Sunday, November 11, 2012

Catching up is hard to do !

Ah, the price we pay when trying to catch up ! Well, I will just pretend that I am not behind at all, of course I am only wishing that I had been more consistent in my blogging. This year just came and went and I do know where and how, so no regrets there. Last time I posted was in early spring when  I was butchering an heirloom pig. Well there was another pig this summer ( a Red Wattle this time) and its Prosciutto is already looking good. To that we can add the fact that my friends Ken and Barbara just finished crushing Chardonnay and Old Vines Zin grapes so 2013 is already looking good. I  will also do a fund raising dinner called "Save the grapes " to purchase netting to protect the vines against the birds who have become a real problem and make the bringing of grapes to maturity almost impossible. Looking at Ken sitting helplessly watching the birds dive bombing on his grapes was heartbreaking as he works tirelessly on his vines and has been at it for seven years and let's not forget the blistering Texas heat.
Now these are good looking Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Lungavista Vineyards so when it comes down to it, the birds can fend for themselves on other things. Let's see what else happened this year; I travelled to South Korea for the World Chef's Congress where 75  Chefs got sick from the food ! Me included, now I have heard all the jokes but it was not funny and I'll spare you the details , needless to say it was not worth the investment . Also had a great serie of cooking classes well attended till the end as the location ceased to exist because of horrendous rent. My teachings have been on hold since July when I start devoting 100% of my time to my EWMCS culinary team training and getting ready for the IKA Culinary Olympics where we competed in early October and won a bronze medal. It was the fruit of seven long months of meetings, testings, tryouts, long commutes and basically put our normal lives on hold for months. Was it worth it ?  ABSOLUTELY ! The experience, the pride, the honors and the accomplishment itself were hard to imagine but  we all pulled through and apply the true meaning of the word TEAM. Can't wait for our wrap up dinner this week.
In between there was a couple of trips where I presented a couple of seminars on charcuterie and after a stint on jury duty this week I will head home to Southwest France for a month where the house need attention and spend time with  family and friends.  I said it before I know but stay tuned.                     

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More of Z PIG !

Now that the butchering is basically over we've got to talk about what we did with all these parts. Most of you have heard and maybe have had Guanciale better  known in this country as pork jowls. I know I know, it is very fatty with little lean but the texture is through the roof for a super fat piece of pork and the flavor is just that…..porky !

This will make the best full flavored pasta Carbonara ever !

The thing is there are only two pieces per pig but relax, it is ok for most peeps are not into this fatty stuff so there is enough to go around for those of us who are into porkiness. We kept the skin on and seasoned the Guanciale with sea salt, black pepper, garlic and fresh herbs. It will cure for awhile and then we'll hang it to dry and mature for a few weeks.

The Lonzino is one of my favorites from the curing repertoire. It is lean, uniform in texture and very easy to master. The flavoring is up to you as long as you follow the basic curing rules.

That Lonzino is calling for  a flavor profile apart from its own !

I use cloves, cinnamon, fennel etc as I enjoy these flavors with pork.
                                          Will hang to dry for two weeks........litterally !
Sliced paper thin it goes great with some good Foccacia and a simple arrugula salad which all together would make the ultimate sandwich and that would be right up Salvatore's  alley when he flies anywhere as he just DOES NOT eat airline food of any kind but that is another story for later on. Then there is the Coppa which is really unique as that muscle is located from the base of the pig's head to the third rib. The deal here is that this piece of meat is intermingled with very tasty fat. My choice of flavorings is this: juniper, fennel, garlic and of course the regular salt and pepper as needed.
The Lardo is actually very easy to make, the only challenge is being able to get fresh thick fat back.
I must address the whole animal fat thing, some of us can't help ourselves as for us it is a cultural thing and it was part of our upbringing and tradition. So there, we and our elders before us got to taste the porkiness at an early age and it became part of our geographical roots and culinary calling. We do know better and do not abuse it obviously and a little goes a long way, that's the key. Lardo is the ultimate flavor in porkiness.

Of course Pancetta would be next on the list and as fancy as it sounds it is actually a very basic item in Charcuterie or Salumeria depending on who you talk to, Salvatore or me.

Pancetta on the way !

     Pancetta ready to cure !                               

Think bacon without the smoking part but seasoned with fresh ingredients and no sugar. Now, no sugar is one thing I can handle. The Pancetta is actually delicious and again from a health point of view there will be some doubters just eat it in moderation,  no even every day for breakfast. If you eat bacon everyday it would not be worse if you switch to Pancetta but the flavor just cannot be imitated or duplicated.
Finally, the best for last is the Proscuitto style dry cured ham and it is the best and a very special ham at that. I say Prosciutto style because the real thing can only be made in Italy and we all know how well they are following their tradition in salumeria over there.

