Wednesday, May 16, 2007

To-ma-to Paste

You would never know it, but tomato paste works wonders in pasta sauces. It adds depth and a richness that you wouldn't get from a watery can of tomatoes.

I stole this tip from Giada...what else is the Food Network good for? :

Fry your usual minced garlic and chopped onion in olive oil, salt and pepper. Then add a dollop of tomato paste and mix around. THEN add a few ladles of boiling pasta water to the tomato paste mixture and voila, you have one spankin' good, and very simple tomato sauce! Add some grated parm or romano to bring it all together and undercut the sourness of the tomato paste and you got yourself a winner.

This is what you can do when you don't have a good marinara at-hand or if you're too lazy to make some. I can't guarantee that it will be the best tomato sauce, but it's quick, simple and easy. Good luck and thank you for reading.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Anthony Bourdain talks Food Network

Anthony Bourdain guest blogged for some website I've never heard of and has much to say about the current state of Food Network. An entertaining read, for sure.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cooking with marijuana, part 1 (as requested by Luke)

For many, cooking with marijuana (an illegal substance, mind you) presents an extremely daunting task. After all, how does one go about in properly infusing food with the chemicals that get you high with the most minimal amount of waste? The answer is simple.

Disclaimer: marijuana is illegal and should not be used or cooked with by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

In order to make food with weed, one must first extract the THC (the stuff that gets you high, maaan) from the plant. Since THC is a fat soluble compound, it can only be dissolved in fats or fat solvents. Therefore, the solution is obvious: dissolve the plant in butter or oil.

Most people at this point would throw butter or oil into a small pot, throw it over the stove, crank up the heat, and throw in their herb(s). The bud will sizzle and then eventually turn black. At this point, the oil or butter has indeed been infused with mind-altering properties. The burning of the organic matter means that it has combusted and, for those lawbreakers who smoke marijuana, combustion is a very reliable means of extracting THC. However, for our purposes, this means that the oil produced will taste like complete shit. After all, the oil now contains the herb in carbon form, after it has released (along with its THC) all its byproducts of combustion.

How, then, does one extract the THC without burning one's valuable plant matter? The answer is vaporization.

Vaporizing is the process of releasing the THC from the plant material without combusting it. This means heating of the plant matter to a temperature above its vaporization point and below its combustion point. In order to achieve this, the oil must be heated to about 180-200 degrees Celsius and not to exceed 220 Celsius.

How you get and maintain the oil or butter in this temperature range is up to you, be it with a candy thermometer or an infrared thermometer (recommended). After about 20 minutes or so, cool and then strain the oil with some cheesecloth, wringing it to get as much oil as possible, and dispose of the solids. You have now have oil or butter that you can use in whatever recipe you wish. Sky is the limit (so to speak)!

Luke Burger loves the coq

Coq au vin (pronounced cock o van, I'm told) is French for rooster with wine. Although traditionally prepared with rooster, chicken works just fine and is more readily available.

Chicken parts are marinated overnight in wine and veggies and then braised in its marinating liquid which makes for wonderfully flavored and tender meat that falls off the bone.

Coq au vin

A word of advice: the recipe calls for one bottle of wine, but you had better use two. One is not nearly enough to submerge all the chicken.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Smack that Asada all on Floor

Holy shit, I've just discovered one of the best tasting carne asada marinades...EVER. Not only is it delicious, it's incredibly easy as well. The recipe is courtesy of Tyler Florence, who has now unfortunately (or fortunately?) moved on to creating dishes for Applebee's. When I first saw a recipe for carne asada by Tyler Florence, I thought to myself, "How good could this really be? What the fuck does Tyler Florence know about carne asada?" Well, it turns out, quite a bit.

Carne Asada Bombness

"Dry" goods:
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 jalapeño
- 1 large handful fresh cilantro
- salt and black pepper (freshly ground, if you can)

Wet goods:
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1 orange, juiced
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil

- About 2 lbs. flank or skirt steak

1. Blend the dry goods together. Put into a food processor and process into a paste.
2. Combine wet ingredients by pouring them into a bottle or jar that has a lid.
3. Pour the paste into the bottle, close the cap, and shake vigorously to combine.
4. Put the steak into a non-reactive (NOT plastic or styrofoam) bowl or baking dish and pour the marinade over it. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for 8-10 hours.
5. And now, it's time to conquer Earth! Grill it up to well done and devour!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mad Skilled Cupcakes

So my girlfriend stumbled upon this site and showed it to me. I took one look at the kinds of cupcakes they had on there, and I said to myself I says: "Hot damn, I want to make every single cupcake they have on here!" But then I also said to myself "I don't really have the time to make any of these right now." Which is true, I don't. I may be a consummate liar most of the time but I don't really lie to myself, at least I didn't in this case. But when I do, man I am all over the Thai Tea cupcakes. And for those of you who do have the time and patience, as well as the green to buy all of the fun specialty ingredients necessary for most of these, voila:

Look, enjoy, multiply!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Korean Freakin Barbeque

Korean barbequed short ribs called "galbi" (pronounced "ghal-bee" with a sort of "k" sound), is a delight for us all, Koreans and non-Koreans alike, except vegetarians and the .0001% of the population that doesnt like BBQ. The sweet grilled meat make our eyes glint with pleasure and our tongues salivate in anticipation so I'm going to hurry up and give you a recipe before I go crazy with a craving.

