Help You


I’m so glad I don’t have to work today. For meat and seafood, it’s top three in the worst days of the year. Why? Because two simple things, for 24 hours, become the all-consuming, must have dinner products.

Filet Mignon

Lobster

Why? Why is it that every year, around New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, people feel the obligation to attempt the high risk maneuver of the surf and turf combo? I understand that it’s a special day for many people. I get it. I really do. HOWEVER, if this is a day where the gentleman of the relationship trots out his cooking skills to impress the lady, I always try to recommend something else.

It’s not because I want to discourage the man cooking a special dinner. Far from it. It’s the questions. All of the questions that people ask about how to cook their lobster and filets drive me up the wall. I want to say “If you don’t know how to cook it, please, for the sake of your relationship, do not attempt it for the first time tonight.”

I don’t say it.

Instead, here is a list of helpful answers to your Valentine’s Day queries about how to cook the best special surf and turf you can possibly muster.

“I need two filet mignons. How do I cook them?”

Alright. First, the proper pluralization of it is Filets Mignon. It comes from the French, meaning ‘dainty fillet’. What an adorable sounding name for a piece of meat. I just had a little chuckle at your expense.

Okay, now seriously. How do you want to cook them?

“Medium Rare.”

Are you saying that because you want to cook them medium rare, or because that’s what everyone says when they go to a steakhouse?

“Rare.”

Sear it in a SCALDING HOT PAN with a tiny bit of oil NOT OLIVE in the bottom for four minutes a side. Roll the sides so that you can give it an even texture. It’s going to be cold in the middle, but as long as you know that, it’ll be okay. Let it rest for ten minutes before you slice it so you can at least get a knife into it.

“Medium.”

Follow the steps for rare.  Heat your oven to 425. After you sear it, throw the whole thing in the oven for 10 minutes. Let it rest for ten minutes.  Slice and serve.

“Well Done.”

Seriously? Well done? Get a Petite Top Sirloin steak over here. I guarantee you won’t be able to tell the difference after you pull it out of the oven. Moreover, you will save approximately $30, which you can then use on flowers to make up for the fact that your steak is rendered flavorless and inedible. Sorry. $25 on flowers. $5 for a bottle of A-1. But don’t you feel so much better that you saved your money on that steak? Don’t forget to throw away the butcher paper.

***

All joking aside, it’s not that difficult to make a steak. It’s easier to make other steaks taste better than a filet, and you won’t feel the sting of your credit card digging into your hip as you wrench it out to pay more than you should for a steak. However, like a dutiful significant other, you’ve purchased a filet.

Let’s get cooking.

First, take the steaks out of the butcher paper. Look at them sitting there on the counter. Is one thicker than the other? Are you worried that one will cook faster than the other and then you’ll be left with two incredibly different degrees of doneness? Don’t worry. As the chef, you take whichever one is the less appealing, or whichever one comes out looking kind of funny.

That’s love.

Season the outside with salt and pepper. Rub all the surfaces, and let the steaks sit for about an hour at room temperature. Don’t start with a cold steak in a pan. That would be your second mistake, the first being purchasing a filet mignon rather than a flatiron or delicious, delicious ribeye.

Now, remember what I said about the olive oil? Don’t use it for steak. Don’t. It’s for your salad. It’s not for frying.  Turn your heat on to medium high, closer to the high side of things. No, you won’t burn your place down. You might get it a little smoky, but you won’t burn it down. When it’s pretty hot, grab your regular vegetable oil, and just put a  little less than a quarter sized drop in your pan. It’s going to smoke and bevel when you swirl it around. You only need just enough to cover the area where you will be searing the meat.

Is it smoking? Good. Put your steaks in the pan, at least an inch apart so they don’t end up steaming next to each other. Just let them sit. Don’t touch them. Don’t. Don’t touch them. I’m serious. Let them sit for at least four minutes a side. If there’s oil pooling at the bottom of the pan, you have too much in there. I told you to put less oil in there. Why didn’t you listen to me? Your steak isn’t going to get beautifully browned, and then your girlfriend is going to yell at you and then Valentine’s Day will be ruined! I will not be responsible for this. Do you hear me!?

Whoa. Okay, deep breath. You didn’t touch the steak, did you? Okay. Good. Just treat it like a grilled cheese sandwich. After four minutes, if it starts to smell like it’s browning, try lifting a corner of the steak from the pan. If it releases easily, congratulations! You are cooking it right so far!

