Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Alternative Thanksgiving





Don't let the title scare you too much. I'm not referring to an event where Pilgrims and Indians dress like each other or something more awful like, Tofurkey. An alternative Thanksgiving is something I want to suggest to many of you planning your Thanksgiving menu. I've ranted before about the food at Thanksgiving and how sad it is. Of course, I will rant again.
Thanksgiving is a tradition and, like many traditions, we've changed nothing. I'm not talking about drastically altering the menu so that it in no way resembles the autumn food fest catering to overeating Americans. I am merely suggesting that we upgrade the menu. Turkey is kind of bland, but you can dress it up. Cranberry sauce????? Why? I could go on with what's not working, but let's figure out how we can improve on some of the outdated dishes.
What to do with cranberry sauce? I have always been disgusted with the cranberry sauce and the lines from the can it comes in. My thought has always been to eliminate it completely. However, I saw a great use for cranberries. Check out this idea that looks to be a great utilization for appetizers. Next up is the green bean casserole. I don't hate this one as much as cranberry sauce but when everything generally comes from a can, it's tough to like it. My previous idea was to just ensure that all ingredients were fresh. Fresh green beans and fresh onions, but you still have the issue of the cream of mushroom. Same place that had the great idea for the cranberries came up with this for green beans. I would revise the mayo to be more truffle based to capture the use of mushrooms, or you could go for a wild mushroom aioli. For stuffing, I think it's best to start with a high quality bread that already has a lot of flavor, like a rosemary Focaccia. The sweet potato substance always makes me sad. The mix of sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, marshmallow, topped with some nuts seems odd and rather gross. My revision? Sweet potato gnocchi! For the sauce, you could do a brown butter sauce and mix in some cinnamon and maybe some maple syrup. If you're dead set on nuts, you could candy some and add them afterwards. My only personal change to mashed potatoes are to use Yukon Gold not Russet. I recently discovered that Yukon Gold are far better than Russet. They produce a sweeter, silkier mash. For dessert, how about some pumpkin pie? Does the texture of pumpkin pie turn you off? Try my inside out, upside down pumpkin. I've included the recipe at the bottom of this post.
It's okay to change. Don't fear mixing up the Thanksgiving menu. Sure you'll anger some moms out there, but once they realize that everything is still there, just in different form, they'll probably forgive you. . . many years later. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and please post any other ideas you might have for a different menu.

Upside-Down, Inside-Out Pumpkin Pie

  • 26 ounces canned pumpkin
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 10 ounces granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces brown sugar
  • ½ ounce corn starch
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • pinch salt
  • 20 ounces milk
  • 2 ounces heavy cream

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix pumpkin filling and eggs thoroughly. Combine all dry ingredients together and sift so there are no lumps. Add sifted dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and mix well. Gradually add the milk and cream. Pour into 4-ounce bomb molds. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until set in the center.
2.Once cooled and set, using a food syringe, inject the center of the mold with whip cream.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

BEETS!

Remember the beets that were indistinguishable from cranberry sauce in a can? You know, the "way too red" blobs or slices? I remember, as a kid, my grandfather eating beets on his salad and urging me to try them. After one taste, I quickly spit the rest out of my mouth and vowed never again. Never again would I put those weird roots in my mouth -- those roots that taste like dirt and were actually used to dye clothes back in the day. Really? Why would I seek out a food that was used to make red dresses? Beets me!! (No more beet jokes. I don't want to beet them to death. Okay, now that was the last beet joke)
Yes, beets don't have the best PR campaign. However, knowing that they could convert an anti-beetite like me, I think it's time for a resurgence. It all started in 2010, in Yountville, CA. The restaurant was Ad Hoc. The dish was a homegrown salad with golden beets (see below pic).
When I saw that beets were in the salad, I was indifferent. My wife, also an anti-beetite, took the first bite and immediately asked what the little yellow diced items were. Having never consumed golden beets, I had to assume that's what it was. They were delightful, and we couldn't get enough of them. I was shocked that something I once hated was so delicious. What else was I missing? Was the stem of broccoli now tasty (it isn't)? It's almost as if I had been lied to this whole time. My wife and I have now embraced beets, looking for ways to incorporate them into dishes and seeking them out on restaurant menus.
Is there a food that you might have been afraid of when you were younger? Perhaps it's time to take another look at it. You might be surprised at what you've been missing.

