Five most popular recipes on Burnt My Fingers (2014 edition)

Another year has gone by and either the balance of my readers has changed or your taste buds have, because there are some real shake-ups in the recipes most often clicked on Burnt My Fingers. Take a look.

1. Vincent’s Garlic Cole Slaw. This intensely garlicky concoction, made famous at a Dallas seafood restaurant, wasn’t even in the top five last year. But it’s good so I’m glad to see it on the podium. Just be sure you don’t throttle back the garlic… you really do need as much as the recipe says.

2. Wilted Kale Salad. Last year’s #1 still makes a strong showing but it’s been fading a bit in recent months. Maybe we’re less interested in healthy eating as evidenced by…

3. General Tso’s Shrimp with Garlic Sauce. I invented this one from scratch in an attempt to replicate the Spicy Garlic Prawns at Taiwan on Clement Street in San Francisco, and came up with something even better. Wonderful balance of sweet/sour/spicy if I do say so myself.

4. Sizzling Chicken Sisig. I predicted this would become #1 based on burgeoning traffic last year, but instead it’s almost fallen off the charts and is unlikely to even make the list next year. Perhaps I did something to make Pinoy Google mad?

5. Fried Calamari Chinese Style. Another from-scratch concoction. If you like Italian-style fried squid you’ll like this even better, because scallion and jalapeño chili rings are fried right along with the cephalopods. This recipe also includes a bonus exploration of alternate sources for “squid”.

I’m also excited about two offal recipes which were recently published so don’t have the big numbers, but are trending in recent months: Chinese Tripe Stew and Pickled Tripe. The first came from my Yelp friend Chen Z and the second is a speculation about Amish traditions, but both are as good as they can be. Assuming you like innards, that is. But if you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be here.

In case you want to compare, here’s last years top five list.

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Men, fire and food: a visit with Bruce Frankel of Spitjack

Manly Tools

The view from the entrance to Spitjack’s store in Easthampton, MA

Bruce Frankel was a chef with an idea. Tired of long hours and not great financial success at a Boston nouvelle cuisine (remember?) fine dining place in the 1980s, he decided to do something entrepreneurial. He looked at molecular gastronomy and cooking for men and chose the latter, and that led him to Spitjack in Easthampton, MA. (It’s well worth a detour if you’re in the area, but you can also buy everything online at spitjack.com.)

Bruce Frankel Manly Cleaver

Bruce Frankel with a manly cleaver. You need this.

Spitjack (the name describes the doohickey that holds the spit when you are cooking on an open fire) is on the second floor of Eastworks, one of those grand 19th Century mills that has been converted to residential and commercial use. You have to know where you are going—through the broad lobby, past the RMV, through the set of double doors, up the stairs—but once you get there it’s like a candy store for guys who love to cook.

Spit Roaster

Spit roaster invented by Bruce Frankel

Bruce’s principle is to offer gear for the guy who wants better than the frou-frou instruments sold in the basement at Macy’s. Need a spatula? Here’s a sturdy but plain one, like you’d find in a restaurant supply. Do you like cole slaw? Then you need a giant cabbage grater, which looks like a mandoline scaled for Shrek. He has also invented a couple of items: an electric spit assembly that expands to maybe six feet in length, intended for cooking a whole animal. And a line of sturdy fire gloves lined with aluminum and quality felt; these got dinged in a Cook’s Illustrated test because they weren’t flexible enough but he points out they’re not meant for holding a measuring spoon but grabbing a burning log.

manly spatulas

Manly spatulas

Why cooking for men? Because of the changing dynamic of the American family. Up until the 70’s or 80’s most men didn’t feel it was appropriate to cook, and their wives wouldn’t let them in the kitchen anyway. The cookbooks were all written by women, for a woman’s point of view. But fewer and fewer women cook today (because they’re in the workforce and because they can buy quality prepared foods, maybe), leaving a void and an opportunity.

Men, of course, were always allowed an exception for back-door cooking on the patio—and smoke and fire cooking is what Spitjack specializes in. There’s something primal about roasting over an open fire. (Which reminds me to thank Paula Marcoux for pointing me toward Bruce.) It’s a symbol of a man’s joy and responsibility: bag an animal, roast it, feed the family. Man, food and fire and all the primal urges are satisfied. In addition, fire/smoke cooking tends to be a matter of instinct. No long ingredient lists, no frilly packets of this and that, no cutting off the crusts of your tea party sandwiches. You just have to know when it is right. No questions, no hiding.

