Saturday, November 19, 2011

An easier way to plan and prepare a Thanksgiving meal

I often get asked, "How do you put a big meal together and have it all served at the same time, like with Thanksgiving?" The answer to that is planning and organization. Here is an easy-to-follow example with a sample menu and steps to prepare it

Thanksgiving menu

Mixed greens with dressing
Roasted beets with oranges and vinaigrette

Main course
Roast turkey with giblet gravy
Green beans
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry relish

Pumpkin pie


The weekend before Thanksgiving
-Get the recipes you want to use, review them carefully and make a shopping list based on that
-Write out a prep schedule as shown here
-Go shopping.  If you are using a frozen turkey, get it a week in advance. For lettuce, get it closer to the holiday

-Make cranberry relish
-Make salad dressings

-Make stuffing
-Cook beets

-Peel potatoes, cut in cubes and place in water
-Make pumpkin pie

-Peel beets, cut as you like, marinated in dressing overnight
-Place any cold sauces or dressings in serving containers and refrigerate
-If possible, set the dining table the night before to save time
-Write out a more detailed schedule of what you need to do on Thanksgiving and review your menu to make sure nothing is forgotten. Ex. Place turkey in oven by 10am, start mashed potatoes by 11am, start cooking beans at noon.  Etc., etc.

-Follow your schedule and enjoy your holiday

There are certain items that can be prepped ahead and it will not affect the quality, so with that said, save yourself some last minute headache and do what you can ahead. That is what we do in professional kitchens. Also, I know many people have families so doing everything on the holdiay is a pain in the but.

What many people don't do is look ahead.  For example, how many of you prepare a recipe, only to find while making it you should have done something earlier-like preheat the oven, or get your butter room temperature?

What professional chefs do is simply think ahead. This is especially important when doing offsite catering. Imagine if a chef did not think out every step? When doing any event out of the ordinary, I literally sit in a quiet place and visualize myself performing every little thing to make sure I don't forget anything. Think of it like a dress rehearsal that an actor may do but I do it in my mind. When I have done TV shows, I would even find out how much space I had to work with, set up a table with those dimensions and do a dry rehearsal. For any less-experienced cooks, the visualization step is crucial.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chestnut stuffing

As per a request, here is a recipe for chestnut stuffing

First, if you can find IQF (individually quick frozen) chestnuts that is the best. Canned ones or the ones in syrup aren't good for this.

Now I don't know exact quantities so I will give you the recipe in parts and then explain the procedure

1 part stale bread, cut into cubes, @ 2"X2"
1/4 part chestnuts, chopped into small dice
1/4 part onions, small dice
1/8 part celery, small dice
1/4 part, apples, peeled, small dice (no core)
1/8 part garlic, minced
Chicken stock to moisten
S&P to taste
Fresh chopped thyme, or rosemary, or sage or mixture of all three
Oil and butter for sauteeing

-Preheat your oven to 350F
-Heat your chicken stock until very hot and leave it on the side until ready for use. Make sure it stays hot.

-I can't give you specifics but for one quart of cubed bread, put  @ 1 1/2- 2 cups of stock and 1 T of herbs.
-Saute the onions, garlic and celery over medium heat in a little bit of oil and butter for about 5 minutes
-Add the apples, herbs, some S&P to taste and saute until soft, but firm and not mushy. Add the chestnuts.
-In a large bowl or pan, add the bread, sauteed vegetables and the hot stock and mix. Start with small amounts of stock, stirring, gradually adding more.  Remember you can always add more stock but you can't take it out. You want your stuffing to be the consistency of a thick, semi-wet dough.  If it is very wet and pasty, you have added too much stock.
-Place the stuffing in a pan, and bake until hot-about 30 minutes....serve
-For a nice twist, portion the stuffing mix into muffin paserve as individual stuffings.
NOTE: this is not baking, so your quantities do not need to be exact.  If you make your stuffing too wet or too dry, it will still be stuffing.  If you want more apples, add more. If you don't want any, remove them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The MSG Conundrum-conclusion

So why this conundrum?

