7.24.2009

"Cook" Adam gets Herbivorous

Editor’s Note: Good Friday to you, blog friends! We know we're late, so… cook Adam wrote a ton of verbage on his herbage! Enjoy!

Potatoes and onions are not terribly appetizing in their raw state... for humans.

Think back. Do you remember the first time you ever ate a potato? What about a carrot? An onion? Root vegetables and bulbs are one of the most basic elements of cuisine. Too basic, perhaps- and rarely memorable. When was the last time you ignored a filet mignon to fill up on steamed carrots? There are certain types of food that cooks love to prepare because they are delicious and easy. Seared Ahi tuna falls into this category, as does crab, bacon, strawberries and liquor. Potatoes, carrots and onions are rarely the headliners of a meal. They are familiar, comfortable, dependable, and predictable (read: rustic & homely) - but not surprising or tantalizing.

Try to see the beauty in your food!

A cook with moderate experience is often faced with the challenge of making ordinary ingredients taste new and exciting. One advantage of root vegetables and bulbs is that they are dirt cheap, abundant, and often available quite fresh from local markets. For someone who cooks in their home, using inexpensive or leftover ingredients to create a nutritious yet savory meal can be a huge coup. Also, you need something to feed your vegetarian friends (at least before their species succumbs to evolutionary pressure).

A bounty- and a blank slate.

I'll focus on taste this week, especially on seasoning effectively and tasting food while cooking. I want to highlight presentation as well, because I think I’m good at it, and because it’s the only thing you readers can experience (until they invent a way for you to taste this blog). To illustrate these concepts I'll show you the elegant supper that I created from our humble market veggies... but first you must read the following lecture.

The stage is set.

At some point in the cooking process, every dish needs to be tasted and (if needed) re-seasoned (10 points to Gryffindor if you can recite Rule #1: Season Early, Season Often). The key to doing this right is to stop, sample the dish slowly and methodically and take a mental inventory of six fundamental flavors.

Salty

Remember- sans salt we would all be living in caves, hooting apelike at mysterious obelisks. Salt is truly the gateway to all other flavors. It makes our mouths water, which helps to dissolve sugars, lipids and aromatics and transport them to every taste bud. Solid salts like rock salt, onion salt, celery salt, and sea salt are great for adding flavor and texture. Table salt can be dissolved into soups and sauces. Chicken stock, shrimp stock, and soy sauce can also be used to add salt and flavor in liquid form.

Sweet

This is a tricky one, because there's a big difference between “sweet” and “sugary.” My non-professional opinion is that if you can taste the sugar itself, you've added too much. Refined sugar is the usual suspect for sweetening food (berries, tropical fruits, beverages, and baked goods benefit from a healthy dose of white sugar). Brown sugar (in my mind) is a specialized ingredient with a more savory profile (good for barbeque sauce, sweet potatoes, bacon, sausage, ham, and in combination with cinnamon). Honey is excellent for sauces, glazes, and cheeses. Mirin is an interesting alternative in Asian cooking. Beer, wine, and liquor are good by themselves (or by yourself). When reduced, beer or wine can add sweetness and a variety of flavors to soups, stews, and S the B’s kick-ass chili. Hard alcohol and wine can be used to deglaze sauté pans, or as a base for dessert sauces. (Editor’s Note: Like Adam’s Framboise Lambic syrup… sigh.)

Bitter

Tasting bitterness is not a particularly pleasant sensation. However, I use fresh herbs and spices to add a bitter element to my dishes. My favorites include basil (with Asian cooking, tropical fruit, pasta, or bruchetta), rosemary (chicken, beef, cream sauces), cilantro (salsa, some fish dishes) and mint (the only ingredient where lamb and ice cream share territory).

Sour

Not often are cooks are heard to say, “This dish is not sour enough." They probably should. Red meat is great marinated or glazed with a sauce containing balsamic vinegar or citrus juice. Lemon and lime compliment salmon, white fish, or shellfish. Sour Patch Kids, on the other hand, do not play well with other foods.

