Jun 18, 2007

He: Food Blogging and Why I Matter

Okay, I just read through the latest post that one of my favorite food bloggers www.amateurgourmet.com has put up about what we do. I believe very much what he writes, mostly because I've eaten at a lot of the restaurants that he's been to, at least while he was still living in Atlanta. There's a realness that can only be gained by experiencing what he has experienced. Why should you care about what he has to say, or what we have to say, or for that matter what anyone in the ethos of the internet has to say? Well....you shouldn't, or at least you don't have to. There is something about maybe the writing style, the voice, that you like and maybe you've experienced some of the same experiences that we have and what we're saying seems real and true.

Well, I believe that the restaurant reviews and the writing in general on this site is very truthful. The restaurant reviews are a big deal to me, mostly due to my 11 years in the industry living the lifestyle of one that lives and dies by reviews and critiques.

Within the industry you constantly preach to your underlings that they are only as good as the last dish that they've served. You constantly end up telling people that work themselves into the ground on a regular basis that they need to be doing more, that they need to be working harder, that they have to be more perfect. 'There are thousands of other restaurants here, we have to be better than all of them'. I've lived that quote, I've told that quote...and if you have the right staff that is working for you this is absolutely true. At the same time, occasionally you just aren't 'on', you just can't get everything just perfect.

For the true reviewer you always go to a restaurant more than once. Maybe you got there on a night that things just weren't perfect? Maybe the cook that was working on your meal was not on? Everyone makes mistakes, and occasionally restaurants do too. If after more than one occasion things don't seem any better, then you can write an honest review of a place.

Since I was working on the receiving end of these reviews for years, I know what it's like to get a review from someone that just didn't get what you were trying to do. You take the information that the reviewer did provide and try to distill it down to exactly what that person's experience was like and make improvements based on that. Being on the other side of that writing reviews I know exactly what is going on that has thrown something off, or has just created a concept that is so lackluster that everyone must know about it. Sometimes the reviewer just hated you and isn't going to get what you were trying to do with the concept that you're working within. Sometimes it's just simply that expectations weren't met...and there's nothing that can really be done to fix that.

Just so that you can gain a bit more perspective on food blogging and chefs, please check out these pieces from famous chefs. http://eater.com/archives/2007/06/why_i_hate_food.php
Please, keep in mind that in the end, there are people behind all of the work that you're either witnessing(eating at a restaurant, or reading on a blog), or experiencing(at a restaurant, being entertained somehow). Take all with a grain of salt, and try to find your own truth in all that you experience.

Jun 17, 2007

She: Ruined lemon bars

When I'm stressed, I bake. Yesterday I made banana bread, but that didn't help enough. You see, my brakes failed on my way home. *Yikes* There's nothing like driving at 65 mph on a highway pumping your brakes like a mad woman. The master cylinder is going out, so I am sans car. I can only read and prep for class so much before I go nutty from sitting, so I bake.

Today I tried to cheer myself with my favorite recipe: lemon bars. Tried and true, they are better than anything I have found from any bakery or restaurant...they are nice and tangy instead of sugar driven, and I hoard the recipe while stroking the book and calling it "Precious"...not really, but you get the idea. Anyhow, after baking the crust I go to pour the lemon batter on top and it rips a hole in the crust, which now floats in the lemon goo. Sure, it'll still taste good, but it won't look pretty. As a visual artist, this is less than satisfactory.

I am not happy. It is the first time EVER I have had this happen, and I am enraged (well, mildly put-out). I have been foiled by the kitchen gods. "Poppycocks!" I cry! (I just read a book about drunk scottish and irish faeries in New York called The Good Fairies of New York, so it seemed fitting). In more American vernacular, it sucks.

