Really tried not to let the pesky book flogging cut into the food blogging, but it’s tough when airport concourses don’t have free internet access.  I was delighted to return home to see, via serious eats that The Onion had included Elements of Cooking in its highly specific holiday gift guide under the heading, “For Amateur Cooks Who Like to Feel Guilty.”  But I don’t want to invoke guilt.  And I must reiterate, I am not saying to people use homemade stock instead of canned broth, I’m saying use WATER instead of canned broth.

Great idea for a story from NYTimes reporter Kim Severson, about time: the death of the entree.  When I go to an ambitious restaurant, I don’t want a three-plop meal.  Big piece of meat, big pile o’ starch and the because-it’s-good-for-you veg. Unless I’m going to a steak house, I want to see as much of that restaurant’s food as possible.  Which is why I almost always order exclusively appetizers.  Frank Bruni, in his blog, defends the entrée, but I can only believe that he longs for a single entrée because it’s the one thing he can never have at a restaurant—his work forces him to try as much as possible.  I also think that if more people ordered several small courses rather than one huge entrée, we’d eat less and chefs wouldn’t feel like they have to serve us in super-size quantities.

And last, I was quoted in this story in the Washington Post about Michel Richard and his new restaurants and had a brief email exchange with the reporter, Jane Black, about her claim that “Today, [Richard] is able to take advantage of diners’ growing acceptance that the master chef isn’t always in the kitchen…”  Is this true, are diners becoming more accepting of the chef’s not being in their restaurants?  I hope so, because it will indicate that more people understand the nature of the business and the work of the chef, but I don’t know.

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139 Wonderful responses to “Food Notes”

  • Jim

    The Moral Highground,

    Why should I fight that fight if it doesn’t occupy you? Outside of occupying you, life has no meaning.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Claudia
    I suppose I should have defined my terms more carefully. When I wrote “cheat(s)” was not referring to short cuts per se. In my mind a “cheat” is something that you know is illegitimate.

    It’s not your’s, you bought it or stole it, or plagiarized it and represented it to yourself or others as your own work.

    A short cut can be a cheat, but sometimes its just a quicker way of doing something or getting somewhere. A short cut is not good only when it is a cheat or yields an inferior result.

    In any case, I did not use the concept of a “short cut” in the comment that upset Jim.

    Connor
    Professional cooks use many short cuts. The best of them use only short cuts that yield superior results- just like home cooks do.

    Jim
    I wrote that “cheats” will always lead to an inferior product. And I stand by that. Of course, in order for the products to be judged “inferior” the person making it would have to be understand that he/she had “cheated.” I suppose that there are some people who knowingly use inferior products in the furtherance of their craft and don’t know it. But I doubt you are one of these.

    My sense of you and the level of passion that I hear in your “voice” is that you know exactly what I’m talking about.

    Be true to yourself my friend, and everything will fall into place.

  • Vincent

    Wilmita wrote:

    “You are going all the way and doing the pork with a Caja China? Good for you! That’s hardcore.

    Here it’s too cold for that, so I am going for several perniles delantados al horno, with all trimmings thereunto appertaining. (yuca, rice, gandules, pasteles, etc.)

    Would you be doing pasteles as well, or is the pernil enough torture for you?”

    Wilmita,

    I will also make tostones, yucca and moros but everything else will have to be Italian and French dishes, as well as traditional American fare. No pasteles – I have to sleep sometime!

  • Vincent

    Wilmita,

    BTW – my Brother just moved here from Miami (1 week ago) and brought me a box of Seville (sour) oranges – sure to make the pork awesome.

  • Vincent

    TO EVERYONE!!!

    I’ve found an awesome tip in one of Rachel Ray’s cookbooks…

    She (somehow!) finds the time to use icecube trays to shorten the cooking process!

    She fills each tray with water, freezes and then whenever she needs a small amount of water for sauces or stocks she just pops one or two in and… presto change-o!

    Magical, my friends…Magical.

  • Vincent

    For the record…

    One of my Sous went to a book signing this weekend at a Williams Sonoma (I think?) in Dallas and got a pic with said ice cube tray diva Rachel Ray and may I say…

    Holy Crap

    She looked great and my sous looks like a dumbass in the pic. A win win IMO – haha.

  • Vincent

    Also a win – win…

    Bruno Maddox has a pretty good article in the December issue of Discover magazine about Molecular Gastronomy. Most of the food is dated but it is a good article and a GREAT magazine so check it out.

    The best article (IMO) is about Hans Rosling and his challenge (and life’s work, to date) to enlist hard data in the global war on poverty and disease.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Jim,

    I’m truly sorry if I offended you. If you want to use boxed or tinned stock that’s fine. It makes no difference to me if it makes no difference to you.

