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.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Niman Ranch, Rosemary Sausage Stuffed Pork Chops with Sweet Potato Hash

I'm home visiting my father for the weekend after having to come home to do somethings. I always enjoy being able to visit my father's house, for the obvious reasons of seeing my father, but he also has a gigantic kitchen, compared to my studio size kitchen. I also get to watch quite a bit of television as well, but that's for another blog.

Although the grocery stores here have nothing on the ones in Boston, I still have a few places I can get some decent ingredients. Last night I made pot roast with a chuck roast, while tonight I made a stuffed boneless pork chop dish with a sweet potato hash. I figured I would share the recipe for the latter dish with all of you.

I had ordered some pork products from Niman Ranch, which arrived when I got to my dad's house. So these ingredients just made the dish that much better. The ingredients I used from them are linked below in the ingredient list. Niman Ranch's products can be a bit expensive, but WELL worth the prices for not only flavor, but the pride they take in taking care of their animals. Many farmers claim free-range and talk about humane animal raising, but as I have said in past posts, there is a reason why I don't eat a whole lot of meat, because of the horrible conditions most animals that are raised for food exist in during most of their lives. If you are going to partake in the consumption of other animals, you should at least do it in a respectful manner whenver you can.

Sadly, there is no picture as ummm we ate all of the pork chops already and forgot to take pictures...

Rosemary Sausage Stuffed Boneless Pork Chops
Serves Four


4 boneless pork chops (Niman Ranch, 1 1/2" thick cut)
1 lb. ground pork (Niman Ranch, 80% lean)
1 tablespoon rosemary, minced
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 teaspoon thyme, minced
4 slices bacon ( Niman Ranch, dry cured, Applewood smoked)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper as needed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut a pocket in each pork chop from the non fat-capped side of the chop.
3. In a medium bowl, mix ground pork, rosemary, Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper.
4. Stuff sausage mixture into pork chops, leaving enough room for the pocket to close.
5. Wrap bacon around the edge of pork chop and fasten in place with a tooth pick. Season each side off pork chop with minced thyme, salt, and pepper.
6. Heat a heavy saute pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan, then pan-sear each side of pork chops until they are browned well. Place pork chops in a roasting pan and place into oven for 40-50 minutes, or until cooked through.
7. Remove pork chops from oven, allow to rest for 6-8 minutes, remove toothpick and serve on top of sweet potato hash (recipe below)

Sweet Potato Hash


6 slices bacon, diced medium (Niman Ranch, dry cured, Applewood smoked)
2 large, yellow onions, large dice
8 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
2 large, sweet potatoes, peeled, large dice
4 medium, red skin potatoes, peeled, large dice
1 tablespoons, minced rosemary
1 tablespoon, peppercorns, cracked
salt as needed
1 cup chicken stock


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add bacon to pan and saute until crispy. Add onions to pan and saute until soft and then add garlic and saute until golden brown. Add both types of potatoes, along with rosemary, cracked peppercorns and season with salt. Toss to coat throughly and saute for 8-10 minutes. Add stock to pan and cover, simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Pour hash out onto a sheet tray or into a roasting pan and place into oven for 15 minutes.
4. Remove pan from oven and serve.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

How Do You Like To Thicken Your Sauce?

I was making pot roast tonight for dinner and came to the point when I needed to thicken the sauce and came to thinking of what is the best thickening agent to use for sauce. For many years I would usually go for the traditional blonde or brown roux. I came to thinking though of other things I have used or could use today to thicken sauces. So I'm going to take you through a few different thickening agents, their properties and what their ideal usage is.

So roux, the most basic of thickening agents used in French cuisine. Roux is made from equal parts fat and flour. Depending on what you are intending to thicken with the roux, depends on what fat you might want to use. Classical French cooking calls for the use of clarified butter. Often used to thicken sauces and liqids from braised meats, cooking the roux to darker colors will offer a stronger flavor to your sauce. In Louisiana, roux is used to thicken soups, especially gumbo. Their roux is made from vegetable oil, instead of butter. The roux is cooked to a darker color, almost to a burnt color which is used more for flavor than for actual thickening agent, as sassafras is added as well. One point to note is that the darker you cook a roux, the less thickening ability it will have. One disadvantage of roux, is that it needs to simmer for thirty minutes before the flavor of the flour is cooked out.

Beurre manie is an equal combination of butter and flour kneaded together. Unlike roux, beurre manie is added at the end of the cooking process of a liquid, but the flour is in essence raw and the flavor of raw flour is never truly cooked out of the sauce. The butter does however attribute more flavor in this manner. The butter also adds shine and gloss to the sauce.

Cornstarch is another popular thickening agent, especially used in the cooking of Asian sauces and soups. Cornstarch has an immediate benefit in that it thickens sauces quickly, within a few minutes. Another benefit is its lac of expensive, cornstarch costs just a few dollars a box. However, the drawbacks can be plenty. Although in Asian cuisine, a glossy shine for sauce is desired, this is often not desired in most other cuisines. Another drawback is the long-term instability of cornstarch. After prolonged heating, cornstarch thickened sauces will separate, they are also almost impossible to reheat and retain their viscosity.

