Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dinner Party from Hell

   First of all, let me apologize for my lone hiatus from this blog. You have to understand that when I started this blog my place of employment was slowly, but throughly sucking the life force out of me. So much that I had no energy or desire to do anything other than get home and sit in front of the TV and mindlessly watch anything that required little more than the IQ of a tree stump. Even my favorite shows like No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain were getting to cerebral for me. I had even started to doubt if I had chosen the correct direction in my professional life. But since then I have changed jobs and am feeling a resurgence in my passion for my profession. I now work at what is probably as close to an authentic Irish Pub here in Houston, TX. I work at McGonigel's Mucky Duck.

    Now, I started working here a little over a month ago. So I got here right before the holiday season. What the holiday season means for us is dinner parties. Lots and lots of dinner parties. Last week we had four dinner parties in the span of five days, including three back to back. Yeah, that was rough, but not as rough as the first dinner party and our latest dinner party.

    Our first dinner party was a complete mess. We were poorly organized and overwhelmed. The ticket system on which we rely to keep track of what goes where and how much of what we need completely broke down. We had no idea what went where or how much was done and how much needed to be done. I was so glad when that night was done. Luckily for the next party and each subsequent one after we were much better prepared.

    That was until last night. Last night was different for several reasons. First of all, my day started at 11 am. Then we changed the menu. For all the other parties we had soup, salad and a choice of three entees then dessert. For this one, it was all one menu. It was only going to be turkey, green beans, stuffing and gravy. At the last second the owner added soup and salad. And she wanted a new dressing for the salad. So I improvised a raspberry balsamic vinaigrette. I also had to make crostinis for the soup. I had been making them all week, but that was not the problem. No, the problem was, since these were last minute changes, well, we had less that what were ideally needed.

    Another problem we had was that we only had four turkey breasts. Granted, they were freaking huge, but still. Chef Bonnie, the person in charge of the day shift only wanted to cook three, but I convinced her to cook all four. So we had all of our food ready. And the guests started to arrive. Everything was going alright until about half way through the evening. That is when it became apparent that we were going to run out of turkey and green beans. By that time, Bonnie had left.

    If you have ever worked in a kitchen then you know that nightmare. For the rest of you, there is nothing worse than running out of food right in the middle of service. Especially if it is a fixed menu. What do you do? You wing it. In our case we had smoked turkey breast. The kind you find in delis and slice really thin for sandwiches. Well, we threw that in the oven to warm it up, then cut it into pieces and served as the turkey breast we had before we ran out. The green beans we just substituted with asparagus.

    Yeah, it was a wild and crazy night. Especially considering that when it was all said and done I left work at 11 pm. A twelve hour day. I do not like working for twelve hours straight. It is what we in the industry call, not fun. But hey, at least it will make for a nice pay check.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Brian O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub

Brian O'Neill's is a little Irish Pub that has found its home in Houston, TX right next to the prestigious Rice University. It has great atmosphere and good food. It is a place to meet up with friends once a week or a place to have bigger gatherings. I first discovered Brian O'Neil's my last year at Rice University. I was forced to move off campus and my good friend and roommate at the time came with me. Since we were living off campus and had to depend on ourselves for food, we decided to explore the eateries in the Rice Village, a shopping and retail center close to Rice. One night we just happened to stumble upon Brian O's, as we now lovingly call it. That fateful day, we became life long patrons.

Brian O's may be easy to miss if you are not looking. It is wedged at the bottom of what seems to be an office building with two parking lots as book ends. Well, you might miss it, except for all the people who are out in the patio. In front of the Pub's facade is a sunken patio with plenty of tables and space. There is also a window to the bar where one can order drinks at his leisure.

Once inside you have the bar to your right, tables in front of you, a secluded room ahead next to the kitchen door and the end of the bar. There is also a little lounge type area with comfy couches and a big TV. Next to that area is the Tea Merchant's room. You can close the doors for a private function or just get away from the crowds. In the back left corner is a little alcove with a round table. This little sanctuary is where my friends and I like to meet every Wednesday. I will get into why Wednesday later.

Brian O's has been voted the best place to drink a Guinness at least twice by the Houston Press. And while that is a good reason to go, the food also has to be a large draw. The burgers are fantastic. The steaks are decent and the shepherd's pie is nothing to laugh at. Ah, but our main draw are the burgers. You see, Brian O's is one of those places that has a daily special. And Wednesday just happens to be the Big Ass Beer and Half Price Burger night. Now do you see the appeal of Brian O's on a Wednesday? So yeah, that is our weekly meeting place. This is how we keep up, talk about our jobs, ourselves and future social plans. The prefect place for meeting to talk about this, that, and everything else.

