Thursday, December 6, 2007

Good Taste or Taste Good; "Trust the Force, Luke."

Fashion, cooking and Star Wars.

"Good God in Heaven, chef, what in Blazes ties these three together?!"
Since cinn-a-bon hairdo's of Princess Leiah never caught on and food was never a part of the screenplay, well, we are doing some stretching here.
It starts with a story, like all good food recipes do...

A friend* of mine fancies himself a gourmand. He reads voraciously on the latest food and wine trends, has the income to purchase top of the line products and gadgets, lives in a trendy, loft-drenched area, still, to his credit shares generously.

My friend drops names; not of people but of brands. Kobe, Salume, Parm-Reggiano and free-range chicken pass his lips like like an IPA passes mine. I shop for available products at a good price, then combine them into something greater than just the sum of the parts. My friend will only shop where things cost more, insisting that quality follows price.

He shakes his head at me and I laugh at him.

He could plop $100 of cheese on a tray, slide out some organic, multi-grain crackers milled by a cloister of Basque virgins and slice a few Honeycrisp apples to impress a group. All this while sipping half a glass of bracing New Zealand sauvignon blanc the entire evening. People will smile and make vapid conversation.

Yours truly, on the other hand, would make a risotto with $20 of cheese, start 'em with wine and garlic asparagus in the kitchen as we hang out, and throw in a mixed green salad with a simple balsamic vinaigrette from ingredients found on my refrigerator door. We would probably use some questionable language, hug and kiss alot, laugh like hell and have a recycling pile going before we hit the dining room table!

I have actually heard my friend tell people of his amazing taste and impeccable palate, how he can sense 'bretanomyceces' in a room, even before a cork is pulled from a bottle!
He abors 'score whores' except when he is one of them, touting his latest futures purchase based on the advance copy of the online edition of Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate or Whatever-Vine publication.

Yeah, that's what I said, "Shock and Awe."

Therefore, my advise to every person with whom I speak regarding food and beverage is this: Trust your palate.

Only you are going to experience the sensation of taste in your mouth. If it tastes good to you, then it's good! So what if it came from Safeway, Albertson's or your local grocer. Who cares if you purchased the inexpensive shoulder cut, as long as you slow-cooked it and the texture became as succulent as beef cheeks!?

Truth be told, you can attempt to purchase good taste or you can work towards making things taste good.
Trust your own sense of taste while striving to make your palate a better judge of taste.
Listen to your culinary guardian angel, perched on your apron collar who speaks to you just as Obi-wan-kanobi whispered to an aspiring young Jedi, "Trust the Force, Luke."

*(may be one person or an amalgam of personalities. Let's just call it a literary device.)

OK, let's get cookin'...
Baked Salmon with Hazelnut Crust
(serves 4 peeps)
I love this preparation because people think you've gone to Hell an' back...
1/2 cup Hazelnuts, toasted and ground, Willamette valley
1 Cup bread crumbs, seasoned
sprinkle kosher salt and ground black pepper
5 oz. salmon filet, make 4 of these (that's one per person...)
2 Tbls Blackberry jam (marionberry in Oregon)
4 oz. vegetable stock, Pacific Foods (in Oregon)
1 stick salted butter, cut into 8 cubes, still hard!
Pre-heat your oven to 4-bills (400).
Take your bread crumbs and ground hazelnuts to the food processor for a little "get acquainted" session. Let 'er rip! Don't get too crazy; we want crumbs not hazelnut butter.
Place in a mixing bowl when finished.
Spray each filet with aerosol oil (PAM) and toss with the crumb mixture. Toss, toss, toss.
Now, with the delicacy of a nun on May-Day, place the filets on a cookie sheet and launch into the 400 degree oven.
God, this is such a no-brainer...!
Grab a 2 qt. sauce pot and add the jam and stock to it. Place on medium heat. Once it has come to a boil and all is incorporated (looks the same), begin to whisk in your cubes of butter on low-medium heat.
When all are 'incorporated', and look like creamy-style purple stuff, you are done!
Remove salmon when the flesh feels like the skin between your thumb and index finger pushed together (taught, the protein is set, not squishy...)
Moral of the Story: Trust your palate! You are your own best judge.
...and remember:
"The Best Things in Life Aren't Things."
Take care, Merry Christmas and God bless, Brian.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wing Tips or Turkey Tales...

When I give table manners classes to children, the first question I ask is if anyone gets together for a big feast on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Invariably, a hand from each member of the group of 8-12 year olds shoots into the air.
"Why, " I ask, "are these such special days for our families?" The responses are as varied as they are honest.

