Not Your Ordinary Farm, Farmer or Chef. Now lets make Prosciutto


FARM VISIT.
Not your ordinary Farm in Guilford Vermont on a snowy day.
http://notyourordinaryfarm.com/
 

In small towns, word travels pretty darn fast and farmers talk a great deal to each other about who they are selling to.  After about a year into establishing solid farm partnerships, it was not long before my phone and email were  flooded with messages from growers and producers peddling their respective offerings. I started feeling bad. I wanted to support as many as I could, not realizing that this appease everybody thing is actually counterproductive for both parties. So I sat down and figured out what products I wanted.  Then I tasted samples, and chose the highest quality, and yummiest ingredients  from what I consider to be the best farms in the area.  20 plus farms later I had my beef, lamb, rabbit, chicken, rabbit, veal, game birds and tons of produce.  The only thing missing was duck.  In walks Judy Sopinki of “Not Your Ordinary Farm” in Guilford VT.  
She kindly said she had never raised ducks before. I began to explain to her that there are a number of pork producers in the area as well as lamb, chicken and beef. Great Tasting Ducks however are all coming from upstate New York and are usually the bi-product of Foie gras which is totally a unsustainable modle of raising ducks. She called a few weeks later informing me of  her newest experiment involving cute little ducklings. It was a bit challenging at first and we had some serious feather issues to overcome. I mean the first batch I had to sell skinless duck confit! Now, Judy is my supplier for Muscovy ducks. What is not so ordinary about this farm? I guess it is the dainty ribbon tied bloody bags of dead meat! Or the fact that she is filling a void in the food system in Southern Vermont instead of saturating the market with what the majority of farmers are producing. These types of partnerships add tremendous value to the NEW food system.She is also a Clevlander claiming the polish ghettos of Broadway and Fleet as her stomping grounds. She came in wanting to fill the void of another animal not listed previously and that  is  most “ordinary” chefs’ favorite meat; pork.  Just as this farm, I am not that “ordinary” of a Chef.  I have never eaten pork except by mistake.   My most enjoyable  mess up was when I would eat the  fried chicken livers from Moxie in Beachwood Ohio with Jonathan Bennett’s super yummed out Catalina dressing.  I did not know the ingredients until it was my turn to prep it: eggs, paprika, vinegar, tomatoes, onions, and sugar were emuslsified with bacon fat! Whoops! Until I was a teenager I had never eaten an OREO or a Starburst due to the lard content.  (To my excitement they changed the recipe at the height of  my junk food eating career).  Back to this “Not so ordinary” farmer, Judy…I told her I was not interested in pigs, but a non gavage(d) free range duck line would be awesome.   (Gavaged means force fed).  These ducks would give me my last piece that I needed to have a menu full of local sustainable products from farmers that I know and respect.   Super important and super delicious!
This is a productive C-Town and old school farmer-chef relationship.  Local food is so much more than slapping a farms’ name on a menu. Chefs, visit your farms, it is about the connection. It is about reciprocation. We are now in talks about her growing sustainable Foie http://www.foodista.com/blog/2011/08/16/sustainable-farming-chef-dan-barbers-foie-gras-parable#  for me because I am, and always will be against gavage!  The bird of choice for large production foie facilities such as Hudson Valley Foie, is the moulard, (no spell check, not mallard).  This bird is a genetically manipulated, sterile bird that they have created specifically for human consumption.  The bird is essentially grown as a vegetable for our eating pleasure as opposed to the cute little ducklings that grow up on Judy’s “Not So Ordinary” farm, that have little duck lives.  Even though the birds are super tasty, we as Chefs have to take into account that the production used for the foie bird is unnatural to begin with, even before the invasive feeding begins.  There is the argument that “the ducks enjoy” having a tube shoved down their esophagus because they don’t have an epiglottis to cause a gag reflex.  This argument is null and void if the conception of the bird is genetically modified and unnatural anway from the beginning.  (Not to get into a debate, most chefs/diners by now have chosen their sides on this issue already).   Anyway, on to the prosciutto. 
 
 I learned to cure meats during my time at Aureole  in New York  from Amar Santana.  A super talented Chef. He was doing duck ham and prosciutto, lamb prosciutto and some other cool non pork cured meats. Of course he used nitrates (which I am not a fan of ) and a crap load of pork fat, (the super trendy standard of yumminess nowadays).  I omitted the insta-cure number series which has all of the un needed nitrates, In my opinion, since these are found naturally in fennel seed and other organic ingredients there is no need to add a factory made product. I also ommitted the forbidden swine from my repertoire and have been working on a line of Muslim-Jewish friendly charcuterie, that is (I hope) just as good as its pork counter part.  From rabbit bacon to veal mortadella, it is all possible. I started to realize that what makes ham taste like itself has less to do with the meat, and more to do with it’s cure.  Now a lot of you pork loyalist and fanatics are probably rolling your eyes and perhaps want tell me about myself right about now…but give these a shot, and while you are at it, give me my ignorance, it is bliss! I would like to imagine that when I cure and smoke my turkey leg,  it’s pretty hammy. And when I give nice fatty duck breast a really easy  salt cure followed by a  “set it and forget it” type refrigerator stay it is pretty prosciutto-y but with a character of its own.
Duck Prosciutto Recipe
Ingredients
  • One 6 or 8 ounce duck breast
  • 4 cups kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
Directions
Don’t buy duck breasts. Buy the whole bird. You will feel more connected with your food when doing this. Breakdown the whole duck, make some soup out of the carcass and wings, confit out of the legs and freeze the liver for pate to be made once enough is accumulated. Rinse and pat dry your breast with good non-dollar store paper towels (trust me on this one). Snag a dish just large enough to hold the duck breast. Make a 1-inch bed of salt on said dish. Place the breast on the salt and cover it with about another inch of salt. Cover the entire situation with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. You can add orange rinds if you like. 
 

