Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fresh Figs

Figs dont travel or hold once they are picked very well. they are also pretty rare in this part of the world, and most of the figs produced go directly to be dried. so its always a treat to see them come in off of the produce trucks. i had brown turkey figs today that came from northern California, but they can be grown in Oregon as well. the most common varieties are usually brown turkey, black mission, and kudota-kudotas are very popular as they dry better then the other varietys and are the fig of choice for fig newtons. high in nutrients and extremely sweet they have a very caramel-ly flavor. once sliced they are absolutely gorgeous, and looked at as an extremely sensual food, as the leaves of figs are often covering the bodies of both men and women in sculpture and paintings. in the bible (genesis) adam and eve left the garden of eden clad in fig leaves after eating the "forbidden fruit".

if you come across the opportunity to buy them ever you should. i like them plain, but if the sweetness is a bit much for you then try them with a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar. the vinegar will help to balance the sweetness and helps it become an almost perfectly balanced bite. they also contain enough sugar that they can be bruleed with a quick pass of a torch, or even seared on a hot pan or griddle for a few seconds. they are a fabulous pairing for cheeses, cured meats, wine, and even chocolate. a few green thumb guys i know even have fig trees that while taking a few years to produce, they have had some luck growing them with my surrounding climate.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


For all of you reading- thank you and especially those who have become "followers". Blogger has added a few tools for me that help me to see when people are reading, what posts they are most interested in, and even where in the world they are, or what system they are using to view. impressive stuff. i am still trying to get a better grasp on what i exactly want the blog to be but by seeing what people are reading i get a better feel for what is interesting to my readers. as i have mentioned before any feedback that you have would be much appreciated. leave a comment, or feel free to send me an email (the address is linked on my profile). this started as a way to push myself to become a more proficient cook, and a better writer so if there is something you want to know more about please ask. if i dont know enough to post about something then i will research it until i do, and that is what will help me to push harder in the kitchen.

Standard Breading Procedure

Standard breading procedure or three stage breading is the procedure that will give products that golden and crisp finish. it is also very popular with kids, and i can stump mine to think they are having some sort of deep fried nugget. the method is simple and its uses are endless. pork cutlets, chicken breast, artichoke hearts, razor clams (the most traditional cooking method), eggplant, i have even done it with cauliflower steaks before. the ingredients can and will change depending on what your using, or what outcome you are looking for. i like to coat everything and then sear it in a bit of hot oil (cast iron pan is best for this as it will hold heat and recover quicker than any other material) and just get some color on whatever i am cooking. then i like to drain it on a cooling rack to get any excess oil off. this also gives me the chance to work in batches. when you are cooking or frying anything you never want to crowd the pan or the oil as it will cause a drop in temperature that will effect the final products crispness. once everything is seared well i will usually finish in the oven. that way everything is done at one time, and i can feed people a meal rather than stages of eating.

1- flour- i use an AP flour that i have seasoned with salt and pepper. flour is cheap so dont skimp on this. when you have hands covered in raw chicken, and or breadcrumbs you dont want to be finding the flour bag and adding to it in the middle of a task. product gets totally covered with flour to give the next step something to adhere to. get a bowl or plate (i really like disposable pie tins for this) and make sure you will have plenty of room to work.

2- egg wash- i use beaten whole eggs that are thinned out a bit. i usually will go with water to thin them, but milk, cream, or stock can be used if those are the flavors you are looking to impart. you have to thin them as the eggs will have a really snotty consistency if you dont. thinned out they will adhere to the flour well, and give you great coverage. again chose a bowl with plenty of working room. the egg is in place to give the next step something to adhere to.

3- crumbs- i use a japanese bread crumb called panko that is available in the ethnic section at your megamart, but sometimes you can buy it bulk for less than half the cost. other options are bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, cornmeal, even cookie crumbs depending on what your doing. get good coverage and then have a spot to rest everything as you go.

