Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chicken and Winter Vegetable Soup

It's that time of the year when chicken soup becomes not only dinner, but medicine as well. I patched this recipe together at work the other day and thought I would translate it into a home style recipe because it was so good. Give it a try.

1 pcs 3 1/2 #chicken
water to cover

A few pieces of carrot peelings, onion skins and celery leafs.

one small onion
one good size carrot
two long stalks of celery
one sweet potato
one medium sized Idaho potato
one large portabello cap
one small head of cauliflower
three garlic cloves
one small turnip
four parsnips
one small rhutabega
a sprig of thyme and rosemary
black pepper and salt

To begin cover the whole chicken with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 1/2 an hour until fully cooked. Shread the chicken meat and roast the left over bones for 20 min at 500 degrees. Add the roasted bones and vegetable trim to the water you cooked the chicken in to begin with. Let this simmer for at least three hours, any longer than six is overkill. Stain this mixture, and chill. Recover the fat from the stock.

Cut up the vegetables how ever you like. Ideally they will be small enough to fit on a spoon since we are making a soup. Using the recovered fat off the stock sautee the vegetables until 50% cooked. Add the stock, and shreaded chicken to the vegetable mixture and bring to a boil. At this point everything should be cooked through. Season and remove herb stems.

*Roasting the bones adds a deeper complexity to the soup and warms up the house this time of year. It is the step I suggest you not skip.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Poll

To remind ourselves about the content of the new poll:

Big Night




Friday, February 19, 2010

Why cook?

Why I cook?

Michael Ruhlman poised the question on his blog, “why I cook?” It is both an easy and a difficult question at the same time. I actually began cooking because I wanted to cook healthy food for myself. This was in high school, and I was lucky enough that my mother let me experiment. I wasn’t always a good cook….remember the catfish mom? Nobody knew then how things would work out. I’ve compiled my lists of both why, and why not I cook at the present time. Here you go.

Why I cook?

I cook because I make money doing so.
I cook because I’m good at it.
I cook because it makes me happy when I cook something people enjoy.
I cook because I don’t trust other peoples cooking.
I cook because I know what I want to make and what will make me happy when I eat it.
I cook because It’s a creative outlet for me and it makes me think and stimulate my mind.

Why I don’t cook?

I don’t cook because I’ll have to clean up.
I don’t cook because I lack inspiration.
I don’t cook when I have a taste for something I don’t know how to re-create.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scary Supermarket

Gram-pa Joe and Cousin Eddie prepare to mix the burger meat.

The grocery store can be a scary place. All the people, the carts, the huge amount of money your about to spend, closterphobia or the fear of running into someone you’d rather not are all reasons to fear the grocery store. Go ahead and add on pathogenic bacteria, viruses, prions and parasites as things to fear as they are in most cases the cause of food borne illnesses. Not necessarily in plain sight but improper food handling, preparation, storage or human hygiene are all ways these nasties can find their way into your cart. That’s not to mention the naturally occurring toxins that some plants, mushrooms and fish produce. Here are a few things you might bring home from the grocery store that are free, Campylobacter jejuni, Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella, or the celebrity of food borne illness Escherichia coli o157:h7.

I’ll throw out a few stats:

Over a two year study it is estimated that for every 100,000 people in the U.S. there were 26,000 cases of food borne illnesses, or which 111 of those people needed hospitalization, and 2 out of every 100,000 people would die do to food borne illness. It’s estimated that in 1997 the financial cost of food borne illness in the U.S. reached over $35 billion in medical costs. Yearly estimations in the U.S. reach 76 million sick people, with another 2 million in the U.K. and 1 million in France. That means the number of food borne illness cases in these three countries alone account for nearly 1% of the world population.

During the year of 2008 The Food Safety and Inspection Service (a subset of the USDA) had approximately 7,800 inspection personnel working in nearly 6,200 federally inspected meat, poultry and processed egg establishments. FSIS is charged with administering and enforcing the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Egg Products Inspection Act, portions of the Agricultural Marketing Act, the Humane Slaughter Act. FSIS inspection program personnel inspect every animal before slaughter, and each carcass after slaughter to ensure public health requirements are met. In 2008, this included about 50 billion pounds of livestock carcasses, about 59 billion pounds of poultry carcasses, and about 4.3 billion pounds of processed egg products. At U.S. borders, they also inspected 3.3 billion pounds of imported meat and poultry products. That means every inspector is looking at over 1.5 million pounds of product a year.

Wow, take a deep breath, and reconsider your rash decision to never go to the grocery store again. There is a 75% chance you won’t get sick from food borne illness in the next year and a really, really, really good chance you won’t die! Cheer up. The past poll queried the location in the supermarket that most concerned you about food borne illness. Pre-cut and packaged meats (and lump in the ‘they all scare me’ votes) accounted for 70% of the votes. When I think supermarket, I’m thinking about the big boys, Kroger, Giant Eagle, Wal-Mart..ect. The kinds of places that have eliminated the butcher and sell cuts of meat that are processed at a central location. I have some faith that these large production plants can produce safe product assuming that the laws, rules, regulations and procedures set forth are in fact implemented. While we lament the extinction of the local butcher, I have to wonder if gram-pa Joe and cousin Eddie are really able to apply solid food safety procedures like the big boys. On top of that, if there were another few thousand meat handling institutions how would the USDA be able to look after them all. So, unlike 70% of those who voted I’m comfortable with pre-cut and packaged meat.