Breasts in the cure with fresh ground spices.

In a small bowl, combine the  coriander, fennel, and pepper. This would be the perfect time to make use of  some of those pre ground spices sitting on the counter in one of those spice

Rinsed, spiced and hanging in the walk in.

carousel’s you got as a gift. I would of course not recommend purchasing this antiquated  product, but I for sure don’t condone just throwing it away either unless it is totally rancid. If you ar going to buy spices, you should always purchase whole seed spices, whole pepper corns and fresh herbs. Unwrap the duck breast and, holding it over the sink, rinse it with the vinegar to remove the salt and then rinse it under cold running water. Pat the duck breast completely dry and then rub it all over with the spice mixture.
 

Sliced and ready to serve.

Wrap the breast in cheesecloth and knot the cloth at both ends. Tie a piece of butcher twine on the top of the cheese cloth and tie the
other end to the wire rack in the fridge. If your fridge has glass shelving, duct tape it. I could have done a cheesy little pun  there but I think hinting at it works just as well. Place a small plate or dish beneath it. Let the duck cure until it feels firm but not dry, about 2 weeks. Thinner or smaller breasts will take less time.                                    
 
Start checking after a week or so. Slice it as thin as possible Put this with some melon or on a salad and you are good to go.

Pheseant with duck bacon-sweet potato hash and sherry soubise.

 
 
If you are feeling ambitious, you can of course smoke your cured breast making duck bacon. That is just what i did  with my pheasant from Chip and Carleen Hellis’ Fowl Mountain Farm in Dummerston. 
 
http://www.ismailthechef.com/
 
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What is in the Air?


I have been publically writing for over  three years now and have yet to share an actual recipe. I have more unfinished blog posts in my documents folder than I have actual shared ones. The reasoning is that I feel there are so many awesome Chefs out there sharing their recipes, you don’t really need another one flooding your facebook page with unwanted recipes and food tips. (Do you?) I would much rather hint at the possibility of one of my quasi-interested readers to actually ask me a question regarding food. This technique has yet to reveal any sign of results so I guess I am acquiescing. So here it goes…

It should be known that my style of cuisine is old-world in foundation built up by just the right amount of “modernist” influence. I am definitely not a slave to trends and it of course is no hidden fact that my disgust for  the watered down industry that I am apart of can be directly linked to the exploitation of cool/sexy Chefs. Now this of course takes nothing away from the accomplishments of my peers and I wish them all the success that is due to them. It however is a known fact that while food TV is one of the most watched networks and cookbooks are the number one type of book being sold right now, for some reason, we are cooking less than ever before. Well, that “some reason” is this; as we watch our favorite Chef prepare the most awesome meal, the processed food companies pay trillions (not a fact, just hyperbole) for their commercial slots to get you to buy their goods. It’s a slick little hustle that sees no sign of slowing down. Besides, TV sucks, and cooking is far more fun!

So why not do what some say has been done for over 10,000 years! Trap the single cell organism we know as yeast, along with other yummy edible microbes, and make some bread. The air is equipped with all the yeast you will ever need to make the perfect loaf of bread every time! The cool thing is that the sour dough bread you make will differ from locale to locale giving a sour dough in Vermont a different taste than one in Cali due to the varying air composition. First we have to make a productive starter:

Grab:

2 cups of flour

2 cups of good old warm  H2O   and  combine in a glass bowl

And that’s it! No need to buy a sour dough starter online because that’s what you just made… sort of.

My starter keeping a watchful eye on my house grown pea shoots and micro greens. Did you know that chefs pay up to 25 bucks for half a pound? and gues who pays for it...

Now you have to collect the yeast and feed it. So leave it in a warm place to ferment, 4 to 8 days.  Depending on temperature and humidity of kitchen, times may vary. Place on cookie sheet in case of overflow. Check on occasionally. When mixture is bubbly and has a pleasant sour smell, it is ready to use.

Notice the bubbles in the dough. This is what your looking for after about 4 days. You do not refrigerate it during this 4 day period. That way you can collect the yeast from the air.

If your mixture has a pink, orange, or any other strange color tinge to it, THROW IT OUT! and start over. At my restaurant we make bread every day from our starter and never have to throw any away and it never goes in the fridge. But if you are only making bread once a week like most home bakers do when they possess a starter, throw it in the fridge. And if you are making bread once in a blue moon, you can still keep the yeast alive and kicking! you will have to feed it once a week by discarding about 1 cup of the starter and adding 1 cup flour and one cup of warm H2O. leave it out for a day and return it to the fridge! A lot of people refer to their starters as pets, But I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND TAKING YOUR “PET” THROUGH THE TSA CHECKPOINTS!… “May I please ask you what is that funked out gooey substance in your carry on”? Sure to be confiscated! If this happens, no worries, start another one. Just remember that sourdough starters improve with age, so you might want to hang on to it for a while and pass it along to those interested in yummy things. This actualy a trdition for some and it prevents you from having to waist it by throwing it in the trash.

This is a mature starter, which you can tell by the crusty border. (Time for a bowl change)

So how does it work? You can collect yeast for two things that I know of. one is for bread making and the other is for the production of alcohol.  And just as your bread will differ in taste according to what air you are breathing, so will your brew. Now I of course don’t drink, but I will go into the production of homemade alcohol for the sole reason of making your very own vinegar! NO this does not mean two recipes in one post. This is me jockeying for some interested readers (one will do) to ask me; how to make vinegar? Now, anyone can go to the brew shop and get a vinegar mother (you see this hazy strand  sometimes floating in your organic vinegar), drop it into an unadulterated bottled of alcohol: beer for malt, white/red for wine and of course champagne for, well champagne vinegar. But if you want to get your own strain of vinegar mother, a unique one just like our yeast we collected for our starter, hit me up!

