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Everything posted by Alcuin

  1. I wonder if we can approach this question of demise in another way. When do you think we hit a high water mark for home cooking? I'm talking skill-wise, and product-wise. I say the water's still rising, but it's been rising faster and faster. I reject the notion that there was a golden era in the past, and we are living in a time of constant decline (this idea's been around as long as history has, you can see it in the decline in lifespans in the Bible, i.e. no one lives as long as Methuselah any more, and it also plays a role in Marx's positive view of feudal Europe). I think things are on the rise. I don't have a crockpot, but if I had the room for one I'd get one just to make confit onions or whatever. There's cool new stuff coming out all the time (sous vide is becoming more and more accessible). But on the other hand, technology's also making it easier for people to live without basic cooking skills like cutting up a chicken or making gravy. Somebody once proclaimed in a grandiose way to a group of people I was in at a party that nobody knows how to make gravy as if it was ancient knowledge. I said I knew how, and explained how easy it was by telling everybody right then and there how to do it. They were amazed; I was amazed at their amazement. Then again, why do they need to know this, when they don't know most of the basic principles of cooking? They just order or buy a can/packet/etc. Is this demise? It depends, but ultimately it's someone else's demise or not. So for me, things are getting better and better. The fact that it is so easy to do cooking tasks that were incredibly labor intensive decades ago is great. I just hope as technology gets better, it drives more people into the kitchen than out of it, even if just to make a simple Sunday dinner. I think there's a lot of value in cooking and making food for ourselves and others. As the great Pepin has said, cooking is an important human act, because you are always cooking for the other. This is what I think people lament when they talk about a demise in cooking, that uniquely human act.
  2. I'm a bit surprised, but then again not, to see the Old Fashioned here for Madison. They may have 50+ beers on tap, but the service isn't at all great. You can very easily find yourself with a lackluster beer, because no one there can tell you what these beers are. When I go there, I just order what I know. There are much better places that have knowledgeable and excellent beer service in town, like the incomparable Malt House. The latter has around 20 taps with a rotating selection of the most interesting things they can find, much of which I've never seen anywhere else. Of course they are nothing like the juggernaut that is the OF, since they are a small little tavern way outside the center of town, and will thus never get such a national mention. Ah well it is cool to see WI on the list.
  3. McGee, On Food and Cooking (second edition), p 277: p 337: From the first edition, p 202-203: Thanks for the info. I'll have to get the book out and read further. This describes very closely what happened with my advocado and I've wondering about it ever since.
  4. Interesting. This might explain the time I bought an advocado that was rock hard and seemed to remain rock hard forever. When I finally decided to cut into it to see what was going on, it was rotten. I bought it from an Asian grocer not famed for their handling of produce (get there the right day though and you can hit the jackpot). I wonder if it was stored cold, and that ruined it. Definitely interested in more info on this.
  5. You know I haven't seen anything outside of the usual suspects around here. I help a store in Madison stock their liquor shelves, but we haven't really gone too deep into aquavit. I can say from experience that it can be surprisingly difficult to get things that are out of the ordinary. Even if a distributor has it, a lot of times we really have to work on them to get them to give it to us. Getting Laird's bonded in stock was a real pain. I'll see what I can turn up though.
  6. I've been making a great OF with 1oz tequila blanco, 1oz reposado, 2 dashes Xocolatl mole bitters, a float of 1/2oz mezcal, and a big long grapefruit twist. Shows off the many dimensions of tequila and the bitters beautifully. My favorite drink as of this moment.
  7. Alcuin


