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Lobster, Cooked Correctly (Nice And Simple)

An eight-pound lobster, boiled for 18 minutes, and then iced for about an hour. I had to use my old framing hammer to crack the claws. The legs were enough for a thirteen-year-old's dinner! No butter, no mayonnaise, just a little fresh cocktail sauce for one of our guests. The meat was incredibly sweet and tender, no doubt because of the cooking time. Check some cookbooks and you will discover that most people overcook lobster by a factor of two or three. We served this beast with some oven roasted potatoes and Caesar Salad.

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P.S.  I posted about cooking lobsters awhile ago, but I wanted to show off this nice big one, and prove that I can actually insert a photo without massive help-desk intervention.

The Dumbing Down Of Cooking: Celebrity Chefs

Years ago the only chefs on TV were people like Julia Child, James Beard, and a few other professional chefs. Nowadays of course, there are what seem to be hundreds of people, cooking sometimes nasty looking stuff, on dozens of networks. There is even a network devoted entirely to food.  But the problem is that many of them aren't real chefs. When Jacques Pepin says something about cooking, you can take it to the bank. But when some moron spouts off about food on her own cooking show, when her last gig was as an extra on a sitcom, and her only claim to fame is a lovely body, you can safely ignore it.* Maybe I am being harsh, but cooking shows without the benefit of professionals are just silly. Here is an article in SmartMoney magazine I found through the website of a local media company's food blog (they used to be called newspapers): 10 Things Celebrity Chefs Won't Tell You. There is nothing shocking in the piece, but it skewers most of the shows, and that is just fine with me. *In the interest of full disclosure, if some "media company" offers me a cooking show or a book deal, I will smile, say "thank you very much," and run all the way to the bank to cash the check before they realize what fools they are.

Elysian Cafe (Hoboken)

What to do on a Thursday night in Hoboken when I am not trying to "hook-up" or get falling-down drunk? That's easy. Ask Tommy:eats for a recommendation. And he came through like a champ! My wife met some friends for early drinks and I drove down later to meet her for dinner. The only restaurant I know in Hoboken is Arthur's Tavern, a fun place to go with a group, or with kids, but I can make a mediocre steak any time, so that was out. And of course Vito's Deli (click for the music!) for the best Italian heroes on the planet. But Vito's doesn't serve martinis (if they did I would move to Hoboken). Tommy pointed us towards a bistro just a few blocks from Vito's, called Elysian Cafe. As soon as I saw the big double doors and the warm, friendly look of the place I was hooked. We walked in to find a packed bar, but not in that "gee, if I get bumped once more I am going to hit someone" way. Our original plan was to eat at the bar, of course, but we were also hungry and didn't feel like waiting. So on to the back of the restaurant we went, into a nicely lit, old-fashioned sort of room. It had incredible plaster work on the ceiling and walls, and great looking, and obviously very old, tile floors. The place has been a restaurant or bar in some form since 1895, which they claim makes it the oldest in Hoboken. I cut most of the lectures in my New Jersey Urban History class so I can't say whether it's true, but there is an air of authenticity to everything, which contributes to the warm and friendly feel. It doesn't look like the owners went through a catalog to find "authentic" 19th century fixtures. But on to the food and drink! Excellent martini. Very good margarita, but only after I grilled the waiter about the use of fluorescent green ersatz lime juice made in a factory. In fairness to the bartender, I have no idea whether his default is fresh-squeezed lime juice, but I didn't want to be unpleasantly surprised. My gut feeling is that any bartender who has Johnny Cash's cover of U2's "One" on his iPod is going to use fresh-squeezed. We started with chicken livers and a goat cheese and lardon salad. Anything with goat cheese and lardon is going to be good, and this didn't disappoint. The kitchen crumbled the goat cheese so that it was distributed nicely throughout the greens; a nice touch. The livers were great! They were big chunks of liver sautéed in an intense Madeira reduction, and then served over some sliced baguette. Simple, classic and excellent. I then had oysters that were nice and fresh, but a couple were a bit washed-out tasting, almost as if they were rinsed and then put back into the shells. There is nothing like the combination of the salty brine and the sweetness of the oyster. Oh, well. The mains were well executed and larger than I expected. The little woman had Steak Frites, and the fries were perfect. Seriously. They were the equal of the best we have ever had. The steak was good too. Nicely cooked, fairly tender, and with good beefy flavor. I had the Marinated Skirt Steak, which came with a mound of Mushroom Risotto. I am a sucker for mushroom risotto, and will order it whenever I see it, but I didn't expect much, and I was happily incorrect. The rice was cooked nicely, and there was just enough mushroom to flavor the dish without overwhelming it.The skirt steak was cooked to order, and was interesting and good. We were surprised by the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen. This is not a great restaurant, but they execute a simple menu very well. The service is pleasant and attentive, and the crowd is there to have good food and good drink, not as a stop on the road to inebriation. I would hesitate [I went back last night with kids and adults and would now suggest that it is a good destination. 5/10/2008] to say that it is worth a trip to Hoboken, but if you are there and need a good meal, give this place a try; you won't be disappointed.