Jun 15, 2007

She: Asian Market

Last week Mark and I went to the Wing Wa asian market down Stockton. I love going there--it reminds me of living in Bangkok. We bought some candy that I used to get "Super Candy." Its reeeaaally sour--they have super lemon, apple, strawberry and some other flavors I can't remember, but it is coated in salt and makes your mouth pucker, but in a good way. Its not the biggest of the asian markets in town; we still have a few to try, but I love their selection of rice noodles. They have a whole frickin aisle for it. They've also got a great selection of uber-cheap seafood as well.

I went there to hunt for sticky rice, though, so I could make my favorite summer dish: sticky rice with mangos. I luuuuuv this dish. We used to buy it from the vendors by the pound. After the first round, where it was still nice and warm, we'd put it in the fridge and slice it like butter and chomp on it for breakfast. I tried to make it a few times in atlanta, but there are different varieties to the rice, and they never had the one I was used to: a medium grain sticky white rice. But behold! They had a whole shelf devoted to different kinds of sticky rice. Now, sticky rice is, well, sticky. Very sticky. When cooked properly, its more sticky than sushi rice, and makes a great dessert. Of course, there is another part of this puzzle that's also fallen into place here in california...the mangos. There are many different types of mangos. Thai mangos are not like the regular variety you get in most supermarkets. The mangos I crave are sweet and buttery--there's no bitterness, stringiness, or that nasty chalkly aftertaste I've come to despise. We've found Ataulfo mangos taste the same.

So here's what you do: get sticky rice. Make sure its not the short grain but medium grain variety (medium looks like normal rice, short grain is almost round). Take 2 cups of rice and soak it for 5 hours in a bowl of water, covering the rice completely. Drain the rice, and put it in a rice cooker with the water about a 1/2 inch above the rice. Cook for 25-40 minutes (I have a rice steamer, not cooker, so it takes the longer amount). If you're not sure, take a bit out of the middle--if any of the grains are hard, cook it longer. While its cooking, mix a cup of coconut milk with 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp salt (you need the salt!) until it dissolves. When the rice is done, mix it well with this mixture and let it sit for 15 minutes so the rice absorbs the mix. Then serve it with sliced mangos!

Jun 8, 2007

He: My Birthday!!!

Birthdays are fabulous holidays, if you're the one that's having the birthday. I can't really say that in the last few years that they've really been all that spectacular. I think that part of that can be attributed to not being able to remember what happened. It's not that I was drunk, and that my brain was addled with alcohol, preventing me from processing the information as the celebration was taking place. I think that my birthdays just haven't really been huge events, which really isn't that big a deal.

This year seems to be another one that really probably won't be a big deal at all. Since we moved to California less than a year ago, both of us have only made a friend or two (we tend to make them very slowly...we're really picky), so it definitely won't be a massive to-do with a party and reckless debauchery. Also, it's been more than a year since either of us has had any negligible amount of alcohol, so it won't be a big drinking occasion either. It will be a day where the diet program will be damned, and we will eat whatever we damn well please (just how many calories are in the average birthday cake anyhow?).

Since the circle of friends on this coast is soo small for both of us, I thought that it would be smart to put up a list of all of the stuff that I'm interested in, and why. I figure this way, there's a chance for all of you out there to learn a little bit more about me. This is a chance to figure out what you want to get for me for this birthday. Lastly, this is an opportunity to see a little of what's available in the world of consumer goods, as seen from the mind of a guy that's about to turn 32.

First, the kitchen gear:
www.reusablebags.com has got these lunch kits by a company called Sigg. I'm interested in these mostly for my commute by bike to and from work. Right now I'm taking this insulated fabric lunchbox with me every day. It has worked fairly well for the last year and a half, but it's soft. The problem that I run into with that is that I can't carry anything fragile or crunchy in it....it all just comes out crushed. Also, reusablebags has got some shopping bags for groceries that I think are really cool.

