Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Kitchen Confidential and a la Cart

Ha! Gotcha Mr. Foodie know it all!  Anybody with even a rudimentary knowledge of the food service circus knows that it is “à la cartE” Well, read on, oh high and mighty expert!  In this instance it IS spelled correctly!

One of the things that I can more or less manage is cook.  However, since our counter tops are fairly high, it is sometimes (always) hard for me to dice, slice, and prep ingredients from my transfer chair.  Well, as usual MFO to the rescue.   She consulted Carl Taylor at Beautiful Kitchens and Baths, and we communally came up with at design for a carT (no “E”!)  HA!  It is not only functional, but also a very nice piece of furniture.

The container in the upper right is a removable bowl into which the detritus of “stuff” that is generated can be scraped.  The shelves are “roll out” easily opened with one hand. 

The top is top of the line Boos Block (which is tops!), which is kept smooth and nice looking with application of their “Mystery Oil”

After a bit of use (and experience) we are in the process of implementing “Mod One”, which will bring electric to the cart for food processing, blending, using the knife sharpener, etc.  I was envisioning a clunky power strip, but no, the technology is ahead.  There’s this nifty little “pop up” power thingy designed especially for counter tops

And looky that!  USB ports.  Amazing.

Also getting drawer pulls to mount on the ends.  The down side is that it is quite heavy to horse around, so something to hang on to would help, plus they will double as a towel rack.

Sooo, no excuse not to use it.  Our first foray was to try to cook a full size pizza.  So got some dough mix from the web, and assembled stuff

We got some pork sausage from WAG (Willie A Guy) farm in Leonardtown as the only “local” ingredient.  MFO rolled out the dough and sauced it

And sprinkled the (cooked) sausage over it.

All was going well at this point, the (world’s most expensive) Pizza stone was in the oven and things looked good.   The pizza was on the (world’s cheapest) peel, and then things started to go down hill.  In rolling out the dough, it kind of stuck to the (well corn mealed) cart top so a couple of holes appeared.  Easily fixed.  But, when it came time to put the pie on the stone in the oven, it more or less refused to budge from the peel.  So with some tools, braving the 500 degree oven, we managed to coax it onto the stone.   Didn’t do anything for the shape, kind of went amoeba-like.  After ten or so minutes, it looked very nice and bubbly melty, crust appeared quite brown.   Time to extract it from the oven.  

You know those shots you see of some chef sliding a peel effortlessly under a perfectly cooked pizza?  Oh no, not here.  Again with the heat searing the eyebrows, we found the pie pretty much welded to the stone despite what I thought was correct preparation measures.  It laughed at the peel so I basically had to use a spatula like a chisel to pry it from the stone back onto the peel.  By this time, it resembled an amorphous blob covered in sausage; bearing little resemblance to what one would consider a classic pizza shape..  The GOOD NEWS if any, was that it tasted very good.

Take Two, A bit better..
Having some sausage (which was very good, by the way) left over from the Pizza wars, undaunted I thought: Hey!  I could make my own sausage McMuffin for breakfast!   So trotted out the ingredients

Formed the sausage into patties and began to cook them in the (alleged) non-stick pan

I have finally trained myself to not poke and peek at something in a fry pan, so left them alone to caramelize..well, it isn’t my week for “non-stick”; finally, with the aid of a spatula, I flipped them to find they were a tad overdone.

I put them in another (covered) pan with some Boar's Head cheese like material (probably faithful to Mickey Dee’s) and to melt, which it did pretty well

Meanwhile, I toasted the Muffin, and fried the egg in the same pan used for the sausage

And, although kind of out of scale I assembled my “Muffin”.
It was kind of messy and quite thick, but I managed, and it wasn’t bad.  I think a thinner sausage patty next time

So, that’s what a self-quarantined blogger does.  Riveting reading, eh?  But the cart is very nice.

Does this seem familiar??

And there’s not much reason these days to

One remembers flavor more than dates and times in the memory portion of the brain
Jeff Smith  

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Pass the Cheese please!

Good day, CORVID-19.  The world has gone nuts.. On the feeder side, we’re trying to do take away food as much as possible, this will be very hard for small independent restaurants.

So instead of thinking about “six feet” or “wash hands every 20 seconds” or is that FOR 20 seconds”, ones thoughts naturally turns to……..cheese! 