Here is the skinny: yeast eats sugar and its waste is alcohol then acid bactar comes in and eats the alcohol and guess what its waste is. VINEGAR!

The bread recipe:

1 pound of starter

14 oz of water

2 T. honey

5 C bread flour (plus more for kneading)

¾ C Wheat flour

1 C soaked kamut (or other wheat berry or steel-cut oats)

3 t salt

Sour dough without the wheat berries

How To:

Combine starter, H2O, honey, the two flours and kamut, cover and let rest for at least 4 hours. The longer the better.  Don’t mix at this point. Just dump everything in, give one quick stir and cover with plastic wrap. Four hours later; when ready, sprinkle salt on top. Stir with wooden spoon and dump on heavily floured surface. And knead until you get one tight ball of dough. You can do this in your kitchen aide if you want to as well. Let it rest for 30 minutes. shape two loaves and score with a razor blade. Bake  at  375 for 45 minutes, rotating half way through.

Hope you enjoyed my thoughts and I hope you try the recipe!

Are We Foodies or Snooties?


So, I have a question…Since when is good, all natural food reserved for the elite? You don’t believe me? Walk through your local co-op or natural food store with your head on a swivel.   Scope out the not so wide array of vehicles in the parking lot, snag your tiny cart, and tell me that you are not being over charged. We shop blindly, content in the feeling of making the right choice for ourselves and family, but what would we eat if we could not afford it? This type of blind shopping is a contributing factor to the growing debate surrounding the foodie as an elitest.

What is your modern day foodie? I am guessing they will talk a good game about supporting your local farmer, eating grass fed beef and free range chickens, he will probably have an eco bag in is trunk sporting the “I love veggies” inscription. They will be able to tell you all about gmos and hfcs and bpas, and some may even possess a 650 dollar set of cook book written by Nathan Myhrvold. I will talk on this later down the page) They might even have a blog about the wonderful farm to table spots they’ve been frequenting and how they dropped 300 plus down (wine not included) on a beautifully plated somewhat yummy “snout and trotter” tasting at the newest “nose to tail” eatery.

Make no mistake about it, I am all about supporting your farmer, and partaking in yummy foods and yadda yadda yadda. However it seems to me after reading the many blogs and message boards that we are turning our movement into an elite eco system of Chefs and foodies that frown upon those who either 1) CHOOSE to (for whatever reason)  factory farmed agriculture. Or 2) just are not ready to jump all the way in. Lets step back and look at the fact that we as a country are so soiled by the industry we are against that we support it even if we don’t want to. So lets relax a little with the harsh comments because we are all guilty. We all support factory farms and unsustainable farming practices be it knowingly or un-knowingly.  Most of us grew into our mentalities after living a life of crappy eating.  This crappy eating is usually justifiable;  a shoe string budget of Ramen noodles while we are broke in college, or just doing what we can to feed our families.

That’s my rant and here is my take on the Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold… ABSOLUTELY ELITIST!  I heard ramblings of this book coming out and at first I was all about it I even think I posted the Wired magazine article on my Facebook page. You know the story of a guy loving to cook since he was a boy, quits his job as a top researcher for a big company and becomes a chef. But 6 BILLS?!  First off I must say I am judging the book by its cover. But I am hoping you can give me a pass because it cost 600 bucks! I’m sorry, I’m just not throwing that much coin down. I couldn’t stand paying those prices for books in college, and I surely don’t think its cool to ask middle America to swoop it up at that price. I heard in an interview on NPR him say “you can do these things with regular kitchen equipment you can buy at any old store like Sur le Table and William Sanoma. Seriously!? Normal people don’t shop there. It is this type of pretentious attitude (along with the heafty price tag) that keeps the argument going.  I guess what  I am trying to say is I understand it is more of a reference and it probably like most other cookbooks, will just sit on a coffee table. But for that price, It better be hand written in gold leaf with a quill from a rare bird found only in Bolivia, published by Gutenberg, taken off the shelf by the Monastery’s librarian holding a candle on a full moon. If you are interested in a a great approach to food science and have lets say 30 bucks, I suggest you pick up On food and Cooking by Harrold Mcgee. If youn don’t have it already. The approach is definitely different from “Modernist Cuisine”. It’s scientific analysis of food, going into the biology and protein chemistry of grains, eggs, meats, etc, and I don’t think that there’s a single recipe in it other than a few historical examples. That being said, it’s a very revealing view of how food behaves chemically, physically, and culinarily, and has helped me understand a lot my screw-ups in the kitchen. It certainly doesn’t compare to a 2500 page, 5 volume set of lavishly illustrated scientific cookbooks. In all fairness, big reference volumes like this do tend to be expensive. For example, the Oxford unabridged dictionary has always been expensive. These things are expensive to produce and the developer should get a fair compensation for what  it cost and for how much research went into its production.  It is definitely an interesting concept, but totally not for me.  Sad because this is the kind of thing that is super interesting but in my opinion totally alienates Middle America.

DON’T LET THEM HIJACK OUR MOVEMENT!

Fresh wholesome natural food is for everyone.

Me. My Town. And Irene. A summer for the ages.


http://www.wilmingtonvtfloodrelief.com/

http://drvhumanweb.org/  TO DONATE OR FOR EMERGENCY FUNDING CLICK HERE!

I decided to not put pictures of the flood damage on the blog. I’m sure you have scene enough.

