What does Fancy Food Show have against food bloggers?

Dissident Chef at Work

Look! It’s Dissident Chef Russell Jackson in the New Zealand Beef booth.

I have been a fan of the Fancy Food Show ever since I was introduced to it by my client Harry and David in the early 1990s. It’s a strange bird: a trade show appealing half to buyers of high-end food service delicacies, half to owners of what my mother would call “tricky” gift boutiques in the snowbird capitals of Sedona and Fort Meyer. It’s where I had my first taste of Serrano ham, and where I ran into my childhood Great Books teacher’s wife selling home-style Jewish pastries. And I’ve reported on my visits in this blog, repeatedly.

The last couple of years I have had a press pass which confers modest benefits. I get access to a room where I can sit down and write, with good wireless, and I get the news feed from exhibitors who are provided the press list. I also get to take photos, something that’s not permitted of regular attendees. And I save the few dollars that I’d otherwise have to pay for the badge.

This time, however, my request was refused, even though I presented the same credentials including a number of recent articles. I had seen complaints of similar treatment from other food bloggers who are much more established than I am and was first put out, then curious. I looked over my posts from the last few shows and wondered if I had been irreverent. Too much Serrano ham! Wise guy comments about gluten free products! A random shout out to Russell Jackson, the Dissident Chef, who was working at a booth I happened on!

Could it be that the FFS only wants bloggers who will toe the line and regurgitate press releases, instead of those who are looking for curiosities and offbeat stories? If so, I plead guilty. And will continue to report accordingly, though I guess without the photos.

Food never goes out of style, for obvious reasons, but obsessively talking about food is a fairly new phenomenon. I can’t see people ceasing to nourish themselves, no matter how much I extol prepper bacon on these pages. FFS should embrace the bloggers, not fear them.

For now, see you in San Francisco in a couple of weeks. I’ll be the guy sitting on the floor near the DeLallio antipasto bar, trying to get a wifi signal.

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Tactical Bacon… the perfect holiday gift, but for whom?

Tactical bacon

Tactical bacon and its can

Looking for the ideal Christmas gift for the person who has everything but hope? Tactical bacon, or tac-bac, may fit the bill. You get 9 oz in a $20 can which, since it’s already cooked, is in line with supermarket prices. But the beauty part is, this can will serve you in your fallout shelter or prepper sanctuary long after the supermarket has been blown to smithereens or taken over by zombies.

There’s lots of commentary on the Think Geek site that suggests this bacon is not only long-lasting, but delicious. Canadians are upset because it won’t ship out of the country but come on, you guys have pemmican, the original prepper food. I’m sure it’s loaded with those pesky nitrites but when the world has gone to hell that will probably be the least of your worries.

Tactical Bacon for Christmas, from Think Geek. Get it here. Right now they have free shipping when you use code SHIPUS. Domestic only, sorry.

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Wrapping up Saratoga Restaurant Week 2014

Mingle Korean Taco

I was happy to finally try the Korean Taco at Mingle and save a buck (think I might have liked it more with flour vs corn tortilla).

Why do consumer brands put coupons in the newspaper? To get trial from new customers who hopefully will become regular buyers. They know that many shoppers will buy just to get the discounts, and many of those who use the coupons would have bought anyway, but potential new customers are so valuable the brands are willing to put up with the negatives.

Why do restaurants participate in promotions like the just-concluded Saratoga County Winter Restaurant Week 2014, in my overserved, touristy corner of Upstate New York? It should be for the same reason. Most diners are conservative in their restaurant choices; once they find a place that is comfortable, that serves food they like at the right price, that their dining companions will accept, they’re likely to return again and again. So it should be worth some inefficiency to attract these new customers, even if you know others (including your regular customers) are going to take advantage of the savings.

This week I took advantage of one dinner ($30) and four lunches ($10 each) as well as passing up a number of other menus which didn’t look as attractive. Some places seemed to be doing lip service to the concept, offering a soup and half a sandwich for $10, or a salad and a tapa for $10, which didn’t sound like a very appealing lunch. A couple of places didn’t bother to post their menus, which of course defeats the whole purpose.

Of the meals I tried, I was happy to finally experience the Korean taco at Mingle but discounting it from $11 to $10 to hit the price point didn’t make it feel special. Mingle and a couple of other places were also serving items not on the regular menu, maybe to hit the price point; don’t you want customers to taste the food they can buy every day? Dominic Colose’s Wine Bar served a well-conceived dinner for $30 that not only hung together but gave you an idea of the chef’s philosophy: here’s what I can do for $30. I like that.

