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


A Word on Sushi

Uramaki, or "Inside-out" roll, a predominantly Western style

Everyday at work I hear this at LEAST once.... "I won't eat raw fish..." or "Eww! I'm not touching that! It's raw!" As narrow minded as this sounds to me, I can, in some very small way, understand the reluctance, but this is a myth that needs to be met head on and dispelled! The definition of sushi has NOTHING to do with raw fish. Nothing at all. That's called sashimi. While it is true there is a lot of sashimi involved in sushi, the fact is it can still be called sushi and not involve anything raw and very often doesn't. The word "sushi" comes from the Japanese words for rice (su) and vinegar (shi). All that's needed for something to be considered sushi is to involve the specially prepared rice mixed with a vinegar based dressing. That's it. Some forms are nothing more than a ball of rice and a strip of nori (seaweed tends to freak some people out too, but I'll get to that in a minute). Aside from the seaweed, most people who turn their nose up at sushi have eaten all the components involved in other things. Yet the myth and fear still remain. Let me give you a (very) quick history. Centuries ago in Southeast Asia people preserved fish in fermented rice. It was a long and laborious process sometimes taking up to 5 years, but the fish could be kept indefinitely for times when fresh was scarce. The rice was usually discarded and only the fish was eaten. Eventually this changed and the rice too was eaten, no doubt due to the pressures of imminent starvation. This practice migrated with the people and eventually found it's way to the shores of Japan, most likely via Korea. Japan, being a long and quite narrow island, had no need for the labor intensive method of preservation since anyone on the island could get fresh fish at just about anytime, thanks to the very fertile surrounding seas. However, they found the sourness of the fermented rice still desirable, so they skipped past the fermenting and started adding vinegar to the rice to get a similar (and easier) effect. It had turned into, in many ways, an early form of "fast food", and had developed into a snack food eaten with the hands on the go or in company. That said, and to dispel another myth, it was MADE to be eaten with the hands in informal settings. Chopsticks need not apply, you won't commit a Japanese "faux pas", you won't be shunned for your insolence, no samurai will come lurching from the shadows swords drawn... If your still wary of the seaweed, try a california roll, the "gateway sushi". They were, by the way, invented by a Japanese chef in (where else) California in the 50's because he found that Americans were skittish about eating the traditional rolls that had the nori on the outside. So he created the "uramaki" with the rice on the outside. This form is still rarely seen in Japan, where the nori is generally still on the outside which is easier to eat with the hands than having the sticky rice as the outer layer. There are so many other varieties of sushi beyond the familiar rolls that I'm not going to get into them here. Let me suggest the further reading links I provide or just do a Google search. There are so many people with a deep passion for the subject that information on it won't be hard to come by. So, eat the damn sushi! Most people I know that were against it and got over the the seaweed part can't get enough now. The logic my parents always used to get me to try something applies here more than in most cases, and that would be, "how do you know you don't like it if you've never tried it?" I'm most likely preaching to the choir here, but I needed to get that off my chest. It's just frustrating as a chef seeing all the myths and biases against a food style in which most people have eaten all the ingredients in another form. So, eat the damn sushi! Jack Intolerant of intolerance.... For further reading on the subject:

