Archive for the Rants Category

BLOOD! STEEL!

Posted in Rants, Thoughts on May 24, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

I generally consider myself to be quite aware of kitchen safety-I always hold knives carefully, and never leave them in the sink, I always take care that pot handles aren’t hot before grabbing them, and so opn in this vein (i dunno, pick another handful of SOPs in the kitchen, and we’ll all just assume I follow those). So, a couple weeks back, I suffered my first ‘serious’ kitchen injury since the few times I burned myself on the oven as a kid/teen (generally, making those fries you heat in the oven, and catching the top of my hand on the roof of the oven as I reached in or somesuch-made me very leery of the oven for quite some time). Needless to say, I was shocked, since it was a simple, easily preventable mistake.

A month or so back (again, timeframes, not my strong point), I purchased a brand-new chef’s knife (wow, can you see where this is going? I’d love to pretend this is an unrelated tangent, but…) from the wonderfully weird Tap Phong. It’s this bizarre restaurant supply/knickknack store in downtown TO, where you can find restaurant grade stand mixers and deep fryers, and five dollar Buddhas and sparkly cats statues. I’ve been down there a few times, as I was eyeing a 10” Shun chef’s knife. They had it for a much better price than anywhere else in the city, and I really wanted one.

Now, Jess does have a Henckels 9.5” chef’s knife (confusingly, they list 9″ and 10″ blades, but I’ve measured both it and the Shun, and the Shun is 10″, and the Henckels is 9.5. Tres bizarre), but it’s kinda clunky, and not as sharp as I’d like.


[ In a nutshell, knives made with a single piece of German steel are really heavy, durable beasts that maintain an edge quite well. Due to the profile of the blade, that edge isn’t incredibly sharp. Japanese knives are much lighter, thinner, and possess a keen, wickedly sharp edge. Some/Most are crafted in jacketing layers of steel, with the blade being the first/inner layer, out to the back.]

It’s also not my knife, and I like being able to get all fussy and protective when someone throws my knife in a sink, or uses it without cleaning it after, and it’s a lot easier to ride that high horse when you own a saddle, so to speak. Plus, I have a weakness for potentially lethal objects that are aesthetically pleaseing

(honestly, as much as I love shiny pointies, there are many better founts of knowledge on the ‘net about knife construction and differing countries of production, so I shan’t go into excessive detail about it. I’m also not well versed with the various levels of carbon steel, and don’t feel like leading anyone astray)]

So basically, my new knife is shiny (which will go away in time, but is an important factor when buying one >_>…), and surgically sharp. It’s got a D-shaped handle, so it contours for righties (though a С]-shaped model is available for all those people I know who have a dyslexic dominant hand. It’s cool, I understand your plight), and is light and deadly. I’ve put it through its paces, and it is incredibly adept at any kitchen chore requiring a chef’s knife (though I’ve yet to stave off a ninja home invasion with it yet, so we’ll see…), though adequate cutting board room is required-the blade is longer, and the shape of the grip puts your hand slightly farther back than a traditional design. This is generally irksome if the prep counter isn’t clear, which in my kitchen, is a frequent concern.

CHOP!CHOP!CHOP!

Now, after a few weeks with my new tool/toy/weapon/whatnot, I had felt our bond was pretty close-I’d respect the tool, and it’d respect not killing me. Well, one night, I was going to make stew again (as it’s now feeling like a staple dish I can pull off pretty easily, with decent results), and had beef cubes defrosting on the counter, in a little baggie. I was taking the cubes out of the bag with my left hand, positioning and steadying it on the cutting board, and then cutting them down to a smaller size.

Knife in hand, I reached in the bag for another cube, only to find the beef sticking together somewhat, having not thawed entirely. Still, just using my left hand, I started pulling on the cube…and as it suddenly gave way, my right hand slipped. As it had been holding the knife, it made for a very unpleasant meeting with the middle finger of my left hand. Almost as soon as I realized what had happened, my finger was already doing its level best to generously donate my entire blood supply (maybe it had seen those “It’s in you to give” ads, rather than more correctly assuming “It’s in you to live”) to the floor of the kitchen. It wasn’t particularly painful; the blade was exceptionally sharp, so it left a remarkably clean cut. Still, hurling every epithet I could think of at myself (actually, I wear out my NSFW language ingenuity after a while, and pretty much just string SHITFUCKINGSHITFUCKINGFUCKFUCKSHIT etc until I’ve fully vented, as it requires less brain power, and I can actually focus on solving whatever catastrophe is currently enveloping me), cursing my carelessness, I went to staunch the blood flow, until Jess came home, and got me bandaids. Even then, my bathroom looked like a set from CSI. It was kind of freaky, to put it mildly, and took quite some time before I could actually get the bandaid on.

