Stadium Food

The bad news is that The Yankees lost. The badder news is that the drinks, in the only publicly accessible bar in the stadium, are so outrageously expensive, for stunningly minuscule portions — in plastic cups — that it was laughable. But the worst news will have to wait for another game and another stadium. The food was actually edible. Not inexpensive, but not bad. Chicken fingers that were actually tender and juicy, a burger that had some real live charcoal grilled flavor, and a stadium hot dog that had a bit of crunch and a pretty good bun. The pizza looked like a cut above the industrial crap that is delivered across the world. I didn’t get to taste any because I was busy watching the Yankees play baseball like it was just another day at the office. It’s going to be a long summer.

Steak Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive

When I was just a lad, cooking for myself and, more importantly, paying for the food that I ate; I was a model of frugality (not like today, when I think nothing of using Petrus as cooking wine). I used to shop for meat at my local Safeway, which was in a great neighborhood (Rockridge, if anyone knows the East Bay), but not too far from a few less savory and elegant places. So they had porterhouses alongside chuck steaks, and that is where I used to head when I had an urge for steak, which was fairly often. I would buy a thick chuck steak, at least two inches, and then let it age for a few days in the bottom of my refrigerator. At 69¢/lb. I could get a pretty hefty steak for not much money. Continue reading “Steak Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive”

Ingredients: Good, Bad and indifferent

I have always been puzzled by the huge differences in the quality of ingredients that, at first glance, seem to be similar. Tomatoes are an obvious example. Who hasn’t been fooled by  spectacular looking tomatoes that are utterly tasteless, horribly textured, and devoid of aroma? Even stuff like potatoes and carrots can vary. But most people are more aware of things like beef, mostly because it’s comparatively expensive. If I buy a bag of potatoes that are a bit below par I can survive the blow to my bank account. And doctoring a potato to make it palatable is a simple affair. But making a tough, tasteless porterhouse taste great is an undertaking that, at least in my experience, is akin to Don Quixote tilting at windmills. It may be a good idea, but it probably won’t work. 

So choosing ingredients is best done very, very carefully. But there is one Continue reading “Ingredients: Good, Bad and indifferent”

Steak, and that damned salt again!

A simple meal: pan seared rib steak with Tommy’s Potatoes. Nice and easy. But once again I was blindsided by pomposity (my own). It’s that damned salt again. Instead of using my standard Kosher salt, I ground a bit of Hiwa kai Black Hawaiian Sea Salt on both sides of the steak, and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper for good measure. I would love to take credit for cooking the steak perfectly*, and while it was cooked nicely, the kicker for the dish was that stupid, pompous, expensive salt. I love good quality ingredients in my cooking. But salt? Every time this happens I have less moral authority to poke fun at all of the jerks in the food world who pontificate about free-range tomatoes (at five bucks a pop!) and sustainable agriculture and happy, carefree, heirloom pigs.

The stuff is really good, and you should try it. Just don’t tell them that I sent you.

* 2 inch bone-in rib steak. Blazing hot cast-iron pan for about 3 minutes on each side, just enough for a good char, then into a hot oven for another 3 or 4 minutes. Let it rest for several minutes, and you’re done.

Oysters: Try ‘Em, You’ll Like ‘Em!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to eat lots and lots of oysters. And not just any oysters, but great, big, fresh oysters that were harvested just a few hours or minutes before I bought them. If either of you know the geography of the San Francisco Bay area, at the base of the Point Reyes peninsula, there is a little bay named after Sir Francis Drake. At the end of a long driveway, paved with oyster shells no less, is a place, no more than a few shacks, that used to be called Johnson’s Oyster Farm. Now it goes by a more elegant name, Drakes Bay Family Farms, but the oysters come from the same, incredibly clean, estuary of the Pacific Ocean, just north of San Francisco Bay.

I would drive out to the farm along some of the most scenic roads in the Bay area, usually on Saturday mornings, leaving early to miss the worst of the weekend traffic. From the San Rafael Bridge, all the way out to the oyster farm along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the physical beauty of the area was astounding. Even on the very common rainy, foggy days, it was hauntingly beautiful. And it all led to something quite special: fresh oysters from one of the most pristine oyster beds in the world. They have gone upscale, but it used to be a casual operation, where you just wandered in and asked for whatever size oyster you felt like. I usually got the mediums or smalls for eating raw. It was an incredible pleasure to eat those briny, sweet gems. I made the mistake once of getting the extra-large oysters, and it was a challenge to eat even one! They were best consumed by barbecuing or sautéing those monsters.  I have had better oysters in my life, but nothing compares to the synergy of a beautiful drive to a beautiful place to buy amazingly fresh, great-tasting oysters.