4-oil- i use a canola or vegetable oil for things like this. you could use shortening as well. butter will burn, olive oil will lose all the aromatic qualities we love about it and will also burn so stay away from both of those.

when breading the goal is always to keep one hand clean, at least that what you are taught in culinary school. honestly i can work much faster with both hands in, so i usually will throw on a pair of gloves while i do it, that way when the phone rings i can just rip one off. either way you will get what is called "club hand" which happens when you put your fingers in flour, then egg, than panko and repeat more than a few times. working from left to right dip in flour, move to egg, then immerse in your crumb mixture, remove to a clean sheet pan, and continue. if your egg wash starts to thicken then add a tad more liquid. once everything is breaded it is best to fry as soon as possible. get your pan and add oil to cover the bottom deep enough to come up about half the side of whatever you are cooking, get the oil hot but not smoking, then gently lay in your product going away from you as to not splatter yourself. dont crowd the pan but you can usally get at least a couple of pieces working at once. as things start to turn a golden brown flip them only once to brown the other side (remember we are not worried about cooking the whole thing right now, just about the color) remove and let them drain on paper towels or a cooling rack and repeat until done. if your product was thin it should be cooked by now and can be held in an oven to keep warm, or place everything on a sheet pan and cook in the oven to finish.
sidebar- the frying process of oil half way up the product flipping once is called pan frying, a wonderful solution to deep frying as it wont make your house smell like a fast food bad. its also quicker and easier to clean up.

from just a thin piece of pork, or balls of breaded then frozen ice cream this is a versatile method that i hope is applicable in your everyday kitchen. i do not have a legal team but i do have a tad of common sense therefore i shouldnt have to warn you that oil burns can get really ugly, dont do this barefoot, or with children in your kitchen. it is also a pretty good idea to invest in a fire extinguisher for you kitchen especially for tasks like this. i dont forsee you ever having problems with this but it can never hurt to be prepared.

worth mentioning this is not the method i would use to fry chicken (as in bone on colonel Saunders style fried chicken) or wings. that method is a 2 stage breading procedure that we can talk about soon.

also last year at a very high end dinner that i was involved in at work, for one course, with much practice were able to deep fry a mushroom soup usuing this method. prefectly crisp on the outside but when you cut into it, it spilled out onto the plate and you needed a spoon to eat it. wish i had a picture to show you. a few people didnt even notice, but a few were mind blown. we were cracking up in the kitchen as it went out. "we just served deep fried soup"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cuts and Burns

I often try to explain to young or inexperienced cooks that getting cut is part of the gig. i cut a lot, i would say a knife is in my hand more than 7 hours a day. i am very comfortable with a blade of any size. all that aside i still get cut. mostly on stupid things and not my knife (think saran wrap tin cutter) but it still happens. like most cooks my arms and hands are just a series of scars from wounds in the past. in the old pizza making days you would have to reach into the oven to reach pizzas in the back, when (yes when...not if) you hit your arm on the top of the oven we would call it earning your stripes, by the end of summer everyone had them on their upper forearms on both arms.

tonight my lead line cook dropped his very nice shun knife and as it fell he decided he would try to catch it. now i know that sounds silly, but its a reaction and i cant say i wouldnt have done the same thing. it got him good and we ended up getting him a ride to the ER and a few stitches later he returned to clock out and head home for the day. the horrid thing about getting cut is that it always happens at the worst possible time. when you are bleeding in a kitchen you have a problem but when you are bleeding the workload doesnt stop. banquets still gotta go, tickets still come in, food is still being sold. the goal is always no matter how bad it hurts is to get it to stop bleeding. in the first aid kit we have a few powders that are applied to a wound and then form an instant scab. other people go for a thick lacquer of superglue, and one guy i know will get a pan hot and then place the wound on the scorching pan to burn it closed. taped and gloved and you are back in business. (most guys go for tape and we try to stay away from band aids)

we have a few aloe plants that i use on burns pretty often but because i have been around it for so long i can stand much higher heat then most people, especially on my hands. when i do get burnt i usually dont realize when it happened, or if i do i usually wont really stop what i am trying to do. i remember when the executive chef handed me a sheet pan full of grilled chicken, when he pulled the chicken from the grill he rested the pan on the grill and then picked up the cold end, but then he handed me the hot end, and i had no choice but to turn and make it to the prep table. as is the case with both cuts and burns the worst are always someone elses fault. if i am flying with my knife and someone bumps me from behind they have a problem. if someone leaves a scorching hot pan in the wrong place and doesnt tell his nearest cooks he has a problem.

basically what i am trying to explain is that this is all a part of kitchen work. cuts happen, burns happen. rather than acting afraid or timid with your knife or stove though be aggressive. be careful but be aggressive. if i know in the back of my head i will get cut somehow at some point then there is no reason to be afraid of it. i have come to terms with it, and i am a better cook for it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


