Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'm Looking for a Big Rack

Get your minds out of the gutter. That's not where I'm going with this (or am I?).

With the young one always expanding his food repertoire and my insatiable appetite for hummus, I've been keeping a steady supply of baby carrots in the house lately. It also didn't hurt that Stop & Shop had the fancy petite-sized ones on sale.

As with most bargains, I stocked up on them. A bit too much, perhaps. Faced with a glut of the orange produce, I was in need of a culinary outlet to turn them into something.

As often is the case, a couple of blog posts by Ms. Local Kitchen inspired me to make a batch of spicy pickled carrots. After a few hours researching various recipes, I ended up finding one from Alton Brown on the Food Network website. After a quick foray into my spice collection, it was apparent that I was missing a few ingredients - namely yellow mustard seeds and coriander seeds.

What to do? Penzey's run, of course!

A quick aside: for those not in the know, Penzey's is a mail order spice company headquartered in Wisconsin. They are highly regarded and the products are all quality. A few years ago, they started to open storefronts in various cities all over the county. As luck would have it, they ended up opening a store in Arlington, MA. Close enough for me to get to with relative ease.

So, anyway, I just so happened to have to go to Watertown the next day for a training course for work. Penzey's was a 15 minute trip away so I made a run at lunchtime. Now, the good folks at Penzey's send out catalogs periodically and once in a while, they'll include coupons as well. I just so happened to have one of said coupons (good for a free 1/4 cup jar of anything in the store). I picked up the aforementioned seeds as well as a bag of dried guajillo chiles, cilantro and a free jar of garam masala. I think I bought some more stuff, but I can't find the receipt right now. I do remember that I shelled out something like $29 total for my bounty.

Ultimately, I get home and try to put the goods away. Problem is, I don't have much room.

I have a decent sized kitchen. Thing is, my cabinets suck. Royally. They are painted black inside and have but one fixed shelf in the middle. A few years ago, the previous homeowners paid (probably decent) money to have them refaced with white laminate. What a waste. They would have been better off replacing them for just a bit more capital outlay.

In addition, I have a lot of spices. I have jars and jars of dried herbs, seeds and spices. Tins of dried mustard. Bottles of extracts. When you tend to have eclectic and expansive epicurean tastes as I do, you tend to acquire an extensive collection. And thanks to those crazy Swedish folks at IKEA, I have a boatload of small glass jars in which to contain them.

All that stuff takes up a lot of space. When we moved into our house and unpacked the kitchen goods, one of the first things I did was allocate an entire cabinet shelf for my spices. At the time, it was a good idea. Now that I had my own place to set up shop, I began to cook more often and accordingly began to expand my breadth of exotic cuisine. And I started to buy more and more ingredients.

And then my cabinet filled up.

Trips to Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma and the like were no help. No spice rack could possibly organize the sheer volume that I had accumulated. Trips such as my recent Penzey's run only served to exacerbate (there's today's token big word!) the problem.

And so I am mired in this quandry. I need more room.

They say variety is the spice of life. Alas, there is no more space for my variety.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meat of the Moment: Cover the Flank

Today I'm introducing what I hope to be a running feature on this blog, "Meat of the Moment". Yes, it's a weak play on an Asia song. Actually, what I want to do is a "Meat of the Week" feature. However, because I tend to procrastinate (what me? never!), I can't guarantee that I'd post in a timely fashion. So I'm half-assing it and going to post stuff as I get around to it.

Enough of the jibber jabber, let's get on with the show.

Flank Steak

Pros: Beefy flavor, cooks evenly, marinates well

Cons: Must slice against the grain, can be tough if overcooked slightly

Typical Price: $5.99/lb (Market Basket)

Sale Price: $4.69/lb cryovac (Market Basket), $2.99/lb store wrap (Hilltop Butcher Shop)

Best Price: $1.99/lb (Hilltop Butcher Shop)

Typical Cooking Methods: Grilling, stir-frying, broiling

The Lowdown:

Flank steak is cut from the underside of the cow. It is a long, flat cut of meat featuring a definitive grain pattern and is quite lean. When bought in a cryovac package, it tends to need minimal trimming of fat prior to use.

I've tended to cook this cut of meat in a few ways: Grilled whole, usually with a dry rub (pastrami-style) or a wet marinade (teriyaki), sliced, pounded and grilled on skewers (peanut satay) or stir fried (beef with pea pods).

The key to flank steak is to make sure that you slice it thin and against the grain of the meat. Doing so will result in tender, juicy slices. Cutting with the grain will result in tough, chewy pieces that no one will enjoy.

Friday, April 30, 2010

I've Seen You've Played "Knifey-Spooney" Before

"It's a poor carpenter that blames his tools".

I've heard it. You've heard it. We've all heard it. Ad naseum.

Well, you know what? It isn't always true.

A chef cannot work without his tools. And the one tool that is absolutely necessary to have is a good chef's knife.

One only has to browse the latest Crate and Barrel or Williams-Sonoma catalogs to see the variety of styles of knives offered on the market today. Some are quite versatile, others are completely specialized. But the one type that can do a little of everything is the chef's knife.

The beauty of this style of knife is that it can slice, dice, chop and peel; much like a Ginzu knife, except that it actually works and performs well! It's got a long, tapered blade for slicing motions, but has a pointed tip allowing it to penetrate peels and skins.

I currently have the Wustof Classic 8" Chef's knife. I use it for just about everything: trimming steak tips, dicing carrots, even smashing cloves of garlic. It has a full tang (blade is one piece into the handle)and is weighted perfectly. There are other fancier (more expensive) models offered by Wusthof, with curvy handles and granton (hollow) edges. But for the money, there are few knives with a better value all around than this one.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What do you say you do here?

First things first, welcome. Glad you could make it. Hopefully, I'll make this blog something fun and interesting and you'll find your way back here.

Introductions aside, let's cut to the chase:

What's the deal with this blog?

Well, let's just say that I'm a big fan of food: Eating, cooking, reading, pretty much everything execpt cleaning up afterward. In the past, I've tried to exhibit this love via occasional photo uploads and status updates via my Facebook account. However, I've found that using Facebook as a medium to express my thoughts does not fully allow me to expound to the detail I feel is necessary.

So, inspired by a number of friends, most notably Heather, George and Kaela, I've created this blog. My expectations are a bit of a moving target at this point. I'm fairly certain that I will be featuring some permutation of the following:

  • Some of my favorite recipies, complete with detailed step by step instuctions and photos
  • Reviews of some of my favorite restaurants, food stands and epicurian holes-in-the-wall
  • Short takes on chefs who have influenced me
  • Equipment reviews
  • Steals and deals - tales of supermarket bargain hunting
  • and the every popular catch-all category: Miscellaneous

Like I said, that's just a rough outline of what I envision for this endeavour (ooh, how British of me). Much like a well-coiffed politician, I do reserve the right to change my mind. But I don't think I'll veer too far from that list.

I hope that you'll get something out of this, whether it be humor (no extra 'u' on this one, sorry), information, insight, knowledge or just an excuse to kill some time. I look forward to adding to this as often as possible and I invite you to come along for the ride.

- Jon