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Reputation Makers


Fat Guy
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I confess that, when I was a kid, I went through a phase of being keenly interested in magic, specifically sleight of hand (card tricks, coin tricks, etc.).

A while ago I was cleaning out my book collection (well, I cleaned out about 1/10 of my book collection to make room for new cookbooks) and I came across about 25 magic books. It struck me that the taxonomy of these books very much paralleled the taxonomy of cookbooks. For the most part, the standard format of those books is that they're thick books with instructions for hundreds of tricks. The bigger the book, the more the cover trumpets how many tricks it contains. The descriptions of the tricks are short, and you have to weed out 20 stupid tricks for every good one. There's also a much smaller group of books that are more technique-oriented.

And then there's one book I came across, a small book by the brilliant Harry Lorayne, titled Reputation Makers. It's the opposite of the Joy of Cooking-style magic books. The book is 87 pages long and contains detailed instructions for just a few tricks. The proffer is that every single one of them is absolutely fantastic -- a reputation maker.

I'm not aware of anybody ever pulling together a cookbook based on that strategy. A book of X number of recipes, with every recipe being an absolutely terrific one that results in a dish that will make people say wow.

I figure, maybe there's no book, but there's no reason we can't do something like that together. So this topic is for your reputation makers. The dishes that you serve when you have someone coming over who really knows food. The dishes that make your guests think you're a better cook than you are. The dishes that make you wonder why you bother eating in restaurants. The dishes your guests talk about a year later. Here's the deal:

1 - Unless your name is Robuchon, Ducasse or Troisgros, you don't have a long list of reputation makers. You have one or two. So we all have to exercise self-restraint here: please only post about one or two dishes.

2 - Chances are, your reputation makers are the result of years of experimentation and refinement, and you've made them many times. But here, nobody else has made your reputation makers, so please describe the process in painstaking detail.

3 - If it comes from a cookbook or chef, say which one and how you've made it your own.

4 - Under no circumstances should you say your reputation makers are "simple," "so easy," etc. -- they may seem that way to you but may not to others. Likewise, "whatever is fresh and delicious at the farmers' market" doesn't count.

5 - Photos or other media if you have them.

If I can awaken myself a bit more this morning, I'll post mine. But please feel free to start without me.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well, I hate to disagree right off the bat, but my reputation as an outstanding cook is not based on any one, or any two dishes. It's because people know that any time they eat at my house they'll have something excellent, and they'll never have the same thing twice. I'm not bragging, them's just the facts.

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There's nothing among all of the dishes you've done that stands out? Nothing that you've honed over time to your vision of it's perfection? Really?

I think there is a definite division between "everything is always excellent" and "he/she did this (whatever) that was just beyond incredible, I'll never forget it". Even the greatest of the great chefs have dishes that people talk about above and beyond their normal greatness. Sometimes knowledge, instinct and maybe even a little luck all pool their resources on a day when the culinary gods are smiling on your kitchen and you create that thing that sets itself apart from the rest of what you do... no matter how good the rest is. If you don't know which ones they are, talk to the people you cook for. I bet they can tell you what the best thing you do is.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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The people I cook for here in South Florida have repeatedly told me that my macaroni salad is wonderful.It's too simple to be believed, :blink:

1 lb. of Barilla pasta elbows, cooked for EXACTLY 7 minutes in salted water, quickly cooled under running water to bearably warm to the touch, and mixed with the following dressing:

(sorry for the approximate measures; it's all eye-balled)

3/4 to 7/8 of a quart of REAL Hellman's mayo (not lite, or fat-free- shudder)

1 pint of REAL, full fat sour cream

1 large and 1 medium onion, diced not too fine

2 hearts of celery (the kind sold 2 to a bag, trimmed of leaves, de-stringed, and tidied up,

cut into half lengthwise, then chopped, again not too fine

Kosher salt and FRESH GROUND pepper to taste (I use Alessi white pepper from the grinder bottle, I just think it looks prettier, and tastes so good. About 20 - 50 grinds)

Stir all together (it'll look loose, or maybe even soupy)cover with plastic wrap, then foil, if desired, and refrigerate, preferably overnight to let pasta soak up the dressing. If the salad looks dry the next day, stir well, then add more mayo to loosen.(PLEASE do not use MILK, as it makes the stuff totally bland!)

This was my mother's recipe, and the same blend works for potato salad, as well. Do not cover directly with foil, the sour cream eats holes in it! :shock: No picture, because it a blah LOOKING dish, but everyone loves it.

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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Sometimes knowledge, instinct and maybe even a little luck all pool their resources on a day when the culinary gods are smiling on your kitchen and you create that thing that sets itself apart from the rest of what you do... no matter how good the rest is.