To prepare it is not difficult at all. You'll need to visit an Asian market for some of the ingredients and of course the meat, but after that it's smooth sailing. The following recipe is for about two pounds of meat, so don't invite too many people if you decide to make this for a dinner party, unless there will be a lot of sharing.


2 pounds of beef short ribs
2 cups of soy sauce
1/2 cup of sugar

A tablespoon each of:
-garlic powder
-crushed sesame seeds

2 tablespoons of sesame seed oil (maybe more)
1 teaspoon of black pepper, or
4-7 swift turns of your pepper-cracker
Lots of sliced green onions, about 4

Rinse the meat to remove the small shards of bones that sometimes sneak into the meat (nothing is worse than biting onto a shard of bone. Eek!), then pat dry with paper towels.

Dip the ribs in soy sauce (DO NOT LET IT SIT IN THE SOY SAUCE), then place the minimally- marinated meat onto a large bowl. Repeat for all pieces.

Add the sugar to the meat and stir so that the meat soaks it all up. Then add the oil, garlic powder, pepper, sesame seeds and green onions. Stir around (using your hands works best) to incorporate all the beautiful spices.

It's hard to test whether the meat is seasoned well at this point because you can't taste the raw ribs unless you're really hardcore. But you can usually tell by the look of it if you should add a little more oil or some more pepper, etc. YOu can even add a little msg if you like, no joke. The spice-adding step, I suppose, is the tricky part about korean bbq, as it is with all kinds of cooking. Use your instincts. Cover the bowl and place in fridge until you're ready to grill.

Now, you are ready to grill. Fire-up the hibachi grill or propane-powered thing and begin barbequing those babies. Take heed to not grill the meat for too long, as it is thin, fatty and will burn easily. But a little char around the edges is okay. YOu can also pan-fry the meat, but it won't be as good.

Invite your friends and have a party! (They'll love you.)

Notes about galbi:

So why all that damn sugar?
-One of the tricks about certain grilled meats is that the sugar marinated in them allows it to caramelize a bit during cooking. The result is pure beauty. The meat's sweetness is masked by the saltiness of the soy sauce and the smokiness of the grill but I think it's the sugar put into it that makes people like it so much without knowing exactly why. Kind of like the reason why a lot of us like ketchup.

Is it important to do the soy sauce/sugar thing before adding the other ingredients?
-Yes. If you add the oil before the sugar, the meat will hardly absorb it and you won't achieve the aforementioned caramelization beauty.

What goes well with galbi?
-Besides good company and good sticky rice, I've discovered that red wines go excellently well with galbi, which may surprise some of you. It is however, a matter of taste and since I love my red wine, I can drink it with any variety of red meat, even Korean kinds.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Red Beans and Rice Didn't Miss Her

Red beans and rice is a classic Creole dish traditionally made on Mondays using the leftover pork bones from Sunday dinner. Although it is traditionally made with fresh beans and pork bones, one can substitute canned beans and any kind of sausage. This is a very cheap dish to make and is capable of feeding up to six people (or yourself, six times) for under $10!

Red Beans and Rice
- Cooked rice (about 3 cups)

- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lb. cooked Kielbasa sausage, cut to 1/2" thick rounds (or you can use whatever kind of sausage you like)

- 3 cans of kidney beans
- 1 cup chicken broth (low sodium)
- 1 tsp Cajun or Creole seasoning

1. Heat some oil in a Dutch Oven or, if you're not filthy rich, in a large stainless steel pot over med. heat.
2. Throw in onion, garlic, and sausage. Saute until onions are brown.
3. Deglaze. Add the broth and scrape up all browned bits.
4. Add the beans (and their juice) and seasoning.
5. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat to let simmer for about 45 minutes.
6. Spoon mixture over rice.
7. Put on "Baby Got Back" and then devour!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

What a jerk!

Jerk seasoning, a staple in Jamaican cuisine, is not only easy to make, but is amazingly delicious. I like to marinate a bunch of chicken breasts and thigh pieces, grill them all up, and pack them for lunch. Traditionally, the chicken is grilled using a charcoal grill, but since I don't own one, I used a grill pan.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

- 1 chopped red onion
- 1/4 cup green onion tops
- 5 jalapenos

- 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly ground, if you can)
- 4 tsp pepper (white or black)

- 2 tbsp olive oil
- some rum

1. Throw all the above in a food processor and pulse on high until it becomes a somewhat coarse puree.
2. Rub your chicken pieces with some lime and salt and add enough of the jerk seasoning to provide some good coverage and marinate in the fridge overnight.
3. Grill it up and eat!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It's Not Purple, It's Lavender.

Rumor has it that Alex Chen is getting an ice cream maker. So when I saw a recipe for lavender ice cream in the la times magazine I thought, hey. alex might want to try this. So here it is. Lavender ice cream!

Note: A recent trip to San Diego's Extraordinary Desserts and a taste of their white pepper ice cream probably inspired this interest in unconventional flavors. In light of that experience, the recipe below is posted mainly for entertainment's sake; I can't imagine anyone taking the time to buy expensive lavender "buds" and making "lavender sugar" but perhaps it is worth a try. so good luck.

Lavender Ice Cream

1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped
3 cups half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1 1/3 cups lavender sugar, packed (see note)
1 tablespoon orange honey
¼ cup fresh lavender buds, finely chopped

Place the vanilla bean, seeds, half-and-half and heavy cream in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring. Remove from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the yolks to ribbon stage and add the sugar and honey, whisking until smooth. Whisk a small amount of the cream mixture into the yolks, then add the remaining cream to the egg mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Return to low heat and cook, stirring constantly until it coats the back of a spoon. Cool completely in an ice-water bath. Remove the vanilla bean. For a 1-quart ice cream maker, freeze the mixture 2 cups at a time, adding 2 tablespoons of lavender buds to each batch at the end of freezing. Scoop into a container and place in the freezer until hard.