I used to say (whether asked or not) that cheese is my favorite food.  It exhibits more variations of flavors and characteristics than any other food I can thinks of. One could not possibly get their arms (or tongues) wrapped around all of them, although it would be a noble challenge.  Tomes have been written about them, such as the Oxford Companion to Cheese for as much as $60.  However, I have long relied on

Which lists over 100 cheeses, with descriptions each one, which milk it is made from, (i.e., sheep, cows, goats, etc.), pungency level (how smelly is it), maturity, and even suggests a wine to pair with.  It pretty well sticks to “gourmet” cheeses, well known varieties from around the world.  In the margins I have kept track of which ones I have sampled from our journeys (French Country Waterways barge trips, where you're served 6 cheeses a day!) and I only scratched the surface.  As I said, there is quite a spectrum of cheeses available to the consumer today, and each does fill a niche and the Feeder has examples of most of them .

It starts with “cheese” in blister packs, pre-cut, neatly packaged pasteurized process from Deli companies like Dietz and Watson, and of course Boar’s Head.  While it does have some flavor, it’s chief characteristic is that it is ready for use immediately, with no cutting or grating.   There is also an incredible amount bags of shredded stuff for pizza, tacos, casseroles, and the like, again offering convenience above quality.
The next step “up” would be to the bulk packaged stuff from companies like Kraft, Land O’Lakes, and Cabot plus somewhat specialty places like Tillamook from Oregon who produce an astounding number of variations of product
Their Sharp Cheddar isn’t bad, but we tend to rely on Cabot more, maybe easier to find.

Ireland produces a spectrum of cheeses (and butter) under the “Kerry Gold” label, lately they are bally-hooing (is that Irish?) the fact that they all come from grass fed cows, and have entered the bagged and sliced market. Their bulk cheeses all carry Irish names like Dubliner, Skellig, Blarney Castle ,Kildery, etc.  in the “fine print” on the label it usually divulges what “style” it is, Swiss, Gouda, etc. 

The price point is 7 ounces for 7 bucks, which equates to $18 per pound, kind of “middle of the road” for a "higher scale" cheese, but it is quite dense and can hardly be consumed in one sitting, so not bad per serving...

Before moving on, it might be useful to slog through the information compiled below (did I mention I am ORDERED to not leave the house – i.e., time is a cheap commodity).

Why Does Cheese Cost so Much?

The Cost of Milk: All cheese begins with milk, and milk is a commodity—its price is part market-determined and part publicly administered through a wide variety of pricing regulations. 

The Cost of “Transformation”, i.e., turning milk into cheese: Smaller batches mean more time and higher labor costs to process the same amount of cheese—a less efficient operation. Larger cheese making operations also benefit from precise but costly production machines that smaller makers can't afford.

The Cost of “Time” If you're aging cheese, your cash is tied up every day that wheel or block sits on the shelf. But the type of aging determines how costly that time will be. "Cave-aged," "cellar-ripened," or "natural-rinded" cheeses must age in open air conditions. They are handled with considerable care and expertise.  They are turned, flipped, brushed, and possibly washed.  For example:  It costs three times as much to age a cheese like Uplands' award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve. A ten-pound wheel requires $3 a month in carrying costs. As Andy says, "We don't ripen it that way because it's nostalgic or good for marketing. It's the best way we know to develop that kind of flavor complexity."

The Cost of “Tradition” many American cheesemakers choose traditional methods in their quest for finer cheese. Many of these traditions hail from Europe, and in EU countries today cheesemakers receive financial support from the government to produce cheese the old fashioned way. In the US, there's no such support.

The Cost of Supply Chain Finally, there's the cost of getting a cheese to market. After it leaves a maker, a cheese typically goes to a distributor who in turn sells it to a retailer. Together, these links in the chain add a gross markup of 45 to 70% on top of the cost paid to the cheesemaker. It's not unusual to pay $30 a pound for a cheese whose maker received $12 a pound.

Which is a good primer for our last category:  “real” cheese as sold by cheese mongers such as the venerable Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York City.
Founded in 1940 by Murray Greenberg, a Jewish veteran of the Spanish Civil War. Murray's Cheese is proud to be a Greenwich Village tradition and part of the neighborhood’s rich food history, along with neighboring destinations like Faicco's, Ottomanelli's and Rocco's. Murray Greenberg built a great reputation for the business.

I recently ordered two cheeses from them:
a soft Goat’s Milk cheese from the Loire Valley and the village of the same name.  It is always coated in black ash.  The flavor is mild and nutty (like the Bottom Feeder!).  It costs $17 for a 6 oz. piece (which would equate to $51 per pound, but 6 ounces is adequate for a couple of nights for two.