But on to the food. What kind of cooking blog would this be if I did not talk about the food? First, let's mention the burgers themselves. They are the stars of the show. And you have a nice selection too. There is the Smoky Backyard BBQ burger. This is my personal favorite. It is a half pound beef patty cooked to order topped with two large strips of crispy bacon, a smoky barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese. Next is the Swiss Alpine Burger. This one, if you have not guessed already, involves the same beef patty only now it is topped with sauteed mushrooms and swiss cheese. Yum. If you don't like those then try the Black and Bleu Burger. This one has two crispy bacon strips and crumbled blue cheese. Don't like blue cheese. The the last of the burgers on this beef parade is the Ranchero Burger. This one involves pico de gallo, white cheddar cheese and two slices of avocado. So you still have not found a burger you like, well then make your own damnit. Yes, you can create your own burger with whatever you feel like putting on it. Nothing says yummy like beef in the tummy.

So, now that we have covered the main thrust of the plate, lets explore the sides. First of all, all burgers come with a lettuce leaf, tomato and onion slice, and pickle wedge. You do have the option of getting fries, chips, fruit (for the calorie conscious), cole slaw or soup. If you choose the soup, then you get your choice of a cup of chicken tortilla, French onion, or baked potato. All choices of the soup are quite good. Although I can't decide if I like the chicken tortilla or the baked potato better. If you order the fries, you get the typical shoestring fried potatoes. If you order the chips, you get the thickly cut steak fries. Both are good and have their pros and cons. I personally like the chips better.

The other half of the meal is the big ass beer. For $8 you can own your very own 23oz. Brian O's pilsner glass, with free beer. Well, only that first beer is free. After that you have to pay to get refills. But on the plus side you get cheaper refills than if you had bought a normal draft. And you get more. That is a great benefit of the glass.

I have only touched a small portion of what great culinary delights this nifty little Irish Pub holds. But I do hope it has whetted your appetite for this place. So if you ever find yourself in Houston, TX, do yourself a favor and visit Brian O'Neil's Irish Pub.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Review of Antonio's Italian Grill

I was afforded the opportunity to eat at this little Italian Restaurant located at  1105 Center St, Deer Park thanks to my fiancee's family.  Nothing like a little family gathering to go out to eat to a new place, or in this case, a place familiar to the family, but not to me. 

As soon as we were seated I noticed that there were little bowls filled with oil (which I correctly assumed was olive) and spices.  This is always a good sign for an Italian restaurant as this means that some kind of bread will be sure to follow and you will have bread to dip in your olive oil, the Italian version of chips and salsa. 

Sure enough, shortly after we were seated and before our drink orders were taken, a waitress emerged carrying baskets of warm bread.  In each basket were two versions of bread.  One was the common elongated loaf which as pre-cut.  It was a soft garlic bread.  The other version was a singular piece of bread shaped like a triangular puffy pillow.  The crust was a harder than the other bread, but still quite soft.  It was also sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.  These pre-meal appetizers left me with high hope that the rest of the meal would be quite enjoyable.

The salad course, on the other hand, was quite a disappointment.  As with many restaurants, you got a dinner salad ahead of your entree with your choice of dressing.  When I asked what the choices of dressing were, I got a very pedestrian choice of ranch, Italian, Thousand Island, and blue cheese.  I naturally chose Italian since we were at an Italian place and since it was the closest thing to a vinaigrette.

When our salads did arrive it was easy to identify them as the standard iceberg salad mix with a few bits of shredded carrots.  I think I even managed to find half a grape tomato in there somewhere. When I finally took a bite all I could notice was the tang of the dressing.  I don't know where they got it, but it was too much acid and not enough oil.  The salad was nothing to get excited about. 

On to the entrees.  I ordered Spaghetti Dimare.  Spaghetti noddles, calamari, shrimp, mussels, and clams tossed in a light tomato sauce.  My fiancee ordered the Tuscany Grilled Tuna.  This promised to be a delight since it was a grilled tuna steak served with fettuccine noodles.  My fiancee's sister ordered a Stuffed Chicken Florentine, which was a chicken breast stuffed with cheese and spinach.  Her boyfriend ordered a Char Broiled Steak Pomodoro.  I must say these were really quite a hit and miss bunch.  After the initial good start, I was surprised by these dishes.

