Friday, January 31, 2014

It's Friday, People!

Loverboy sang that song "Everybody's Working For The Weekend", right?  Great song.  Gets everyone pumped up for their days off. 

Not me.  I'm "working ON the weekend", and I suspect had Loverboy changed the lyrics of their song above, it would not have become the megaparty anthem it has become.

Tonight I will be executing a 40-person Wine & Pasta dinner at the Winery.  That means Arrabbiata and Shrimp Scampi sauce for 40 people...and 40 milk chocolate Bavarian Creams.

The breakfast fuel on a day like today?  Spinach and berry smoothie and coffee with soymilk. 

Oh yeah, and a frosted cake donut.

I usually shy away from such pastries, because one donut at my age equals 5 pounds on the scale.  But, I feel today it's rather appropriate.  And I won't apologize for it, either.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It Just Goes To Show...

You say one thing.  You write it down and publish it online.  You sound like an expert.  People in Vietnam and the Czech Republic are depending on you to say the right thing

And, ultimately, you jump the gun and kind of sound like an idiot.

I did mention last night that the DOCG rating on Italian labels are a good indication of wine quality...and that for anything else, you're on your own.

Well, a trip to the liquor store tonight was in order...and quite surprising, actually.  Yes, there were several bottles of wine that featured critters on their labels, but there was a good amount that also had those special letters on them.  Hooray!

This particular bottle of wine has this on its label: IGT (Indicazione geografica tipica), which is the tier of quality just below DOC, which is just below DOCG (the top, remember?).  So, yeah, in those terms and in light of what I said last night, it would seem I was shopping for wine at my own risk.

And it just goes to show that sometimes taking a risk is a gooooooooood thing.

Pizza was on the menu tonight, so my intention at the liquor store was a Chianti...until I got distracted by the bottle above (but yes, I did also buy a Chianti).  The estate name is Tormaresca, Puglia is the region in Italy (the heel of the boot, otherwise known as Apulia), the vintage is 2008, and Neprica is the grape...or so I thought.  Neprica is actually three grapes (Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Cabernet Sauv), so this wine here is actually a blend. 

And a good-tasting, interesting, food-friendly red wine to boot.  I was impressed.  It's hard to say what "known wine" the Neprica compares to, since it's a blend, but it tasted good by itself, in addition to pairing well with the pizza.  There's a lightness to it, but it's easy to get the licorice undertones in the aroma and taste.  I'm reminded of the Nouveau we drank at Thanksgiving...except the Neprica is a little more complex...and I dig that.

A couple of stereotypes were destroyed for me today:

1.  That Puglia is the region of Italy is *only* known for cheap bulk wines. 

2.  That IGT labelings somehow indicate inferior quality.

Neprica.  Look for it.  Ask for it.  Enjoy it.

On an unrelated note, according to my stats, I have two viewers today from the United Kingdom...is it possible at all that one of those readers might be Benedict Cumberbatch?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

All I Really Know About Italian Wines Is Nothing, Really

I have had every intention of reading my Marketing textbook for class tomorrow when I was suddenly overtaken by the urge to drink a glass of wine.

Due to a gathering of culinary friends last week, much to my dismay, I found my wine cooler much depleted.  In fact, I'm down to four bottles...a bottle of Spanish Albariño obtained in España last summer (which I won't open, ever), a Malbec, a cheap dry table red from somewhere here in the state, and this:

I believe I purchased this in a weak moment for a New Year's Eve get-together for friends who enjoy Moscato.  It was never drank and ended up coming home with me - like a curse, I guess.  I'm really quite ashamed to even admit I not only purchased it, but I was so hard up for a glass of wine THAT I also opened it.  For drinking purposes.

For the record, let me state that I am not really enjoying it.  Adding a cup of sugar to a glass of Sprite would render the same flavor profile.  And I realize now that it's time to restock the wine cooler.

Which gets me thinking.  I'm past the stage of drinking swill from the local gas station.  I need to finesse myself a little in the art of wines, and start thinking about a wine dream team, of sorts.  Oh, goody.  Research.  I pull out this Larousse wine tome, which I gifted to myself at Christmas.