The summer draws to a close. and it took a disaster to get me back at the computer screen squinting through my duct taped, faded Ralph Lauren frames to peck away at a measly 15 wpm (tops) in an attempt to regain my self-proclaimed title as a blogger. The disaster of the tropical storm Irene will be forever etched into my memory. There was very little wind, just hours and hours of steady rain. The devastation is immense and will take its actualized toll in the forth coming months. for more information on the floods of Irene or to help the residents and businesses,  Please Click here! I have friends who were affected and I pray things in the town of Wilmington and all over Vermont, get back to a sense of normalcy.

Wait. Dd I just say Wilmington? Last most of you heard I was at the helm of the Putney Inn. Working and gleaning from the bounty of the farms of Wyndham County. I apologize For my lack of updates on my to-ing and fro-ing. I guess I have some filling in to do.

This was to be the year that I made a solid reputation in New England as a respectable Chef providing high quality, world-class grub to locals and travelers alike. I established a wonderful network of farmers to drive my cuisine and the rep was starting. My departure had ABSOLUELY nothing to do with the owners or the property. I was given free rein to develop and create menus according to my whims and  palate. But the property was a large one. Banquets out the wazoo! And busses of tourists flocking to peep out the colorful canvas of de-naturing leaves is totally not my speed. The restaurant is still a great place to grab a bite of yummy food in southern VT and is the perfect spot to hop off of rt 91 at exit 4. www.putneyinn.com. that being said I prefer an ecosystem that caters to the expectations of dinners who are looking for THE SPOT.  So, after three offers, trails, (trying out in the kitchen) mystery baskets and negotiations, I accepted the job at what I see as being THE SPOT for me. Is it a Relais Chateau, on lake Champlain, brand spanking new with shiny never before used appliances and small wares? Absolutely not.  Is it 100 percent committed to the sustainable, farm to table, nose to tail ideology? Yessssss! (Very Important) The Wilmington Inn is in so many ways is a dream come true. The lack of the brand spanking new stuff gives it a few dings in my book but all in all, pretty close to perfect. Since we have been closed off from the rest of the world due to poor roads and mass construction vehicles, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my decision. This reflection has a reoccurring theme; community and farmonomics. Click here for more info on farmonomics. This view of the owners (along with many others) and  their commitment  mirrors my outlook super eerily. The fact that John kicked the shiny silver truck off the property with the purchase of the Inn and wants to ink the menu with “SYSCO free since 2010” is pretty slick.

These times of crisis it is important to realize our role in our communities and how we spend our money seriously affects our neighbors. In Vermont the slinging around of terminology like “buy local” is for the most part not a marketing ploy, it’s the real deal. (I can name some posers in a private convo off the record if you like) When we put a face to the producer of our product and put a face to the consumer it is more than just a business transaction, we now have a connection. When we know that Westminster Organics is Paul Harlow and family and they stand to lose a nice amount of coin in crops (250,000 in crop damage) we should  do all that we can to help.  That amount does not include property damage, loss of jobs to employees, and the fact that they have to wait four months before planting again. Buying local is the least we can doand it directly effects helps the Harlow family and all of their employees. What about Jonathan Wright of Taylor farms? in Londonderry? It is a baig chain grocer  or sysco telling you that they are discontinuing an item and you keep shopping blindly. It is painful to know that after baling hay for his grass-fed cows the flood washes a huge chunk of food for his livestock. This is the reality. when we buy Taylor Farms Gouda from the store, we are helping Jonathan Wright.

I am stoked to hear about all of the people helping get the Brattleboro farmers market up and running within a week! After first the first reports said a new location may be necessary? AMAZING! I wish I were there this saturday to see the swarm of like-minded community based folks (some a little weird) helping support the ever so needed local economy. I was helping along with a host of other residents (and non) rebuild the tourist economy based center of Wilmington which was decimated by the flood. It is a site to see. People working together is a beautiful site. There are many things going on in the valley to assist the businesses affected. I even here murmurs of a star-studded benefit concert for those without flood insurance being in the works. The Wilmington Inn is putting up five bucks from every entre to the flood relief, Chris and Steve of Apres Vous are looking to open next week and open for breakfast and lunch to give some of the folks of DOTs Dinner (a darn near monument) employment. It is nice to see a community at work.

The craziness of starting a new job has kept me away from my blog. The craziness of this storm has just revealed to me how relaxing and a release it is to share my thoughts. My unplanned time of reflection has totally fortified my ideology and commitment to the support of the small farms and producers and has given me more incentive to work at my craft and offer some of the best cuisine in Vermont. I must admit, I was not too fond of the touristy feel of the town of when I first arrived. However, the spirit of  community is in the air and I welcome all of you to Wilmington!

Next up is my garden, my foraging and some new farm visits!

If my knives Could Talk…. A Chefs Journey


The other day I was surfing the net I came across a beautiful Togiharu Hammered Textured  Damascus Gyutou on korin.com. This blade will have the privilege of piercing the flesh of locally raised ducks, from Guilford, rabbits from Dummerston and lamb from Putney. (just to name a few). I started to think about what my other knives experienced outside of the case. And what they witnessed. I then realized, that each knife would have a story to tell. as would I. These thoughts developed into what you are reading now, a journey of chefs’ blades. Every knife would go through its own break in period while witnessing their owners’ trials and triumphs. Some would inevitably become obsolete in a chefs arsenal, and merely act as a reminder of one’s beginnings. Some would be lost, stolen, and even abandoned. As these stories are chronicled, I would like to take you with me on my journey of knives and give you a few tips as well.