The second most expensive spice (saffron is number one) is heavily used on the sweet side of the kitchen. it is also surrounded by some myths i thought i would try to clear up. vanilla is only grown in a few parts of the world. it is a pod of an orchid, and is expensive as it is very labor intensive to harvest. Madagascar grown vanilla can be called bourbon sometimes. this has nothing to do with bourbon the whiskey. it is also grown in parts of Mexico ( i love Mexican vanilla) but at roadside vendors it is often a fake, a fake that can be highly toxic to your liver. if you are in doubt, or the deal seems to good to be true it most likely is. again buy from a reputable purveyor especially when you are looking for Mexican vanilla ( it is often the cheapest). Tahitian vanilla is a bit tougher to find, and it is also grown in parts of northern south america, but i have never seen it. i would think it would be the same as mexican vanilla. vanilla extract is usually made form the actual sides of the pods after something else has been done with the beans. ( i had a quick glance of a Tillamook 3 gallon tub of vanilla bean the other day and wondered how much vanilla bean they buy, where it comes from and how they get it- there is a mindblowing amount of beans in each scoop, and they make a lot of scoops worth) you may already have a preference about what you buy and use but some facts you may want to consider:

imitation vanilla is actually extracted from oak. that is why it is inexpensive at the grocery store. it is also why you hear people talk about an oak aged wine having vanilla aromas (there are whites that are oak aged), and why when describing bourbon, scotch, or whiskey people talk about vanilla aromas. bourbon is always aged in charred new oak barrels and scotch is also aged in charred oak barrels. in blind taste tests tasters have always had a really hard time telling imitation vanilla from vanilla extract.
sidebar- did you know that 1 in every 10 people are what is called a "super tasters". they have a heightened ability to taste things that most people take for granted. many sommeliers, chefs, and food critics are drawn to their crafts as their ability to taste is far beyond others.

it is said that vanilla can stimulate your bodies adrenaline making it semi addictive to some people

vanilla extract has 35% alcohol by volume, so if that bothers you stay away.

vanilla powder is becoming available more and more. white powder that is pure vanilla. i would assume it is expensive.

i buy vanilla paste at work, it has the coolness of whole bean but none of the hassles. i have never seen it in a grocery store, but it must exist.

if you are working with whole pod and have scraped the beans out you can dry the pod in a paper towel and then put it in some white sugar. the pod will scent the sugar, and when added to a custard, cookie, or baked good will add another depth of vanilla flavor.

one vanilla pod will flavor up to 8 cups of liquid in a brulee, or ice cream mix.

at home i have some Madagascar beans, and some Mexican vanilla extract and i use both. it is also worth mentioning that you are seeing some chefs using vanilla in savory sauces, usually over seafood. my favorite smell in the kitchen is hot cream and vanilla whisking into egg yolks. its sublime nuances will fill your home, and your belly.

At home

As the days in the kitchen at work get longer and longer this time of year, i actually find myself wanting more than ever to cook when i get home. this can present a problem as i usually get home late and i am notorious for turning up the music, or banging pots and pans louder then is apparently "necessary". honestly i just love cooking. i will cook all day long and come home and cook more when i can. my favorite thing to do in the world is to cook three meals in a day for my family. three semi-elaborate meals that my children will not only eat but enjoy. i suppose i have different motivations for all of it but by cooking at home i have filled the house with great smells, spent the day with the family, fed them well, and had fun. music gets turned up, phone doesnt get answered, nothing else really matters. i also have been posting a bunch of technical stuff, and wanted to lighten up. this is what i do, if you have questions please please ask.

late on Tuesday night i left work and headed to my local grocery store in search of oxtail (the tail cut from a steer-looks like mini-osso bucco) but didnt have the highest hopes it would exist there. i did however find some beef knuckles and while it wasnt perfect it would work. i headed home to start a beef stock, and decided to give it a whirl in the pressure cooker. never having done it, i did some quick research and found that about an hour at about 15# of pressure is the way to go. what a fabulous method. as much as i love the time commitment of making stock i really hate leaving them cooking over night. a good beef stock takes about 8 hours to get good extraction. i roasted the knuckles added some aromatics and let it rip and in 50 minutes and some cool down time i had a perfect stock. the house smelled great and it wasnt even Wednesday yet. i refrigerated it for a soup the next day.

got up started some milk bread, then got working on the soup. lunch was perfect- fresh bread and soup by noon is always a bit of an undertaking. we finished it with really lightly sugared sliced peaches and a touch of cream.