Spicy

Black pepper is the staple in my kitchen, along with cayenne and jalapeño. Spice is more of a sensation than a flavor, and is a very individual preference. Use with caution- side effects may include watery eyes, hot flashes, intense sweating, and fire breathing at the dinner table.

Pungent/Aromatic

Before I started cooking for a living, my diet was devoid of both nutritional value and the greatest of the six flavors. An aromatic flavor is one that hits your nose harder that your tongue. Cheeses, truffles, olives, green onion (scallion), ginger, and fish sauce (yes, fermented drippings of rotten fish) come immediately to mind. Also garlic and onion for savory dishes; cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves for desserts.

Anyway. Now that the rules of the game are set, here's the play-by-play.

Thrice Cooked Fingerling Potatoes with Blue Cheese... Salty, Pungent, & Spicy

Check out that incredible purple!

Boil potatoes in lightly salted water until par-cooked (warm in the very center, but still crunchy). Chill in ice water until 10 minutes before heating and/or serving. I chose to sauté the whole spuds in butter, garlic, salt, and pepper. Then the entire sauté pan was placed under the broiler until the first evidence of burning started to appear. Large chunks of Gorgonzola cheese were added cold for a rustic presentation.

Puree of Carrot (AKA: Baby food)... Sweet

Special effects.

Trim the carrots at each end and cut to the smallest common denominator so they will cook evenly. Boil in lightly salted water. Puree two cups of carrots in blender with one tablespoon of butter, salt and white sugar to taste (sweet). This dish could have a different character entirely if sweetened with brown sugar or molasses (heavy cream and marshmallow topping optional). Pureed carrots can be plated under the protein, as a dressing, or on the side. I chose to go both directions and use the puree as an earthy base for the potatoes and as a vibrant side dish. When you have a rich color like this, you want to make the most of it.

Sautéed Walla Walla Sweet Onion... Sweet, Bitter & Pungent

Showing off the skillz, step by step. This also gives you an idea of what I'm working with- certainly no Viking range here!

Chop onion into half crescents. Add to a sauté pan with one cup water, 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Salt and sweeten with white sugar to taste. Cook the hell out of them, add more water or oil to prevent sticking and burning. When cooked thoroughly, onions lose some of their aromaticity, but they will also stop making you weepy. Sautéed onions are great when paired with grilled meat, hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads.

Long Green (Chiffonade of Green Onion)... Not particularly tasty

Proof that I kept all of my fingers.

Milford’s favorite garnish. I would advise honing your knife skills on this mostly worthless onion side product. Watch your fingers, soak the long green in ice cold water to maximize curling and serve as a cohesive bunch so that your guest can avoid actually eating it if they so choose.

Blackberries... Sweet & SOUR

Shock the Bourgeois' domestic efforts.

Such an unpretentious meal called for an equally uncomplicated dessert. Though the blackberries we picked up at the market were slightly under-ripe, I tempered this by drowning them in cream and eating them with a fresh-baked biscuit (one of the few gems in my girlfriend’s cooking repertoire).


The finished product- a savory and summery reinterpretation of "bland basics."

7.22.2009

Feeling Hot Hot Hot

Heat rises.

You learn this in grade school science, but it has very little import in your life until you're living in the upper floor apartment of an old house. Adam and I gloat about this phenomenon when we're walking around in shorts in the winter, but we pay for it in the summer when our brains are melting. Matilda drapes herself across the furniture and grumbles about how miserable she is; we crossly remind her that we would have opened the windows if it weren't for her recent rooftop escapade. We become sluggish and sullen, we spend stupid amounts of money on iced beverages and tickets to mediocre (but air-conditioned) movies, we suffer a three month lapse in productivity.

Well almost. Matilda and I cleaned off my desk this weekend, and made room for my handsome new lamp, Wilton.

I can't even believe I was lucky enough to snag one of these from Crate & Barrel Outlet!

Knocking a wist off the list? Now, that's what I call productivity.

