19 November, 2011

braised brussel sprouts with caraway seed

1-2 lbs brussels sprouts
1/4 cup finely diced onions
olive oil
whole caraway seed
1/2 cup chicken stock

prepare brussels sprouts, peeling off outer leaves, cutting off stem end and halve
heat 12 inch skillet to smoking, add olive oil, brussels sprouts and onion
caramelize/brown sprouts and onion maybe 5 minutes depending on heat
toss in caraway seeds, salt and pepper
add chicken stock, should come to a boil quickly
cover and braise until tender but still with a little crunch

02 November, 2011

preface; rough draft

i've been working on this thing for some time. i went into it thinking that any chef with a clear plan could write a cookbook. then i realized that i don't want to write just a cookbook with recipes or an instructional manual with ingredients and techniques. this is a storybook with recipes, 45 years of my life in various kitchens. i grew up in a household that cooked by the seasons. not based  an ideal, but out of necessity, it's tough getting a decent tomato in northern wisconsin in january. my mother made bread cause she liked to and because it was cheaper. we canned and froze produce cause it tasted better and it was less expensive. that is what i hope to present as a theme to this volume.

i remember waiting for the 'lug' of peaches at 'red's farm stand' in my home town. my mother would check the ripeness and the cost and then we would carry it to the car. i hung out in the kitchen and helped some days, there was something i liked about working in kitchen early in my life. in the spring we had lettuce, loose leaf, cause head lettuce was too hard  to grow, in june we went to the u-pick strawberry ranch and made jam. there were potlucks at church, and then the period of time where my mother held meeting of the 'big dipper' food buying club at our house. there was the time when we came home from a sunday morning service to find that the dog had gotten into the pastry my mother baked the night before, and buried each one in a corner of the chairs and couch in the living room.

i remember eating my first seafood stew at my uncles house, then getting the recipe. my mother indulging my curiosity by letting me cook it at 12 years old, and my first solo project with bechamel, fish stock and fresh seafood. the time i decided after experimenting with chopped liver that i decided it was time time make pate' en croute right out the 'joy of cooking'. the only experience i had then was a steady diet of julia child and the galloping gourmet, i played TV chef with a friend in front of a big picture window. the time we decided to grow basil and make green spaghetti(basil pesto), pasta carbonara, thickened with egg yolks from a community theatre production of 'strega nona'. It was all a series of experiments from TV, books and garden magazines. this is what i thought i could put into a book, years of experience and a healthy dose of experimentation. then we also have to include my grandmother and her juicer in the seventies, serving carrot juice to the card club. the only store bought cookies i ate as a child, fig newtons, cause there was no way anyone could make those at home.

this i remember....

25 October, 2011

eggs, a benedict arnold

when you cook an egg you give away all your secrets. cooking an egg properly tells anyone eating the meal how good a cook you are. we have all eaten eggs at sometime in our lives, and i believe a properly cooked egg is not the as easy as you would believe.

for a poached  egg you need perfect timing and a good pot of simmering water; too long and it's hard, not enough vinegar in the water and it 'threads, an unfresh egg will make the cooks life miserable when the yolk breaks and the white runs all over the pot. a fried egg must be cooked slowly or it will stick to the pan or toughen to a noticeable degree. an omelet must be cooked in a properly seasoned pan and manipulated to cook up fluffy and evenly. how well you cook eggs should be the value by which a chef is judged.

the perfect hollandaise sauce  is a whole other matter. a good chef knows when to reveal his secrets. i have read and understood the scientific studies of a complex protein, fat and acid emulsion commonly referred to as hollandaise or bernaise sauce.

21 October, 2011

chef driven or driven chef

it has been a year and a half since i first posted on this blog and 'branded' Blue Collar Cook. i'm not the only blue collar cook out there, so the name is not unique. but what is the next step?, do i finish the book that i have partially written in my head. this blog was brought together to organize my thoughts for the future manuscript.

it's been an interesting work experience in the meantime, short-term gigs, a little unemployment. As i envision this professional blog i have attempted to keep the personal life out of it. i like that in a blog sometimes. we'll keep it that way. to pull together this into a cookbook slash commentary slash storybook, i will need an editor. i'm good but i'm too close to the work to criticize it, my wife is too dear to me to be my editor. I need a word ninja, a heartless cruel bastard to turn this  collection of thoughts into a book. there you go....