My dish was quite good.  The tomato sauce was a nice compliment to the sea food.  It did not overpower the complex flavors hidden within the mound of pasta.  Truthfully I only had two complaints about the dish.  Fist of all, it could have used a little more of the wonderful seafood.  A lot of volume was taken by the shells of the clams and mussels that were left in which made for nice presentation.  However, sometimes it seemed I had to dig to find what was the main thrust of the dish.  The other complaint that I have is that I really wish they would have deveined the shrimp.  To me, deveining shrimp just shows that you are willing to go the little extra for your diner.  You also have to worry that sometimes undeveined shrimp tasty a little crappy.  Well, what do you think is in the shrimp "vein"?  I would call this dish good.

My fiance's dish was kind of a disappointment.  When I read grilled tuna, I was expecting a tuna steak that had been nicely grilled on the outside but still leaving a beautiful red center.  Boy were my fiance and I surprised to find that the tuna had been completely cooked through.  Sigh.  I have always said that if you want well done tuna, might as well get it out of a can.  This was no exception.  While the taste was indeed good, you lost some of the subtlety of a rare to medium rare tuna.  Not to mention that it was a bit dry.  The pasta was good, but it just could not detract from the over cooked tuna.  Sigh, yet another dish that did not live up to its potential.

My fiance's sister's dish was one I only tasted slightly.  From what I could tell, it was not bad.  The spinach and cheese mixed together nicely and had a good flavor.  The chicken was not overdone and rubbery.  So, I guess that the Chicken Florentine passed.  At least it did from the small morsel I had.

The Char Broiled Steak Pomodoro is one that I have to report on only by hearsay.  From the account of the person who ate it, the pasta part of the dish was good.  The steak was not.  The steak was, like in a good deal of restaurants, over cooked.  He had ordered it medium well.  When he got his steak, it was more like well to over done.  Here is a little tip I have picked up over the years.  When going to a restaurant for the first time and ordering steak, order your steak a degree of doneness under what you really want it.  Chances are that the restaurant will err on the side of caution (read liability) and over do your meat.  (The exception to this rule is steak houses since it is their business to cook steaks right.)

So overall, I would not count this experience as unpleasant.  However, I don't know if I would go back there on my own.  If I did, I would just have to try something different.

Antonio's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pico's Traditional and Contemporary Mexican Cuisine

If there is one thing I missed as I have lived in the USA for most of my life it is that there is a lack of good, authentic Mexican food. Or at least that is what I thought. Growing up in a Mexican household and actually visiting my family in Mexico practically every summer, I had access and grew up eating the most delicious and authentic Mexican food directly from the source. However, when I moved to Houston, I thought my connection to the real deal was gone. Then I went to Pico's. This charming little restaurant located at 5941 Bellaire Blvd is my connection to meals of my childhood long past.

The decor of the restaurant is an interesting amalgam of Mexico. The outer facade reminded me of trips to Acapulco. There is a thatched roof covering an outer patio with a blue fountain in the middle. When the weather is agreeable it is nice to sit outside, enjoy pleasant drinks and even more pleasant company. As you walk inside you are funneled into a mini corridor with a half wall on the left and a counter with cash registers on your right. The half wall contains multiple large containers with varying ingredients common to Mexican cuisine. Directly in front of you as you walk in is the bar. There is some seating close to the bar, but the main dinning room is to the very left. Separated from the bar area, the dining room resembles something of a courtyard to me with melon colored walls decorated with Mexican artwork and vibrantly colored plates. There is at least a Trio group playing and singing music there. The decor and the music really set the atmosphere for a quite pleasant evening.

This trip to Pico's was not my first. However, this was the first time I was trying to look at the delectable meal laid out before me with an objective eye. Lucky for me, I was also surrounded by friends, so I could take a glimpse into their Mexican culinary adventure. As I had dined there before, I had already had and fallen in love with Pico's version of Cochinta Pibil. This is shredded pork seasoned in achiote(annatto) and orange juice, making it a perfectly balanced sweet and tangy mix. It is served with pickled red onions. But like I said, I had already had that before and wanted to check out some of their other fare.

