like Rachael Ray, make it at home in 30 minutes, and if you need to go out on vacation, do it for under $40.00 a day.

I think I may follow this blog up sometime in the next week with a review of Emeril's restaurants as I have eaten at all of the, except for the restaurant in Atlanta and the Fish House in MS.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Williams-Sonoma, This Place Will Make You Go Broke

I was at the Prudential Center yesterday, which is one of our malls in Boston. We have a Williams-Sonoma in the mall and as always I had to stop in to take a look at some of the stuff they have. Often they have all the same items they usually have, but I still love to look at them again and again for some reason. I tend to walk over to the knives and see what fun new stuff they might be featuring, and for once they actually had something new which surprised me.

Kai now has a line of knives that were supposedly designed by Michel Bras. For the uninitiated, Michel Bras is one of the premier chefs in France. The surprising part was that the knives are Japanese and Bras is quintessential French. They are probably one of the highest quality knives produced, but honestly much of the knife price goes into the name and the name of Chef Bras being on the blade. The blades are ridiculously numbered in their line of "limited" production as well, which just makes me think of "Emerilware" from All-Clad. I can't argue the price at $350.00 for the chef knife as my chef knife was about the same price. My knife seems a bit more useful than this "show piece" however.

I talked to the woman at the store for awhile though about the knives and she showed me some other things and let me try out the various blades. I'll say the Michel Bras knives were cool and felt nice, but in the end they really weren't all that "special." I found the Shun Kaji hammered steel knives to be more appealing. The pairing knife had a nice large sized handle that I enjoyed immensely as I have large hands. At $135.00 for a pairing knife though, I will be waiting for a bit to buy it.

I then wandered over to the pots and pans. I have for years glared at the Mauviel copper ware. These pans are not only beautiful, but they are highly functional when working with high quality preparations. Copper is not only highly conductive, which means it heats up very quickly and evenly as the pans are heavy gauge as well, but it also looses the heat quickly when taken off the heat. So if you are preparing a stirred custard or sensitive sauce in the saucepan, when you take it off the heat it stops cooking almost immediately. This is great as well for sauteeing meats.

Let's say you are pan-searing a piece of fish and you want it to keep warm, but don't want it to continue cooking, all you have to do is remove the fry pan from the heat and your fish will remain warm, but will stop cooking as the heat will dissipate quickly. Again, as with the aforementioned knives, these pans carry a hefty price tag that keeps me at bay until I have some expendable income. I know before I go for my further certifications, I want to be able to know I can easily use these utensils. I also want to have them just because I know they will help me to make my cuisine that much better.

I will certainly be buying the Mauviel copper mixing bowl sometime soon that I saw there. This one I can see putting out the $99.00 for as it is an essential tool for whipping egg whites to a proper foam. When whipping eggs in a copper bowl, they require much less time for whipping and the copper also creates a chemical reaction with the egg whites that keeps them from "weeping" which means having the water separate from over whipping. It is pretty much impossible to over whip egg whites in a copper bowl, they also hold their peaks with much more tenacity than those whipped in a regular stainless steel bowl.

I've always said if I was going to buy a slow-cooker it had to be the All-Clad deluxe slow cooker. No big shock here again, it is not cheap at a $249.00 price tag. However, the unit has a large capacity for putting in those huge pot roasts I love to make. In addition, it has a timmer in it that will lower the temperature after it is done cooking to a proper holding temperature. So let's say you put something in earlier in the day and you know it will be done cooking an hour before you come home. Well in a regular cooker it will continue to cook and get mushy. In the All-Clad unit, it will turn the heat down and keep the food warm without over cooking. The temperature can be raised high enough to brown the meats or other items from the beginning and then lowered to proper slow cooking temperatures so that you don't have to use multiple pans. The insert can also be used in the oven or on the stove top, so as Alton Brown would say, "it is a multi-tasker."

I've lived most of my adult life in tiny apartments so far. As such, fresh herbs are a grocery store item and not something grown in my backyard. Being on the 7th floor of a high-rise in Boston makes a backyard a difficulty. I saw this neat little thing though in the store yesterday that would allow me to grow fresh herbs in my apartment year long. An AeroGarden indoor garden that would let me grow my thyme, parsley and rosemary right in my apartment. So unlike when I go to the grocery store and have to buy a full bunch of herbs, half of which end up getting tossed as they dry out, I can just pick a few sprigs as I need them. They even have a stainless steel model which I found is only available online.