Fire gloves

Fire gloves (in the background, behind the grill)

(From this we seque into a side conversation about what it means to be a chef. Is it an art or a craft? Both. You can just be a line cook or short order cook and turn out “product”. Or you can get satisfaction in pleasing your customer through surprising and memorable presentations.

His observation reminded me of something I’d read in Lucky Peach, and with a bit of searching I found it quoted on the battermilk blog. It’s from from Joe Morin, chef and co/owner at Joe Beef in Montreal.

Meat syrings

Giant meat syringe. You need this too.

“I think chefs get drawn into the lifestyles of our customers, sometimes forgetting that we make $40,000 a year. We get to think we are a part of the elite. But we’re not. I think the thing that’s changed the profession is that kind of crossover.

The nature of the beast is not going on the stage, fucking chopping little egg yolks with a fork in front of 500 people just ‘cause they wanna hear you say “fuck.” Dave Chang is a food personality and we are becoming food personalities, but restaurant management is a trade.”

Giant Cabbage Shredder

Giant cabbage shredder. (The box is a little faded due to slow turnover of this SKU)

Bruce’s trouble with being a chef was that [unlike Joe Morin] he didn’t understand the lifestyles of his clientele. He didn’t live the lives they did; as a single guy in an apartment he didn’t understand why business was always better on the weekend and loyal diners stopped coming when they had kids. Now he’s married with a 7-year old daughter and gets it. End of seque.)

But there’s a problem selling to men, which is they are men. The man says, “I don’t want anything too fancy. Why? Because I’m a guy.” But he also says “I want the biggest and the best. Why? Because I’m a guy.” So how do we find the sweet spot in this nexus of inconsistency? Bruce knows a guy with money who buys and discards gadgets at a frustrating rate. (Make his own cole slaw? That’s something you pick up at the corner deli.) Another guy, with less money or time, just might not bother. Which is why I’m the only visitor in this magnificent emporium on a Thursday afternoon.

Not A Urinal

An example of male cluelessness is this former eyewash station in the men’s room…

Bruce has excellent margins and a good business selling the spit roaster and the gloves; most of his other products are now sold as an associate on Amazon, which yields easy sales but small profits. He knows he should expand his internet presence and has some good ideas for blog posts, like “5 mistakes men make when grilling meat”. (Maybe I’ll borrow that one and give him credit.) We could talk all night, and are tempted to, but I am on my way to Cambridge where two hours later I will have a truly awful “barbecue” sandwich sourced at Whole Foods.

Not a Urinal Sign

… which apparently looks like a urinal to some guys.

Before I leave, Bruce Frankel hands me a pair of fire gloves and exacts the promise that I will return in the springtime and rent a spit from him and cook an entire animal along with several of my male friends, because it is inevitable that something changes in you when you do that. I can’t wait.

Posted in Cooking, Food Heroes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re in the top 100 food blogs…

Here is an interesting infographic. We barely squeezed in at 82 out of 100, though I don’t know the criteria. (I’m somewhat skeptical of Alexa ratings which can vary hugely from one visit to the next.) But in any event, we’re in good company and there are a number of other sites I plan to check out.

The link in the graphic will simply take you to the site sponsoring this, rebateszone.com. (Which is the idea, I guess.) If you want to go directly to any of these sites, type in the URL which appears in the listing.
Top food blogs

An infographic by the team at Rebateszone

.

Posted in Food for Thought | Tagged | Leave a comment

Recipe: Campfire Baklava

Campfire Baklava

Campfire Baklava

Sick of s’mores? Try this change of pace on your next camping trip. From Cooking with Fire by Paula Marcoux, and used with her permission.

Ingredients:

Dough:
7 oz all purpose flour
1/2 t Kosher salt
2/3 c lukewarm water

Stretching borek dough

Stretching the dough

Filling:
3/4 c walnuts, finely chopped
1 1/2 T sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

Syrup:
1/4 c honey
1/4 c water

Oil for pan-frying

Method: Mix the dough ingredients with a fork or your fingers, adding a tiny bit more water if necessary. Knead until very smooth and divide into 4 balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and rest at least one hour and as long as overnight.

