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Archive for the ‘tips & how-to's’ Category

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Thank god for 2017. What a universally shit year for us all (with the exception of the Chicago Cubs because really now, how amazing was that?!), and while there’s a lot to deal with on the horizon I feel better knowing that the dumpster fire of 2016 is done. But now you’re probably looking at the contents of your refrigerator and wondering what the hell happened. The holidays, that’s what. That intersection of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years and a little leftover Thanksgiving that creates chaos for us all. Chances are also good that, like many of us, you’ve probably decided to try to go on a health kick of some sort to right the eating wrongs of the past 6 weeks. We all do it. The constant influx of butter, cheese, cream, meat, alcohol and chocolate come to a head on January 1 where the guilt kicks into overdrive. I’ve circled it a few years but I think this is the year I try the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse (from last year, or the year prior or the year before that or there’s a book too). Not a diet per se, god forbid, but recipes mostly devoid of the things I’ve overindulged in the last few weeks. And they sound really good too. So why not? My system could use a little cleansing.

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Of all the recipes out there, one of the easiest and most impressive is cured salmon. Mix some salt and sugar, maybe additional spices and/or herbs, rub a piece of fish (typically salmon) and refrigerate for 1-3 days depending on the size of your fish. It’s unbelieavably simple and incredibly elegant. For the easiest bang with the smallest amount of effort, gravlax is the one for you.

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I like my chili with some heat. In reading a lot of chili powder labels at the grocery store, I noticed that most contain the following: paprika, cumin, cayenne, oregano, salt and garlic and/or onion powders. Though paprika is legitimately a chile, I don’t think of it as a chili powder chile. Is that a legit statement? Who knows but for me, paprika is in paprikash, Spanish tapas dishes and sprinkled on top of twice baked potatoes. I don’t know that I want it making up the bulk of my go-to chili powder. Where are the actual chilies? I’ve always been fascinated by the bags in Hispanic grocery stores – the ancho, the pasilla, the guajillo chilies. Why aren’t those in most chili powders? They’re rather inexpensive so I can’t imagine it’s a cost issue. The only thing I can come up with is that paprika is rather mild so it appeals to a larger audience. Also, with only one chile, it makes for easy production. It also makes it boring, with no complex layering of flavors. Why make it interesting when you don’t have to? BAH.

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I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time these days working on recipe development projects for various companies and restaurants, and while I very much enjoy it, the process pretty much sucks up all my creative juices leaving little for personal projects. And so goes the fates of this blog. It also fills my home with endless bags, tubs and boxes of ingredients. My apartment looks like a ransacked grocery store right now. First world problems. Appetizers, entrees, desserts, snacks, sauces … name it, I’ve done it in the last few months and have the leftover groceries to prove it. If there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, come over here. We’ll eat well for years.

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Last summer while working with my friend Kate in Southwest France, I played a curious little game in the name of straightening up the pantry.  Kate, like me, is a bit of pack rat and her side pantry is chock full of interesting things – jars of confit, pickled and preserved bits made over the year, miscellaneous cooking equipment, tools of the charcuterie trade and countless jars and lids awaiting something delicious.  The challenge becomes when you need to find a jar with a matching lid among the bins of supplies.  Good luck.  It’s there somewhere but digging through tub after tub to find a mate may take a while.  So I lugged everything out to the terrasse and played a game I called “French Country Concentration”.  I divided everything into three categories – large, medium, small – jars on one side of the table, lids on the other and went about finding mates.  It was an exercise in the Three Little Bears, repeating too big, too small, just right over and over.  At the end, any stray jars and lids went right into the recycling bin to continue their journey elsewhere.  I may or may not have told Kate that but I didn’t want them kicking around, mucking up the place, no matter how interesting the lidless jar may have been.  Instead, I washed everything thoroughly and put them all back together, nestled in their appropriate bins, awaiting some delicious tidbit.

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Over the last few years, I’ve become a big lard fan.  All hail pig fat!  It makes a fantastic pie crust, a delectable biscuit and a surprisingly tender cake.   I was at a pig butchery demo not long ago with Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman and the subject of lard arose.  In the middle his demo, Chef Polcyn held up a large piece of pure white fat, the leaf lard surrounding the kidneys, and said something to the effect of “if only pastry chefs understood the power of lard.”  Ahem.  I, of course, spoke up in my brethern’s defense.  Oh buddy, we are well aware.  Little did he know at the time that I had 7+ pounds of unrendered leaf lard back home in my freezer.

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I spent my first weekend in France baking bread, which was fitting.  I was surrounded by freshly harvested fields of wheat, as well endless vistas of fruit trees, corn, sunflowers and vegetable farms as far as the eye can see.  It’s a stunning part of the country and  it makes me want to bake.  My friend Kate had scheduled a bread workshop for a few students with the esteemed Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, instructor at The School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire, England.  Emmanuel (or Em, as we would call him), his young son Noah and a colleague, David showed a group of us the finer points of making, kneading and baking the staff of life.  I was especially looking forward to working with levains or natural starters.

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