Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chad Vader - Day Shift Manager

Really stretching the limits of "topic" here, but I found this entertainment by way of local blog design caffeinated. Enjoy. There are eight episodes in the series available on You Tube, plus some ancillary pieces (such as training videos).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Herb Gardening

This past weekend, I finally got all of the herbs that I've been buying over the past two weeks planted. I'm amazed that none of them died in the meantime. I think this pretty well does it for this year, though I may try to get some regular Oregano going.

In the ground, I have:
  • Rosemary

  • Sage

  • Greek Oregano

I'm counting on the Rosemary and Sage to make it through the winter.
In pots, I have:
  • Thyme

  • Orange Thyme

  • Sweet Basil

  • Cinnamon Basil

  • Dill

  • Tarragon

  • Flat-leaf Parley

The Dill has grown enough in the pot that it's ready to start using now. I have a few weeks on the rest, at least.

Green City Market

In my mad dash to get down to the Merchandise Mart on Friday, I passed the sign for the Green City Market. I've never been to it before and had my curiousity picqued by, of course, Top Chef, where they had to gather all of the ingredients for a challenge there.

The current season (the fourth) was filmed around October of last year, so the variety is very different of course. But if they had to execute that challenge yesterday, it would have been 15 different takes on asparagus. Sheesh. That was pretty much the only thing that anyone had yet.

There were also some cheeses, breads and meats as well, but the big thing for me was fresh herbs, which I wanted in order to finish out the garden. I also decided to look for ramp and try it myself. I didn't find that, but there was one stand that had a number of different greens. After poking around and listening in on some folks talking, I picked up a kale, spigarello and fiddle head fern. I've never had any of them, so it will be an adventure. For all, it seems the best preparation is to sautee them a bit in a garlic infused olive oil. Or steamed.

I also picked up a pretty sizable rosemary plant, which I'm hoping is big enough that the likelihood of surviving is higher, and some orange thyme, tarragon and flot leaf parsley.

I think the Evanston one may actually be larger (though I went there much later in the summer, if I recall, so that might be a function of the time of year) and has the advantage of free parking, where Green City is $9, assuming you remember to get your ticket validated. On the upside, Green City does allow you to bring your dog with you, and Tiny loves that kind of thing.

Turkey Spinach Meatloaf

I found this recipe for Turkey Spinach Meatloaf many years ago in the Houston Chronicle. Prior to this, the only time I ever had Turkey Meatloaf was when we would visit my grandmother in Abilene, Texas.

For a number of years, we went to visit her for a week every summer, to give my parents a much needed break from us. I have to say, in spite of her age and the fact that it was, well, Abilene, she did a really good job of keeping us entertained. The only serious bout of boredom I recall was during the election of Pope John Paul I as we had to stay at her place for several days on end waiting for that damned white smoke. Thank God there was a seven hour time difference, so that by the time the cardinals would pack it in for the day, we'd still have the afternoon to get out.

Back then (the mid-to-late seventies), getting ground turkey wasn't as easy, so she was dependent on the whims of the local butcher. It seems she had about a 50% to 75%success rate getting it at the time of our visits - missing out on it just enough that it was a special treat. Her recipe was essentially a poultry oriented version of the basic beef loaf. She had a great touch with the seasonings on that.

So, when I spotted this one, I jumped on it, already being primed for the concept. Of course, it's very, very different. But very tasty. The basil really comes through, which was particularly useful this week, seeing as how I had to finish up the mountains I bought from Restaurant Depot.

This batch didn't work out as well as it had in the past. The flavor is fine, but it falls apart too easily. There are two basic reasons, I think.

First, I doubled the recipe and used two square cake pans. My second loaf pan is in a box somewhere down in the basement. Second, I went the almost completely fat free route, using 99% lean ground turkey breast and egg substitute, so I think there wasn't as much binding action going on. It usually cooks a lot longer for me that it did, as the loaf pans are twice as deep, which I think may give the egg proteins more time to firm up, like a custard.

Writing this makes me think that someday, I need to try to recreate hers. I can still remember the taste, so it may be doable.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Marinara Sauce - Redux

I decided to vamp a bit on my marinara sauce. I started with the basic recipe from the Eastside Cafe and worked from there. I didn't have all of the herbs, as they were sold out of oregeno at Jewel. So, I decided to go with basil and use red wine instead of water. The results worked pretty well.

The sauce was a nice deep red, like I've been shooting for, which I ascribe almost entirely to the red wine. Also, the sauce seemed smooth enough that I decided to forgo the pureeing. Channing wasn't a huge fan of the chunky sauce, but seems to like the flavor enough to let it slide. I liked the change of pace for that, but think I ultimately prefer a smoother sauce, so I will hit it with the immersion blender myself next time.