Weird Looking Blog

I'll be playing around a bit with the look of the blog, so don't be shocked and nauseated by the way it looks. It will probably change several times,  hopefully for the better!

Ego, And Changing Recipes

I have worked on my barbecue dry-rub recipe for several years, and finally arrived at a mixture of the usual suspects (sugar, paprika, cayenne, and uh, some other stuff) that was pleasing to my palate and that of most of my guests. So what did I do? Screwed around with it! Pretty clever, huh? I didn't even change the recipe that much, but I also changed the amount of the rub that I put on what I call the "knuckles," -- those chunks of meat and gristle and cartilage connected to the ribs. I have learned how to trim the pork racks so that they look great (and that will be the subject of another post), but obviously don't want to discard perfectly good food, so I barbecue these knuckles separately, and toss them to any stray children and dogs who may be wandering around. Actually, they taste pretty damned good, so I'll usually munch on them too. Part of the allure is the pungent taste of the rub. The pieces are small, so they get a big dose of the stuff in comparison to the ribs. And because the rub has lots of sugar, it's an appealing combination of caramel from the cooked sugar, and the zing of the other spices. Good stuff, unless you are stupid and arrogant and don't follow your own recipe. Lesson learned. I promise never to short-change my palate or my guests. A full dose of rub is now guaranteed.

How Did We Ever Live Without This?

Ignoring the unarguable fact that this stuff is ugly, why would you want to eat your plate after a meal? And notice what it is made of -- hardtack. I remember reading stories of sailing ships and the awful food they had after the fresh food was eaten. Hardtack played an important role in the hatred of shipboard life.

I’m Moving!

After struggling with a pretty pathetic blogging system I have decided to upgrade to WordPress. Wish me luck! Hopefully the change will occur seamlessly, but based on pretty much everything I know about the internet and computers, my hope is misplaced. I will eventually return to blogging, or just toss my computer out the window. Whatever does happen will happen in the next few days.

Sliders!

If you don't know what a slider is, please, just go away. This post is for real eaters, and besides, a life without sliders is a life not worth living. Here is an interesting blog about...well, you'll have to guess from the name. But the guy has obviously made a careful study of how to make sliders, and he uses as his inspiration the best on the planet: White Manna.

Moules Frites

Ah, diet food! Well, not actually low in calories, but it is a relatively light meal, at least in comparison to a large bone-in rib steak. I went to the store with the expectation of returning with some large chunk of gilled (no, I have never tried whale) pelagic predator, otherwise known as tuna or swordfish. But the mussels looked so damned good and fresh, I received special dispensation from my wife to deviate from the plan. But what are mussels without French fries? Nothing! And quite conveniently, I had several great looking russet potatoes.* So, for no other reason than to be respectful of the history of the relationship between mussels and potatoes, I had to make fries. I won't bore you with the details; just fry them twice, once at low temperature and once at high temperature. The classic recipe for Moules Frites calls for shallots and garlic. But I had no shallots worth looking at, unless you like pretty green shoots poking out of them. So, I had to settle for onion. But because I am fond of making more work for myself, I decided to caramelize the onions very slowly in butter and just a bit of olive oil. And that takes time. But I think it paid off, because the sweetness of the onions blended wonderfully with the rest of the flavors and seemed to make it a more substantial dish. After cooking the onions for what seemed like hours I added two cloves of garlic, chopped in my trusty Garlic Zoom. I cooked the garlic for another 10 minutes to eliminate the sharpness and to keep the caramelization going. I was left with a great-looking base for the mussels. A quick deglazing on high heat with about 8-10 ounces of white wine, a teaspoon of sour cream (because I don't stock crème fraîche), and I was ready to toss the mussels into the pot. The next detail is important, so try to focus. Don't overcook the mussels! They take just a few minutes in a covered pot. As soon as they are open take them off the stove! The residual heat is more than enough to finish the cooking. Toss in some chopped parsley, pour the whole mess into a big bowl, and you are ready to eat. For a more elegant presentation you could shell the mussels; there is no neat way of doing that, but using your hands will only take a few minutes. A good baguette is always a useful tool for sopping up the incredible broth, but some of you might think that bread and fried potatoes is not a healthy addition to a light meal. Wimps. *As I write this it seems silly, but in fact, they did look great! Smooth-skinned, no blemishes or eyes, and when I cut them into shoestrings with the mandolin, the flesh looked fantastic. They made spectacular fries.

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.


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