Chicago Cutlery http://www.chicagocutlery.com/ (please don’t go to this page)

*warning going to this page may seriously stunt your professional growth*

The beginning of my cooking career starts before I enrolled into culinary school at the International Arts and Sciences Institute in Chesterland Ohio. My first gig was at a run of the meal (pun) restaurant and Pie shop in Cleveland hts.  This restaurant used Chicago Cutlery Knives.  Weighing in at a whopping five pounds and this baby is equipped with a plastic handle that is sure to callous the crap out of your hands and give you a serious brachioradialis work out!  Can you say..Popeye arms?!  These knives were are and always will be absolutely horrid. I am sorry to say this but if you currently are wielding a Chicago Cutlery knife, you just are not seriously that into your craft These were “sharpened” at a grinding company weekly until there was no more blade left to grind. In fact, one of the things I look for in a kitchen is if they have a knife service. This is definitely a red flag. Of course at the time, I thought these were professional grade. I am trying to think of a suitable application for these types of knives but I just can’t! My advice, STAY AWAY! And don’t send your good knives to a grinding service, this will only destroy your edge and make it more difficult to attain a professional edge. Learn to sharpen your knives with a wet stone. It will give you a true connection with your blade and you will learn the strengths and weaknesses of each one that you own. Oh yeah, if you are ever in NYC, stop by Korin (57 Warren Street New York, NY 10007), and ask for a tutorial with the master knife sharpener, its super amazing!   Chefs; basically you need to ask yourself one question….If you were a samurai, would you be wielding a plastic handled, heavy, clunky sword?  NO!

Kyocera https://secure.kyoceraadvancedceramics.com/index.html

After “Estimating Tributary Habitat Using GIS Data Bases” with DR. Koonce of Case Western Reserve University, it became to be clear to me, that I am definitely not a lab rat. My childhood dream of being on the discovery channel was fading, and I turned towards the field that had been putting me through college, Culinary Arts.  After working in a couple of unmentionable restaurants I started to read about some great chefs, started watching the once respectable Food Network, and practicing out of cook books. This became my focus. Since I was homeschooled, it is fairly easy for me to self educate and to become informed. Now, the Food Network at that time was full of wonderful chefs, was not a popularity contest, and Sara Moulton didn’t need to use her cleavage to sell her awesome show.  (Fooey Network) This was the moment I was smitten by the Kyocera ceramic knife that Chef Ming Tsai used on his East Meets West  show.  His was black and super cool, mine is now dull and chipped along the blade thanks to my wife. How did this knife end up at home? Well, the decision was made to take one for the team and donate my knife to the household where an adequate knife presence was seriously lacking.   Within a month the tip had chipped off and my beloved knife had incurred some serious battle wounds, now resembling something closer to a serrated knife.  She still swears up and down (even in its current state) that it is the best knife ever, especially when cutting tomatoes.   We love the fact that it stays sharp for darn near forever! And when it does dull, you send it in for ten bucks. We have neglected to do this seeing as though ten bucks usually buys some cool ingredients instead.   The huge downside of this knife is that they do break and chip.  One of my Chef buddies actually shattered his.  I was so excited after entering my culinary profession, and I longed for this blade but never ponied up the coin to actually purchase it.  I was however fortunate enough to I win it in a cooking competition at the botanical gardens in Cleveland.

Wusthof http://www.wusthof.com/desktopdefault.aspx

The first knife I bought was a Wusthof. It was in the kit of other knifes used in culinary school. I was so excited and proud to walk around with my knife kit. I wanted to be the fastest chopper in class. This inspiration surely derived from my love for the PBS cooking show by Martin Yan “Yan Can Cook”.  Just as sure as Yan could cook, I could chop.  Fast.   This was definitely noticed by my instructor chef Tim, and I LOVED it.    After enthusiastically accepting an assignment of bailing out my classmates on some prep work, I proudly wielded my freshly honed German engineered beauty, right into my thumb.  This incision was a precursor to three stitches, and a story that I always tell my interns.   “If you want to gain speed in chopping it is almost inevitable that you will cut yourself.”    Call it a muscle memory exercise.   Back to the knife…This blade goes from the tip all the way to the base of the handle which gives it nice balance.  Balance is a quality which is an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY to look at when buying a professional grade blade.  This is one my heavier knives and frankly exists now solely for the purpose of reminding me where I came from.  It is a good entry-level professional blade.  There are some higher end ones that are really nice but not my cup of tea anymore…I now prefer a Japanese blade. I should also mention that all of the other knives in my cooking school kit are NEVER used. I find that I can filet a fish, tornade potatoes, and break down a bird, all with  one quality blade.

J. A. Henckels http://www.j-a-henckels.com/en-US

You may notice the absence of a knife on this cutting board.  He is the Sanktoku, by J.A. Henckles, a German-made Japanese style knife with hollow ground.  Hollow ground is a knife blade which has been ground with a beveled edge along the cutting edge of the knife.  This creates a smaller surface to make contact with the food, to help prevent the food from sticking. (Allegedly). I feel like i was duped! The food totally still stuck to this blade! (for true no potato stickage, snag the Glestain, i’ll get to that baby in a sec) At that time, EVERY young chef was all about the santoku. I wish I could find this knife. (Not for the performance obviously)  I wish I could go into 4700 Lakeside Ave. and reminisce on the days of Crust and Crumbs Bakery & Café.  This story is almost like a love story…and it hurts my heart to even think about it. Left behind in a “dream differed”…alas, the Crumb:  My first love.   My second knife.  My dream of a restaurant that was so close to re-opening then the dream dried up like a “raisin in the sun”.    If only I would have listened to those who said “Stay.”  Where would I be?  Closed to reopen in a new and bigger space that never came into fruition.  Unfortunately this knife is still stuck in the old crumb building, amongst old favorite cook books.  Our plan was to open the new Crumb and make some loot so we could go back and settle our debt with the landlord and get back all of our stuff that was comendeered.  Obviously this hasn’t happened yet, although sometimes my delusions of grandeur lead me to believe this still may happen someday.  I opened Crust and Crumbs when I was 23, after deciding to go the culinary vs lab rat route.  In my eyes, The Crumb (as it was dubbed by my regulars), will always be a success.  It was here where pivitol introductions were made.  My landlord knew Brad Friedlander who gave me sound business advice that I still use today. He also introduced me Jonathan Bennet who I worked under at Moxie the Restaurant. This is where I began to truly hone my skills and became SUPER into perfecting my craft. It is also the first time I sharpened my knives REGULARLY, and feasted my eyes on what is still not only a show stopper, but a great blade as well. Lady’s and gents, the Glestain Indented Blade…