My best meal, and best value, was lunch at Maestro’s at the Van Dam where I had the crab cake (excellent, and normally $14), the house salad (showing they take care with sides, and normally $6) and a slice of chocolate cake (nothing special) for $10 total. I had been eager to try this place since the new chef arrived and now that I have, I’ll be back. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

It’s also worth noting that the Wine Bar and Maestro’s were packed while I was there. (Some of the other places were not.) So your food cost may be up, but you’re getting more bang for the buck on the fixed costs of keeping the doors open. Plus, when they see what a vibrant, popular house you run, those new customers are more likely to want to come back.

A few restaurant owners have grumbled on social media about how Restaurant Weeks attract low end bargain hunters, and a few local foodies have complained on their own blogs about the lack of good choices. Think of the coupon analogy, put out some real values on your best product, and you will be rewarded in the long run.

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The problem with porterhouse (updated)

Second try at porterhoouse

On the second try I had my skillet off-center above the flame to protect the tenderloin.

I have been paid to cook steaks and paid to eat steaks and write about them, but until recently I had never cooked nor eaten a porterhouse. Finally, after producing some aspirational copy for this “king of cuts” I decided it was time for boots on the ground.

A porterhouse is two steaks in one—a filet and a strip steak, separated by a bone. (The T-bone is a similar cut from further down the loin, with a smaller amount of filet.) Sounds like a great solution for the meat glutton. Can’t decide? Have both! But the problem is that the cooking and eating characteristics are very different for these two cuts of beef.

My steak, a Certified Angus procured at my local market, was on the small side at a little over a pound and one inch thick. I dusted both sides with Cavendar’s Greek seasoning and slapped it into a hot bare cast iron skillet and cooked till it was crisp and the flesh on the strip side was beginning to firm up—an indication of medium rare. I let it sit 5 minutes, and tucked in.

The filet is what most people will eat first, I expect. It’s smaller and on the outside as the steak is usually presented and there is no band of fat to get through if the steak is well trimmed. My first bite was ecstasy. I immediately thought, “this is like eating liver for someone who doesn’t like liver”—incredibly buttery mouth feel and feral, bloody taste. My filet was fairly small (I’d guess 2 ounces) and quickly disappeared.

Then I attacked the strip, usually my favorite cut, but it seemed coarse and chewy compared to the filet. It was also a bit more done than I like—still red in the middle, but on the done side of medium rare. I didn’t like it.

I did not plan to eat this entire steak myself, so I carved off a nice square to save for later and trimmed the rest off the bone so I could do some gnawing. And the meat near the bone was just plain raw, not rare, and at its heart not even warm. Yuck.

That last problem was likely the result of my habit of refrigerator aging. If I’d let the steak come up to room temperature then the bone would not have insulated the surrounding meat and kept it cool. But the rest of the problem is endemic to the identity of the steak, I think.

Even though I know the strip is a more flavorful cut, when the two are side by side tenderness trumps flavor. (Modernist Cuisine has a nice discussion of tenderness, which they define as the ease with which you can bite through a piece of meat, not chew it; the authors note that even lions have trouble chewing a sinewy antelope in the wild.)

As to the done-ness, most experts will tell you lean meat cooks faster but this just wasn’t the case for me. Maybe I had a leaner than usual strip, or maybe the outside of the skillet where the filet cooked was a bit cooler.

I did a survey of the online menus of a bunch of famous steakhouses and was interested to find most do not even offer the porterhouse but only filets, ribeyes and strips. Morton’s has porterhouse as a meal for two that is carved tableside. So perhaps the little woman gets the filet and the man the strip? And Peter Luger’s apparently cuts the meat off the bone, grills it in the kitchen, then reassembles the steak before serving. That would take care of the problem of degrees of doneness since the two steaks could be cooked on different parts of the grill.

Next time, I’m having a ribeye.

UPDATE: this experience gnawed at me, so I tried it again with another porterhouse and cooked it off-center on the flame so the filet was protected. The filet was again much rarer than the strip–it was blood rare while the strip was on the verge of medium rare. Based on the skillet position I would have expected the same degree of doneness. So I’m disputing the “lean meat cooks faster” thesis.