"I love the gravy and mashed potatoes..."
"My grandparents always come over..."
"The house smells so good ALL DAY LONG!
"We always laugh and hug alot..."

Wow, from the mouths of babes. I never hear about gifts or vacations, money or clothes. Children remember EXPERIENCES and tell us all the time what it is that's important and memorable to them. They recall the feel of the tablecloth mom unfolds for special occasions, drinking from a glass with a stem that has sparkling cider bubbling away and writing their names on steamy kitchen windows.

As adults, we recant stories with friends at work about Holiday gatherings of years gone by. We reminisce how the memory of an aroma brings us instantly to a precise moment in an exact location. I can smell the sage scented steam eminating from the overdone bird at my grandmother's house sitting in a pan on the luxurious electric range top. My mom is at a burner loosening stubborn bits from the bottom of the roasting pan with a slotted spoon and half a bottle of dry Vermouth. This was the humble beginning of a gravy that you could put on a chunck of bread and make a meal. On the table, I looked at it as Liquid Gold in the gravy boat. There was more intense, concentrated flavor in that piece of porcelain than on the rest of the table combined. Not a slight on the meal, this is just fact.

We recall with crystal clear specificity those feasts that really helped to define who we are as parents and families. The Love that enveloped us as children, just like the permeating aroma of roast turkey on Thanksgiving, needs to be shared and passed on to our next generation. The preparation of food, dining together and the service to one another provide us with that monumental opportunity.
So, let's get cookin'...

With the proximity of Thanksgiving, I begin to get lots of calls for a quick tip or two. So, this week I will endeavor to throw out some common sense pointers on elevating your Thanksgiving game in the kitchen.

Fresh Cranberry Relish

This is as easy as making a milk shake in the Cuisineart.
Take a 1lb. bag of fresh cranberries, place them in the CuisineArt and add,
Juice and zest (the pithless peel) of oh, I dunno...8 Mandarins or Clementines (little bitty oranges), add
1 cup of sugar for may like it a bit sweeter, who,
Blast Away!

The sugar dissolves in the juice, the juice keeps the color bright red AND you have a WONDERFULLY fresh tasting relish for the table that doesn't have the Rings of Saturn etched in the sides (like the canned, demi-cylinder we saw in our childhood).

Sweet Potatoes

Now, this is so easy and the flavors are clean and unmuddled. My kids like these potatoes at breakfast, but, we save them for special occasions.

Take 5 lbs of Sweet Potatoes (not Yams, there is a difference) and peel them. Cut them into thumbnail-sized cubes ('guy' thumbnail sized, not 'LaQui'isha' size nails from down at the bo'teek) and push them into a pot of boiling water. We want to barely cook them; till they are just fork tender and NOT sluffing off into the water.

In a small sauce pot, place two sticks of salted butter and bring them to a boil. Look and listen, here. We want to boil the water out of the butter and get those remaing milk solids to get 'toffee scented' by browning. When you smell the toffee and see the browning, throw in a handful for freshly chopped sage and listen to it go "Whoosh!" as it releases water into the browned butter and infuses the liquid. Remove from heat.

Get a large saute' pan (12 inches or two-10 inch) nice and hot. Add enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pan and add sweet potatoes to be a thickness of two deep in the pan. Let them get brown and crispy one on side before giving them a shake. Once done, remove to a waiting metal bowl and keep warm till all the potatoes are saute'd. At that point, toss them with Romano Pecorino cheese (the real Eye-talian kind!) and the browned butter.
You will think you have died and gone to Heaven! (I am told this is served at the Pearly Gates; St. Peter likes the play on saltiness (fisherman!), sweet and savory.

That's it for now. I hope these tips are put into use and we are all successful on Thursday.

Remember, "Food, Faith, Family and Friends; the Best things in Life aren't things."
Take care and God bless, Chef BQ.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cooking with Your Eyes Closed...

Wow...thanks to my fourteen year old son, I can now write in a much more user friendly format. Thanks Patchy!

My mission with this blog is to encourage more people to cook and dine together as friends, family and neighbors.