At the onset I was torn between ordering the Chiles en Nogada, which are roasted and stuffed poblano chiles which are then cooked in peanut sauce with olives, almonds and raisins, covered with a cold creamy walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranates. This dish is usually called the national dish of Mexico because the green chiles, the white sauce and the red pomegranates give it the color of the national flag.

The other dish I was considering was the Filete al Chipotle. This is an 8 oz. charbroiled piece of tenderloin smoothered in Chihuahua cheese and topped with a chipotle and parsley sauce. Can you see why I was torn? In reality it was an easy choice to make. My tongue was screaming for the tender beef doused in cheese and sauce. However, my Mexican pride was pulling at my heart strings to try the chiles, since this would be the first time and what kind of a Mexican would I be if I had never even eaten the national dish?

Well, in the end, it was neither of these dishes that won out. No, it was a daily special. When the waiter came by to take our order, he dutifully informed us of the specials. The one that caught my ear was the Pescado Tampico. It was described as a sauteed fillet of red snapper topped with a delightful mixture of pico de gallo and lump crab meat. I was hooked. Seeing as how red snapper is one of my favorite fish and then it was being topped with crab meat and pico de gallo, how could I lose? Well, I was not disappointed.

When my plate arrived I gazed upon the fillet topped not only with the aforementioned combo of crab and pico de gallo, but also with fresh avocado slices and accompanied with freshly grilled vegetables. The fish was perfectly cooked so it was nice and flaky. The avocado, crab and salsa mingled together as if they had always meant to be playing ever so gaily on my palate. The mixture of juices made the perfect sauce as it pooled gently around my vegetables which were ever so masterfully grilled. They were nice and tender, the sweetness of the veggies balanced with the slight bitterness of the char marks.

One unexpectedly pleasant thing I discovered was that with the usual suspects of yellow squash and zucchini, I found some grilled carrots. Now, normally I am not a fan of cooked carrots because I don't like the mushy, over sweet flavor, but in these I found a new way to appreciate carrots. They had retained some of the crunch that makes carrots appealing to me, but were still tender enough to cut easily. The sweetness was accentuated by the grilling, but not over powering.

Like I said, I was happy with my selection. I was now curious of the choices of the people around me. I asked my fiancee how her chicken mole enchiladas were. She let me have a bite. From that one bite I could discern that while the mole was indeed tasty and edible, it was a bit too tangy for my taste. Like I said, it was good and I took another couple of bites, but it just did not live up to expectations. Maybe it was the slight sourness of the cheese, and yes the cheese is supposed to be that way, maybe it was because of what I was eating and not having cleansed my palate, but the mole is something that just did not excite me tonight.

Another friend of mine tried the Cochinita Pibil on my recommendation. He was happily satisfied with it. My next task is to ask my mom how to make said dish and share this with my friends. The humorous part about the cochinita was when I instructed my friend how to eat it. I "informed" him that the best way to eat the dish is with the pork placed in warm corn tortillas and topped with the pickled onions. The onions add sourness to the pork and wrapped up in the corn tortillas just make the best tacos one has ever eaten.

As I have said before, this was not my first trip out to Pico's and I am sure it will not be the last. I think next time I will try the Chiles en Nogada.

Pico's Mex-Mex Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oven baked fish with a citrus buerre blanc

Oven Baked Fish with a Citrus Buerre Blanc
Serves 4-6

2-3 lbs. white fish fillets   (Tilapia, cod, snapper, sole, flounder, halibut)
1/2 cup white wine
2-4 Tbls unsalted butter
1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to  375-400 degrees.
Place fillets in a shallow baking dish or cook sheet.
Season fillets with salt and pepper to taste.
Moisten fish with wine and pour around the fillets.
Top with pats of butter.
Bake for approx. 10-12 min. or until fillets are opaque, firm and flaky.
Remove from oven and season with the juice from the lemon. (for extra lemon flavor, season with lemon zest too)
Serve with Rice pilaf and asparagus.

This recipe also works great with salmon. 

This is one of those recipes born of necessity.  At work I had some tilapia and no really recipes for it.  I wanted to do a little more than just season the fish with salt and pepper and maybe a little lemon juice.  I noticed that we had a little white wine left over from another recipe so I decided to add it to the pan I was baking my fish in.  I also thought that a little fat never hurt anybody and makes fish tasty, especially if that fat is butter.  And since I was going to squeeze fresh lemon juice on the fish anyways, I decided to keep that part of the equation.  I always like to add my lemon juice on any fish i cook at the end after it comes out of the oven or is done in the pan.  That way you get a fresh and light zap with your fish.  I think this recipe is a pretty nifty one. 