dinner was a a puree of pinto beans (they cooked in just under 2 hours), marinated, grilled, and chopped tenderloin steak, slaw, avocado puree, boysenberry lemonade, and it was all great. i also made some horchata (a mexican rice milk drink that i have been working on perfecting for about 3 yrs) but i spun the horchata in the new ice cream maker. i actually only had a few bites but the boys seemed to like it.

i encourage you to get your family in the kitchen with you. my boys are better eaters, and cooks for it. while the workload can be big (the dishwasher ran 4 times) the payoff is priceless. sitting down to a meal where everyone is around and everyone will eat, and talk and tell jokes is the whole reason i do it. i want my children to eat as well as any child could. i want them to know what vegetables are, i want them to understand good food, and eventually i will need them to be able to cook (for themselves at least) good food. wholesome, healthy, fresh foods. i couldn't feed them anything else. and even though the table settings all dont match, and our table has marker drawn across it, and some one always spills something, and someone has to always go to the bathroom right when we sit, i wouldnt have any of it any other way.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ice Cream Machine

I am a bit of a kitchen equipment junkie at home. i own a immersion blender, blender, crock pot, rice cooker, hand mixer, stand mixer, electric griddle, stove top griddle, grill pan, mini food processor, waffle iron, ice cream maker, pressure cooker, coffee pot, soda siphon, isi whip cream charger, tortilla press, toaster, and i am sure i am leaving out a few. thing is i use all of them, i need all of them. i try to never own a piece of equipment that is sub-par in quality or even uses. it isnt odd for me to use three or four tools to pull off a dinner for guests.

i really enjoy making ice cream, i made a quick purchase on an older style cheap top motor machine a few years ago (ice, salt, noise, the whole bit) that in hindsight was a bad move. it never worked very well for me and i have always been disappointed with the results. last week my wonderful wife thought i deserved something cool and came home with a brand new Cuisinart ice cream machine with two bowls for me. it is the exact machine that i wouldve bought for myself. the kind where the you freeze the bowl, so you can turn cold ice cream base into ice cream in less than a half hour. both bowls have a 6 cup capacity, so if i needed i could churn close to a gallon in a hour or so. it also will be perfect for sorbet, frozen yogurts, or even frozen beverages. i was stoked, but i didnt really have to much time to deal with it last week. today i hit it hard making two batches of strawberry ice cream. i may or may not need to explain that to make good ice cream base you need to scald cream and let it sit, whip egg yolks, combine and heat, cool thoroughly, macerate fruit, then spin in my case in a bowl that has been in the freezer for 14 hours. then you have to (at least i do) have to freeze the freshly churned ice cream for at least a few hours to get the consistency right. its definitely not as easy as my boys would think, or as easy as an hour worth of work.

i will do some research in the coming weeks with the egg to cream, to milk ratio that will work best cause every great chef i know has an opinion, an opinion that is a bit different from the other. i will say that good vanilla scented ice cream base before its has been brought up to temperature is the begging of a perfect creme brulee, after its cooked it is also a popular dessert sauce called creme anglaise, or ran through a machine making vanilla ice cream. very versatile and a method worth learning more about as it will up your versatility at home. i promise to have some hard core info on it soon. the strawberry was a request from a friend and i have a pint or so for her. another cool, fun, do at home summer task that got the whole family involved. i hope to work with boysenberry ice cream, and a local peach sorbet in the very near future.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The garden looks good. my pumpkins (from seed) look better than a friend of mines that were bought as starts. i am getting 5 or so really ripe yellow cherry tomatoes every four or five days, which is double amazing as we havent had a good day of sunshine for what seems like two weeks. my squashes have tons of blossoms, herbs all look good, and i have even added a tomatillo plant, some sage, and a huge pot full of Russian banana fingerling potatoes. my onions after not growing for a month have sprouted into perfect green onions and i have a steady supply of them. over all i am really happy about all of it, and for a first timer i feel so satisfied by all of it. the boys are excited to see how it looks every morning when we leave the house. i have some vivid childhood memories regarding the smell of tomato plants as well. anyone that has ever had some success growing or picking them knows they have an amazing aroma, and when i pick tomatoes, or water them even the smell is transferred to my hands, and lasts for a few hours. it is a mind blowing smell that is vividly different from the also amazing smell of really ripe tomatoes. i had to run to my parents house the other day and was able to actually go out to the garden and pick a few different things to take to them. clockwise from 12 you have dill, green onions, basil (from seed), yellow cherry tomatoes, pole peas, and then in the middle a baby red cherry tomato and a ripe but small marzano roma tomato (regarded as the best sauce tomato in the world) . dad being a sucker for tomatoes was impressed, and i hope it all went to good use. i hope that we can get some sunlight in the coming weeks and will have a chance to see more stuff. as it sits i am very happy with what i have, especially being able to pick herbs and even small amounts of things at the end of the day, to work them into my day to day cooking.

