Thursday, October 27, 2011

Good vs. Evil

Last night I had the pleasure to attend Good vs. Evil: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert.  Most people are familiar with Anthony Bourdain through his show No Reservations on the Travel Channel or maybe through some of his books, such as Kitchen Confidential.  Eric Ripert has his own show, albeit less publicized, on PBS called Avec Eric.

 Let me start by saying that Eric Ripert is handsome.  I knew this before I went.  I was glad I already knew this, because he and Mr. Bourdain looked pretty small from my seat in the lower nosebleeds.  At least I wasn't in the upper nosebleeds.  As I expected, many of the audience members were cooks and chefs.  This included the three gentlemen seated next to me.  I spoke briefly with the one nearest to me.  He is a student at Johnson & Wales University and he works for a private chef.  I knew he was in the industry based solely upon his attire.  It was a dead giveaway.  But you're not here to read about the audience--you want to hear about the show.

Mr. Bourdain is quite comfortable speaking in front of a crowd and has perfected his TV voice.  Chef Ripert was quieter and less verbose.  What he lacked in theatricality he made up for in handsomeness.  Did I mention he's handsome? 

The show started with Chef Ripert seated on an uncomfortable-looking yellow folding chair, with Mr. Bourdain interviewing him.  Chef Ripert was riddled with questions about employing illegal aliens, what he thinks of the Whopper ("satisfying" but "disturbing"), and how many times he's "done Martha Stewart".  The two switched places, with Chef Ripert interrogating Mr. Bourdain about his past drug use, his wife's ability to kick ass, and why he thinks he's qualified to be a judge on Top Chef. 

After the grillings, both gentlemen sat in armchairs and discussed assorted topics.  I was actually wishing Mr. Bourdain would stop talking and let Chef Ripert say something.  Chef Ripert is very interesting.  And handsome.  The topics were all relevant to foodies and chefs, with discussions about sustainability; urban farming; the redecorating of Chef Ripert's restaurant, Le Bernardin; why we should all buy a plane ticket to Asia; Rachael Ray and Paula Deen; fruit baskets; and whether Gordon Ramsay should be allowed a TV show.  If you want to know all the details, you'll have to catch the pair at their next stop. 

I've been a fan of both men for quite some time, especially Mr. Bourdain.  Good vs. Evil gave me additional food for thought (pun intended), plus it gave me the chance to look at Chef Ripert for an hour and a half.  He's handsome. 

If you're really into food or are fans of either gentleman, I recommend seeing this show if at all possible.  If not, they both have a variety of books available online and at your nearest bookstore.  Maybe even at your library.  Also check out Chef Ripert's website, as well as Mr. Bourdain's No Reservations website.  Both sites include television schedules when you can catch both.  If you can, try to find the No Reservations where Mr. Bourdain returns for a night working the line at his old restaurant, Les Halles, and brings Chef Ripert with him.  Best of both worlds.

It Really Was Mayonnaise from Heaven

I assume my last post left you wondering how my speech on the wonders of mayonnaise turned out.  I got a 98 on it, so I guess it turned out pretty well.  I was trying to upload the video of it, but I kept getting an error.  You'll just have to believe me when I say how I did.  I ended up with mayonnaise, but I can't say that people were that interested.  I passed around samples and one classmate said I should get an A+ for taste.  When I reviewed the video, I saw that I said "um" and "uh" a combined 15 times, and I said "so" 12 times, but one of those was used appropriately.  So I know what I'm doing, but I can't speak.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Like Mayonnaise from Heaven

I had a rather eye-opening culinary experience today that I thought I would share with my devoted readers and any of you who may have randomly found my blog.  I can't say I was horrified by the experience, but I was definitely surprised.  I know that my knowledge of food may sometimes surpass that of the average person on the street, yet I am still shocked by how little awareness people have of what they're eating on a daily basis.

I am currently enrolled in a Public Speaking class.  Our next assigned speech is a "demonstration speech," better known as a how-to speech.  We went around the room, and each student stated what he or she would like to demonstrate for this speech.  The answers showed the diversity of the class.  One girl will demonstrate how to do a quick weave, another is performing a Jewish dance.  One boy will show us either how to tie a bowtie or play the guitar.  When it was my turn to speak, I said, "I'd like to show how to make mayonnaise."  I was almost embarrassed by the simplicity of my subject.  The instructor had said that all demonstrations had to be college-level, so no PBJs or how to tie a shoe.  Does making a simple sauce like mayonnaise count as college-level?