The Chef’s Bookshelf: Kitchen Confidential

I can't remember the last time I read anything, online or otherwise, that wasn't food related (not including news). I thought I'd share with you my most recent reading material in an installment I will update as I aquire new books called "The Chefs Bookshelf". My most recent aquisitions were VERY long overdue. Recently having plowed through Anthony Bourdains first book, "Kitchen Confidetial: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly", I've moved on to Thomas Kellers landmark offering "The French Laundry". You all know Bourdain, and you all know his unique and very non-PC delivery by now. He is a great representation of the real working chef, unlike his other TV counterparts who all seem to be PR agents for themselves. Throwing the "f" bomb around, unaffraid to tell you when something sucks (indeed, I think he feels it his duty to), unapologetic, a bit cocky, tempermental as hell. This is the what the industry does to you, hardens you, makes you just not give two flying shits about anything accept how the plate tastes and looks as it leaves the kitchen, not a business for the easily offended. In the updated "Afterword" section he writes about how cooks and chefs that he's met in the ensuing years since he first penned the tome in question have said remarkably similar things about it, the most common being along the lines of, "dude.... you wrote my life!" I fall squarely into this category. There's little in that book that I haven't done, seen, or heard about, and those (few) accounts that I haven't been eye-witness to in my own career are not unbelievable to me in the least.... If you're a fan of Bourdain, pick this up NOW! If you want a glimpse into the high stress, almost nomadic, life of a real working chef, pick this up NOW! If you want to know the industry inside secrets, the kind of things the other corporate TV puppets would never say in public, pick this up NOW! To quote the man himself: "My friend Steven will call from Florida after yet another segment showing me grimacing at the camera and warning the dining public about the dangers of brunch. "You suck, dude," he'll say. Then he'll turn up the volume on some Billy Joel or Elton John song he's got on the radio - just because he knows how much I hate that shit." There was even a short lived fictional sitcom based on the book, and bearing the same name that represents life in the restaurant world every bit as faithfully as the book. As for The French Laundry, what do I really need to say? Thomas Keller is revered, worshiped in some cases by those of us in this "biz", his every word fawned over with cultish devotion. This book does not disappoint. Each recipe spelled out in plain English and tips inserted very intuitively for the home cooks and pros alike. The book is named after his restaurant in Yountville, CA, infamously known to be one of the top restaurants in the world. (Not to sound so particular, but Bourdain himself has said of the French Laundry, "it's best restaurant in the world... period...") The large format and vibrant photos lend much to the feeling of elegance and near OCD attention to detail Keller is so known for as well as his humble approach, a refreshing rarity among chefs of that caliber. These are both essential reads for professionals, and goldmines for foodies. Well, I've blabbed enough for now. If you have anything to add please feel free to comment. I must be heading off to work now, until next I write, live well, and eat better! Jack

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

I stress, therefore I bake. There's something very comforting to me about baking.  Maybe it's the fact that I can take a handful of ingredients, throw them into a bowl, and know that in about an hour I will end up with something that, at worst, tastes okay or, at best, is toe-curlingly orgasmic.  Maybe it's a control thing.  I don't know.  I just know that I'm fairly good at it and there is a group of people who have been known to enjoy the fruits of my panic attacks on a regular basis.  I like to think that I'm only doing it because I've been commissioned by the IT department at work to make birthday cupcakes each month, but I suppose when the sh*t hits the proverbial fan, you will be most likely to find me in the kitchen covered in flour and eggs. This month's birthday boy made a request for a white cake.  My immediate response was utter annoyance that I would be asked to make something so... simple.  Boring.  Blah.  Well, if he wanted simple, I was going to give him simple. I hit up my go-to source for simple, easy recipes - Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor - and settled on Cookies & Cream Cupcakes.  It starts with a white cake mix base, and then crushed Oreos are folded in for that little bit of extra oomph.  A nice basic buttercream frosting tops it all off, along with a little bit more of the crushed Oreos. It ended up being anything but simple.  And yet, the simplicity of an Oreo cookie is something that any level of snack connoisseur can enjoy.  The cupcake is delightfully creamy and rich, which makes it the perfect companion to a tall glass of cold milk, much like the cookie that inspired it.

Hello Rogue Estaters! The FNG here!