And Bleu d’Auvergne

 Bleu d’Auvergne is made in the Cantal and Puy-de-Dome in the Massif Central.  Started out as an imitation tof Roquefort, using cow’s milk instead of ewe’s milk. It is on the lightly flavored end of the Bleu Cheese spectrum; Murray’s sells a half pound for $12.

So, most readers know we usually begin our evening with cocktails.  Cheese usually finds its way as a selection, and Hey! "Living Well IS the Best Revenge" (as FOJTE likes to say), so we don’t mind serving (ourselves) the more expensive stuff. 

The Selles is on the left of the cheese slate with the Auvergne on the right.  

Both were excellent.

One note before closing, not to be preachy or pedantic, but allow at least an hour for the cheese to come to room temperature before you eat it.  Analogous to letting wine “breathe” the cheese will develop its true flavor profile.

Okay, enough botheration for today.  Hopefully you found some knowledge and appreciation for the greatest food on earth

And if you’re self-quarantined, no worries about

You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.”
– Anthony Bourdain


Monday, March 16, 2020

The Madness of March

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only
Charles Dickens, A tale of Two Cities – 1859
Wow. How true today.

Normally on this date, we’d be yakking about who got left out of the NCAA tourney, why Liberty in, so and so team not.  Not this year.  “March Madness” extends not only to sports but the culture in general… normally in the Sunday Post there is a half-page dedicated to “Television and Radio”, a listing what sport is on when.  Here is yesterday’s entry:

This had the effect of leaving some athletes dumb founded, dazed, and confused

Anyway, the month of March is kind of unique in other ways, I am a bit late, but there is the  tried, trite, and trivial bit about the 4th of the month as a command to go forward: “March forth”
And the 3/14 is the kind of lame “Pi Day”

Or for the Feeder

And the next day of course, is the admonishment from William Shakespeare’s soothsayer to Julius Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March”

So March has a few things going for it..

Before I got the message/edict from Johns Hopkins Pulmonary Team (basically: STAY HOME), we did go out to support a fund raiser for “Feed St. Mary’s” an initiative to set up a Food Bank locally for non-profits that have food pantries as a source of food without going up to Baltimore, etc.  It was held in the renovated “tap room” of Bollywood

They had, as best they could legally could, my favorite (pasteurized, non-cocktail) beverage

Food was available from the normal Bollywood Buffet, and despite a request by our event chairman to list low sodium and “mild” items. It turned out to be “Indian Food Roulette”.  MFO brought me a plate, and I would sample and determine what had heat, searing heat, or was on “my side” of the tolerance line.  Needless to say, I didn’t go away sated..

Entertainment was supplied by “One Trick Pony” a band of people of our generation.  The table where we were seated was at the far end of the band, and we were basically “trapped” by their equipment on the floor of the "escape route" when it came time (for us) to leave, but fortunately they were “on break” and more than happy to move the stuff.  One of the members held the doors for us, and even came outside to help MFO back the MOMSTER from its parking place.  Nice gesture.

Yesterday morning, aware of the Ides, I tackled the mounting pile of bills awaiting payment.  By the time I finished, the pile was large, and the bank account smaller.

To repair my mood, I fixed myself a veggie, cheese and salsa Omelet.

Okay about a wrap, but I did try to get a photo of the March “Worm Moon”, which was either enhanced or detracted by the clouds

And always entertained by the passing boats on the river: “Red Sails in the Sunset”, except the sail wasn’t red, and it was noonish. 

Okay, time to “march” on..

Hunkering in place doesn’t require me to

Small cheer, and great welcome makes a merry feast
William Shakespeare

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Chicago on eastern standard time

Does anybody really know what time it is? (I don't)
Does anybody really care? (care about time)
If so I can't imagine why (no, no)


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Even More Stuff

Well, my analog calendar tells me that today is the 7th of March.  When I intended to post on the 4th of March, I was going to use the old saw about “Today is a command to go forward ~ March Forth!”, but as usual where DOES that time go anyway?  Somehow  March Seventh doesn’t seem to have any clever meaning attached.  It does however mark the return to "Standard" time.  Ugh. up and at'em early tomorrow. Ugh.

So, I’ll just use some “ink” on this’s and thatses which have come to my attention lately.

