Saturday, May 22, 2010

Salt and Heat

someone asked me a few days back why i call my blog "salt and heat", thought i would best explain it here. first off- salt is an uber-important ingredient that is often overlooked. i use it a lot. all different kinds but from here on out if i mention "salt" i am using kosher salt. i use only diamond crystal as i really like the size of the grains of it, more than most of the other brands out there. i do have a few other salts around (red clay salt, black lava salt, pacific salt- i use to finish bread usually) that can play an important role in my kitchen but i would trade them all for Kosher salt. you see iodized salt or table salt actually has a higher salt content than kosher so its use will get me stumped sometimes, so i don't have it in my home. throw yours out, a 3# box of Kosher salt shouldn't cost you more than $4 at any grocery store, and three pounds will last you months. going on- some sea salt has lower sodium levels than kosher salt and they are great for a loved one or even a customer that is on a low sodium diet. forget all the hearsay regarding salt usage as well. your body absolutely needs salt. your body desires salt. learning to season food effectively (every one has a different taste) is the biggest step on the path to becoming an aggressive home cook, or chef for that matter. i eat out all the time and am disappointed that someone couldn't get it right. granted when cooking for crowds i even tend to be light handed as not to offend anyone. its a fine balance. i salt everything, even whipped cream. it will heighten your taste buds and enlighten flavor of all kinds and even the best of chefs leave it out of the sweet side of the kitchen for which i will never understand.

heat on the other hand takes some finesse. whether grilling, broiling, smoking, sauteeing, poaching, boiling, stewing, roasting, or braising all are a simply a way of applying heat and all of those ways have a technical way that is correct. in a constant struggle to be better in the kitchen i push myself to be better at applying heat. its the most basic action in a kitchen, the term cook wouldn't exist without the expectation of the application of heat, one that needs to be done correctly. figuring which methods are best for the task at hand is a absolute joy for me.

all in all i would like some day to have a restaurant named salt and heat as i would expect to attract customers that love salt, and want to see food in its unadulterated form. just cooked perfectly and salted perfectly. if i could get away with salt, heat and butter i would. i just want to enhance already great food. food that was grown and harvested with some care by someone who truely enjoys what they are doing. i just want to apply heat and then season it perfectly. remember when you take the time and money to buy quality ingredients (not salt injected frozen chicken breast from buy n large) and then prep them and apply heat in the best way you know how you don't need fancy sauces, green oils on the plate, none of that stuff. you have taken good food and done something honest with it. i want guests to always feel like that is not only justifiable, but more work than cooking something half-assed and then trying to cover it back up with unnecessary presentations. get some good salt and start to work with it. more than any other thing in the kitchen it will boost your talent. you will mess things up..... i still do, so don't start on dinner for 10 guests, start slow, and stick with it.


sorry guys but i haven't been able to post in more than a week as i have been having some computer problems. as soon as i get it fixed things will get back to normal. in other news the garden is all planted. sunflower, yellow corn, haricot vert (fancy french green beans), pole peas, sweet onions, radishes, patty pan squash, zucchini, onions, potatoes, thyme, marigold, dill, two kinds of oregano, a ton of basil, marjoram, three different tomato plants, habanero chile, and mansanna chile. amazingly enough about 7 days after i planted i had some radish sprouts, and noticed today that i have some pole peas just barely inching their way out of the ground. so satisfying. i also have some Russian banana fingerling potatoes that i am trying to sprout to plant (i am out of room so i am going to attempt that in a five gallon bucket) thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


For some reason people think that risotto is far more complicated than it really is, which in turn is why you find it on so many restaurant menus. it is a very simple dish, that with a tad of knowledge is not only absolutely delicious, but also very versatile. i have seen it as an appetizer, by itself as an entree, and paired with everything from fish to fowl. the ingredients and reasons, then the method.