Beet Green Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Figs (+Scallops over Grilled Corn Off the Cob)

Monday, September 19, 2011

DVR and the Slow Food Movement

DVRs, Apple TV, Hulu, and Netflix streaming are all drastically changing the way we watch TV. Gone are the days when you’d rush home to catch an episode of Seinfeld or even try to properly time your bathroom or refrigerator trips. It’s becoming rarer that you are left out of a conversation at work if you didn’t watch a show live the previous night. Fortunately, many of us utilize one of these services to allow us to watch TV on our time. We don’t need to schedule our evening around the final episode of Seinfeld (If you haven’t already noticed, Seinfeld is my TV show of reference due to its popularity at a time in which DVRs did not exist.). Only sporting events keep us chained to our televisions because who would want to watch a sporting event after it already happened? Many people are cutting cable altogether in part, to save money and also to save time. One of my friends who recently parted ways with cable said he realized how often he would just have the TV on to watch something that he didn’t really even care about. Perhaps not having limitless choices would help one actually filter out all of the junk that you don’t really need to watch (there’s a related joke here about the Cheesecake Factory menu, but I can’t nail it down).

By now, you might be questioning why I am on a seemingly random crusade against cable. There is no hidden agenda to rid you of cable or your satellite, but more of a question as to how this applies to our eating habits or how it should apply to our eating habits. We’ve established that DVRs, and the like, have created more time for us, as it relates to TV. With this free time and no need to rush home or rush at the dinner table, how will you handle it? How will the US handle it? In theory, shouldn’t this allow us more time to enjoy our food? We can prepare food at home without worrying that we are missing something funny that Franklin said to Bash (please note that the humor is never intentional). Good food takes time. It takes an investment involving some planning and prepping of ingredients. TV dinners should have been cancelled several seasons ago. How much more shame do you need than sticking your meal repeatedly with a fork before shoving it into the microwave? We now have time to eat better and eat right. For what reason, other than laziness, do you need to visit the drive thru when you shouldn’t be short on time? People consistently argue that they do not have time to eat better or prepare food, but I believe you do have the time. Perhaps there is a fear or intimidation or maybe you’ve been burned or more accurately, the dish has been burned. Practice does make perfect and we’ve now established that there is more time available to practice. Make this important.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Italy, Part 2

Now I know school lunches can be a political topic and somewhat of a sensitive subject. I have no interest in going there. This is not a political post, but something that is line with what I normally discuss. As previously mentioned I was recently in Italy and had the opportunity to take a wonderful food tour. One tends to learn a lot about a culture when being guided around by someone who has lived in that culture almost their entire life. This being a food tour, my questions revolved around food. I am continually intrigued with the differences of food habits between the US and Europe. I asked a little bit about obesity and childhood obesity and whether it was a problem in Italy. Surprisingly, our guide, Eleonora, said it had been, but they were taking steps to improve that. Lunches at school had fallen into a somewhat unhealthy routine. Kids were eating poorly, and, of course, it was contributing to some weight issues.

What was the solution to curb these habits and find a healthy alternative? It turns out the solution was there the whole time. The kids simply adopted what the adults had been doing for centuries. Following the season and embracing freshness. Eleonora told me what a menu might look like, and it made me wish I was Billy Madison headed back to elementary school. Local ingredients are key, as is variety. The big question is how this is paid for. I imagine the government steps in at some point, but they use the previous year’s income of the parents to determine how much each parent has to pay. Our guide said she has to pay €40/month. That’s not a bad price to pay, less than $3/day. Unfortunately, our current system has opted not to get that creative. We feel it’s better to monitor what’s eaten, but not really do anything about it. Check this story out. In my birthplace of San Antonio, they opt to photograph what is being consumed than actually control what is available. Why not make quality a priority? Is it possible if kids ate better at school, they might demand better food at home?

As a parent, I claim to know what’s best for my kid. Parents should know what’s best. Childhood obesity can be called a pandemic or some other awful pattern, however it is ridiculously easy to combat. Stop being lazy! We can control what our kids consume. Freshness is always a smart option, and it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out what’s healthy. I’m not asking the government to step in and limit available food options. If you’re an adult, and you don’t know the difference between healthy and unhealthy food, you’ll probably die early from crossing a busy highway. I do think, however, it is beneficial to limit what is provided to kids at school. Is it such a terrible thing if we start producing mini food snobs?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Italy, part 1

I recently enjoyed a trip to Italy, and as you all can imagine, I enjoyed the food as well. I made some observations, some were new and some were reinforced. Please indulge me as I explore some of these observations and detail how they differ from the States.

