Monday, November 21, 2011

It's another Tequila Sunrise...

“Not Thanksgiving At All” Steak and Jalapeno Quesadilla
The morning after Thanksgiving I have no desire to eat the leftovers.  By the end of Thanksgiving evening, I have spent a great portion of discussing, planning, shopping for, cooking, and complaining about the dinner.  My skin smells like stuffing, turkey repels me, and I drank probably half a bathtub of Beaujolais Nouveau and whatever Alsatian-style whites Jen, my sister-in-law with exactly the same tastes in wine as I have, has brought.  The film coating the kitchen matches the film over my eyes, and as I start the coffee, I think about brunch.

In addition to shopping for the big day with all its Brussels sprouts, flour, and butter nonsense, I throw a couple of items in the cart so I can start my day after the Day consuming completely differently tasting food.  This year, I will be making a little item I developed while opening Mad Mex # 11 in Willow Grove, PA (Philly suburb).  

Most non-restaurant people don’t know that it is eminently important to drink until the wee hours after the first real day of business at a new restaurant.  It builds camaraderie and relieves stress after that 18-hour day.  The best part is arriving back at work the second real day of business after four hours of sleep to attack another 18-hour day.  To celebrate surviving this long, stressful, and hung-over day, it is again important to drink tequila until the wee hours. 

The Sunday morning after these two long opening days greeted us with the inconsiderate feature of a brilliantly sunny morning and a lot of work to do.  The opening team needed inspiration.  It was important that I make a rich, flavorful, greasy breakfast that was achievable with the ingredients on hand yet did not really taste like Mad Mex food.  I grabbed a flat of eggs, an onion, some jalapenos, and some flank steak and got to work.  The following is a reconstruction of what occurred that morning.

1       #          Flank steak
1       Tbs.    Dijon mustard
1       Tbs.    Salt
2       Tbsp. Olive oil
½      ea.      Stick of butter
1       C.        Medium sliced raw onion
1-4   ea.      Jalapenos, sliced into rings
1       Tbsp.  Mexican Oregano, dried
2       tsp.     Cumin, ground
2       tsp.     Salt
8       ea.      Eggs
More butter
4       ea.      10” flour tortillas
1       C.        Shredded Monterrey Jack Cheese
Salt and pepper
Sour Cream
1)    Prepare Guacamole.  Reserve.
2)    Place steak in a bowl.  Add mustard, olive oil, and salt.  Allow to marinate.
3)    Heat cast iron skillet over high heat.  Sear steak until crusty on the outside and a gentle medium in the center, about 140°.  Set aside and allow to rest.  Return skillet to heat.
4)    While steak is cooking, melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, peppers, oregano, cumin, and salt.  Cook with stirring until onions soften but do not become soggy. 
5)    Heat comal (flat cast iron skillet).
6)    Slice beef across the grain.

7)    In skillet, add a generous knob of butter.  Crack 2 eggs into the pan.  If you desire, poke the yolks so that they cook solid.
8)    While eggs are cooking.  Place a tortilla on the comal.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Allow to melt.
9)    Place onion and pepper mixture across half the tortilla.  Add some beef.  Add two eggs. 
10)Fold and remove from the griddle.  Cut into thirds and serve with guacamole and sour cream.
11)Repeat steps 7 – 10 until everyone is fed.  Hopefully, one of these bums will have made you a Tequila Sunrise.  Sip it as you cook.
3       ea.      Avocados
Juice of 2-3 limes
1       ea.      Large clove garlic grated on a microplane grater
¼      C.        Chopped Cilantro
1-2   ea.      Diced ripe tomatoes
Salt and Pepper to taste

1)    Peel, seed, and dice avocados
2)    Add everything else.  Adjust seasonings.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You Too Can Write a Book Review!

John Allison of the Post Gazette asked me to write a review of Adam Gopnik's newest book, "The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food" Sweet!  Nothing more fun for an amateur writer than to criticize in print a professional writer!   When I got the book, the first advance copy I of my life, anxiety set in.  "I agreed to read this book, intelligently assess it, and deliver an engaging written review.  All in a reasonable amount of time." 

Turns out, getting the book read presented the biggest challenges.  Two active young children, a busy and growing restaurant company, a professional spouse, and silly things like friends and sleep all conspired to keep me from finishing the book.  After getting through a dozen or so pages over the course of three nights reading in bed, I switched to reading on the couch.  I covered more ground but at the cost of having to drag myself up to bed at 4 AM. 

