Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The History of Taste

What you see above is an example of a great book: mixing history and food together into a great history of taste as why we eat what we eat. Not so much for the physiology of how we as humans developed a taste for something in particular, but more so how and why people cooked and ate the food they did. I finished this book, just this week with a last chapter focusing on everything from the 19th century until now.

The first chapter or so explains how humans at some point began to have the need for fats in their body, which then help the brain and nerves evolve and grow. It was suggested that the earliest form of fats, was sugar in the form of nectar or wild honey. That started it all as while humans started to evolve they needed more and more nutrients and it was discovered that cooking food made it easier to digest. I know that in the past 20-30 years, there have been a large number of experts who suggest that raw food is better for your body or that no meats or fat are better as well and while I can live with their opinions, history has showed us that humans are meant to eat meats and fats.

Around the middle of the book, it starts to look at food and eating by different cultures. For instance; the ancient Greeks believed that eating meat was obscene and was evil, so they ate mostly lentils and vegetables. The Romans and other cultures had no problem with meat and ate large amounts of it as well as other foods. In ancient China, kitchens were made with a "demon" painted on the wall or decorated somewhere in it. The demon was to represent a spirit who was cursed by eating too much food so when food is eaten and prepared in an ancient Chinese kitchen, the people must take only what they can and will eat and no more, as to not waste it as well.

With information and recipes dating back a thousand years or more, for added insight, the book explains and answers some great questions, like who invented ice cream? The Arabs invented ice cream almost a thousand years or more back. They developed a way to cool water using salt and then to freeze cream and sugar, producing the first ice creams, or to be technical, it was gellato.

It is larger than an average sized book and with about 370 pages in it, it makes for a long read, if you are busy or a good afternoon read if you have the time. Highly recommended:

 Food: The History of Taste (California Studies in Food and Culture)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bon Appetit magazine

Most of the time when I get the bon appetit magazine, it is fun to look through and that is about it. Filled with recipes involving black truffles and swordfish and articles detailing the photographer's trip to the Tuscan countryside, little is listed about what can be done with normal items. This recipe, we came across, in this month's issue is labeled as Moroccan Carrot Soup.

This soup, uses all simple ingredients, like chicken stock, carrots, fresh nutmeg, and a few others, but nothing expensive or even remotely costly. This recipe was quite easy as you place all ingredients in a pot, cook until tender and then place in a blender. The picture shows a before and here is what it looked like after it was blended and heated back up.
The soup overall was delicious as this recipe was right on track. So, I will look harder in the magazine and it is nice that they are throwing in recipes that do not involve $100 worth of ingredients as I think I spent $10 for
all of this.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What have I been doing...

The work of a father and husband is never finished but as if that wasn't enough, I do the cooking for home and to bring some food for our work. Unlike other chefs or others in the natural/organic food or holistic business, I do not own a money tree. My family and I cannot afford to do our normal daily shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joes and because of this, I feel that some people do not take my plus holistic, seriously. As for cooking, I try to do it old school style. My idea of cooking is what your grandmother did, you know, make fresh bread on Sunday and then on Friday right before it turned, make bread pudding or stuffing out of it. That is what I do. I also make desserts and other tasty things from scratch, like brownies. If you need a box of pre-made mix, to make brownies, then you need to just quit right there.

While I would love to do a 'Julie and Julia' type of thing with one of my cookbooks, doing more than one recipe for a month, like all Batali, some of the recipes use ingredients that I just don't have at my ready. On top of that, I come home from work at 6:30 so I don't have the most amount of time to do much of anything. I get away with cooking some dishes, the night before, then using the extra time, to cook some more. I don't cook on the weekends, as this is when my wife wants to get out of the house and enjoy the weather. So, while it may only take me an hour to make something, some weeks I don't even have that on the weekend.

If I had the time and the money, I'd love to work on my cooking mastery. While still having no real formal training in cooking, I know that there are 5 ways of cooking everything: boiling, bake, steam, saute' and grilling. Everything that is out there comes from one of these. Broiling, is just revers grilling and sous vide is just boiling in a bag.