MSG is a synthetically produced food additive so I am certainly not trying to sell it to you as being healthy, and yes, some people may have reactions, so my point is this: We Americans can be rather contradictory at times; we label MSG as the bad guy, but seem to have no issues with putting any number of other chemicals and synthetically produced food additives into our bodies that can cause harm without giving it a thought? Have you thought about Aspartame in diet soda or nitrites and nitrates in sandwich meat and hot dogs?

Part of the problem is it is very hard to avoid synthetically produced glutamates. Even if you eliminate MSG from your diet and think you are avoiding it completely, think again.

It is not only in our processed food but it can be found in other products such as some vaccines, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements. If you smoke, keep in mind that cigarette makers add ammonia to cigarettes which enhances the addictive effect of their product. The ammonia converts to glutamate in the brain.

Maybe our lifestyle in America is partly to blame. We are very demanding consumers who want a large selection and convenience, which in turn, is passed on to food companies. Our motto seems to be "live to work" with many of us working two jobs, in addition to our families and personal lives. There is less time for us to sit down and eat so we need and demand convenient food. But convenience comes at a price-to make food convenient and taste good, that means processing, food additives and glutamate are required. All that processed food in the supermarkets would not be possible without all of these additives. We can't have it both ways.

Maybe we need to follow Europe's view on food. I would be down with that, but I also think the world would be a lesser place without Cheetos in it and they have MSG in them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thanksgiving tips

Here is the next post for Thanksgiving.  These are all simple tips to give something new to your meal

-Add some crushed green peppercorns to giblet gravy.  Note that anything packed in brine (as green peppercorns are) need to be rinsed and drained prior to use

-For my giblet gravy, I add all the turkey juices from the pan to demi glace (you can buy pre-made demi glace in nice markets) and the sauce has a great flavor

-Don't stuff the turkey with stuffing.  Cook it separate.  It is safer.  If you do stuff the turkey with stuffing, make sure the stuffing also has an internal temperature of 165F.  This is how many people get sick.  They cook the turkey to the proper temperature but the stuffing isn't hot enough and the salmonella isn't killed

-If doing roasted vegetables, mix in some roasted chestnuts.

-If using chestnuts for stuffng or with roasted vegetables, use IQF (individually quick frozen) chestnuts as they are the best for these applications

-Write out a schedule of what you are going to do each day of the week leading up to Thanksgiving day so your workload is a lot lighter and easier on the day

-Watch plenty of football

-Do anything ahead of time that you can.  For example, if you don't use your dining room table for breakfast, set the table the day before, put your sauces, dressing and condiments in serving dishes and wrap them with plastic and refrigerate them.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011-better green beans

Thanksgiving got better a few years ago when they added a football game (no, not shitty college football, the real, deal-NFL) to the holiday. Now we have not two, but three games on Turkey day, allowing you to do more gorgeing on Thanksgiving leftovers only to park your overly stuffed, bloated carcass on the sofa for more barbaric, contact sports.

This year it will get even better for you because for those of you reading this, I am now a part of your (culinary) life and how can that be a bad thing?  I will think of something. So as mentioned before, I will be posting Thanksgiving tips and recipes until the big day.

Today we will talk about green beans and how you can make them better

First, I recommend using haricot verts (baby French green beans) but they are not required
The key points to cooking green vegetables are:
-The proportion of water to vegetables. A rough estimate is one handful of vegetables to two gallons of water
-The water is well salted-it should taste like sea water.
-The water is violently boiling
-If you are just blanching (par cooking in advance) the vegetables, make sure you have ice water ready before the vegetables are cooked
-If you put too many green vegetables in relation to the quantity water, the water will cool down too much, meaning the green vegetables will take longer to cook, consequently affecting the color. Instead of a nice green, you will have Army green (yuk!)
NOTE: if the beans are too old, you won't get a nice color either
My green beans