My friend Salvatore is thinking: finally this French guy admitted that we have the best ham in the world. My take ? yes and no. Wherever dry cured hams are made the list of ingredients  in some of the best known hams is very short as it just might be salt only. The drying and ageing process is critical in order to obtain a great product. For us, we will follow the rules and stay on it no matter what. I used sea salt with a bit of sugar to cut the harshness of the salt and that is it. The key is to keep the ham uniformly salted and properly drained during the curing process which will take about two and a half weeks or one day per two pounds. After that it will hang to dry and mature.

We got lots of fat and trimmings and we made some of the most fresh tasting Andouille sausage which would make any Cajun proud. Yeah, I am talking to you guys in Lafayette LA. Maybe it is time for a little Andouille challenge but not this year as my calendar is running on overload mode. We also need to talk pork chops and it is just an OMG thing, juicy beyond expectations, very mild with super clean flavor and the tenderness through the roof, enough said just check the pic.

You got to know where to cut, know where to staaart, know where to go, you got to know how to trim it, know how to slice it, till the deal is done...........sing it Kenny !

There you have it another pig story ! Stay tuned as they say for more details as they become available.

Monday, April 16, 2012


What can you say about a pig ? from where I stand, plenty and it is all good ! Yeah, yeah we heard it all before, pigs are dirty, pigs are bad for you as they are full of fat and cholesterol, not including the religious aspect (I won't go there) so, blah blah blah. Well, here is the rub (pun still intended), my friend and fellow Chef Georges Brown got a whole pig but just not any pig, that one came from Niman Ranch in California meaning farm raised and good quality pork.
This thing tipped the scale at 230 lbs net weight and the only thing missing on it was the head, darn I was soooooooooooooooooo looking forward to make a great head cheese, I was a bit disappointed but not for long as it came with the feet. Yeah, you got it right !
Nice feet !
 We saved them for a special occasion when our Chef's soul will be screaming for the ultimate porkiness. I know you already have that disgusted look just reading this, trust me it is just your mind playing porky games with you but it will be very delish for some of us down the road !

Pork chops motherload and good looking leg !
For those of you who love eating pork (like me) it would be well worth it to get some of what I call "heirloom pork" meaning from pure breeds such as : Berkshire, Red Wattles, Kurabuta etc. You just can't go to your supermarket and ask for it as they just do not carry those things but if you know a Chef or have connections in the food industry it is not that difficult ie, you don't ask, you don't get ! This pig was a good size pig as the hind legs that we decided to turn into Proscuitto style dry cured hams weighted 30 lbs each ! Now, that's a ham ! That's the good news, the bad news is that we will have to wait 12 to 15 months till these twins are ready to impress and we know that so we are ready to wait and savor the moments which will bring plenty of discussions, anticipation of a time blessed, mother nature driven specialty which does not come from the store .

For this project I did use my best, oldest, special knives and tools and realized that most of us Chefs have toooooooooooooo many knives acquired over a life time of work and travels but sooner or later we are bound to use them all for the right occasion and this was no different.

                                     See ? I came prepared !

I have done this type of butchering many times before but not recently and did not forget how to go about it or where to start, The tenderloins, skirts and flanks came off first, then the hind legs , then the shoulders, then the bellies for bacon and Pancetta,the neck muscles/shoulder  behind the head for CoppaCola came next, then the loins for Lonzino and we were left with the whole racks of which one became the most gorgeous and appetizing pork chops you've ever seen with the other being Frenched for roasting later. After all this we were not done yet as what we got so far was primal cuts. Now we went back and cut, trimmed and shaped all this meat into final smaller cuts which made for a long list of different things to be enjoyed soon.

Do you know lardo the way I know lardo ?

I ran a yield test on this pig and here some numbers:
Racks/pork chops:                  20 lbs
Hams for Proscuitto:              58 lbs
Trimmings for sausage:         18 lbs
Lardo:                                     6 lbs
Other fats:                               24 lbs
Bones:                                     20 lbs
You get the idea, lots of meat and pure white fat. I just can't wait for the lardo which will be thinly sliced and laid on toasted sour dough bread, Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm !
The pig has something for everyone, feet, tail you name it ! It's all good.
This morning we are making the Andouille sausage and curing some of the shoulder muscles for Petit Salé. A lot of work, maybe but  a lot of fun, learning and sharing that's for sure. Georges, I am ready for the Red Wattles pig as soon as that baby maxes out on his fat cover,bring it on !