Note: To make lavender sugar, add about 1/4 cup of lavender buds to 2 cups of sugar. Mix and let stand in an airtight container for about 2 weeks, shaking every third day. Reserve the remaining sugar for another use.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

How It All Vegan...

I'm finally making my maiden post on this food blog.

Recently, I've become vegetarian (pescetarian if you want to be picky about terminology) and an avid dinner party-attender/planner. This all adds up to my addition to Alex's Tasty Travels, of weekly (if not more frequently) vegetarian/vegan dishes that I've tried out.

This week, I present:

Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms

12 large portobello mushrooms
2 small zucchinis, roughly chopped
2 small carrots (I used about 12 baby carrots), roughly chopped
4 tbsp butter (margarine if vegan)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 tbsp of olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black papper
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove stems from mushrooms and set aside. In a blender or food processor, combine mushroom stems, carrots, zucchinis until they are finely chopped. In a large saucepan on medium heat, saute the mix in butter for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and parsley and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool. Place the mushroom caps on baking sheet. Fill caps with vegetable mixture and sprinkle with Parmesan and olive oil. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until mushrooms are browned. Cool before serving.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Lamb, bamb, thank you, ma'amb

I remember eating lamb as a kid and thinking of it as nothing too special. It wasn't until very recently (when I discovered braising) that I developed a newfound fascination -- nay, obsession -- with these creatures. Many are turned off from lamb because either a) they can't bear to eat something so cute and young (the meat comes from lamb that are less than a year old) or b) the taste is too "gamey" (yes, that's an actual term). If you fall into category a, there is no use in trying to persuade you that eating lamb is just as evil as eating any other animal. However, if you fall into category b, I'd like to direct you to this recipe from (featured on a previous entry, Braise me up Before you Go-go), which disguises the gamey taste in red wine, onions, and shallots.

Now, if you happen to be one who enjoys, dare I say loves? the taste of game meat, I'd like to share with you an extemely quick and easy recipe that friends of mine and I enjoyed this past 4/20 holiday: pesto rubbed rack of lamb. For this recipe, you can use any pesto you'd like: classic basil pesto, mint pesto, or rosemary-parsley pesto.

Pesto Rack of Lamb

1. Preheat oven to 450.
2. Place racks on a half sheet pan, brownie pan, or any accomodating vessel and season them with salt and pepper.
3. Rub your pesto of choice all over the rounded side of your racks.
4. Put it in the oven for 10 minutes.
5. Reduce heat to 400 and roast for 15 minutes more for medium-rare (yum!)
6. Let sit for 5 minutes.
7. Devour!

Happy eating, all.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lent, concluded

As the end of the Lenten season draws near, I reflect on what the past 40 days of non-meat eating has been like. Although extremely trying at times -- cooking with meat has become such a common practice for me that suddenly eliminating it from my diet took some getting used to -- it has ultimately been very rewarding. I was able to experiment with seafood and tofu but most of all, I've come to a revelation:

Meat adds richness and depth of flavor to dishes that cannot to be duplicated by anything other than meat. This goes for sauces, glazes, soups, and curries, just to name a few. For many of these dishes, meat (whether it be in whole form or in stock form) is the primary flavoring agent. Try using a vegetable stock instead of meat stock next time for your favorite curry. Chances are, it won't be as good.

Of course, this is just my humbe opinion. There are several people out there who do not like the taste of meat (for reasons that still elude me to this day, like the people who do not like sushi). For those people, obviously, "better tasting" is an irrelevant issue.

Lent has been good to me. I've realized that there exists a world outside of meat, and it is good. While I have not become a vegetarian from this experience, I have broadened my culinary arsenal. And with that, I leave you with my recipe for quick and easy salmon that is easily customizable to your tastes.

- Ovenproof skillet
- Salmon fillet(s)
- Salt and pepper
- Optional: whatever other dry seasonings you like

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Using a fillet knife, take the skin of the fillet.
3. Season both sides of fillet with salt, pepper, and whatever else you'd like. I like to add some dried red chili flakes.
4. Add enough EVOO (kill me) to coat your skillet and put it over high heat.
5. When the oil is nice and hot (throw a drop of water on it to test), put the fillet flat-side down and let it cook until that nice crust forms, about 3 minutes or so.
6. Turn the salmon over and throw it in the oven for about 6 minutes.
7. Wrap a towel around the skillet's handle to remove it and place the salmon over a bed of wilted greens, risotto, or hell, some white rice.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Way We Eat

Further, home-baked cakes strike a blow against the modern industrialization of children's birthday parties, in which 20 6-year-olds are dragooned to a gym, led around tumbling mats by grim-faced instructors for $45 a head, then sent home with goody bags filled with embarrassingly expensive electronic doodads.

from The Way We Eat: As Easy as... , NY Times article

Monday, March 06, 2006

Simple vegetable soup by Christine

In honor of Alex Chen's venture into the uncertain waters of preparing only non-meat dishes for the next 40 days, I will post my personal favorite recipe for vegetable soup. But on top of that, if you're in the mood for something "light" and wholesome, or perhaps it is a cold day and you're feeling a bit under the weather, then this recipe is for you.

