Archive for April, 2010

Do you work hard for the money?

Posted in Rants with tags , on April 23, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

This is going to be contentious with some people I know, but why the hell do tip percentages for the service industry keep rising? I was reading one of Andrew Knowlton’s (BA Foodist, really interesting, and Ramsay seems to get him for tons of KNUSA eps, for those of you that watch that ) blog entries on the subject, and apparently a ,minimum for good service is now 20%. He then goes on to say that if this seems like too much of a gratuity, you probably can’t afford to be eating out. I take exception to that. Now, I’m more than willing to reward friendly, accommodating wait staff with a 20% tip. Hell, for a few of my favourite waiters and waitresses, I’ll even go up to 25% if the service is exceptional, but otherwise, you’re just doing an adequate job, and I’ll adequately tip you. Apparently, this is notable behaviour, and waiters will remember your stinginess. I take exception to that, as well. I’m well aware of the ills of dealing with the public as a full time job (though from what I’ve been told, waiting is a brutal, awful job at best, far removed from most other branches of the service industry), but I also except to be treated with full attention and care. I frankly don’t give a damn if you got in a fight with your significant other, or if the head of the front of house is a tyrant; for all intents and purposes, you’re on commission, and you need to keep your game face on at all times.

The amount of times I’ve been to a restaurant with someone, been one of the only couples or groups in a section, and still can’t get the time of day from a waiter or waitress is shocking. Sorry, making us wait around after we’ve visibly pushed our plates forward and are fiddling to go isn’t when you disappear for 10-20 minutes, and then come back hoping we’ll want dessert. Instead, if you really want to keep that account open, try passing by your section more often, and offer dessert menus as soon as we look like we’re done our main.

Also, if you don’t want to smile, at least look like we’re not wasting your time by daring to be in your section. So, I guess I’m not knocking the rising tip (nor the fact that tipping now seems to extend itself to nearly every possible form of low-paying wagery. If you interface with me at all, apparently you expect recompense. Clearly I’m a pain to interact with?), nor the idea that you should always budget for that when going out. Instead, I’m merely being a jerk, and tut-tutting all the service staff out there who seem content to do a half-assed job, and then expect a full-assed (is that a real expression?) tip, proportionately.

I’ve been admonished by friends’ who worked service and bar jobs for this attitude (which I can’t be alone in sharing), saying I need to walk a mile in their shoes, but it probably won’t happen.

Simple, effective, and easy.

Posted in Cooking with tags , on April 13, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

This afternoon, my stomach told my brain it was thinking about dinner, brain replied by sending impulses to my limbs that made me go to the grocery store. When I arrived, I prowled until I got to the meat aisle (I find it hard to not a dinner around meat, but I’ll try expanding my horizons in the future. For now, drilling the basics is satisfying enough), and found myself picking up a pack of cubed beef. From that point, I knew I was making stew.

I wanted one that was simple, hearty, and somewhat piquant, so I figured I’d stick to a standard loadout of vegetables, and dig through spices and seasonings at home.

I also caved and bought Oreos (and Fudgeeos. And later, Jos Louis’).

After grabbing a few more necessities, I found my grocery bags to be unpleasantly heavy (/digging into my finger pads to the point of mild bruising), but It’s only a few blocks from the grocery store to my apartment, so I neglected the bus (plus, that would mean crossing the street, somehow juggling heavy bags while digging out my transit pass, boarding a bus during rush hour etc). Upon arriving back after my somewhat arduous journey, I sat down in my recliner, cracked open my Bittman, and scanned his stew recipes. After getting a general idea, I promptly fell asleep in my recliner, where my cat Squawk proceeded to try and annoy me awake over the course of a couple hours.

the Squawk in question, but not the recliner. Squawk is not for eating.