carries the irregulars from the factory for all-clad cookware. Before we moved from Atlanta we sold just about everything that we owned. Most of my cookware I sold to a very happy cook at TWO Urban Licks in Atlanta. We haven't replaced any of the stuff that was sold, because I want to buy cookware just once more for the rest of my life. Due to this stipulation that I've placed on myself, my options are a little limited. I could go with some really nice, very heavy French cookware like Le Creuset. Problem with that is that it's iron, and soo freaking heavy that it's impractical just for that. I could go with something like Calphalon, but it's heat transference leaves a lot to be desired(also, they're really picky about what cleaners you can use to clean them...not cool). I've used All-Clad in professional kitchens before, and they work brilliantly! They heat up faster than any other pans I've ever used. They have virtually no hot spots at all. Biggest thing for me, they're just about as indestructible as you can get(check my earlier post about the Dualit toaster to see my thing about indestrucibility. Really I'm just looking for gift certificates on this.

Kitchenaid 6qt artisan mixer(you can find these refurbished from kitchenaid) go to kitchenaid.com for the details and ordering. I'm very specific that I want the highest power 6qt mixer that they manufacture. Also, I want the pasta roller attachment as well(I really miss making fresh pasta...did it at many a restaurant)

k-tec blender(the most powerful blender that you can get for your home....that won't take up as much space as our 90lb. german shepard

Anything from King Arthur Flour(gift certificates preferred) www.kingarthurflour.com

Bike Stuff:
www.seallinegear.com they have a waterproof urban backpack that would be perfect for my commute.

sells a waterproof high-visibility jacket that would be really handy for the commute home at night(just so that I can be more visible to the cars)

www.roadid.com they sell what is the bike equivalent of dog tags. Just in case I do get in a wreck and can't explain who I am or where my nearest relative is(Brandy is tops on that list). Also, they sell little blinking waterproof lights that couldn't be a bad thing to add to the bike for the night rides(hate those pesky cars).

I also could use a good bike pump. The topeak joe blow pro looks really good....but honestly I just need something with a pressure guage that I can use from home.

Random Stuff
Solar christmas lights http://www.siliconsolar.com/Solar-Christmas-Light-S-p-16351.html
hooray for the green revolution!

Brandy and I have been very much into fitness in the last year. We've done a decent amount of research into every aspect of it. One of those areas is supplements, and A1supplements.com is one of the best sites to buy your supplements from. I'd love a gift certificate from them. We buy from them every single month, but this GC would be so that we could pick up some stuff that we've been thinking about but unable to spend the money on.

The ULTIMATE place to buy books. If you're good friends with me please email and I'll give you the password to my login. We've got an extremely long list of books that we want, that we haven't bought yet. Please help us support literacy.

The last big thing for me is Threadless.com They sell basically the only shirts that I wear anymore. Please, if you are thinking about getting me something from them, make sure that it's funnny(nothing like a little humor on you to help brighten someone's day).

Jun 7, 2007

She: Lemon Bread with cheese filling

So, Mark came home the other day with about two dozen bananas. Who NEEDS that many bananas? I had every intention of making banana cookies and altering my banana bread recipe to a healthier but still moist wheat flour, but those plans didn't come through tonight. Why? Well, Mark made a fabulous goat cheese and mushroom pizza. From scratch. Which is great, except the utensil-part. Here's a run down of my thought process...

Mark is on the couch being a slug (he made dinner so that is his right). I walk into the kitchen and the bowl, cookie pan, and other instruments of baking are all slimed, in the sink. I look at the bananas, know I'll need at least two bowls, and decide that its just not worth it. So I find the one clean bowl we have, look in the fridge, find my lemons, and go to town. I'll leave the recipe at the bottom. While the bread is baking, I clean BOTH dirty bowls and all the utensils, and throw some baking soda in the sink and use my left-over lemon rinds as agents to scour the sink (soda + lemons work really well on grease stains, which were also in abundance since Mark doesn't rinse down the sink either). While I'm doing this, I belt in a loud voice sure to be heard "Gee, it would be SO nice if someone cleaned their OWN bowl and stuff." I am obviously a sensitive, delicate and tactful butterfly of social graces....

