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Pommes Puree, Just a Little Bit Better

November 29, 2010 2 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

For MLF’s family Thanksgiving feast, I volunteered to make the mashed potatoes, since pommes puree is one of the recipes in the Les Halles Cookbook.

Just as you promised, they were indeed “just a little bit better’ – no doubt because of on of the great alchemical secrets of your method of French Cooking – copious amounts of cream and butter. When my inevitable coronary occurs, and my doctor asks if I’ve made any changes in diet or activity lately, I’m just going to refer him to this blog.

The buffet, groaning with food. The potatoes, groaning with lard!

By the by, chef, I’m reading “Medium Raw”. It’s a vastly different book than “Kitchen Confidential”. In KC, you were telling your story, but this one feels like you’re justifying your success as a media figure…plus settling the hash of a few jerks worthy of your poison pen. But hey, Tony – can I call you Tony? You don’t need to justify anything. You got where you are because you tell a good story, you’re snarky as hell, but you’re honest. Just do that, Chef. We like it. You don’t have to support an empire like Emeril or Bobby Flay or whatever – tell the truth and make it as funny as much as it stings, and you’ve got your audience. At least, that’s my opinion.

So your Just a Bit Better Pommes Puree are dead simple. I got my meez ready – one of the invaluable lessons I’ve picked up from your book – and set about crafting a potato dish to make the gods weep.

Boss, the meez! The meez is here, Boss!

These are actually Washington potatoes, by the way. But they’re definitely Idaho-style, and worked perfectly both for the mash and the fries. As instructed I put them in cold water cut in half lengthwise, and brought it to a boil (skins on) and left it to boil for fifteen minutes.

It's hard to make a picture of potatoes sexy.

After that, it’s just a matter of slipping the skins off while boiling some cream and butter together – then mashing ’em up and smooshing in the butter and cream. I seasoned to taste, and this time kept adding kosher salt until they were just right – which was quite a bit more salt than I’d have thought. But what a difference a bit of truffle oil made – oh, the delicious, earthy aroma! The whole aura of Winter earth and rustic goodness permeates the potatoes and elevates them from a delicate and wholesome dish into something really sublime.

Black truffles or white, that’s the question, right? Well, I went with both! Ok, maybe that’s like playing the Stones and the  Beatles at the same time, but in this case, the “mash up” really worked. (See what I did there? Pop culture reference about those crazy song mashes these kids today are doing, as well as a little play on the pommes puree!)

Definitely a “hit” – easy to make and really quite a bit better than your run-of-the-mill spuds. This is going on my list of things I’ll keep in my back pocket just for whenever. They went over very well at Thanksgiving, too – I heard folks at the other table oohing about the truffles and the cream and the goodness. There was precious little left over at the end of the night, but they made truly superb leftover sandwiches the next day, too.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too, Chef.

Davy

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Categories: Cooking, Eating, Maundering, Prep

You want to get drunk with me? Cool!

November 24, 2010 4 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Yesterday I had one of those futureshock moments when I thought the internet had become even more awesome than I ever thought it was. Like CNN had personally written headlines and stories just for me.

Anthony Bourdain Wants To Get Drunk With You

Chef Bourdain wants to get drunk with me? That’s amazing!  But then I realized it was just an article shilling for your new  book “Medium Raw“. Not that there’s anything wrong with shilling for your new book. And in a meta sort of way, I’m doing it for you right here, aren’t I? Except, of course, that I have all of about a dozen readers. But they’ll buy your book, I’m sure. (Do it, slackers! You eat my food, you can buy the damn book!)

Actually, this sort of leads to an “teaching moment” about why I’m doing this. A lot of people ask if I have some sort of a man-crush on you, Chef Bourdain. Well, not really. Not that I don’t think you’re a swell fella – your books are tres amusante and “Without Reservations” is a great show. And you’ve got a great job of which I’m seriously jealous – go to interesting places and eat stuff? I’m in. I liked the first season better that involved more drinking, too.

But really, it’s about the food. I mean, it oughta be right? I wanted to learn to be a better cook, and I was pretty bad at sauces and pretty good with meat. So “Les Halles” seemed like a pretty great way to emphasize what I’m good at and address my weakness. Plus your writing style is funnier than Alton Brown’s. (Sorry Alton. Love “Good Eats”, though!)

So that’s the deal, I want to be a better cook – which I’m already making some incremental progress on. (Apparently the secret is making everything with heavy cream and butter, dear readers, if you want the short-cut, by the way.) Along the way I get to drink more wine than my lovely fiancee would probably support since you told me to, Chef – and eat some fantastic successes and wretched but interesting failures.

Now I’m off to make some pommes puree for Thanksgiving that are going to rock some socks right off.