    And as for the duck piss comment, that’s just a little bit of hyperbole that was in part inspired by something that happened to a poet friend of mine back in 70’s.

    Mike (the poet) was seriously poor, brilliant yet incapable of making money. He tried to support himself as a “tree surgeon,” but he could never take cash and used to barter his services for cans of coffee and food etc. He couldn’t even bring himself to take money for the stuff he loved, making music and poetry.

    Anyway, one summer day he decided to take the train out to Montauk. He used to go out there a few weeks at a time to hang out with some friends of ours who fished for a living.(One of them was a daughter of Captain Mundus, the guy who the shark killing sea dog in “Jaws” was based on. Can’t remember her name right now.) The train wasn’t air conditioned in those days and he was really uncomfortable, so he decided to go to the bar car and get a beer. Now he has to pay something like 1.50 for this Heneiken and it killed him to spend the money, but he’s mad hot and thirsty so he springs for it (WTF knows where he got the money from? Probably somebody handed it to him.)

    He takes the beer and sits down next to this hard-boiled looking middle aged woman who appears to be a housekeeper heading out to a her job in the Hamptons. The lady immediately begins to eye his beer. Mike, trying to break the tension says “hello.”

    The woman points at the beer and in a thick German accent says “Ach, Dutch duck piss.”

    As for me being a snob. Well you should come to work with me one day and see what I do for a living and then tell me about what a snob I am. Just make sure to bring a sturdy knife and a strong stomach because we might just be cutting up a hog that day.

  • Vincent

    Pardon my French but…

    That was a fucking awesome story, Bob. Sincerely.

    Hard- boiled middled adged women and beer refs – awesome.

    This blog is such a trip!

  • Bob delGrosso

    Vincent

    Thanks, I’ve been carrying that story almost 36 years. It’s a good one, and one I would not believe myself if I did not know Mike personally. Thanks for your faith. I’m sure Mike would appreciate it too.

    Wonder WTF he is? Anyone here know Mike Finn?

  • Vincent

    Bob,

    Totally believable because I have been surrounded by people like this for a few years now. What a great name as well – you have stories to tell but with a name like Mike Finn and the background he obviously has this guy has the resume for the best beer drinking session ever.

    Mike Finn where are you?! LOL

  • bob

    Bob,
    I’m gathering, then, that there is neither Swanson, or duck piss, in your fond d’agneau!
    It’d be an honor to spend a day on the farm learning from you, or a year…..sincerely
    other bob

  • S. Woody

    Frankly, I’d have trouble making stock, particularly beef stock.

    It’s not for a lack of time, or a lack of inclination. It’s more a lack of discipline.

    We have four dogs in this house. Four rowdy, lovable yet willful dogs. If ever I were to bring a bone in the house, four pairs of eyes would be watching my every move. Four tails would marking time like four metronomes. And four canine brains would be in synch, waiting for the opportunity to arise, when my back would be turned for even the slightest instant, so that they could make an end run and help themselves.

    Watching the littlest, a pug/terrier mix, run off with a bone three times the size of his head would make it all worthwhile, of course.

    The only solution would be to make sure I’ve got enough bones for making the stock, plus four to spare. At least that way everyone would be happy.

  • Jim

    Bob,

    Thank you for your fair and excellent replies. I take back the harsh things I’ve written about you. Clearly I’ve misjudged you.

    In fact, I wholly agree with you that “cheating” will lead to an inferior product. The part that offends me is when one contemplates what “inferior” means. Does it merely mean “not as good”, or does it mean, “you’re eating excrement and are too stupid to know the difference or to lazy to care”? Sadly, there are far too many individuals who use culinary experience as a means of looking down on other people, and I think that’s really lame. I’m well-aware that American culture is in a period of change, one where many more Americans are gaining much more culinary experience (both in making good food and in enjoying it), and I think this is a tremendously good thing. Improving one’s diet is the most efficient way to enjoy life more, and that’s why I think snobbery doesn’t belong in the enjoyment of food. I hope that explains why I have such a visceral reaction to perceived snobbery: it is inimical to what I see as good, right, and wonderful because it’s intended to prevent people from enjoying food.

    In terms of working with you, I’d frankly be honored if I ever had such an opportunity, especially if I had the chance to butcher a whole animal. My butchery skills are horrible, and that’s the kind of expertise that can only be gained through experience. If such experience is helped by a learned master, then all the better. I think the only thing that I’d feel squeamish about is killing, but that’s because I’m a city boy.

    Thanks again for your response. I hope you’ll accept my apology as I accept yours.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Jim
    Good, I’m glad we are cool. I’m not sure where you are but I’m in Pa and work at Hendrick’s Farms and Dairy in Telford, Pa. Come for a visit if you can.

    I’m can’t promise we’ll have a an animal to butcher (We don’t do that everyday, thank goodness: it’s very hard work.) But there’s always something messy to do.