Emoji’s.  Have you noticed lately that facebook, Messenger, and similar social media sites seem to be trying harder and harder to drive you to the use of Emoji’s?  When you click on the little moon face in a text, you get either a page full of those inane animated cartoon like things (gifs??) or a bunch of emoji’s.  can’t just get the little winking guy, no, no, no, I just want a face.  “wouldn’t you like to try the new Emoji keyboard?  Click here!”   NO DAMMIT, I just want the little guy.

As kind of a corollary, a friend once sent me a rather scholarly paper on the use of emoticons.  Ancient men carved what now might be called emoji’s on the walls of their caves telling stories without a written language.  We’ve maybe come full circle!  Anyway, it’s annoying.. 

Cooking Videos.  I think I have mentioned that I succumbed to watching instructional videos as offered by Master Class , primarily sucked in by the prospect of a Thomas Keller course.  I bought a single class, and wound up buying the complete access to get to his other (two) courses.  While I never would tell the loyal readers how to spend their hard earned cash, I found them well worth the (fairly dear) investment.  Keller explains every step, offers little insights as to why you for instance off set the stock pot on the heat to drive the impurities to one side for easy skimming.  Full of stuff like that.  Plus, he just wants to teach you, not show off as a Guy Fieri might.  He generally tells you the French name of what he is doing, or cooking.  Great Stuff!!

So, I finally finished all three (lengthy) lessons, and although I am unlikely to roast a chicken taking three days (dry age, brine, etc.) it is fun to see what things they do in the French Laundry or Bouchon and why they are world class,  three starred restaurants.   So, eager to continue watching cooking videos, I started a Jamie Oliver series.  Well, (over stated a bit) Jamie shouldn’t carry Thomas’s dirty pans.  He is informative, and has a bit of braggadocio about him, and does seem to care about what he cooks.  A couple of contrasts:  Keller points out that the purpose of the steel in most knife sets is to hone the edge only, not “sharpen” it.  Jamie, on the other hand routinely says “keep your knife sharpened by using the steel”.  Keller cautions you to NOT push your spoon against the screen in your Chinois, but tap it, where Oliver says you should use the back of a spoon to force the liquid through the mesh.  Besides culinary videos there are photography ones by Annie Leibovitz for instance.  Not bad.

“Philosophy”   A loyal (and vocal) reader asked me the other day if I ever came out of a restaurant saying “that was great!”.  Fair question.  My usual rambling answer was yes.  BUT not because it was at a Michelin starred place, it is because it met expectations.  An example:  If I go to Abell’s diner down in Clements, I expect to share my lunch with HVAC, electricians, and other tradesmen, who might look askance at me with a “who’s this guy?” gaze; a lady behind the counter older than me who might call me “Hon”.  A pre-made burger on a Wonder bread bun, Cisco fries (but crunchy and hot), a little Caddy on the counter with catsup, mustard, perhaps a little bottle of hot sauce, AND malt vinegar.   If all those things happen, it’s a GREAT MEAL.   Alert readers might remember I term these places “just right”.  Enjoy them while they’re still here. 

Cuppa Joe. We stopped by St. Inie’s coffee shop, hearing they had installed a “elevator” for poor schlubs like me that can no longer negotiate stairs.  Well, not quite what comes to mind with the word “elevator”.  It’s one of those (in this case) two “cars” that only go vertically, requiring a change mid ride. 
AResized wcm T1i 200302 -7977.
Being first time users, we had to ask for help and a gracious person came out to assist.  Well, you need a fist full of keys, one to open the door to the first cubicle, one to activate the system, requiring the rider to hold down the “up” toggle the whole ride, and then transfer at top to the second car.  There is no room at the top to do a “180” which in my case is required to bump backwards over the threshold. Another key to open the door, then you can go into the coffee shop.  Once inside, it’s very pleasant, the staff is kind, and there are plenty of varieties to choose your beans from
Which can be ground to your preference or just come along as whole beans.  No machines, they employ the “pour over” method only.  No lattes, no macchiato’s, or froo-froo drinks.  Just honest great coffee. 
Now, I have to applaud them for attempting to provide “access” but what they have is not something we would repeat on a regular basis..

Comings, Goings, and Stayings.  Well St. Inie’s is located in the middle of (“old”) Lexington Park, quite near this venerable building with a storied past.  Long timers will recognize it as “The Roost”.  It is in a new guise,
Featuring the very popular and well known and ubiquitous Vietnamese dish
A tough locale as has been proven by a string of failed attempts.  Never uphill since “rue’s roost” went dark.

Elements apparently is holding to closing this spring sometime, and rumor has it that the building will become part of the ever-expanding Ruddy group.  We’ll see.