1. Duration of meals
This is my favorite point and one that I'm sure I've beaten to death. Will that stop me from revisiting? Of course not. I love the fact that I can sit at a restaurant as long as I want without being pressured to leave. Sadly, this is point of contention for many Americans. I have never been to Europe without overhearing an American complaining about how long it takes to get the bill. Americans are notoriously the biggest complainers in Europe. We can't stand something that's different from what we are familiar with. Oddly, we get angry when we are left alone. All we need to understand is that you have to ask for your bill if you want to pay. Italy does not operate like the US where they leave the bill before you're done eating. The Italians don't want to interrupt your meal, but apparently Americans are more comfortable with being pushed out the door. I find it very peaceful to slowly eat a meal, enjoy conversation with the people at your table and not have frequent visits from the waiter checking to see if everything is okay. Isn't it better on your digestive system to not inhale your food or eat from a trough?


2. Cappuccino time
Speaking of your digestive system, I learned something new about the espresso habits of Italians. On our last trip to Italy, I did learn that is very rare for Italians to drink a cappuccino after 10 or 11 in the morning. For the most part, it's only foreigners who order it later in the day, even after their dinner. It's somewhat frowned upon and one restaurant would not serve it to us after dinner. However, with the large amount of tourists, they have become used to this unusual custom. What crazy reason would the Italians have for not partaking in their delicious beverage at any hour? Apparently, it's both crazy and genius. You know when you take a look at the Grand Canyon and you can see all of the layers of different rock? Well, the Italians take that same view on a micro level of the stomach. First off, cappuccinos are not light. Any time you involve milk, you're getting something kind of heavy. Also, as any one who is lactose intolerant will tell you, milk does not delicately move through the digestive system. You don't want something heavy spoiling your appetite for the rest of the day, especially when you have the chance to eat some amazing Italian food for dinner. You also don't want something so uneasy sitting on top of the other items you've consumed. It will not make for an easy digestion process.

3. Eating with the seasons
At some of the better restaurants in the US, you see menus that follow the seasons. Some restaurants change their menus every month. This is nothing new to Italians. Since they don't have tons of Super-markets or Costco's, they're used to buying whatever is available at their local outdoor market. Farmers are selling whatever is growing at the time and that's also what's on the menus. They don't expect to eat artichokes in January, whereas Americans want whatever they want whenever they want it. We are impatient with our food, whether it is related to ingredient availability or waiting on our meal to arrive. Embracing the concept of following the seasons allows you to find fresher products and makes the anticipation of each new season rather exciting.

5. Bread?
A lot of the restaurants we went to put bread on our table. You might initially think, "yeah, what's the big deal?" The deal is that they charged us for the bread. The bread was not optional even if we refused to consume one tiny morsel. We initially thought we shouldn't touch it until we found that they charged you no matter what. I blame America. We need bread before our meal. Why, I do not know? Apparently we need to stuff our faces with starch and butter all before the good stuff arrives. They've learned that they can throw bread on the table, no matter how awful, and we'll scarf it down.

Europe may appear to be behind us in fashion, at times, behind us in technology, yet they can smack us around the kitchen. We need to follow their lead when it comes to food. Stay tuned for the next post to see where we should start.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Service Complainer

Have you ever been out to eat with that guy? You know, that "guy." Or maybe you've been at a table near that guy. To who am I referring? It's the guy (or lady) who is always unhappy about the service. The guy who thinks the waitstaff at Outback should treat him like he's at multi-Michelin starred restaurant. Once seated, he is looking around for the waiter and talking about the service. He never makes eye contact with his waiter and treats them like they are the lowest member of the caste system. He asks for more water, but "with less ice this time, pal." Oh yeah, he always uses pal or chief or some other demeaning nickname for this low-life serving him. These people write horrible reviews of restaurants but rarely mention the food. They focus on the servers, how long it took them to get their food, or how cold the restaurant was. Things people really don't care about. I wish this guy wouldn't eat out. He seems to never enjoy his meal. I also want to be a waiter for the sole reason of asking what country he is king of, and always serve his food with a bow or curtsy. No one is this important. Waiters are not your personal servants or butlers. They work on tips, the tip of 13% he leaves.
Oh yeah, he also treats flight attendants like his waiter in the sky. If your this guy, stay at home, unless you're married. In that case, your wife probably wants you out of the house often because you're constantly complaining about dinner and the cleanliness of the house. If you see this guy, punch him for me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Onions