A great discovery was Dei Fratelli canned tomatoes. These guys have no added salt, wo I have the convenience of the canned product without having to worry about the reduction, like in my last go-round.

The recipe is reprinted with the kind permission of the Eastside Cafe, because Dorsey rocks.

The fancy-pants citation: Carter, Ruth, Elaine Martin & Dorsey Barger. Inside the Eastside: Recipes from the Eastside Cafe' Menu. Austin: Eastside Cafe/Blame Books 1993. p 22. Buy it here. (It's now titled Eastside’s Inside Secrets).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Restaurant Depot

This past weekend, our friend Fuzail took me to Restaurant Depot, using his family's wholesale license (it's wholesale only).

Wow. I completely geeked out. It was overwhelming to see all of the supplies that were available.

And then the foodstuffs. There was a lot of great stuff and it opened my eyes in more practical terms to how restaurants shop. Seeing the variety to which you can buy things pre-prepped really gives some practical insight into decisions you have to make in the kitchen regarding the balances you have to strike between time. money and quality. For example, you can run the entire gamut from fresh tomatoes down to pre-made pizza sauce.

Also, that thing of giving Top Chef contestants a budget to shop with at a grocrey store? I realized (which I should have known) that it's completely about relating to the home chef - that the viewer can buy the same ingredients the contestants are using. But the prices are just a fraction of supermarket retail. Of course, you have to be cooking in bulk so that they don't go to waste.

There were these HUGE boxes of fresh herbs for, like, $5. There is no way I could ever use enough rosemary to justify the purchase, though I figured I could probably get good value out of the basil.

And, since I'm acting as a personal chef for the Dragons Bachelor Auction meal, I bought myself a chef's jacket. It's a great olive green. One thing I noticed: I wear an XXL in long sleeves, if there's no XL Tall available (i.e. usually). I certainly wanted that in this case as the jacket goes over your regular clothes. But I settled for the XL. Good thing. It's HUGE. Vanity sizing seems to have hit the cook's market, too. It looks really good, though.

I also bought a set of those translucent squirt bottles (for sauces), orchata mix, and a few things I'm forgetting at the moment. I was seriously curious about the China caps (basically large strainers used for soups) and may grab one next time.

Also, I realized that I just need to work in a kitchen for real - my curiousity is really overwhelming. Ideally, a weekend gig prepping some place. I need to make friends with some chefs and find one who would be willing to let me do that a couple of Saturdays a month or something. Of course, if I won the lottery, I'd be signing up for culinary school the next day. But in the meantime...

Friday, May 2, 2008


I've never been great at these, which I considered to be somewhat of a failure of legacy on my part. Back in the seventies, my dad saw an episode of Julia Child's show and, it not being the internet, he took meticulous notes on an episode about making omelettes. I have no idea why this caught his attention, as he otherwise didn't do much of the cooking.* I need to ask him about that.

Anyway, omelettes, specifically chili cheese omelettes became his thing. He was really good at them. He could crank them out flawlessly over a Coleman single burner camp stove, even.

I've never been great at them. More often than not, I would just have have to give up and make them into "egg scrambles" or migas (if you have tortilla chips to throw in). I've come to understand that it's a mark of how well you understand your pan and how heat works. So, there's a gap.

On top of that, we recieved an omelette pan for our wedding, from my mother, I believe. I've never been able to get it to work right - being Calphalon One, it's supposed to be non-stick, but I've always had a problem with it. Eggs stick all the time in it. I vowed that I would defeat this pan and get it to work right. Yes, I have grudges against inanimate objects.

I've also been trying to eat better, including a solid, healthy breakfast in the morning. Egg Beaters omelettes were an obvious direction. I fill these with a serving of the Morningstar Farms Sausage flavored crumbles which are amazing. Perfectly seasoned for my taste.

So, I've been trying this for a week and, by the end, I started getting pretty good. A little Pam on the pan and keeping the temperature at a medium-high seems to work pretty well. I'm practicing the flipping and am starting to get the feel for it. I had a back-slide one day, where I left the pan on the heat too long before I started and, of course, everything stuck. Big mess. But for the most part, the right direction.

* Though years later, he got to be quite handy around the kitchen.

Update: The Costco version of Egg Beaters, Egg Starts, are noticably weaker in regards to quality. Overall, they're tougher than Egg Beaters. Tolerable, but as soon as I use them up, back to the name brand.