I know vegetable soup sounds rather unexciting; do thoughts of a lame, murky minestrone or a bowl of watery broth with bits of lame, diced vegetables come to mind? Throw those thoughts away because vegetable soup is something that can be quite phenomenal. Here's how:

First off, be sure to buy fresh vegetables. They will contain the most flavor. Don't use the limp stalks of celery that have aged in your fridge or the withered bouquet of parsley that you hope to use someday. Go to the store at once and buy them new and alive.

You can use any variety of vegetables, depending on what you fancy. I am quite partial to asparagus, red onion and green beans, so I like to put them in my soup. Leeks (they look like giant scallions) are also known to be an amazing source of flavor. If you're a corn person, or an okra aficionado, then use them.

What will truly make your soup golden however, is the garlic. Mince it fine and be careful not to burn it when cooking it in the butter. The tomatoes will color your soup into a nice, vibrant red and the carrots will sweeten it a bit and take away any extra acidity in your soup.

Another key ingredient is an element of starch, be it rice, beans or potatos. These will add life to your soup, acting as a thickener. Chop or dice according to how you like the "bite" of your veggies. I recommend however, you chop them fairly small. For a basic soup, you will need:

Celery, chopped
Fresh tomatoes, chopped
Diced potatoes (or half a can of black-eyed peas)
Carrots, diced
Half an onion, cut in small bites
1 boullion cube, chicken or vegetable flavor
2-3 tablespoons tomato puree or sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon EVOO
Garlic, finely chopped
Italian or "flat-leaf" parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

In a deep saucepan, melt the butter and heat the oil. Add the garlic and let its magic mingle with the melted grease. Add the vegetables and toss. If using potatoes, cook them first for about 4 minutes before adding the rest of the vegetables, as they take longer to cook. At once, sprinkle about two teaspoons of salt and add the pepper. Adding the salt at this point is important, as it will extract the water -- the flavor, essentially -- from the vegetables. Saute for about 8-10 minutes longer. You should see the vegetables begin to swim in a shallow pool of their own juices. When this happens, add water into the saucepan. Add as much as you like, according to the amount of vegetables you've chopped. I like to use about four bowls of water to make four bowls of soup. The color of the broth should be pale and the flavor not impressive. But don't worry, there's more to do.

Turn the heat up high and allow the soup to boil. Add the chopped parsley and tomato puree. When the soup begins to boil, add the bouillion cube until fully dissolved.

It is important to cook the soup for as long as 20 to 30 minutes depending on how small you cut your vegetables. Be careful not to boil it for too long or else your beautiful vegetables will fall apart. Taste the soup as it cooks. If you think it lacks "depth," all it needs is more simmering. Allow the vegetables to marry inside the pot. Cooking in medium-low heat is what will bring forth the flavors and keep tasting. Refrain from using that awesome spice rack in your kitchen. Adding a bunch of this and a bunch of that will not help you soup, it will only hurt it. Let the beauty of the vegetables show off in this recipe. So stick to salt and pepper. No oregano and thyme and rosemary.

When you're satisfied with the seasoning and flavor of the soup and vegetables are tender, it is ready to serve. Add a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley. You can even say "bam" while doing this, but you don't have to. It will still be good. As a note, this soup will taste even better the next day.

You can jazz-up this recipe up any way you want to. Add slices of avocado on top to give it more richness, or add shitake mushrooms for a more sophisticated flair. I've seen Mario Batali make a heartier version with chunks of eggplant, leading it as a stew. The L.A. Times suggests roasting the vegetables in the oven before making a broth out of them to give it a smoky flavor. These are all ideas you can experiement with to suit your own tastes.

And that is the beauty of vegetable soup. You can be versatile with it. There are no rules! So have faith in'll be amazed.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Lenten calling, no I don't want to shout...

If you got the title, good for you. If not, shame on you.

The season of Lent is upon us and that means sacrificing something dear to you for the sake of the absolution of your sins. Crock of shit? Yeah, probably. This Lent, I decided to give up meat, not for my sins, but to delve further into the realm of non-meat dishes, including fish. I typically use vegetables as sides, never as a main dish but hopefully these 40 days will help me discover the power of the vegetable.

If any of you have great tasting veggie dishes, do share them with me.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Braise me up Before you Go-go

Braising is a method of cooking that I've recently developed quite a penchant for. It is basically just slow-cooking meat in a liquid sometimes for 1 and a half to 3, or even, 4 hours. This makes the meat incredibly tender and since it is cooked in a liquid, incredibly moist as well. Therefore, braising is best suited for tough cuts of meat: chuck roasts, short ribs, lamb shanks, etc. This also makes braising relatively inexpensive since those really tough meats are the really cheap meats at the markets. Unfortunately, the amount of time required deters many from doing it, especially those with busy schedules -- which is a shame. An alternative is crock pots which are great for this purpose if you can afford them. However, if you've got some spare time during the weekend, I highly recommend this cooking method because it produces amazingly tender, juicy, and flavorful meat. I just made some braised lamb the other night and it far exceeded my expectations.

While recipes differ, the braising method is pretty much the same. In a nutshell: brown the meat, deglaze the pot, add the meat, and simmer until done.

1. Add some oil into your braising vessel, crank up the heat.
2. Season your meat with salt and pepper. Some recipes will call for flour as well.
3. Brown the meat on all sides, in batches, if necessary. Be careful not to burn them! This step is optional but it adds more flavor in the end.
4. Reserve all but a few tablespoons of the rendered fat in the vessel.
5. Deglaze: pour the braising liquid into the vessel and take your time to scrape the brown bits off the bottom. Do not omit this step! This results in a more flavorful stock.
6. Put the meat pieces back in, bring to a boil, and then let simmer for however long the recipe calls for.