I thought of this because last night I had a simple meal of a dozen excellent oysters with a sort of mignonette sauce (I used cider vinegar). I also lured a prowling 16-year-old with the promise of some Tabasco sauce on an oyster or two. By the way, the contrast is great! The tartness of the mignonette matches the heat of the hot sauce. And with it, I drank a smoky Scotch whiskey. They went very nicely together. But I didn’t fly to California to get these oysters. They were Blue Points from New York, and they were excellent, with a great briny flavor from the liquor and a surprisingly mild and sweet taste from the flesh of the little buggers. And every time I have a Blue Point, I think also of the huge oyster industry in the waters around New York City* that lasted for hundreds of years, until the accumulated pollution of the largest metropolitan area in the country overwhelmed even the amazingly resilient and tough oyster. Hopefully, they will return in my lifetime, but until then, I will resign myself to the awful fate of eating Blue Points from the Great South Bay.

*The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

San Marzano Tomatoes

So, finally, I reveal my San Marzano tomato brand. Or at least one of them.And my dirty little secret is revealed as well; I shop by labels and pretty colors. Everyone knows that wines with nice looking labels taste better! I have simply extended that rule to canned goods.

In reality these tomatoes are not San Marzano, in spite of the pretty label. They are grown domestically, and through some technicality, or simple cheating, they are labeled as the famous San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. But they are good quality tomatoes, so why not use them. When I make something that requires the best tomato flavor I shop more carefully and buy the real deal, but for simple tomato sauces and everyday cooking, this stuff is fine.

PS. Sorry about the horrendous formatting. I am a geek, but my geekness does not extend to HTML.[fixed!]

Great Combinations

They’re out there, those amazing, and sometimes odd, combinations of foods that are synergistic. I’m not talking about the 17-ingredient sauces that Escoffier touted. Rather, it’s the simple two-part unions that are fascinating and mysterious. They can be as simple as a hot dog with mustard or as expensive as fois gras with fruit. Or what we had last night (which, obviously, is why I thought of the topic), shrimp and canellini beans. “What’s that?” you say. Yes, plain old canellini beans and some sautéed shrimp, with a few San Marzano tomatoes chopped up and tossed in for color. Actually, I simmered the beans in olive oil, white wine and garlic, with a bit of salt and pepper. And we ate this concoction on top of sliced baguette rounds that we toasted just until crisp. So maybe it isn’t a pure one-two punch, but it is a simple combination that works really well. The crunch of the toasted baguette was a nice counterpoint to the creaminess of the beans and the firm sweetness of the shrimp. I added a bit of red pepper flakes (the little woman’s idea) for some zip, but that’s it. No fancy preparations, techniques, or ingredients (hell, the shrimp were frozen!), and the whole thing took ten minutes to prepare. Okay, so the toast counts as a third ingredient (but that hot dog and mustard combo also has bread), so in reality, my point makes no sense.  Some stuff just goes together well. I guess that if I were a classically trained chef who actually understood cooking, I might be able to explain this concept just a little better than I have, but I think you get the idea.

Long Distance Eating

Aside from the smart-assed comment at the end, this article, by Joel Stein in Time, is exactly what I think about the whole “eat local” crap that rich chefs (yes, Alice Waters, I’m talking about you) with too much time on their hands have been peddling to unsuspecting foodies for years and, recently, everyone else . I touched on some of these ideas in an earlier post that was actually critical of the global transportation system that can’t get me fresh tomatoes that actually taste like something other than soft baseballs. But Stein’s point is valid, rational, and pretty amusing too.

Butter And Beer: One Good, And One Not So Good

We had one of those “oh damn, what the hell are we going to eat tonight?” evenings. Actually, it worked out surprisingly well, but it wasn’t without a few bumps in the culinary road. The highlight was the incredible French butter. We Americans, until recently, have been used to butter being either palatable, or rancid. The French, until recently, have had slightly higher expectations. We are catching up, but some of that progress can be credited to imported butter, mainly from France (if you knew me , you would appreciate the pain that praising anything French causes me).
Isigny Ste Mére Beurre D’Isigny Extra-Fin butter is  just…spectacular. It tastes of  nothing but butter! Amazing stuff. The texture, the  flavor,  it’s all perfect.  When I look at an eight-ounce log of butter and think, “I hope my wife doesn’t like it, because I want to finish it tonight,” I know I’m in trouble. Luckily the bread (Whole Foods baguette) wasn’t great, or my cardiologist would have gotten a call this evening. The cheese was good too, and the sautéed chicken breast in my famous barbecue rub was good, but the rub had too much cumin, so it wasn’t great. Blah, blah blah. The butter was the star of the show. The beer? A Belgian blond that was a bit too sweet, but still drinkable. But the butter! Wow. And making butter seems moronically simple. Churn cream. Package. Sell. I guess they massage the cows, or let them stay up late and talk with their friends. Who knows, but whatever the frogs are doing, it works.

What The @%#&! Brussels Sprouts?

I don’t know what to say. The fabric of the universe has been torn. Brussels sprouts are good. Yes, you read that correctly. They are good. Now, I roasted them in olive oil, salt and pepper, then sautéed them in bacon. But still. Brussels sprouts?

Even the kids ate them.

OK, I lied. They tasted them and didn’t throw them up onto the table. And one of them even sneaked some of the bacon from the pan. And as we all know, it was tainted with the taste of…Brussels Sprouts!