31 July, 2010

the last month and then last night

work has been good, hottest july in recent memory. I cook five nights a week in kitchen temperatures from 90-115 degrees F. ..... it takes alot out of you. this is my chosen profession and i have done it before. people like what i cook and the pay and backend compensation is good. i eat great food , i mingle with beautiful people and the pretension level is minimal. my life is fantastic, i work till midnight, have a drink, go to sleep at 2 or 3 am and some days i even get the required sleep.

last night i made a delicious dinner at home. not all that expensive or difficult but just what my wife and i needed.

  • sweet corn
  • tomato, basil garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar with goat cheese and french bread
  • salad of saute`d chicken breast, avocado, fresh goat cheese garnished with cilantro, green onion and lime juice over mache` and baby greens in a walnut/gorganzola/garlic vinaigrette

i like sweet corn and tomatoes at this time of year and the basil was from the garden. i still short ordered something up for the children(ages 3 and 6 years), but overall it was a nice dinner and fit for a professional cook as well as presented nicely and served in courses, we took a good hour to eat, which was nice. then we watched a little movie and went to bed.

30 June, 2010

moules marinare

i really like mussels. i used to like them less when i spent time as a prep cook cleaning at least 20 pounds a night. Since 2000, 80% of the mussels available in north american are pei mussels, which minimize what was once a labor intensive process in the kitchen. Mussels like many other bivalves grow in the intertidal zone of the ocean, where the happily filter feed and reproduce, they attach themselves to a substrate and grow in large clumps. on prince edward island an industry has developed by growing them on strings in deeper water and this has resulted in a better product. but enough about the history lets get back to the cooking.

i like them steamed in red wine and served with a nice baquette for sopping up the juice in the bowl. they are also delicious served with french fries and a nice belgian beer. i'll give you the recipe and method i use and you be the judge. feel free to try steaming them in white wine with shallots and tarragon as well.

moules marinare
1 lb PEI mussels
1/2 cup red wine, lighter bodied and medium dry is nice
1 tbsp garlic
1tbsp shallots
1/3 cup chopped roma tomato
freshly ground pepper

heat a 1-2 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan (one with a lid) over medium high heat,
add a little olive oil and sweat shallots and garlic, toss in tomatoes and red wine, add mussels and cover with a tight fitting lid and steam for 3-5 minutes until the mussels open.
remove the mussels and reserve in a serving dish
reduce the pot liquor slightly , turn off heat and
mount with butter
pour sauce over mussels and garnish with freshly chopped basil

27 June, 2010

on cooking in the heat

first night 105 F in the kitchen
second night 93 F
third night who cares, how do you think they do it n' orleans?

so we've had a little hot and soggy spell in the south of Minneapolis MN. it has been fun...... i have not heard of any cooks passing out from heat frustration, a post shift beer helps to replenish electrolytes. take care tonight should be a nice night for sleeping

25 June, 2010

abuelita's vegie soup

2 qts vegetable stock

1 tbsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup diced onion
1/3 cup, diced carrots
1/4 cup diced celery
saute in olive oil w/ salt and pepper till slightly golden
1/3 cup diced yellow squash
1/3 cup diced zucchini squash
1/3 cup diced fresh tomato or alternatively 1 small can of diced tomatoes
add the above and sweat until liquid is liberated, add stock and check seasoning
bring to boil and simmer for ten minutes
~ a handful @ of kale and spinach or some other delicious braising greens
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
add to soup and cook 3-4 minutes
fresh herbs - something bright and seasonable, i like basil, cilantro, maybe thyme and tarragon

24 June, 2010

so you want to be a cook

i won't dissuade you, but i can tell what my mother said to me when i started this journey. i was a college drop-out at 21 and got a summer job. when i finally told her i wasn't going back to college in the fall; she said, "you know, you're not going to have a normal family life, always working during the dinner hours, i just don't know i you want that kind of life" she was right and maybe i never wanted a 'normal life'. my wife has put up with my frequent job changes and even indulged me for family gatherings. it hasn't been easy, but it has been rewarding.

if you want the short course in line cooking you can read something from anthony bourdain or rent a dvd of ratatouille. that's what i recommend, that and getting a job a breaking your back working a hot 8 burner stove for a 12 hour shift. but what does have to do with me? i am a humble servant working to feed a family of two children and a wife by cooking. like i said, i started this career at 21 and in that time have had by rough count maybe 20 jobs in my 25 years. it hasn't been all fun and games(well, maybe a little), but i love what i do and i can make a kickass bowl of soup. do you really want hear the dirt?, i can't tell who or what i know about good cooks and chefs that are my friends. it's a tight little group and i'm not in a position to alienate those who have trusted me with information.

i'll keep you posted and maybe fill you in if you get to know me. loose lips sink ships, baby!