Approximately 4-6 servings


1 lb of green beans, snipped
3 strips of bacon, rough chop
1/2 red onion, julienned
To taste-salt and fresh cracked pepper
Handful of toasted, sliced almonds
1/2 stick of butter


-Bring a large pot of salted water to a violent boil
-Have a bowl of ice water (lot of ice) and a colander ready at the side prior to cooking the beans if blanching
-Add the beans to the water based on the proportions above and boil until they are tender
-To test, remove a green bean with a spoon.  Bite into it.  When ready, the bean should be a nice green (not Army green which means overcooked) and have a little bite to it.  It should not be crunchy or have somewhat of a raw flavor
-When cooked, scoop the beans out with a strainer and place the strainer in the ice water to cool for a few minutes.  Once cool, place the beans on a tray lined with a lint free cloth to absorb water.  It is bad for food to sit in liquid unless marinating
-Repeat the cooking process with the remaining beans and place the beans in the refrigerator until ready for use

To finish:
-Have a pot of boiling water ready for reheating the beans
-Cook the bacon over medium heat in a pan large enough so the bacon is not overlapping too much
-Once the bacon is almost cooked, add the onions and cook until tender
-Add the butter and melt
-Add the almonds
-Pour the bacon, butter, onion and almond mixture into a bowl large enough to accomodate the beans and keep it warm
-Dip the beans in the boiling water for about 30 seconds
-Remove the beans from the water, shake excess water off and add them to the bowl with the other ingredients and toss, adding salt and pepper
-Taste.  Adjust seasoning as necessary

ps. fresh, chopped thyme also nice with these

You can thank me later :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thanksgiving part one

All my 31 (like Baskin Robbins' flavors) followers and any other random readers,

With Thanksgiving only a month away I will be focusing on tips and recipes for that holiday to help you cook and serve a killer meal and make for a memorable holiday

I am often asked how one can have everything ready at the same time when you have multiple dishes to serve.  Well, this topic was touched on in an ealier blog about a year ago but I want to cover it some more. 

First, you need to plan properly which is something most home cooks do not know how to do. Fair enough, you don't cook for a living so it is understood.

Whenever you plan a large meal do any of you write out a shopping list?  Take all the recipes you are going to prepare and go through them all carefully writing down what you need.

You also need to write out a prep list.  You should take a sheet of paper, divide it into columns and write a day for each column, for example, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
In each column you write down what you can prep each day.  In a professional kitchen you need to think, at least a few days (or sometimes more) ahead. You need to know what you need to do before going to work each day.  To further illustrate, if you know you are going to marinate the turkey overnight for Thanksgiving, you need to thaw it (if frozen) at least a few days ahead, have your marinating ingredients a day ahead and marinate the turkey a day ahead.

I will be posting a more detailed description of how to plan, execute and serve a big Thanksgiving meal at least a couple times a week so stay tuned

Saturday, October 22, 2011

An apple a day.......

What thoughts enter your mind when you think of an apple? Apple pie? Snow White? William Tell shooting an apple off his son's head with a crossbow? With Halloween approaching, you may think of bobbing for apples. The tradition being whoever chokes on the apple first will be the first to marry. Apparently this is where the tradition of throwing rice at a wedding evolved from. (Note to friends, if I get married and you throw apples, or anything larger than a grain of rice at me I will not be happy).

Folklore has been associated with the apple throughout history. With its significance in the mythology of many cultures, the apple plays a symbolic role, along with its connotations of love, beauty and sin and temptation. In many religions, the apple appears as a mystical or forbidden fruit. According to Christian religion, the "forbidden fruit" is the apple because the Latin word for apple is "malum," which is also the word for evil. In Danish folklore, apples wither around adulterers. America's best known apple folklore lies in John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.

There is a superstition for boat builders that it is unlucky to build a boat out of wood from an apple tree because this wood was used to make coffins at one point in time. I am not superstitious but I can certainly understand that belief.

An apple is by definition: any tree and its fruit of the genus Palus of the family Rosaceae. The tree originated in Western Asia and there are over 7,000 varieties with a range of characteristics. Apples have been around since prehistoric times and were a favorite of the Romans. It is said the growing of apples in North America started during the time of the Pilgrims. The United States is currently one of the world's top suppliers of apples along with China, Turkey, Poland and Italy.