It's probably happened to some of you. You're eagerly waiting for your hamburger or sandwich and take a big first bite, only to be unexpectedly greeted with an abnormal crunch and some pungent flavor. "Oh no," you say, "Did I forget to say no onions?" You look under the bread only to see onions cut into a nice brunoise. Of course they're not the big slices you can easily pull off the bun. If you're nodding your head right now, you're one of us, you are an anti-onionian. For the rest of you, anti-onionians are people who carefully scan the menu to see if a dish, particularly hamburgers and sandwiches, have onions. If so, they exercise their rights as a diner to demand that no onions be placed on said dish. Generally, anti-onionians have only one request, "No Onions." These are usually not high-maintenance customers who place an order like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.
At this point you're wondering why on earth are you writing about something as trivial as onions? Why you ask? Why? Because I am an Anti-Onionian! Wow, it felt good to put that out there. It's time someone said something. It's time to take a stand for all of the other Anti-Onionians out there. Questions need to be answered and myths need to be debunked.

Question: If you don't like them, why not just pick them off?
A: Okay, this is just what my family used to tell me when I was little and we'd order the supreme pizza. This always drove me crazy, as I enjoy a simple pizza, not some salad buffet topped pizza. If the slices of onion are more like the size of the red onion slices, it's an easy removal process. However, if they chop them up in the little cubes and hide them in the cheese, it becomes a restorative pizza project. Just when you think you have removed them all, you bite into an onion using a pepperoni slice as an umbrella. This applies to sandwiches and hamburgers as well. While they frequently have the cheese issue, you also run into the mayonnaise and mustard being used as an adhesive to keep the onions from being removed like some warning tag on the underside of a couch cushion. If I don't like them, how about I ask you to leave them off? What if I were allergic? Maybe we need onions to be treated like peanuts.

Myth: You Anti-Onionians are too small of a voice to make a difference.
How dare you! We are a lot larger than you may think. I can't tell you how many times I've been out to eat in a group and have had everyone request no onions. Unfortunately, there are no statistics out there to resolve this debate. One would think that if the majority don't prefer onions in this environment, they would be relegated to the 'optional topping' category. If any action were to come from this post, my request would be that people would have to ask for onions rather than ask that they be excluded.

Question & Myth: You're an alleged "foodie," yet you don't want onions around? You are a fraud!
First off, name-calling is not necessary. I am no fraud, and I don't want onions eradicated from all dining establishments. I respect the flavor and depth that onions can provide. Finely chopped onions sautéed in olive oil are a fantastic start to many sauces, especially a great tomato sauce. In fact, if I am including them, I usually chop them superfine so I don't encounter an unsavory onion cube. The finely chopped onion can quickly dissolve into the sauce, which adds the depth without the crunch. In some circumstances, I keep them large, so they're easy to remove.

Anti-Onionians, stand up and let your voice be heard! Do not accept that disappointing crunch that shocks you with your first bite. Don't let onions become the standard topping on a sandwich or a hamburger. Chant with me, hold the onions! Hold the onions! Hold the onions!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Le Bernadin!