Folding Baklava

Folding dough for baklava

Baklava Cooking

Baklava cooking (the misshapen one is mine)

On bake day, combine the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Unwrap the dough balls and flatten each of them into a uniform circle with a rolling pin or the heel of your hand. Expand by turning the dough disk in your hands and kneading the edge; gravity will cause the dough to become thinner and wider. Keep doing this until the dough is very thin, stopping if it starts to tear. Place the dough on a lightly floured work table and place 1/4 of the walnut/sugar/cinnamon mix in the middle. Fold in from bottom then again from top like a business letter, then fold in the sides. Transfer to an oiled skillet over medium heat and fry until browned on each side, perhaps 5 minutes. Cut into serving size pieces and transfer to a serving plate; drizzle the syrup on top and allow the baklava to soak it in for a few minutes before serving.

Posted in Recipes, Sweets | Tagged | Leave a comment

“Cooking with Fire” with Paula Marcoux

Paula Marcoux

Paula Marcoux in the Healthy Living demo kitchen

Paula Marcoux is an archeologist and food historian who has studied ancient food preparation at remote sites in the middle east and the Nordic countries. She visited Healthy Living Market a few weeks ago and talked about fire roasting and fire baking—the latter possible wherever there were three rocks of even size and a flat surface to place over them such as a sheet of metal or improvised skillet. (On digs, you can recognize the ancient fire pits by the presence of rocks which have been cracked by heat.) Paula was here to promote her new book, Cooking with Fire, which I recommend. It’s a historical journey as much as a cookbook, and it progresses from very simple fire-starting and roasting food on a stick at the beginning to baking in a clay oven you can build in your back yard. There are excellent photos, both of the finished dishes and step-by-step techniques.

Stretching borek dough

Marcoux’ technique for stretching borek dough

Several of the attendees at the demo had family traditions (from grandmothers and the like) of fire-cooked flatbreads and it was interesting to discuss how the universal techniques and cooking vessels translate to Scandinavia (where flatbreads were hung from the rafters to keep them from molding in the moist air) to eastern Europe and Asia. We made a Chinese-style chive pancake which was rolled and re-formed many times to give it a phyllo-like flakiness, and then a borek which made its appearance in several guises including a “campfire baklava” for which she was kind enough to share the recipe.

Paula’s book is available on Amazon… or, if you’re lucky enough to live near Healthy Living Market in Saratoga or Burlington, you can pick it up in their book section.

Posted in Eating, Food Heroes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Recipe: Shrimp and Grits after Ric Orlando

Orlando Shrimp Grits

Shrimp and Grits at the demo (after a few folks had tucked into it)

Celebrity Chef Ric Orlando, currently of New World Catering and formerly of “Chopped”, demo’d this recipe at the 2014 Saratoga Wine & Food Festival. I asked him if I could share the recipe and he gave me a list of ingredients on a card. It’s somewhat different than what I saw prepared and I’ve modified to my best recollection, which is why it’s “after” Ric Orlando. The ingredient list is long, but this is a very improvisational dish so feel to add or leave out ingredients depending on what you have on hand. Serves 8.

Ingredients:

Grits:
1/2 c polenta or grits
1/2 c heavy cream (optional)
2 c water
Butter, a couple pats

Shrimp:
1 lb raw shrimp with shells on

Gravy:
2 T olive oil
1/2 c chopped celery
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped bell pepper
1 t cracked red pepper
A little chopped andouille, Spanish chorizo or other spicy dry sausage, maybe 1/4 lb
Pernod or other anise liqueur, a couple of capfuls
3 T “Cajun seasoning” (a prepared spice blend Ric says is optional, or can be replaced by another blend of your choice)
2 T chopped parsley
1 t dried thyme or 1 T fresh thyme leaves
Dash of Crystal or Tabasco
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 c tomato juice
1/2 c scallions, green and white parts, cut lengthwise into shreds
1 c heavy cream (optional)
Salt to taste

Shrimp Whipped Cream:
Reserved shrimp shells (see Method)
1/4 c Pernod or dry white wine
1 T butter
1 T minced shallots
1/4 c tomato paste
2 c heavy cream
Pinch cayenne

Ric Orlando

Ric Orlando at his demo station

Method: First, make the grits/polenta. Bring 2 c water to boil and slowly add 1/2 c grits. Turn down heat to simmer and cook, stirring frequently, till grits have absorbed most of the water. Taste and add salt and pepper as you like; add cream (or leave it out) and butter; continue cooking till all liquid has absorbed and grits have cooked to a stiff paste, about 15 minutes total.