Being a durable fruit, the apple can grow in hot and cold climates, is firm, and is one of the more versatile foodstuffs that can be used in everything from a chutney, pie, sauce, side dish, raw, a compote, etc.

When buying apples look for strong colors, make sure there are no bruises and remember apples will not continue to ripen after being picked. Store apples in the refrigerator and remember the shelf life of an apple is shorter if not refrigerated.

When deciding which apple to use for cooking, it depends on your tastes, the intended use, and what qualities you want from an apple. Some of the more common varieties are the red delicious, golden delicious, granny smith, McIntosh, gala and lady apple. Certain apples lend themselves to certain preparations better.

For cooking, granny smith apples hold their shape well, where as some varieties of apple will break down once baked. Recipes generally specify which apple to use.

Apples not only have many culinary benefits but are also healthy. (I assume most of you know that). One apple has approximately 20% of your daily fiber needs, only 80 calories, and apples are fat, sodium and cholesterol free.

Maybe an apple a day does keep the doctor away.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Writer's block

I have had some serious writer's block over the past week so I will just ramble a bunch of shit for you. 

Sorry but maybe it will give you something to pass the time.  There is an unwritten rule about writing when you have writer's block.  It says you should always write (no, not really) in bullet points or numbering.

1.  I love movie popcorn.  I saturate that shit with butter until each little kernel of corn needs a friggin life preserver.

2.  In Peru, when taking a taxi, you can negotiate with the driver.

3.  I would love to see the U.S. allow cheese to be made with raw milk and not have it mandated that it age a certain amount of time.  Have any of you been to Europe?  When I was in France three years ago, all I did was drink Rose wine on the rocks, eat charcuterie and cheese.  Oh yes!! I must say, we are worried about people eating raw milk cheese but we allow all sorts of chemicals in our processed food.  Did you know that the red food coloring called "Carmine" is made by crushing the bodies of particular beetles?  True, the crushed beetle bodies are then treated with ammonia.  Sounds healthy doesn't it?

4.  In Australian supermarkets they don't store eggs in the refrigerated case, they store them on the shelf with other dry food.  The first time I went shopping I was looking everywhere for eggs.  I finally found them next to the Froot Loops.  Go figure

5.  If you want to drive a chef up a wall, start seasoning your food before you taste it

6.  Another way to drive a chef up a wall is if you personally ask the chef, "what's good on the menu?"  Really?  Did you just ask me that?  Since it is the chef's menu, how does a chef answer that?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The MSG Conundrum part 6

Could there be another reason for these reactions other than MSG?

Some researchers suggest these reactions have to do with other things in the food such as shellfish, peanuts and other foods common to allergies. Sometimes ingredients are hidden in dishes that the diner is unaware of such as shrimp paste or fish sauce.

Hypersensitivity to acetylsalicylic acid is a condition which has symptoms similar to CRS such as: headaches, change in skin color, itching, skin rash, swelling of hands, feet, face and stomach pain. Coincidentally, one report stated the author of that paper in 1968 that started this whole scare suffered from this same condition.

Salicylates are chemicals found naturally in plants and are a major ingredient in aspirin and other pain relieving medications. They are also found in many food items (that are often used in Chinese cooking) such as fruits, vegetables, dry spices, powders, sauces, vinegar, soy sauces, coffee, peanuts, gelatin and are also found in health and beauty products.

Aspartame reaction has symptoms that are similar to that of a reaction to MSG. Aspartame is, like MSG, an excitotoxin and is the artificial sweetener used in diet soda, also known as Nutrasweet.

Reactions to Chinese tea and Muscarine poisoning share similar symptoms and can include: irregular heart beat, dizziness, vomiting, headache and bronchoconstriction-which can lead to asthma attacks (the last symptom is limited to Muscarine poisoning).