15 June, 2010

the victory garden

in an effort to promote the idea that gardening can be done on the cheap, i'm going to give you the details. this is by no means an exhaustive report but simply a calendar of events and expenses.

march: empty the two/three garbage cans of kitchen scraps, vegetable peelings, moldy bread etc that i had collected over the winter. add some of last years leaves and start the compost pile.
expense: zero dollars

april: dig in the 6 X 8 bed out front, last years corn stalks and weeds are re-integrated into soil. purchase supplies for a hoop house; three ten footX3/4 in. pvc pipes, roll of plastic; 20 bucks, continue to turn compost every 3-7 days. purchase couple of packets of mesclun/salad greens seeds. plant bed of asparagus, 9 bucks for 24 roots, move rhubarb plant from property to sunnier location
expenses: seeds, supplies, soil amendments; $40

may: pitch increases, plant sale at work, tomatillo, winter squash, butter head lettuce, bale of hay, hoe and basil plants. layed down hay as mulch on all beds with paper grocery bags as weed barrier. compost finished and distributed around the yard, some used as potting soil for ornamental plants/flowers in containers. thought about adding a raised bed for more production. stack hay behind barricade on slight slope, added some compost, drop in a watermelon plant. not pretty but it just might work.
expenses: plants, mulch, tools: $50

june: paid a trash hauler to pick up two bagster bags of construction waste off front lawn, inherit a good patch of dead grass: plant white clover w/ rhizobium innoculant, better than a lawn cause it grows faster and fertilizes itself by fixing nitrogen, cost $12. harvest two cuttings of mesclun make a few salads. feel the love, tastes great too. find two baby bunnies have taken up residence in my garden bed, have a fur lined hole beneath the mulch, 4 days later they are gone, no appreciable loss of produce, basil plants suffer damage from insects, they'll pull trough i hope.
plant last seeds 'lazy housewife pole beans'. I continue to kill grass for new patio out front next to garden, big plastic tarp and chairs on the lawn. receive two tomato plants from heirloom tomato grower, amish paste and cherry tomato.
expenses: less than $20

total plantings:
rhubarb, strawberries, 8 foot asparagus bed, basil, watermelon, pole beans, butternut squash, acorn squash, tomatillo, cherry tomato, roma/paste tomato, mesclun/salad greens, marigolds, geraniums.
total cost: ~$110
labor: maybe 20 hours, never spent more than 1/2 a day in garden

13 June, 2010

salad greens

after giving up on salad greens for the season i was blessed with an abundance of mesclun. i wasn't expecting anything in may after not much seemed to be germinating, a cool, wet late spring has been the cure. i have taken two cuttings for salads in the last 10 days. it's a nice blend of red and green leaf, arugula, spinach and butterhead lettuces that i stumbled onto. i didn't source it as rigorously i normally did and bought the seeds from several sources, so i can't even place the exact names.

a nice salad
1 big bowl cleaned and dried mixed greens
craisens or dried cranberries, un-sugared if possible
nice wedge of blue cheese, i like point reyes blue or st pete's select
candied walnuts
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • honey
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • soy sauce
  • olive oil
heat small cast iron pan, add walnuts and a splash of olive oil, toast on medium high heat until browned evenly and fragrant, add 1 tbsp honey, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a sprinkle of Tamari/soy sauce, cool

balsamic vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
blend balsamic vinegar, dijon and honey, add olive oil in a thin stream

toss greens with blue cheese, craisens and candied walnuts, drizzle balsamic vinaigrette over and toss again, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper just before serving. when serving do it two stages, put one tongs worth of salad into each of 3-5 bowls then distribute the good stuff and any remaining greens evenly again to these same bowls. are you following?, maybe i should have included a video.

06 June, 2010

start in the cheese case

i've had an opportunity to taste some good cheese lately and i'm hooked on farmstead cheese. the definition i know is that this means the cheese is made and aged on the farm where the goat, sheep or cow's are stabled and milked.
the term 'artisanal' has lost some of it's meaning, along such terms as 'natural' and 'healthy'. i've had this discussion with a few cheese mongers, a wine maker and in my own head. i like a good baguette and i know how to bake one as well as choose one in the grocery. i look for a 'standard of identity', when i see a term such as 'artisan produced' or 'artisanal' product X, the term is not a standard of identity it is a marketing gimmick. that said, i still buy an artisan baked baguette, it's just not labeled as such.

back to the cheese; the last one i bought after one taste, the smell (OMG!) sealed the deal. i like the stinky cheese and it has a rind that's beautiful, i believe it's an aged sheep milk cheese, the mystery is because i had a bite saw the tan/brown pebbly rind and knew i had found a good cheese, the name is secondary. the farmers market stand had just three baskets and cutting board. in the baskets were 10 or twelve wedges wrapped in wax paper, i tried one and....had to have it, take it home, keep it in my refrigerator. of course a few minutes later i let my wife see it and she turned her nose up , pouted and asked me how much i paid, i believe she was jealous. go down and get yourself a love tree farmstead cheese, and you might like it.