What scares me are deli meats! First off you don’t cook them like you do anything on a tray with a wet nap under it. Secondly, you don’t wash it like an apple or lettuce. Deli meats sit in a case of questionable temperature, get pulled out every once in a while and placed on a slicer… the same slicer everything else is cut on, and placed back in the case. What I don’t see is what is most scary; I don’t see the meats get re-wrapped. I don’t see the slicer get cleaned off between uses. I don’t see a thermometer in the case.

Let’s take an example, so a piece of ham gets touched by a piece of machine that was fixed by a repair man who used the restroom right before he fixed the broken down packaging machine, but never washed his hands properly. The first ham through the machine is inoculated with some fecal matter. This ham just happens to sit in a box on a delivery truck of which the cooling unit is not fully functional and this ham is subject to temperatures above 40 degrees allowing for bacterial growth. This ham is delivered to the supermarket and properly refrigerated, looks and smells fine and is sliced open by a clean, gloved and caring deli worker, placed on a clean slicer and shaved perfectly to my specification. So now the slicer, the workers gloves, and everything else he touches or puts on the slicer is in theory infected. So I order some turkey that gets infected from the slicer, and the scale is infected from the gloves, and the next pair of gloves that touch the scale are infected and the turkey is infected from the slicer so now the ham and the turkey are problems. You see how this can multiply fast. Everything in the deli case scares me because right in front of us it is subject to everything that should scare us…it’s handled, it’s prepared, and it’s subject to human hygiene issues.

The next question is how concerned are we? I don’t plan on stopping me deli counter purchases. I doubt any of those who stated they are most concerned about pre-cut and packaged meats are going to stop buying those types of products. We do feel safe with the majority of our food purchases, but it’s complacence that will kill us. And the number one thing we all can do to make ourselves and all those around us safer, wash your hands.

All numerical facts were found on Wikipedia, here or here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Pen, or smartphone, is mightier than the santuko.

The NY Times food section always delivers. I mean there is something worth reading week in and week out, on a consistent basis. If you aren't checking it every Wednesday, then you should. I found this piece by Julia Moskin to peak my and in turn your interests....Chefs, bloggers, tweeter, purveyors, customers, message boards, and armature food critics. Throw all those in a pot and stir it up!

For me the prize of the whole investigation can be found in the audio link, "Back Story with Julia Moskin." During the last 3o seconds the statement, and one I've made many times before is put forth "being a Chef is more than just cooking." And we aren't talking about management or organization. The implication and one that I reluctantly support is that to be a successful, economically stable, and notable Chef one must create an identity, a persona, or a character of which customers find your time on TV, Tweeter, or roaming a dining room to be more important than your time in the kitchen. I'm sure this is a comfortable role for some people, unfortunately not me. I'll stick to my lil' ole blog and long hours in the kitchen on my personal search for success, and be happy with it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

When the going gets busy

The past week-end was a good one. We had over 100 reso's all week-end, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that is! It's not unheard of for us to top 100 on a normal week-end and cruise through a slow Sunday, but this week-end was the exception. Both Saturday and Sunday we sold almost 180 entree's, with a 'slow' Friday at nearly 120. These are good numbers for a 70 seat restaurant, in a far suburb, in the middle of winter. Considering of course that we did a whole 6 covers this past Tuesday while knee deep in snow, a full on blizzard, and the local news waxing the story all day long. I guess it all evens out in the end...a shit bomb of a week, and shit bomb of a week-end.

My keen observation was how everyone’s intensity seemed to lower as the hours go by. Not just the kitchen, but the servers, and lastly the bussers seem to get increasingly lazy as the night progresses. I can say for myself, personally, as the night went on it became more and more difficult to stay focused. This was not my intention, it just happened, naturally. Why couldn't I stay focused? Have I lost some line cook ability to stay focused for longer than 3 hours. I can remember my times as an expo where cooks would get slower, or get mouthy, but it was never a big deal. I want to kick myself in the ass for losing focus. I love the rush. I love the intensity of the tickets coming in and pulling proteins and firing steaks, in essence that is the intensity I live for. On the flip side I hate blindly cooking steaks and firing food when I'm out of sync with the flow, or I don't know all my temps. It's a great feeling to go through the night with confidence. It's survival when you scrape by the skin on your teeth and just manage.

How can I better maintain focus? I don't think the food I cooked later in the night was bad, or inferior to the food I cooked earlier in the night, but it's a matter of self confidence I guess. You tend to turn into a robot as the night progresses.....season, cook, taste, season, cook taste season all night long. I want the last plate I send out to be the best. I want every plate I send out to be the best. Are those too high expectations? I'm willing to put that to a test.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Top Chef Master Season 2

The lineup of chefs and judges for the second installment of Top Chef Masters has been announced. For a full disclosure check here.