Glestain http://korin.com/Brands/Glestain-Indented-Blade

This knife is TIGHT! The design is wonderful and the blade is a razor-sharp one that stays that way for pretty long time. It also is excellent at preventing all of your thinly sliced veggies from hanging around on your blade as I mentioned earlier… I left C Town and I was off to NY in what my family likes to call an “Izzy Whim Worlwind”.  I had no money, no apartment, no food.  Just a sweet stage gig at one of my chef heroes flagship restaurant Charlie Palmers’ Areole.   (By the way a stage position for those of you who don’t know is basically when you work for free, to gain experience and knowledge).   That’s right! This field is full of people who can afford (or have hella connections) to work unpaid in Top Michelin rated restaurants across the globe, growing in skill and buffing up their resumes. Well, I was and still am not one of those guys. (hmmm… this type of privileged network could contribute to why minorities are just a tad under represented in culinary arts…).  Anyway, I knew that this was going to be huge for my professional growth. I guess it’s not completely fair to say I had no apartment no money or food because I did have some wonderful friends who let me sleep on their floor, supportive family who sent me whatever they could scrape together, and a wife to be who would mail me packages of food and some money, a small subway map, and provided me with hours of company via the cell phone.   I remember those conversations vividly. She wired me some money because she was sick of me complaining about being hungry…(I only ate staff meal at the restaurant, unless it had pork in it, and on Sundays when I was off I wouldn’t really eat unless my awesome friends Dominique and Carol would feed me)…anyway, so she wired me some money and expected me to buy some food with it…and to her chagrin, what did I get?  This amazing knife, and some cleaner, neater looking chef jackets.  I remember eyeing it like a kid in a candy store, in that beautiful case, in a store I had no business being in because I really should have been buying groceries.  My only complaint about this knife is it is machine-made as opposed to the other hand forged Japanese varieties which I am truly fond of. This knife is a real beauty sharpens well and will always be in heavy rotation.

http://korin.com/Brands/Glestain-Indented-Blade

Misono http://korin.com/Brands/Misono_2

So, I did get offered a job at Aureole (a dream come true actually) …working under one of my hero chefs and his all-star crew…but something told me to come back home.  I had my kids at home, my wife to be and it really looked like my dream of the new Crumb was going to come true. Man! I still dream of being open in the beautiful Asian Town Center on 36th and superior. Café by day, bistro by night. Working with some of the coolest artist in the city… Anyway, I went back to Cleveland, reunited with the family, got married and got to work on the Crumb re-opening.  But in the meantime I needed cash, money, coin, dinero, loot, what ever you tag it as, I was lacking it. Just as my knives serve as a tool for memory recall, my jobs (and the Chefs that run them) are so important to the Chef that I am today. I found this job at Scott Kim’s Sasa Matsu in Shaker Square. Loved it! I was allowed to give my imput in the menu and learned so much from the most diverse bunch I have ever worked with. Korean, Chinese, Peruvian, Japanese, and your typical American mutt, working together making some yummy food. I remember busting out my knives so proud.   At this point all I REALLY knew about cutlery, is keep it sharp. How I chose a knife was solely based on how cool it looked. At that time I had a gorgeous, respectable shun blade designed by Ken Onion. http://www.kershawknives.com/

THESE KNIVES ARE FANTASTIC! (super pricey too) Its rocking abilities are perfect for slicing super thin and chopping herbs in a text-book fashion. I witnessed Scott Kim cooking with chop sticks, rolling perfect sushi rolls and dissecting fresh whole fish with an unbelievably razor-sharp knife. He didn’t have a Misono, but it was hand-made and I liked that. This is when I found my favorite, super thin, ultra light crazy sharp, rustic looking blade crafted by a company with 750 plus years of forgery. I am curious to see if my Togiharu will replace my Misono as my all-time fav. I highly doubt it. It will definitely be used the most this summer slicing through many a flora and fauna. It will temporarily soothe my addiction to have the coolest “shanks” (knife) in my collection. One thing is for sure, the knives will continue to witness the growth of a professional Chef as I continue on my journey to create super yummy food.

Aging Meat… and its OK to eat veal!


 

 

There is no way I can argue with those vegan type people about the production of veal. It is undoubtedly one of the most disrespectful, irresponsible forms of animal treatment second to only foire production.  I will definitely touch on that debauchery in a later post. When we go spend our hard earned money, we want ingredients and food preparations that are worth the coin, that’s inventive and just plain old fulfilling. This does not entail us eating with our eyes closed. I can recall a former chef whom I respect a great deal but will remain nameless “educate” me on the way a good cut of veal should be white with a tint of pink. He failed to mention that the paleness comes from a forced anemia. There are tons of bloggers and videos on the net exposing the truth about veal production so I won’t go there in this post. Unless you guys want me to of course.

I LOVE VEAL! Until recently, for the afore mentioned reasons, it never had a place on my menu.

This calves name was Hogan

I actually  have a veal midsection hanging in my meat locker right now that I landed from fancy meats of Vermont. I let it hang at just around 36 degrees for about 21 days. This aging helps develop a deep flavor that is noticed instantly. The outside layer will dry and crust over, thus protecting the inner flesh from rotting. I put a BUNCH of salt. Like one bag of rock salt at the bottom of the cooler to reduce the microbe production. If it gets furry, don’t worry. Just wipe it with a towel doused in salt water if it makes you feel better. I don’t. All of the outside will be trimmed revealing a perfectly aged primal cut of veal.