18 October, 2011


the technique is simple, to cook something in liquid slowly. normally it is intended for a tender protein product, such as poultry, fish or even eggs. the trick is to maintain a slow even heat and cook just to point of 'doneness' the poaching liquid should never boil. the most technical form of poaching is sous vide, where you maintain an even temperature and constant temperature by circulating the poaching liquid with pump and enclose the item to be poached in a special plastic wrapper.

to understand why poaching is great, you have to understand the science of protein and i will explain it briefly. protein is composed of strands that contract when heated, if you heat it too quickly the protein becomes tough, if you heat it longer at a slower temperature those strands relax and become more tender. a poached piece of fish or even a chicken breast will be tender and moist without being overcooked and flavorless. the choice of poaching liquid can even add more flavor. i will now explain how to poach a chicken breast simply and without overcooking. the texture  of a properly(fully cooked) poached chicken breast may be unfamiliar since most people are used to overcooked chicken.

the key in my book to poaching is the slow heating and not so much the rapid heating. select a standard package of chicken breast(2-3 half breasts) of maybe a pound or more. purchase a 2 quart package of low sodium chicken stock(or use homemade). place the chicken breasts in a kettle deep enough to hold them and add chicken stock to cover. set a low fire under the vessel and wait it out for maybe 20 minutes. changes will occur and at no time do you wish for the stock to boil rapidly. when the internal temperature of the chicken breast reaches 165 F it's done. i had to say that, i actually have been known to eat a clean, fresh chicken breast at 145 F but i cannot legally recommend such a practice. now serve the no longer pink, but very tender chicken breast in a salad or chopped in a pasta dish; or just keep it your fridge for a snack with a little honey mustard.

17 October, 2011

bread of life will not be sliced and bagged

this blog has been occupied. the blue collar cook is a member of the 99% and he's not gonna take it anymore. america has been highjacked by a profit before people corporate model and it's killing us. The corporate food suppliers have given us what we wanted and now we are weak and sick and that's just how they like it.
there are many avenues to discuss this crisis, and i may not have all the answers, but the discussion begins here. most food blogs are about recipes and having a singular food experience, i'm not satisfied with that model. in the months since i dedicated a blog to food, i have become more unhappy with the state of the food world. Maybe it was the affectations of a 'foodie' community that pays to much for good food and lives in a bubble. maybe i shouldn't be a critic of a culture that writes the checks and on which i feed. The knowledge of cooking is now in the hands of professionals and a few dedicated 'foodies'. this is not rocket science folks, everyone once knew how to bake and prepare a healthy meal from whole ingredients where i grew up. 
so how did we get here? the biggest culprit is something that was supposed to make our lives easier.  what is the common cliche`, 'the best thing to come along since sliced bread'. i don't like sliced bread, i don't like soft bread, i don't even like bread that tastes the same tomorrow as it does today. give me a crusty loaf of bread with character that needs to torn and stales if you don't eat it today. so enter that great stuff, a loaf of bread that's as good tomorrow as it is today and is pre-sliced and comes in a nice bag stocked like a can of beans on your grocers shelves.  a whole generation or two has grown up without mama baking bread twice a week or a scratch bakery down the street. so they replace what is truly good tasting and nutritious with what is easy and is 'good enough'. once you got that past the consumer the industrialization of food production was easy. we forgot what good food tasted and felt like, so we didn't know what we were missing. yep, that's how we got here, we decided to make our lives easier in the kitchen and we lost a grip on good food. 
so how do we get back what we once had? or is it even possible. that's the next installment, i haven't got all night to write about this and hell, your attention span is about 2 minutes anyway, so good night.

13 October, 2011

beyond the microwave

i was recently enlisted to solve a problem, or perceived a problem and sought to solve it.

Q: what did professional chefs do before there were microwaves and  secondly why isn't there a microwave in your kitchen?

A: it's not as complex as you think. steam.heat
steam is hot, hotter than water and it penetrates many foods. some people would think hot oil and deep fryers are another rapid cooking technique and they are. the risks outweigh the benefits and another thing, i don't like hot fat and it's stench in my kitchen, oh and the clean-up is lousy.
there are table top steamers, there are stovetop steamers, you can saute` in a pan and add a cooking liquid and cover.  there you have it.... fast and simple but maybe too simple. just start thinking about steam a little bit more.