I got my answer almost as soon as the words had left my mouth.  In unison, half of my class asked, with a tone of sheer astonishment, "You can MAKE mayonnaise?"  All I could think was, "What did you think--that it fell from the sky already in the jar?"  Granted, most of the people in my class are barely out of high school.  But none of them knew that mayonnaise is easily made.  The woman next to me asked what all goes in to mayonnaise.  "Not much, really."  At this point, I paused to stretch, and she pressed further.  "Well, are you going to tell me?"  I responded with the full list of ingredients--egg yolk, salt, lemon juice or vinegar, oil.  She was stunned into silence (which is saying something for her).

The woman had given me an idea though.  We have to use an "attention device" at the beginning of our speech to get the attention of the audience.  Maybe, for my attention device, I'll read the ingredient label from a jar of Miracle Whip.  Yes, that's technically salad dressing, but that's what most people consider mayonnaise.  That ingredient list would certainly get their attention. 

With the shock and surprise created by my statement, I think I really will demonstrate how to make mayonnaise.  It will be a test run for when I get my own cooking show!  I'll have to start now.  LA and I will be swimming in mayonnaise by the time I have to give the speech.  But we'll have some delicious sandwiches.

So you can know the joy of homemade mayonnaise too, here you go:

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature 30 minutes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk together yolk, mustard, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until combined well. Add about 1/4 cup oil drop by drop, whisking constantly until mixture begins to thicken. Whisk in lemon juice, then add remaining 1/2 cup oil in a very slow, thin stream, whisking constantly until well blended. If at any time it appears that oil is not being incorporated, stop adding oil and whisk mixture vigorously until smooth, then continue adding oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Chill, surface covered with plastic wrap, until ready to use.

Cooks' notes:

• The egg yolk in this recipe is not cooked, which may be of concern if salmonella is a problem in your area.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Feeling a Little Lupie

After six months in Charlotte, LA and I still claim to be newcomers. We are still figuring out where the locals go and where we can go that won’t break the bank. I planned to meet my friend, Shelby, for lunch and asked where we should meet. She asked me if I knew where Lupie’s Café is. Sure, I do, but I assumed it was a biker bar. LA thought it must be Mexican food. Shelby said we should meet there.

As we walked in to Lupie’s Café, I was struck by the décor: wooden booths, bare wood ceiling and walls, a surf shack vibe to the place. What’s that music they’re playing? Depending on who’s in charge of the music, it may be Johnny Cash, James Brown, or Jefferson Airplane. I’ve heard just about everything there. I actually finally asked and was told that there’s a house iPod, but the staff can also plug in their iPod and share their taste in music with the masses.

Minus the pink Port-o-let

Shelby and I met on a Thursday, which meant the daily special was chicken ‘n’ dumplings. Do I have to mention how much I love chicken ‘n’ dumplings? I didn’t think so. I was not disappointed. Meaty chunks of chicken, swimming in thick gravy, studded with dumplings that were dense but not at all doughy. The green beans were and long-simmered and well-seasoned (although a little saltier than I should be eating them). I know that the popular belief is that green beans should be cooked just until “crisp-tender”. I don’t subscribe to that popular belief. I love long-cooked green beans. They’re soft and juicy, with the same green color as the Pinto my mom drove when I was 7. Lupie’s mac ‘n’ cheese is creamy (rather than custardy, which I’m not crazy about) and yummy, but it has a thick layer of dark brown cheese on top. I’m not usually one to complain about baked cheese, but it never seems to work for me on Lupie’s mac ‘n’ cheese. I eat the mac and leave the cheese.

I’ve since taken LA and have gone back on a number of occasions. LA declared their burger to be the best he’s ever had. It is a good burger, but not the best I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s because I forgot to tell them that I didn’t want ketchup on it. LA’s personal favorite is the Big Dog with Cincinnati chili and cole slaw. The Cincinnati is a little sweet, but full of flavor and not hot. It’s a good match for the hot dog.

Lupie’s Café has the same menu all day, with specials for each day of the week. Thursday is my obvious favorite. Monday has meatloaf, which I had once and wasn’t overly impressed with. Monday is also the only day of the week on which mashed potatoes are available. The gravy is a white cream gravy with a mushroom flavor to it. The first time I had it, the waiter warned me about the mushroom gravy. I was expecting loads of mushrooms for me to pick out, but I was mistaken. Skip the meatloaf and order the 3- or 4-vegetable plate if you really want the potatoes. Two quiches are available every day of the week; typically one with a meat (often crab or turkey sausage) and the other vegetarian. The quiches come with salad and a side of fruit. The quiches are tall and light, with a higher filling per egg ratio than you normally see.