I sure hope that happens for me someday! Until then, I would say there is no "reputation maker" in my repertoire.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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Sometimes knowledge, instinct and maybe even a little luck all pool their resources on a day when the culinary gods are smiling on your kitchen and you create that thing that sets itself apart from the rest of what you do... no matter how good the rest is.

I sure hope that happens for me someday! Until then, I would say there is no "reputation maker" in my repertoire.

With the disclaimer that I really don't know what Fat Guy has in mind, I'm guessing that he isn't expecting this to be relative to the culinary world at large. I'm guessing he wants to know something we do that has that wow factor for the people we cook for. The thing that they really hope we're cooking when they come for dinner or we're bringing food to an event. The thing that somebody asks about when they see you at the store because someone told them how awesome it was. Maybe I toast an eggo better than anybody else in my town(ok, I'm getting ridiculous with that). I don't think he requires that it be a dish Grant Achatz or Thomas Keller is begging us to give up the recipe for or anything like that.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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OK. We live in a region in Ontario where there are NO decent, nay even acceptable, Chinese restaurants. So last fall I began back making Chinese food, heavy on the Szechwan style. Now I am hardly an excellent cook or an excellent Chinese food cook, but my DH thinks I am the most brilliant Chinese food cook and he can't believe that he is getting to eat my wonderful cooking so often. He is my sous-chef. Nothing is too much trouble for him. Just as long as I keep on turning out these wonderful dishes.

You can't ask for more than that. :wub: A small good but intensely felt reputation.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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The one thing I do know is that of my own ignorance.

It seems that I am developing a reputation amongst my friends and family. A few examples. I make Wolfgang Puck's Savory Squash Soup from his book Pizza Pasta and More during the fall when squashes are in season. It has always been met with rave reviews. At one occasion, a guest asked if it would be rude to lick the bowl. Just last week I gave the owner of the roofing company that was replacing my roof a small cup of chocolate mint frozen custard from David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop. He came back the next day to collect the payment and humbly asked if it would be possible to get another cup to take home. And then there is this comment written by a fellow member of the local homebrewing club in the monthly newsletter.

"UNFAIR COMPETITION WITHIN THE YAHOOS

Speaking of unfair competition, Dan the Pastryman should not be allowed to bring his beers to YAHOO meetings. Allowing his beers to be compared to those of the others is simply unfair. For one thing, as a pastryman, Dan is capable of following a recipe, something no self-respecting homebrewer allows himself or herself to do – that takes some of the adventure and mystery away from brewing. Additionally, Dan knows the effects of spices and fruits on his beers – like insuring that the pits of blood oranges are not included in a beer. While the rest of us deal in measures of quarter fist fulls, etc., Dan probably deals in grams and knows exactly the effects/gram. Simply not fair. But then being in the YAHOOS is not supposed to be about competition, but should be about mutual development, fellowship, sharing, and cooperation. Yeah, sure."

The reputation I am building is not really built on a particular recipe or recipes, but on an obsessive desire for knowledge about food, using the best ingredients I can get my hands on, and constantly developing and pushing my skills. In the end though, I am still quite ignorant and a ton to learn when compared to my peers.

Dan

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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My list would make me sound like someone's grandma. The things I've taken the trouble to perfect are almost all simple ... bread and butter type recipes, heavy on the fundamentals and light on sleight of hand. I don't have the time/talent/resources to perfect anything complicated, so I rarely try.

Maybe I should say "apparently simple," since I'm talking about foods that are simple in concept and presentation, though not necessarily execution. Over the last few years I've incorporated a lot of contemporary "molecular" techniques, but I don't draw attention to this. I just want my diners to think the food's surprisingly delicious. They don't have to know that grandma's got a chemistry set, a miligram scale, and a blowtorch.

I'd have to include roasted chicken, chocolate chip cookies, a handful of chocolate desserts (cake, brownies, marquise), simple ice creams, and coulis-based brown sauces.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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There's been way too much humbleness and "oh garsh, I can't..." in this thread! This is a thread about throwing down something we do great and saying "yeah, that's mine". Fat Guy provided us with the perfect opportunity to brag without being conceited. We're not starting a thread about what we do great, we're contributing to his thread in response to the question he asked. All this toe-in-the-sand "gee, I don't do anything great" stuff is going to make it really difficult for anyone to actually post what Fat Guy asked for without appearing arrogant in comparison. Come on everybody, let's have fun with this! I'm going to post what I think is mine. I'd add it now but I don't have any pictures and the forum edit time limit prevents adding them in later. Maybe it's not great in the overall scheme of things but it's sure popular with the people who've had it.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Prime rib. I get asked for it over and over, even if I'd rather try to make something else since people have it so often at my place. I'd get killed if I tried to do anything other than Prime rib for Christmas dinner.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Okay, I'll bite. I'm always one to toot my own horn. ;)

3490479668_fd20b7dc53_o.jpg

Broccoli rabe and heirloom beans with sourdough-garlic croutons and cheese

One of my better creations since starting my seasonal cooking experiment.