John would send gentle e-mails, checking on my progress.  Still not much past halfway through the book, I assured him that the review was progressing well and I just needed to do a little more work.  I assume that this little lie to an editor surprises nobody.  I look forward to a time in my life where I have an opportunity to deliver immense lies camouflaging catastrophic delays to a really powerful and frightening editor. 

Finally I finished.  I mostly dug the book.  In reading it I saw the reflection of a lot of my thoughts on current and future food trends.  Gopnik's dissertation on the birth of the modern restaurant out of the same social changes that drove the French Revolution engaged me.

But most of all, I developed an incredible jealousy of his life.  How is it possible?  Traveling the world, dining at brilliant restaurants, cooking for his family in NYC, chatting with hot French food revolutionaries like Zoe Reyners, being brilliant and well-educated, and seeming to have a blast at it all.  Amazing!  By what accident of birth did I miss that all?

Anyhow, here's the review.  I haven't seen a check for it.  When I get it, if I get it, I plan to use it all to buy Cognac.

Gopnik Review

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Discovered While Cleaning the Attic

I delivered papers as a boy, beginning at age 10 with a route of 29 customers and quitting right before I turned 16 with somwhere over 140 - all the customers that got the Courier Express in my small home town of FallsCreek, PA. I amassed this formidable empire by absorbing the other paper routes as kids got sick of them. Sure, I spent hours after school (evening route) trudging through slush while avoiding the group of thugs that resided across town. Of course I smelled like ink every day, and my hands were stained black. But I had cash, free flowing tip money. And when those Christmas cards started showing up, look out!

Here I am pictured with my younger brother, whose route I absorbed soon after this picture was taken, paper domination global.

If you can read the text, I'd like to inform you that while Chuck still digs motorcycles and I, obviously, continue to be an amateur writer, we have moved past our shared interest in D+D.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

From last October's newsletter

October 2010

“Never Give an Inch”

My favorite novels are ones that tell stories of passionate and alienated anti-heroes trapped on a quest of their own design. Single-mindedly pursuing a ridiculous goal whose purpose lies in opposition to all their best interests, they neglect everything except that which is eminently material to the cause. The goal is true, and noble, and there is no question that it must be achieved. On the Path, those of lesser vision fall to the side, or are discarded. Great personal injuries occur, often leading to death at the fulfillment of the quest, or just before. But most of all, our hero’s wracked torture as he watches everything close stripped from him, trailing away in fish-eyed confusion, broken and torn by his mission, is the meat that keeps me turning the page. “Will he come to the conclusion that he is wasting everything?” “Will he die in his pursuit?” “Is there any compromise that he can fashion to achieve his truth and stay human?”

Unfortunately, in life, things do not get tidily wrapped up in 427 pages. The hero rarely gets to give everything for the one true holy thing. There are PTA meetings to attend, spouses and children, and it’s nice to keep a friend or two in pocket. This dilemma, the fractured interface of the ideal of the perfect restaurant with the compromise of reality, is where we, the Chefs, find ourselves. We believe in our vision; for the dish, for the concept, for the kitchen, for the restaurant. And the requirements of our trade make sacrifice a fundamental theme. We truly bleed for the craft, and sacrifice our backs and friends and weekends, and thrive in a milieu where the truest yardsticks are pain. How many hours spent over the stove, how wickedly scarring the burns, and how many screaming attacks survived are strung like black and jagged pearls along life’s string. The quest strips us, breaks us, isolates us, and we follow it through the darkness for our light at the end.

But the light is never to be found. Every day begins anew. No matter what the achievement of yesterday; covers served, excellent sauce, perfect medium rare, rocking service, today winds a new clock and sets it to tick. Yesterday’s masterpiece is gone, washed down with wine into the organic soup of life. Today we begin anew to bang nature’s raw products into form and flavor to please our eyes and tongues. When finished, they fly from us, never returning as we turn to the next plate. And so go the days and weeks and seasons and years, continually trying to accomplish the goal of assembling perfection amid the erratic beauty of this earth. The stone is rolled up,

But we believe that we can. That we will. That we HAVE to. And that if you don’t like it, then f__k off and go away and leave us to our mission. Because if you can’t be there with me, then I’ll do it myself. And for the hours of sweating, cursing, and screaming, we find the occasional bits of beauty and that keeps us moving forward.

That, and off color butternut squash humor.

But there is no redemption. A good chef believes that he or she is right, completely and without question. And this right needs not be questioned. To competently lead a disparate group of young men and women into the stressful pressures and conditions of service, they must be prepared to execute the commands of the chef. To question, to disobey, is to slow down the machine and break the flow. And without the flow, there is chaos. And chaos is the enemy of the restaurant. Only by applying incredible organization and control can the endless details of the evening’s dinner service be executed.