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bordeaux Dinner

The idea for this Bordeaux dinner had been on my plate (pun intended) for about one year since my friends Dianne and Bob suggested it . Doing the dinner is not the problem it is the scheduling that is tough to arrange as there is always one of the guests who can't make it THAT night. We finally decided on a week night and it all worked out . I offered to do the cooking as I thought this would be a special occasion and a treat that a lot of folks would not appreciate at its true value and meaning. Now forgive me if I offended anyone, it's just that it is really really unique to be invited and participate in a dinner like this.  I had written a three courses menu and send it to Bob who had no objections and no problem with matching the wine to the food so I went with that menu idea. First he opened a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Rose as a toast was in order; it was perfectly crisp and as perfect as one can expect.
Six guests total was the perfect number and Dianne's kitchen is just great and has everything and then some that any Chef might need. I did not serve any finger food before dinner as the portions were more than adequate and I believe in having something on my plate that I can savor through more than one bite. Bob is a wine connaisseur and has an impressive collection which he showed us and one of his oldest wines is a Barsac 1947 ! I was way in the zone, no question.
For this dinner he had chosen a Bordeaux from St Julien, Chateau Gruaud Larroze. The years ? 1989, 1986 and 1982 . Wow ! All reds for this dinner were just right, starting with the 89 and so on.
I am always in awe when I find myself at the table with great food, great wine and great friends. We all know that it is pretty tough to have those three things at the same time but when we do , it becomes special and that is what I call the perfect ingredients in the making of memories recipe.
This was a great evening relaxing with great conversation and no politics or political correctness in the mix.

Here is the menu:

 Crispy sweetbreads,wild mushrooms,Madeira, persillade and frisee

I poached the sweetbreads in milk with aromatics and chilled/pressed them overnight then lightly dredge them  in flour and sauteed. Oyster and shitaki mushrooms made a perfect bed for it. Of course the Madeira sauce is ideal with sweetbreads. Nothing new here but traditionally correct.

Wild pheasant, Napa cabbage with my pancetta, Parmentier of pheasant confit, foie gras, spring peas and golden beets. natural pheasant essence.

The boneless breast of pheasant was infused with juniper berries and thyme and pan seared medium pink.The cabbage quickly braised with pancetta and shallots. The essence was all pheasant flavor without the long reducing time which I prefer. This being spring, fresh peas are a must !

Apricot tart with Frangipane

A bit traditional but a lot French and one of my favorite tarts.Of course apricots for dessert scream for a Sauternes and Bob made the perfect choice: Chateau Rieussec 1999 . So well matched !

Bob was not done after dessert and he treated us with a Graham 1983 Port, more wows !
I truly enjoyed cooking this dinner and worked a few hours prepping it in the morning but it was well worth it. The work is one thing but the appreciation of it from the guests is the best. Putting it together was no problem and only fun. Dianne had set up a beautiful table and Bob was at the top of his game in handling the wines.
Chateau Gruaud Larroze1989,  86,   82
Chateau Rieussec  1999
Graham Port  1983

and so it goes !

Backing up the back up

I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to handling all those electronic gadgets and tools that have become part of our daily lives, that I am not an expert. But if you are sharing that trait, just rejoice ! We ( that would be most of us the non geek kind) have become over the years pretty good at what we do with our computers, smartphones and other devices that we are getting used to have at our finger tips 24/7. The reason we somehow have benefitted is that unlike the geek world we do use these things only for what helps us in our daily lives and we are good at it because we repeat some of these tasks over and over and over again. What we lack in youth and reaction time we more than make up with a bit more time and practical thinking. We also do not compete with anyone and surely are not doing  it for bragging rights or showing off !

Technology is here to serve us and not us to serve it ! I do not jump when the phone rings or drop what I am doing at that time, that is what voice mail is for. I actually get a kick thinking that the caller is getting a bit ticked because I do not pick up. Reality check: if someone wants to find you or reach you nowaday, they will. For me I still believe that I can choose the pace of my daily life . Granted just like most folks I would never be able to put these devices through their paces as they offer more things than I would use ever. The old saying still goes" whatever you do not know can't hurt you !"

Back to my original though for this post, I am backing up all my data and pictures and backing up the back up. I know it needs to be done or else sooner or later. This is like the lottery, you cannot win unless you buy a ticket and then the odds of winning are pretty lousy. Same thing with backing up your data, the odds of a crash and total loss are there but within acceptable range and if you do not back up, well you know the rest as we all have been through it. Then there are those who say,you should park it all "in the cloud"....... for a fee of course or maybe not. I am not there yet as for now I am reluctant to share my stuff with the folks running "the cloud". The next question, is the cloud backing itself up ? It has to and where does the backing up of the back up ends or does it  ? Feel free to look for that answer and let me know !