If I had what I wanted, I would do true iron chef style, where I would first buy a protein, like 5 pounds of chicken breasts and then take one pound each and do a different cooking method. Chicken, chicken, let's see.... well, you could rub the chicken with panko bread crumbs and some salt and pepper and bake it in the oven, place it with some vegetables like asparagus and put it in one of those steamer bags with some rice and let it steam, chop it up and stir fry it with some broccoli and carrots, boil it with some potatoes and noodles in a large pot of water and make chicken soup or you could just slap a chicken breast on the grill and baste it with BBQ sauce.

5 methods, right there, but can I do it? Saying that I have mastered something would be truly awesome and cheap, in the sense of doing it with fruits and vegetables. But where should I start? Apples. I will start with apples and this week, I will work on apples and see what can be done with apples. I know that julie did a new recipe each day, but I am already almost 4 months in, so I need to get going.

If I do a mastery a night, and I am 90 days out, then I need to do 18 different veggies. Now what makes this unfair for this challenge, is that I do canning. Last night, I even experimented with a fruit that I only first tasted over Christmas in Beirut: cherimoya. This fruit has a soft and juicy white flesh and large dark seeds. The juice from this fruit is like that from a watermelon, as it is clear and extremely sticky. I played around with this fruit when we got some last night and it doesn't take heat too well as it browns and caramelizes the sugar inside. It does taste very sweet and tasty.

Anyways, lets see what I have to put up here tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A night with Mr. Batali part 2

After a long night of cooking, many good things were made that will provide my family some good food for the week, or at least most of it.

The first thing made was the stuffed celery, which was basically turkey, bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper and then made into meatball sized balls. Then they were stuffed into and between two pieces of celery, dredged in flour, then egg, then flour again and fried in a pan until all sides were done. Then they were all put into a pan again and had olive oil, tomatoes, parsley and garlic sprinkled on top and around and cooked, covered for 30 minutes. They were awesome like a great 3 & 1/2 star meal prepared by me.

The next one was the butternut squash pasta which required me to make my own basic pasta dough, then roll it thin in my pasta machine.

I then cut the strips into squares and dabbed a bit of stuffing into each one. The stuffing was two butternut squashes that were cooked in the oven, then mashed together with some parmigiano reggiano cheese, freshly grated nutmeg, salt, pepper and then that was it.

That was cooked in a pot of water and then placed in a pan with fresh sage leaves and butter, where they were coated with the sauce. That dish was good, considering that I think I gave The Stable a 3 or 3 & 1/2 stars for the same item, only mine tasted as good, so that is what I would give myself.

Making foods like this not only helps me learn how to cook new things, but also gives me a better idea of how food should be cooked and taste, when I go to other places.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mr. Batali is joining us for dinner all week...

Well, not really. What I meant, is that I have all of the week's worth of food for home dinner and work lunch all picked out of Mr. Batali's book:

Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home

Which is a big title on a book, but what is big about it, is the food. 327 recipes is a lot of recipes and while I admit that some of them are as simple as some lightly cooked asparagus in a citrus and lemon garlic sauce, some are also slightly more complicated like recipes asking you to make your own sausage and then your own pasta and combine the two of them together.

With some recipes like a ground beef mixture stuffed into tender cuts of celery or my personal favorite which is cut pieces of veal scallopini with a whole sage leave inside as you fold them over and then bread and fry each piece. Everything in the book, looks good, even the seafood and I don't eat seafood, that much nor like most of it that I have tasted. But, what I can do is try to add a picture on to here as to each recipe I do, from stuffed celery to butternut squash tortelini.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thank you, Norma...

This past Christmas was spent with my immediate family and my wife's family in Beirut, where her father is from. While there, I had a dessert that was so delicious that I immediately went into culinary overload attempting to deconstruct and figure out what it was made up of.