Two of my favorite recipes are:
- Dave Lieberman's braised Hoisin beer short ribs
- Epicurious's braised lamb shanks with caramelized onions and shallots

Monday, February 06, 2006

Advanced Dungeness & Dragons

The dungeness crab got its name from the town of Dungeness, Washington where it was first commercially harvested. But pragmatically speaking, who the fuck cares?

Dungeness crab (live) is typically cooked in a stock pot with salted, boiling water. You could also throw in some seasonings like sliced lemon, garlic, whatever. Just throw the critter into the boiling water but quickly whisper a prayer of forgiveness lest ye be smited straight to hell for so savagely killing one of god's creatures. Let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Afterward, you have two main options: crack it and start eating or further cook it. Regardless, you will have to peel off the shell and rip off its legs. To get the legs off, just give them a twist-pull, kind of like a titty twister. To get the shell off, put the crab in one hand, belly down. Next, work the tip of your finger in between the shell and body where its hind legs used to be. Just slowly wiggle and the shell comes off very easily. Next remove the gills and cartilage. Optionally, rinse out the crab butter (its liver). It is high in cholestrol but if you like it, then keep it.

Now, if you're a crab purist (Coral), you'll probably go with the cook and eat method. The pieces go well with some melted butter and some sourdough bread. If you want some extra oomph, you can cook it further by oven roasting it or just pan frying it. I used a recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse that turned out to be delicious. You can download it here.

The best way to eat crab is usually with your hands. There's something primally satisfying about cracking the shell in between your teeth and sucking the meat out (don't be gross). Enjoy!

Friday, February 03, 2006


Ok, so this entry really offers no culinary enrichment but Food Network viewers should appreciate this.

Rachael Ray has her own extra-virgin olive oil available for purchase on the Food Network website. Check it out here. The hilarity lies in the fact that it's marketed as Rachael Ray EVOO! Some excerpts from the description:

- Extra-virgin olive oil is a staple in Rachael's kitchen, in fact she uses it so much that she even invented her own name for it: EVOO.

- Now Rachael has found an EVOO so great that she decided to put her name on it!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Easy pasta recipe

Al dente spaghetti + good extra virgin olive oil (or evoo, as Rachel Ray likes to say) + freshly grated parmigiano reggiano + freshly cracked pepper

= love

Be sure to use good olive oil, freshly grated cheese, and freshly cracked pepper. It's amazing how much more flavor they have to offer over regular extra virgin olive oil, pregrated parmesan, and pepper from a pepper shaker.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Meanderings in Whole Foods by Luke

Ok, so with this being my first culinary writing gig blog entry thing, I’m going to try straying from Alex’s format a little. Namely, that I’ll try to be a little more informed about what I talk about which will require less retractions and corrections. Jay-kay, jay-kay. Now, with the Alex deprecation out of the way, onwards to the subject at hand. I get to talk about the so called hippie markets. What do they offer compared to the Asian markets and the supermarkets?

The markets that I’ll be talking about specifically are Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Henry’s and their like. Although I have to say that in my opinion Trader Joe’s is really a red-headed bastard step-child of Whole Foods, but in the most fantastically successful way possible. It’s really just a very varied, unique supermarket. I say this because there is no deli, seafood section, or bakery to speak of. The place has a lot of the things you can get from Albertsons or Ralph’s, but in much better quality and sometimes cheaper. They also have many frozen meals that you can’t find in the aforementioned supermarkets. It’s really its own category, and shouldn’t be in this entry anyhow, but its here, queer, and you can just fuck off for belittling it. Shame on you.

My template for this type of specialty market is Whole Foods, because it encompasses everything that supermarkets don’t have, or did and stopped because the lowest common denominator didn’t need it any more. This is the place where if you have any kind of special food need you’ll find it. Vegetarian’s will have the easiest time there because they have a huge produce section, with many veggies offered that you won’t find in supermarkets, as long as it’s the season for them. Or, if you’re an unhealthy vegetarian like some I know, you’ll also find that one non-meat item (cough cough! tofu! cough!) that constitutes your daily diet. And from what I’ve learned from the Whole Foods website, there are several types of vegetarians including Pescetarians (work your Latin skills) to Lacto, Ovo, Lacto-Ovo (Exotic!), Vegan, Raw, and to the one that I made up all by myself, the dreaded Raw Vegan! Sadly, after just writing this I found that not only is this not really made up, but there are more hard core people, these being the Vegan Raw Fruitarians. They only eat fruit, and then only if it hasn’t been cooked. And even then, only if it hasn’t been seen by any animals. God, vegetarians hate animals so much! But they’re so cute, and if you’ve seen The Simpsons episode on Adam and Eve, they gladly lay on their backs so that Man can eat of their tender underbellies. They like to be killed and eaten, People! Otherwise, God wouldn’t have made them weaker than us. Obviously.
But I digress, as will be evidenced several more times. Suffice to say that if you have a special dietary need, Whole Foods can provide for you.

