Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Just venting here

I normally don't use this as a whipping post but I had an experience in a local restaurant last night that just really made me grind my teeth. It may have been a bad night, the person involved may have been having a bad day, or something similar but really there was no excuse. I have ordered takeout in multiple restaurants all over the place. The normal course is to go to the bar, order, wait, pay, and go. Typically you have someone greet you politely and in a timely manner. Not so last night. It was obvious that the bartendress was busy. I was not trying to be cute or playful. I went in and stood and it took a while to just get a "hello". I responded in kind and said that I needed to place an order to go when she had a moment. I watched her wash glassware, make several drink orders, and load a frozen margarita machine before she decided to get her order pad and ask me what I would like. My order was simple, no big changes or complexities and she rang it in. Now ordinarily when you sit at the bar you are asked if you would like a drink while you wait. Not so. There was a lady who came in after I did who followed same procedure and got the same treatment. She finally stopped the bartendress and asked for a glass of water. If the bar had been really hopping I'd have been more understanding - but when the bartendress walks the drinks out herself it tells me that things aren't that busy. Something I've noted in restaurants here in New Orleans - some give great service without attitude and the staff is genuinely polite. In others, however, surly is free is all I can say and it's dished up in excessive portions. Foodservice isn't for everyone. I wouldn't want to do it. I admire and respect those who do it and bring distinction to a profession people don't often think much of. To those of you who work in the industry and do a great job I offer you my most sincere thanks. You are a large part of the reason I dine out. You make the atmosphere what it is. We all have bad days. I'm understanding of slow service in a big party, a busy restaurant, or on a short staffed night. I'll take mediocre food or a goofed up order from a someone who is really giving it 110% (to the food - I know you didn't cook it, I may go and rail on your manager about it but I know you aren't doing anything more than bringing out what the kitchen gives you). I'm not asking for you to be my best friend either - I'm asking for basic courtesy and respect and will return it in kind. Enough of this - rant off

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Raining cats and dogs

It's considerably earlier than I normally post. I'm having the first cup of coffee of the day, listening to it rain like mad outside, and testing out my homemade yogurt this morning. I made it last night. No fancy yogurt maker here. I used 4 -1 quart mason jars, our trusty cooler, a gallon of milk (I used this brand - I support local dairies who can sell me creamline milk in the stores, sorry home cheesemaker rant off now), and a cup of commercial yogurt. I used this brand of yogurt (I picked up the non-fat) as it's just, as Chef said gone off milk with bugs, no pectin, starch, or other things that don't belong in my yogurt (things that make using it for culture more challenging). For the specifics of my method go here. I think my temperature was a little lower than his - a degree or so (maybe I can use this to get a more accurate thermometer...I have to figure out how to sell it though). He says three hours - my first run at three hours didn't look remotely like yogurt. About an hour and a half later though I had a mostly solid mass in the middle and milky whey outside. I pulled them out of the water bath, dried them, and popped them in the fridge. I opened one to sniff - smell of milk/cream and just the slightest hint of yogurt. Much different than commercial yogurt - fresher - not processed tasting. It's not quite as thick either. I'll try to post some snaps before I eat it all/convert it to other yummy projects. One quart is destined for yogurt cheese and I may strain the rest as I like my yogurt a bit thicker. Oh...and the fun part - total cost was about $7 for a gallon plus of yogurt (excludes my time and the little bit of nat gas & electricity used to heat water and milk). I can't get two quarts of the same sort of thing here for that cost. There are some D-I-Y's that just make you feel good (and healthy).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Southern twist on Cochon de Lait

I'm cooking for the office tomorrow...decided on my take on Cochon de Lait - dry rubbed, marinated pork butt that I cooked en daube...well...a Crock Pot to be honest. I've pulled the pork and put on some of the marinade/cooking liquid to make it...juicy but not soggy. This is serious stuff. Marinade was simplicity - 1 cup homemade Worcestershire sauce, 1 cup Cajun Power Garlic Sauce, and 1 1/2 tsp Pecan Liquid Smoke...allow to rest 3 days. Rub is mine for now...I'll share later. I'm reducing the remaining liquid to be served as a sauce. Smells of BBQ right now. I'll let you know how the office receives a free lunch.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Another great find...