The downstairs bar area
During the day, Lupie’s Café attracts a business crowd, but the dinner crowd is younger and more “liberal”. Lupie works the cash register and is a delight. She’s very friendly and will treat you like a regular in no time. LA’s #1 reason for returning to Lupie’s Café is Jason, his favorite waiter. I like Jason too, but I find the majority of the waitstaff to be friendly, efficient, and very knowledgeable. You can tell they like their jobs. How often can you really say that about your server?

I think it goes without saying that Lupie’s Café is one of our “places”. We’re recognized when we go there, and you know how much LA and I love that. Go to Lupie’s Café. Unless you’re Grant Luckey, you’ll want to become a regular too.

Note: Three notes, actually. 1) Grant Luckey likes “going new places and trying new things”, but he refused to go to Lupie’s with us because he looked at the menu and decided that “they don’t have new things.” 2) On our last visit to Lupie’s, we were forced to sit by ourselves in the lower level to make room for Time Out Youth, a local organization that helps gay teens and young adults handle issues that result from them coming out. Yay Lupie’s, for being gay friendly! 3) Also on our last visit, our server, Nannette, played matchmaker for LA by giving him the name and number of a single friend of hers.

Lupie's Cafe is located at 2718 Monroe Road in Charlotte (there's currently a pink Port-O-Let out front, so you can't miss it).  A second location is at 101-A Old Statesville Rd in Huntersville.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Can Only Spend What?? Part Deux

Many moons ago, I was challenged to create a fake budget for myself, and I had to incorporate 90 balanced meals. I promised to post my menu when I was done, and I never got around to it. I’m sure you’re all used to that by now.

I want to pat myself on the back and say that I had $5 left over on my fake budget. I would probably use the $5 to buy something other than lentils. Believe it or not, you can buy a lot of food products at the dollar store, and a lot of them aren’t too bad. The country ham is great, and you can often find feta cheese. I don’t know if I’d want to eat this menu all the time, but I could still live happily on it.

In case you were wondering, my food bill for the month was $93.15, and that included tax. I remember when I could easily live on that for a month, but those days are long gone. I also want to mention that many of my classmates went the Lean Cuisine route. I made a personal pledge that I would neither do that nor live on sandwiches. I was successful on both counts!

Click on the above menu to see it larger

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Lucky Peach, Indeed

What has two thumbs and is a total slacker?  This guy!  Yes, I know it's been far too long since I've regaled you with kitchen stories.  And I realize you're still waiting to know how my fake budget turned out.  Not to worry--that will be my next post.  At this time, I have bigger and better things to tell you.  What could be bigger and better than a fake poverty-level budget?  I'M IN LOVE!

Who is it?  The answer may be surprising, depending upon how well you know me.  It's not so much of a who as a what.  And that what is Lucky Peach.  And what, pray tell, is Lucky Peach?  It's a new quarterly magazine from NYC Chef David Chang and the people who bring you No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.  Do I really have to tell you that it is my new favorite magazine?  I didn't think so.

My intrepid sidekick, LA, and I were perusing the magazine racks at our local Barnes & Noble, and I decided to look over the cooking section.  I do so mostly out of habit, since I know what's waiting for me is typically a showcase of Food Network honeys (and Food Network magazine, if I want all the honeys in one place).  I don't need to know how to make a "tablescape" for every crappy meal I've cooked up using all pre-made ingredients, and I never say "Yum-O", so those magazines aren't really for me.  The only exception may be Paula Deen's.  She is my dream mother-in-law.  Besides, her magazine is full of photos of her eye candy son, Bobby.  So maybe that magazine is one of the better ones.  Bon Appetit is all available online (and full of out-of-my-real-and-fake-budget ingredients) and Saveur has never been one of my favorites.  How many issues can they devote to pesto? 

Then my eye caught a photo of a hand holding a plucked chicken.  Right there in the front row!  Who could possibly have the audacity to show food in its raw form?  David Chang, apparently.  Then I saw "Issue 1 - Ramen".  Seriously?  I flipped through the magazine, and I was instantly hooked.  Of course, I was also not-so-instantly out of money, so the purchase of the magazine would have to wait until after payday.

Once the money was in the bank, we headed back to B&N.  I had to have that magazine!  I happily plunked down my $10 (+ tax), hoping that I would get my money's worth.  And get it, I did.  This may be the best magazine in print. 