Monday, July 16, 2007

FuFu Cafe

This quaint little Chinese cafe with only twelve tables, the largest of which sits only six people, is lacated at 9889 Bellaire Blvd wedged into a little shopping center of Chinatown surrounded by an Iranian cafe on the left and a bakery on the right.  This is place where the dumplings are bountiful and the the entrees authentic(or at least as authentic as we can get here).  I got the chance to share this meal with friends and future family.  There is only one word that I can really use to describe the experience.... WOW!! 

     We first started by ordering a round of dumplings.  Well, in truth we ordered four different sets of dumplings.  The first set to come out were the pork dumplings.  Sixteen little nuggets of pork meat encapsulated in a heavy, thick dough like won ton wrapper.  These dumplings were quite delicious.  The wrapper itself was worth it.  If you didn't know any better you would think it felt like uncooked pie dough.  But the taste is quite different.  It was chewy and delectable and was only the first layer.  The pork held in the middle was nice and perfectly seasoned and almost melt in your mouth tender.  These dumplings were made for dipping sauce.  Oh, and the beauty of the dipping sauce is that you made your own from a combination of red and black vinegars, soy sauce and Vietnamese red chili paste. 

     We had two other sets of dumplings, that while they were good, they were not exactly noteworthy.  No, the Pièce de résistance were the steamed pork buns, otherwise known as "soup dumplings".  These culinary innovations are pork dumplings that have been stuffed with pork and a gelatinous form of cold broth so that when it is steamed, the broth melts and leaves you with a dumpling filled with hot soup.  There are four to an order and come out steaming hot.  I learned ahead of time that the strategy to these is patience.  You have to wait until they are no longer steaming to really enjoy them.  Otherwise, you get a mouthful of hot soup that scorches your mouth and tongue and pretty much ruins the rest of your meal because you can no longer taste anything.  The only real way to eat these delicious morsels is to pop the entire thing in your mouth and chew.  And once you do, prepare to be in dumpling heaven.  The broth is flavorful and rich.  You can almost feel the gelatin in your mouth.  The pork was once again perfectly seasoned, moist and appetizing.  The wrapper was like the one for the pork dumplings.  All the components were good by themselves, but as a whole... The make an astonishing combination.

     Next we ordered some typical entrees and some not as typical.  On the menu were general Tso's chicken, sweet and sour pork, walnut chicken,  kung pao chicken, and two dishes involving wide rice noodles and beef.  Now, all the food was good.  But the things that stand out the most to me were the two things that are probably most common in your everyday, run of the mill, please the white people Chinese food buffet.  The genral Tso's chicken and the sweet and sour pork were superb. 

     First, let me turn my attention to the sweet and sour pork.  This sweet and sour pork was not your typical greasing fried  pork nuggets smothered in glow in the dark, fluorescent pink sauce.  Oh no, this dish was made with real culinary effort.  The pork was slice thin and probably just dusted with flour before fried and then covered in a pungent sauce based on honey.  Sweet and sour, yes, but not like anything you've ever had before.

     Next is the general Tso's chicken.  This chicken was the quintessential definition of juicy moist inside with a crunchy, crispy outside.  The sauce was absolute magic.  Thick enough to be a sauce, but not so thick it could be considered pudding.  It was tangy, spicy, and sweet all at the same time. Each bite was pure delight. 

     I don't think I have ever enjoyed Chinese food as much as I have before I went to this place. In fact, I must return because I don't know if ordinary Chinese food will do now.  If nothing else, the soup dumplings make the trip worth it.

  Fu Fu Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Deliciously Decadent

Today at work we created something deliciously decadent.  What is better than a perfectly grilled steak?  How about a perfectly grilled steak topped with a chile lime butter?  Yeah, that would be good, but what if you added lump crab meat tossed in more chile lime butter?  That would be a version of surf and turf so good it would be outlawed in the deep south.  The moist and juicy beef played the perfect canvas to the topping of crab, butter, chile and lime juice.  The sweetness of the crabmeat masterfully combines with the acidity of the lime juice and spiciness of the chiles.  One would think that the two together would be too rich, but the combo was quite good.  I can't say it was light, but it was not overwhelming.    The way to make this is quite easy.  Make your chile lime butter ahead of time (recipe to follow).  Grill your sirlion to your preference seasoned only with salt and pepper.  As you turn your steak to grill the other side, put a couple of dollops of the butter over the steak.  If you don't have a grill, you can do this under the broiler.  When your steak is done cooking and resting, add a little bit of the butter to a saute pan and let it heat up.  Toss about 1/4 to a 1/2 pound of lump crab meat with the melted butter so that the meat heats up, then top your steak with it and enjoy.