This week might be a quiet one for Shock the Bourgeois- when not in a heat-induced stupor I'll be wrapping up the party planning for our company picnic this Saturday (yarrrr!). Never fear though- tomorrow I leave you in Adam's capable hands. Remember: we're still looking for a humorous name for his contributions!

7.17.2009

Silver Spoon

No time for proper grammar here: internet cafe closing, 80º Seattle weather demands to be enjoyed.  Just had to say,

I love these.
Pottery Barn Maxfield Flatware (expensive).

So bizarre.  Especially dying for that crown spoon.
That is all.

Until Monday, S the B signing out.

7.16.2009

"Cook" Adam gets Carnivorous.

In my last post, I hope I made it perfectly clear that I am a cook and not a Chef. As such, I know very little about the anatomy of my cuts of meat. This is exacerbated by the fact that I learned to cook in a Fish House, where the biology of the main course is quite simple. At one end of the fish is the head (not usually served). At the other end is the tail (served to those living on the wrong side the Washington/Idaho border). In between the head and tail lies what I call the “food.” With beef, pork, and poultry, the anatomy lesson becomes much more complicated. I'm not exactly sure where flank steak comes from, “flank” being a pretty non-specific term. I think it comes from somewhere near the “angus”, but don’t quote me on that.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that (from what I know), flank “steak” is actually flank “filet.” The difference is subtle but crucial if you want to improve your coefficient of food snobbery. It all depends on the orientation of the “grain” of the meat. Let me break it down. A steak is:

For a butcher - A piece of meat where the cut is made across the grain.

For a cook - A piece of meat that is seared with the grain perpendicular to the cooking surface.

For a consumer - A piece of meat served with the grain perpendicular to the surface of the dish.

For a biochemist - A sample of animal tissue excised from the specimen by severing peptide bonds rather than by separating muscle fiber from bone.

Okay, that last one was pretty gross, but you get the idea. In any case, my flank steak was cooked like a filet, then cut into small steaks and served. Enough with the jargon, this is how I actually cooked the damn thing…

I unrolled the raw “flank filet” and placed it on a cutting board (note: I recommend reserving a cutting board solely for meat and fish). I cut off the fatty pieces that Shock the Bourgeois is likely to stick up her nose at. Then I applied Rule # 1 for preparing any kind of meat: Season Early, Season Often.

In this day and age, there is one household item that is incredibly cheap considering how much it adds to quality of life. That item is salt (gasoline, alcohol and toilet paper are close behind, no pun intended). There are ancient salt mines in Austria (see Saltzburg, home of the Von Trapp family singers) that provided seasoning for nearly all of Stone Age Europe. The earliest artifacts of Celtic civilization are found at these sites, including evidence of copper smelting and rudimentary cookware. So you see, salt is the key to our whole civilization.

It amazes me how often people (professional cooks or just regular folks) under-salt their food. I know the old saying, “You can always add more, but you can’t take it away.” But seriously, nine times out of ten I find myself reaching for the salt shaker at the dinner table. Be civilized: Season Early, Season Often.

I sprinkled generous amounts of sea salt, cracked pepper, fresh rosemary, and lemon juice on both sides of my flank filet before grilling.

The next step was to prepare my comically tiny Hibachi grill. Here I made my big mistake. Flank filet is pretty thin for its overall size (for the nerds: large surface area to volume ratio). I intended to char the outside of the filet quickly while keeping the inside rare. Then I planned on slicing the filet into thin steaks, seasoning again, crusting with blue cheese and finishing the cooking process in the oven. Unfortunately, my grill was not hot enough, and by the time the meat was cooked on both sides... the middle was cooked as well.

Here I am, grilling caveman style.

I re-seasoned and tried to melt the cheese quickly, but the damage was done. The flavor was incredible, but we had to add a couple extra chews to the chew-chew-swallow routine. Learn from my mistakes!

Tasty, but a bit tough.

Lesson 1Cook with your hands, not with your eyes. There was a point in time when I should have FELT my filet overcooking, taken it off the grill and added more coals to increase the temperature. Instead, I watched it, and it looked done long after it was actually done.

