Saturday, August 25, 2012

WIld Food Tours In and Around NYC

Today I took a wild foods walking tour of prospect park with Wild Man Steve Brill. It was incredibly interesting.  There are many things in my pantry, whose origin I am completely ignorant of, that grow readily a few blocks away in the park.  (Sumac, burdock, and sassafras)
Also, the plethora of tasty edible plants growing everywhere that we simply don't eat.  
It was an eye-opening, and delicious, experience that I highly recommend.  
If you're interested, you should look him up. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Does "Organic" Taste Better?

I recently read an article in Lucky Peach magazine about the flavor value of "organic".
We all see the price tag, but are we buying a better product?
The short answer seems to be yes.
Study after study shows that organic produce, particularly leafy stuff, not only tastes better but is healthier.  The basic just of it is that the things (phytochemicals) that a plant produces to protect itself, are those that are delicious and are good for us. Part of the idea is that our body had evolved to like the taste of things that are good for us.  And that when you start to treat plant with pesticides and herbicides (et al) the plant ceases to create the things that are healthy and tasty.  Check this out. . .
What do phytochemicals have to do with flavor? Phytochemicals are chemicals created by plants, and especially those that have effects on other creatures. Plants make many of them to defend themselves against microbes and insects: to make themselves unpalatable, counterattack the invaders and limit the damage they cause. Most of the aromas of vegetables, herbs and spices come from defensive chemicals. They may smell pleasant to us, but the plants make them to repel their mortal enemies.
Why should organic produce have higher phytochemical levels? The current theory is that because plants in organic production are unprotected by pesticides and fungicides, they are more stressed by insects and disease microbes than conventional crops, and have to work harder to protect themselves. So it makes sense that organic produce would have more intense flavors. For some reason, taste tests haven’t consistently found this to be the case.  ---This is from this article.
Also, in a particular experiment they distressed basil to test for the optimal level. . .

They soaked basil seeds for 30 minutes in a chitosan solution, then soaked the roots again when they transferred the seedlings to larger pots. After 45 days, they compared the chemical composition of leaves from treated and untreated plants. They found that at the optimum chitosan concentration, the antioxidant activity in treated plants was greater by more than three times. The overall production of aroma compounds was up by nearly 50 percent, and the levels of clove-like and flowery components doubled.  --- Also from this article.

 Neat-o . . .

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Illusion of Choice

Interesting no?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

About Round Steak

Round is a tricky cut, especially for shorter cooking times. I know people use it for "steak" cooking methods, but I've never loved it as a steak. It's in the rump of the cow, and so as a muscle, it sees a lot of exercise. Which leaves it with nice beefy flavor, but in a cut that is lean and tough. 
Tough is bad for short cooking times because it translates tochewy.  Slicing and pounding/tenderizing does do a little to offset this, but in my opinion, not enough. 
Lean is bad for long cooking methods because it comes out stringy. I don't love this cut in things like stews and chilis because it can be fibrous and you tend to spend a lot of time picking it out of your teeth.  
Some more ideal ways to eat this cut are less traditional, but some of my favorites. It is great in steak tar tare, cut or ground into tiny pieces. It is also yummy when slow braised in a big piece, and then sliced thin once its allowed to cool, and reheated in the braising liquid.  While you might not have this method at your disposal, it would be good cooked at a low temperature with an immersion circulator for a long time and then sliced. Many people re to this as "sous vide" - but that term, translating literally to under vacuum, actually infers that you're using a vacuum sealer.  The term "low-temp cooking" is a little more accurate.

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Sous Chef

AKA "The Monster" AKA "Punk" AKA "Beans"
She is a bona fide machine of destruction with an Italian paci. If I am cooking during waking hours, she is there at my knees insisting for a seat on the counter.  Where she provides such services as stirring, flipping on/off switches, pinches of salt, and, of course, taste testing. 
But you have to watch her, because she will take artistic license with your food.
Her real name is Charlie Mae.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sautéed Aparagus Ribbons

This is one of earliest news letters. If you're not signed up, you should be.
I hope you Enjoy it!

Asparagus spring up out of the ground almost overnight, and it's the farmer's job to snip them off promptly.  If the shoot is allowed too much time the tip will open up, leading to bitterness, and the stem can become fibrous, mandating annoying peeling and sometimes flossing.

When buying aspargus, look for tightly closed tips, taught surface area and a sturdy trunk.  Most importantly, the stem of the shoot should look freshly cut.  If you see, dry withered ends move on, ideally you'll find something more like this:

As with many vegetables, asparagus are best consumed as close  to the time of purchase as possible.  If you know you won't get to them for a couple of days, you should treat them like flowers. Give the stems a short trim and place them upright in a vessel with a little water,  store them in the fridge. 

To prep asparagus for cooking, usually you cut off the ends.  As a reference of where to cut, pull a spear from a quasi uniform bunch of asparagus.  Hold it at either end and bend until it snaps.  It will break close to the place where you should cut it.  You can then cut the whole bunch in one swoop.  For bigger asparagus you may still want to peel a little of the outside skin down toward the cut end, but that won't be an issue with this recipe:

Asparagus Ribbons with Lemon Caper Butter
1  Bunch  asparagus
1  tbsp    capers, chopped*
2  tbsps   white wine,
1  tbsp    butter
Juice of one lemon

1.  Holding the asparagus by the head, use a vegetable peeler to peel until there’s nothing left for a ribbon-like effect.  Nip off the head (half the big ones lengthwise) and set aside.

2.  Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. First drop in the asparagus tips and sauté until just cooked through (3-4 min), then add the ribbons, capers, and wine, stirring continuously until just softened. (1-2min.)

3. Finish with the butter, the lemon juice, and salt to taste. But be sure to taste, because the capers can be quite salty.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Back at It!

It has been a little while now,  and I'm about to get back to bloggin'.  Everything is good and great in my world. 
Moving forward, you might notice a few changes . . . such as.   I expect to talk a little more about my private life, something I avoided a lot before. 
My entries will shift a little towards the food I cook professionally. 
And finally, I won't be posting nearly as much as I have in the past.  I will have to get to it when I can. 
Thank you everyone for your continued support. 
Keep the cooking questions coming.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Instant Read Thermometer

If you don't own one, you should.
I'm often asked how to tell when a steak is done, as if there is a spell or incantation I might recite. 
The truest, albeit smart-ass, answer is to take its temperature. It's the secret to knowing when your steak, or anything your cooking, is ready.
What you need to know is that they aren't always calibrated.  To calibrate it, fill a cup with ice water and stir it well with your thermometer.  It should read 32˚F. If it doesn't, there is a nut/bolt behind the face. Rotate it the appropriate direction until the needle points to 32˚F.
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