Arrowroot is another choice, it is also a favorite of mine for a number of reasons. There is an immediate drawback that keeps most people from using arrowroot, it is extremely expensive. A small jar found in the grocery store can cost more than a large box of arrowroot. Arrowroot works pretty much in the same way as cornstarch, but it has a number of distinct advantages. Arrowroot thickens a sauce quickly, just as cornstarch does, but it does not break down in the same manner as cornstarch. Arrowroot also has a much cleaner flavor than cornstarch, it allows for the true essence of the liquid being thickened to come through. I love to use it with well flavored stocks that I have reduced to a great viscosity, which requires just a small amount of arrowroot to finish. I will often do what is called in French "monter au beurre," this means taking chunks of chilled butter slowly whisked into a sauce to add a bit of viscosity, flavor and shine. I'll get more into this in a minute as it is a separate technique as well.

Liaison, is another traditional French method which utilizes eggs to thicken a sauce. If you have had a creme anglaise, you have had a sauce thickened with a liaison. When thickening a cream sauce, half of the "hot" liquid to be thickened is slowly whisked into the eggs and then the rest of the liquid can be added all at once. The sauce is then placed over a double boiler and whisked constantly until the sauce comes to the desired thickness. Sauces made in this manner are very temperamental. The eggs can easily scramble is heated too quickly, in addition the sauce can not be heated to too high as the sauce will separate. At the same time it can not be stored for too long of a period as the eggs will be unsanitary after being held for too long if it is a warm sauce. Cold sauces like creme anglaise hold for a few days. Just for note, one warm version liaison sauce is called sauce allemande, a personal favorite.

The last category I am not going to explain in detail. Herve This, coined the term molecular gastronomy some time ago. Chefs such as Ferran Adria in Barcelona, along with his American copycats have been using special techniques that use what we chefs once thought of as chemical additives. These additives though have made new textures, without damaging the flavor of the sauce. Lecite is a chemical that helps thicken sauces into a shaving cream type foam. Lecite is often used with juices and pure liquids to preserve their pure flavor while giving them a distinct texture. Glice is another chemical used that emulsifies liquids with the addition of a fat. Olive oil is one of the most popularly used fats for this preparation in making a sauce or foam. Again, in this case no flavor is added, just a desired texture.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Interpreting the Chef Uniform, Just Say No To Chili Pants and Denim Coats

So a comment came up during my blog from yesterday about chef uniforms. This comment came from statements about those horrific denim coats they wear on Iron Chef America. I ironically had a conversation with someone else today about chef uniforms and I guess I should give all of you my take on chef uniforms and how I came to the current uniform I adhere to and promote in the industry.

When I went to culinary school, we had a pre-meeting for each culinary laboratory class. During this meeting our uniforms were checked to make sure we adhered to what was 10 years ago, the basis for what has become the American Culinary Federation standard for culinary uniforms. We were to wear checkered chef pants, black shoes, a white t-shirt with no print, a CLEAN, unstained chef coat, the silly floppy chef toque, and a name tag. It was also at this time that the funky uniforms started to emerge from companies like Chefwear.

I will admit that I went for the funky wear for some time. Yes, yes I owned chili pepper pants, I even had a skull cap that matched and a chef coat with some fringe to go with it. I am soooooo glad that there are no pictures that exist from then. I wore clogs for a few years as well, never those odd Croc things that Batali wears, but to each their own. I tried wearing a bandanna for a few weeks at one time as well, as I shave my head and it was just horribly uncomfortable to me.

I worked for a small restaurant in Stowe, VT for a short period which might also bring out my disdain for the denim chef coat. The place was called Blue Jean's Cuisine and I actually showed up to the interview wearing a denim chef coat and denim chef pants. I got the job, but holy crap was I embarrassed afterwards.

After years of playing around and trying to have fun, I came to a point in my career a few years back that drove me to a point where I want perfection in everything I do. I have refined my cooking skills, my culinary knowledge and my professionalism in the kitchen. Part of that concentration for me was a change in my uniform.

Other chefs can go with the funky gear, but I have realized from my past that that was sort of a "mess" in my head that ended up being portrayed in my uniform, and honestly it showed in my cooking back then as well. Maybe others are a bit different and take their uniform as a way to express themselves, but honestly they aren't expressing themselves, they are just wearing a pattern that a company is trying to sell them. They are the Hot Topic of chefs maybe? Please take no offense if any of you wear these uniforms, but it is just the passion I have for my career.

We would never see a traditional French chef wearing this odd commercialized style of uniform. It is about the cooking and making sure we look appropriate in the public eye. Our presence has to say we are chefs, with passion, integrity and we need to be put together well so that our guests have faith in us. What we do outside of the kitchen, is up to us, when we are in the kitchen, we are there to please the guest not just ourselves.

So what is the uniform I wear today? The pants I wear are pressed black pants, nothing expensive JOS Bank casual pants as they are a bit heavy weight for the safety and they are easy to clean and wear well. Chefwear has just come out with a new perm press tailored pant that I am thinking of trying though. I wear solid black socks along with a black shoe that can be shined from Sketchers. I wear a plain white t-shirt and my chef coat is a plain white, usually well starched coat that I have started ordering from Happy Chef as they don't charge for the ACF logo on my coats and it is pretty cheap to add embroidery of my name. My hat is a machine washable high toque with a Velcro back.

To take this back to yesterday's blog, it just reminds me of two of my favorite competitors from The Next Iron Chef. Gavin and Besh both had a high-level of professionalism. As much as an Iron chef should be making innovative and competitive food, we should be professionals and they certainly were dressed as professionals. Besh's sport coat outfit in France gave me confidence as well. We always need to be on spot in public and I feel he is certainly a New Orleans gentleman.

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