Is it not releasing from the pan easily? Leave it in there. Check it in two minutes.

Okay, it’s good and ready. Now, flip it. Let it stay there. Don’t touch it. Don’t. Just don’t do it. Four more minutes, four minutes, then roll the sides, then let it rest. Boom. Congratulations. Now you have a rare steak. Really rare.

Want a more medium steak? Remember what I told you earlier? Heat the oven up to 425. Throw the whole pan in there. Let it go for about ten minutes. Pull it out. Let it rest.

Want something well done? If you haven’t been listening up to this point, I simply will not tell you anything more than throw it in the microwave for an hour, and then throw it in the trash with your hopes and dreams.

***

Now, on to the lobster. Nobody knows how to cook a lobster unless you’ve done it on more occasions than a holiday or for a special night with the lady once in a blue moon. Still, you’ve got your lobster, and you have to cook it, right? Right. So, with that in mind, I will tell you how to cook lobster tails, skipping over the part where you have to kill them, because although I’ve done it on many occasions, I choose not to. There is something unappetizing about describing that process, so I’ll leave it out. Just get lobster tails, okay?

So you have your tails. If they’re small, (8 oz or smaller), take a barbecue skewer and spear them from flipper to front so they don’t curl up. Put them in a casserole dish. Boil a pot of water, salted, and pour it over the top. Let them sit for ten to 15 minutes. When they are good and red, pull them out, slice them down the back, and pull the meat out. I know you want a nice presentation, but I bet you also want a nice dinner where your date doesn’t hem and haw over how difficult it is to get the lobster out of the shell. Considerate cookers of the world, do them a favor and shell the meat.

Save the shells for stock. They make a good one. Either roast them straight away, or throw them in the freezer. I recommend roasting them until they are brittle and dry, just so they don’t severely stink up the freezer.

Now, let the meat cool down. You should have two half tails, split lengthwise, for each whole lobster tail that you got. Do you? Okay, good.

The meat is still tender. This is really important, as when most people get them and don’t ask the questions, they just throw it in a boiling pot of water, leting it curl and gnarl itself into a tiny ball of awfulness, once again wasting their money. Like throwing the steak in the oven, you can easily throw the meat on the grill, under the broiler, or into a warm pot of butter before serving, maintaining the flavor and delicate texture.

Did you get that? Don’t boil your tail.

Don’t.

Five minutes in contact with heat should do the trick, and by the time it is ready to go, you have everything timed out perfectly, and your date is salivating in a Pavlovian way over the wonderful smells that are coming from the kitchen.

“Hot Dog! I never knew you could cook like this, (fill in your name here)!”

I bet you didn’t either. You’re welcome. Now go. The dinner hour is fast approaching. Get your mind in the game, your butt in the kitchen, and make the best damned Valentime you’ve ever done.

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In my own little world for the past few weeks, I’ve thought that I could just get to writing whenever I felt like it. Unfortunately, that has left most people who inquire about this blog wondering and (hopefully) wanting some more from my brain. Sadly, I just haven’t had it. I haven’t been on my critical thinking tack for a while now.

In the meantime, I’ve been working diligently at making high quality meats and recipes to share with harried customers in need of a quick meal at my meat shop. Sometimes, it’s a little tedious, but I had a nice discussion with a woman the other day about how her kids are quite adventurous with what they eat.

“They’ll eat anything. My husband and I took them down to Chinatown for dinner one night, and my eight year old was the one who ordered and finished a plate of jellyfish.”

Kids WILL eat these.

More power to you, mom. There’s a strange idea that kids won’t eat stuff, so many parents feed their kids boring, bland flavors that come out of a box until they’re ready to make their own decisions about their food and how they like it. Here’s my bit of information regarding that: If you feed them bland food, when the time comes to decide what they want to eat, whether it be from the first moment they can pick up a saute pan or when they head off to college, it’s going to be the same garbage.

When I was working at Pike Place Market, I gave a mother some creative ideas about how to hide vegetables in meals, so that her kids would eat it. Taking a trick from one of my aunts, I suggested that she should either puree or chop her vegetables, and tuck them safely away where her young kids could not process what they were eating as something they didn’t like.

“Oh, that’s not a problem for my kids,” she responded. “Two don’t eat vegetables, and the third, my oldest, loves them.”