Your Shill;

Davy

Categories: Maundering

Quasi-Steak Frites

November 22, 2010 1 comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;
I was torn with making steak frites. It’s not really in your cookbook – though the Les Halles pommes frites recipe is. There are several nice steak recipes though, so I decided to compromise, and use one of them for the steak part. Basically any slab of good beef served with fries is steak frites, right?

Steakfrites1

And it really was good! I went with the faux-filet aux beurre-de-vin for the steak part. The local Costco had some really beautiful New York strips. Why do the French call that “faux filet”? What have they got against New York, chef?

I also made creme brulee at the same time, but that’s this whole big thing involving blow torches and stuff, so that gets its own post. Also video, because if you’re going to burn shit with a blow torch, you ought to record it. I think you know what I’m sayin’.

So I started with the beurre au vin. I had a bottle of Pasquale Toso that I picked because A: it was cheap and decent, and B: sounds enough like MLF’s first name that she’d be flattered. I chopped up a couple of shallots nice and fine, reminding myself that my knife skills suck (Or do they blow?) and coating my hands with eaux-de-shallot that I can still smell today. Into the pot with a cup of wine, I was making a double helping.

Steakfrites6

The wine boiled down nice and quick, so I threw it in the food processor with softened butter, parsley and salt and pepper. Then it’s just a matter of rolling it up and cooling it for later.

Steakfrites5

This looks much less appetizing than it really was. I think I, once again, used too little salt, however. I’m going to write another letter about the pommes frites, since they deserve their own mention – but the steaks were fantastic. Of course, I came into this knowing how to make a pretty mean steak. I used my own personal method since I know it works and you don’t really spell one out in the book, the tricky part of this recipe is the butter – which I now have spares of, in case, as you say, my deadbeat friends turn up demanding meat. This isn’t an unlikely scenario, either. Not quite as wonderful as back in Philly when I had to cook all the “mob meat” that I’d bought from some shady characters who had a case of meat that they secured offa the backa some truck…and then the power went out for two days, defrosting the freezer. Then the carnivores circled like unto vultures, gathered to steal my precious black market flesh. In the dark, since we had no power. It was blackoutlicious!

Anyway, for these I got the oven up to 475, super heated cast iron pans with oil until just before the oil smoked, and threw the seasoned steaks in for four minutes a side, then put the pans right in the oven. Nine minutes later, they came out nicely seared and a lovely medium-rare, with the thicker ones more rare, like you’d expect and the thinner ones more medium. This satisfied the tastes of everyone at the table. I’m pretty proud that I managed it so that they were done resting just as the last batch of fries was coming out, too.

So these were some great steaks. Definitely a “hit” in that I’d do it again, especially since I have a roll of beurre au vin in the freezer, ready to go. It’s mighty fine to be a carnivore, sometimes.

Thanks, Chef!
Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

The Wilderness Years

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I know this is a food blog, but this is not a post about cooking your book, but rather about the food service industry. I finally got around to reading “Kitchen Confidential” and remember my own lost years which, hey, go figure – also involved food service. I didn’t stick with it though, I had neither the culinary degree, nor felt the calling like you describe.

I’m not sorry, either. Let’s be honest, for all but a precious few who have broken out to a larger success like you, working in restaurants is a pretty shitty job. My very first job was at 13 years old as a dish washer/ prep monkey at a mom-and-pop Cheesesteak/Italian restaurant in Philly. Even at that young age, I was just tall enough to reach into the sink to do the dishes, even though the chemicals nearly melted my flesh off. It didn’t though, so I just missed ending up a supervillain there, I guess. I also used the industrial Hobart slicer to slice sirloin from giant bloody chunks of meat for the sandwiches. I had to stand on a cardboard box to reach the slicer, but hey, it was the 80’s, safety and child labor was less of a big deal, you know? Once I’d sliced the steak, I had to chop it into about 1/4″ chunks with a big ol’ knife. You’d think starting on the chopping that young, I’d have some pretty hot knife skills today – but it just isn’t so. I’m a plodding, pedestrian knife-wielder, even though I’ve tried to get better.

S’anyway, I did a year of college and then stalled out. Mostly because I was a knucklehead, not because I couldn’t hack it. I ended up waiting tables for the next three years or so – and while I never ended up addicted to heroin or really anything other than sloth and slovenliness, I also didn’t managed to get much done. Some stuff happened, and I realized I couldn’t see myself waiting tables or working in the kitchen for a living. I picked up some shifts as a cook, too – the station for salads, cold sandwiches and desserts. It was your basic T.G.I. McFunster’s, though so it’s not like I learned anything other than to really loathe my life.