This delectable dessert was many small cookies, that were filled with pistachios and had a sweet taste to them. The little cookies surrounded a sweet and vanilla fluff. I suggested to the native family members that the cream fluff was marshmallow with a vanilla taste and they all laughed at me, saying it was made from something called "The Root of Halawa". Well, I was sure if I couldn't find this root, that I would be able to make something that came very close to looking and tasting like it. I was given the recipe by a relative and the ingredient was listed as Halawa.

After some research in some culinary books I own, last month I came to the conclusion that this root of Halawa, was none other than Marshmallow. The recipe called for buying this root whole, then soaking it in water for 12 hours after cutting it into small pieces. You then boil the water and mix it with sugar syrup. Then you whisk it all together until it is white and fluffy. The marshmallow seems to have been used first by the Egyptians in desserts and was found in marshy areas. The marshmallow root matches the description word for word and is prepared in the same way.

So, now comes the fun part as the Lebanese person that would enjoy this the most, has diabetes. Like most of my concoctions, this one will be made as close to sugar-free as possible. The flour for the cookies can likely be exchanged with a lower GL flour. I will attempt to make marshmallows for the first time and this attempt will also be following a sugar-free recipe. If I can get the marshmallow creme to work and still be light, fluffy, and tasty, I then should be able to prepare it and plate it in such a way that it may even taste and resemble this Lebanese dessert.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Back to Bravo

Like any restaurant trip, the first impression is important but sometimes a second impression is needed as well. With every chain restaurant, your experience will vary and as weird as it may sound, this is the first location for this chain in the st. louis area so I figured it would be okay to try. I went yesterday with my wife and kids and while a new dish was tried by me and while it was okay as well, we had some horrible service.

The waitress had our table and 3 others and after taking our drink order and the order for the kids because they were starving, she disappeared. She came back with food for the kids, saying something like "I'll take your order in one minute" and went back into the kitchen. She came back though, 20 minutes later. The kids were finished with their food and waiting to go and my wife and I were still waiting to give our order. The waitress finally showed up and took our order as we had to walk the little ones around to prevent them from crying because they had finished and couldn't leave.

While I was in the bathroom with my son, the waitress came back with our food. She insisted that my dish had to go in front of my seat, but in that spot was my drink and a diaper as my wife was waiting for me to come back so she could change the little one. My wife pushed the food out of the way and the waitress pushed it back, knocking into my drink and spilling Pepsi all over my wife's skirt, my littlest son's pants and the stroller. So, I come back and I see the waitress wiping down the stroller and my seat.

My order, a Chianti braised beef ravioli was good, the sauce was a bit too thick and the pasta was good. Probably a 2 & 1/2 out of 5 stars. But as far as our experience, even after the waitress spilled, she didn't take anything off of the bill or even apologize. So, I don't know what to say about Bravo; one bad experience and one good one.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A breakthrough in low calorie foods

After 9 trials and 20 pounds of sliced peaches, over one pound of sweetening agent, and over a cup of lemon juice, the first batch of real peach jam has been created by my new company. These trials were new and experimented formulas in making a sugar-free fruit jam that tasted good and still had low calories and low GL's for diabetics. Is this simple? No. A normal recipe that you may find for jam for making 6-8 jars can have as much as 5-6 cups of sugar in it. That comes to almost a cup of sugar in each jar of jam. That is a lot of calories extra; about 774 calories worth of pure sucrose. That is a lot of calories.

I finished my jam with the following information:
Serving size: 1 tablespoon
Calories: 7
Total carbohydrates: 3g
Sugars: 1

That's it!

The best part is, in an 8oz jar, there is 205 grams of finished product and that means that a whole jar has 78.4 calories!

I dare you to find a jar of jam that has less for the whole jar!

I thought my calculations were incorrect and compared it to a sugar free jam called Palamers raspberry spread. A tablespoon of their raspberry spread contained a whopping 40 calories! I thought how my numbers could be so far off and it came to me: I have 4 ingredients. Palamers has 6. Besides raspberries which are low in calories, it also had pear and grape juice. A cup of grape juice has 160 calories and a cup of pear juice has a bit much of the same. So that much extra calories are in a batch of jam from this company. Guess how many calories are in a single cup of sliced peaches? 11 calories. That is it, 11 calories!

