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It’s not elitism, we really do eat better stuff.
A silly post on facebook led to a flash of inspiration this evening that resulted in what is sure to be a hit with any after hours appetite craving carbs and cheese - all the goodness of a grilled cheese sandwich and a plate of pirogi combined! The raw material per sandwich:
- 2 large slices of rye bread
- 2 tbl butter
- 1/8 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/8 cup shredded queso cheese
- 1/4 cup pickled (or fresh) onion, diced
- 2 potato and cheese pirogi
- 1 slice polish ham (or other cured deli meat)
- Horseradish and black pepper to suit your taste.
There's nothing like a long time spent traveling to highlight the differences in the food, drink and landscape between "away" and "home". I'm back now from a three-week holiday including Germany, Switzerland and Ireland (that explains the recent rarity of wine postings). Many great meals were had, and beverages tasted. I have an observation about pairings, price, and a new mission. Observation: Germany runs on Pork.I can honestly say that the protein most readily available in stores and restaurants was pig. It was more locally sourced, more fairly priced, and available in a more diverse selection of preparations. To a slightly lesser extent, the same was true in Switzerland. The most prolific grapes in those countries, and the most abundant local wines are white varietals. There were some great pairings. While I can't say I've written off good reds with pork, I'm more likely to explore whites with sausages, pork loin, cutlets and hams. At a recent Rogue Estate Chefs' night, the French Vouvray I chose to match Jack's curry-rubbed pork loin was vindication of this approach. Price: Unfortunately, French wines are a bit expensive even in Germany and Switzerland, just as they are in the U.S. Remarkably, German and Swiss wines are VERY fairly priced in their country of origin. Many of these wines are not exported, or are overpriced by the time they reach the U.S. And I found that Australian, Chilean, Argentinian, and South African wines are aggressively priced and pursuing the global market with increasing quality. The best wines for the value on the restaurant menus I saw in Europe were all Southern hemisphere wines. I will call them "The Unders" for now. We will see a lot from them for a long while. I love most of "The Unders", including this year's hot favorite, Reserve Malbec. However, all of this made me think more about the wines of "Home". Yes, America's native wines are predominantly from California, with the rest of the West coast ramping up. But what about MY home? MY Michigan? - Where shipping costs must be a lesser factor in the final price... - Where the native grape varieties should pair better with local food traditions and ingredients... - Where every city and town should be celebrating the harvest and release of new wines with communal feasts and festivals... This leads me to my new personal mission, and hopefully to some knowledge I can share with the Rogue Estate and all of you. I am going to taste my way through Michigan, and periodically share my notes with you. My experience as I begin is that Michigan wines are overpriced by about 4-6 dollars per bottle in comparison to similar wines from California or "The Unders"--I suspect that this is largely a factor of scale. I intend to find where there are values, nice varietals and wine-craft worth pursuing further. My tastings and reviews will always be done without free samples. And I will call it like I see it (or, in this case, taste it).
here) an interview with Chef Johnny Iuzzini of Jean George in New York that reflected my thoughts on garnishes perfectly. He said; "I was actually brought up in the school of thought that put a sprig of mint on every dessert. I am not that guy anymore. I have a saying - "NFG" - which stands for two things at once: "nonfunctional garnishes" are "no fucking good." If something doesn't make sense to the dish, it won't be there..." This is a concept that I've been working with for years, so I remembered that quote well, partially because it validated the point I was already trying to make. Go shove your parsley twig randomly thrown on a fish plate unless there's actually parsley IN the dish. Garnishes need to tie in, they need to make sense, they should be used to add another dimension not just a splash of color, AND they should be meant to be eaten (who wants to chew on a plain chunk of parsley?). In this soup I use the garnish to add a brightness and spark to the dish, to bring it to life. If you need to add color, find an ingredient that has the color you're looking for that also makes sense in context. Do some research if you have to, no matter the dish there's bound to be a cultural or classically paired ingredient that will suit your needs. But.... I digress... So, without further bitching and moaning, here's my recipe for Green Tortilla Soup. For the broth: 1 large white onion, roughly chopped 4 Pablano Peppers, seeded and roughly chopped 3 pounds whole Tomatillos, roughly chopped 2 tablespoons crushed garlic 1 quart Chicken Stock 2 bottles of amber colored beer (Sam Adams is my favorite for this) Juice of 3 limes 1 tablespoon ground cumin (freshly ground seeds if possible) 1/4 cup light oil S&P to taste 3 large Grilled Chicken Breasts, 1/4 inch dice For the garnish: 1/2 pound of corn tortilla chips, lightly crushed (home made or store bought will work fine) 4 Plum or Roma Tomatoes, seeded and finely diced 1/4 cup White Onion, finely diced 2 Jalapeno Peppers, finely diced 2 tablespoons chopped Cilantro, some whole leaves reserved Juice of 1 lime S&P to taste The procedure: In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the rough chopped White Onion and Pablano. Cook slowly until very soft, then add the garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant. Deglaze with the beer and reduce by at least half. Add the Chicken Stock and Tomatillos and simmer until the Tomatillos are soft. Using a blender or immersion blender (also known as a stick blender, or burr mixer) puree to a smooth consistency. Add the Lime juice and season with S&P. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl combine all the garnish ingredients accept the corn chips and whole Cilantro leaves, effectively making a Pico de Gallo. To serve: Place some crushed Tortilla chips and diced Chicken Breast in the bottom of the serving bowls, and pour the soup over them. Garnish with 1 tablespoon of the Pico on top of each bowl and sprinkle with some of the reserved Cilantro leaves. The beauty of this recipe lies in it's simplicity and the way the ingredients come together in the final dish. As with most Mexican dishes, the key is the freshest possible ingredients prepared simply so to not mask what it is that makes them so special. Yet another concept I harp on about... Perfect ingredients need little to no preparation! Live well and eat better! JackAt a recent meeting of the Estate, being summer, I hosted a Mexican night. One of the featured dishes was a soup that I came up with last year for a hotel I was working at. It came out great, and I wanted to try to re-create it for the team. The re-creation was just as good as the original. This is a dish that utilizes the garnish as an integral part of the composition. I recently read in the book "The Flavor Bible" (my review of another book by the same authors
Chef. The word gets thrown around a lot lately. The advent of the Food Network has done much to further this phenomenon, and has even catapulted some chefs to celebrity status. Something that wasn't even thought possible just 20 years ago. There is much debate among us as to whether or not this is a good thing, but it is what it is. Most of us prefer to be sequestered away in our kitchen, far from the prying eyes of the public at large. Toiling in our secluded little universe so you can enjoy your night out, date, anniversary, -insert special occasion here-. Quite happy to not have to deal with you face to face. Toiling quite hard, in most cases, might I add. Understaffed, underpaid, overworked. This is a condition that is industry wide. We've worked very hard for the title of "chef", so it get's under my skin a little when non-professionals try to take on that moniker. In the classic French use for the word (derived from "chief", by the way), it refers specifically to the leader of a professional kitchen. Not even the other cooks in the same kitchen fit this title, only the boss. The other cooks (again, in the classic French brigade system) all have their own titles. Garde manger, saucier, patisier, ect.. Time has changed the meaning, however. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. I do think the definition could be expanded to include dedicated professionals. Those of us that consciously try to become better at what we do everyday, and have been doing it for longer than 10 years or so. Formal education, i.e. college/culinary school, doesn't always help, either. I've met more than a couple kids right outa culinary school that were nearly worthless in a restaurant kitchen. This seems to be a person to person occurrence, however. Everyone takes away something different from schooling, and some that go to culinary school only go because they think it'll be, pardon the pun, a cakewalk. The industry shakes these people off pretty quickly, however, when they get into the real world and are confronted with the stress, working conditions, hours, and the band of not-so-merry mercenaries they have to work with. Regardless, this is a title that I have worked very hard to attain. I've earned my stripes, done my time, paid my dues, and it wasn't easy. Several times I was ready to walk away from professional cooking and not look back, but this is all I know. Anyway, I could never survive the regular 9-5 Officespace world. That would end very poorly, to say the least... In my mind (and this might just be me, but I doubt it) "chef" is a title that is earned through hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, tears, and countless burns. I get shivers, and somewhat agitated, when I hear someone say they are a chef that doesn't even work in a kitchen. It also makes me want to slap the piss out of someone that calls them self a chef and follows it with "I work at Red Lobster". You're not a chef, dude, your a cook.... and there's nothing wrong with that! Just accept it! You're a cook! Don't try to make yourself feel better by pasting a title on yourself that you didn't earn. I find it demeaning to my efforts and hard work when the word chef is thrown around lightly. I don't go around calling myself a doctor just because I have a decent knowledge of human anatomy, and you're not a chef! I HAVE encountered a few that I let slide on this issue, however. The rest of the guys here at R.E. for instance. Currently there are only two of us that cook professionally. The others get a pass, and not just because I can tolerate being in the same room with them for longer than 10 minutes, but because they are very dedicated and have great intuition regarding food and drink. My knee-jerk reaction is still to cringe when I hear it, though. So, maybe the term could stand to be re-defined, but it's still gonna be a touchy subject with me. Then again, there are a lot of those... Jack