Of course, buying wines is an overwhelming thing.  One does not simply walk into the local liquor store and buy a wine with a cool-sounding name.  I would know, I've tried...as this post relates.  Wines run the gamut in prices and quality...it's really possible to spend a decent amount of money on a bottle of wine that reminds you of piss...while it's conversely possible to go cheap on something that tastes pretty good.  And, there's wines from ALL OVER THE WORLD, mind.  A Chianti is not a Cab Franc is not a Shiraz, right?

To begin and to keep it simple, let's use tonight's wine as a jumping-off point.

Spumante = Italian for 'sparkling' 
Sparkling Wine = redundant, sparkling carbonated

The André wine company is trying to dupe you, just so you all know.  They include 'Sparkling Wine' on the label...fine, that's so you know it's fizzy.  But, they also put 'Spumante' on the label...why?  They've already told you it's carbonated.  It's fancy, that's why!  The consumer buys a bottle of wine with the word 'Spumante' on it - it's exotic, it's elegant...they don't know it's repetitive.

Okay, to start...let's say I want an Italian white wine.  When I'm in a wine shop, in the Italian wine section, I'm looking closely at labels.  If I don't see these words Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, then I'm sort of on my own in regards to quality.  Italian (and a lot of other European) wine laws compel wine producers to put these words on the label ONLY if the wine is made in a region that is well-known for constantly good, quality wines.  Again, let it be said that good wines (and cheap ones too) can be found in areas not designated as DOCGs, but...caveat emptor, yes?

1.  If I'm set on a spumante, then I want an Asti.  The western part of Italy's "boot-top" is the home of the Piedmont region (really, really close to the Alps, too), and home of the classic Asti (no, not the Riunite Asti Spumante version of the 80s).  The Muscat grape is the primary varietal and gives the Asti a definite fruit tang (think pears, etc.).

1.2 If not an Asti, then I'll take a Prosecco.  From an area near and dear to my heart, the Veneto region in the eastern part of the top of Italy's boot.  The very important city of Verona is in the Veneto province...the city of the tragic story of the two star-cross'd lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

Author's Note: I've been sleeping on this, and I've come to the conclusion that I'd actually take the Prosecco over the Asti.  Of course, a lot rides on which one I can more readily find, and which one I can more readily afford.

2.  Departing then from the sparkling wines, I'll list here a couple of other Italian whites I'd give a shot: Soave (because I've always wanted to try it), and Greco di Tufo (because I have tried it).  The Soave is the name of the wine and the region it's from (Veneto: see Prosecco), and Greco di Tufo is the name of the region (Campania: think southwestern Italy, Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius).

I've obviously left out some great Italian whites (and I didn't even hit the reds).  This should demonstrate how little I know about wines, and how much I must learn.  But, for now, tracking down these four wines would be quite an accomplishment for me.  As soon as I procure them, then I can talk more about taste and food pairings.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reflections On A Scholarship Dinner

New look here at "Be Food".  I'm trying to take advantage of all Blogger has to offer.  Let me know what you think about my new design.

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I've mentioned the Culinary Arts scholarship dinner here, haven't I?

Once? Twice? Practically every day?

Have I?  Well!


As of last Friday, the dinner is done.  On my end (back of the house, that is), things went rather well.  However, I do have some things to ruminate on.

1.  "Liking to cook" is not really a good enough reason to enter the foodservice field.  I arrived to school yesterday at 11 am, and I did not leave until 9:30 pm.  Out of those 10.5 hours, I "cooked" for about two.  Of course, much of my prep was out of the way yesterday, but still.  I spent most of my time yesterday running around, doing this little thing, getting that little item, answering questions, making lists, talking to other chefs, etc.  Anyone who believes they will spent 100% of their kitchen time making food is hashtag delusional.

2. While I'm thinking of it, anyone who enters culinary arts and thinks they won't ever have to come face to face with customers or guests are bound for chain restaurant glory.  We are in the field of service...and serving food is just a part of that.