One final thing I have always wanted is an ice cream maker with a built in compressor. Williams-Sonoma sells a Cuisinart makes a model that fits the bill precisely. Another one of those high ticket items at $300.00, but to me would be well worth the price tag. It is fully automatic, all you have to do is add the ingredients in and flip the switch. The unit chills itself with the internal condenser and then does its business, and within an hour you have perfect ice cream.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oh How I Do Love a Good Sandwich

I sat in a culinary class last Monday at the culinary school I will be teaching at in the spring. After I talked to them for awhile, they went over their lab information for the prior week with their instructor on salads. He then introduced the topic for the next week, which would be sandwiches. It got me thinking about my favorite sandwiches. The class will be making my absolute favorite sandwich, the Monte Cristo, but I have so many other favorites as well. I figured I might share a few with all of you and the recipes for making them.

As I already introduced the Monte Cristo, I figured I should share the information on this sandwich first. A Monte Cristo is pretty much a ham (although some people use sliced turkey or chicken) and cheese sandwich between two slices of French toast. That is the most basic description, but there is a proper way to make the sandwich, at least in my opinion. Instead of just tossing the meat and cheese between two slices of old French toast, you should assemble the sandwich between two slices of good quality bread (I use sourdough). I also like to put some raspberry mayonnaise on the bread. Using the same batter I would use to make French toast, I will dig the entire sandwich in and then pan-sear the sandwich in some clarified butter. Some people will deep-fry the sandwich in the same manner, but I'm not that glutenous. People will often serve the sandwich with some melba sauce (which I use in the mayo instead) or some syrup.

The Croque Monsieur is another favorite, in fact I had one for dinner tonight with my mother who is visiting from out of town. It is almost the same as a Monte Cristo, in fact many people say the Montecristo evolved from the Croque Mousier sandwich. This sandwich is a French classic. It is simply two slices of bread, (I use sourdough here again) with some lean ham (I like to use the uncured Niman Ranch (non-cured, non-lean ham haha) and some Gruyeres cheese. I will often add some high quality whole grain French mustard to the sandwich as well. The sandwich is then pan-seared in some clarified butter until golden brown and the cheese begins to melt. This sandwich has direct derivitives, such as the Croque Madam which has a fried egg on top, a Crouque Provencal will have tomato in it, a Croque Auvergnat will use blue d'Auverge cheese instead of Gruyeres and there are a few others.

Another favorite is a classical Italian sandwich made with buffalo mozarella, prosciutto di Parma, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, with a drizzle of olive oil, pressed and grilled in a panini press. Some people will call this a caprese sandwich, referring to the traditional Italian salad of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil called a Caprese salad.

Down in New York city, and I think in San Francisco and Las Vegas as well now, Tom Collichio has a line of sandwich shops named Wichcraft. Some of the most ridiculously good sandwiches and other breakfast and lunch items you will ever have. One of the sandwiches that I must order for breakfast every time I go shares inspiration from yet another salad, which is the classical French frisee salad. The sandwich consists of frisee greens, fried eggs, bacon and Gorgonzola. You have to puncture the egg to get the full effect, much like the salad.

Friday, November 23, 2007

My Thanksgiving Dinner Back Home

Well I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Mine turned out to be different than I had originally intended. I went back home to New York for a few days as we were off from classes for the week, but had originally intended to come back to Boston on Wednesday so that I could get some school work done and clean up my mess of an apartment before my mother came out to visit for the weekend.

However, at the last minute after night out with my dad in Saratoga, decided to make dinner for him and I. Issues seem to occur however when you decide at 9pm the night before Thanksgiving that you want to make a traditional dinner. First off, we had consumed quite a bit of wine, so neither of us was going to be driving to the grocery store that night. This brings about the other issue, as we were drinking that night, of course an early wake-up was not in order, but all the stores closed at 3pm. We did make it up in time though and we got to the store at 2pm. I was expecting there to be no one there, but oddly there were quite a few people there, many of them just doing their normal grocery shopping.

I obviously had to get a turkey, I also happened upon a pre-made turducken roulade (the picture is what it was supposed to look like, ummm no) that I had to try. I have made the real thing a few times and enjoyed it, I wanted t see how a pre-made version would come out. If you want the best recipe ever for turducken, click right here. The recipe comes from Paul Prudhomme, the link is to his website, with very detailed instructions and pictures as well. These were the directions I used for my first one I ever made, the recipes for the stuffings are amazing. I also saw a goose, which I can't say I have ever cooked. It was frozen so I wasn't going to be cooking it that day, but I purchased it anyway to store away in my dad's freezer for the next time I went home. I also picked up some brussels sprouts, along with some bacon, ham hocks, sweet potatoes, pomegranate, goat cheese, apples, onions, cranberries, oranges and some other odds and ends.