How interesting. When pressed to figure out why the younger kids wouldn’t eat them, I was given a simple response:

“If it’s a pile of peas, carrots, or brussels sprouts, I tell the kids that they’re off-limits. Vegetables are for adults only. I still give them healthy, nutritious things, and they eat salads, but by the time they’re ready to make their own decisions regarding food, they’re practically begging to find out what they’re missing with the green mass on the adults’ plates.”

Good thinking. You can dress up the vegetables, hide them, or do whatever you want to them to make sure the kids will eat them, or you can simply say that your kids aren’t ready for them. In the meantime, they see you eat them, enjoy them, and they wait, patiently at first, but then more and more anxious as they yearn to find out what all the fuss is about.

Back to the mom the other day at the store. In our discussion, she revealed that she, unlike her husband, grew up with a less adventurous palate. Box dinners, burgers, potatoes, basically bland food. Now, as her kids are getting older and seeing her eating habits stacked up versus those of her more adventurous other half, they wonder as they make the decisions that will shape the way they approach eating for the rest of their lives- If mommy doesn’t eat this, why should I?”

Why should you, indeed? With friends out there who have newborns, I imagine that bad habits from years without children start to take a backseat to raising a young one properly. Drinking, smoking, swearing, and all the other things that peppered their pre-baby existence all start to fade away. One thing, however, and this is important, is that as kids internalize things like shouting as commonplace, so too do they interpret the eating habits of their parents. Even though I am not a parent myself, my advice from a culinary standpoint is to eat smart, eat healthy, and enjoy what you make and order at restaurants, because your kids are watching.

And if I have to hear one more person ask for the frozen corn on the cob or a box of croutons in the company of their seven year old, I’m going to be very put out.

There’s nothing wrong with either one of these things. I’m glad you’re eating vegetables, and I’m even more glad that you’re hopefully putting croutons on your salad, because hey, more vegetables, right?

Still, everyone has a heel of bread left in their fridge, and most of us throw it out. What to do, what to do?

I’ll tell you. Here’s a quick recipe for croutons that you can make in fifteen minutes, furthering your culinary expertise, making your dinners new and different, and utilizing bits of things in your fridge that you may think you have no use for.

 

Croutons

Ingredients:

Bread

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Garlic Salt

Rosemary or Thyme

I usually get a baguette at work if we’re having something with sauce, or something that necessitates the addition of a crust of something for mopping or dipping. However, most baguettes don’t last longer than two days. It’s hard to extend the shelf life of a bread whose only ingredients are flour, water, and salt.

We’ll usually go through half a baguette in a meal. Here’s where the fun begins:

Preheat your oven to 375. Slice the leftover bread into thin slices, about 1/2″. Toss in a bowl with olive oil. Lay slices flat on a baking pan, and sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Most everyone has garlic powder, but if you have leftover garlic cloves that are beginning to sprout, slice them in half and give each piece of bread a good rubdown.

When your croutons are seasoned up, throw them in the oven for about ten minutes. The underside will brown before the topside, so check them out and see if they need flipping. If they do, flip them, and let them go for a few minutes more.

When you pull them out of the oven, they should have a crisp outer layer with an inside that maintains a relatively chewy consistency. Put them in a ziploc bag and store them for a week or so in your cupboard.

Note: If you just have regular bread, cube it. Toss with the olive oil and all the herbs, as that will give the croutons a more even coating, and a more even degree of crisp.

Congratulations! You’ve just saved yourself at least three dollars. Don’t you feel French? Pour yourself a glass of wine to celebrate.

As I’ve stated in the previous post, I’ve now moved to Chicago. With a bit of brevity, I’ll say that I’m back at Whole Foods, and I am part of the meat department.

Why? Well, for the time being, I was done with seafood- done with the city of Seattle (not in my heart, mind you, but done with that chapter), most definitely done with the smells (sorry, but I got rid of my seafood clothes dresser), and just…done. I find it interesting, though, that I was first in Fish in Chicago, then Fish in Seattle, and now Meat in Chicago.

Seafood is appropriate for Seattle. Chicago is a meat town. Boy, is it ever.

So far, I’ve gone through hundreds of pounds of brisket, dozens of pork shoulders, a fair count of lamb chops, and, for some ungodly reason, thousands of pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

I can understand why people think they want it: It’s simple and healthy. Here’s why they really buy it: It’s boring, it tastes like nothing, and it’s so bland that if it’s messed up, you can blame it on the recipe. It is the tilapia of landmeat.