    Banning tongs (or most any piece of equipment you might find useful) from the kitchen bar-none is ridiculous. I guess Keller doesn't grill with a rack over an open flame? What does he use to toss and plate long pasta? I use tongs all the time. In fact, I use tongs just like the ones that are in that picture. That said, I prefer to toss salad with my hands so as not to bruise my tomatoes. Plus, I think its easier to get the leafs evenly coated with dressing. I also use a pastry spatula to turn fish. I use the best tool for the job. That can often be the hands, but it can be tongs too. Keller's advice seems perhaps more suited to a high-end restaurant (or more like his particular style of restaurant) than for the homecook. If I were plating one herb-leaf or one caviar egg at a time, I would probably not have a use for tongs either. (I know this is hyperbole, but the idea stands).
  8. I was using red Holland chilies for the "long chilies" in Thai food and to make sambals as well. They have just the right heat. You can't really use prik kee noo (Thai bird chilies) in a red curry paste, for instance, because you need long dried red chilies that aren't as hot as the Thai bird. Green Thai bird chilies go in a green paste. I was happily making sambal after sambal and red curries until the red Holland chilies turned green in my area and stayed that way for a while. I could only get long green chilies, which was fine because I could dry them and they'd become red dried chilies for my curries, but the sambals were out. Last week, as luck would have it, Fresno chilies popped up to replace the red Hollands, so it's sambal-city again around here. They make a good sub for the Holland, and the Holland's a good sub for the "long chili). Since these chilies are really necessary for a lot of southeast Asian dishes, you should be able to find them. If they go away, they will return because the demand is there (keep in mind that I live in the midwest-we have a relatively high Hmong population, but still, if I can find them you can probably find them too living in Seattle). Short version: look for Holland and Fresno chilies. Some say Cayenne is a good sub, and they do work, but not as well as the Holland or Fresno because they're thinner skinned and hotter, so it's harder to get the right balance of volume to heat. You don't want your chilies to be screaming hot like the Thai bird and you need the extra material from the more meaty Holland and Fresno when long chilies are called for to make up the bulk of your pastes and sambals and whatever else you might use them for.
  9. Fusion happens. If you look at Ah Leung's excellent Chinese Food Pictorials on this forum, you'll find a chicken stirfried with black beans and lemongrass, and another chicken dish with butter. These are both Chinese style dishes, using non-Chinese ingredients. I've made Caesar dressing with fish sauce in it and a braised chicken dish using Japanese ingredients but structured like a Mexican Caldo (a Momofuku dish I think). They're both good. I say, why keep your ingredients in separate corners like rowdy hooligans spoiling for a fight when they can get along swimmingly? The path to deliciousness is paved with good intentions.
  10. I love it when its garlic season around here and I can buy heads with big, juicy cloves. The paper of the garlic they grow around here is usually a pleasant light purple. Then garlic season is over, and I'm stuck with spongy old cloves for a few months because that's what the stores sell. I imagine it might be more difficult to get good garlic in New York because there are so many people that want it. There's got to be a way to get some fresh US garlic, but I imagine it probably shows up in the farmer's markets more than anything. Have you checked there during garlic season (mid to late summer and fall)?
  11. I made this master sauce recipe, and cooked some chicken and eggs in it last night. It was very good. The sauce really penetrated the chicken, much more so than I thought it would. The eggs were particularly well infused. And the braising process must have added almost 3/4 cup of more master sauce! Great recipe Ah Leung thanks again. I'll be braising some beef in it next!
  12. This hits on what drives me crazy about over the top food pronunciations. I'm a descriptivist by nature, so anything that you grew up saying is fine in my book. Mispronunciations, like saying no-chee when you should be saying nyo-kee (or something like it), don't count for this. As long as your in the ballpark, or the way you pronounce the word fits in with some large (it's got to be large) segment of speakers, it's fine by me. My dad is from Philly, I grew up there for part of my life, so while I say prosciutto, he says "pruh-zhoot." It gets kind of funny sometimes too: capicola becomes "gahba-ghoul"! I think these pronunciations are valid for their time and place though, and would never correct him. For him they are correct. What I can't stand are people who put on some sort of voice when trying to sound sophisticated saying things like "mar-i-naaaaahhhd" or dropping into some strange pseudo accent when saying things like "chilaquiles" or "coq au vin" or anything else. Just pronounce the words casually. And don't show off your lame pronunciation by using some accent, as if you are speaking Spanish or French or Italian, etc., in the middle of your English sentence.
  13. When I lived on the east coast, we ate fish of all kinds. I fished a lot, mainly for sport but we would sometimes take home trout and striped bass both of which are excellent to eat. One of the best things to eat is trout, caught just hours before then cooked over a camp fire with a dab of butter and some salt. I've had muddy tasting fish too, but we learned pretty quickly where not to fish. I find off-tasting fish repulsive, so I don't think my palate is confused from lack of ocean fish. Besides, I ate and eat ocean fish all the time (mainly mackeral these days and sometimes if I'm in the mood and I have the money more expensive fish like halibut, striped bass, cod etc). I also eat as much walleye as I can and see no difference in quality. I don't see why you couldn't make stock from freshwater fish. Next time you have some bone racks left over after filleting some walleye or northerns, why not just give it a shot? There's nothing to lose really, since you're going to throw the stuff away anyway. If it's no good, you're just throwing it out later rather than earlier.
  14. Alcuin