    The farm is largely devoted to the production of raw milk and raw milk cheeses. I don’t have much to do with that yet though. My job is to develop a line of charcuterie and other products that use stuff that is produced on the farm and by other farmers in the area.

    I still can’t believe how cool my job is. The stuff I get to work with is unbelievable. How many chefs get to work side by side with a robot that milks cows?

    I’ve got pictures and links at my blog (A Hunger Artist) if you would like to see some of what I’ve been up to or get the address of the farm.

    And another thing: I owe Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn BIG TIME for inspiring me to return to charcuterie with their book “Charcuterie.” It’d be hyperbole to say it changed my life, but sometimes it feels that way.

    Love of charcuterie was one of the things that brought me into cooking way back in 1980. I tried to specialize in it as a chef, but there was very little market for it then. I did not actually give it up, but slowly but surely stuff dropped out of my repertoire until the only stuff I made was sausage and duck confit.

    Then a few months ago, I picked up a copy of that book, realized that there’s a market for the stuff and ran with it. It’s an amazing craft, so f–king complicated and with so many subtle things to consider. It’s a lot like bread baking, cheese making, brewing and wine making. Thanks Michael and Brian!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Claudia

    Bob D, may I retract briefly – I should not, have perhaps, spoken for you, but I did not think you were personally attacking anyone since your use of the word “cheat” was in quotes. I truly thought you were saying “shortcut”.

    Jim, apology accepted.

    Vincent – how about that Caja, dude?!! Maybe I can sneak one into my back yard, seeing as how the hubby wouldn’t let me dig a BBQ pit. (Can’t imagine why.) Now THAT’S an appliance I can really get stoked about!

  • Brad

    BdG: I live on LI and would love to stop by the farm sometime. I’d be happy to swap free labor and good company in exchange for some free instruction, as your interest and availability permits. I already know a lot of the basics of working with smaller cuts and a few mid-sized primals, but I’ve never helped break down a whole hog (or any other non-poultry non-fish critter) into primals before … and I’d happily bring my knife kit and a big cooler of ice (unless you have an ice machine on site, in which case I’d only need to being a small chunk of dry ice) and purchase part of whatever we cut break down (including some offal). I could also bring a friend of mine who’s a CIA alumni, as well as a few goodies to eat/drink. 😉

    p.s. Brief intro – I’m one of the site/forum admins for http://www.IBDoF.com & http://www.IBList.com, and I host a culinary discussion over there called “The Tap Room”.

    Ok, I gotta get back to classwork now …

  • Brad

    Vincent+Claudia: a friend of mine has a caja china, but I havent seen it used yet. Does it impart a decent amount of smoke flavor, or is it primarily a top-fired roasting box ?

  • Brad

    Brief Aside:

    French_Laundry_at_Home … I just visited your site, and enjoyed my first foray immensely. I added a plug for your Blog to my book review thread (which I just freshened slightly), and I’ll add you as well to the recommended links thread in the tap room.

    http://www.ibdof.com/viewtopic.php?p=1833230#1833230

    I’m looking forward to your foray into pot au feau. I’ve done a lot of bone-in lamb curries, and beef stew (both french and belgian), but I’ve yet to attempt a classic multi-cut PaF, much less Keller’s version.

    /end aside

  • Flaime

    Re: the broth v water debate —

    live some place where the water tastes like dead fish. You will quickly come to understand that boxed or even tinned broth is better than the water. And bottled water is rather more expensive than boxed chicken broth.

    And don’t tell me about filters, please. The only filter I have ever tried that works even 50% of the time is simply too expensive to reasonably maintain for the home cook.

  • Claudia

    Brad, I don’t know how much smoke flavor the caja imparts yet – I’ve only seen them on TV, but wanted one so I could do a whole suckling pig. I hope our confrere in blogging, Vincent, will give us all the details when he gets his fired up and smoking. (I have to wait for the hubby to be gone all day to smoke ANYTHING, inside the house or out, which, admittedly, somewhat puts the kibosh on my caja/smoker/BBQ pit fun (!))

  • Tags

    Jim,

    While we’re in apology mode let me also apologize to you.

    I read an article not long ago about shills hired by companies to defend their products and I suspected you of being a corporate shill.

    I can see now that your passionate anger was legitimate and that you really were on the level.

    Again, please accept my apology as well.

  • Wilmita

    I will also make tostones, yucca and moros but everything else will have to be Italian and French dishes, as well as traditional American fare. No pasteles – I have to sleep sometime!

    Vincent,

    Awwww NO you don’t!

    Since you’ll have SO much time while the lechón is SLOWLY smoking itself to such crispy, limey, oreganoid, garlickyness in la Caja China, (¡Ay, qué rico, estoy celosa!), you just better get right to it and grate some of those plantains, yuca, bananas etc. and make that masa for those pasteles and suffer like the rest of us!