Chefs are jerks by definition. A chef is an egotistic creative control freak, usually with a neatness fixation. He has little patience for fools and no time for drama. Play your part, carry the weight, and step in line. This does not make for a great personal life as these traits carry into relationships with friends and family. Even with other restaurant people, the chef is alone. Between the competition with other chefs (don’t even try to deny it, every last one of you), the master/student relationship with the cooks, and the flirty yet distrustful connection to the servers, there is a quiet place where the Chef sits alone, even in the center of the room.

But we have no choice and love it. We grow, and adjust, and develop some ability to step back from the quest and breathe

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stone Soup for Chef in the Garden

Making this on PGH Today Live in the AM (9/22/11) then 10 more times for kids @ Dilworth Traditional Academy for Chef in the Garden Thursday and Friday. I love the story and can't wait to tell it! Sharing, community, working together, and just a little sneakiness.

Stone Soup

1 ea. Stone, clean and hopefully sterilized

2 # Potatoes, diced

1 C. Lentils

2 ea. Bay leaves

1 C. Diced onion

1 C. Diced carrot

1 C. Diced Celery

3 ea. Garlic cloves, sliced

1 ea. Small bunch greens (mustard, kale, chard, sliced/chopped)

2 C. Green beans snipped and cut

4 C. Diced tomatoes

1 C. fresh cut corn

Whatever fresh herbs are available

Olive oil

Salt and pepper, very important

Splash of olive oil.

1 ea. Baguette, cut into chunks

1. Place stone in pot. Cover with water and season well with salt and pepper. Perform this act in full view of poor, hungry villagers.

2. Make a fire. Begin heating pot on fire. When first villager comes to question, describe the soup that you are making and that it would be delicious if only you had a few potatoes. When villager brings potatoes, dice them and add them.

3. When second villager arrives, describe how you are making Stone Soup and that it will be delicious, and that all you need is a few lentils. When villager brings them, add to soup. (Be careful to inspect the lentils for rocks before adding.)

4. Continue to suggest ingredients as villagers arrive. Add in sequence. Allow pot to simmer all the while. Chat with villagers. Relax around the fire.

5. Stir occasionally.

6. When olive oil and fresh herbs have been added, remove from fire. Ask if anyone has a stale chunk of bread. Cut it up to fit in bowls. Pour soup over bread. Serve everyone!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Grilled Hanger Steak, Fresh Creamed Corn, Warm Green Bean Salad with Pancetta Vinaigrette

Grilled Hanger Steak, Fresh Creamed Corn, Warm Green Bean Salad with Pancetta Vinaigrette

4 ea. Hanger steaks, about 8 oz. each

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 # Assorted pole beans (green, wax, etc.) sliced thinly on a bias

½ # Arugula

Pancetta Vinaigrette

Fresh Creamed Corn

1. Make Pancetta Vinaigrette. Hold warm. Reserve extra rendered pancetta

2. Make Fresh Creamed Corn. Hold warm and covered.

3. Preheat grill.

4. Blot steaks dry. Lightly rub with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Grill to a nice medium rare.

5. Allow steaks to rest for 10 minutes.

6. Place beans in bowl. Drizzle with warm Pancetta Vinaigrette. Toss in arugula. Adjust salt and pepper.

7. Check creamed corn for seasoning and consistency. Adjust the latter with a little water if necessary.

8. Slice steak. Place a pool of creamed corn in the center of the plate. Fan steak over corn. Drape warm bean salad over the top.

Pancetta Vinaigrette

¼ C. Rice vinegar

¼ C. Red wine vinegar

¼ C. Balsamic vinegar

½ C. Diced, rendered pancetta

1 ea. Shallots minced

2 Tbs. Picked fresh thyme

Zest and juice of 2 lemons

1 Tbs. Sugar

½ C. Rendered pancetta fat, warm

½ C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1) Combine all ingredients in blender, except for pancetta fat and olive oil.

2) Start blender and slowly drizzle in oil and fat to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fresh Creamed Corn

6 ea. Ears corn

1 tbs. Chopped fresh thyme

salt and pepper

up to a ½ C. water

3 Tbs. Whole butter

1. Cut corn off cobs with a knife. After cutting off corn, scrape cobs with the edge of the knife

2. Place all corn and liquid into a skillet. Add thyme. Bring to a simmer.

3. Season well with salt and pepper. Adjust constancy with water if necessary.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pork, the New Pink

The USDA has finally realized that whole muscle pork meat is safe at temperatures much lower than those previously reported. From a very well done 160 degrees down to an acceptable 145 with a three minute rest. I can eat this.