11 October, 2011

Il est interdit d’interdire.

there is class warfare and it's not going away. tonight i am breaking all the rules and posting a political statement on what i consider a largely professional/non-political blog.

there are protests going on in the streets of all the major cities in America, 1000+ i heard was the last count. there will be many opinions formed and my voice will be heard. i am the blue collar cook and it is my duty to provide an analysis.

 people are pissed off at the state of the world and others are telling them this is the status quo and that maybe protesting is a bad idea. i can't pretend something is not happening and the news blackout has gone on long enough. people are getting run over  by gangs of cops on motorcycle in NYC for god's sakes. this will be a another long winter of our discontent.

where do we go from here? who the hell knows, i am not a news analyst or a prophet. i do know and can discern that the polarization is the worst i have seen in my lifetime. maybe i haven't paid attention the rest of the time. i will not keep my head down and do my job and sit idly by watching the world implode and say that i did nothing. I may not be on the front lines everyday, but i will do my part.

i am remembering a line from 'it's a wonderful life'....'while harry fought the war in europe, george fought the war at home'... i can say i will engage everyone i have contact with everyday, if they seem like they have an opinion or an interest. the outcome of the battles in the class warfare will be decided around the kitchen tables and the water coolers not by screaming crowds or radio pundits. i support every-mans right to an opinion but i cannot condone an ill informed public that has soaked up the lies meant to provide 'consumer confidence'. it's bad out there and there is nothing being done to make it better.

it's time for well meaning and informed people to take to the streets and let their voices be heard, thank god it's happening finally. In it's early stages there will be confusion, but don't let that discourage you or say 'this is not my protest'. it is everybody's protest,  who is feeling the pinch of a bad economy? do you feel that washington has turned a deaf ear towards the will of the people? then get out there. there is nothing that the jobless or the working poor have done wrong. people are not out there because they want a hand-out or want to play out their own revolutionary fantasy. people are out there because they got a raw deal and they are pissed. somebody has broken the economy and nobody is doing shit to fix it or actively telling lies to protect their own self interests. you are not a failed potential rich person, your american dream has been stolen. now get out there and do what it takes to get it back

13 July, 2011

meatless mondays

i like vegetarian food not for any other reason than it tastes good. alright, there's that issue about energy conversion of meat based vs vegetarian diets. i first saw this in francis moore lappe's book and even heard her speak, so a meatless monday is the least i can do. enough chatter, the recipe i have chosen is a perennial favorite at my house and not all hard to make. roasting is an easy technique, if you have a convection oven all the better. otherwise, if the vegetables get limp before they show some color, pop the pan under the broiler for a minute or two.

roasted vegetable ratatouille

3 small zucchini
3 small yellow squash
1 medium italian eggplant or 3 asian eggplants
1 red pepper
1 red onion
1 head of garlic(5-10 cloves)
3 medium tomatoes
olive oil, salt and pepper
fresh basil, thyme, oregano
  • dice all vegetables into 1-2 inch chunks, and clean garlic but leave cloves whole
  • keep vegetables separate due to differing cooking times and consistencies
  • preheat oven to 450 F, yeah, that's hot, but you won't be cooking them that long
  • combine squash and zucchini with 1 tbsp. olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
  • lay evenly on a sheet pan and pop in the oven, roast for 10-20 minutes or until crisp/tender and slightly browned, reserve to 3 qt cooking vessel
  • on the same pan roasted the eggplant(combined with olive oil and s/p) a little longer but to the same degree of doneness or maybe a little softer and throw it too in the cooking vessel
  • finally roast the garlic , onions and red pepper and also reserve to cooking vessel
  • reduce oven heat to 300 F and roast/dry the tomatoes until most of liquid is rendered and if possible evaporated, may take up to an hour or more.
  • all the roasting can be done in succession on one pan or on 4 pans if you're in a hurry, just remember different thing cook for different times and at different temps.
  • combine all the ingredients and add chopped fresh basil, thyme and oregano, serve over polenta or pasta if you wish, or chop the ingredients smaller(brunois) and spread on toasted bread

08 July, 2011

a summer treat

so i like green tea and i like lemon and lime. there is a summer treat that i learned from my time at Peet's coffee and tea. it's really just a twist on an arnold palmer.

jasmine lime cooler
2 cups strong jasmine green tea...jasmine downy pearls are pictured above
2 cups prepared limeade
2 cups prepared lemonade

12 June, 2011

potato salad

as i mentally prepare for a picnic tomorrow, i would like to share a recipe for potato salad. the ingredients are readily available and the preparation is simple