I lucked into having the chance to visit one of the best restaurants in the world (#11, to be exact, as voted by Restaurant Magazine). As soon as I learned of a business trip to NYC, I decided I would make the most of this opportunity with a highly desired reservation. It didn't matter that the best time they could get me in was 9:45 on the night I flew in, I would have taken an even later time. The unfortunate thing about such a late reservation was the time spent waiting for it to show up. I tried to not psyche myself out about how the food would be. I didn't want to expect the best meal of my life only to be let down by anything less. I ate very little that day, in fact I'm not sure I ate at all. What would be the point? Tray tables down? Seat backs. . . back? Let's go.
Eric Ripert's, Le Bernadin, is well-known for being a top restaurant, but it's an even more known for having amazing seafood. If you come here for anything but, you'll be disappointed. After quite a bit of internal debate (I was dining alone), I went with the Le Bernadin tasting menu. I've listed photos of the courses, in order, below. I apologize for the quality. They were taken on my cell phone without the use of a flash. I refused to create even more attention for myself as a loser, eating alone, using the flash on his phone. First course was Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Toasted Baguette; Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The presentation was amazing on this course, as it was on most, but I loved the delicate flavor here. It was very similar to eating sushi and the texture of the baguette was a nice contrast to the pounded tuna. It was probably my second favorite course. Next was the Charred Octopus; Fermented Black Bean - Pear Sauce Vierge; Ink - Miso Vinaigrette; Purple Basil. Seeing this course on the menu almost made me choose something else, but I figured, why not. The flavors were quite surprising, in a pleasant way. You could taste the char on the octopus, but not overwhelmingly. It kind of had a chicken consistency, not rubbery, which means it was cooked beyond perfectly. The fermented black bean was sweet and complimented the char flavor. Next was the Warm Lobster Carpaccio; Hearts of Palm, Orange Vinaigrette. Pretty hard for me to not like lobster, and this was no exception. The sauce on this was quite savory and there was pickled ginger and shaved fennel that served as a nice contrast to the buttery lobster. Then, I had the Seared Yellowtail King Fish; Truffle Risotto, Baby Vegetables, Black Truffle Emulsion. This was my favorite course. The fish was cooked medium rare and had so much flavor. Plus, the combination of the truffle emulsion and the truffle risotto was fantastic. I debated about asking for a second. This was followed with the Crispy Black Bass; Lup Cheong and Beansprout “Risotto” Mini Steamed Buns, Hoisin-Plum Jus. The flavors of this were definitely Asian-inspired, as can be seen in the name. The fish was delicately moist with a nice crispy layer. Moving towards dessert, I had the Parsnip Crème Brulée, Roasted Hazelnut, Browned Milk Solids, Vanilla Salt. The desserts were not anything special, and while I appreciated the art of this dish, it was kind of bland. Almost done with the Maralumi Milk Chocolate Parfait, Liquid Pear, Gingersnap. I liked this more than I thought I would. I really would love to know how they made the liquid pear. It had the appearance of a pear, but broke like an egg yolk over the parfait. It gave the dish a nice clean pear flavor. I couldn't tell you what the next two dishes were as I didn't take good notes, and they weren't on the menu. One was some sort of multi-layered chocolate mousse served in a hollowed out egg. The presentation was stunning, and the flavor wasn't bad. Sadly, I got excited and squeezed the egg shell instead of the dish as I scooped out the bottom. The waitress did inform me that about 50% of people have the same problem. I think she was lying. Lastly was kind of thank you dish of small chocolates. I can't remember what any of them were, but they were good.
To sum it up, yes, it was one of the best meals I have ever had. The best. . . I'm not sure. However, I do believe it deserves to be one of the best restaurants in the world. Dessert wasn't exciting, but it rarely is at some of these nicer places. I don't know why that tends to be the case, but I'd rather have a good dinner and a mediocre dessert than the other way around. Take some time, find a great restaurant in your area and attack it!


Friday, February 25, 2011

You Can Be Fresh With Me!

Fresh is better, period. You can't argue with it. You can give a number of excuses about how it's more difficult or it's more time consuming or it's more expensive, but you can't argue that it's not better. This is why I hate having to stick up for myself for choosing to eat exclusively at restaurants that embrace freshness. Am I a snob for preferring to take my edaciousness to a restaurant that elevates its ingredients? Were those who chose to travel by car over the horse jeered as they drove by? Were people referred to as "soap snobs" who embraced bathing regularly? I have said, and will say again, that the fuel you put in your body should be of high quality. It's tough to argue against that.

With my rant now complete, I offer you our recent fresh journey with homemade pasta! Don't roll your eyes, you can easily do it in your own home. It's best to have a pasta maker, but a rolling pin could get the job done. All you need is about 500 grams of semolina flour, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and 5 eggs. In the video below, you can get the gist of how you mix it all together. For a simple sauce, I used some canned, peeled, whole San Marzano tomatoes, high quality extra virgin olive oil (is there any other level?), mozzarella, basil, and some garlic. Saute the garlic in the olive oil until just brown, then add your tomatoes and basil. Cook those until the juice from the tomatoes has almost completely evaporated. Once your sauce is ready, add it to your cooked pasta along with the mozzarella. For the mozzarella, I suggest those little mozzarella pearls, not grated. You don't want some lousy grated mozzarella ruining the taste of your fresh pasta. Now you've accomplished an amazing food feat.

Please note that the video below was shot during an eclipse, which should explain the odd shadows that occur from time to time. I could've looked up to witness this historic event, but I kept my head down and stuck with it. Make pasta this weekend and tell people all about it all of next week. You'll then witness the look that I normally receive.



video

Monday, February 21, 2011

I'm Back!

Yes, that's right, I'm back! Better than ever. Improved. Upgraded. Renewed. Renovated. Enough with the thesaurus. I've sorted through so much fan mail, e-mail, video mail, and chain mail requesting that this blog be continued. Requesting that I guide people in their search to become more interested in the fuel they put into their bodies. I will give you one post per week, minimum.
What's coming up next? Make your own pasta and gnocchi, chef interviews (hopefully), reviews of some great restaurants, an Italy trip, and last but not least, my familiar rantings. Please stay tuned, you will not be disappointed, unless you're easily disappointed. If you are, stop following blogs.