This new guideline defies the tenets of Central Pennsylvainia pork chop cookery. Pork chops, the thin ones on sale at Riverside Market, are seasoned, floured, and fried, well, on two sides until the juices run clear. Grandma shingles them into her Pyrex dish and covers them with a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup. She pops this in her oven and lets it braise until bubbly. Mmm. I remember this meal being served with unseasoned canned green beans (that actually tasted good with the pork chop/mushroom soup "gravy") and steamed rice. Chew chew.

Grilled pork chops, another delicious dish. Unseasoned, unoiled, and sometimes undefrosted, the chops land on the screaming hot grill. They cook until bowing off the grill. By this point the chops are cooked pretty much through. We turn 'em now, allowing the second side to cook. Now exhausted, bowed into bowls from the tension of the silverskin, holding the last drops of desperate final juices, the chops are allowed to cook "the rest of the way". Luckily for all of us, grilled pork chops necessitate runny macaroni (not pasta) salad. Miracle Whip replaces the juices and flavor lost to fear.

Trichinosis nearly eradicated, incidence of bacteria inside whole muscle meat gone, the USDA awakens from its torpor to proclaim it safe to properly cook the muscle from the top of the pig. I imagine the joy at this news in Punxatawney.

"Mom, you mean we can have pork chops that don't suck the saliva out of our cheeks?"

A new day for America.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Feeding Hungry People With My Feet

Tomorrow morning, I'll be on Pittsburgh Today Live. I'll be talking about the upcoming Pittsburgh Marathon and how big Burrito has promoted it among the staff. We are sponsoring 44 employees to enter, from first time half marathon walkers to full marathon runners hoping to qualify for Boston. There are relay teams galore as well as a number of chefs out to run the half. Danielle Cain, Sean Ehland, and myself will all be running the half. We all expect to die.

In addition to promoting health and general well-being among our teams, we are raising money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Transforming, as it is, the fat calories on our butts into food calories on the plates of out less fortunate friends and neighbors. We have established a website for giving; big Burrito's Donation Site. Please take a moment and drop a few bucks on the hungry. I'd like to raise a total of $5,000 company-wide. We have exceeded the half way point but can use all the help we can get.

In case you are curious, I'll be cooking a pasta dish in the morning, Fresh Ricotta Cavatelli with Asparagus, Chicken, add A Lot of Fresh Herbs From My Garden. I'll be on the show first thing @ 9 AM, so tune in quickly.

Oh, and I'll be on air in the hot, new big Burrito Marathon shirt. And shorts.

BTW, here's the recipe:

Fresh Ricotta Cavatelli With Asparagus, Lemon, Chicken, and Herbs

1 # Ricotta Cavatelli (See below)

3-4 Tbs. Olive oil

4 ea. Small chicken breasts

3-4 ea. Small, young carrots, sliced thinly

3-4 ea. Cloves garlic shaved thinly

2 # Asparagus, cut into 1” chunks

zest of 1 lemon, julienned thinly or zested

juice of 2 lemons

2-3 Tbs. Fresh oregano, picked

1-2 Tbs. Fresh tarragon, picked

2 ea. Sprigs thyme, picked and chopped finely

A few leaves of lavender, chopped finely

½ C. Grated parmesan

Soft whole butter

Salt and pepper

Pine nuts

1.Place a pot of salted water on to boil.

2.Heat a wide skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil.

3.Add chicken breasts. Brown on both sides. Remove allow to cool slightly and slice.

4.Add carrots and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or until barely tender.

5.Add asparagus, and lemon zest. Reduce heat. Add lemon juice

6.When at high boil, add cavatelli. Cook until pasta just floats. Drain and reserve pasta water.

7.Add pasta, herbs, cheese, and a little pasta water to vegetables making a little sauce.

8.Finish with butter. Place on plates and top with sliced chicken breast.

9.Sprinkle with pine nuts

Ricotta Cavatelli

1 # Lamagna ricotta

3 ea. eggs

4 C. All purpose flour

1.Combine ricotta and eggs in mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix well

2.Add flour. Mix for approximately five minutes.

3.Touch. If dough is sticky, add a little more flour. Mix.

4.Turn out onto counter. Wrap in plastic and allow to rest at least half an hour.

5.Roll dough out to ½” thickness. Cut into ¾” strips.

6.Roll through cavatelli maker onto lightly floured tray.

7.The pasta freezes excellently at this point. Make a lot and have it around.