This jam will start to make its way around and soon the trials on applebutter will begin. That's right, what about making low calorie and no sugar apple butter.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I love Schlafly's

Schlafly's Taproom is one of the hidden mini breweries in St. Louis that no one thinks about until its too late. When people think of getting a bite to eat with great food and fresh brewed beer, they still think of anywhere in St. Louis which serves But Schlafly brews their own beer. You may have seen their bottles in a store near you and what makes them even more different is that they have a restaurant where you can eat some food while enjoying their beer.

Their restaurant is inside of the same location where they brew their beer, just on the side with the restaurant. One cold day just last month in February, I stopped in for dinner and some drinks and this is what happened.

I wanted to order the beer bread which was all out and ordered the french fries instead. The fries came right out with a dipping selection of a creamy ranch style sauce and something that tasted like ketchup mixed with hot sauce, providing a nice kick to the normally tasty potatoes cooked up. Nothing too fancy and nothing too salty as it was just a simple dish and an easy 2 & 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Next came a main course dish: bangers and mash. Here you can see the mound of red skin mashed potatoes surrounded by two large brats, a tower of super crispy onion rings on top and a wonderfully delicious red onion gravy. The potatoes were wonderfully chunky and flavorful, the brats were tasty and meaty, without any bone chips or gristle, the onion rings were light, flaky, crunchy and not at all greasy and the gravy reminded me of a "brown sauce" or a reduced veal stock sauce. This dish, a good 4 out of 5 stars.

This accompanied with a nice glass of cold Irish stout beer was an awesome use of a cold weather day. So, go to Shlafly's and enjoy their food. Their location is below.

2100 Locust Street (at 21st)
St. Louis, MO 63103

Anthony Bourdain

Of all the shows that I watch on tv, there are mainly two that I cannot miss: Good Eats and No Reservations. Last night's show had Anthony Bourdain interview and ask bloggers, chefs and foodies, why they are obsessed with food and writing.

I think my excuse doesn't follow an idea of obsession, other than to help people make good decisions. I learned recently that speaking bad of a restaurant wasn't a good idea and people don't want to hear about which places to avoid but which places to attend.

I have been obsessed with food as soon as I could drive as I wanted to explore the city and move out and away from the small circle where I was only previously allowed to be. College helped me with this as then, I had my own car and could drive with friends anywhere. I moved from going to MacDonalds each day and started to go to Applebees, which had a very good variety and quality of food versus the previous fast food location. While going to college, I worked as a manager at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant and saw the workings of how a restaurant should be run, from ordering the right amounts of meat to cooking the meat properly and serving it to the customers on the line. I learned how to order meat based on previous days' guest count, I learned how to prepare the meats once from the cooler for cooking and learned how to serve them.

While in College, I went for almost 2 weeks to Ireland, for a quick tour and enjoyed myself as well as the food. It was European style and a bit like the American food I was familiar with. It was in college that I fell in love with and married a Lebanese woman and jumped right into the Mediterranean food cuisine. A few months later came my first trip to Japan and I experienced what Japanese had to offer in the way of food and also saw how girls in Harajuka really dress, not like Gwen Stefani envisions that they do.
About a year after that, with my mother-in-law opening a spa, I worked on a degree in holistic nutrition so I could help out. On my own also, I worked on a certificate in Catering, which gave me the culinary knowledge to do what I could with strange and unusual ingredients that were healthy and not used in normal cooking. About this time is when my father-in-law was diagnosed with diabetes and when he couldn't enjoy desserts and my frequent snacks which I prepared at home and brought into work, it upset me. As a chef, I don't like to just make food, but I like to make food and watch people enjoy it. I don't care if I don't even get one serving, as long as they enjoy it. But what do you do for someone who can't have sugar or high GL foods? You do math.

Math: the bane of my existence and the enemy of so many other people, was the only way I could change the recipe formula around so that it still worked when I substituted and changed things. Well, along with science...