Most of what I cook isn't "wow" food by any means. It doesn't strive to be.

On the other hand, I think the pictures speak for themselves. ;)

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Prime rib. I get asked for it over and over, even if I'd rather try to make something else since people have it so often at my place. I'd get killed if I tried to do anything other than Prime rib for Christmas dinner.

Small correction--prime rib and gravy. I think popovers were in there, too, but I can't remember now.

I've never even had Marlene's prime rib, gravy, or popovers, but I want all three!

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Okay, I'll play. All mine are very much home-cooking type items.

Poufy, pillowy dinner rolls. Recipe originally from my sister's MIL.

Cornbread dressing. Original recipe from Talk About Good!, cookbook of the Lafayette, LA Junior League. I make it pretty much as written. It's an odd recipe... looks like soup when you put it in the oven, but it is SO good!

Marcella Hazan's baked fish and potatoes, but I use thyme instead of rosemary.

Fish and potatoes

Macque Choux. Don't remember where the original recipe came from and I vary it frequently, depending on what I have. Sometimes I add red bell pepper, sometimes tomatoes, sometimes make it into succotash with baby butter beans.

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When I have guests, I usually try to make things that they aren't likely to make themselves (excepting a few friends who like to cook, of course) like roasts and fish and such. The roast leg of lamb that I posted about in another thread has gotten to be something of a standard thing that I do and that people ask for--

I had a chance to cook a private meal at a friend's restaurant about a year ago or so, and this was my go to main dish, since I've made it many times, and I could prep it at home, vacuum seal it, and bring it in ready to roast. I was unfamiliar with the oven at the restaurant, and I didn't think to bring my own roasting pan and rack, so I used a sheet pan, which changed the cooking time a bit, and made it a bit late to the table, but we had fantastic 1990 Haut-Brion to go with it and there was plenty of good conversation, so no one minded the wait, and the lamb proved itself in the end.

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Okay, I'll play. All mine are very much home-cooking type items.

Poufy, pillowy dinner rolls. Recipe originally from my sister's MIL.

Cornbread dressing. Original recipe from Talk About Good!, cookbook of the Lafayette, LA Junior League. I make it pretty much as written. It's an odd recipe... looks like soup when you put it in the oven, but it is SO good!

Marcella Hazan's baked fish and potatoes, but I use thyme instead of rosemary.

Fish and potatoes

Macque Choux. Don't remember where the original recipe came from and I vary it frequently, depending on what I have. Sometimes I add red bell pepper, sometimes tomatoes, sometimes make it into succotash with baby butter beans.

Do you have a recipe for the dinner rolls handy? I have tried a few different basic roll recipes and have never been happy with my results...

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Okay, I have two dishes to contribute to this discussion. Or maybe they're in the category of dish-concepts, because they're very flexible and can accommodate a lot of different ingredient sets.

The first dish I'll call "short ribs with lentils." I'm sure I'm not the first person to figure out the key trick here, but I've never actually seen anybody else do it. This dish was born of my dissatisfaction with two aspects of short ribs. First, that when you serve them on the bone there's a lot of unpleasant connective tissue and fat on them. Second, that if you take them off the bone there's a lot of unutilized meat. I decided one day to take the big chunks of short rib meat off the bone and dice up the remaining bits of meat to use as part of a garnish. Not a brilliant idea, but it was the birth of one of my reputation makers.

Here's what I do.

At some point in advance of the dish-making process, I make as rich a beef stock as I can.

The day before the dish is to be served, I braise a bunch of beef short ribs in a couple of quarts of said beef stock. I refrigerate them overnight in a zipper bag. Separately, I refrigerate the braising liquid.

The next day, I cut the cold short ribs so that each yields one nice big rectangular chunk of non-fatty, non-gristly meat. I work around the short ribs with the knife and get all the other usable meat and make a pile. Then I dice all that up.

A couple of hours before mealtime, I start the lentils. I start with finely chopped onions, carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper, cooked over a low heat with olive oil until soft and giving up a nice aroma. Then I add the lentils and cook them dry for a few minutes until they're a little wet, kind of like how you start rice for risotto. Then I add half the braising liquid and top off with a combination of water and either wine or beer. Once you get to this point and everything comes up to a simmer, the lentils will generally be done in about 45 minutes.

At this time, I put the big chunks of short rib meat in the remaining braising liquid and, covered, bring it to a low simmer. Then I leave the heat on simmer until it's time to serve.