Chile Lime Butter

1 Tbls Cooking Oil
1 Shallot Minced
1-2 Serano Chiles finely minced
1-2 Jalpeno Chiles Finely minced
1 Medium Lime juiced and zested
Salt to taste
1/2 stick of butter softened

In a small saute pan heat oil then add shallot, chiles and zest.  Cook until you can smell them and shallots are translucent.  Add the juice of the lime and then adjust salt.  Remove the mixture from the heat and mix with the softened butter.  For best use, take the mixture and make a roll from parchment or wax paper then set in the refrigerator overnight or in the freezer for two hours. 

In a pinch, the butter can still be used soft, but it will keep much better and have more use once hardened.  This compound butter is very versatile and can be used on fish, shellfish, beef, chicken, pasta... In other words, just about anything you can come up with.

Pan Sauces

Many people don't know what they are missing when they cook something in the pan then discard what's left.  Those are the most scrumptious bits stuck on the bottom loaded with flavor and are perfect for making pan sauces. In a few simple steps I will give you the keys to making your own pan sauces.

The fist step is to cook whatever it is your are cooking in a large enough saute pan to hold your liquid for your sauce.  Use enough fat (oil, butter or a combo of both) to cook your protein, but not so much that you have a puddle of fat left in your pan.  If this is the case, then just drain some of it off.  After your protein is cooked, remove it from the pan and hold.  You now have the foundation for your sauce.

The next step is kind of tricky because it involves the fat left over from the initial step.  There should be some fat left from when you first started cooking.  The tricky part, especially if it is your first time making a sauce, is to gauge how much fat you need.  You are going to use this fat to saute the additives to sauce. The additives add highlights of flavor.  They can range from capers or pepper corns, to garlic and shallots, to aromatic herbs and vegetables.  When, sauteing these, you should cook them just until you can smell them.

When you can finally smell your additives, then you add liquid such as chicken stock or wine.  You don't need a whole lot of liquid.  Usually about half to a full cup will do, depending on how much sauce you want to do.  When you add your liquid to the hot pan, it will dislodge all the tasty bits that were left on the bottom.  You can help the process by stirring the liquid and scrapping the bottom of the pan with a whisk (it will come in handy later as well).  This step is called deglazing the pan.   Now you just let the liquid reduce by half to 3/4 of its original volume. Some would say let the pan be almost dry, but I think it makes a fuller sauce to have some liquid. 

The last step is the hardest because it requires patience.  What you are going to do is add butter.  This is called mounting a sauce.  The butter gives the sauce flavor as well as shine and thickens it up.  You will need about half a stick to a stick of butter.  The key to adding the sauce is to break it up into small pieces and adding it slowly.  Cut the butter into about eight to twelve small pieces.  Then whisk the butter in one piece at a time, making sure that the butter is completely incorporated into the sauce before adding the next piece.  Another key to the butter is to make sure it is as cold as possible.  If you can cut the butter and keep it in the refrigerator until you need it.  If it starts to get hot, stick it in the freezer. 

After all the butter is incorporated, adjust the seasonings on the sauce.  The sauce should be nice and thick and coat the back of a spoon easily.  If it is still a little thin, then add a little more butter.  If you add too much butter, the sauce will break and be grainy.  You can try to fix it by adding a bit more liquid.  With a little bit of practice, you can be making pan sauces in no time.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Revising Chinese Menu Items

How would you like eating such menu items as "Virgin Chicken", "Burnt Lion's Head" or even "Steamed Crap"?  What?  Those don't  sound appetizing to you?  Well, before you get to many ideas of what these things are, let me just tell you what they are.  These are just the garbled English translations you might find as menu items in China.  Virgin chicken is just a young chicken dish.  Burn lion's head is just Chinese style pork meatballs and steam crap is really steamed carp. 

But these intriguing monikers might soon be a thing of the past as the Beijing Tourism Bureau is looking to put the best foot forward for the upcoming Olympics in Beijing.  Part of that is eradicating such linguistic faux pas.  "These translations either scare or embarrass foreign customers and may cause misunderstanding on China's diet habits," the official Xinhua News Agency reported. 