  • baby red potatoes
  • vegetable oil
  • apple cider vinegar
  • salt/pepper
  • hard boiled eggs
  • green onions
  • radishes
  • mustard
  • mayo
  1. boil 5 lbs baby red potatoes, start them in cool water, bring to a boil and turn off the heat, let the potatoes sit in the pot until the water cools
  2. starting with cool water again, boil 5 eggs for 10 minutes at medium high heat, immediately pour off hot water and run cool water over the eggs in the pot, add ice to rapidly cool and prevent darkening of the yolks.
  3. dice potatoes and mix with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and salt and pepper, let marinate for 1 hour
  4. while the potatoes are marinating mix the 2nd portion of the salad:
  5. peel and dice the 5 hard boiled eggs, slice 6 green onions, thinly slice 1 bunch of radishes and mix with: 2 cups mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  6. blend the potatoes and the dressing ingredients and allow flavors to mature for an hour or overnight, correct seasoning before serving

08 May, 2011

my mother, the cook

my father once said that my mother 'wasn't always a good cook'. i thought she was alright , but there were things that i was forced to eat as child that i never could stand....
  1. homemade canned peaches- and every august the exact moment to buy the case of peaches from the 'green grocer'
  2. rhubarb sauce - made every spring in a stock pot the size of a bathtub and canned or frozen
  3. strawberry jam - handpicked in june, smashed mixed with sugar and rapidly boiling 'suregel' pectin
  4. green beans - fresh from the garden, saute`d with bacon , still squeeky
the list could go on...... i love my mom.

25 April, 2011

"L'Opera" or basic pastry skills

i like opera torte.
what is it? also known as gateau Clichy, Alternating layers of coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache separate thin layers of rum-soaked almond sponge cake. it originated in the early 1900's in paris, the layers are said to represent the acts in an opera. it's delicious. i was ready to give you the recipes i use for the 3 components, but i think i'm going to hotlink the recipes and you can search them at your leisure. i understand that this post would be enhanced by photos but, i don't have any, i'm going give you the spoken word performance(only it's written).

before you can build the thing, i think we need to speak to the ingredients and the architecture of the piece. buttercream is whipped egg whites mixed with sugar and then whole butter is added to form a fluffy delicious emulsion. almond sponge cake
is the layer that gets soaked with coffee flavored rum. chocolate ganache consists of chocolate and cream, it can be infused with many flavors and is most familiar as the basis for chocolate truffles. traditionally these ingredients are built layer by layer with out the support of a form; two thin half sheet cakes are divided to produce three layers and this then just stacked with butter-cream in between as the glue. this is then topped with chocolate ganache and the edges are trimmed to present a good looking cake with a clear view of the layers and nicely decorated top. it tastes good and it looks good. that's the traditional view, my presentation deconstructs this as individual servings made with the support of a form and hopefully doesn't loose any of the sublime beauty of the classic.

you are going to want to have the components ready before you attempt to complete the procedure. so look over the recipes and decide if this is what you want to do; it's elegant, but it requires some preparation and skill. i choose to make the components one day and build the dessert the next day. it's not as hard it looks, but i will say that most of the opera tortes consumed are produced commercially. i'll get to l`opera part two tomorrow.

14 April, 2011

from sedars past

beef brisket is a nice cut of meat, but i like a little fat in the deckel. the toughness of the cut defines the cooking method and i choose to braise my brisket. i brown it on both sides and then cover it in a seasoned beef or chicken stock. the braising liquid should be a little salty to taste or the meat will be bland. you can either braise on the stovetop covered or in a slow oven and it works well in a crockpot. the recipe i have chosen worked well for meal i prepared a while ago, i can't remember if it was served with roasted root vegetables or not, but i did have a nice sauce in the pan when i finished cooking after 3-4 hours.

Moroccan seasoned brisket
3 to 4 lb full brisket (not trimmed of fat)
dried apricots
proprietorial blend of north african spices
  • cumin
  • coriander
  • cinnamon
  • cloves
  • nutmeg
  • cardamon
  • sumac
  • thyme
  • red pepper
  • turmeric
  • paprika
rub spice blend into brisket and add salt/pepper, let rest 1 hour or up to overnight in a refrigerator covered, if left in fridge, allow to come up to room temperature before browning

heat a suitable cooking vessel to very high temp and add a little oil and brown the brisket on both sides, when colored and fragrant add
  • enough braising liquid to cover (1 to 2 quarts)
  • Salt and pepper. Braising liquid should be salted or brisket will taste 'washed out' and bland.
  • 1/2 cup of the dried apricots and raisins along with
  • mirepoix( diced carrots, celery and onions)
  • a few cloves of garlic
  • a 2 piece of fresh ginger
cook on low heat for 2-3 hours until tender, not enough till it stringy, but enough so a fork pierces it easily

28 March, 2011

chili, as american as pizza or chow mein

chili cook-offs, chili feeds, that's how we know it's an American original, when they make it a spectacle. i have a love hate relationship with chili. i've been working on a recipe for about 20 years and although i like the result, i'm not convinced that it's the best it can be. this recipe works best if you don't think of it as that stuff that comes in a can from Hormel. the ingredients are similar to what i would put in an authentic Mexican mole`. i did enter the recipe (or part of it) in a contest and received a 4th place.


