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It’s not elitism, we really do eat better stuff.


Late Night Inspiration

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.
Cast iron is my weapon of choice, but this is grilled cheese, not rocket science, so whatever you have available will work just fine. Preheat your cooking vessel on medium, drop the butter in and melt it to lube the surface, then add your onions and suatee them til they start to go translucent. Scoot the onions off to the side and add your pirogi, and bread slices. distribute the cheeses evenly on top of the bread so it can melt while the bread is toasting and the pirogi and onions are cooking. Adjust your heat and scoot things around as needed to prevent burning. Carbon is not delicious. When the cheese is getting melty, put the deli slice on and warm it up on both sides. While that's happening, use your tongs to move all the onion goodness to the cheesy bread, distributing evenly. Place the deli slice on one slice and if you like horseradish, spoon a little on the deli slice to coat. After about 8 minutes you should have a good brown on both sides of the pirogi and the bread should be toasted and the contents of the bread melty and fixed in place. move the bread slices off to a plate to rest for a moment, turn the heat up a little bit and add a few tablespoons of water and cover the pirogi with a lid to allow them to steam. Once the pirogi are tender and hot, move them off to a cutting board to rest until cool enough to handle without losing your fingerprints. then put diagonal slices in them, enough to spread the pasta out and flatten the contents a little without breaking into pieces or losing all the filling all over the cutting board. Mop any remaining water out of the pan and over low heat, return the two slices of bread. Add the pirogi to the slice without the deli meat and sprinkle a little cheese on top. put the deli meat slice on top of the pirogi slice, give it a quick press to get everything fixed with that cheese, turn off the heat and cover to let it all melt together for a minute. Move the finished sandwich to a plate, slice as desired and serve. For added insurance prior to slicing, shove a couple of toothpicks or pretzel sticks through to secure the layers. I prefer pretzel coz they taste better. Serve or eat - it's a great late night / after bar snack that will cure what ails - or ales - you.  Mucho gracias to my Foodie pal Liz for the inspiration. Cook this one up and let me know how it works out in the comments. We love reader & eater participation here at The Rogue Estate - it's a full-contact cooking blog. ;) -///
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.

Home 0, Away 1

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.

Swiss triads of pork tenderloin, brined, rolled in herbs and wrapped in bacon.

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.

Swiss juice: 2009 Petite Arvine Du Valais AOC Valisiana, a steal at about $10 US.

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).

Sopa Verde con Tortilla

The deglaze.

At 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 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..."

The simmer.

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:

The puree.

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.

The Pico de Gallo.

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:

The presentation. Notice the kitchy paper bowl. Only the best for R.E.!

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! Jack

Learning to Let That Freak Flag Fly

The Joe Head cake, created for an art director at Campbell-Ewald

Sometime over the summer, I got a little ahead of myself and had an “audition” at a local, well-known bakery just to have the experience and see what happened.  I’d say it was an ambitious move on my part, because up until my recent decision to take culinary courses at OCC in Farmington, I was a self-taught baker and kind of took pride in the fact that I knew enough to have gotten a little baking business started.  However, I found out that wasn’t quite enough to work in a bakery. For one thing, I couldn’t do buttercream roses, which is a staple in traditional bakeries such as the one I found myself in that summer morning.  I’d never been asked to, I explained to the owner, who quickly showed me how to do one and then pretty much dismissed me for the day.  I went home, having learned my lesson and looked forward to my next class at OCC, which was to cover basic cake decorating skills. Oh, if only that bakery ad had been after I took this course.  After five weeks I had made not only buttercream roses, but royal icing flowers galore.  I was also happy to discover that I had actually figured out how to do some things correctly on my own, but there were still a lot of neat tricks that I learned in that brief time.  It was fun, and exciting to gain new and practical knowledge that I could apply to my business. But there were a couple of things during this course that didn’t really fly with me. The class, I soon discovered, was meant to teach traditional ideas - as in things you’d find at your typical market or corner bakery.  Stuff your mother or grandmother would fawn over, like pastel roses with trailing vines, and perhaps some delicately piped garlands.  I think it was the garlands that upset me.  They’re so…I don’t know, 1955.  For some reason, they irritated me like Steve Allen and his completely unfunny sense of humor.  I believe they make me want to punch someone. There were also some things the chef instructor commented on regarding my work that I just didn’t agree with.  Colors, she insisted, had to be on the intense side – reds the color of tacky nail polish, blues the shade of a gumball.  Yes, all appropriate on children’s cakes and the like, but not my style at all.  I complained to my commercial interior designer husband one afternoon about theses outlandish expectations, and he responded with some good advice:  Take what they teach you, and make it your own. I took his words to heart.   Once I got through the damn course with its garish greens and over-stimulated oranges, I’d use my new skills to further my designs and hopefully make myself more noticeable in the market and, ideally, successful in what I do.  And I know I ain’t gonna get rich from it, but anyone who has a creative outlet knows the joy of being in that zone and just letting what’s inside come out and have a day in the sun.  And that, I know, is something they can’t teach.

What’s in a Name?

DSCN9877Chef. 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