This is just the latest efforts to clean up the city.  Others include things like lessons in not spitting, littering, and driving badly.  The Tourism Bureau has released a list of 2,753 proposed names for food and drink that don't have the bizarre and sometimes absurd translations.  The new names are based on things like ingredients, cooking method, taste, or the name of a person or place.  They have been working on these for over a year now.

Food & Beverage International

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Raw Foods Diet

Here, we go again. ANOTHER fad diet. First it was Atkins, where you could eat five pounds of bacon, but heaven help you if you ate a piece of toast. Well, we all know how that turned out. Dr. Atkins died shortly before his company went broke and now there is significant proof that low carb/high protein diets are not good for people. Good job slick. Then there was the South Beach Diet. Now this one is not so out of the world, but it has morphed into some sick twisted trendy thing that everyone thinks they can do with a book and a weekend. See a doctor or nutritionist? What for, I have a book that will be my key to weight loss and happiness. Yeah, provided you don't screw yourself up. Now, we have the raw food movement, aka: raw food diet, raw foodism. SWEET MONKEY JEBUS!!

 So, what does this new fad involve? Essentially it is a diet that consists of food that is kept in its "raw" or "living" state. It would have us eat mainly fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, and nothing that has been heated to over 116 degrees F. Meat may be consumed as long as it is not heated beyond this magical number. Freezing is ok as well as dehydrating. Benefits of the raw food diet include, weight loss, increased energy, better digestion, and decreased risk of heart disease.

Well, that does not seem so bad, does it? No, except for the fact that this "diet" is just not "natural" as the crackhead proponents would have you believe. First of all, this diet is not good for children, pregnant women, women that are nursing, people with risk of osteoporosis, and people with anemia. If a diet is natural, then shouldn't everyone be able to eat it? Second of all, the diet can cause NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES!!! Deficiencies in vitamin B-12, calcium, iron, protein and calories. Hmm. A "diet" that causes deficiencies? How the hell does that work.

Furthermore, how are you going to tell me that you should not cook your meat? I'm sorry, but raw meat does not sound tasty. Hell, a lot of things raw don't sound tasty, but I am going to get into that later. I heard from a friend that someone she knows will eat his or her chicken raw to adhere to the "raw food diet". RAW CHICKEN?!! I'm sorry, but I will laugh my happy ass off when they haul that person to the emergency room with a case of salmonella poisoning. Sure, you can say, well, just don't eat meat. But why? I think this is just a ploy by Vegetarians and their uber-devout counter parts, the vegans, to convince us that what we eat is wrong.

Look, I am not saying eating raw veggies, fruits and nuts is wrong. Hell, we should probably eat more than what we do. But to make an entire DIET out of them is crazy. We need the cooked foods for our health. I mean, yeah cooking does affect the nutritional content of foods, but at the same time, it makes our food safer. By cooking food we kill dangerous bacteria and other things that can make us sick. With a normal diet of cooked foods, we don't see nutritional deficiencies. And let's not forget the fact that you can poison yourself with raw food. Kidney beans are toxic raw, as well as buckwheat greens. Potatoes can be deadly when the skin turns green.

Lastly I want to talk about just the sheer pleasure of eating cooked foods. Is someone going to convince you that a raw potato is better than a pillow mound of mashed potatoes? Are you going to tell me that a raw apple is any better than warm apple pie? And are you willing to give up meat or at the very least eat it raw, with out cooking it? Are you also going to tell me that you are never going to eat your favorite cuisine because it is not raw?

The more I look at it, the more the raw movement does not hold water. And the thing that gets me is who is adhering to this nonsense. Sure there are your celebrities like Woody Harleson and Demi Moore. But then again celebrities fall for some of the most bogus stuff. Just look at Scientology. No, the one that gets me is Charlie Trotter. Charlie Trotter, for those who don't know, is a highly respected and admired celebrity chef and restaurateur. At least he was. Oh Chef, how could you have been duped into believing this nonsense?

No, I just hope that people have more sense than to fall for yet another fad diet. Diets are something that should be taken seriously and be undertaken with the guidance of a trained professional. Whether that be a doctor or nutritionist, well that is up to you. I am not saying there are not benefits to eating more raw foods. But just don't abandon what has kept humans alive and well for so many centuries.