Plasma sodium levels found to be increased after a chinese meal and the high sodium content of Chinese restaurants was suggested as the cause in one report.

Histamine intoxication symptoms are similar to allergic reactions such as: swelling, rashes, hives, asthma-like symptoms-such as difficulty breathing and smooth muscle contractions.

One report stated that when the histamine content of ingredients used in Chinese cooking was measured, it was found some Chinese meals could contain levels of histamine close to the toxic threshold established by the FDA for histamine in foods.

Some of the foods containing histamine are: tofu, alcoholic beverages, avocadoes, dried fruits, eggplant, fermented foods, mushrooms, processed meats, sardines, yogurt, spinach, tomatoes, vinegar or vinegar-containing foods such as chili sauce and pickled vegetables.

Could it be a MSG allergy? No. For anything to be classified as an allergen, the food must contain protein. While glutamate is an amino acid that can be found in protein, the glutamate in MSG is a "free" glutamate and cannot be a protein. O n average 3%-5% of the population suffers from food allergies.

So why don't people have a reaction to glutamate or suffer from CRS after they eat spaghetti bolognaise, pepperoni pizza, or a cheeseburger? Could it be mass psychosis-you suffer the symptoms you've been told to worry about?

While there is much debate on MSG and its affects on the human body, one piece of information is consistent and that is how the body handles glutamate. The human body does not differentiate between glutamate found naturally in foods and glutamate found in MSG.

Actually, there is one health benefit to MSG: if you replace salt with MSG in your recipes, you will reduce your sodium intake by 30% without sacrificing flavor.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What should I blog next?

So, to all my followers (well there aren't that many :))

I would ask anyone reading this post, "what would you like me to cover in my next blog?"
Please post comments to my blog or on my Facebook wall


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Simply braised red cabbage

With fall here it is time for braised red cabbage so here is a very quick and simple recipe.

1 part red onion, julienned
3 parts red cabbage, julienned and core removed
1 part granny smith apple, cored, peeled, cut in 2"X2" cubes
Olive oil for sauteeing
Salt and pepper to taste
Red wine vinegar.....splash
Sugar to taste

-Heat a flat bottomed pan over medium heat and add a bit of oil for cooking. 
-Add your onions, cabbage, salt and pepper and saute, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes making sure it does not brown. NOTE-make sure the cabbage and onions are not more than an inch deep.  If so, you need a wider based pan.
-Add the apples and saute until soft, but firm....about 5-10 minutes
-Add the sugar and vinegar.  You do not want the cabbage too acidic and too sweet so add a splash of vinegar to start and a large pinch of sugar

This is great with pork

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The MSG Conundrum part 5

The MSG Conundrum part 5

Timeline of Studies

1959-FDA classifies MSG as "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS substance along with many other common ingredients such as salt, vinegar and baking powder.

In the late 1960's a Dr. John Olney performed a study by injecting or force feeding huge quantities of MSG to (one report said he injected MSG directly into the brains) neonatal mice. He reported that the mice suffered brain lesions and that MSG could do the same to the brain of an infant so naturally, this turned parents away from feeding their children anything with MSG. The thing here is children reportedly process glutamate the same way and adult does.

In addition, injections of MSG in laboratory animals has resulted in damage to nerve cells in the brain but consumption of glutamate does not have the same effect.

One study indicated that individuals who feel they react to MSG may react to concentration rather than dose.

Critics of animal testing argue that it is unreliable based on the following reasons: a) the reaction to a drug in an animal's body is different from that of a human and, b) the animals used for testing are in an unnatural environment and will be under stress, consequently won't react to drugs the same way they would in a natural environment and, c) there is debate as to whether or not humans are as suseptible to excitotoxins as rodents

I have to admint, if I was locked in a cage and force fed or injected with MSG, or anything for that matter, I would probably have a reaction to it as well.

1970 onwards-FDA sponsored extensive reviews on the safety of MSG, other glutamates and hydrolyzed proteins as part of an ongoing review of safety data on GRAS substances used in processed foods.