Rice-Real risotto can only be made with a few kinds of rice. i have used them all, and most aren't all they are cracked up to be. Arborio rice is the true risotto rice, a short grain Italian rice that you can find in the rice section of your megamart and even bulk at some. it will take some practice but i know even what the best brands are for my home, and which in turn i am not a huge fan of. i have never been impressed with the stuff you can buy bulk, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a shot for you, not to mention it is far less expensive then the tubs that are your other option. this will be lightly toasted in a good pan to enhance the depth of flavor. one of the reasons that risotto is tricky is that we are using arborio due to its starch content, it needs to be stirred almost constantly, i use a wooden spoon. the agitation of the spoon is coaxing the starch from the rice, and that is what gives the final dish the creaminess desired. 1 cup of rice will make three to four portions.

onion- i wouldn't omit this but i suppose it isn't absolutely necessary. at least half of one yellow onion, but it must be chopped fine. classically you would saute the onion, then add the rice, but i find the onion will burn when exposed to enough heat to brown the rice. i add the rice first then the onion. it will still have plenty of time to cook.

liquid- first addition is almost always white wine. again not exactly required. its there to balance acidity, and perhaps sweetness, so if i don't use white wine as the first (even if i do) i will often finish risotto with the juice from a fresh squeezed lemon. next additions are almost always stock. of course homemade is best, but i have even been known to use canned in a pinch for a late night snack. the stock must be warm in a separate pan, and this is where the heat comes into play. while stirring the rice ladle in the cooking liquid. the goal is to monitor the heat and find a perfect middle of evaporation and absorbing. liquid will evaporate regardless, but if the pan is to hot the liquid will evaporate before the rice absorbs it and it will take forever, likewise if the pan is too cool, absorption wont happen as well either. work with it on mediumish heat. when the liquid in the pan gets low, ladle in more, if you run out of liquid use water, just stay with it. the rice will take about 20-25 minutes of cooking all together if you have managed your heat well.

finishing- when the rice is almost done starch will be begin releasing itself and the rice will take on a different appearance. stick with it, snag a grain of rice and press it between your fingers and look at it. arborio is amazing in that it will tell you when its done. look closely at the smashed grain and it will have three little lines or dots inside it. its close. keep adding liquid until you can squish a grain and not see any of the dots inside the grains. try it and if you don't get any crunchy texture then your done. i usually finish with shaved hard cheese of some sort and a pat of butter. it is best served a la minute (it doesn't hold very well at all). the list of additions in extremely long, blanched asparagus tips, puree of all sorts of vegetables, seafood of all sorts etc. before you get in to that give it a few whirls on its own though, take time to get a feel for the rice, the pan, all of it. lets recap-

get your stock or broth hot, chop the onion. in a separate pan start toasting the rice, lightly and gently it will take some time. remember just a tad of color, evenly on the the grains. add onions, allow to cook slightly. add first addition of liquid, turn down heat to medium-ish, allow to absorb, then add again, work the rice with a wooden spoon for about 20 minutes adjusting heat as needed, adding liquid as needed (don't let the pan go dry) check for doneness, finish with lemon, butter, cheese, whatever you are inclined to do. eat, and eat it as soon as possible.

i want you guys to give this a shot. people love risotto like they love bacon. no one says "i don't like risotto". not expensive, and not too tough. again by learning a tad about the method, we don't need a recipe. the goal is that by reading this you know what the rice is doing, seeing it, smelling, hearing, tasting are far better indicators than a recipe. good luck and let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mise En Place

Literally this French term means "things in place" (meese in plas)- the preparation and assembly of ingredients, pans, utensils, and plates or serving dishes needed for a particular dish, or meal period. TPC 8th edition