Which leads to their big thing: Organics. Their produce section is mainly made up of Organic vegetables. But watch out, organic a lot of times means more expensive. So, unless you’re going for the unique vegetables or you are in fact someone who craves organic, get your vegetables at a supermarket, and the specialty ingredients at Whole Foods or their ilk. Of course, produce are not the only items that are organic. Most of the generic Whole Foods brand products will have both and organic and non-organic version. The same goes for their frozen foods I assume. On that note, I would just like to name drop the one thing that I always get there: their instant Alfredo Mac and Cheese. Delicious stuff, almost Annie’s quality, and it goes for only 89 cents! Wild! Ok, enough of that. Recap: It’s the place to go if you want organic food, but be prepared to pay more for that luxury. Otherwise, just eat your pesticides and hormones like the rest of us, ya big wuss.

Enough of the vegetables, time to get to the meat (Oh I went there) of this entry. They purport to offer a meat, poultry and seafood section that stupid Rachel Ray and Godly Alton Brown always reference in their shows: one in which the butchers and mongers actually know their shit. Now, because the prices are higher – and let me just take this time to say ALMOST EVERYTHING IN WHOLE FOODS IS GOING TO BE MORE EXPENSIVE (except for tasty Whole Foods brand Alfredo Mac and Cheese, still only 89 cents!) – I haven’t shopped for meat here, so I don’t know for sure. However, on Alton Brown’s show some of his episodes that involve learning about meat take place partly in Whole Foods Market meat sections, so at least some locations have knowledgeable butchers, and I’ll hazard a guess that they all at least know twenty times as much as any supermarket butcher. This meat is for those who can afford it or those looking to buy meat for a special occasion. And you crazy organicists (made up words are fun) will be happy because they guarantee all of their meats, poultries, and fishes to be antibiotics, hormones, and such-free. If you’re unsure about what is and isn’t in the meat or poultry, just ask the butcher. This would also be the way to get cuts of meat that you need for specific dishes. Sometimes a dish calls for a specific part of the pig or cow and the names rarely help in that area. So ask away and make those people earn their paychecks. The fish is going to be in the same category. I’ve read that they offer quite a bit of wild salmon in particular, which some people believe to be much healthier than farm-raised, because of mercury levels or some such (in reality PCBs, which were found to be 10 times more prevalent in farm-raised salmon [it’s called the internet Alex, you can look shit up and everything! {Jay-kay}]). Just as a warning then, if you’re buying salmon at any time, look to make sure its wild. Unless you like PCBs. But Captain Planet sure as hell doesn’t, and neither do the Planeteers. PCBs make Suchi cry. Do you like making monkeys cry? Then eat your wild salmon. And if you see any fat on the salmon, cut it off because PCBs are stored in fat and you can easily reduce the levels you eat this way.

So I’ve circuitously compared what makes Whole Foods and by extension specialty markets better by showing what they offer that supermarkets also offer. But wait Ron! They’re getting more! If you go within the next year or so (or any time thereafter) you’ll get things that supermarkets just don’t offer. The biggest addition is the cheese section. Whole Foods has an extensive cheese section. Here you can ask the cheese monger (I know there’s some hardcore French name for these people but for the love of God I can’t find the title. Damn you internet! You’ve failed me) what cheeses would go well with what dish or as an appetizer, and whether you’re prepared to handle the weird flavors that some cheeses possess. Just this section’s existence puts it above any supermarket, but there is also the monger, which makes it wonderful. And of course there’s organic cheese as well, I believe.

Whole Foods has a great deli and prepared foods section with tasty goodness that is almost universally better than any supermarket. Plus, some of the staff will stand around and chat with you for several minutes while a queue of harried Hillcrestians in a hurry waits impatiently while you don’t even order anything. Good times, that. From personal experience their potato salads and wood fired pizzas are excellent and by faulty logic I will say that most everything else is also tastetastic. You’ll also just find prepared items that you can’t find in the supermarkets. Cous Cous (Wacky Fact!!!: It’s a pasta and not a grain!), soy tofu chunks and much, much more.

I almost forgot the bakery. And looking over this after having already posted means I actually did forget but we'll look past that. So they make great artisanal breads, although the supermarkets are doing this as well. They're different in that they use as little yeast as possibe which is supposed to be healthier. They do use the whole starter dough thing which is cool because they use some dough from the day before to start the new batch. This leads to the dough being rediculously old in some cases, like some sourdough batches in SF which have been around for a hundred years or so. They make pastries as well and you can get them to make you a cake just like a supermarket but I have no idea whether they're good or not. I do know that the little fruit tarts you can buy are good though. So buy those. And before I sound any less knowledgeable let's move on.

For the last culinarily relevant section I’ll just say that they have a good wine section, and someone to help you find the wine you need to serve with which food. It would probably be the place to get good cooking wine as well. I’m not terribly familiar with wine and its nuances, mainly because I have better things to do (tell me my nose’s palette isn’t subtle enough, fuckers), so I can’t write too much about it. This will be the place to find unique wines, like those from the bourgeoning Australian (or so I’ve heard), local (California), and European vineyards.

Just as a side note, they also have a bunch of health stuff like organic toothpaste, homeopathic products, naturopathic products, Holistic products and herbal and dietary supplements for those looking for such things. I would only recommend going here if you know what you need having been referred by a homeopath or whoever you consider an expert because my dad says the whole foods people who work these sections don’t know shit, and my dad can beat your dad up so I’m right. Seriously though, go here if you know exactly what you want, because this stuff can lead to allergic reactions or at the very least wasting your money.

So that about wraps everything up. Supermarkets are for cheap staples that you need for everyday consumption. Get cereal, regular vegetables, hamburger meat, and milk (unless you want all those organic) from these places. If you need specific ingredients for something special or you are cooking for someone (or yourself) with specific dietary needs, then Whole Foods and any other kind of specialty market is the place to go. They’ll have a lot of the things that regular supermarkets have but at much higher quality, as well as a bevy of things that supermarkets haven’t even heard of. Just be aware of the cost difference and know you’re going to be spending quite a bit more for this quality jump and availability.