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Recipe: Italian Style Sauteed Greens

This is my go-to recipe whenever I want a robust dish of greens as a side dish. Kale or collards are best, though I think the first I tried the recipe it was designed for spinach. Serves 6-8.

Braised Kale

This is what the dish looks like in the pot: some bits a bit crisped, some under done; it will all even out when it is tossed and served.

1 large bunch or 2 small bunch kale or 1 bunch collards, coarsely chopped
2 T olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 t salt
1 T lemon juice
1/4 t red pepper flakes (optional)

Method: Wash the greens and get rid of most but not all the residual water. Heat oil to medium in a large saucepan, add garlic, sauté until aromatic but not browned. Add greens and sauté, turning with a wooden spoon to expose all pieces to the oil and heat. Cover and cook for a couple of minutes then peek. The greens should have cooked down considerably; if not, cover and cook a little more. Remove from heat and toss with the salt, lemon juice and optional red pepper flakes. Serve immediately.

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Taste NY Holiday Expo in Albany this Sunday, December 7

Attention local folks in upstate New York. Here’s a great opportunity to stuff your face and get some holiday shopping done while taking advantage of an unbeatable value: the Taste NY Holiday Expo which happens at the New York State Museum this coming Sunday, December 7.

The entire first floor be given over to tasting stations where you can sample foods and beverages (including beer and wine) from New York producers, and buy if you like to take home or give away. There will also be kids’ activities (making aliens out of apples), a chocolate fondue fountain, and some demonstrations all of which look worthwhile:

A Sampling of New York State Cheeses with the Honest Weight Food Co-op
12 p.m. at Huxley Theater

Holiday Cooking with Chef Noah Sheetz
1 p.m. in South Hall

Holiday Cooking with Chef Steve Kerzner
2 p.m. Huxley Theater

Field Goods: Fresh Foods from Small Farms
3 p.m. South Hall Lobby

The event runs from 11 to 4:30 and admission is just $5, CASH ONLY, with kids 12 and under admitted free. Paid parking is nearby, but I’ve generally been successful finding space on the street within a couple of blocks. As you stroll, you can admire the brutalist architecture of Empire Plaza and whet your appetite by savoring Nelson Rockefeller’s miserable experiment in urban renewal and be glad it stopped where it did.

More information is available here.

Update: I have been informed that there will be a pop-up ramen stand at the Troy Victorian Streetwalk that same day, and plan to stop by on my way to Albany. Those in San Francisco who blithely sashayed into last summer’s Ramen Festival will find this un-newsworthy, but it’s a big deal to the ramen-starved masses in these parts.

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How to do Thanksgiving right

This year we got super lazy and did not brine our turkey, did not lay in fresh cranberries, and most of all did not make elaborate social plans. Yet as the day dawns bright and snowy I have no doubt the meal (served around 5 pm) will be great. I think it’s the size of the bird more than any other factor that intimidates some folks. But Thanksgiving really is a straightforward meal that can be a lot of fun, especially if several people work on it together.

I have never done a post on how I cook my turkey. It’s always stuffed, usually brined, and roasted at moderate heat with a paper towel soaked in butter or olive oil covering the breast till the last hour so it doesn’t overcook. (Here’s a good reference article on the best way to cook brined and unbrined turkey from sfgate.com.)

On Burnt My Fingers you will find a simple but very reliable recipe for stuffing, an elaborate taste test of cranberry sauce (fresh is best and very easy, following the instructions on the package), and a reminder to pick up a jar of Durkee’s Famous Sauce for your leftovers tomorrow. You might get adventurous with Tomatillo Jam (served instead of, or in addition to, the cranberry sauce) and maybe some Squash Casserole. Dress your salad with my Skinny Vinaigrette combined with some good olive oil and save a portion to serve, nice and wilted, on your sandwich tomorrow. Have a good day, and don’t eat too much.

Just kidding about that last part.

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Recipe: Tomatillo Jam

Tomatillo Jam

Tomatillo Jam

Try this instead of cranberry sauce with turkey… especially smoked turkey. It has the same balance of tart/sweet and the crunch of fruit, but with a southwestern lilt and a bit of heat. Makes 1 pint.