We focus pretty heavily on the term mise en place in professional kitchens. an unorganized kitchen will go down faster than you can possibly imagine, and all it takes is for one person to not be on their A-game to throw a service into a shambles. i remember long, long ago, i was just a boy helping my mother in the kitchen and we had just started to fry chicken, and i asked her if i should start heating the beans and she explained that one of the hardest things to do as a cook was to time dishes out so everything is done at the same time. i will never forget where i was standing in the kitchen when she told me that. it was if a light went on in my head. at that moment, while i would love to say i decided that my life calling was to cook, it would be a bold lie. i did learn an important lesson, and i was intrigued. suddenly everything in the kitchen took on a new meaning. i was fascinated, asking question after question about which to start first, potatoes or chicken, etc. i realized that cooking at home wasn't as easy as my mother made it out to be. all of this ties into the term mise en place. the preparing of equipment and ingredients is as, if not more important than the cooking of them. meats should be salted and tempered to room temperature before they are cooked, and rested afterward, vegetables should be cleaned, dried, trimmed, and prepped before the pan is on the stove. in a home kitchen as well as in a professional kitchen it is important to look at making a meal with a schedule. take the time to organize yourself. use your best judgment to estimate how long things will take and when your target eating time is, and follow accordingly. if you cook a variety of foods, and do this for a week, you will very soon get a better understanding of the effects of time and temperature.

often the task of feeding multiple people at a banquet falls on my shoulders at work, and if i can focus on my "place" then there isn't a reason that i cant cook for 200 ppl alone (granted i have plenty of help to transport food and do the dishes- the dishes alone would make most grown men cry)it is far less skill then it is organization. i know when meats have to be pulled, i know how long it will take to heat beans i blanched earlier, how long it will take to roast new potatoes, etc. i know exactly when i should be ready to go with the food, and what to do if something goes wrong. luckily it was taught to me at a very early age and is one of those things that stuck with me. in the professional kitchen we have created many tools to help to get our place done and organized. prep lists are made and hung, produce is cleaned and prepped, proteins are trimmed and portioned, starches are steamed, boiled, and roasted. no one wants to hear that we are out of rice at 8 on a Saturday night, cause it means someone dropped the ball. keep your knives sharp and your pencil (for your list) sharper.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spring is here

after some iffy weather lately for the first time all year it felt as if spring was upon me. on a quick trip to the local megamart this morning i was inspired. it was as if mother nature said "Josh- look what i have for you" there was local rhubarb, local asparagus, corn, strawberries, and more. i couldn't help it. i eagerly await only a few pieces of produce. corn, peaches, huckleberries, and real tomatoes will really get me. i never eat them out of season as i figure that there is some great discipline in waiting for them. even though the corn was from California i bought it for the first time since late last summer. locally we have a great corn product but we wont see it for another few months. i made a strawberry rhubarb compote to go with the pound cake, grilled corn and made a chipotle aioli to rub all over it, grilled t-bone steaks, baked onion bread, and roasted potatoes, and strawberry lemonade soda. i just couldn't help myself in that everything looked so good. the weather was great and i wanted to grill. i topped the t-bone with an Amish bleu cheese, and then the demi glace mounted with a tad of butter and some salt. everything turned out fabulous. there is something to be said of cooking like this. it wasn't planned, it didn't take me all day, and i took inspiration from what was in season, what was local and what was on sale (t-bone- a cut i would rarely ever buy). hopefully you will take a bit of inspiration from this and head to your market and ask the produce guys where things came from, and get outside and enjoy everything that spring has to offer us.

Pound Cake

Classically pound cake is only going to be 4 ingredient. it is called pound cake as there is a pound of each involved. i am a huge fan, especially when made classically. it is hard to find them as such and most Internet searches return recipes that include all sorts of other things. also when you purchase one from the store the ingredient list is daunting as well. i love pound cake with fruit and whipped cream. my favorite dessert of all time. my method uses brown sugar instead of white as i think the final product has a bit more depth of flavor and moisture. cream a pound of room temp butter with a pound of sugar for at least 4 minutes on medium speed in your mixer, add a pound of eggs (about 5-6) one at a time allowing them to mix in on low speed. at this point i usually add a teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of salt as well but it is by no means necessary. add a third of the flour (i use cake flour, but all purpose is fine), let incorporate, repeat, etc. scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. once all the flour is in, then turn mixer up to medium speed for 30 seconds. butter and flour 2 loaf pans and split the batter (2 pounds for each pan). bake the loafs at 325 for about an hour or until the internal temp is about 190 degrees. as i could eat both loaves if i really wanted i usually only make a half batch weighing everything to 8 oz. quick, easy, and delicious. serving ideas are endless. can stand in for lady fingers in a tiramisu, buttered and fried they make a breakfast treat, french toast for another breakfast delight, topped with sugared fruit, layered with fruit and whipped cream they are also the classic for triffles (layered desserts usually made in a glass bowl). get out there and eat or make some pound cake already. you wont find another way to bring 4 ingredients together that will be so delicious.