3.  You can never think about planning and plan about thinking enough.  Despite all our best-laid plans, our hearts skipped a beat on Friday when our instructor told us he'd added four more people to the guest list (last minute, mind). Good thing we had extras.  But, all of us could have stood to think a little more about logistics, plate presentation, etc.  There was a lot of scurrying about during food service and delivery.

In the end, we served 105 people at $85 a plate.  Eight courses, seven different wines, three different kinds of protein (chicken, pork, and beef)...I mean, this was no rinky-dinky homestyle affair.  And I'll admit, there were times I was terrified...but for most of it, I was exhilarated.  It's my calling.

And now that it's done, it's time to think about internships, developing skills, reading, and preparing for the next deep plunge.  I'll try to not to neglect you again, dear readers.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Six Days. Gone.

I'm not *that* far from the big 4-0...I need to stop squandering these days like this.  Time is like clean water - it's a precious commodity and I shouldn't let it slip through my fingers like that (erm.  bad metaphor.  that's what water does...slip through fingers).

Six days since my last post.  Just...I don't...where?  I don't know where they went.  Well, I kind of do know.

In addition to being an avid Downton Abbey viewer, I recently became addicted to Sherlock, another PBS gem.  Turns out I have a thing for British television, and Masterpiece telly at that.  It's been a mighty long time since I've become hooked on a television program, and well, I've picked a couple of decent ones, I think.

In the midst of all this fictional drama has been some of my own.  I'm in my sixth term (out of seven, mind) of culinary school, and our big "project" for the trimester is a dinner for all the major alumni, important community members, and other various brass of the community college area.  We're talking Eight Courses, All Paired With Wine, with formal speeches and scholarship-giving to the culinary students.  Now, us sixth-termers are in charge of menu planning and execution.  Naturally, we've all done nothing but breathed, slept, and studied fancy-pants menus the last few weeks. 

And as of this coming Friday, 'twill be done.  School life returns to normal, somewhat.

The second big high drama happening here regards my internship.  See, to graduate from this here program, I'm compelled to complete a six-week internship in a high-production kitchen (read: really busy restaurant, resort, school, or hotel).  And I can go anywhere I want.  So, I went big.  I applied for a Test Kitchen Intern position with America's Test Kitchen out in Boston.  I even did a phone interview, but in the end, they decided to "look for someone who was a stronger fit".  Whatever that means, yes?

I also sent probably a dozen resumés out to the coasts, to no avail.  The one thing I've learned: chefs are either really busy or they're really jerky.  Most of them never got back to me.

I also applied to the Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island, MI, and earlier last week I received an offer to intern at a restaurant there.  However, I've also applied for an intern position (and have a phone interview on Wednesday) at this place in Pennsylvania.  So, wish me luck on that.

You'll notice I'm trying not to stay in the Midwest.  You know I love it here, but food-wise, I gotta go somewhere else.

So yeah, that's what's been going on in my world.  But since I've become a Sherlock fan, I've been daydreaming about taking a job at a pub in England.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I'll Be Your Wingman

To the one reader in the United Kingdom and the one in Poland!

Good evening and thank you and this post is for you.

Disappointingly, a crockpot in the United States is also referred to as a crockpot in Britain and Poland.  It's a wicked shame, really, because I've been belaboring all these years that people in Europe have really kick-ass names for things (i.e. jumper = sweater).

And, as it turns out even further, chicken wings here in America are just still chicken wings in England and Poland.

Bloody hell and niech to szlag trafi.

Anyway.

Chicken wings + crockpot = way easy

Yeah, I know this seems like a stupid post, right?  I mean, there's not a whole lot you CAN'T put into your slow-cooker these days (same rules as a few days ago apply, readers, no shoes, no kids, no pets)...so why would chicken wings be any different?  Of course, you can put them in your crockpot.

It depends on how you want them, of course.  Slow-cooking is braising, at which you break meat and other meaty tissue down by cooking them in heated water over a long period of time.  For roasts and tough cuts of meat, braising is the way to go.  The moisture and heat and time tenderizes the meat wonderfully.  Sure you can braise Chateaubriands, filets, loin and such, but why would you?  They're already tenderlicious.