So, while many of you were about to start eating your Thanksgiving meal I was just about to put my turkey in the oven. I prepared a stuffing made with cornbread, which I added an ample amount of cranberries and goat cheese to. I ended up tossing the 18 lb. beast into the oven at 3:30pm. So at 15min/lb. the turkey was going to take about 4.5 hours at 325 degrees. I tossed the "I wish I was" a turducken in after the turkey was in for two hours; I barded it with bacon just to make sure it didn't dry out.

While the poultry was doing its thing, I simmered some cranberries in simple syrup along with some orange zest and orange juice to make a cranberry sauce, which I then chilled. For the sweet potatoes, I peeled them, sliced them thick and tossed them in a bowl with some minced fresh thyme, the juice from a pomegranate, a bit of maple syrup and some salt and pepper. I layered them in a roasting pan and baked them for about 45 minutes.

For the brussels sprouts, I rendered some diced bacon along with the diced fat from one of the ham hocks. I then sauteed a small diced onion and a couple small diced apples in the pork fat until they were well caramelized. I then added the brussels sprouts, which I had cleaned and quartered. I sauteed them for a couple minutes, and then added some chicken stock and red wine vinegar to the pan, along with some salt and pepper. I covered the pan and let them simmer for about 20 minutes.

Once the turkey was done, I removed it from the pan to rest. I deglazed the roasting pan with some Beaujolais Nouveau that I had opened, and placed all of the tasty bits into a medium saucepan. In a separate pan I browned the chopped neck of the turkey along with the diced giblets. I then added some diced carrot, celery and onion along with some minced sage and parsley and sauteed until the vegetables were soft and taking on some color. I added this all to the pot along with some chicken stock I had in the freezer. After the stock came to a simmer, I added some brown roux and simmered the sauce for about 20 minutes, ample time for the turkey to rest and for the roux to fully cook in the sauce. Once the sauce tasted perfect, I strained it and had a perfect sage scented gravy.

So the whole thing came together at about 8:30 pm when all of you were certainly heading to bed so that you could all make those ridiculous 4 am sales that I could care less about. Just watching the news and hearing bout the people who camped out for two days in front of Best Buy made me cringe from the excess of self-centered consumerism. I am all in support of consumerism, but a ploy to get people to sit in front of the store all night for publicity drives me nuts, but I digress.

The dinner was wonderful, the turkey was probably the best one I have ever roasted, perfectly tender and juicy (that whole resting thing). I also like to pull the whole breast off in one piece and slice against the grain like I would with any other meat, which makes the bird some much tastier, tender and it doesn't dry out on the plate. The pre-made turducken thing was a catastrophe however. It was dry and fell apart like fabled egg man on a brick wall. All in all though a great meal which I got to share with my dad. Lots of leftovers as well, which I'm hoping he enjoys. We ended up watching the entire last season of Top Chef on a day long Bravo marathon, along with episodes of the Thirsty Traveler and a couple episodes of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (the original version) on BBC America. Sooooo much better than the American version, chck it out if you can. We also watched the Iron Chef America episode with Rachael Ray/Mario Batali vs. Giada/Bobby Flay, made me want to tear my eye balls and ear drums out.

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading about my Thanksgiving, I hope all of you had an equally great Thanksgiving. Now I have to just figure out what to make for Christmas this year now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More Mario Batali Food Network Controversy

As many of you have read from my posts and from other things online, there was a bit of controversy over Mario Batali awhile ago. The issue had to do with a supposed disagreement between Batali and the Food Network over canceling his shows, Molto Mario and Ciao America that were in repeat loops. The articles released, stated that Batali was so upset by the action that he would no longer participate in the Iron Chef America episodes. It was also reported that Batali was leaving to work on a Spanish cuisine show with PBS.

I later updated from an official announcement stating that the Food Network had in fact canceled his shows. However, new episodes of the shows had not been taped in a number of years and it was a programming decision used to open slots for new shows. They also stated that Batali would continue to be part of Iron Chef America and that there was no disagreement between the two parties. They also noted that Batali would be starting a new show with PBS, but it was in no way an issue with the Food Network.

I thought I would give a little update on what I have noticed lately about the issue. For those of you that have watched the Next Iron Chef may have noticed the same peculiarity that I had. In the final episode of the mini-series, the Iron Chefs were judges for the last two contestants. I noted a strange peculiarity in the episode, while the Iron Chefs were present, one seemed to be missing, Mario Batali.

I tend to read into things too much, but wonder if this is exactly what they were trying to do. Using this supposed disagreement with Batali over the canceling of his shows, and then having him absent from this last episode may just have been a ploy to get us all to watch the Food Network more and see what is going to happen. Ohhhhh, will Batali be there next season? Will he have the newly designed Iron Chef coat on his back when it is gaudily revealed, you know the thing has to be gaudy. At least it won't be denim, I pray it won't be denim. Not all of us U.S. citizens wear denim.