Raised Beds

With quite a bit of help yesterday from my father-in-law, we spread a yard of gravel in the yard, then built a 8X12 raised garden bed, filled it with a yard of compost, then two yards of top soil. it should be painted by next week and should have some stuff in it soon. i am a little bit unclear on what i will plant, but have some simple stuff in mind. it was a ton of work and soil isnt very cheap, but it is level, and square should be big enough to get some production out of it. we also planted a few Gerber daisy starts as they are a family favorite. while i try to stay away from posting about things i am doing that arent directly food related, Tolbert was a huge hand, and deserves many thanks, and given some elbow grease, and some sunlight its product should be culinary related soon. enjoy your day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Updating- veal stock

Since i posted about veal stock it has been working for two days taking only nights off. both of my original pulls are done and have some great gelatin. this morning i will cut and roast my mirepoix, and get them to come together for a few hours, and then begin to reduce it. once reduced (probably all day today as again it has to go slow- it can not boil) i am not sure what i will do with it, so i am thinking that if i put it in canning jars it will freeze well and or hold in my fridge with a lid for more than a month. nice to come home from a long day at work to the smell of roasted veal bones for two days straight. fear not though, new smells are coming soon.


Sumac is a mediteranean spice that has a reddish color, and a taste that is hard to describe. to me i get hints of lemon and other citrus from it but it is very calm and mellow. i have had some at home for a while from a company called penzeys. i am huge fan of them as most of the blends they carry dont have any sort of salt in them which is a huge plus for a seasoning freak. anything that you can imagine they have, they are an Amaerican company, and sell really high quality stuff and sell it in a a large variety of sizes as well. you can of course find them online, but if you can swing it they have shops around the country, and you can go in and actually smell and look at each spice they sell. a really nice perk for me. again i have had it for a while but someone on a tv show i watch used it the other day and i love when things like that happen as it tends to bring things out of obscurity a bit. i did a sumac and salted piece of king salmon that was seared to medium rare over a bed of asparagus rissoto. gorgeous dish. i encourage you to think about expanding your horizons when it comes to herbs and spices because when used effectively they can up your cooking ante quite a bit. you dont need to go all out ( i have about 15 spices and herbs i use on a regular basis) as that will help you to keep things moving through inventory. i use fresh herbs when i find it appropriate, but i dont really find it that appropriate all that often.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Gulf Prawn Crisis

As you may well be very aware we have had and are having a oil spill in the gulf of mexico. the issue is on the sea floor an estimated five thousand feet down, and as near as i can tell no one has any idea how to stop it. today i read that it is leaking a presumable 5000 barrels of raw crude oil a day into the gulf. that topped with the fact that lousianna shrimp season was to open in the last few days means disaster for that already struggling part of the country. the way it works is my purveyors bought enough prawns last year to get them through the winter, if they purchased effectively then their stocks should be very much depleted by this point, waiting for this seasons harvest to start coming. i use a 16-20 white mexican wild gulf prawn at work. i would love to use a fresh prawn but their availbilty is very limited. i do get them once or twice a year. 16-20 refers to the count per pound. in the past we have used black tiger prawns that are farmed in places like bangladesh, but after some research we decided that we could buy a better prawn, granted it is more expensive but they are farmed much more sustainably. this issue will create problems for this season and will affect prawn prices across the world thanks to supply and demand. so my choice is to buy an inferior product for more money than its worth. gotta find a solution. i contacted purveyors yesterday and negotiated a bulk buy. so on friday we will take receipt of 15 30# cases of prawns that will go into my freezer. it was an expensive decision, but should save us money in the long run, and allow me to serve the product my customers expect. i was the first to negotiate a deal, get all the right peoples blessing and approval and work a sweet deal. while prawn prices are going to affect me most, the industry is also heavy in oysters, crab, and all sorts of fin fish. my thoughts go out to the people and wildlife affected by this, and i sincerely hope we can solve and repair any damages as soon as possible and hold the proper people accountable.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Veal Stock