This is two great finds in Recovery New Orleans - last week was China Rose in Metairie - a Chinese restaurant that runs three menus - an Americanized Chinese that we all know, an authentic Chinese which is about five times as long as the first (and endlessly more flavorful), and a noodle menu. My wife and I ordered off the authentic menu and were thrilled. Tonight was a Mexican place. It came about from a coupon mailer that showed up in today's mail - the food looked good and they had half off (even if the food hadn't been great I wouldn't have paid full price for all of it). I did a little digging - local paper and several other food-related sites gave Taco San Miguel high marks. It has two locations the Metairie one and then one closer to the house in Mid-City. You can't miss it...bright orange building and a bright yellow sign...not easy on the eyes but I wasn't there for the decor. I ordered my usual - Carne Asada and the wife ordered the taco special with chicken. Service was simple - the large portion of steak, grilled onions, salsa Mexicana, black beans, rice, and corn or flour tortillas. I'm used to the steak going from slightly flavorful to blah and normally stringy. Not here - richly flavored - garlic, lime, chile, cumin, and all sorts of other wonderful flavors, coupled with sweet onions, a hit of heat from the salsa (my in-laws joined mother-in-law was a little surprised by the...oomph of the jalepeno in the salsa) and the flavor of the tortilla, coupled with the nearly tender steak, made for an amazing (and cheap) meal. The wife didn't say much as she was obviously enjoying the chicken tacos with what looked like a mole sauce and the same simple accompaniments. One of the oddities of this area are some of the laws that have been put on the books after the storm. With the influx of labor to clean up and rebuild came, amongst other things, taco trucks. There are still some scattered in the city proper, but in Jefferson Parish they outlawed them. Some just move across the parish line and a few said fine and set up shop. This is one of those - the story is that the owner is/was an electrician who became a restauranteur. I'm not investigating that - I just investigate food - and this was outstanding. When we can eat for $20 and have this quality of food and portion size I'll be back, as often as I can.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

This is what happens...

when work gets in the way of the rest of your life. I've been cooking and eating like a madman (and being very successful at it for that matter) and have pictures to post and other stuff. There will be more to follow - it's a weekend in the kitchen - and I can't wait

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cookery…week two…

Right…so for my adult life until today I had considered anchovies something on the order of sinister and nasty. I had been told they were. Yeah. I was also told I loved shrimp at an impressionable age and I stuff myself with them to this day. There is an English…condiment…for lack of a better word for it called Patum Peperium or Gentleman’s Relish. The real stuff is made by a single company in the UK and they don’t exactly want to share the recipe. My hat is off to Ray and Pam Williams for this very, very tasty copycat. N.B.: I’ve never had the real stuff. I don’t know how close a copy this, in fact, is. I do know that it’s very good, especially thinly spread on freshly toasted homemade English Brown Bread and topped with soft scrambled eggs.

"Patum Peperium was invented in 1828 by an Englishman called John Osborn. The original "Gentleman's Relish "made from a blend of anchovies, butter, exotic herbs and spices. This classic recipe has remained a secret over the years, passed down through generations by word of mouth. Today, this delicacy is only made at Elsenham where the original recipe is still in use. This is my version of this recipe."

4 oz Anchovies in Olive Oil (2 cans)
¼ tsp Dill Weed
½ tsp Garlic Powder
¼ tsp Ginger Powder
¼ tsp Lemon Peel
¼ tsp Ground Mace
½ tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
4 Tbsp Butter
Pinch Cayenne Pepper

Directions: Process in blender until smooth

My notes are as follows: I used nutmeg, freshly grated, in place of mace (couldn’t find my grinder at that moment). I added a pinch or so of white pepper in addition to an equal amount of cayenne. I used my homemade Worcestershire sauce. My anchovies were Agostino Recca again obtained from Central Grocery here in the French Quarter. I also used only lemon zest not full peel – if you try this and you use full peel tell me how it turns out.

This was Major Kitchen Project #3. Project #4 is tomorrow (homemade red sauce from San Marzano tomatoes). So far there are only Minor Kitchen Projects in line behind this. Major #5 looms but stock making is a little ways off for a while. I’m sure to be pickling and canning some more English goodies…pickled onions, homemade Branston pickle. I have to laugh. I’m in the home of Creole and Cajun food. I’m typically a bistro style cook (and the aforementioned cuisine adapts itself nicely to such). And my last few Major Projects are English. There is comedic value in there somewhere.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Too long between posts...