After taking a fairly literal blood oath that this wouldn’t happen again, I cut myself again, on the same finger.Damn it. This time,  I only nicked the end of my finger when the cutting board slipped. Still bled a fair amount, but it’s nearly healed after a week.

After a couple weeks of healing. Now, the cut has fully healed, but it looks like puffy scar tissue.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Well, at least monthly, I should probably allow my blade to seep in a bowl of pigs blood, or something, as it clearly has a bloodlust that can’t be easily slaked. Or, on the off chance that my knife wasn’t somehow forged by Muramasa, sent forward through time, and branded as a Shun, I should probably just be more careful.

The whole family! (The pink one is produced by the same company as the Shun)

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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.

Cheese shouldn’t taste like lollipops, nor test my gag reflex.

Posted in Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

Seriously, what the hell?

Jessica is doing a wine & cheese course as part of her GBC baking certification program (let’s just assume it’s an elective, as that seems a little outside the baking mandate). In said course, she has to do things like drink wine, and eat cheese. Shocking, I know.

For a project coming up, she has to pair wines and cheeses. Before even getting to the wine, she decided to get a bunch of interesting new cheeses to sample. As this involved food, I decided she needed my assistance in sampling and describing them (and as you’ll quickly learn, i have to come to grips with a certain lack of expertise or vocabulary to articulate how these cheeses smell and taste).

The Cheese:

Ermite Blue (blue cheese)-A Canadian cheese, this was perforated for veining (appetizing, I know), with the molding having a greenish/blue tint. It was fairly solid to the touch, with only a mild crumb to it. It had a very mild, pleasant aroma, and when eaten, was almost creamy on the tongue. Overall, a decent cheese.

Etorki Basque-similar to a gouda, this had a pale, yellow meat with a waxed orange rind (not sure why the rind description is important, but jess felt I should mention it-As I said, still gaining that expertise). Upon applying a light pressure, the body had a slight, rubbery give to it. The smell was fairly interesting, almost like a sweetened butter. Upon hitting the tongue, it became almost powdery, and then a paste, but not unpleasantly.

Provolone-had it on enough sandwiches, skipped it.

Vacherin Friebourgeois- Washed rind, pale yellow/orange meat blah blah blah. This one was very strange-it had an almost synthetic smell and flavour to it-Almost like a sharp, acidic version of that powered parm that comes in the cans. Hard and mildly crumbly, it tasted very salty and sharp. Unfortunately, almost too sharp for my palate.

Beaufort-Apparently comparable to a gruyere, but with a much, much harsher flavour base. Honestly, it basically smelled and tasted like sweet, wet gym socks. Appetizing, no? It was also very dry, with a strong crystalline structure to it. So, mouth feel was at least somewhat interesting.

Bleu de Gex-a very interesting blue-the meat is a yellow to gray, with the mold spread throughout to such a degree that there wasn’t really any discernible veining, just lotsa blue and gray. Wax rind. The aroma was very pungent, but not entirely unpleasant-it smelled very earthy and rich. Flavour wise, it wasn’t particularly sharp, sweet, salty-it had a strong, mouth-filling flavour of an almost mushroomy earthyness (dear god, they’re invading my cheese now). Actually quite interesting, but it’d need to be paired with something for it to be palatable in larger-than-sample-size amounts.

White Stilton w/Candied Lemon Peel- Apparently a special, in-house offering from our favourite local cheese shop, Alex Farm Cheese. Jess was super excited about the idea of a stilton with some sort of candied fruit in it. I was non-comittal, but am willing to try nearly any food placed in front of me (especially in the name of school work!). Goddamn, what a horrifying mistake.

My stomach heaved just from the smell of it-Like cheese soaked in lemonade, only with an extra few cups of sugar added in for good measure. I was content to have the relationship end there-platonic at best, with only the mildest animosity on my part. But noooo, Jess egged me on, so I ate the damn thing. And yeah, it tasted like the most cloying, saccharine lemon lolly I’ve ever had, and my sample size was probably under a centimeter cubed. A CENTIMETER, YET MY MOUTH WAS FULL OF OVERWHELMING FLAVOUR.

Now, there are tons of rich foods (including various blue cheeses) that I find slowly overwhelm my tastebuds over the course of a meal-at first, it’s powerful and seductive, and then it eventually begins to feel like my tastebuds are being held hostage. I’m fine with that-it means I’m constantly aware of how the food actually tastes, and avoid having eating become a mechanical reflex. This was something else, as it felt like awfulness had detonated all over my tongue.

For the record, lemon flavoured candy in all forms is generally fantastic, and stilton is definitely acceptable in either it’s blue or white forms. The combination could even work, given a more sensible amount of candied lemon peels-if i had the barest hint of it within the cheese, it probably would’ve been a very pleasant way to end the tasting.

Instead, I’m going to go hunt some Tums down. They’re berry flavoured, so there won’t be any conflict-of-interest at the moment.