Anyhow. The lemon bread didn't dome, but thats because I put a lemon/cream cheese filling in the center. Its still yummy, though.

Lemon Bread:

Mix: 1/2 c soft butter, 1 c sugar. Add 2 eggs, 2 tbs lemon juice, 1-2 tbs lemon peel. Premix dry (1 1/2 c flour, 1 ts baking soda, 1/8 tsp salt) and add to mix. Lastly, mix in 1/2 c milk and put into bread pan.

Lemon Cheese
Mix 1 tsp sugar, 1/3 cup cream cheese with juice and peel of one small lemon. Put into a sandwich bag, cut a corner and squeeze it down the middle of the bread.

Bake in oven 350 F, 40-45 minutes. If you want extra lemon kick (I do), mix 1/2 lemon juice with 2 tsp powder sugar and drip over warm bread. The cheese sinks pretty low, but it does make a very nice compliment to the sweeter bread part. I suppose you could change the ratio of lemon juice in the cheese to keep it lighter. I'll repost if I try this again.

Jun 5, 2007

He: The Dualit Toaster Obsession

I know that I have a running obsession with well made kitchen gadgets. Form for me is never as much of a drive as something that seems as though I have no chance of breaking it. I seek out things that seem soo powerfully built that there is not a chance in hell that I can possibly damage it. After breaking my way through 5 kitchenaid mixers, 3 toasters, countless sautee pans, at least one full dish set, and more glasses than I care to count, I look for those things that will at least put up a good fight. The toasters hand made by an English company called Dualit comes into the equation.

How could a toaster possibly become an obsession? Well, who doesn't love toast? Toast can go with just about anything. The English have toast with baked beans on it as part of their classic breakfast. Americans have turned the toaster into a machine of speed and efficiency(just look at Quiznos or Subway to see what I'm talking about).

There was a time in my own life where I was completely obsessed with learning how to make the best artisanal breads that I could. As a by-product of all of this there was always a ton of bread around the house, thus, a great deal of toast was made. My all-time favorite was a bread that I got from Buckhead Bread company in Atlanta Georgia. The produced this incredibly flavorful, hearty loaf that I think was called sour pecan, raisin batard. Just imagine Pepperidge Farm cinnamon raisin bread on steroids, and you'll be in the ball park of what this fantastic bread was like. I used to look forward to breakfast, just to make a piece of this into toast and top it with a little strawberry preserves. I still have a pavlovian response just thinking about it.

The reason why I'm completely caught up with the Dualit toaster is simple, it's the best. I personally believe that anything that you can get that is made by hand is almost always a better product. These toasters are still made by hand. They're also spectacularly heavy-duty with heavy stainless steel components, and very solid controls. The last thing, the big winner for me and why I must have one of these machines, is that with the majority of toasters when they finish toasting the bread pops up and immediately begins to cool. With a Dualit toaster, the heat shuts off, but the toast stays warm in the machine until you press to lift it out of the machine(it's keeping your toast at the perfect temperature just until you want to extract it and give it a little butter and jam love). What couldn't possibly be better than that!?

Anyhow, the Dualit toasters happen to be painfully expensive machines, and I'm not exactly growing money instead of hair at the moment. If anyone out there can feel it in their hearts to 'donate' to the cause of allowing me (well, really Brandy and I)the dream of getting back to that perfect state of 'toasty satisfaction' please email us and we'll let you know how you can give to the cause.

Jun 2, 2007

He: Fluffernutter cookie sandwiches

Aka doggie crack sandwiches

Okay, originally this idea was born out of trying to find a use for a bunch of peanut butter that we got for free. You would think that having a ton of free, organic, stone ground, raw, perfect peanut butter would be a fantastic thing. Well, you're right! Having this stuff around is inspiring to look for unique and creative possibilities. These cookies are the first of many explorations into the world of everything that is peanut butter.