Meanwhile, peel and devein the shrimp (if necessary; many of today’s unpeeled shrimp come deveined), leaving on the tails. Discard veins and place the shells in a small saucepan with 1/4 c white wine or Pernod and 1 T minced shallots. Simmer 10 minutes until shrimp shells turn bright pink.

Meanwhile, make a “Cajun mirepoix” of chopped green pepper, celery and onion, about 1/3 c of each, never carrots. Saute in a little olive oil in a small saucepan until vegetables lose their crispness. Add the dried ingredients then the tomato sauce and simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors, adding other ingredients as you go but reserving the scallions. Finish with the cream, if using it. The goal is to create a rich, flavorful sauce for the shrimp.

Meanwhile, lightly sauté the shrimp in a little olive oil and butter mixed until they just become pink. Pour the gravy over them and mix, taste again and add salt and pepper as desired. Garnish with a few strands of scallion.

To make the shrimp whipped cream: strain out the shrimp shells shallots and mix the wine/Pernod with tomato paste and cream. (At our demo, Ric also poured in a bit of strained gravy as I recall.) Whip by hand or use a siphon if you have one.

To assemble the dish: spoon out a bed of grits on individual plates or a shared serving dish; add shrimp in their sauce; put a dollop of whipped cream on the top of each serving. Serve immediately.

NOTE: if you’re counting, that’s 1/2 c cream for each person. This is one reason people think the food in restaurants is better than what they eat at home. I feel like the cream in the whipped cream is ample and if people want an extra rich taste they can just stir it into their gravy.

Posted in Mains, Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Saratoga Wine & Food Festival leaves satisfactory aftertaste

Dinosaur pulled pork slider

Pulled pork slider and some tasty beans from Dinosaur BBQ

Last weekend’s Saratoga Wine and Food Festival seemed a bit more laid back than in prior years. The crowds were just a bit lighter and as a result the lines were short and there was plenty of room for standing around and savoring the food and beverages.

Connoisseur Tent

Connoisseur Tent buffet, from Healthy Living Market

I did dip into the Connoisseur’s Tent which was almost like cheating: a magnificent buffet from Healthy Living Market that left the festival goer near satiation before the real tasting ever began. So if you didn’t make the extra investment and stayed with the Grand Tasting, don’t feel left out.

I have a couple of really, really good tips for festivalgoers to make the most of the occasion, but I am going to save them for next year when they will be of more use. Why is it that newspaper food and entertainment sections always report on these events after they’re over, so all you can do is regret what you missed or feel bad somebody tasted a treat you didn’t? Maybe it’s to share the recipes, and I’ve got a good one from New World Catering’s Ric Orlando coming up.

Posted in Drinking, Eating, Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

Weird science for wine with Le Clef du Vin

by Otis Maxwell
I’ve been experimenting with Le Clef du Vin, a device manufactured by Peugeot (possibly from recycled car parts?) that predicts how a wine will taste after it’s aged a few years.

The active component in Le Clef du Vin is a small disc embedded in its tip, composed of an amalgam of copper, gold and silver. Dip one second in a standard glass of wine, and it in effect ages the wine one year. This can help you two ways: to decide if a wine is worth investing in to store for the long haul, or to improve the taste of a very young wine.

Does it work? Yes and no. I first tried it on a bottle of Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw Merlot) and it had no perceptible effect even at 10 years/10 seconds. But a $15 bottle of 2012 Beaujolais Village noticeably improved. It became mellower and more enjoyable.

A 2009 New York Times article by food scientist Frank McGee suggests what is actually happening: the metals remove sulfites from the wine. Sulfur is associated with sharp, unpleasant tastes, and smells as well. That article reveals a couple of other tricks: you can remove the skunky properties of a wine that has reacted with a contaminated cork by pouring it into a bowl lined with plastic wrap. The plastic captures the molecule that is causing the cork contamination. And, if you want to accelerate the aging of a bottle so you can drink it sooner… store it on top of the refrigerator where it’s warm but not so hot it cooks the wine.

I also found a conversation on chowhound.com on Le Clef that became so vitriolic the hosts removed many of the posts and shut it down. What’s left is well worth a read both for the writing and for the opposing points of view.