1 lb tomatillos or a little more, husked and washed and coarsely chopped
1 ½ c sugar (or maybe a little less… start with 1 1/4 c then add more at the end if you need it)
rind of 1 lime, finely chopped
4 T lime juice
½ jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
¼ t salt

Method: combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring up to medium heat slowly and stir until sugar is melted/dissolved. You may need to add a bit of water. Cook the now-liquid mix for 30-45 minutes until tomatillos are soft and the tastes have combined. Cool; it should set up at room temperature but if not bring back to heat and boil down a bit. Transfer to serving bowl and serve cool or lukewarm with turkey, pork or to dab on crackers. You can also can it, or keep it for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Tomatillo Jam

Page, tell me this this isn’t the purtiest jam you’ve ever seen…

This recipe was inspired by my artist friend Page, who Facebooked that my chile verde looked like frog road kill. I knew I would was going to see her at a Thanksgiving potluck and wanted to lie in wait. She gamely tried it and said it was good (it’s more than that) though I don’t think she complimented me on the appearance.

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Baking Hamelman’s 80% rye “Affidavit Bread”

Affidavit Bread

I divided this big 80% rye loaf in the middle… some for me, some to give away

The other day I baked up a wonderful pullman loaf of 80% whole rye that’s perfect for serving with smoked salmon or some of the nice Brooklyn whitefish salad I had left over from a party last weekend. With a fairly open crumb it’s not too dense for sandwiches, either.

I baked it on Sunday and am just now (on Thursday) appreciating the full flavor. We made this when I was in Jeffrey Hamelman’s sourdough rye class but I had not tried it again because I was enamored of rye berries, cracked rye and other add-ins that go into the mix along with seeds to make a dense “corn” rye. Now that I’ve tried this, I like it better and it will be my go-to loaf whenever I want a heavy rye.

The recipe (as usual when I talk about Hamelman’s breads, I will not spell it out because I want you to buy the book) utilizes a number of tricks to bring out the rye flavor including a preferment that’s almost 1/3 of the total weight, a rye flour soaker, lots of yeast (so it’s not too overly dense), and 20% high-gluten flour to provide some structure for the very slack, mortar-like dough.

8% rye crumb shot

Crumb is surprisingly open for such a dense loaf

I lined a Pullman pan with parchment paper and covered it with aluminum foil for the first 20 minutes at high heat, then cooked it another 1 ¼ hour at 410 degrees after taking off the foil. (As I’ve mentioned recently, I now check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer and make sure it’s close to 210 degrees so I don’t under bake.) I could tell I had a winner as soon as I pulled out of the oven and could not resist a first taste way too soon, after it had cooled a couple of hours. If you like nutty rye flavor, this is your loaf.

My notes from the class call this “Affidavit Bread” without further explanation. If any readers know what this means, please let me know. Maybe a baker cooks this as proof they know what they’re doing. Or maybe you deposit a loaf, instead of your drivers license, as security when you’re renting a bowling lane. It’s that valuable, for sure.

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The cure for watery steak

Sliced aged CAB sirloin

That’s juice, not water, gushing out of this splendid aged sirloin

I have been reading Steak by Mark Schatzker, in which the author searches the world for the world’s tastiest piece of beef. It is a quest I will admire, but not join, because I believe you should not have to venture further than your own fry pan or Weber grill provided you have good meat and know how to cook it. I am adventurous about most foods, but eating out steak is expensive and I rarely feel the result is up to what I can easily make at home.

One frustration of this author made me curious: his frequent encounters with “watery” meat. A search of the web finds many others who share this problem. There are really only two reasons a steak might taste watery–which we’ll interpret as having thin, tasteless juices–and both are easy to fix.

The first scenario is that you may not have seared the meat sufficiently to cauterize the surface and seal in what’s inside. This can happen if your heat isn’t high enough, or if you don’t dry the meat with a paper towel before it goes on the fire. Especially dangerous are marinades (which usually are for less tender cuts, so you’re behind the 8 ball to begin with) that saturate the flesh to the point it can’t easily be dried enough to create a crispy outside skin. If you must grill a marinated steak (instead of dusting it with seasoned flour and pan-frying it) dry very thoroughly and brush with some olive oil which will keep the juices inside until the skin comes up to temperature.

The second possibility is that you served it too soon, immediately off the grill, instead of letting it rest. It only takes a minute for the juices to coalesce and the blood and fat and seasonings to combine to create the wonder that is a flavorful steak, but if you don’t wait that minute the too-liquid juices will flow out on your plate. In a steakhouse, the brief time as it journeys from grill to the station where it waits for the server is sufficient. Give it the same moment of rest at home, and say goodbye to watery steak.

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