When I awoke, I realized through my muzzy haze that I had forgotten to check earlier if the potatoes in the kitchen were still viable candidates for consumption. They weren’t >_<. Sighing, I decided to go to the closer, albeit less useful grocery store, and got a handful of red-skinned potatoes. This is when I purchased the Jos Louis (which, by the way, are my next homemade baking project, so keep your eyes peeled).

Returning home, the cooking began in earnest.

After ensuring I had turned on the right burner (as let’s be honest, it’s a bad thing when you turn on the wrong one, and have something like a popcorn maker sitting on an active burner you’re not aware of…), I browned the beef, and removed it to the side, and dumped the fat from the pot, leaving the browning/flavour on the bottom. I then sweated a diced onion for 10 minutes, and then added in some pre-made beef broth (thus taking care of my sodium needs as well. Seriously, if you ever make use of pre-made mixes and broths, always check the salt content before salting your food, as you probably have no need to add extra salt), and a half can of Boddingtons Ale. I then re-added the meat,a teaspoon of flour and began seasoning it.

Seasoning:

-A head of garlic-crushed, not minced. (the full cloves fit with the large chunks of meat and veg, and I didn’t feel like mincing them)

-chili powder (probably 1 tbs or so), curry powder (1 tsp or so), cayenne (mainly to add to the colour)

-black pepper (hmmm…kept adding more throughout)

-Wholegrain Dijon mustard

(I added varying quantities of these throughout as I tinkered with the flavour. I also needed to add more liquid at one point, which unbalanced everything, and it took a while to rebuild the flavour profile I wanted).

I let it reach a boil, then lowered the temp to a simmer, and covered it, and went and watched the latest ep of Spartacus (the usual mix of lowbrow thrills, It was a fun episode), After a half hour, I came back, added in some carrots and potatoes, brought it back to a boil again (I was hoping this would activate the starch in the potatoes, and thicken the sauce), then turned it back to a simmer, covered it, and left it for 45 minutes or so, only checking on it every 10 min or so.

When I returned, I added in some frozen peas, and let it simmer uncovered for a few more minutes, hoping to thicken the sauce further.

almost done

How’d it taste? Pretty damn good, actually. I was pretty clear with the flavours I wanted, and I achieved them. It was mildly spicy, but still had a thick, beefy taste with some sweet notes.

The meat was well cooked (though I may try cutting my product smaller next time, and see how much it affects the overall cooking time), and the sauce tasted good. The potatoes pretty much collapsed into the stew, thickening it immensely, so I may use a touch more liquid next time. I served it with a French stick to sop up the juice/have stew spooned on it, and it was good.

Overall, damn simple, low maintenance, and good tasting.

This was my late night dessert while writing this

Orange slushee and Ms. Vickies. Hot damn!

go ahead, grab one

Defeat doesn’t taste very good-part 2: Victory is sweeter

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 2, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

I am back, and I am slightly more accomplished in my kitchenly duties.  Today, I marched into the kitchen, and did what needed to be done to finish my attempt at homemade Oreos. It took hours, and the final product didn’t quite meet my expectations, but I feel I did my best.

Frozen dough, pre-fix

Dark chocolate, before I reduced it to dust

The dough. If you recall (and really, pt1 was yesterday, so I expect that you do), I had a lapse in thinking, and put in far too much butter. I also mentioned the obvious solution being to increase the other ingredients by the same amount (basically 4x). Did that. It went from being a batter, to something actually resembling a cookie dough. Now, my main concern was the sheer amount of dough sitting in the mixing bowl.

I began balling it, finding it still very stick and clingy, so I added a fair amount more flour to the dough, and coated my hands in it (which only really seems to help for a few of them, at which point all the fatty oil from the nascent cookie exudes itself onto your palms), and began the arduous process of placing them on the tray, and then flattening them. I also found the flatter you squished them, the more attractive the final product, but the more likely the edges would get too thin and crisp up. Actually, with the assumed 1tsp sized balls, 9 minutes is a little too generous-the cookies actually do best closer to around 7:45-8:15.