Screw You, Antonio Sabato jr

Posted in Rants with tags , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

So, Iron Chef America-while oft maligned as a shallow spin off of the japanese one, I’m disinclined to cast it aside as readily as some people. While the theatrics and spectacle is generally far simpler and smaller in scale, it actually plays out as a better sporting event-the challenger actually has a better shot at winning, and having two food critics and a +1 versus 1 food critic and 2 others allows for a more sophisticated analysis of what the competitors are offering.

Mostly.

The other night was one of the most anticipated battles in quite some time (for me, and probably for Food Network Canada)-Iron Chef Bobby Flay vs Chef Michael Smith. Battle Avocado. I ‘ll go into detail about him later, but I’ve always been a huge fan of Smith. My excitement-palpable.

And then they introduce the judging panel. The first, a restaurateur who I recall being on the show before-she’s a bit waspish, but nonetheless has the necessary acumen to deliver judgement, even if it errs on the side of harshness.

Then, Antonio Sabato Jr, whose first example of his keen culinary erudition was “Well, I don’t really like avocados, but, I’m hoping that by the end of this battle, I like avocados”.
The third judge, not a true food critic-she was an expert on sustainable farming. She clearly possessed a fair knowledge of how to articulate her opinion on food, but it still felt a little hinky letting her occupy that slot-especially as it turned fairly grating as she and the other legitimate judge kept trying to tell the other that she clearly didn’t know how to properly eat the food-Sorry ladies, Jeffrey Steingarten already has a lock on that sort of thing, and manages to be self-effacing and funny while doing so.

Anyways, I digress-Most of Sabato Jr’s commentary was in the vein of “Yeah, it was really good” and somesuch. The most articulate he gets is when he manages to explain (and I’ll probably mangle the quote-I remember gists, not specifics, sorry) “Well, I really liked how this dish was cooler than the last one, which was spicy. I don’t like spicy food, so it was nice that this one cooled off the spicyness” or something to that effect.

Now, is there any point in this rant, or am I just being needlessly harsh? Well, my point is multifold (or maybe just twofold-let’s see how much I feel like expounding on. Though if I had three points, would that be trifold? Is multi allowed? Quadfold sounds ludicrous)

1. If you’re being asked to lend your expertise to something, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EXPERTISE!
In this case-It’s probably a useful job skill to like food, y’know, when you’re going on a show as a food judge. Now, I realize that Jr’s got a new reality show, and a good agent, but I also know that the chefs are given a list of 3-5 possible secret ingredients to prepare for, so realistically, if someone has so many professed dislikes for food, they could ask not to take place in certain battles. Now, I get that some people might not like avocados. Some may not like oysters (still on my list of bivalves to try, so I can’t comment). Some have no stomach for spicy food.

All of that is fine, EXCEPT if you dislike that many foods, you’re probably not much of a foodie. It’s seriously not hard to develop a taste for a wide array of foods-while we inculcate ourselves at a young age to detest certain foods, as our taste buds develop, our tastes change. As tastes change, try stuff you previously disliked, or could only eat in small quantities. Hell, when I was a kid, even the mildest cheddar felt like a flavour bomb on my tongue-it overwhelming it into submission.

Now, all of this is entirely immaterial to Jr’s appearance on the show, as they expressly mentioned his new reality show-in this instance,  it’s entirely a business move.

2. How hard is it to describe flavour?

I’ll admit, when someone asks my opinion of a food, I’ll generally just mumble a ”  ‘S good”, or something, unless specifics are asked for. Then, I illuminate them with a dazzling burst of culinary expertise! Or whathaveyou-Regardless of how trained or untrained your palate is, every person is able to articulate their thoughts on a subject with the vocabulary available to them. If a hamburger is juicy, or well-seasoned, or cooked to perfection, you’ve still communicated to me the necessary information, even if you’re not adding some gastro-flourish to it.

Once you’ve made the decision to go onto the cooking show, and judge cooking, shouldn’t you do your best to actually judge it, rather than half-assedly mumbling that it’s good? (it’s especially telling that for 3 of Smith’s 5 dishes, Sabato Jr wasn’t shown saying anything).

Think about this, the next time a friend or family member asks you to comment about something they’re feeding you. (a contented sigh is also a positive comment that’s hard to misconstrue).

3.I forget.
Clearly, I shouldn’t go off, mid-post to eat, as my memory is notoriously leaky. Eh, bifold it is.

Anyways, the episode itself was somewhat disappointing, as Alton Brown and Kevin Brauch weren’t really up to their usual commentary standards, and two judges were fairly unpleasant in the proceedings. Smith also got his ass handed to him, which I feel was unfortunate, and partially due to having a ‘judge’ who blatantly disliked a large portion of the ingredients he used (now, maybe that was part of what provoked me…)

Next up:
I expand on Michael Smith (Who if we knew him, would be my girlfriend’s archnemesis), my quest to enjoy mushrooms, and more!