    You’d still have enough left for tostones and yuca con mojo.

    HOW could you deprive a and good and proper lechón asado entero of it’s accompanying pasteles? Sacrilege, this!

    Seville oranges, though expensive can be procured here in Latino markets, but nothing beats what your brother brought you.

    I stand fully trumped! I won’t breathe a word to the 20+ people at my table this Christmas Eve.

    You gotta share how it went. I am inspired.

    Regards,

    Wilmita

  • Vincent

    Caludia wrote:

    “Vincent – how about that Caja, dude?!! Maybe I can sneak one into my back yard, seeing as how the hubby wouldn’t let me dig a BBQ pit. (Can’t imagine why.) Now THAT’S an appliance I can really get stoked about!”

    That’s what is so cool about this box o fun Claudia – it’s like a bbq grill on crack. It’s essentially an oven made of wood on the outside and metal (foodsafe) on the inside with a bottom and top rack that can (and should) be tied together to hold whatever protein you are cooking. You have to turn the product you are cooking during the process, so the racks tied together are key. You can cook pigs, turkeys, chickens or whatever in it – the skin alone is worth the price. The website is easily googled and they are a bit expensive but if you take care of them they will last.

    The hubby won’t mind because the coals go on the top of the caja – depending on the size of what you are cooking the coals are easily thrown away and you just clean out the box with hot water and soap. It’s hose friendly!

  • Vincent

    Brad,

    No smoke flavor that I have done before because it’s essentially an oven, but you could put some wood chips soaked with water or a bourbon or liquid (apple juice?) in the bottom of the caja with the pig or protein of choice. It might humidify the cooking process though – maybe better to smoke it first for a bit and then put it in the cooker.

  • Vincent

    Wilmita,

    I’ve been put in my place – I will try to grate some of those plantains, yucca, bananas etc. and make that masa for those pasteles and suffer like the rest of you.

    To deprive the lechon would truly be a disgrace…

    As for the Sevilles – most had bugs in them (I got them today) but some were good so I am optimistic.

    For the record Wilmita – just because I have seen it done and done it a few times I’m sure your lechon, pasteles and sides would trump me any day – we have inspired each other!

  • Bob delGrosso

    Brad
    Write to me at bob del Grosso at g mail dot com and maybe we can set something up -minimally, a tour. I’m planning to set up an educational program but won’t be getting to that until I have the product line ironed out.

  • Claudia

    Vincent:

    The hubby has to go out of town SOMETIME. Then – oh, yes, THEN – I will strike.

  • Stocking Stuffer: for the cook

    The hottest book for Foodies this season is not a cookbook. The must-have gift for cooks who care is the newest reference book, The Elements of Cooking, Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen, by Michael Ruhlman.

  • Charlotte

    Not to add to the canned/homemade stock flame war but for me the difference has as often been about mouthfeel and consistency as taste. I’ve never made veal stock, but I’ve made my own chicken broth for years — I just hoard carcasses in the freezer until there are too many and then make stock from them — while my own stock tastes cleaner than the stuff in the can or the box, it’s that gelatinous quality from all the bones and cartilage that I really love. It gives body to soups and sauces that the boxed stuff just doesn’t have. They’re so watery. And if you freeze some in ice cube trays, you don’t have to defrost a whole pint jar for a sauce.

  • Claudia

    My sister, a regular worshipper at the Church of Good St. Michael of the Perpetual Stock, kindly took the carcass from the turkey I produced at TG, turned it into stock, and gave me a bucket full. Talk about being spoiled by home-cooked! I can hardly wait to do something with it.

  • Brad

    Mathias: “Nyeso” 😉

    [digression]

    See, that’s the inherent problem with single-thread comment chains in a blog site like this one … it’s not possible for side discussions to have their own dedicated threads, and therefore they have to manifent as extended digressions within a single thread, like a tapeworm – and heaven help your attention span if there are multiple such discussions going on, in addition to responses to the host author’s blog commentary.

    Such things are managed a lot more easily in a full-up discussion forum, like mine. 😉

    [/end digression about single-thread comment chains vs full multi-thread forums]

  • Aem

    Garlic Press:

    Sometimes I use a knife, sometimes I don’t. It’s my food.

    Canned Broth vs. Water:

    Depends on what dish and how much. The best canned broth I’ve tasted is Butterball’s.

    Entree vs. Small Plates:

    I like both. If there is a great protein, a great starch and great veg. I will not care about the size or how it hangs over the plate, because when I’m ready to really eat, I want to really eat. I expect large portions in some places like steakhouses or Red Lobsters and the like.

    Small plates=variety, because sometimes I feel like having a bit of everything. My only problem is the small plates that cost the same as an entree. That’s not going to work. LOL