When the lentils are still a bit firm but getting close to done, I mix in the diced short-rib meat.

The dish is best served in a wide bowl. Put a bunch of lentils in the bowl. Top with a chunk or two of short rib meat. Spoon some of the braising liquid (from the short-rib reheat) around the lentils to get them a bit wetter. Top with coarse salt and some sort of chopped fresh herb.

For every step of this process, there are refinements that improve the dish. For example the dish was greatly enhanced when I switched to pardina lentils (these are the small green-gray lentils, available pretty cheap). Although short ribs were the inspiration for the dish, it works well with brisket, chuck or whatever. Adding various spices to the lentils gives the dish an eastern inflection. Etc.

I'll get to my other one later.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Right. Another improvement to the dish is to add some vinegar to the lentils toward the end of cooking. Sherry vinegar is particularly nice.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Fresh pasta with embedded basil leaf.

1. Make pasta from scratch and roll it very thin (#7 on my KitchenAid pasta attachment). The pasta will be about 4 - 5" wide and up to several feet long, depending upon how much dough you've processed.

2. Leaving the width the same, cut the pasta to desired length (in my case, about 2").

3. Place a fresh medium sized basil leaf length-wise on one side of the pasta, about 1/2" from the edge.

4. Fold the pasta in half width-wise so the basil leaf is covered. It'll be translucent. The small sheet is now twice as thick.

5. Set the pasta roller back to 4 or 5.

6. Run the small sheet with the basil leaf through and then run it through again at the next setting; 5 -6.

7. The basil leaf will be clearly seen through the pasta, but it'll be stretched and probably broken apart a bit.

8. Cook the pasta and serve with sauce around the dish making sure you don't cover the basil leaf.

I used this pasta for a sea food ravioli/Napoleon with a lobster stock reduction sauce. Someone took pictures and put it on their facebook.

Edited by Mano (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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Right. Another improvement to the dish is to add some vinegar to the lentils toward the end of cooking. Sherry vinegar is particularly nice.

An optional finishing touch for rich meat braises like this is a gremolata to provide a bit more contrast. Especially for guests who don't often cook themselves, they'll be surprised by how a few everyday ingredients pack a ton of flavor and can serve as such a counterweight to big meat flavors. Or maybe they'll just think it tastes good...

 

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Okay, I'll bite. I'm always one to toot my own horn. ;)

3490479668_fd20b7dc53_o.jpg

Broccoli rabe and heirloom beans with sourdough-garlic croutons and cheese

One of my better creations since starting my seasonal cooking experiment.

Most of what I cook isn't "wow" food by any means. It doesn't strive to be.

On the other hand, I think the pictures speak for themselves. ;)

Okay, you got me! Care to share the recipe?

Thanks

Dan

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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My reputation making dish is one made with eggplant - the recipe from the wife of a colleague of my husbands - of course it's been tweaked a bit.

The most interesting comment I received was from the husband of a friend to whom the dish was served. He loved it, but when he found out it was eggplant, not meat, he was annoyed. He thought it was cheap not to serve meat to guests.

The daughter of a friend liked it so much, she took the recipe back to the restaurant where she works, and they've been serving it ever since.

Essentially it's breaded slices of eggplant, drizzled with oil and baked until crispy, layered with sauted onions, well seasoned bechamel, swiss and cheddar cheese and baked until bubbly. Great reheated the next day too.

So much more than the sum of it's parts.

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My reputation making dish is one made with eggplant - the recipe from the wife of a colleague of my husbands - of course it's been tweaked a bit.

The most interesting comment I received was from the husband of a friend to whom the dish was served. He loved it, but when he found out it was eggplant, not meat, he was annoyed. He thought it was cheap not to serve meat to guests.

Any guest who complains about the hosts being "cheap not to serve meat" is an a-hole.

Essentially it's breaded slices of eggplant, drizzled with oil and baked until crispy, layered with sauted onions, well seasoned bechamel, swiss and cheddar cheese and baked until bubbly. Great reheated the next day too.

So much more than the sum of it's parts.

I'm going to have to try it! I'm not a huge fan of eggplant, but anything crispy is good. And crispy with bechamel and melted cheese is even better.

I'm not really known for anything because I don't really cook, but I have an aunt who, more than 10 years later, still talks about my lemon souffle cheesecake. I got the recipe from a Japanese cookbook for junior high school students and I didn't change a thing about it, except translating it into English. I haven't made it in eons.

Oh, and my mango pudding. It's not really my recipe--we got it from my aunt who got it from who knows where. It changes every time I make it (more or less cream gets added, more or less milk, etc.), but it's always a good recipe.

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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