Thanks for reading through the meandering babble. Maybe I’ll learn to be succinct in the next entry. Yeah right.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Baking vs. Cooking

For me, food preparation can be dichotomized (is that even a word?) into cooking and baking. As Alton Brown put it, "Food + Heat = Cooking" and "Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking." Those are, coincidentally, the titles for two of his cookbooks. Also, being skilled at one doesn't necessarily mean skilled in the other. After all, alot of cooking schools offer two different certification routes: one for cooking and one for baking.

But to the aspiring chef hobbyist, what's the difference? Personally, I prefer cooking. From a practical point of view, one doesn't have to be as precise when measuring ingredients in cooking. If you've ever seen chefs on The Food Network shows, alot of them eyeball their ingredients when they cook. Amounts of salt are measured in imprecise pinches, pepper in cracks of a pepper mill, and seasonings in palmfuls, to just list a few.

With baking, though, the ratio of ingredients is very important. An inaccurate amount of flour can turn your cake into a ... non-cakelike thing. If you are a beginning baker, you will get to know your measuring spoons/cups very intimately as you will be seeing them very often. A chain of good measuring spoons and cups are also good to have handy. Baking is also the best way to impress your friends because baked dishes always look/taste much better than the amount of effort you put in. This is especially true of cookies, cupcakes, and brownies. They are extremely simple to make, but will definitely make you a big hit with everyone you give them to.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Making dipped chocolates, part 2

After making the ganache, it's necessary to dip them. Once again, the process itself isn't that complicated or difficult. What is difficult though, which I realized today, is getting it to look good, but more on that later...

What dipping entails is putting a thin layer of melted chocolate on one side of the ganache square (or rectangle), letting it set, cutting the big square into smaller pieces, and then finally dipping those small pieces into tempered chocolate. Tempering the chocolate is the involved part; everything else is pretty self-explanatory.

Tempering chocolate is basically melting chocolate and then cooling it to a precise temperature. This allows the chocolate, when it cools, to have that signature snap and shine to it, without any unsightly streaks. Of course, if you don't care how it looks, you could just dip the ganache pieces into melted chocolate, but where's the fun in that?

Tempering works best with a substantial amount of chocolate - about two pounds. A larger quantity stays in temper easier and it is also easier to submerge the ganache into a greater volume. I found that out the hard way when I used too little. I ended up not having enough to dip all my pieces!

The process itself involves melting about 2/3 of the chocolate in a double boiler, removing it from the heat, and adding the remaining 1/3 of the chocolate -- called the seed chocolate -- until it all reaches a certain a temperature (about 90 degrees for dark chocolate, 87 for milk/white chocolate). Of course, frequently check the temperature with your instant-read thermometer and it drops below the temperature, heat it over a gas flame for a few seconds and resume dipping.

The dipping part is simultaneously the most fun and most frustrating part of it all. Place a ganache piece on a fork (fondue forks work well) and place it in the tempered chocolate. This is where it pays to have tempered a larger volume of chocolate. Then, push it in to submerge and then take it out with the fork, scraping the bottom on the side of the bowl. Place the dipped piece on a plate or whatever lined with parchment paper and you're all done! If done properly, it should be a smooth coat without any streaks. This is indicative of a good temper.

And just like that, you've made dipped chocolates! I'm sure that you will, just like I have, find out that it really isn't all that much magic to it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Making dipped chocolates, part 1

About two months ago, my sister received a cookbook, as a birthday gift, entitled "Chocolate Obsession." One day, out of the blue, she handed it to me and told me that I could have it, saying, "It'll probably be better in your hands than mine." Not really knowing what that meant, I read the first few pages. It had some historical information on chocolate, how to select the right kind, taste it, differences between levels of cocoa, etc...and then it got hardcore. It had in-depth instructions/tips on preparing and infusing chocolate ganaches (more to come on that), tempering chocolate, rolling truffles, and molding chocolates, before any of the recipes! Who knew that making chocolate was so complicated?

So to make a long story short, I read through all the prep work and recently made chocolate ganache squares for dipping and I wish to share my experience with you as well as clarify all of the mystery that's involved in making dipped chocolates.

There are really 2 main steps in making your own chocolates. They are:
1. Preparing the ganache
"Ganache" is a French word for the emulsification of cream, butter, and chocolate. It's essentially the "filling" of a chocolate; the softness inside the crispy outside. Ganaches can be infused with a variety of different flavors. Ganache also involves a magic ingredient called invert sugar. Exactly. What the fuck? Don't ask, just buy it from a specialty candy making shop or order it online like I did. Also, an immersion blender is great for blending the cream, chocolate, and butter. It works much quicker than whisking by hand and not to mention, an immersion blender is great mult-tasker to have in your kitchen.

2. Dipping the ganache in tempered chocolate or rolling them into truffles
After you've made the ganache, allowed it to sit, and cool, the next step is to cut it up into squares and either dip them into melted chocolate (for chocolate candies) or roll them into truffles (for...truffles). If you choose the dipping route, this will require tempering chocolate which will be covered in Part 2.