1980-A review was conducted by the FASEB Select Committee on GRAS substances and concluded that MSG was safe at currernt levels but recommended additional evaluation to determine MSG's safety at significantly higher levels of consumption.

1986-FDA's Advisory Committee on Hypersensitivity to Food Constituents concluded that MSG poses no threat to the general public but that reactions of brief duration may occur in some people.

1987-the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization have placed MSG in the safest category of food ingredients.

1991-European Communities' (EC) Sceintific Committee for Foods reaffirmed MSG's safety and classified its "acceptable daily intake" as "not specified," the most favorable designation for a food ingredient. In addition, the EC Committee said, "Infants, including prematures, have been shown to metablolize glutamate as efficiently as adults and therefore do not display any special susceptibility to elevated oral intakes of glutamate."

1992-a report from the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association stated that glutamate in any form has not been shown to be a "significant health hazard."

1995- Due to the public's continued interest and concerns with MSG, the FDA asked the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to review MSG and its safety. The FASEB held a two-day meeting comprised of an expert panel and thoroughly reviewed all the available scientific literature on this issue.

Here are some of the key points from that meeting:

-An unknown percentage of the population may react to MSG and develop a condition characterized as "MSG symptom complex" with symptoms ranging from:

burning sensation in the back of neck, forearms and chest, numbness in the back of the neck radiating to the arms and back, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain.

-Severe, poorly controlled asthma may be a predisposing medical condition for MSG symptom complex

-No evidence suggests that dietary MSG causes brain lesions or damages nerve cells in humans

-The level of B6 in a person's body plays a role in glutamate metabolism, and the possible impact of marginal B6 intake should be considered in future research (another study has also supported this).

-There is no scientific evidence that the levels of glutamate in hydrolyzed proteins causes adverse effects or that other manufactured glutamate has effects different from glutamate normally found in foods.

2002-A study showed that rats fed on diets where 10%-20% of their total diet was pure MSG suffered retina degeneration. Such high amounts are more than ten times higher than those used in flavoring or found in foods and would not be possible to replicate in a meal for human consumption.

Much of the evidence linking MSG to these health issues has been anecdotal with many reports of non-specific symptoms. Many studies have been plagued with inconsistencies ranging from uncontrolled open challenges to double-blind, placebo challenges. Some studies were not even observed when MSG was taken with food and some studies revealed that a small percentage of test subjects reacted to both the MSG and the placebo but not showing symptoms of CRS.

Another variable is that the methodology of the testing is sometimes flawed with responses to tests inconsistent and not reproducible. When the small percentage of people do show reactions, it has been when straight MSG is given to them in large doses on an empty stomach.

The University of Western Sydney researchers stated 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is an anecdote applied to a variety of postprandial illnesses,' rigorous and realistic scientific evidence linking the syndrome to MSG could not be found.

Any official body, either government or academic, in America or any other country that has researched MSG and its affects on the human body has labeled normal quantities as safe for consumption.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New layout

I have been toying with different layouts for my blog lately as I have recieved some good feedback from others so I would love everyone's opinion on my latest one.  I think this one is a keeper.  Either way, I just want honest feedback.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Something to think about

Something I was just thinking about.  In America, we have some of the easiest and most plentiful access to healthy food..... but we have an obesity and diabetes epidemic.

With one in six people starving in the world I can't help but feel a bit guilty that many of us are gluttons.  Those starving people would most likely do anything for just a simple bowl of rice, or even a piece of fruit, just some nourishment to subdue their starvation but what do we do? Not only do many of us gorge, many of us eat the worst things imaginable.  Processed foods, (I am included), friggin' "Lunchables" those ready to eat packages of those disgusting sausages and cheese. 

Keep that in mind next time you go to a buffet and create a Mount Everest of food

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How chefs determine what to charge for food

One question I have often been asked regarding high end restaurants is, "why is the food soo expensive?"

First, please note that what you are often charge in these nice places is necessary, so to help you "non-foodies" understand, I did a simple costing for you.

