Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wine stop,

Today was a great day in many ways. I got wheels (rented) and headed out.The weather was just gorgeous for November and it just felt like spring. We are not talking about Dallas like weather, this is the southwest of France at the footsteps of the Pyrenees and November usually means chilly, dreary, damp and cold weather. I headed out to Coarraze on my way to visit family or at least let them know I was back in town (phone calls are not quite the same). On the way I truly enjoyed the sheer beauty of the snow capped mountains which I have known and learned to appreciate all my life. This is the very rural part of France that you do not get to see on the Travel Channel in the US. That took a few hours and then back to my sister. Her husband was just back from work and took me to a friend who has a farm and makes wine. Totally my kind of side trip just before dinner. Five miles out of town on little country roads and here we are, a little farm in the middle of nowhere. Small, small, small, works for me ! The guy grows grapes for Rose, red and the local sweet wine. We tasted them all and bought some of the Rose. For those of you who call themselves wine connoisseurs we are talking about Tannat, Petit Manseng and Grand Manseng grapes. The Tannat grapes are used for red and Rose wines and the Mansengs for the local sweet wine called Jurancon which we drink here with foie gras or desserts. We bought 10 liters of the Rose and the guy did not remember the price he charged last, which was 1 euro per liter or 1 dollar per 75ml. New price ? 1.50 euro .Cheap ? yes, great? maybe not, drinkable ? absolutely ! He took us to the small cellar completed with spider webs, old dust and musky smell, just the way a real cellar should look and smell. We sampled four wines and had great conversation about everything.He also gave us two liters of the Petit Manseng for free which will go great with the foie gras friday night as friends are coming for dinner, you guessed it, I am cooking. These times are precious, not staged and just cannot be bought. We made it home in one piece in time for dinner and feeling just great. Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh !
Stay tuned, I just got here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A special Thanksgiving ? that's for sure !

Another Thanksgiving comes by and here we are………again looking forward to turkey and the seasonal trimmings. My turkey daymorning was truly special since I got to spend it with real special people . You guessed it right, that would the men and women in uniform who do so much for us and just do not get enough thank you(s).
I am a member of the Epicurian World Master Chefs Society (EWMCS) and as a group we teamed up with USO to set up and serve a great Thanksgiving dinner buffet at one of DFW airport terminals from which they leave to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. Oh what a feeling it was ! There was a lot of volunteers to back us up and thanks to them for their time .

And you thought saying good bye was hard, try this !
Our Chef Organization is comprised of many Chefs in the various sectors of the food service industry; hotels, city clubs, country clubs and various food distributing companies along with some in R and D as well. This was set up by Patrick Mitchell from the Ben E Keith food service Company and from the logistics to the coordination to picking up the foods all over the city of Dallas it a pretty big assignment. Patrick did a super job and had everyone responding and pitching in. Salvatore Gisellu of Urban Crust and Sharon VanMeter of Milestone Culinary Arts Center were the other Chefs who were able to  participate. My duty for that morning was to cut up and set up all the delicious pies and cakes graciously provided by Shari Carlson of Dessert Dreams. That table was a hit and we did not run out of anything. Youhooooo ! The serving line was tended by some of the Chefs family members and other volunteers. Our men and woman in uniform truly enjoyed the feast on their way out of the country and hopefully did take with them a little piece of home.

 I got there a bit early and felt privileged to have been able to listen to some incredible stories. I ran into Jim, a gentleman whose son had been serving four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now four tours is really huge (to me anyway) but there is more. During all his time being deployed Jim's son while on various patrols had his Humvee hit six times by an exploding IED (improvised exploding device) and each time he did survive the ordeal to tell about it. Once would be traumatic enough, but six times ? Here is a young man whom I believe God has a plan for .Do you think ? I am listening to this with the details freely offered and thinking, now how many people would actually believe this ? Jim's sincerity came through the tone of his voice which was soft and incredibly riveting, I was just listening hoping that nobody around would interrupt him. He was not looking for any kind of notoriety just the opportunity to tell the story for all to really know what our blood and treasure do endure when wearing the uniform .The stories are heart warming as well as heart breaking but they all have that professionalism and sense of duty for which they serve admirably.

No comments needed !
 I took a few pictures and at time felt that I was intruding on their privacy but none of them minded at all. Watching them spending these precious moments with their families before their flight was very moving. We call them heroes and they are but for me it is just not enough as they do so much and spend most of their time in arm's way to protect what we hold so dear in this country, our freedom.
These pictures tell the story, from all of them standing with their head bowed during the Chaplain prayer to the young man holding his new baby and looking at him/her with so much love and pride to the young wife whose eyes are getting redder as the time to checking in approaches and so on. These men and women are not asking very much from us they just want our support and best wishes, most of all they do not want to be forgotten. Fat chance of that from my side, how about yours ? I got to talk to a few of them and joked "please do not worry too much about the Washington idiots"and their answer was uniform all around "we really have bigger fishes to fry or catch as the case may be".

The pie brigade in action.
Meeting them and spending a few minutes listening is what I call the ultimate dose of reality. This morning things do not seem to matter but these young lives do. So keep them in your thoughts and prayers. We did the same thing last year and had about three hundred + but this year we had a few less of them to feed. We did ask and were told that as the war in Iraq in winding down, fewer of them are deployed. Still we would like all of them to be home with their families and back to their normal lives if there is such a thing after serving their country with great honor.
Emotionally I did good the past two years but this year, not so good. One of the soldiers came over to me to say thank you and make sure that we really understood what holiday feast meant to them. I am thinking"young man, you do not have to say thank you to me" I am the one that should say thank you to YOU for all you do for us. My eyes welled up and I felt so proud of them but had to step away to get myself together. Mushy stuff ? Not really, in case you forgot real men DO cry too !I hope your Thanksgiving day was as blessed as mine was.This was a great day for me and these men and women really made it special. If I do not get to do this next year it will mean that most of them are getting home slowly. As the USO says: Until the last one comes home ! 

