Tuesday, November 24, 2009

T-Bone Steak ("Ray Steak," p.28), A Meditation on Home Fries (p.10)

Well, here we are. Sorry for the delay, but I just couldn't seem to bring myself to write this one. I mean, the last recipe from the Achewood Cookbook. Could I really be finished? I have a hard time finishing projects. When I get to the end of a screenplay, I always drag my feet for a few days when I get to the third act. It always feels like I'm killing off a friend, or worse, a child (seeing as how it's something I've created). If I've done a good job creating characters, I feel like I'm going to miss them, and miss creating their world. There may not be any characters (aside from myself and the food) in this blog, but the feeling is the same. It took me a long time to gather the courage to log on and write this thing. I CRIED 8 OR 9 TIMES (not really). Oh well, on to the final recipe.

I knew the last meal would have to be a big deal (and it's important to me that this sentence rhymed), and dogeared this recipe specifically for the grand finale. Nothing says "class" and "celebration" quite like a T-Bone Steak (or, as the book subtitles it, Ray Steak). And since the recipe recommended it, I served it up with Roast Beef's Meditation on Home Fries. As my brother so succinctly reminded me, "French fried potatoes and a T-Bone steak." A more classic meal there isn't. Let's start with the potatoes.

I was nervous about this one. My last fried potato experience with Achewood hadn't gone well. But I was determined to make this meal special, and I wasn't going to let some starches and oils stand in my way. There's a lot of text in the recipe where Roast Beef tries to come up with a universal standard for what constitutes "home fries." It's simple really: small, computer keyboard sized cubes of potato, salted and pan fried in oil. Don't go loading a bunch of dang spices on them or throw in vegetables to make them fancy. Potatoes are a staple, and they're perfectly fine without a lot of fancy presentation. Red potatoes were recommend, as their texture and consistency lends itself well to the cooking process. They took longer to cook than I had expected them to, but I was mostly able to let them sit while I focused on the steak. In this recipe, Roast Beef confirms my feelings that one of the things a young chef needs to learn is the confidence to let things sit alone in hot oil and cook without disturbing them. I'm pretty sure I've talked about this before, but I don't feel like digging through the archives to find the article. You do it.

The finished product was a complete opposite result of the "perfect oven fries." These things were delicious. The potato cubes were crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, just enough salt to add a nice seasoned kick- a perfect compliment to any meal. Melissa and I both loved them. Possibly the best preparation of potatoes I have ever done. If you were to take the cubes and build them into a castle or something, you could serve these in any fancy, pretentious restaurant. That sort of goes against Beef's whole manifesto, though. Still, you get the idea, these things are good. See for yourself:
And that blows the surprise on the steak, so let's jump right in. The t-bone is a large cut of meat - each one is over a pound (and I asked for small ones). I'm not that familiar with the cut, I prefer a ribeye or prime rib for my "special times" steak. Hm, "special times steak" seems to imply something sexual...it's not intentional, but I'm not going to change it. I have cooked steak many times before. I try not to eat too much red meat, but for a meal where you feel like rewarding yourself, you can't go wrong with a good steak. Still, I usually cook my steaks on a grill. I currently have a tiny, insufficient camping grill that is capable of cooking two average sized steaks in approximately an hour and a half. No worries, this is a stove cooked steak. This is important because without a pan, you can't make the red wine reduction that constitutes the sauce for the dish.

Teodor walks you through this recipe, and it shows. Even though there's nothing terribly complicated in the instructions, everything is described in a way that makes you feel like you are doing something fancy. I had to cook these in two separate stainless steel pans - I didn't have one that was big enough for both of the steaks. I got the feeling that cast iron is probably a better fit for this one. My beautiful stainless pans were charred and black when I was through cooking, even after deglazing. Don't worry, they cleaned out ok (I know you were worried). But I've told you time and time again- I just don't have room for a decent cast iron skillet, nor do I have the patience to season one. If you have a pre-seasoned one you want to send me with a suggestion of where to put it, I'll accept it. E-mail me and I'll tell you where to send it. Outside of that, I'll make do with what I have.