What makes people think this is okay? In the service case, we have whole chickens, ducks, split breasts with the bones in, boneless breasts with skin, and thighs, drumsticks, wings, all of which are infinitely more tasty than a boneless, skinless breast. Not everyone who eats these things is on “doctor’s orders”.

Oh, “Doctor told you to eat more boneless, skinless chicken breasts?” No, they did not. They said eat healthier. Here’s a newsflash: You can still eat healthier without sacrificing your chicken in a flurry of feathers and discarded fat.

It’s really difficult, because I see people coming in buying pork, and buying bacon, and buying a steak, and buying beef jerky. People whisper in my ear as I pass them their Andouille Sausage, “Doctor said I shouldn’t have this, but I love it anyway.” Guess what! You’ve just made me feel bad, because I’m not helping! I was more able to serve people in their eating choices in Seafood, but from behind the meat counter, I realize that Chicago, and the Midwest in general, has got an eating problem, and they’ve got it bad.

Whenever someone is looking at ways of making their diet more heart healthy, they most often fail to account for the handful of snacks that they eat, the samples that they chow down at the grocery store (that piece of brisket that you just ate? 100 calories) or that they add five times as much salad dressing as they need (just a thought-that extra salad dressing alone can add 1-200 calories to your meal, and that’s not even Ranch). What a nutritionist or a doctor needs to do, rather than sending someone home with a tablet to analyze their eating habits, is to actually see where it is that they’re getting hung up. People need to know if it’s the salad dressing, the pats of butter (nothing is ever a pat anymore. It’s not even a smear or a smattering. It’s a slather.) and cheese (nothing wrong with cheese, just the proportions of cheese to other stuff) on the baked potato where you scoop out and eat everything but the skin. The only reason you eat the potato at all is because of the butter. And the salt. And the cheese. And the bacon.

Now, with the chicken breast, the skin is not the problem. Nobody says that you have to eat the skin. Still, the skin browns, and crisps, and imparts flavor into the meat. With the boneless, skinless variety, you have to marinate it in oil, salt, sugar, etc, usually putting on too much, and then adding too much oil to the pan, thus shallow frying your meal hoping for it to brown, which it will never do. The only way that you’re going to get a deep brown on your chicken breast is from the sugars in the marinade that you put it in.

When viewing your diet from the standpoint of a healthy breakdown of caloric intake, a healthy mix is going to be, on average 30% of your calories from protein, 30% from fat, and 40% from starches and carbohydrates.  Now, fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein only have 4 calories per gram. You’ve probably been made aware of this a few times, and it’s probably somewhere in your head, but it’s important to note for a couple of reasons:

1) If something says that it is 96% fat-free, that means that it is 4% fat. 4% fat has almost 2.5 times more calories than 4%protein or 4%carbs. In a 4 oz. serving of something, something that says that it’s 96% fat-free can have 50 calories from fat alone. It’s not that fat is bad for you, because everyone needs some in their lives. However, by reading and understanding what’s on the label of your food, you can get a better grasp of why you may feel poorly when trying to eat healthier.

2) When you think about it, chicken skin does not take up that much of your dinner plate, but what it does is add a buffer to an otherwise boring dinner. How many times have you served those boneless skinless chicken breasts to a reception of “Chicken? Again? Auuuuugh!” (yes, Charlie Brown is at your dinner table. Just go with it). Just because a chicken has skin does not mean that you have to eat it. The skin of a chicken is healthier than you might think. It means that you don’t have to put much, if any, oil in the pan. It serves as a vehicle for making a healthy pan sauce after deglazing, thanks to the caramelized bits it leaves behind. And nobody says you have to eat it. Use it during cooking, and take it off at the table if you don’t feel like eating it. It’s a far better thing to not eat the chicken skin than it is to not eat the potato skin left sitting on your table.

I write all this down for a couple of reasons. First, I loathe American eating habits. It goes back to my return trip to America from a stint in Italy, where I was sitting, bleary-eyed on a bus from O’Hare back to Madison, watching a woman cry as she pawed through a box of teddy grahams at 11:30 at night. 11:30 at night! I can understand if you work 2nd shift as I sometimes do, and you have to get a bit of energy. Still, you don’t need to be eating an entire box on a bus trip merely because there’s nothing left to do. Turn on the overhead light and read. Listen to music. DON’T EAT WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A MEAL SCHEDULED!