Getting behind, not as bad as it sounds.

Ever had the feeling that you're getting behind on whatever task you committed yourself to get done ? Surely,we all have. As far as blogging is concerned it is NOT a bad thing at least for me. Here's the thing, it gives me time to really choose my words  instead of acting on emotionnal impulses, makes sense ? I am way behind on reporting on my classes, that would be four classes ago or one month so there is a lot to talk about. Let's see there was  French patisserie, Stocks and soups, Sauces and reductions, Charcuterie part 2, Chocolate and more Chocolate and All meats cooking, now that is 5 classes this month on top of all the events I participate all over town supporting worthy causes. Tired ? yes I am but it is the good kind of tired, the kind that you do not regret because your heart and soul are sooooooooooo glad to have been part of it all. Oh, and since Valentine's day I got a new assistant Katy, she is just great and among other things she does a super job taking all the food pictures that I get to share in my blogging. In the Fish Cookery part 2 (just before the above listed) I tried a few new things, still simple to prepare but eye appealing and delicious. In my book, the freshest the fish the least amount of preparation and ingredients there are,  the better. This almost done salmon shallow poached on a bed of leeks and fennel with wine and dry Vermouth and finished with a bit of cream just screamed for its glass of white Burgundy: you pick it, I'll drink it !
After all it is all about the freshness of the seafood we can get (or not) depending on where we live. I did some "barely baked Gulf oysters with foie gras butter" ( not to worry, the red tide had been long gone ) and they came out just great, briny and rich. I also did baked clams with Proscuitto,basil and sundried tomatoes as I was not going back decades and make clams Casino. See the pics, delicious is just not the right word, healthy too (the clams not the foie gras oysters).

No Rockefellers here, that envelop was really pushed !

There was Cioppino, whole snapper in salt crust, Calamari stuffed with pork braised in tomato and sweet Vermouth, roasted red fish, shrimp beignets and then some.

I do not eat much of any fried foods as my hips can't take but I just love shellfish fried in a light and crunchy batter (think about some rice flour) and I call my fried shrimp "Beignets of shrimp" because they are THAT light !

Now, shrimping season in Texas is opening on July 15th and it would make for a great trip to take the family down on the coast and come back with a cooler full of fresh Gulf wild shrimp. Once you had them you won't buy the other kinds, that's for sure or you just didn't get it when them babies came off the boat !

My Sardinian friend and Chef Salvatore would have been proud of this Gulf snapper baked in a salt crust, very simple preparation but moist and delicious. Just the way he showed me !

I could not end this post without showing my appreciation for Dave Ewing of Sysco foods who supplies the freshest fish product in town and keeps me abreast of the latest seafood goodies he brings in. I did what I call "the mother of all Cioppinos" which had all kinds of seafoods including razor clams which I never used before. Just the freshest, meaty, briny and way over the top. For most of you who have had Cioppino before you must have noticed that it was not very "tomatoey", what was missing in color was made up in flavor as I used the freshest and deep flavored fish stock. So,there !

What is it with some of us Chefs who naturally overdo things when we are on stage meaning when we teach ? I guess it would have to be the passion shinning through. In my case I am guilty of that many times over and hope it does not end.............ever..

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chocolate things for Valentine

I have to post about Valentine's day as it was the first time I had a class on that holiday and it was all about chocolate stuff. Another sold out class and the students were very attentive and asking good questions, who would not when it is all about chocolate. I was pleasantly surprised by the high level of interest and we had a waiting list just in case but everyone came. Could it be that the commercial side of Valentine's day is getting pricey , maybe so but it was great for me to spend the evening with people who really wanted to learn about making chocolatey things for their loved one. Over the years I never did get into the spirit as I always found it to be too business like. After all it is a big business for the cards makers/sellers, the chocolate companies, the flower world and also the jewelery business. But, to each its own !
Sea salt chocolate caramels, yum !  Almond chocolate truffles, more yum !   Orange chocolate tart, now that is a beautiful thing. Then  the chocolate pots de creme were a hit, easy to make and very affordable. Last but not least a chocolate molten cake . The picture on top is for the French as this confection is very popular over there and called "Orangettes".                

This was a great evening and I truly enjoyed it. It gave me also the opportunity to practice for my upcoming "Chocolate and more Chocolate class" on March 18th Noon to 4. We still have a few seats left so call the Milestone team at 214 217 2818.