I had a lot of practice with the cooking times, given my quadrupled batch size-to the point that it was hard to maintain interest in it, and the last couple batches suffered unduly. I’ll also level-the first batch, while fine, caused voluminous smoke to invade the entire goddamn apartment. When Jess came to see why I was attempting to burn the place down, she realized that I had used waxed paper, instead of waxed parchment paper.

Honestly, wtf? They’re sitting next to each other in the drawer of food wrap materials, and the insignificance of the word ‘parchment’ is such that I assumed they were different ways to brand the same product (as they look and feel nearly identical). One eventually browns after being used a half dozen times in a row; the other has its coating melt off, and causes billowing smoke. Hmmm, something to keep in mind (and yet another, “Ummm, common knowledge doesn’t necessarily impart itself through osmosis-it has to pass itself on somehow”).

So, back to the successful batches. After letting them cool enough to be spatula’d off the tray, I began establishing groups of wafers on 3 plates.

Plate 1. The Beauties. These are the cookies which have a uniformity of colour, shape, and size, and are easy to pair-bond with a second cookie. Nearly half of my cookies wound up given this passing grade.

Plate 1, not entirely filled yet.

Plate 2. The Misfits. These obviously held some congenital defects, but still were more or less edible, if slightly less picturesque. There weren’t a lot of these.

Plate 3. The Burnouts. Sadly, there were far too many of these slightly-blackened cookies. Any that suffered even mildly were added to this pile, and then quietly disposed of.  My stringency meant a lot of cookies wound up in this pile.

Making the icing wasn’t especially noteworthy, but it went smoothly (except for a large puff of icing sugar cascading onto much of my pants and shirt).

The assembly process eventually became the assembly-line, with Jess icing a cookie I’d hand her, and then I’d find its duplicate to create the sandwich. These were then stacked on a plate.

During this process, the Burnouts sadly increased (and doubly sadly, they were the most visually uniform, and closest in size to real Oreos).

Now, after previously stressing the criteria on which I’d judge these, you must be hotly anticipating my results, no? While I could save that for a part 3, I’ll deliver the goods.

The Wafer-

In terms of texture, this has the mouth-feel of the average flour based, homemade cookie. It’s crunchy and crisp (Jess claims that it’s “Short” and crisp, not crunchy, and that that’s a by-product of the amount of butter this requires), but not even remotely in the same way as an Oreo. The chocolate flavour is mild, but noticeably sugary-even with a reduced amount of sugar, I still found it too sweet for what it’s attempting to emulate. The colour is also a touch too light. Presented as a solo cookie, I’d honestly draw no similarities between it and an Oreo, unless heavily prompted in advance.

The Filling-

A ton of sugar, shortening, butter, and vanilla, and then some more sugar. It tasted fairly similar, but doesn’t have that dry texture. In this instance, not necessarily a bad thing, though it does mean the filling likes to run out the sides while you bite down on the cookie.

The Experience-

DUN DUN DUNNNN

Sadly, not worth the insane amounts of hype this recipe seems to have received online. Yeah, it’s decent, but for one, it’s still decidedly homemade tasting, and if I’m making homemade cookies, they probably need to have peanut butter in them for me to care. For seconders, even with the high concentration of sugar, the filling doesn’t really stand out between the two wafers. Thirdly, with my inexperience in the kitchen, and some finicky product, the amount of waste was kind of ridiculous; it’d be more cost-efficient (and possibly environmentally friendly) to just purchase the packaged product of which I’m trying to emulate.

The Rub-

I’ll attempt homemade Oreo’s again at some point, but will put some serious consideration into what level of faithfulness I require in the cookie (or if I’m willing to settle for a good cookie sandwich, not a good homemade Oreo), and what elements of the Oreo are actually appealing/required for true authenticity (mainly, I need a more manufactured crunch to it).

They’re not bad cookies by any means, they’re just not Oreo’s.