What brought about this blog today you might ask. Well I woke up hearing the familiar Batali voice on the television the other night, but figured it was just an odd dream. I was then just flipping through the channels today and behold, Molto Mario has shifted over to the Fine Living channel, which just so happens to be owned by the same company that owns the Food Network. Other Food Network chefs have made the shift to the channel as well, such as Ming Tsai, Micahel Lomonoco and others. I again am not surprised, as I see this as all part of a ploy to get us to watch their channels more. They can have multiple reasons behind it, fans demanded it and we had to give it to you, or this was the plan all along and you should all feel like dolts for thinking the Food Network empire would ever get rid of Mario.

Conspiracy after conspiracy, oh how I love the drama of it all haha. I'm just happy to be able to see Batali on Fine Living, I really enjoy the shows on that channel. I also began to think of MTV today though and realized, hrm, MTV and VH1 are both owned by the same company. As MTV no longer plays music, and the Food Network no longer shows professional cooking; will Fine Living follow suit someday with VH1 and stop showing practical shows, I hope not. Fine Living started off as more of a lifestyle channel at any rate, so my worries are hopefully a moot point.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What Type Of Whiskey Gets You Going?

I thought I would take this post into a non-food direction to one of my other favorite topics of consumption, whiskey. I do drink wine more often in reference to the type of alchohol I consume, but when I am "drink," I like to go for a nice whiskey. Whiskey is a very broad range of products though and I have been asked many times about the differences between what I drink and other products.

Let's first define what whiskey is any alcohol distilled from a fermented grain mash and aged in oak casks. Countries that produce whiskey include Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Canada, Whales, The United States and even India. Some believe that Whiskey dates back to the 5th century, introduced by the Arabs, but other purists of the spirit believe the origins lay instead in Britain or Ireland. My heritage coming heavy from Ireland, I'd like to think it was Ireland. When blended whiskey is mentioned, it refers to multiple batches mixed together to get a regulated flavor in each bottle, where as single-malts have a distinctive character.

In Scotland, whiskey is called Scotch, or in Gaelic uisge-beatha. All Scotch is produced in Scotland made from whole grains which have been processed at a distillery into a mash, fermented by the addition of yeast. It must be distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% by volume and must be matured in Scotland in oak casks for no less than three years. It can contain no other added substance other than water and caramel colouring, and may not be bottled at less than 40% alcohol by volume. Examples on the bar include, Cutty Sark, Dewars, Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker, but they are each different styles. These listed are "blended" while single malts are an afficianado drink.

Irish whiskey is very similar to Scotch in its production. The major difference is that peat is not used in the production which proves for a very different taste. Many of the whiskeys are made from malted barely with a number distilled in pot-stills. Midleton, Bushmills, and Cooley are a few examples of Irish Whiskey, but Jameson is the one I enjoy most often with a pint of Guinness.

Japanese Whiskey is similar in style again to Scotch whiskey, this probably comes from the upscale Japanese love for Scotch. Many of the high-end Scotch houses are actually own by Japanese individuals. There are currently about ten distilleries in Japan.

Canadian whiskey, is obviously produced in Canada. It must be aged for three years before it is released for sale. Most whiskey in Canada is blended whiskey with a few exceptions which distill in the Scotch style, but they are rare and are not to be confused with the flavor of Scotch at all. Popular brands include Canadian Club, Crown Royal, Black Velvet.

In the United States, Whiskey is very distinctive as it is distilled from corn and rye. If the percentage of rye is over 51% it is referred to as a rye. If the percentage is over 51% corn, it is called bourbon. It may not be over 125 proof or 62.5 alcohol. typically about 70% — with the remainder being wheat and/or rye, and malted barley. It is aged in new charred American oak barrels for at least two years. The two years maturation process is not a legal requirement for a whiskey to be called "bourbon," but it is a legal requirement for "straight bourbon." Popular bourbons include Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Knob Creek, Maker's Mark, Baker's Booker's, Basil Hayden, and others (Jack Daniel's is technically called a sour mash, but honestly it is still a bourbon).

Indian whiskey can be associated again with Scotch, but most of it is actually made with Molasses, which it being not made from grain means it probably is more or less Whiskey in name only. Welsh Whiskey is also very close to the nature of Scotch as well.

One of the important things to always remember with any food or drink, is to drink what you enjoy. I personally enjoy bourbon, but enjoy certain examples from each culture. Let me know what you guys like, there are so many options in each category and each has a distinct character, flavor and cultural characteristic.

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