Flash foward 20 years, and God, has it been that long? I’ve never worked in a restaurant or kitchen since, and I do not regret it one little bit. I’ve had some seriously shitty jobs in my life, jobs that involved things like jumping out of airplanes in the dark, or being the test case for a brain scanner, or working a tech support line. None of these jobs are even a fraction as shitty as restaurant work though. I mean, the Army was less stressful than waiting tables – doesn’t that tell you something?

So for the past while or so, I’ve been working for a company (and it’s a great job, and I’m really lucky!) that has constantly teetered on the edge of shutting down, getting bought, etc etc. No job security – and the economy is such that if I did get laid off it might be tricky getting hired again, there’s not much out there. So in the back of my mind, I’m thinking “Hey, I like cooking, maybe I should open a restaurant or one of those gourmet food trucks and dang, what’s on CNN, oh wait, I think I need a drink I wonder if I should get bigger pants or will I seriously get back to the gym heh I wonder what the dog is doing right now…” My thoughts wander, ok? You asked. Well, no you didn’t.

Reading “Kitchen Confidential” recalled to me my own wilderness years. Working till 2 or 3AM for a few measly bucks and then going out to drink and bitch about work with other waiters and cooks. Then getting a few short hours of restless sleep full of stress dreams before waking up and doing it again. I can see why heroin, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol were such tempting releases. Maybe I’d have been a happier loser if I had indulged. As it was I lived in a grotty apartment with two other slacker losers, and never  had enough money to pay all the bills, much less get even slightly ahead. It was a pretty miserable time.  On the other hand, I was skinny, so there was that.

So no. This is a great hobby, and I like taking my time to cook some really delectable meals, and learn new techniques – but I like not having to do it over and over again a hundred times a night under pressure to get it done RIGHT FUCKING NOW! No thanks. I’ll stick with computer geekery and really sumptuous meals with friends and loved ones – that’s the best of both worlds. And you know the biggest difference between me and professionals is? (Other than wearing clogs. Never.) I get to eat what I make. Better than just eating it, I get to share it with people I like, who I specifically invited over because I figured they’d really enjoy it, and be good company, too. That’s the part I like. So yeah, I’ve got a passion for food, but it’s for eating the food as much as making it! (Also why I’m no longer skinny.)

But I’m really glad you’re out there blazing the trail and reminding me how much it sucks.

Thanks, chef!

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Pot-au-feu, aka Giant Pot of Glistening Meat

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

In your cookbook, you call Pot-au-Feu “soul food for socialists”. I still don’t know what the fuck that means. But I can say it proved to me that when French people use common or cheap cuts of meat to create a tender, delicious dish – American people will end up spending a lot of money to create a tender, delicious dish. What’s cheap in the countryside of France (or at Les Halles in Paris) is devilishly expensive in Los Angeles, if it’s even available. So for Pot-au-Feu, I had to make some substitutions, and they were generally more expensive than the cheap cuts I couldn’t find. But the end result? Well, here it is:

Glistening Pile of Meat

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Categories: Cooking, Eating, Maundering, Prep

What have I learned so far?

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Believe it or not, this isn’t JUST a plea for attention – no, I actually set out to learn about what’s been missing from my culinary skills.  So it makes sense to think about what I’ve learned from the dishes I’ve made so far. I’m only a fraction of the way through the book, with all of the most challenging recipes yet to come. But still, if I haven’t learned anything at this point, then I’m basically a brick with lips and should probably hang it up.

Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Gratin Dolphinnoise

November 9, 2010 2 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

If the tart alsacienne was a miss, the gratin dauphinoise was a hit, for sure. An easy recipe without a ton of ingredients and none of them hard to find – and really delicious.  The biggest strike it has going against it is trying to pronounce the name, to be honest. Do French people find it hard, too? Is it a tongue twister in any language, or is it just my Yankee barbarian accent? I was a little disappointed to find out that it’s actually named after the Dauphine region of  France, rather than a French prince who demanded potatoes or something. I made up this whole story in my head about the poor, harried chef who had to come up with fantastic potatoes or like, get the rack or something. As per the usual, the real world is considerably less interesting than the one in my head.

I made both the tart and the potatoes at the same time, as well as your chocolate hazelnut tart, and prepping for coq-au-vin and frisee aux lardon on Monday. This required a list – you recommend lots of lists in your forward and it’s good advice.  So I put all the ingredients I’d need, plus a timeline of when things had to go in and for how long so they’d finish at the right time. I also put the page numbers for the recipes I’d be using at the bottom for easy reference.  Here’s the list, next to your book, which I had to fish out of the recycling bin because I carried it with me to Costco and inadvertently left in a box that we tossed. I had a pretty nervous time trying to figure out what the heck happened to it. Basically what I’m saying, Chef, is you spent the night in a trash can, and I’m guessing it wasn’t the first time.

Never mind my awful handwriting, look at that smug bastard on the cover!

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Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep
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