                                                        YOU GUYS ROCK  !

Monday, November 14, 2011

An ounce of sauce.....well you know the rest !

Sunday is class day for me and yesterday brought a different class: sauces,reductions and emulsions. Everybody loves sauces so how come so few people can really make them at home or even in the restaurant/food service business ? Now I might get in trouble for being critical of some of my peers but it is true, not all Chefs and cooks out there can make good sauces. Have you looked at most menus today ? It is a gastrique, demi glace and reductions everywhere and we have not even addressed the interpretation of each of these culinary terms ! Talk about a wild wild adventure in the professional kitchens of our country. What happen to integral sauces ? Ok,some of you who are not in my type of business might not know what that is. It actually is very simple,an integral sauce is a sauce made from the caramelisation of the juices left in the pan from the cooking of meats,poultry etc. What we are talking about is the true flavor of the chosen protein in the accompanying sauce. This process in sauce making actually produces the freshest and most acurate flavor derived from the cooking of that protein.
It's all in the sauce !
I get labeled "old school" quite often for using basic cooking principles that have served our culinary world very well for generations. More often than not you can find me babysitting a rich chicken stock for which I went to an out of the way store to get the right ingredients. What we are talking about is ( in this case) the feets,gizzards,necks which are rich in collagen. What's that ? Collagen is a protein in most animal carcasses which make a stock richer as it is very gelatineous. What do we need that in a stock ? Deep flavor, ease of reduction and texture in the sauce. Sounds complicated ? Not really,you can tell the difference when you taste it as it lingers (or not) in your mouth when you eat. The better the sauce, the greater your eating pleasure. Again, here is a case of less is more,meaning less quantity
should deliver more quality of flavor.
Forget about that stuff in the jar,real mayonnaise is IT !
Now you really know how I feel about sauces, back to the class yesterday.
Hot sauces,cold sauces,reductions,emulsions you name it,it was covered. Duck with cherry gastrique (I know,I know but it is the perfect sauce for it ) and the skin was real crispy too, real mayonnaise with tarragon roasted chicken,giant prawns Americaine style ( go ahead say it: more old school ?)
That would be just the right portion for me . No extra fingers needed !
I love shellfish cooked it the shell,that would be the perfect finger food for me,just get me that bibb and I won't care about looks (in this case mine).
The duck was just delish, not much choice for fruit this time of year but Bosc pears and frozen cherries were just fine with a touch of real pear brandy to finish it.
I love duck as you know,so just bring it !
Of course I had to have a wine reduced sauce to demo the "monter au beurre"technique and I did a good Bordelaise finished with fresh whole butter. More butter ? you bet, this time not for added fat but to soften the acidic flavor of the Bordelaise with a crank of the pepper mill and VOILA ! Perfect sauce for a peppercorn seared flat iron steak.
That pink beef looks just right !
Last but not least,emulsions come in the savory and sweet variety so being choice poor when it came to seasonal fruit I ended up with pears and strawberries (after 4 hours it seemed the simplest way to go).
Gratin of pears and strawberries.
A great afternoon it was and once again we demonstrated that with a little planning,work and know how you can cook at home a meal as good or in some cases better that any restaurants in town. This week end I am doing braising,steaming and poaching, perfect again for this time of year, flavor is the game.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

No time for stocks ? you are missing out

Carrot/ginger bisque
Today I am stepping away from the foie gras headlines to something often forgotten,ignored or just totally abandonned and that is stocks, no, no, not the stuff you buy on Wall Street hoping to make lots more money,the stuff you simmer on your stove.
This sunday, I did a class on stocks and soups and with the cool weather it was just the right fit for the day. How times have changed and how little most people actually cook at home; work demands, always in a hurry,with the family agenda way overloaded who has time anymore ?
Well there is and always will be only 24 hours in one day, so it is for us to manage our time better and go back to something we use to love way back when and that is home cooked foods and ingredients that did not have mysterious components in it. Most people (that would be the ones who cannot actually cook) think that it takes too much time and in most cases that might be true. Still I would advocate taking a step back and make some simple stocks at home without having to switch careers just to learn how. Our mothers chicken soup was not a big deal,the only difference was that it was fresh and we knew what was in it. The canned stuff never even came close.
Being as thorough as I can be I overdid it again and made six different stocks for this class: chicken,beef,fish,vegetable,veal and lobster. You read it right ! it is a bit of work but you just can't get the stuff in the store or in some restaurants which claim to do everything from scratch. I am very happy when some of my students return for a new class and tell me that they did this or that and that it was great. Music to my ears ! Just the fact that they actually do it is plenty for me.
Soupe au pistou
Soups were also part of the class and using the fresh stocks simmering on the stove made for great stuff such as: a beefy chili con carne, a carrot ginger bisque, a soupe au pistou, a portuguese kale soup, a lobster bisque and a seafood chowder that was so loaded with various fish and shellfish that it could have passed for the best fish stew ever. The leftovers were dispensed equally and I of course dropped some off to a sick friend who had not eaten anything in three days ! Well the soup option did help some and I am glad.
Portuguese kale soup
For those of you who think that the same ingredients the Chefs use are not available to the retail public,here is my advice: get to know the Chef in some of your favorite restaurants and ask him/her to help you secure some of the stuff. You just never know and if you don't ask, you don't get ! Everyone should have a Chef on their list of friends. For me, I am just blessed to have my name on a lot of lists.