The recipe makes a big deal out of letting the steak sit out before and after cooking. This lets the juices adjust properly to their new situations and means you won't be left with a sloppy mess on the plate. Top Chef has made a point of this, too. I had never known it before I undertook this cooking project, and now it just seems like common sense. It's amazing how fast you can start to feel like a smug, elitist, expert, a-hole. When you flip the steaks (which is really all you have to do in this recipe) Teodor tells you to put a brick wrapped in foil on top of it to prevent the natural bowing that happens from having one side of the meat cooked and the other not. Well, you know what, I don't keep bricks laying around. Is this a common thing? Am I supposed to steal a brick from a construction site? Or is the book assuming that its target demographic will just take the brick that's holding up their coffee table? Either way, Teodor does offer the alternative of weighing down a heavy pan with cans for the same effect, and this is what I was prepared to do. However, I forgot about it because I was afraid my kitchen was about to catch on fire.

See, steaks on the stove smoke. A lot. And my burners were burning a bright shade of orange I've never seen them glow before. Usually they stay a serene, happy blue. So, as the steaks were going all concave, my apartment was filling with smoke and the fire alarm was blaring. That kind of became focus number 1. Apparently the tiny ventilation hood on our oven is not equipped to handle this kind of cooking. I can't say I'm surprised, it's a sad little stove/oven, the kind you get the feeling Sears gave away for free in 1976 if you bought a fridge from them. Melissa helped to fan the smoke out the window and eventually things calmed down, but it was probably as panicked as I've ever been in the kitchen. My response to panic is to get all depressed and apologetic, but it passed. And when it did, it was time to make the sauce.

I've deglazed and made reductions once or twice, but it's always fun to hear that sizzle. Plus, this was the first time since I got my stainless pans so I was actually able to scrape up the little black bits like the recipe told me to. I kept expecting the sauce to thicken more, especially when I added the "cornstarch slurry," but it remained ever-liquid. The recipe said it should turn to a gravy-like consistency, which I took to mean kind of thick and syrupy. Melissa thought that the runny sauce seemed like gravy to her, and I can see her point. Gravy is kind of a broad term to use as a descriptor. Either way, it was delicious. The steak didn't really need the sauce since it was plenty tender and juicy, but the vegetables and the wine really enhanced the flavors. It was smoky and rich and every bit as good as anything I've made on the grill. It came out a perfect medium rare, which I was happy about. Between the steak, the potatoes, the Diamond Juice and the wine, it all felt very decadent. A fitting end to a fun experiment.

Well, since this post has run on long enough, I guess I lied to you. This isn't the last one. I'll post a wrap-up in the next couple of days where we'll reflect on what we've learned on this journey and a bunch of other hippie crap. Join us next time for a time of reflection.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Diamond Juice (p.9) and How You Gotta Enjoy Wine (p.43)

I started my journey through this cookbook with a couple of drink recipes, so it makes sense that I would end things the same way. Yes, friends, we have arrived at the last meal of Selzer & Smuckles. This post is part 1 of 2, as it was quite a meal. Today, we focus on the liquid. We'll start with the wine, since it's a little less interesting. Ray's How You Gotta Enjoy Wine is not and does not pretend to be a recipe. It's just a little article teaching the very basics of wine consumption. This is the kind of thing I already know. I mean, I've seen and read Sideways, so I'm practically a professional sommelier (interesting note- one of the few instances where the movie is better than the book). But, I once again must remember this book's target audience - the clueless oaf in his backwards baseball cap. This is probably very informative for him.

All of the basics are here. White wine goes in the skinnier glass and is held by the stem (so as not to warm it with body temperature), and reds go in the more globular glass and are held by the bowl. This is related to the fact that whites should be chilled, and reds room temperature. This is something of which I still can't convince Melissa. She likes her wine chilled regardless of color, tradition and general knowledge be damned! I love her too much to force the issue, but I did make her drink a room temperature red for this project (She didn't mind, she just prefers chilled). In this case, it was a Syrah. A 2007 local (Santa Barbara) that was quite drinkable. A little watery, maybe, but there was enough flavor there. We bought it as part of the 5 cent wine sale at BevMo (by one bottle of wine, get another bottle of the same wine for a nickel), and it was certainly the best 5 cent wine I've ever had. Honestly, the $15 bottle was good, too. It all comes down to one of Ray's other wine rules - A wine should not taste terrible. This is a big one. I hear a lot of people my age talk about how they don't like wine, and this is generally a good sign that I'm dealing with someone who needs to do some growing up. Put down the Miller High Life and take a sip of a decent wine. Congratulations, you're an adult (unless you didn't like it, in which case, keep trying).