The first issue is, in fact, devoted to ramen.  But not in the way you might think.  The first article is a travel diary, tracing a trip through Japan in search of great ramen.  Ruth Reichl (editor of the now sadly defunct Gourmet magazine) reviews assorted store brands of ramen.  David Chang gives us some great recipes using dried ramen noodles, including Instant Ramen Gnocchi Parisienne and Instant Ramen Cacio e Pepe.  While Chef Chang apologizes for writing an "obvious" recipe like Ramen-Crusted Skate, I would still happily try making it.

Despite great articles on the origins of ramen and a biography of David Chang written by Anthony Bourdain, my personal favorite items in the first issue of Lucky Peach are two haiku.  One is a recipe for Corn with Miso Butter and Bacon, written by the editor.  Yes, a recipe written in haiku form.  The best haiku, however, comes courtesy of Oscar, who is (presumably) David Chang's dog.  And who wears a do-rag.  "If I had some eggs / I could have some eggs 'n' toast / If I had some toast."  A dog who writes haiku.  Awesome! 

My favorite article from the magazine.  How is this not me and my friends?
Do I need to say again how much I love Lucky Peach?  While the $10 cover price may be a bit steep, the magazine is all articles, unlike many other food magazines which are stuffed with advertisements for rubber floor mats and vacations in Sedona.  The good news is that a subscription is only $28.  Okay, it's still higher than your average magazine, but I'm ready to support someone who knows how to cook and cares about food and not just "tablescapes".  It always comes back to the tablescape. 

Seriously--go buy this magazine!  Keep in print so I have something interesting to read between classes.

For a subscription to Lucky Peach, click here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Can Only Spend What??

As many of you know, I have once again become a college student.  Third time's the charm!  I'm in classes full-time for the next two years, and my current term began in May.  I'm in one online psychology class, which is just plain weird.  But I'm also taking a sociology class in an honest-to-goodness classroom.  I love this class!  Most of the other students don't, but that's their problem.  How is this relevant, you may ask?  Well, I'll tell you how it's relevant.  Our last assignment is one for which we have to create a budget.  Sounds easy, right?  Not exactly.  We're allotted a monthly income of $674, with $17 in food stamps. 

With our $674, we have to pay rent and utilities, plus buy a bus pass and $9 worth of medication each month.  (I wish my medication bill were so low!)  We also have to do laundry, buy toilet paper, and eat 90 balanced meals.  We also must buy one "other" item.  I'm taking Orson with me to my crappy imaginary apartment, so my "other" item is dog food.  One guy in the class asked if he could buy weed with his.  I suppose we all have our priorities.  I haven't finished my budget to find out how much I'm allowed to spend on food, but I know it can't be much.  The instructor stipulated that we have to eat balanced meals to ensure that most of the 19-year old guys in my class (including the pot-smoker mentioned above) don't just live on ramen.  I think I may have a slight advantage.

Yesterday LA and I scoped out the local Dollar Tree.  I love me some Dollar Tree.  I know what will become my primary grocery source on my imaginary budget.  I found eggs, flour, country ham, frozen vegetables, crackers, baguettes, and popsicles, all for $1 each!  Yesterday I bought mustard, pickles, tater tots, and John Wayne toilet paper.  I'm sure you are all familiar with John Wayne toilet paper.  It's rough, it's tough, and it doesn't take shit off anyone!  But it's four rolls for $1, so it went in the basket. 

After the Dollar Tree, we headed over to the farmer's market.  I promised to make LA fried green tomatoes for the 4th.  I picked up two green tomatoes, a head of romaine lettuce, and an onion for $3.14.  I would've liked to also pick up the number of the guy who rang it all up, but that wasn't happening.  The farmer's market will be involved in the produce aspect of my fake menu/budget.

So far, my menu is sounding pretty tasty.  Roast chicken with mashed sweet potatoes and peas.  Roasted garlic and potato soup with chicken salad on a baguette.  Lentil salad with tomatoes and hard-boiled egg.  Country ham, potato, and green pea Spanish tortilla with a Caesar salad.  Who knew that being on a budget could taste so good? 

Once I figure out the actual budget, a few things may change, but I have a feeling I'll still be eating better than most of the class.  Maybe I should tell the instructor that I have a slight advantage and not to judge me too harshly for my menu.  I can just imagine him asking how I managed to eat so well on so little money.  I may have to incorporate this menu into my current budget!  It sounds better than how I'm eating now.

Once I finish the entire menu and budget, I plan on posting it for all to see.  Wish me luck and keep your fingers crossed that I get an A!