However, if I want a nice, yummy, sliceable roast beef, I do not opt for the crockpot.  I want the brown, crusty crust on a roast...and I won't get that from a braise.  I'll get meat that pulls apart very easily, and I certainly won't be able to slice it.  Now...if I'm making a French dip, then yeah, crockpot all the way.

But, back to El Pollo.  I assumed the same principle would hold true for chicken.  Chicken wing eaters (the real serious ones) seem to prefer crispy wings...a result you'll get from frying or roasting.  Not braising.  I'll braise if I'm doing shredded chicken for enchiladas or soup or whathaveyou...but not for whole little chicken wingies.  There's not much meat on those things anyway, and I don't want it disintegrating into the liquid.

Unless.  You've buy the wings that's got the skin on (the opposite of skinless).  Then, your meat-staying-on problem has been solved.  Rinse your wings, season your wings, dump your glaze or sauce over the wings, and let the crockpot go for six hours.  Magic!


I used a raspberry glaze, which is why the final result is so dark.  I think I've got to continue playing with the glaze, because strangely enough, the fruity flavor of the glaze did not really come through.  Nor did the jalapeño I added for heat as well.

And I don't mind testing these again (and again and again), because it's so wind-beneath-my-wings easy!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Glazy Days

The work hiatus is over.  The holidays are a memory.  I officially reported for my first day back to work this past Friday, and thankfully, it was a Burger night (easy for me, prep-wise), and the weather was right around 30 degrees, a comfortable temperature for grilling in a little kitchen trailer.

Next weekend is a fondue dinner and a Super Bowl appetizer demo.  And nothing says Super Bowl like chicken wings, right?  One of the demo items are Apple-Jalapeno Chicken Wings.  The chicken wings part is easy; my job is to make up the glaze.

Surprisingly, the Google only turned up a couple of easy, decent glaze recipes.  One, which I have pictures of below, involve chopped apples, brown sugar, and some other stuff, cooked down into a compote-type form.  Does this strike anyone else as weird?  Compote does not really equal glaze for me...I mean, glazes are smooth, shiny, and sexy.  Compotes are chunky, thick, and rustic.  I don't think of glazing my wings with compote.  Alas.  So, after several minutes of some serious recipe rumination...it occurred to me that making a glaze is way easier than cooking down fruit.  That's what fruit preserves already are...cooked-down fruit.

A Tale of Two Glazes
The glaze on the left was WAY easier to make...and here's how simple it is.  1/2 jar apple jelly, 1/4 cup jalapeño juice (the briny stuff from the jarred jalapeños), and 10 jalapeños, diced...heated up in a small saucepan until jelly melted.  And that's it.  The second one involved chopping up of apples, measuring of water, denuding of thyme stems, and other sundry measurements and gathering before dumping all in a saucepan to simmer on the stovetop for about 25 minutes (the liquid was nearly gone).  Because then it was really chunky, I puréed it in my processor for a couple of minutes.  The above is the final product.

The chicken wings part was simple.

Oven at 375 degrees.  Rinse 2 lbs of wings and pat them dry.  No, really, dry those suckers like your life depends on it.  Then, rub them down with some olive oil (don't be a prude about it, massage the heck out of the wings - don't worry, they like it), and season well with salt and pepper.  Place on them on a wire rack on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.  When you pull them, you're looking for crispy skin.  Brush a liberal amount of the glaze of your choice over them.  Bake them for another 15 minutes.  Glaze them again once you've pulled them from the oven.

Eat.  It's one hell of a wingding.

If your grocery store is anything like mine (better, probably), you'll have dozens of jam and jelly types to choose from.  It would be amazing fun to try this recipe with different flavors (as of this typing, I am dreaming of a blackberry-ginger-sage glaze).  You are only limited by what you CAN'T glaze (this list is very small and includes things like your shoes, pets, or children).

Glaze on!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

And Now, A Literacy Moment...

Brought to you by the sponsors of Mark Twain Literacy Consortium...because after all, "a man who chooses not to read is no better than one who can't."

First day back to school/work after ten+ days off.  Urgh.  You all know how that is, right?  Meh.