I skipped the part where I tell you how its ok to eat veal now! On purpose of course.  Lydia Ratcliff at seventy plus years runs a cooperative of, responsible veal producers through her company fancy meats of Vermont. You can find these veal calves on some of New England’s conscious chefs menus labeled humanely raised veal or rose veal. I was so stoked when I found this out. I hadn’t eaten veal in years. (now foire, that’s another story! Its so good) I found out that these responsible dedicated farmers raise their calves from birth on a diet of pasture flora and good ol fashioned mother’s milk. I have it on my menu as humanely raised veal. You may see it as rose veal as well. Yeah the cuts are a little bigger but I seriously like it better. Its less of a conduit and I think it stands out as a more distinct flavor.

If you have ordered veal in restaurants before, you probably noticed notice its opaqueness. This lack of color (anemia) is due to the lack of nutrients. After the calves are born they are immediately taken away from their moms and give a milk substitute formula lacking necessary nutrients for long term survival. When a calf is fed real milk not formula and allowed to pasture it develops necessary nutrients to live a comfortable and healthy albeit short life.  Because of these nutrients, the flesh develops a pinkish rosy color.

It is super important to vote with your dollars and only buy humanely raised veal. IT TASTE BETTER ANYWAY! Don’t eat with your eyes closed and know where ALL your meat comes from. Or get started vegetable only diet. But seriously, who wants to do that.

Thanks again for checking my site and read on for a instructions on how to PROPERLY age meat without getting food poisoning.

Oh yeah Here is a cool little video about Lydia and her cooperative on thoughtcast!

http://vimeo.com/6371172

There are two kinds of aging when it comes to meat wet aging and dry aging. Wet aging is when the beef is put into a vacuum sealed plastic bag and allowed to age in its own juices. Wet aging takes less time than dry aging, generally around seven days. Wet aging is the type of aging that most butchers do now. Dry aging is different though, and is actually when you want the beef to dry out. It takes anywhere from seven to twenty-one days to dry age beef. This process allows the moisture in the muscle to evaporate, and this gives the meat a deeper beefy or vealy flavor. Also, the beef is naturally tenderized because of the fact that the enzymes in the beef are breaking down. One thing to keep in mind is that you cannot dry age single steaks because they are too thin.

For the purposes of this article you will need a primal piece of veal or beef such as a whole ribeye or a whole loin strip. If you have access to larger sections this will be fine as well but obviously you are going to need a large enough cooler.

You will need a rectangle pan, a wire rack, meat thermometer and some dish towels.  As I mentioned previously I hang my larger cuts so air gets it from all directions and the outer  dries faster.

1  Rinse your piece of beef with cold water.

2 Dry the beef well with one or two large white dish towels. Set it aside for a minute and allow it to drain.

3   Put your pan and wire rack on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator (because this is where it is coldest).

4

Wrap your beef in another of your large white dish towels and put it on the rack. Using your thermometer measure the temperature, you don’t want a temperature any warmer than 36 degrees F.

5

Change the towel(s) wrapping your beef daily. Empty and rinse the pan daily as well. This is to ensure that your beef stays as dry as possible and that hopefully no mold or any other kind of bacteria has a chance to start growing. Remember. This is DRY aging

6

Age your beef for ten days to two weeks. Cut off anything on the outer layer that is dry, crusty, or that seems like it could be bad for you to eat such as if you notice some green mold growing for example.

7

Store dry aged beef in your refrigerator for up to twenty-one days. If you haven’t eaten all the meat in twenty-one days, cut the rest of it into steaks. Put it in freezer-proof, heavy duty plastic wrap, or plastic bags and put it in your freezer.

 

The Fooey Network


How can you promote scratch cooking while being sponsored by pre-made sauces, salty boxed rice and 20 plus ingredient frozen cheesecakes?  I have heard of such a network in a far away land that switched a once credible Chef lineup and respectable programing for slots filled with conventionally attractive, cool, funny entertainers (Chefs in their previous lives).  They are called the Fooey network. We have seen this happen in the music industry as well. Are these current  musicians contributing anything to their craft? Song writers, musicians and producers of the past would agree with me when I say don’t let these clowns pimp your passion, hard work, craft and artistry!  Why do we feel the need to suppress talent and promote image? Am I the only Chef out here that sees th parallels between the new American “Pop Star”  and The Fooey Networks  self promoted “Aluminum Chefs”. These Chefs will try to sell you non stick cook ware  and an acronym labeled olive oil for twice the price. What am I paying for, the acronym?! I keep thinking about Garth from Wayne’s world decked out in sponsored gear while saying people only do things to get payed. (This was a super funny scene).  If the video killed the radio star then what is the Fooey Network doing to our culinary artists? If cooking ever becomes less hip, I can assure you that programmers will seek out  the most attractive and marketable tailors and quilt makers.  When teaching my classes, I want to teach people who seek to grow their skill set and increase their culinary IQ. Based on solid techniques and principles. I’ve been told that im a fun guy, so I reckon the classes reflect my personality, but definitely not forced. I want to show how to make PASTA before you make the diavolo sauce. And what about storing your pasta be it frozen or dried? I don’t want you to pay more money for the peeled, deveined shrimp when on average they are two dollars less when purchased skin and tail on. Trust me, it is not hard to clean them… and guess what; you know that yummy risotto you want to learn how to make? You can use the shells to make tasty-no salt added-stock that seriously will rival that of your favorite Italian eatery.  Not to mention it is a much healthier option.  Same goes with whole fish and poultry; cheaper when purchased whole, and you don’t need to buy pre made stocks, broth and bouillon. Your skills will be increased and you will save money.  In my virtually non-existent free time, I am working on putting together a series of lessons that will build upon your current skill set, helping you reach your goal, and produce the foods that you are paying an arm and a leg for in the grocery store.  We will build a quality pantry, producing food that is sustainable, healthy, and of course yummy.  And trust me, you wont be using a low-grade olive oil with a smiling face and an acronym on the label.