What is shown below is a basic yield test for whole beef tenderloin.  Beef tenderloin is what chateuabriand and filet mignon come from

A yield test is something all chefs must do for most all foodstuffs to ensure they are managing their costs and charging guests correctly.  In lamens terms, a yield test figures out the waste a particular item has.

Beef tenderloing
Start weight (uncleaned)              11.81 lbs at   $11.67 per pound
Cleaned weight                           6.57 lbs
Yield:                                         divide 6.57/11.81=  55%
100% divided by 55% =             1.81 (this is your yield factor)
Original cost X yield factor         $11.67 X 1.81
New cost per pound (waste factored in)     $21.12
$21.12 / 16 ounces =                  $1.32 per ounce
Filet mignon 8oz- $1.32 X 8=      $10.56-cost for one filet only

The industry standard food cost is around 33%. That means for every dollar you make, you can spend .33 on food.  The food cost will vary depending on the establishmen but that is the generallty accepted number
In other words, if something costs me $1.00, than I need to charge 3X the amount to make money

So how much do we charge for our filet?  Remember, that $10.56 is just the cost of the filet, NOT the selling price ( the price you would see on the menu)

To figure a 33% food cost divide 100% by 33%=3.03

Take the cost of the filet- $10.56 X 3.03 = $31.99 (selling price for the menu)

So, based on that costing, if I just want to serve a filet mignon on a plate with no vegetables, no starch, no sauce, no garnish, I need to charge $31.99 to make money.

What I would do most of the time, (unless I am in a place where food cost isn't a concern) is pair an expensive item, like filet or rack of lamb with inexpensive sides to offset the cost

There are some that argue you can have high food cost items and the lower food cost items will offset the cost.  For example a rack of lamb may have a 39% food cost and a bowl of gazpacho may have a 8% food cost but I like all my costs to be in line.

I will do more postings of this nature to help you all understand the restaurant and chef world a bit more


Monday, September 12, 2011

The MSG conundrum part 4

Introduction to America

The U.S. Military started adding MSG to its rations after WWII when it realized the Japanese rations tasted better. When food is processed you will lose some flavor; precooking, freezing and canning are not exactly flavor enhancers. That's where MSG comes in; it increases flavor and palatability in foods.

From there, MSG made its way into American homes in 1947 in the form of an all purpose seasoning called Accent. From that point on, America saw the processed food industry boom and MSG was put into everything from baby food to many of the processed foods.

Once this MSG scare took hold of the American public, it created enough of a fear to prompt food companies to remove MSG from many of their processed food items and even advertise "No MSG" on the packaging. What many unsuspecting consumers don't know is that companies are still putting MSG in their processed foods but under different names. Names such as: hydrolyzed protein, malted barley, autolyzed yeast, glutacyl, glutamic acid, sodium caseinate, natural smoke flavor, natural flavors-and there are many more. Those items are not MSG specifically, but they are still synthetically produced glutamates so it is basically the same thing.

One thing that puzzles me is this: If MSG was introduced in the late '40's and this fear of MSG didn't start until the late '60's, why wasn't there any MSG scare or CRS for the almost two decades in between? Were we distracted? By what, the invention of television?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The MSG conundrum part 3

History of MSG

Different cultures have enhanced the flavor of their food in different ways throughout time using their own form of "MSG". The ancient Romans used a sauce called garum that was obtained from fermenting fish in saltwater, Asians have fish sauce, in the U.K. they have Marmite, in the USA we have Accent and of course there is Worchestershire and soy sauce. The one thing all these flavor enhancers have in common is that they are all forms of glutamate.

In Japan the way they naturally acquire their "MSG" is from soaking a piece of kombu (dried seaweed) in hot water. This is the basis of dashi, the soup stock the Japanese love, and it was that flavor that a professor from the Tokyo Imperial University named Kikunae Ikeda was enamored with and sought out to isolate it in the early 1900's.

Ikeda felt there was a taste that was missing from the four accepted primary tastes of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. A savory taste associated with that Japanese broth he loved so much, meat, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese. He called that fifth taste "umami", which translated means, "savory". He discovered, that dashi possessed the same chemical properties as glutamic acid and glutamate causes the taste sensation called "umami."