So let's talk about books today, then.  On these long breaks, I never read as much as I think I will...and I'm not sure why that is.  Well, okay, I'm fairly sure I know why, and it includes doing something in the kitchen, working on something for the Winery or school, playing those damn free 1-hour demo Hidden Object games at www.bigfishgames.com, doing logic puzzles, or watching The Walking Dead or Downton Abbey or Sherlock.

Ugh.  How did you guys do that?  Get me to confess all that, eh?

Anyway, I read:

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.  I have read at least three other books by this author, which, for me, is the only criteria needed to be placed on my Favorite Authors List.  The book seemed to fit the bill at this current point in my life - short and a quick read.  Gaiman is rather famous for his quirky, offbeat, and often dark storytelling - and Ocean delivered in that sense.  But, I dunno, it missed the mark for me.  Lots of unanswered questions about the characters, I think.  When I close a book and wonder Who the hell were those people?, that's usually a not good thing...especially if it's about one of the major characters.

Length might have been the issue here.  But, Gaiman has written other wonderful novels in as short of a space, so maybe that's not it at all.  You'll all have to read it and let me know what you think.

And currently, I'm reading:

The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien.  Okay, so I'm on my, like, sixth time reading it.  This book contains Tolkien's often fragmented notes about the history of Middle-earth.  We're talking the ancient history of Middle-earth...long before Frodo, Aragorn, or even Gandalf entered the picture.  Want to know where Sauron came from?  Who the heck the Lady Luthien is that Aragorn sings about in the movie?  How old Galadriel really is?  That before there was the One Ring, there were the Silmarils?

Yeah, I'm a nerd.  Reading this really hits home just how brilliant Tolkien really was, and as much as I love JK Rowling, she only was able to do a fraction of what Tolkien did.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Juicing Vs. Blending...Who Cares, Really? It's ALL Good, People!

There are some topics I firmly believe are worth debating:

Legalizing marijuana...yes or no?
Go to war...yes or no?
Politicians...throw them off a bridge or down a spiked pit?
Quit your job or stay?

Etc. etc. etc.  Right?

After all, some of the best solutions come from debates.  The talking about and gathering of information before a decision is made.  Sometimes, there is no debate, and foolhardy decisions and rash actions ensue, and before one knows it, Spiderman the Musical is debuting on Broadway.

But Juicing Vs. Blending?  One of those topics that don't need to be hashed out in forums, blogs, coffeehouses or on Senate floors.

Because no matter how you go about it...it's all good for you.  Okay!?

You put fruits and vegetables into a machine and process it down to a drinkable drink.  Everybody wins.  No need to discuss.

Once upon a time, when I was going through a phase, I purchased one of these:

This is a juicer.  The fruit, etc. goes in the top (whole, mostly, except for citrus) and two things happen: 1.) the fibrous pulpy stuff shoots out into the plastic bin on the left.  And 2.) the liquid dribbles down into the container at right.

And it was fun and yummy for awhile.  Then, the novelty dimmed.  Cleaning became a little easier only after lining the plastic bin with a plastic grocery sack.  The chute the fruit goes down meets a metal/mesh strainer, which was an absolute pain in the ass to clean (I don't swear much here, so for me to do so, you know it's got to be a big deal).  I stopped wanting to spend twenty minutes scrubbing the little pulp residues out of the strainer.  My mango-pear-celery drink started to lose its glamour, you know?

Also, since this machine only extracts the juice, it takes a lot of fruit/vegetable to get a decent 8 ounces.  I live in a landlocked area...fresh fruits cost a lot more than they would if I lived in Cali or similar.  Soon, I'd be spending a small fortune on produce (not that I mind, normally, but for a couple of glasses of juice? Nah.).

Hence, that was the end of juicing and the beginning of blending.  Which, frankly, appealed to me more anyway.  I *like* the skin on fruit, and I don't mind roughage or fiber in my drinks.  So, I bought this guy:

Triple-blade action Ninja Professional.  That's what I'm talking about.  I used this sucker just about every morning when I first got it.  I'd toss in a couple of handfuls of spinach or kale, celery if I had it, a peeled orange, a banana, and whatever frozen fruit I had available.

Om nom nom nom.