The one thing I didn't do with this wine that Ray recommended was decant it. I don't own a decanter. I considered buying one recently at Disneyland. For part of the Haunted Mansion 40th anniversary, the artist SHAG created a bunch of art and merchandise. I bought quite a few pieces, including the water bottle from which I currently drink, and seriously thought about buying a decanter with Shag's rendition of the changing Medusa painting and some ghosts on it. I imagined myself hosting a dinner party and finishing the night by bringing out some port in the ghostly decanter and offering some "spirits" to guests. They'd laugh and whisper amongst themselves about how witty I was. However, I had already bought some old fashioned glasses (like the bourbon drink, not in the style of antiquity) with similar logos and just couldn't bring myself to splurge. Plus, I have so much Haunted Mansion memorabilia that I was already risking crossing the line from "Disney Fan" to "Disney Collector." That line scares me. I've seen Disney Collectors, and they are not something I aspire to be. I make no promises about not buying it if its still available on my next trip. Anyway, Ray recommends if you don't have a decanter to pour the wine in a bowl and serve it with a turkey baster. I decided not to. The wine tasted fine after letting it breathe in the bottle, and I didn't feel it needed decanting. I may try it at a party in the future, just so people can see how classy I am.

Speaking of classy, Diamond Juice. Ray's favorite drink has been on my list for the final meal since I first flipped through the cookbook. See, Ray used to have an advice column, in which he would often give advice on libations. He made it clear that his choice of vodka was Ketel One. I've been wanting to buy a bottle ever since, but always made excuses not to (mostly, that's crap's expensive). Well, to celebrate the end of the project, I caved and bought a bottle. It didn't hurt that in the recipe for the final meal (you'll find out what it is soon enough), Ray recommends having some while you prepare it. So, some diamond juice to celebrate!
You may be thinking- that just seems like a glass of vodka. You would be correct. Ray admits up front that there's no such thing as a recipe for a Ketel One martini (which is essentially what Diamond Juice is). Chilled vodka in a chilled martini glass. You wouldn't want to try this with Popov or even Absolut or Smirnoff, but Ketel One is damn smooth and drinkable. Even Melissa finished hers, and she's not as used to straight liquor as I am (she doesn't drink single malt Scotch and Whiskey like I do).

There is one more element to the drink, and you can see it in the picture - lemon zest. I do not own a lemon zester. Somehow, in all of the barware kits I've had over the years, I still don't have one in my collection. Ray says he got his for his birthday from Pat, and if you don't have one you should either use a vegetable peeler (which I did) or tell Pat when your birthday is (August 17, Pat, but Christmas is coming...). The vegetable peeler made a serviceable, if ugly, zest of lemon. I squeezed the zest over the drink to release essential oils, as instructed. I don't know whether this made any difference or not, but I didn't notice much lemon essence in my drink. I used the zests as a garnish, just so it didn't feel like I was wasting them. Melissa's fell into her drink, and she left it there. She probably got more lemon than I did. Still, it didn't really need it. I really enjoyed drinking my vodka straight (just the way Viktor learned to in Billy Joel's Leningrad), and I felt damn classy just sitting on the couch. Plus, now I have a bottle of Ketel One for future cocktail nights, so it's a big win for me.