    If you give it a shot, let us know how it turns out. Who knows? It could be great. And I'm pretty sure I recall reading about poaching the sausages in fat in Charcuterie.
  15. My guess would be that a lamb is small enough to sell the entire breast whole, as with veal, but with pork this is not done because the resulting breast would be too big (same with veal breast to cow ribs). The reason's probably practical: the breasts of bigger animals like pigs and cows are broken down into more manageable pieces, the ribs. Both "breost" and "ribb" are solid Old English words used very generally across dialects throughout Middle English as far as I know (used the MED), so I'd be surprised if the reason were dialectical. (Oh boy sorry for the geeked-out overkill there, but sometimes I can't resist, especially when it makes for such great procrastination...) Great blog by the way, really enjoying following along. I love those shots of the countryside, and its a bit of a dream to have a farm like you do.
  16. Alcuin


    I guess I'm not sure what the point would be. Since the meat is already ground and tenderizing elements are usually added to meatballs to keep them moist or soften them, it seems like the extra work cooking them low and slow in fat wouldn't add much. You might then have to brown them, which would add another step, and if the protein in them was broken down they might be very fragile which would make this even harder to do. As long as you've got enough fat in the meatballs themselves (for the Thai meatballs, add some coconut cream, for Italian some milk to soak the bread or the addition of some pancetta would do nicely) the result should be rich enough. Maybe my thinking here is limited though. I have heard that poaching in fat is a great way to cook sausages on the other hand. I've never tried it (again, it seems a bit fussy), but I think it would be better since hog casings would provide the perfect container for ground meat coming up to temp in fat. Maybe try Thai sausages instead of meatballs for the confit attempt?
  17. Alcuin

    Salty Snacks

    These are my favorite salty snack: They went away from my Chinese grocery store, so I've stocked up. They are fried peanuts with copious amounts of big chunks of dried pepper (so much it scares some people) and very fresh Sichuan peppercorns (very piquant and mouth-numbing). They are highly addictive with beer.
  18. The puffing separates the tortilla into two layers on the inside, one that is very thin and another that is thicker. This helps the texture a lot, making sure that the tortillas are pliable and strong enough to hold ingredients without being cake-y at all on the inside. There's also at least one dish I know of where you stuff the pocket created by the puffing. I can't recall the name of it at the moment though. And Anna, it took me a whole lot of ruined tortillas to get the touch too. Then when I went a while without making them, I had to make a batch just to get it again. It's worth the work though. There's no comparison to freshly made tortillas, even using masa harina (I've never been lucky enough to live close to a tortilleria so no fresh masa for me).
  19. Alcuin

    eG Cook-Off 58: Hash

    I guess it depends on what you like out of something that's "hashed." I love hashed brussels sprouts, but I don't grind them down to a fine grain with an hachoir either like some people do when they hash sprouts. I put them in the food processor using the slicing blade and get nice fine slices, fine enough for me to call it hash but not so fine that it becomes mush. But this gets us into the hazy territory about the relationship between the noun "hash" and the verb "to hash." I'm unsure of how close they should be really. There's a good range of sizes, depending on what you want to do. I think if I wanted hash to be a side dish, or just one element of a breakfast plate, I'd want it mushier. If it's center stage, I want it meatier. Maybe I'll have to try that same dish (or something similar) in a finer grain and see which one I like best though...
  20. I agree with the slightly more water than you think is necessary recommendation. I use Maseca too, and mix thoroughly with warm water, slightly more than recommended. I don't knead. Then I let rest for about 30 minutes. The dough tends to dry up a bit, and if it does I add more water before balling them up for the press. You can go too far with the water, and they'll be too delicate and tear, so add water little by little. The dough does tend to dry out pretty fast. Then I use a cast iron griddle with two zones: a medium and a medium-high. Start with the medium and cook just until you can freely move it to flip, then flip on to the medium high. Let it go until it starts to brown in spots on the bottom (around 60 seconds maybe), then flip one more time. You should get some puffing, sometimes instantly and sometimes it takes a little longer. Here's a crucial tip: if you flip it and it doesn't puff, try pressing down on it with a spatula in a circular motion for a few seconds. This makes them puff almost every time. The main things are enough water, two zones at proper heat level (use two pans if you need to), the thickness of the tortilla, and not overbaking them. Also, the tortillas will need to relax and soften up after you cook them for at least 5-10 minutes. Stack them on a plate one on top of the other. The top tortilla will act as the buffer for the others: leave it there and take the ones beneath.
  21. Alcuin