I hope this POV shot makes you feel like you’re a special part of this experience.

Defeat doesn’t taste very good-part 1

Posted in Baking on April 1, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

I’m sitting at my computer, mulling what to write, a tropical punch Kool-Aid jammers clutched in hand (well, clutched, sucked down in a few  quick pulls, and discarded-it’s not like they contain vast amounts of liquid, or are something you really want lingering on your taste buds). While I may have another entry tomorrow touting my vast success (or at least, my mild accomplishment that I achieved via some assistance from a professional baker >_<), at the moment, I have suffered a grand defeat.

As always, many of my culinary undertakings come from seeds of ideas planted ages back, coming to fruition at utterly random times. In this case, it struck me months back that I really loved Oreos, and would love a homemade, and [mildly] more healthy approach to them; at least, I’d like to control how many various additives and chemicals are involved in the process (thanks Michael Pollan, after reading In Defense of Food, everything looked toxic to me for a while). Anyways, it became a subject of discussion with my aunt and Jess, both of whom thought it was definitely a worthy cause for me to look into (the keyword being me).

I briefly mulled (I do that a lot, you see) on what defined an Oreo. The wafer is kind of chocolately, but not especially sweet, almost salty. Crunchy and dry, to the point that milk is almost a requirement for consuming these. The filling tastes like everything I love about mass-produced icing; artificial, strangely textured and dense.

I pondered how many elements needed to be faithful for it to satisfy the same craving, and promptly forgot about it.

The other day (let’s pick Monday), I remembered my quest, and decided to undertake it. Feeling the pressure, I decided to explore the internet, and let those who have come before aid me with their knowledge. Apparently, there are quite a number of people who’ve already walked this path. That’s fine, just because someone has discovered another continent doesn’t prevent me from travelling there, and experiencing it myself (and their maps are plenty helpful).

After a quick jaunt around, the recipe from Smitten Kitchen seemed like a safe bet (cool blog as well-amazing photography). After reading through it, I decided I’d attempt it with a lower amount of sugar, trying to keep with a more purist approach to the cookies (eg. a less dominant flavour >_<), and relying more on the filling as providing the sweet focal point. I began in earnest the other night, excited at the prospect of how satisfying this would be to accomplish.

Now, I’ll say this-after getting used to a digital scale, recipes with cup amounts seem frustratingly vague, and help put me into a sloppier, complacent state. When I’m scaling with an electronic scale, I measure things to the gram. When it tells me to use a cup and a half, I may be a little less stringent. Now, combine this with my general distracted air in the kitchen, and disaster struck.

After making my dough, I was shocked to find it had the consistency of cake batter, was a pale brown (as opposed to dark chocolate coloured), and tasted far too buttery (hmmm…) Now, at this point, as I seem to bake and write this at late hours, it was around 4 in the morning, and even after significantly upping the flour, my brain was taxed to it’s limit to understand why this was doing such a poor job of coming together. Frustrated and nearing involuntary unconsciousness, I decided to throw in the towel for the night.

Conferencing with Jess the next day, she had read over my recipe, and instantly had spotted where I had made the catastrophic error…I apparently had just read the butter portion of the recipe as 1 ¼ sticks, ignoring the prefacing ½ cup + 2 tablespoons. Ugh. Yeah, so apparently some butter is packaged as 4 individually wrapped sticks. I had just blithely assumed they meant the standard block (AKA STICK) of butter one (me) purchases at the grocery store. So all said and done, I had nearly quadrupled the necessary butter in the recipe, and had sampled enough batter that I felt ill after.

Now, hypothetically, upping the other ingredients by the same ratio should hopefully solve this, but I was thoroughly put off for the moment. Tomorrow, I’ll try fixing it. If it proves untenable, I’ll dump it (which is shame, as I try not to be wasteful in my cooking or baking), and start fresh.

Part 2 to follow. It will contain success.