When we endeavor to do this, we will in some small way make our homes, neighborhoods and cities better places. And isn't that our goal in Life, to leave this place in better shape as having "run the race" and been responsible stewards? Not only can we build for a cultural future, we can have one heckuva great time getting there!
Sure, we could get all warm and fuzzy watching 'Grease' from under a quilt with a bowl of popcorn,but, nothing beats the blissful beating of a heart warmed by a Black Bean soup with Andouille Sausage.
What can compare to the euphoria found with a slice of freshly baked bread slathered with homemade Apricot Jam?
How do we put a price on that jar of homemade pickles you made with your son and then decided who could be worthy recipients of such gifts?

Cooking for others makes YOUR body, YOUR heart feel good. I've always felt is some way 'guilty' for deriving such satisfaction, such blissfilled peace in my cooking. Yeah, they get to eat but, I get to COOK! Perhaps it is the pleasure of providing service to someone, a loved one. We could buy clothes for each other and feel just as rewarded, right? We could give them a check for $500 and dial-in the exact soul gratifying feeling of love, right?
Can't we just take them out to a fancy, expensive restaurant, eat and drink to our appetites content, tip the server extravagently and whisk away without the dishpan hands?

Nope. Nuh-uh. Nahhhh...

Nothing comes close to the feeling of completeness to be found cooking for someone, a guest, a loved one.

"But Chef, why the hell should I go to the trouble of sourcing food, schlepping it home, getting the kitchen all hot and make a mess only to have people eat as fast as humanly possible and leave?!"

Excellent question and the answer is as easy as pulling a cork: Because cooking and dining together are cornerstones of every culture, every race on every continent and have been so since man first crawled out of the muck.

Cooking is more important than:

--any movie to be seen or any episode of 'Grey's Anatomy' (Ugly Betty is close, very close).

--fleeting, adolescent sports fame

--the latest auto fascination

--your next fantasy kitchen remodel.

The time taken by one to carefully prepare a dish, either simple or complex, is an outward sign of affection, respect and selflessness. And dang, doesn't THAT feel good?!

A first recipe to be prepared on the Chef BQ Blog is so easy, you'll be cooking with your eyes closed! Honest!
OK, OK, I'm sure you all have some doubts about skill level and that kinda thing. I'm here to tell you, everyone can do this AND everyone will succeed. Guarenteed.

Awright, here goes...first a couple of interview questions; just to see if you think you can do this. Can you:
1) turn an oven to the 275 degree mark
2) shake seasonings from a little glass dispenser onto a piece of meat 6 inches away?
3) safely deploy oven mitts (hint: they're easier than gloves).
4) chew your food with your mouth closed?

If you've answered all of the above in the affirmative, welcome to the kitchen. If not, well...get out the Etch-a-Sketch and wear a helmet the rest of your life.

Slow-cooked Beef Short Ribs with Chinese 5-Spice

5 lbs. Beef Short ribs.
2 Onions, medium, sliced
3 celery ribs, cut on bias
3 carrots, medium, cut on bias
10 cloves, garlic
1 ginger knob, thumb-sized, sliced
1 qt. chicken stock, Pacific Foods
1 lb. fingerling potatoes, whole
1 1/2T Chinese 5 Spice (most large grocery chains carry it).
1T Kosher salt (chef's choice)

Brown the beef ribs in a skillet or saute' pan with enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. We want to get a little crispiness on the meat. If it' smoking it's too hot, if you don't hear a sizzle when you gently place the meat in the oil, then it's too cold. Medium heat ought to do 'er. Used to tell the cooks, "If you ain't hearin' it, you ain't searin' it!"
As the meat is searing, line the bottom of a covered roasting pan with the sliced and diced veggies, ginger and 5 Spice. Place your Fingerlings (cut to fork-size pieces) over the veggies and finish with the gorgeously browned short ribs. Pour the quart of Chix Stock over the meat, pop it with your kosher salt, place the lid on the pan, give it a goodnight kiss and into the preheated (275) oven she goes.
In at 10 p.m., out at 6 a.m.
You will arise to the aroma of a house that smells like a home: garlic, ginger, braised beef...Yay-yus!!!

When you take the pan out, use a slotted spoon to remove all the meat, potatoes and any vegetables that are still hanging out. Place them on a cookie sheet to cool, then refrigerate till dinner. Use ziploc bags if you like. The broth is wonderful and can be placed in a bowl in the fridge. Once it cools, skim the fat off the top and reheat the liquid for a light snack with noodles, fresh greens or use it as the base for your Short Ribs as dinner. Serve up in a nice, big bowl.

Whatever you do, DON'T eat alone. That would be a tragedy.
Call someone to join you or gather the family.
And remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends; the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"

God bless, Chef BQ.