Just so that I don't get lost in the thoughts of how and why all of this was born I'll give you the whole method now.

Peanut Butter Sandies

½ c. (4oz) unsalted butter
½ c. (4 ¾ oz) peanut butter (plain, unseasoned, unadulterated…just peanuts and nothing else)
1 c. (7oz) granulated sugar(I used organic, unrefined cane sugar, but just about any will do)
¾ tsp. salt (kosher or sea salt please)
½ tsp. baking soda
2 t. Vanilla extract (here we used Penzeys double strength)
1 ea. Large Egg
¼ c (2oz) Heavy Cream or sour cream
3 Tbsp. (3/4 oz) Cornstarch
3 C. (12 ¾ oz) Unbleached AP Flour

1. Beat first 6 ingredients until light and fluffy(medium speed on your mixer for 4 minutes)
2. Add egg and beat until completely incorporated
3. Add ½ of the cream, ½ of the flour and all of the cornstarch and beat well(about 2 minutes on medium)
4. Add remaining cream and flour, mix just until incorporated
5. Divide dough in ½ flatten slightly, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour(we did it overnight)
6. After refrigeration, preheat oven to 350˚F, parchment line 2 sheetpans, remove dough from freezer about 5 minutes before rolling out
7. Lightly flour work surface and ball of dough(instead of this I lined the counter with freezer paper…we have funky tile for counters). Roll to 1/4-1/8” thick, cut to desired shape.
8. Place almost touching on the sheetpans and bake for exactly 10 minutes do not allow to brown
9. Cool on the sheetpans for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Pliable Paste (filling)

1 c. (9 ½ oz) peanut butter
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ c. (10 oz)confectioners sugar
6 Tbsp. milk

1. beat peanut butter and vanilla
2. Add confectioners sugar and beat until smooth(this will take several minutes)
3. Add milk a little at a time until desired consistency is reached
4. store until needed, covered

Almond Marshmallow Fluff
1 ea. Egg white-at room temperature
1 c. unrefined cane sugar
1/3 c. water
1/8 tsp. salt(sea or kosher)
1 ½ tsp Almond extract

1. Beat egg white in the bowl of an electric mixer until frothy, add salt and beat until stiff, shiny peaks are formed
2. Melt water and cane sugar in a saucepot, stirring only until dissolved, then bring to soft ball stage(240˚F on a candy theromometer)
3. Allow the sugar mix to sit for 1 minute off heat before adding to the beaten white
4. Slowly stream in the sugar mix, while beating on high, the white until all is incorporated.
5. Continue to beat on high until the mixture is completely cooled and lifted to full volume(this can take as long as 20 minutes)
6. Store covered until needed in a container

Assembly: Lay down finished cookie, and put a thin sheet of the peanut filling ontop, then about 1 tbs of Fluff. Put another cookie on top to complete the sandwich. I also dipped the cookies in melted chocolate, placed them on a rack and let them cool. If you don't want rack marks on your chocolate, transfer them to a wax sheet.

There are a few things that I would change if I do these cookies again. One, I think I want to play with the filling a little bit, it was way too sweet for me. Two, the original recipe that I based the fluff on came out of a cookbook by an old chef friend of mine Scott Peacock. Some of you may know him, he's extremely popular on the east coast. Some of you may even have his cookbook(written with his long time mentor and friend Edna Lewis) The Gift of Southern Cooking. The changes that I made were for just basic tinkering ideas…I think that I'd add back in the gelatin. Without the gelatin to provide structure for the fluff, you just end up with Italian meringue, which doesn't have the 'bounciness' that's soo nice about homemade marshmallows. Also, I think that I want to play with the flavoring of the marshmallows(the original recipe calls for vanilla, but I used up all of mine on the other parts of this cookie), maybe something like cinnamon???

I think that's about it with these. Please feel free to post your comments and questions and I will try to answer any and all that I can.