Saturday morning – lateish – headed into Saturday afternoon finds me finally able to post to my blog again. We’ve been rather busy unpacking, washing, putting away, and generally trying to organize our new apartment in this grand old city. I feel very good this weekend – both projects are already done and I still have a day and change to relax and try to enjoy things. I made Worcestershire sauce last night. This was one of those projects that had beckoned for some time now but never came to fruition until last evening. I had finally assembled the ingredients – the worst being the anchovies – I simply refused to use those vile things in tins at the local grocery for under a dollar. I went to Central grocery here and lo and behold they stocked Agostino Recca anchovies in olive oil for a reasonable price versus the Ortiz brand at another merchant for a king’s ransom. The rest of the ingredients were simple to find and press into service. I warn you in advance – there are multiple variations on this theme – Emeril has one, Commanders Palace has one in the cookbook authored by the late Jamie Shannon, and I am certain that there are more out there. I hybridized two or three of these and so far it seems to be very worth it. Danno over at NOLACuisine lists his recipe as a take on the one from Commander’s and I split his and Emeril’s. Warning: this takes time…anywhere from 3 to 6 hours – mostly inactive time – but ya gotta stir it now and again. The resultant product is more akin to syrup than to the commercial stuff. It’s also much sweeter, sharper, and spicier – so be forewarned – it may be habit forming. It also makes the whole house smell of vinegar, horseradish, spices, peppers, onions, garlic, and the like – you may elect to simmer this outdoors to avoid such.

MAF’s Homemade Worcestershire Sauce

1 T Extra-virgin Olive Oil
1 T Canola Oil
3 medium onions – coarsely chopped
5 jalapeño peppers, stems and seeds, coarsely chopped
10 to 12 garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped
1 T whole black peppercorns
1 t whole cloves
2 T Kosher salt (I used Avery Island salt I obtained on my visit there but otherwise it’s all about Diamond Crystal in my book)
4 oz anchovy fillets (I recommend Ortiz or Recca, but use what you can find)
12 oz Steen’s Cane Syrup
16 oz dark corn syrup
12 oz molasses
2 peeled and chopped lemons (get all the pith off, and zest these poor souls before you cut the peel off…I forgot this part)
½ lb fresh horseradish, peeled and grated (note: wear eye protection…this is worse than 100 onions)
3 ½ T tamarind concentrate or 3 T tamarind paste
2 qt distilled white vinegar
4 c water

Heat oil in a stockpot – I used a 8 or 12 qt – and add onions, peppers, and garlic and sweat these down for 8 to 10 minutes – you want to release the essence and soften them up – the recipes call for sautéing them – I sweated them and got wonderful results. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 3 to 6 hours or until reduced by more than half – you should wind up with approximately 3 pints and the product will coat the back of a spoon.

Note: before beginning this or any home canning project please consult several resources. If you’ve never done this before read about it – I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination – I’ve got lots of experience with sanitation for brewing and food handling but it only takes one “oops” and you’ve just made your closest friends dreadfully ill. Please also note that this happens at the end of cooking, not one moment before. If you want to keep this product around a while you can get some pint or half pint canning jars and lids (with rings) and wash them in warm soapy water, rinse well, and then immerse the jars and lids (set the rings aside here) into a pot of simmering water (NOT boiling, simmering) to cover them completely, cover the pot, turn off the heat and let them sit for 10 minutes. Remove hot jars from water (proceed with great care, this is extremely hot water and glass), draining well, and stand upright on a towel. Ladle hot product into hot jars (I used a funnel to avoid having a total mess) to within half an inch of the top (also called airspace). Remove hot lids from water and place on jars. Carefully put rings on jars and tighten (this stuff is hot – use a towel or something to protect your hands). Place on a canning rack in a pot of rapidly boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove jars (carefully again – we’re talking verge of culinary napalm here) and set on a towel and allow them to cool completely. Check lids to make certain you have a seal (the middle should be slightly indented where the “button” was pulled in), tighten rings, and store for a minimum of two weeks to allow product to age.