Lesson 2Overcooked meat is best served cold. Most of the moisture comes from fat, and if you drop the temperature of the meat below the melting point of the fat, none of the juices will run off and be lost. In a moment of brilliance, I put half of my flank filet in the fridge immediately. Shock the Bourgeois and I enjoyed PERFECT flank steak sandwiches the next day.

Lesson 3Cut flank steaks very thin. If you look at the pictures, you will see that I hastily sliced thick dorns of flank steak (a dorn being a steak cut from a filet. I know, the BS never ends). The worst thing you can do with overcooked meat is to cut it thick. I should have performed what is known as a sashimi cut, thinly slicing the filet on a diagonal to emphasize the rare part of the meat. For a cook who prides himself on his knife skills, this was a devastating error, an error that Shock the Bourgeois pointed out immediately. Never again, I say. Don’t let this happen to you.

Definitely a feast for the eyes.

I am not a Neanderthal (but I am part Basque, which some say is close enough)- I did prepare a couple of side dishes to go with our heaps of meat. I'll talk about these next time, with an emphasis on tasting your food while cooking in order to balance fundamental flavors.

Said side dishes- carrot puree & roasted red potatoes.

Editor's Note: Sure, the steak might have been a teensy bit tough- but Adam's being way tougher on himself. Should this happen to you, I suggest thin slices and a big smile. Really, nothing puts a worse taste in your mouth than a cook talking smack about his own food (like, "shoot, should I not be enjoying this?"). Mediocre food can still make a memorable meal- just present it elegantly, host gracefully, and serve cocktails.

In our case, we enjoyed a romantic dinner for two three.
Matilda, what are you doing on the table??

Adam will be back on Thursday. In the meantime, we need to come up with a clever name for his column! Any suggestions?

7.15.2009

Stop Whining.

NOTE: Here's something you didn't know about me! I'm intensely allergic to mosquito bites! That's right, I suffer from an affliction that combines symptoms of hay fever with massive Quasimodo-esque deformities and rabid grouchiness. This time around I didn't feel so hot and looked worse, since some particularly malicious winged insect elected to bite my face. Picture me with half a jawbone transplant from Luke Wilson. Anyway. The point of this note is that I had a little trouble blogging through the quicksand of Benadryl (non-drowsy my ass), and I apparently hit "Save" instead of "Post." So this post is a bit late. Bite me.

On second thought, please don't- I'm probably allergic.

Recently, feeling lethargic and completely unmotivated, I indulged in a few hours of free movie channel. I found myself watching Reality Bites... and I found myself completely enthralled.

What started off as snarky amusement at the dated technology and fresh-faced actors turned into amazement that a film about Generation X could still be so potent for my generation. Scene after scene was achingly familiar. I watched Lelaina Pierce's idealism disintegrate into cynicism after a string of fruitless interviews, and I thought- "That was me... minus the chain-smoking!"

Adam and I have come a loooong way- it's hard to believe that just over a year ago we spent our last pennies (literally) to make a desperate pilgrimage from Spokane to Seattle. Last year we were a cook and a bookseller, emptying our bank account each month to make rent and dining finely on Top Ramen.

Today? We have good jobs. We save money with religious fanaticism. We allow for little luxuries like weekly bouquets and prosciutto for Matilda.

And for us too... yum.

And yet... we're still grappling with twenty-something angst in an economy that isn't going to do us any favors. We're facing the traditional quarter-life identity crisis x 10: because it's no longer just a matter of hunting for career in your field, it's about realizing that your field may not exist tomorrow (design mag editor). We're finding out there's no guarantee that ingenuity and 60 hours per week can get you to the middle class American Dream- but we're busting our butts anyway. Reality bites, man.

We have jobs, but we don't have careers. Our savings seems pathetic next to a heap of student loan payments. I feel a stab of guilt every time I furnish my apartment instead of my bank account.

There it is, in black and white.