24 May, 2010

......got milk cans?

I had a chance to tour a unique cooperative cheese making operation. i'm trying to figure where to begin, how about waiting for a ride in the parking lot of eastside food cooperative. It was here where i met my tour guide, Mary Bess Michaletz from rochdale farms cheese. Along with the managers/cheese buyers from 4 local co-ops we headed to Cashton Wisconsin home of K and K cheese.

K and K is one of the few remaining cheese plants that accept milk from amish farmers who milk by hand, cool the milk in spring houses and ship it out in old fashion milk cans. In the seventies the amish farmers of this area created a system that would allow their milk to be utilized in milk cans. Normally most dairy farmers milk the cows by machine, pump it to a refrigerated holding tank and ship it out in bulk form of several hundred gallons at a time. the amish farmers on the other hand milk by hand, and since their culture prohibits the use of electricity, they cool the milk in spring water tanks in milk cans. without electricity they also had to find some-one to run the cheese plant. the arrangement that has been in place for the last 28 years has been very successful for both the 325 amish farmers in the cooperative and the cheese producer. It fills a niche market that is highly sought after and keeps a way of life alive for growing number of amish farmers.

after a 1 hr tour we stopped at several amish farms and had a delicious lunch on the grass courtesy of the other partner in rochdale farms, Bentley Lein. the afternoon followed up with a chance to chat with a couple of amish farmers in the area. the amish farm is a unique operation but highly successful and innovative. typically the farmers milk 12-15 cows and subsist on land from 40 - 80 acres in size. more than a few have been organically certified and all are fully inspected by the wisconsin milk board. i found the barns to be compact and well ordered. the typical amish farmer is actually quite open to questions and rather a friendly sort. i would like to spend a few day working living at a farm to really get a better feel for this way of life.

23 April, 2010

progress report

the side garden has been planted. my wife saw asparagus roots on sale the local home improvement store and bought them. we have a trench planted with twenty four 1-2 year old asparagus roots, i thought it was going to be 3 asparagus crowns, more is better. i moved the rhubarb plant to this side as well. i put in mesclun under the dome in the front yard. peas will go into this space as well.

the first batch of compost for this year has cooled and will need to be sifted/screened before i can use it as a side dressing. there are more than a few sticks and a few corncobs that need to be reprocessed in the next pile. composting proceeds through a ‘hot stage’ at the beginning of the process, this is due to the action of beneficial microbes. the heat also is purported to kill the weed seeds. when i first dug into the pile after a week , i was impressed by the color change and the heat. the color change was due to the rapid growth of fungi. i continued turning the pile every 3 -7 days until it cooled, six weeks is good time frame for an active pile with plenty of aeration. it’s not a completely broken down pile, but there are no discernible ‘kitchen scraps’ evident and it looks a lot like dirt and smells earthy not rancid.

enjoy your spring, the planting of warm weather crops is still a few weeks off in Minnesota. see ya in the garden.

09 April, 2010

asparagus pasta

asparagus pasta

  • 1/2 cup asparagus
  • 3 lbs cooked pasta
  • mushrooms
  • prosciutto
  • gr. onion
  • thyme,tarragon
  • olive oil
  • heavy cream(cedar summit 42% butterfat)
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated(stravecchio)
  • egg yolk
  1. saute asparagus, mushrooms and green onion in olive oil in a hot 12″ saute pan with olive oil
  2. add prosciutto, and herbs
  3. add cream and reduce
  4. add parmesan cheese and finish/thicken sauce with1 egg yolk(remove pan from heat)
  5. mix in pasta
    serve in pasta bowl with garnish

08 April, 2010

planting soon in a front yard near you...

the front yard has been improved to include a $20 coldframe. it consists of 3 ten foot 1/2 inch cpvc tubes and a roll of 3 mm plastic. i have used this set up successfully in the past and i have no reason to believe it won’t prevent an early spring frost from killing my lettuce crop. i’m looking at planting a 6 ft square bed of mesclun, i haven’t decided which of 3 seed catalogs will win the contract for seed.

last year i dug up the sod and planted corn, mainly just to get something (that i knew would grow) in the ground. first year gardens are not meant for intensive gardening. i pretty much just turned over the soil and really didn’t weed or tend it that much. in the fall i raked leaves over the whole thing threw a little compost over it and let it rest under a tarp. this spring the soil looks better and is definitely easier to till and prepare for planting.

over the winter i accumulated a larger volume of kitchen scraps and may have a better compost pile working to enrich the soil in a few more weeks. i’ll let you know how that turns out. when i put the seeds in the ground, gentle readers, you will be there.

until next week, andrew