Making veal stock at home tonight, another one of those great tasks where a bit of knowledge, and a bunch of time come together in a amazing product. i bought about 3 pounds of veal bones from work today (i cant find these anywhere locally). they are in the oven and will be for 2 hours, i will pull them out and rub them with tomato paste, then put them back in the oven for another half hour or so. on to the stove topped with enough water to cover them on low heat for about 8 hours, then strained and started again with more water for another 8-10 hours. on the second boil i will add a load of caramelized mirepoix (2 parts onion, 1 part each of carrot and celery) but wont let that go for more than 2 hours with the mirepoix. then strained and cooled, skimmed and combined it will all be reduced by 2/3rds into demi-glace. the final product should have great depth, flavor, color, and mouth feel. i like to add a split pork trotter (pigs foot) to the mix for some extra gelatin as well. demi glace is the perfect sauce for any steak dish, and is a great beginning to all sorts of sauce options. the usage of veal bones is necessary instead of just beef bones as they contain more elastin and gelatin, and more flavor. also it is important to note that you need bones that have some marrow exposed (after roasting i usually spread some marrow on a piece of bread as a snack) not just knuckles because they will not allow any extraction of flavor. i do understand that veal along with some other high end proteins can be a political nightmare, but again i assure you that if you treat veal with the respect it deserves (even if it is just bones) then you will still be able to sleep at night.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Red Tail Perch

Locally perch can be seen jumping in the surf when the conditions are perfect. a small fish that looks alot like a toothless piranha. we were able to get about 20 fresh perch today, and getting them scaled and gutted fell on my shoulders before i could go home tonight. they are on the special for tomorrow- buttermilk soaked then dredged in rice flour then fried whole. going to serve them with a white peach puree (one of my favorite fruits of all time) some roasted local potatoes, braised local greens, and asparagus. again, while scaling and gutting fish isn't a fun task, especially late on a Saturday night when i would much rather go home, its still a task that needs to be done. this fish represents a life that was taken for the sole purpose of consumption. i owe it to the fish, the ocean, the men who caught it, my customers, my purveyors, and myself to take tasks like this seriously, and with the up most respect and reverence, and i try to tackle any protein related job as such. i encourage you to think about the proteins you both eat and cook like this. we are fortunate to have these things and we owe it to them to treat them with dignity and approach them in a skilled manner.

Peeled Potatoes

A quick look at one of the most basic of kitchen tasks- peeling potatoes. this is about 150 lbs. of potatoes that were peeled today and i thought i would touch on this fundamental task. busy weekend at work, and this is one of the basic prep tasks that is done in almost every kitchen. i have had more than a few dishwashers that wanted to become cooks and i tell them the same thing every time. you cant be a cook until you have peeled 2000 lbs of potatoes, and 1000 lbs of carrots, and peeled and diced 2000 lbs of onions. it is a simple fundamental task that is important for the kitchen. i still do tasks like this, and while i didn't peel very many of these at all, i have peeled more than my fair share. i try to explain often to people that if you are bothered by a task like peeling potatoes, or washing dished for that matter, then you should rethink your career choice. it doesn't get any easier from those points. take the opportunity to enjoy tasks like this at home. i know they can be a pain, but in the end, its a simple job that allows you to get to know your product better, and teaches you some basic kitchen discipline.