For my first attempt, I decided to make Earl Grey infused ganache for dipping. So let's begin, shall we? I will try and make this as easy and painless as possible. Essentially, all that's happening is you're brewing the tea in the cream and sugar mixture. After that, you'll strain it and mix it with the melted chocolate. Next, blend, add butter, and pour it into the pan. That's all there is to it! Here's the detailed recipe which looks much more complicated than it really is.

You will need:
- A baking pan lined with plastic wrap. Square preferred, but rectangular is fine
- 1 c heavy cream
- 4 oz. invert sugar
- 1 oz. loose Earl Grey tea leaves (strained to remove fine bits)
- 9 oz. loosely chopped dark chocolate
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature (very important that it is at room temp)
- Cheesecloth
- Instant-read thermometer
- Immersion blender
- Offset spatula

1. Heat cream and invert sugar to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, add tea, cover with plastic wrap. Let steep for 15 minutes or so.
2. Over a double boiler, heat the chocolate to 115 degrees. Remove bowl from pot.
3. Strain cream through a fine-mesh sieve lined with the cheesecloth into a large measuring cup. Use a cup sieve (and a friend) for easier straining. Wring the cheesecloth to get as much liquid as you can. You'll want 10 ounces of this Earl Grey infused goodness. Add cream or discard it to get that volume. Bring cream up to 115 degrees. Microwave is fine.
4. Pour chocolate and cream into a clear vessel and blend with immersion blender. The ganache will thicken, become less shiny, and be like pudding. Add butter. Repeat.
5. Pour ganache into your lined pan and spread as evenly as possible with an offset spatula. Let it sit at room temperature for a few hours, cover it with more plastic, and throw it in the fridge.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Non-Asian markets vs. Asian markets

A big part of finding the best-priced ingredients is knowing which markets to go to for which ingredients. In my experience, markets can be divided into three main categories and each type of market is best for certain kinds of food. Informally speaking, those markets are: supermarkets, hippie markets (I use "hippie" in jest), and Asian markets. My experience lies mostly with supermarkets and Asian markets so this entry will cover those. A colleague of mine, Luke Burger, will elaborate on hippie markets in a later entry (as soon as his girlfriend lets him use the computer again. jay kay.). I am not going to take into account those who are vegetarian or vegan. Chances are, if you are a foodie, you'll eat anything, regardless of whether or not if it had legs. I am also not going to take into account the delis that various markets may have because they vary so greatly across each.

1. Supermarkets
These are your Vons, Albertsons, and Ralphs. With the exception of most Albertsons, supermarkets cater to the average consumer. They've got pretty much everything you'll ever need. They've got "decent" meat/seafood selection as well as a good produce selection. Supermarkets are best for commonly eaten meat and produce. Reiterating, supermarkets cater to the average consumer. That means that if you are looking to prepare a slab of steak for dinner, some pasta, or a basic salad, supermarkets are usually the cheapest way to go. They are also good for snacks (chips, cookies, shit like that) and for most baking needs (types of sugar, chocolate morsels, flour). Where supermarkets tend to rape you, though, is when it comes to ethnic foods/seasonings (Asian cooking oils, rice, ginger, etc.), exotic/tropical produce (mangos, star anise, bok choy, napa cabbage, etc.), seafood (all fish), and herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, etc.). Those things, although usually available, will probably cost you a small fortune. Another thing worth mentioning, the butchers and fishmongers usually only know how to grab whatever cut of meat/fish you tell them to, weight it, and wrap it. They only have a beef grinder (so no ground pork) and most fish will already be filleted.
Bottom line: for most of your typical non-Asian, non-Mexican cooking, supermarkets tend to blow Asian markets out of the water.
Never buy: Asian food/sauces/seasonings, rice, herbs, seafood.

2. Asian markets
The most well-known Asian market is, of course, 99 Ranch (or is it Ranch 99?). Mitsuwa, a Japanese market, is the other popular one. There are also several other well-known Korean and Vietnamese markets - Zion, Vinh Hung, Seafood City, and Lucky Seafood in San Diego. As you would expect, shop at these places when you are looking to prepare Asian foods. If you are looking to prepare Chinese food, 99 Ranch; Korean food, Zion; Vietnamese food, Vinh Hung. If you are looking to prepare Japanese food, however, you shouldn't always go to Mitsuwa. They've got alot of specialty Japanese ingredients, sauces, and seasonings, but alot of the time, they will rape you up the anus when it comes to pricing. The produce at Asian markets is pretty extensive. They've got most American fruits and vegetables in addition to Asian ones. They've also got every single kind of rice imaginable but of course, as to be expected, they don't carry any herbs. Where Asian markets destroy American supermarkets, though, is when it comes to meat and seafood. Chances are, any part of the cow, pig, or chicken will be for sale there. Their butchers can also do whatever you want with whatever cut of meat. They've got meat slicers, meat saws, meat grinders, and practically everything else. Thinly sliced for hot-pot or shabu shabu? No problem. Want it ground for dumplings? Easily accomplished. As for seafood, all their fish are sold whole, in addition to being sold in fillets (bone-in, usually). Their shellfish are sold in the same way. This gives you the chance to handpick the freshest seafood. Something worth mentioning is that alot of their seafood is still alive. You can choose to take home a live crab or lobster or have them kill it for you. Their fishmongers are equally talented as their butchers and can do whatever you ask them to. Another thing worth mentioning is that most employees at these markets speak a couple of languages (English, included) and alot of them aren't even Asian at all, so if you yourself aren't Asian either, fret not.
Bottom line: for Asian seasonings, sauces, seafood and special cuts of meat, go to an Asian market.
Never buy: American brands, non-Asian beers/liquor