That's about all there is to say about the drinks. It should surprise no one that this cookbook included 4 drink recipes, and they were all brought to you by Ray. The man/cat likes his liquor. I'll be back tomorrow or Friday with the big post with the final recipes! That's right, there's two of them. Want to know what they are? Then keep checking back, sucker!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Storm's A-Brewin

Hey everybody. Not really a big post, but I wanted to let you know I haven't forgotten about you. I know I didn't post anything last week, but I'm making up for it this week with...the end of Selzer & Smuckles! I'm not quitting, it's just finishing up. I have four recipes/articles to cover, and I did them all in one big meal on Sunday. I'm going to split it up into two posts and then probably post an ending summary, if I feel like it. It's going to be a good one folks. Stick around.


Friday, November 6, 2009

12 Step Cookies (p.42)

As promised, I'm here on Friday. No slaps for you! One thing I've noticed from watching food television is that most chefs are not necessarily good bakers. In cooking competitions, if dessert comes into play, many great chefs start to panic. I'm kin of the same way. I love cooking over flame, or even tossing a pizza into the oven, but I'm not that comfortable with cakes and cookies and such. So, I considered Pat's 12 Step Cookies to be something of a challenge. As a side note, Pat sure has a lot of recipes in this thing. I've always considered him to something of a side character in the strip, but this cookbook is teeming with his arrogant recipes. And hey, he's a vegan! He can't put eggs into these cookies! I call foul, Achewood!

Anyway, cookies. I love to eat them, not good at making them. I was scared. There, you're caught up. Pat starts by instructing you to follow the recipe EXACTLY. Some recipes you can play around with and make your own, but not baked goods. As the book points out, these things are more like scientific formulas than regular recipes. Not in like a molecular gastronomy way, necessarily, it's just important not to go out and try and add your own spices or your cookies will go awry. Of course, being Pat, he yells all of this at you. The editor (Chris Onstad, I assume) chastises him, but agrees not to mess around with this recipe. When someone's nervous about making cookies, this isn't the best way to calm them down.

But I went ahead and started preparing the recipe and had a pretty good dough forming. I almost stopped there and just ate the dough because it's the baking where these things tend to fail. The dough itself is delicious, why worry about cooking it? Salmonella, I guess, but in the modern age of pasteurized eggs, it's probably not that much of a threat. Well, I had a cookbook project to complete for the blog, so I went ahead and fired up the oven. As I was starting to
spoon up the dough, I noticed a sticker:
Are you kidding me!? You go to the hassle of YELLING at me to follow your recipe EXACTLY and you have the BALLS to stick this sticker at the END of the recipe?! Well, great! Now I have a ruined batch of cookie dough melting in a bowl and I have to start ALL THE HELL OVER?? Screw you, Achewood cookbook!!! (Note- This didn't actually happen. I read ahead in every recipe to make sure I can prepare my mise en place. This was an exercise of "creative writing." I thought it would be funny. For those of you not familiar with creative writing, it's where you write about "fiction" or things that didn't actually happen. Examples include screenwriters, novelists, and Fox News reporters. You may proceed with the article now).

Ok, well, back in the real world, I pulled out my cookie sheets (which have maybe actually been used for cookies once, when Melissa made some) to get the dough rolled up. Pat recommends using the wrappers from the butter sticks you used in the dough to grease the cookie sheet. I have to say, it worked really well. It looked at first like there wasn't anything stuck to the wrapper and that it wouldn't have any effect, but it surprisingly well-greased and it did a perfect job of keeping the cookies from sticking. I'm sure this tip comes up in Heloise or one of the other old ladies that tells people how to live their lives, but I heard it first from a cartoon cat, and that's the advice I'm more likely to take, anyway. I also liked the tip about rotating the cookies halfway through cooking because the oven cooks differently in different places. It all came together to make a damn fine cookie:
They were kinda huge. I mean, you can't quite tell from the picture, but these suckers were thick. Seriously, one or two of these things was plenty. I'm normally a 3-4 cookie at a time kind of guy (which is probably a bad habit, anyway, and explains why I have to run 20 miles a week to keep in shape), but these ones filled me up. They were gooey and VERY chocolaty. The recipe only made about 16 cookies, but used an entire bag of chocolate chips. You would be eating one and suddenly tap into a lode of rich chocolate, like a miner discovering oil or melted diamonds or whatever it is miners find that's liquid. We ate a couple of the cookies and stuck the rest in a tupperware with a slice of bread. This is something I learned from my mom, not a cartoon cat. The bread seems to absorb whatever it is that dries cookies out in the atmosphere of a tupperware container and keeps the cookies nice and chewy for a long period of time. The bread, on the other hand, feels like a cracker. It's a neat trick, and I don't know what makes it work. The cookies lasted about a week, which in our house is a pretty significant amount of time for sweets to last. We just couldn't eat that many of them at once. So, I guess that's it. I conquered my fear and made a tasty treat that can be enjoyed by anyone- I mean, who doesn't like a cookie? Everyone from Jesus to Hitler likes cookies. Yes, even Albert Einstein (probably). I'll make them again, saying I"m going to take them to a potluck or something, but I'll probably eat them myself. That's all for now. Only a couple of posts left in the series, people. Start planning your "End of Selzer & Smuckles" parties now. Until then...