The “travel” size of Le Clef du Vin sells for $50 on Amazon. It’s a stick shaped somewhat like a shoehorn, with an asymmetrical jog at the end, and comes with a plastic sleeve so you can slip it into a purse or lapel pocket. I highly recommend it as a gift for the oenophile who has everything, if only for the entertainment value and possible fisticuffs that might ensue.

Posted in Drinking | Leave a comment

The 2014 Saratoga Wine & Food Festival is THIS WEEKEND

Saratoga Wine & Food Festival

Inside the Grand Tasting tent. Tom Stock photo.

Yesterday I found a parking spot in downtown Saratoga Springs, New York. That means two things: the track season is over. And the annual Saratoga Wine & Food Festival is coming up fast.

This year’s event snuck up on us because of the early Labor Day—which hopefully will mean warm, beautiful weather for the weekend. The complete schedule and tickets are available here.

I have in the past written about my strategy to focus on the Grand Tasting on Saturday afternoon, where you can enjoy a seemingly endless assortment of foods from local purveyors and restaurants and wines and spirits from around the world. Arrive early (it opens at 1 pm this year) and do your own grand tour then double back on the tables that interest you. (It definitely is not possible to taste everything.) Take a break for local celebrity chef Ric Orlando’s demo of shrimp and grits, then return to the tasting for yet another round.

That’s lunch, dinner and entertainment in beautiful Spa Park for $85, not a bad price. Or you can pony up an additional $90 and go big with the Connoisseur’s Tent, which gives you an extra hour of tasting, even more gourmet delicacies, and wines from the private cellar of Kevin Zraly provided in a tasting seminar.

Last year there was a cooking competition during the Grand Tasting, which was almost too much. This year if you want to see such a contest you’ll have to buy a ticket for Friday night’s “BBQ, Brews & Blue” event. But the contest is a doozie, featuring 4 local chefs and 4 Manhattan grillmasters who will battle it out as you enjoy good food, drink craft beer and listen to live music.

There’s also a classic car road tour and luncheon on Friday and a Jazz Brunch on Sunday at the magnificent Saratoga National Golf Course. See the website for details and to buy tickets.

Posted in Drinking, Eating, Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

Why I love Crystal Hot Sauce

Crystal Hot Sauce

Do the math: 12 oz of Crystal for $2.49…

Do a web search for “Crystal vs Tabasco” and you’ll find lots of Louisiana stories about how one po-boy restaurant uses one, another the other as a matter of personal preference. Buy two bottles and try them side by side and I predict you will prefer Crystal. It’s got a more complex taste that starts with smokiness and proceeds to vinegar, and it’s not as fiery so you can douse your food with more of it.

Tabasco Hot Sauce

… vs $1.99 for 2 oz. of Tabasco

But the #1 reason I love Crystal is its price—not that it’s cheap per se, but what that cheapness stands for. In my local supermarket, 2 oz. of Tabasco was $1.99 this week and 12 oz. of Crystal was $2.49. That’s SIX TIMES as much product, people, for hardly any more money. (Crystal does make a 3 oz. size but I’ve never seen it except on their website where it sells for 74 cents.)

Its price, plus the fact it’s sold in a much bigger bottle, says Crystal is for people who plan to use a LOT of hot sauce—you and me, gentle reader. We’re not like that couple in the classic (or maybe apocryphal) New Yorker cartoon who have been married for so long they’re on their second bottle of Tabasco. When we buy Tabasco, if we do, we actually go for a larger bottle. And the 12 oz. of Crystal is obviously cheaper by comparison.

The folks at Tabasco are very sophisticated marketers and brand-extenders. Baumer Foods, which makes Crystal, seems to be satisfied getting its product into as many people’s hands as possible. They also make no secret of the fact they do private-labeling; I happen to have access to a pricy little bottle from a well known fried chicken place in my town and it tastes identical to my big boy with the Crystal name.

Crystal’s been around since the 1920s, so I have to believe that Baumer is not losing money in spite of its generosity. Do yourself, and them, a favor. Go out and buy some Crystal right now. Don’t wait till your Tabasco is used up, because when you have them both side by side you can do your own taste test. I predict the Tabasco will find itself at the back of your condiment shelf, like a high-and-mighty prom queen who’s grown long in the tooth.

Posted in Cooking, Eating, Food Heroes | Tagged , | 9 Comments