With my holistic degree knowledge behind me, I started to look at sugar substitutes and finally found one that is perfect. I also looked at things and ways to substitute one kind of flour for another so there is less GL's. The baking and the jam making, with no sugar and low GL's is still just another obsession in making people enjoy my food in every way they can. A trip to Lebanon also showed me what items could be made with sugar, as the dessert capital of the world, they had more sweets available than anyone else and with these sweets, I came to see many sugar-free possibilities.

So, is that the only obsession? When paired with writing, it is. I love to write and while I may not be very good at it, like all skills, practice makes perfect. My stories may not be technically correct but at least I can write a small article about something, like the dangers of high fructose corn syrup. This collection of writings has become my new obsession as I try to make favorite desserts into sugar-free designs and then blog about it for everyone to read about, hoping that someone who is diabetic will see and then buy my products in the future.

On the show, Bourdain spoke with many food bloggers who had low self-esteem and write about food as when girls were not there for them, food was. I can't say that and actually say quite the opposite and in the case of food, like them, I want people to go to the best places, so I rate them and their dishes in hope that people go there. Over the two, I admit that for about a month, I was obsessed with making a sugar-free and low fat gooey butter cake, which sounds impossible. How do you take almost a pound of butter and sugar and make something that tastes as good without either one? I admit, I failed in every attempt to deconstruct all of the ingredients and then replace them back without the butter and sugar, took a couple of attempts and decided to quit for a month or so until I have better ideas. But overall, my boring time at work, in between normal working and the random photo shoots, I do try to recreate dishes I see on tv, in the movies or hear about. That is my obsession.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Five guys with no pictures

I was in the Kirkwood area, right by the hotels on Watson, and I was getting hungry. Instead of my first gut instinct of going to the Chipotle', located across from the Hancock Fabrics, I tried something new. Right up the road from that center, across the Lindbergh/Kirkwood road, from the Steak N' Shake, was a new restaurant called Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Just walking up to the restaurant, you could see that it was pristine and clean inside, much like the Jimmy John's with their clean tile walls and super bright areas. There was white tiles on the walls, from the floor to the ceiling, like a diner, with a border going across with red and white checkerboard, about half way up. The order line was bordered by bags and bags of potatoes, which they apparently use, directly. Instead of having them out front as just a show or a prop, this place uses the vegetable, unlike other prop happy diners.

In this place, you order your food, then move on, grab a bowl of peanuts, find a seat and wait for your food to be called. I ordered a little hamburger and a regular fries, Cajun style. Now, for those of you wanting to go there, you should note that the "little hamburger' is not a kid's burger or a slider; it is just a single patty on a bun. So, I order this single patty burger, with lettuce, grilled onions, tomato, pickles, hot sauce and mayo. The condiments are all free and the burger starts cooking. The french fries, are ordered in two sizes, regular and large. The cup, which looks like it could hold about 16 ounces of liquid, is enough fries to feed two people. I thought that looked a bit weak, but went along with it.

After sitting and enjoying some salted in the shell roasted peanuts, they called my number and I went up for my food. I took a large paper bag back to my seat. I could tell it was good, because there was grease spots starting to eat through the bag. When I opened the bag, I was taken back, as for what I had paid for and ordered was not in this bag. What I pulled out first, was a huge hamburger, wrapped old-school style in a simple piece of foil. It was huge, perfectly cooked and juicy and had everything I ordered on it. AND IT WAS DELICIOUS! I was half expecting the mediocre hamburgers that tend to come out of most diners, like they all do it the same as they have done since the 50's but this was entirely different. It was as filling as a giant Red Robin burger but with more tasty-ness.

As for the french fries, that shocked me the most, as out of the bag I pulled the cup filled with spicy seasoned cut fries, as they were spilling over the rim and inside of the bag, left over was at least 2-3 more handfuls of french fries. This isn't like the 2 or 3 extra french fries that you may find at the bottom of the bag from McDonald's, but this was easily about a pound of french fries, extra. You hear me? EXTRA! I love extra food and even more so, I love extra tasty food.