Till next time…

Farm Visit: Vermont Shepherd


So after another one of my farm visits to VT Shepherd, I was sold on the wonders of sheep’s milk Cheese. During the production of the cheese you get the necessary separation of curds and whey.  David Major, (producer of my personal favorite sheep cheese), makes two different cheeses out of the curd.  The first cheese is his signature VT Shepherd, which is the cheese I am using on my roasted garlic Caesar salad instead of the classic shaved parmesan.  I had to find an application for this yummy cheese after I tasted it.  I learned through trial and error that this cheese is better utilized uncooked as opposed to cooked because it tends to denature (separate) when heat is applied.   The second cheese which is made out of the curd as well is called Queso De Invierno.  This  cheese is able to withstand heat because it is a mixture of cow and sheep’s milk cheese.  The cow’s milk is from a neighboring farm and this cheese was named because it was created in the winter time, (if you weren’t already clued in by the name).  Alice and I came up with two uses for this super tasty cheese: the first we use in the Yukon potato and parsnip tart (dauphinoise) served with the grass-fed ribeye, onion/pepper demi, and fennel apple slaw. The second use was a an obvious one. I really love biscuits, so I called my brother (who will remain nameless to preserve his ego) and used his recipe as my inspiration. We serve these biscuits with our harrissa spiced lamb and root vegetable stew. The lamb of course is sourced from David’s farm as well and is quite tasty. The Queso De Invierno was my parents favorite when they came to visit during foliage 2010. David also makes a ricotta salata out of the whey. I don’t have an application for this one yet but we are playing around with some things and of course, it’s yummy. As I mentioned last time, you can get these cheeses online @ vtshepherd.com. Try these cheeses with some crusty bread and honey or click the links below download these recipes.

ismailthechef.com

Welcome to Vermont!


Vermont my Foodie Friends may as well be the localvore capital of the United States.  Even the grocery stores here label where your food comes from.  For example they have two types of tomatoes to choose from one will say Mexico and the other will say from so and so farm in Vermont.  And trust me, the Mexican tomatoes might be cheaper but they are rotting on the shelf because most people choose the local ones.  That is if they even shop at the grocery store because the Co-ops and farm stands and farmers markets here are amazing!  It’s like a chefs’ dream come true for fresh produce.  Not to mention the meat selection…and the cheese…oh my god the cheese…I have gained 10 lbs since I moved here and I swear to you it is all the CHEESES fault!   Since my wife stayed in Cleveland for the 6 months of my trial run here in VT I think my diet consisted of cheese, cereal, more cheese, and maybe some yogurt.  I know I am a chef but at the end of the day when you get home late the last thing you want to do is cook.  Plus I am telling you this Vermont cheese is like the next best thing to chocolate, and for me to say that about chocolate…that’s huge. It is hard to say which cheese is my favorite but i am very partial to sheep’s milk cheese and David Major makes an unbeliveable washed rind cheese called Vermont Shepherd. VT Shepherd is also the name of the company. He and his wife (who is super cool) have an unbelievable farm that produces three cheeses The afore-mentioned has won many awards and can be found in fine restaurants and specialty stores across the country. You can also find it online at vtshepheard.com. Funny thing about VT is that David still has dial-up where he lives in the mountains so he doesnt update his site as much as he would like to. I guess he has a reason, I’m just not as committed (…lazy) to blogging the way that I want to be. Be patient. I’ll get there. I might even have some friends join me in my writings. My next posts wont be prefaced with a promise because I have shown you that I am not ready to keep to them. I can say, I am going to talk more about the wonderful cheeses and the great time I had Up on Patch Road at VT Shepherd. thanks David!

Till next time, Peas out.

The Very First One (again) with hopes of many more


Hello Foodie cyberspace…it’s been way too long!  So much has happened I do not know where to begin.  I guess I should apologize for my lack of blog but there is good reason I haven’t written in forever. Well maybe not forever, but it definitely has been a while since my lame submission of two entries over a year ago. But for all of those who commented I appreciate you and offer you my apologies. This time around I am committed to at least an entry a week sharing with you my experiences, recipes and answering any questions you may have regarding food and cooking.

In case you haven’t heard, my baby…my pride and joy…my years of hard work might as well be thrown into a trash can, no better yet a trash compactor.  The Crumb.  The awesome -about to open- new and improved- crumb; crumbled before it could ever open. You know when you get your heart broken how long it takes to heal?  And how thinking about it, or talking about it is just like rubbing salt in the wounds?…  Well that’s what happened to me.  I got my heart broken, stomped on, crushed, pulverized …like it was beaten with a meat mallet and jaccarded for about a year.

It’s a long story and maybe someday I will have the strength to write about what happened, but not today.  Let’s just say it is on what seems like an indefinite hold unless I somehow stumble across some boku bucks…And since I am not a gambling man, a silver spooner or a magician, I do not see that happening in the near future.  I am sorry for getting you all excited about it, but believe me I would not have added logs to the excitement fire if I thought it was going to smolder and go out eventually.

That’s all for now, if you would like more details feel free to post a comment and I will be sure to respond. Or just write me about anything; recipe requests, what you’d like to see on this blog, or a recent restaurant encounter.

Until next time,

Peas Out Yo.