There is a place on Great Mills (with I think a branch on the solomon’s)
That I keep hearing about.  Anybody familiar with it?   Good/Bad??

And lastly, there has been buzz about a replacement for the “Bottom of the Hill” place which has apparently shuttered after two(?) years or so.  My initial report was that it was going to be a “seafood” restaurant.  Have you ever had a Dover Sole deboned at the table by a server in a Tux, removing the delicate flesh and bone from a perfectly sautéed whole fish?  One of the joys of a real Seafood staple.   Well, I really wouldn’t expect that (I can dream can’t I??) but maybe a decent place for fresh fish, nicely prepared (other than fried).  Well, the same alert reader sent me a picture that dashed any thoughts of that
OMG here we go again, fried crab balls, perch, or maybe catfish.  Happy Seafood House?  Oh, dear.  Wonder who…

Okay, I’ve held you long enough, just some stuff to get off my chest.   Not sure how you would

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well
Virginia Woolf

Monday, March 2, 2020

just Stuff...

Two days ago was “leap day”, the 29th of February.  This phenomenon won’t occur again until…..4 years from now.  Oh, well.

Within the past week, the Feeder has visited three restaurants in the area.   SweetBay in Leonardtown, Elements in Lexington Park, and Cow and Fish in Hollywood. 

Readers might well expect the Feeder to stack them up, one to three.  Well, the Feeder is not going to do that.  They are kind of in different cycles of their life, from learning to walk, to hitting their stride, to their twilight years.  Each has strengths, and some areas for improvement, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them as long as you know what you can expect. 

The important thing in considering a restaurant is “what is the final thought you had when leaving”. Such as: “great food, but……”;  “wish the server would have…”; “why did it take so long for…” type of thing.   It’s the overall “experience” that counts, not just what’s on your plate.

So we’ve got a few good places, that are worth your $ and time.

Ahead of things as usual
Alert readers may remember that I complained about how food items now have to have a “style” attached?  (St. Louis Style ribs; North Carolina style BBQ)…  And pizza has always been prone to geographical location of the pies.  Well, one of my “trade” rags, Restaurant and Hospitality

Must have read my post, as they came out with this article

They covered (only) five cities:/regions: Brooklyn; New York; American Neapolitan; California: and Detroit.   Chicago didn’t make the cut oddly enough.
Here’s a snippet from the Detroit entry

In a future post, I might go into more depth on the characteristics of their "regions"

OBTW the cover story about “pricing” is very interesting.  The problem arises out of the “minimum wage” situation which requires a restaurant to wrestle with how to meet those regulations without raising prices.  Various schemes are developed to meet these challenges, Subscription Dining; too involved to summarize here. 

Good stuff in there: 5 ingredients to watch in 2020:  Grains of Paradise (west African); Ajvar (Balkan peppers); Unripe Produce (Chefs are playing with the unique textures of unripe fruits and vegetables); Ash (the “new smoke”, look for Ash baked” ingredients to hit the menus this year; Vermouth (This classic will take center stage on drink menus).

This’s and That’s

SweetBay: now has (new menu) a $42 bone-in tenderloin on the menu;  now offers wine by the bottle on extensive list (which currently does not show vintages).

 Quality Street: rumor has it that they may be moving into the “new hotel” in Leonardtown to serve breakfast and lunch.  Big step!

Cow and Fish: not exactly germane, but FOJTE found this “blast from the past”:

Elements: Suiters in work for post-closing (in May)

Bottom of the Hill (Leonardtown) some believe it may be going dark (not confirmed on social media)
Phrases and things that drive the Feeder nuts (short journey)

Arrogance of Subaru.  Picture of man looking at a mangled wreck in driveway.  “My daughter would be dead if it wasn’t for my Forester”.   Gimme a break.  All other autos should be BANNED from the highways!!!!

Sport Shorts:
Speaking of Shorts, are you/people so desperate for the holy NFL that you actually watched the circus of the “Combines”?  “MY GOD! His thumb is a quarter of an inch shorter than (so and so’s)!!”  Drop him 4 places in the “potential” draft.

Gag me: “He runs downhill” (I thought football fields were flat, silly me);  “He just gets stronger as the game goes on”  Huh?;  “he is taking it to the next level!”  we’re moving to the mezzanine?   “that’s a game changer!” oh, I guess we’re switching to Rugby or Badminton.

Okay, that’s the gamut for today

When considering a restaurant visit, consider how you should be