Red Celery

At the Cannon Beach Farmers Market last week i was browsing a table of a vendor that i rarely buy from and she offered a leaf of what she was calling red celery to me. i am not the biggest fan of celery. i think the texture is tough, chewy and way to viscous. the flavor is watery and bitter most of the time. i tried one simple leaf of the red celery though and it was if i had eaten a whole bunch of green celery in one bite. the leaf was tender and tasted like what celery (in my head) should taste like........ X 4. it was amazing to have such an aggressive taste from such a gentle and small piece of produce. i bought 5 #'s for the restaurant and she brought it to me yesterday. the funniest thing about that is now i have 2 days off of work, and the chef gets to figure out what to use it for.
side bar- a great game we play every so often is to go on your days off giving the other an absolute odd task to do. i will sometimes break out a textbook and think of a sauce that i know he hasn't made for years and publish a dinner special with it, so at around noon he will see he needs to make it, then have to do the research of how, and then have it made by 4pm or so. he in return will buy a protein (fish usually) i have never worked with and buy it whole and run it for me to break down and portion. in the end we are working to better each other but we always end up cursing the other in the heat of all the other things that need to be done in a day. in turn making it absolutely hilarious, especially if a quick text message gets involved.

anyway- i am not sure you will be able to find red celery near to you, what i am positive about is that sometime cool and unknown products can be found, especially if you can develop a relationship with the people you buy food from. the produce guy at your local mega mart will give you advice, the farmers at markets, the artisan cheese mongers, the roadside stand produce people, the butcher, the fish monger, etc. these people are there to help, and in most cases love to do so. keep in touch with them, keep an open mind, and keep your eyes open for you next big score.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The greatest culinary product the world has to offer has arrived locally. the simple peach is, lets face it, a gift to all of mankind from a higher power. its perfectly fuzzy skin, sweet taste, wonderfully satisfying texture, and head spinning aroma culminate locally in late summer to offer us what can only be described as culinary nirvana. i have waited for almost 10 months to eat one, and today i had four of them.

Locally peaches just showed in my neck of the woods in the last few days. in the last 5 years i have slowly been becoming slightly obsessed with them. i ate them canned (thanks grandma)in a light syrup often as a child, and dont remember them affecting me as they do now. they are one of the few foods that i would rather starve then to eat out of season. i just really think they are worth waiting for. my all time favorite meal is steel cut oats with peaches, cream, and brown sugar. with some good weather we will continue to see them locally until mid to late September. i eat them from the box as the skin doesnt bother me in the least bit, but a trick to peeling them is to score the skin in an X patter on the bottom, then drop them into plenty of boiling water, let them sit in the water for only a few seconds and remove them to an ice water bath. if the peach is ripe the skin should be very easily removed at that point with your fingers or with some very slight agitation with a paper towel. they pair perfectly with fish, pork, cheeses, and make amazing desserts of all kinds. there are 100's of different types of peaches but in the kitchen the key words are "freestone" and "cling". Cling peaches cling to their pit. to use them in the kitchen you have to cut them off from the pit. Freestones should be able to be halved and then split, leaving the pit in one side, then easily removed. i like freestones as they present a bit nicer, and you get more usage from them, but they are usually not available as early as clings are. a nectarine (a very close relative) in my eyes is still amazing but doesnt have the same value. in recent years you are seeing an increase in some "heirloom" styles (we will talk about that term soon) even in your local grocery stores. white peaches are desired for their amazing white to red and pink hues. doughnut peaches are squatty and shorter than the normal varieties you see, but still amazing. last year we were able to procure some white doughnut peaches from a small farm in Washington that absolutely blew my mind. my intent is always to buy enough when they are in season to make some jam, jelly, and to do some canning, but i never can keep them around long enough.  from a versatility standpoint they cant be beat, and the smell alone will put me in a gloriously happy stupor.