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Scotch Eggs (p.39)

I have always associated Scotch Eggs with being disgusting. It stems from the brief vacation I took to London in college to visit my aunt and uncle. I never actually ate any scotch eggs while I was there, and in fact I enjoyed the British foods I did eat (fish and chips, bangers and mash, etc). Food in the UK has a bad reputation, but I didn't mind it a bit. It probably didn't hurt that I was 18 and allowed to drink beer legally, so the food was an afterthought. Still, a trip to the supermarket brought about some oddities, and I lumped the scotch egg in with these. The can of spotted dick putting, canned "American style" hamburgers (the likes of which I've never seen in the US), meats made from animals and parts of animals that I thought only existed in Arthurian legend. Plus, I think the name associated itself with Scotland in my brain, which in turn associated it with haggis.

Still, looking at Cornelius's recipe, I couldn't fathom why I wouldn't like such a thing. It's basically a delicious breakfast all rolled up in one easy-to-eat package. Mr. Bear mentions this as a traditional pub food, and I certainly would order it while out for a drink. I honestly don't know why these haven't caught on more as an American bar staple. It's a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in spicy sausage, and breaded. This is really just a step away from those KFC amalgamation bowls that America seems to love, and those require silverware! Seriously, America, let's make this happen. I don't care if you have to rename them Uncle Sam's American Eagle Eggs, we need more bars serving these little beauties:
Ok, beauties may be too strong of a descriptor. I admit that I didn't make the most attractive appetizers the bar world has ever seen. Part of this stems from the hard boiled eggs. I'm just not good at them. I mean, they're easy enough to make, but I've had a terrible time getting the shells off, both here and with the deviled eggs. I even let these eggs sit in the fridge for a couple of weeks because that's what all the websites recommend, but I still had a hell of a time. I was happy to wrap these things in sausage so I didn't have to look at them anymore.

This was a unique recipe for me because it was the first time I've made one of these Achewood recipes for someone other than myself and my wife. My good friend Mike Smith (of Eros, Inc. fame) was hosting a screening of a movie on which he had a writing credit. The movie is called Humanity's End, and Mike will be one of the first to admit that it's terrible (he had very little to do with the finished product, really). As such, he encouraged drinking and I decided to bring a plate of drinking food. So, I walked into a room full of vegetarians (this is Silver Lake, people, one of the more liberal sections of LA...think about that) with a plate full of unborn baby chickens wrapped in ground up pig. I ate nearly a third of them, to "prime the engine" so to speak. Finally, some more omnivores arrived and helped me out. They were a hit! One of my friends, Chris Yule (I don't have a link for him, but he's currently the guy in the "Cash grab" booth on the E-Surance commercial, and he's incredibly funny and one of the nicest guys I know. You'd like him) had spent some time in the UK and he was thrilled to see a plate of scotch eggs. They were one of his favorites, apparently, and he told me that mine were everything a scotch egg should be. That made me very proud. I'll admit it, I cook because I like to eat, but I also enjoy people telling me how much they enjoy something I've made or seeing people who are impressed that I know how to cook at all. It's a nice feeling.

Ok, that's about it for today. New post Friday, I promise. If it's not there, you can hunt me down and slap me open-hand across the face.