April 7th is the starting date. 22 chefs are set to compete, including 6 returning chefs from the first season. Does this give them a significant advantage? Among those returning is Wylie Dufresne, whose food I and many other have the upmost respect for, but his poor performance on season one made a lot of people think we might not see him on television again. I am pulling for him to make a bigger, better, brighter splash his second time around.

Other points of interest are Matt Groening of the Simpsons and Andrew Zimmerman of Bizarre Foods will be judges.

A few chefs I'm especially looking forward to seeing are Susur Lee who does Asian fusion out of Toronto, Marcus Samuelsson who is known for a unique blend of Norwegian and African influences, and authored one of my favorite cookbooks, Aquavit. And lastly Rick Tramonto of TRU in Chicago where he introduced the Midwest to forward thinking gastronomic adventures.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Try Something New from the Appetizer Section

I think this past poll had an inherent logical answer built into it. Those people who are willing to try something new surely would like to give it a small try before diving in. I am surprised that neither soup nor dessert got a single vote while entrĂ©es did. Personally, I’m quite willing to give a dessert a try that strays from the predictable chocolate, vanilla, or berries regime. Apps and desserts also share the same price point, and quantity. Appetizers do garner all the glory though. They are the first things eaten, usually make up a good portion of the menu, and are most likely to include something unique.

Not just when looking for something new do people gravitate toward apps, but as a theme appetizers have become ever more popular. We call them different names; tapas, small bites, starters, ect. Restaurants across the country have gone above and beyond to explore exactly how to give the customer enough appetizer options. Ironically it’s been my observation that the downfall of any great menu is the lack of entrees. In my opinion while people want as many app choices as we can come up with, they also want the ability to order a big ole’ comfortable mid-western plate of food. What I’m saying here is that people want a lot of choices, they want to find that something new and give it a try, but they aren’t likely to make that a meal. At least from my experiences.

Roasted Red Beet Cole Slaw

As promised I dug this recipe out of my archives. It is one of my favorite slaw recipes. Enjoy

Roasted Beet Cole Slaw

2 cups shredded green cabbage
2 cups shredded red cabbage
3/4 cups shredded carrots
3 stalks green onions
1 Granny Smith apples, shredded
2 cups roasted beets, shredded

½ cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon coarse-grained mustard

Begin by roasting the beets; wash the beets, cut off the tops, place in a roasting pan, add 1/2 cup of water and cover tightly. Cook at 375 until cooked through, chill, peel. I suggest using a box grater to shred the carrot, apple and beets. Mix the dressing separately. It is most likely there will be left over dressing, but add as much dressing as desired. The whole mess will turn a nice pink. Don't worry to mix the veggies with the dressing too early, ten minutes is enough time to bring the flavors together.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Super Supper on Super Bowl Sunday

The Super Bowl has become a day with a free pass to junk food, ‘man’ food, or otherwise lowbrow or simple food that in the right hands and minds of football fans becomes foodie paradise. Super Bowl spreads make the average tailgate look like an Old Country Buffet. The Super Bowl brings the foodie out in all of us. Nachos aren’t just nachos they are Super Bowl Sunday Nachos. Chili isn’t just good old chili it’s Super Bowl Sunday Chili, once a year chili! Sure this is nothing more than a marketing scheme. Big business can capitalize on our desire to make any day of the week special if they can suck extra money out of us buying things. Null point. My Super Bowl might have been ruined by a Saint’s win, but the food was good.

We started with a fresh vegetable tray, thanks Mom. I mean who is dropping mean cash for red and orange bell peppers? Mom! And damn tasty. Complete with T. Marzetti ‘Dill Veggie Dip’ which is really nice. There was an accompanying tray of starches; pretzels, corn chips, Fritos and salsa. My drink suggestion was Labatt’s Blue, and what do you know, thank you Dad.

The dirt comes with the cleats. We had a mad bean stew with pork, bacon, duck, and brisket. The star was Mom’s bbq style pulled pork that we ate as sandwiches. Fries and fried cocktail shrimp proved to calm my personal desire for grease after all those raw veggies to start. Gotta move those through the system somehow. Well, I hate to rain on this little parade but the coleslaw sucked. I vow my next post will be one that includes a coleslaw recipe, and one that should not be deviated from, but only in the slightest. In my opinion the only thing worse than the coleslaw was the half time presentation of The Who. The only way to solve a mystery is to determine, "who, what, why, when, and where" it seems like the NFL stoped searching for musical artists after one question, Who, will you?

For the sweet tooth we enjoyed a square vanilla bread pudding with caramel sauce. The sweetness was the kind of thing that makes your teeth hurt, it was either that or the Manning interception that made my teeth hurt. Either way it was very sweet.

Well, today is over, and it’s only one year till the next Super Bowl, and I’m ready to start planning that menu. I’m pushing for chili, with a ton of additions, at least one of which being hot dogs. Wouldn’t that be great? If you could get a bowl of chili with a hot dog as a topping? Hummmmmm.