2 medium size poblano peppers
1 red bell pepper
roast/char skin over open flame, put peppers into covered container and steam( 30 minutes or 'til cool) de-seed and peel skins
2 tsp each coriander seed and whole cumin seed
toast in dry pan and grind in mortar and pestle
1 large onion, chopped
1-2 tbsp minced garlic
salt and pepper
saute` till colored and add
2 cups canned or fresh(in season) diced tomatoes
reserved peppers diced
1 small can green chile`
2 tbsp powdered ancho chile
toasted/ground cumin and coriander seed from above
enough liquid/stock to cover
cook over medium heat 20 minutes
remove to crock pot/slow cooker cook for 2-3 hours
1 lb browned ground beef
[or 8 oz tempeh( fermented soy product)]
2(1 lb) cans black beans
heat till warmed through
serve garnished with rice or tortillas
and avocado, sour cream or goat cheese

10 March, 2011

the coming revolution

 Just gonna see where this gets me, you know the old rule of civility, no politics, religion or other controversial subjects in mixed company. but what has happened in the Wisconsin legislature over the last month has me 'kinda radicalized',

I have kept up with news from Wisconsin, I was born there and spent 25 years of my life there. last night the state senate pushed through a bill that strips collective bargaining rights from public employees, the method and the intent of this is purely political statement by a rogue  republican governor(and his rubber stamp assembly and senate) is shameful. this is not how governance works, i don't care if Scott Walker was elected and campaigned on these values. the people of the state have spoken, in numerous polls the policies of the current governor have been repudiated. maybe the polls are wrong and the people of Wisconsin do want their friends and neighbors thrown out a job so the budget can be 'balanced'. people speak of the 'redistribution of wealth' and socialist policies that are at work in state and national budgets. guess what folks, that's what government by the people and for the people means. the current trend among conservatives is for an upward redistribution, in trying to create a better business environment they are dragging down the working class.

I'm not gonna to claim to be an expert at government or a social policy. i know what is right and proper, and i know what works for most the population. the current policies and actions in Wisconsin do not work for most of the population. pulling us out of a recession(actually a depression) will not occur because one state has lax environmental laws and a low labor costs. prosperity will not happen by preventing outsourcing. America will never be a great industrial engine like it was 60 years ago. If current politicians try to tell that they are balancing the budget by cutting the wasted dollars in education and environmental protection they are living in a short term business model that will not benefit most of the inhabitants of nation.

19 February, 2011

crock pot stew

I've been known to use a slow cooker from time to time. if you don't feel like heating up an oven for 3 hours or risk scorching something for a long slow simmer, the crock pot is the way to go.

I have a few tips to add flavor and speed up the process. first off don't put anything cold in the crock pot: stock, vegetables or meat should be warmed. if you are making beef stew, brown the meat like you would in any other method of cooking. Always used a cut of meat that would benefit from long slow cooking, don't waste your time with chicken breasts or tender cuts of beef or pork. if I'm making chili i generally saute, heat and combine everything on the stove-top before tossing the result into the slow cooker. that's the introduction, now hear is the recipe.

2 pounds diced chuck steak or top round cut of beef
oil, salt pepper
1 medium onion, 1/2 in. dice
7 cloves garlic
1/2 cup celery, 1/2 in. dice

1 quart chicken or beef stock

1 cup diced rutabaga
7 medium red potatoes
4 carrots
salt/pepper, oil

season and saute` the beef over high heat, until caramelized and brown, i used a 12 inch skillet and cooked in two batches. remove from the pan and reserve
next saute the onions, garlic and celery in the same pan, reserve with beef
add the stock, bring to a boil and scrape the delicious brown bits in the saute` pan,
put all the above in a 3 quart slow cooker

simmer for 2-3 hours until almost tender

dice the vegetables kinda chunky, mix with salt and pepper and a little oil, roast in the oven at 475 degrees to color a little but not necessarily cook thru, add this to the crock pot along with the beef that and finish cooking till tender. just before serving thicken the cooking liquid with cornstarch and water slurry