The burger and fries, be it separately gained a 4 1/2 stars out of 5 and 4 stars out of 5, in my book. The restaurant service was incredible nice, there was no smoking inside, everything was clean, and it was great overall, an easy 4 out of 5 in service.

If you are in the area, you have to stop by, although the food is not for those watching their weight, but for those who love food and love the taste of food. Lastly, as I said that I have no pictures, because when I normally review a restaurant, I bring a camera, but because I didn't think anything of running an errand after work and stopping off for dinner, I didn't bring my camera. But, if you still don't trust me, go there and eat for yourself.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
1500 S. Kirkwood
Sunset Hills, MO, 63127

Thursday, March 4, 2010

molecular gastronomy

Molecular gastronomy isn't a new term but it is new that you may have heard it. Originally known as the science of food and cooking, it has become a term for new science techniques applied to food. For example: while adding gelatin to foods and liquids is nothing new, it seems that using it in new ways is. In this video with Jamie Boudreau, he takes a simple liquid and adding gelatin to it, makes it a jelly-like consistency that when added to an oil, causes the item to come together and form balls or "caviar" that help make any dish new and exciting.

In this site, carrot caviar was made using a similar idea pattern but different solutions.

A hydrocolloid is the term that describes gelatin es and things like agar or pectin that can tern a liquid into a solid or a jelly-like state. So, for any of you experimentalists out there, try playing with your food.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Is it a gift or a skill?

I was first introduced to the world of cooking as being something fun when I sat in my friend Sean's living room, with a bunch of friends, to watch Iron Chef that evening. It was the first time I had ever seen the show and this was also one of Sean's great co-ed sleepover parties so there was both men and women lounging all over the room to watch. This battle was over some sort of fish and like always, the greatest of Iron Chefs was to battle: Chen Kenichi. As I sat there watching, I became enthralled at the amount of knowledge this chef had for cooking strange and unusual ingredients. Even after the episode was over and everyone was moving downstairs for more activities, I turned back to the TV, almost hearing it call out to me, like a siren's call. It called to me, wanting to seduce me and take me down, to kitchen stadium, down leagues and leagues where I drown a happy tasty death.

From that show's first burned image in my mind, I have always loved how trained chefs can take any ingredient and do something with it. I shall not comment on the fake and staged show that is Iron Chef America as they know ahead of time what the ingredient is, they make dishes that they have already made before and they only have to make one of each, unlike the old school version where they had to make everything there on the fly. I wanted to so badly become a chef, like the Iron Chefs, as one who would be given a chicken breast and come up with multiple things to do with it.

Unfortunately, I am not an Iron Chef nor can I come up and cook everything well. I am slowly learning a new appreciation for seafood and some of it, I just don't like so I don't cook it because I don't know how it will turn out or is supposed to taste. I also don't like cheeses that much as my tastes changed as I grew up and I grew out of it. I remember eating cheese, lots of cheese when I was young but then growing up, I learned a dislike for most of them.

What does make me proud is that when I hear some of the biggest chefs in the world, talk about what they do, they complain. I remember Bourdain complaining about how he can't do pastry or baking at all. I have heard other chefs, even Iron chefs say that they can't do cookies or even a simple jam. Well, one man's poison.....

I can do baking and can accomplish it quite easily. I can make batches and batches of cookies even without a recipe work fine. I am about 90% good in that if I find a random recipe, 90% of the time I can make something delicious out of it. Making jams is just as easy if not easier and to hear a large number of people and chefs exclaim at how difficult it is. That makes me feel good knowing that I can do something they cannot. It still makes me humble though because in the same way, I can't cook the foods that they can. So, while I may be able to make a jam or dessert that would best compliment a meal at Mesa Grill, I wouldn't be able to come up with any of the dishes.

So, like me, go out there and try to cook something. If you can't cook a steak properly, then move on to something else. I think everyone has some cooking skills, you just have to figure out what facet it covers.