Then, I started noticing the blades weren't puréeing things as well as I wanted.  I was getting pieces of spinach or chunks of frozen peaches.  Meh.  The pitcher part of the device was hard to clean, and I found dried green gunk in the crevices between the black plastic outside and clear plastic inside.  Then, about two months ago, the lid started going to hell.  The Release button on the lid snapped off, and the two-piece lid would separate every time I lifted it off the pitcher.

I toyed with the idea of buying a new Ninja (a MEGA kitchen one - 1,500 watts!)...but I just couldn't stomach the spending of $200-plus...especially right at Christmas.  So, the husband put the bug in his mom's ear about my needing a new blender.  And, lo and behold, I received this for Christmas...

I'd been holding out for a Vitamix, but knew it was irrational to expect my mother-in-law to shell out upwards of $350 on her daughter-in-law.

So, the Oster it was.  I toted it home, and unpacked it shortly after Christmas (nothing like veg-fruit smoothies for breakfast to jumpstart weight loss).

Now, with my Ninja, I could honestly just throw everything in the pitcher, hit Start and sit back for a few minutes.  With the Oster, that won't work (everything just sits in the bottom of the pitcher, blending pointlessly).  So, here's what I learned...a half-cupish of water first, then greens, then blend.  The spinach or kale will purée quickly, and then I can easily add my fruits a little a time until it's the consistency I want.  I do end up adding enough water to equate four cups...then there's a two-cup serving for me and TechMeat.

Ultimately, I like blending better because I feel more full...which makes sense because I'm getting the good stuff (aka fiber).  I can't think of a better, easier way to get a slam-dunk serving of my needed fruits and leafy green vegetables.  This morning, I was out of spinach, and I used bagged kale leaves.  They worked just as well, but I added a little agave nectar, as kale is a bit more bitter.

And, again, it's ALL good for you!  And so easy.  And so versatile.  I mean, really, keep the greens, but throw anything else that you have on hand.  Keep in mind that fruits have sugar, though, so go heavier on the greens if you plan to put a whole fruit bowl in there or something.  And hey, add a half-cup of plain Greek yogurt for extra protein and lovely creaminess.

If you need a recipe, here you go.  No printable version today.

3 cups of leafy green (spinach leaves or kale)
4 oz (half-cup) of water
1 banana
1 orange, peeled (I've done pears or apples too, but those should be cored first)
1 cup frozen fruit (I've used strawberries, mixed fruit, peaches, pineapple)

Extra: Yogurt, wheat germ, granola

Blend greens and water first.  Add other fruits and blend until smooth.  Add enough water to make four cups and give one last final blend.  Give two cups to your significant other for breakfast or reserve it for your lunch.  Brew a nice cup of coffee and enjoy your two beverages while you read The Silmarillion or Thomas Keller's cookbook ad hoc or check your Internets.  Erm.  Wait.  That's me.  You read what you want while your enjoy your smoothie.

A cautionary note, though.  Don't start drinking these smoothies for every meal, thinking if one is good, three is even better.  Eat some meat, eat some whole plants, use your teeth, have a potato or something.  Let's not be manically excessive here, okay? 


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Solutions

I've never been a fan of resolutions at this time of year.  Usually, a resolution is what a person makes to "solve" an old recurring problem (this year, I really am going to quit smoking, eat better, or stop reading Nicholas Sparks novels, etc.).

And usually, a resolution is vague.  As in, I'm going to get healthy!  But, I have no real plan of action of how to do it!!

Despite my cynicism about making NY Resolutions, I do feel the need every end-of-year to come to make some kind of decisions about the year ahead - plans, goals, visions, etc.  2013 has been the year of indecision and immobility.  For me, anyway.  2014 will very likely be the year of movement...it's been looming on the horizon now for some time.

I'm not much of a planner...I never really have been.  I've just sort of let things fall into my lap...and well, things have worked out okay for me, most of the time.  Professionally speaking, that is.  But now, I've been having to do some soul-searching and purpose-of-life-looking, and man, that is tough stuff.

What do I want to be when I grow up?

That is probably what I'll spend most of 2014 trying to figure out.  And just trying to keep moving forward.  Anybody else got anything really rad planned for the new year?