    eG Cook-Off 58: Hash

    Wow David that's some impressive hash. I might have to give this a try. Looks like you took that recipe and spun some straw into gold there.
  22. Alcuin

    eG Cook-Off 58: Hash

    So I was thinking about how, while I admitted the idea of other kinds of hash like salmon or chicken or anything else, that it just didn't feel right. I associate hash with dark meat, like beef or duck. As a wise man once said, my thinking about this case has become very uptight. In the course of this thought process, I started to run through other possibilities and many presented themselves. But this one stood out: ham and peppers hash. So I started by browning some potatoes. I used russet, because I bought a bag of them that I plan to fry into potato chips tossed with Old Bay for the Superbowl tomorrow. (I live in the midwest, but grew up in PA where Herr's rules, and you can get the best potato chips: Herr's Old Bay chips). In any case, I like russets too. While I like the creamier, more fine-grained texture of less starchy potatoes, the russets have great flavor and have a meaty texture that works great in hash. I've never had a problem browning potatoes in my cast iron skillet, but I use perhaps a generous amount of fat and this skillet is well seasoned. I would have used pre-cooked potatoes, because I agree that they are the best, but I didn't have any precooked. So here they are, cooking and browning at once in the cast iron: After I browned the potatoes a bit in butter, I added half a medium onion and salted. I browned the onions about half way, then I added slices of green and red bell pepper and seasoned a little to maintain seasoning equilibrium. I added the peppers later because while I wanted them to soften, I didn't want them to turn to mush. I wanted some texture left to the vegetable. After they started to cook, I added some diced smoked ham: At this point, I cooked a bit more until every thing was beginning to meld. Then I added some paprika (a decent amount in this case, maybe upwards of a teaspoon but I didn't measure). The key is to make sure not to cook the ham too much. Overcooked ham can become tough. I poached an egg to top, and garnished with some chives: And it was good. Of course it was, because ham, potatoes, and eggs are a pairing written into the fabric of our universe. And peppers are a great counterpoint to all three, and join forces with the smoke of the ham to tie the whole thing together.
  23. I've always salted too. It doesn't take all that long to get the desired effect, about 45 minutes to an hour. I also add some vinegar at this point sometimes. I started doing this after making an extremely simple but satisfying dish out of Olney's Lulu's Provencal Table (p.293) where you salt and marinate the cabbage for about an hour, drain and squeeze dry (you can even wash it if you want, though I don't because it's an extra step and don't think it does much), then toss with good olive oil et voila. It's great in the summer as is, and pairs with everything. I add carrot and mayo to get an american style slaw (plenty of black pepper too), and the vinegar adds a nice touch of complexity when balanced against the creaminess of the mayo. Another reason why this is good beyond eliminating the watery slaw problem, is that while retaining its crunch as everyone else mentioned, it makes the slaw more pliable. This makes it easier to eat, since its more manageable: it lays a little more nicely on a plate and gives you more control over it with the fork (I'm into the little things).
  24. Alcuin

    eG Cook-Off 58: Hash

    I think of it as a simple formula of meat and browned potatoes (hash browns must be somehow related), but I typically do associate it with beef. Also, I always put a poached egg on mine, but I don't think that's strictly necessary. Another good idea is duck hash, with cubed duck meat or, even better, coarsely shredded confit. I suppose pork is possible, but I've never seen it and it doesn't fit my standard conception of the dish. Corned beef hash is on pretty much every diner menu too, so it's most popularly associated with the dish.
  25. Alcuin

    eG Cook-Off 58: Hash

    I love to make hash with left over pot roast. Fry some cubed potatoes, add a sliced onion when the potatoes are about 2/3rds done, add the cubed pot roast (I always use chuck), add the left over pot roast sauce, salt and pepper, top with a poached egg. Easy and delicious every time. The sauce soaks into the potatoes and gives it some extra beefiness. It's a great way to give a second life to left over pot roast.
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