Get up and walk around. Realistically cut calories and portion sizes wherever you can. Please try not to eat so much fried food. Today’s Chinese food is not healthy. Remember when something that came out of a wok meant healthy and crisp food which retained its health benefits? That doesn’t happen anymore. I heard the statistic the other day that some exorbitant percentage of children under the age of one year old (50% or above, I think) eat french fries on a regular basis. It costs less to buy a bag of frozen vegetables that feeds two to three people heartily than it does to buy a large order of fries which will usually be consumed by one person.

***

I made the mistake of eating McDonald’s on the road out here in Sioux Falls, SD. I could only finish half of it. It didn’t fill me up in the way that a meal should. I was not satiated. I had the feeling that I didn’t want to eat anymore, but not for any good reason. Since when does our appetite dictate that we can’t taste anything but salt? I was left wanting.

Sadly, on the other side of the spectrum, when it comes to a boneless, skinless chicken breast, I am also left wanting. It doesn’t mean that I won’t eat it- It’s food. It is calories, and energy, and lean protein, but like the fries, I won’t be satisfied.

You can still have the skin and be content. If the skin is on, it gives flavor and, yes, calories, but it still falls within the realm of healthy eating, assuming that you maintain a good ratio of protein-fat-carbs. If you need it to be healthier, take the skin off after you cook it. Just don’t let me come over to your house and find three half empty bottles of Hidden Valley and bottles of soda.

I want you to eat healthy. I want you to eat right. I want you to make the right choices when you eat, and when you do, to enjoy the flavors that you’ve created. I want you to enjoy eating, but most of all, I want you around.

And So Does He

And So Does He

 

First, I need ideas. I need inspiration. Something food related that I can go after and enjoy, or have my curiousity piqued with. There are a few things, but I welcome ideas from anyone who reads this for things around the area pertaining to food, restaurants, cooking, new trends, or things that you’d like to hear about. Here are some things around the area that have caught my attention:

1) Gooseberries. I haven’t worked with gooseberries for a long time. The last time I saw them, as a matter of fact, was in the tiny town of Mabel, Minnesota sometime in the mid ’90s, when we went on a hike through the back 40 of a family friend. From what I can remember, they’re difficult, tart beyond belief, and not terribly hospitable or forgiving. Challenge? Yes. Recipes? Not yet.

2) Just picked up a book from the library- The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky. Yeah. That Mark Kurlansky. In the industry, great writer, wrote the books Cod, Salt, and The Big Oyster. All of these are important books to me that have contributed to my inquisitive nature over my food, where it comes from, how it got here, and why I use it the way I do. The subheading for the book is “A portrait of American food- before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation’s food was seasonal, regional, and traditional- from the lost WPA files.” Any other recommendations?

3) We got jam in the mail. From the lady’s mom back in Connecticut. Maybe I’ll write about jam, home canning, preservation of foods, etc. (if you haven’t, check out Handmade’s post on canning your own food, with references to everyone’s favorite children’s book on canning, Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal: http://psoutowood.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/canning/)

Yeah, I know I’ve done it before, but it’ll be different this time. Really.

4) Grilling. I know I haven’t done much about grilling, but I haven’t grilled all that much. I look to those interested to provide me with some inspiration. I can grill almost anything, so long as it’s vegetarian or fish. Recipes, ideas, etc. are all welcome.

5) ____ of the week. Beer of the week. Recipe of the week. Fun food fact of the week. What would you like to see?

Coke Machine, Now with Pepsi!

Those are a few starter ideas. With that to get minds-a-poppin’, I’ll leave you with what I saw this afternoon. After going out for a mid-day meal of a grilled portobello sandwich and wasabi grilled cheese at the Hole in the wall known as Bleu Bistro, we walked up John Street in the direction of 15th. Right next to the tiny Ethiopian place we’ve eaten at before, there was this amazing Coke Machine sitting, bolted to the fence behind it. Clearly not a high trafficked area, it had been tagged and vandalized, but placing a hand to it, the motor still ran with the chill of a thousand tiny gnomes fanning each can. Looking closer, I noticed something interesting about the two buttons all the way to the right. In a tutti-frutti script, they seemed to read- MYSTERY!

How could I say no to that? My lone dollar I brandished, and stuck it into the oddly placed bill collector. Look at it. It’s right in the middle of the machine. How odd. I received my quarter in change immediately.

Hmm…So far, so good. Now, which button to choose? I chose the top one.

K-THUNK!

Oh, my! A beverage was dispensed! In a can! And it was cold? What beverage, you ask? Why, it was just what the Dr. ordered!*

* The Dr. apparently ordered MYSTERY!