Lavender Potato Soup

Lavender Potato Soup

I've agreed to come on as a co-conspirator and general ne'er-do-well in writing for the site and involving myself in the real world exploits of the group here. I thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce myself, and post a recipe. My name is Jack, and I'm a professional chef in the biz for over 18 years now, 13 of those spent in fine dining, and now I'm doing Sushi. Being a fellow food junkie and home brewer, Mac reached out to me to come on board as advisor/cohort/drinking buddy/like minded weirdo. Therefore, as a show of good faith (well, as "good" as I can muster, at least) I decided to post one of my favorite original soup recipes. I developed this last year when I was lord and master of the kitchen in an exclusive lounge in one of the local casinos (you pretty much have to have Bill Gates money to even get in there). It was a small plate format, the photo to the left was from that period. So, without further babbling and boring you to tears, here's the recipe! Lavender Potato Soup.  Yeild - approximately 2 gallons Ingredients: 5 pounds Peruvian Purple Potatoes 2 large Spanish (Yellow) Onions, diced 2 Leeks, cleaned and sliced half pound of your favorite bacon, chopped somewhat small 3 quarts good gelatinous stock (pale veal stock or chicken) 3 quarts heavy whipping cream half pound of butter half pound of flour 4 ounces crushed garlic 750ml bottle of good, drinkable red wine (Shiraz, Syrah, Malbec, or Merlot. Nothing too heavy) 3 bay leaves 1 ounce fresh Lavender (pull the leaves from one stem and set aside for garnish) 2 ounces White Truffle Oil (fresh is better, but due to it's expense and rarity, oil will due) Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste Procedure: Melt the butter in a saute pan and whisk in the flour. Cook for 20 minutes on medium low heat, stirring constantly and refridgerate. Lightly oil and bake the potaoes for 45 minutes at 350, start checking them at 40 minutes. When the point of a paring knife easily sinks all the way in, they're done. In the meantime, in a heavy bottomed stock pot able to hold 3 gallons start cooking the chopped bacon on medium heat. Once the bacon is nearly crisp, add the onions and leeks and cook slowly on medium low heat until very soft, do not brown. Turn heat up to high and add the garlic, Saute for 45 seconds to a minute, or until the smell of garlic is strong. Again, DO NOT BROWN! Delgaze with the red wine, add the bay leaves and reduce by three quarters. Pour the wine reduction, onions bay leaves and all, into a blender and blend until very smooth. Return to the pot, add the stock and cream, bring to a simmer. Once the potaoes are cooked, put them whole into a food mill (a.k.a. ricer) and crank them out over the pot. The food mill won't pass the skins through, just the pulp, which should (by this point) be a nice rich purple. Wisk thoroughly and steep the lavender leaves in the soup for 15-20 minutes. For a satin smooth texture pass through a fine mesh strainer (chinoise, in chef-speak). This is the point to adjust seasoning, color and consistency. If the color is too dark, add more cream or a little sour cream. If too thick add a little more stock. If too thin, I had you make a roux for the first step.... use it! And remember, when using a thickener, it will have to be brought back up to a boil, so add it gradually until you've achieved the desired thickness. Wisk in the truffle oil very last and simmer no more than 5 minutes, if at all. Ladle into your favorite bowl, sprinkle a few of those Lavender leaves over the top, and maybe a spoon full of sour cream mixed with chives, salt, pepper and a little of that left over truffle oil. Dig in! Hope you guys like this one. If you try it and something doesn't work out (I came up with this over a year ago, and I'm writing from memory) let me know, and I'll correct the recipe.

The Well Stocked Pantry: Ponzu Shoyu

Yamasa Konbu Ponzu
I cannot recall a time in my life that I didn't have at least one bottle of some kind of Soy sauce in the cupboard. I consider it one of the pantry staples that absolutely no kitchen should ever be without. In addition to it usefulness, it's inexpensive and stored properly, it can be stored for quite a while. What could be better? Last weekend I found the answer: Ponzu Shoyu. The tangy citrus of Ponzu and the rich umami of soy sauce combined into something so damn good I'm kicking myself for not having added it to my repertoire years ago. Your best bet for purchase is your local Asian or Japanese specific market for the good stuff. Kikoman also offers an american version which is more likely to appear on the shelf in most grocery stores next to the soy sauce. If you can't find it locally, don't dismay - there is plenty available online from amazon and the like. Where-ever you source your Ponzu Shoyu, I'm sure you'll agree, it deserves a permanent home in your pantry or spice rack. Got a killer sauce to share? Let me know in the comments. -///
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.