Though we sacrificed the low-paying creative jobs that we loved in order to put away for the future, our efforts seem insufficient to fund even our modest goals. We're not talking fame and fortune here- I want an old house to make new, a handful of bourgeois children with matching college funds, a big dog, a car that gets me here and there, a small business with my name on it. It has occurred to me that I might have to start erasing things from this list, and that makes my stomach hurt. Are my dreams incompatible with the times- or with each other? Will I have to stifle my imagination to breathe comfortably financially? If so, what's the point?

Fiiiiine, I'm almost done!

I think that today's economy, while universally depressing, might be particularly crushing to the young creative types. So I'd love to hear from all you young creative types out there. What are you doing to ride this out?

As for Adam and I, we're going to hold onto our good jobs with a death grip, put away $1,000 every month, and pray for a visit from Publisher's Clearing House (though I suppose we'd have to enter first, eh?). And we're going to keep blogging so that our art-starved little souls don't wither away.

7.13.2009

New on the Menu...

Hi there. I'm Adam, and I have a problem with blogging.

The problem is that I've never done it before and, because of this fact, I have pretended until now that blogging is the realm of pale, unhealthy young adults with very technical educations and poor social skills. As time passes, I realize that this is exactly the kind of person I am, and since I constantly walk the path of least resistance, I now will blog. Besides, I love to talk about myself and I love to talk about food. This is exactly what Shock the Bourgeois wants from me and so... here we go.

Let's get one thing straight right away: despite what S the B may say online or in person, I am NOT a Chef. Chef is spelled with a capital C, it's a title. A Chef is someone who has formal training, pajama pants, and the know-how to butcher a large four legged mammal. I have none of these things, so I call myself a cook.

I learned to cook in a restaurant- an upscale restaurant with a small kitchen, a small staff, a large food budget, and a reputation for bold presentation of generous portions of expensive seafood. There are a few interesting things about learning to cook in a professional kitchen. First, it doesn't matter if you make a mess. Second, it doesn't matter how many utensils, mixing bowls and kitchen appliances you get dirty (the guy washing dishes will notice, but dishwashers are kind of like the untouchables of our society, plus I'm a huge guy with a knife). Lastly, you learn one task at a time, and learn to perform it for 150+ people a night. You learn how long it takes to cut melon slices for 50, how to make mashed potatoes for 100, how to plate 35 dishes at once and keep the food hot. You learn how to do all of the above plus fix one chicken alfredo (not on the menu) and something for a little kid who only eats fresh berries and goldfish crackers (consequently, you learn to hate rich spoiled childeren, vegans, and the gluten free crowd). Above all else you learn how to do things faster, how to fix mistakes, how to improvise... and how to cheat.

One evening I was sitting with Shock the Bourgeois enjoying some nice dorns of flank steak with pureed carrots and roasted red potatoes when I turned to her and said: "Shock the Bourgeois, I think we could write a book on how to fix cooking mistakes and expand the capabilities of a small apartment kitchen." She agreed, suggested I use her website to blog, and asked me to use her given name when speaking out loud amongst ourselves. I don't know how good of a teacher I will be- more often than not I will be pointing out all the things I did wrong, and how I minimized the damage (or how I SHOULD have sidestepped trouble). My style is simply to try new things and use my skills and experience to avoid disaster in the kitchen. My goal is to enjoy myself, keep all my fingers, and enjoy my food as much as possible.

I'll start with that flank steak next time.


Editor's Note: That flank steak really was delicious... and Chef Adam (c'mon "Cook Adam" just sounds wrong) will be back on Thursday with a how-to. Hope this has whetted your appetite!

Just Another Bird on the Wire...

That's right, avid Shock the Bourgeois readers...

Image courtesy of D. Keith Robinson, Flickr

And, since I am also the proud owner of a new old iPhone (you know I like to do things cheaply)...

You can expect frequent tweets. Because I AM that obnoxious iPhone owner who feels the need to flash her most prized possession like, every 5 minutes. Especially when someone is watching. Oh, hey there- I'm just checking out some sweet finds on Craig's List. On my iPhone.

I am sooooo with it.