From there Ikeda then went on to create and patent monosodium glutamate and marketed it as a table condiment called Ajinomoto which translated means "the essence of taste."

Umami is a taste that has been recognized in the East since its recognition a century ago but not so in the West. It wasn't until the past twenty years when umami has been accepted as the fifth basic taste here in the West and chefs as of late have been working on ways to optimize the "umami" effect in their food.

If you have ever wondered why a cheeseburger, pepperoni pizza or spaghetti bolognaise are some of the most popular dishes in many parts of the world, than it shouldn't be a surprise to know they are basically a glutamate fest.

Spaghetti bolognaise

Tomato=glutamate, beef=glutamate, cheese=glutamate

Pepperoni pizza

Tomato=glutamate, pepperoni=glutamate, cheese=glutamate


Beef=glutamate, cheese=glutamate, tomato (either sliced or as ketchup)=glutamate and if the burger bun has malted barley in it=more glutamate

It is no wonder why glutamate makes food taste good because it stimulates receptors telling your brain "yummy, this is good." Umami taste buds respond to glutamate in the same way sweet ones respond to sugar. That's why adding some parmesan cheese on pasta or soy sauce to an Asian dish it gives it a flavor boost.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The MSG conundrum part 2

Part 2

So What is MSG?

MSG is short for monosodium glutamate and it is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Glutamate is an amino acid found naturally in all living cells as well as many foodstuffs. The human body produces about 40 grams of glutamate a day and this is where newborn babies who are breast fed get their version of "MSG" as human breast milk contains ten times more glutamate than cows milk. No wonder it tastes soo good :)

In neuroscience glutamate is an important neurotransmitter that plays a key role in long-term potentiation and is important for learning and memory. Glutamic acid is in a class of chemicals called excitotoxins, which are substances that overstimulate neurotransmitters (such as glutamate) to the point of cell damage, otherwise known as "excitotoxicity."

A source of debate among scientists is what effects excitotoxins may or may not have on the central nervous system and brain related disorders such as Altzheimer's disease. The results of animal testing has raised the question of whether or not MSG or other glutamates can harm the nervous system.

In humans, proteins are broken down by digestion into amino acids which serve as metabolic fuel for other functional roles in the body. The naturally occuring glutamate found in foods is called "bound" glutamate and it is the good glutamate. The bad glutamate is known as "free" glutamate and it is obtained in a factory by various processes, then modified or fermented and refined to what is known as monosodium glutamate.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hygiene in India

I remember when I arrived in Bombay, India for my first overseas posting.  The biggest "culture shock" I experienced wasn't moving from a developed country to a developing country; it was in seeing how suppliers delivered food. 

A common sight while travelling through the congested, gridlocked (that is an understatment) streets of Bombay was to see eggs delivered by a kid on a bicycle.  The bicycles used to deliver eggs would have this rack on the front and you would see flats of eggs stacked so high the kid could barely see above them, all the while these eggs are probably at a constant temperature of around 90 degrees farenheit as they sat in that natural incubator known as the Bombay heat and humidity.

At least they cooked quicker since they didn't have to be heated as much.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chef pet peeves

Here is a bit more insight to the world of chefs

Chef pet peeve number 1: you are using the cling wrap and it tears on you.  Worse, when someone else tears it and doesn't fix it and you have to figure out where it started

Chef pet peeve number 2: Mayonnaise.  In professional kitchens we get mayonnaise in 5 gallon buckets and the may comes in a plastic bag.  Putting a thick sauce in a plastic bag only creates waste and is a pain to get the remaining mayo out of

Chef pet peeve number 3: Stickers on fruit or vegetables.  For those of you who eat an apple at lunch or something, taking that sticker off the apple may not seem like a big deal but when you are cooking for a banquet of 500 people and you have to peel and cut two cases of apples, you will be cursing those damn stickers.  Worse, who is the poor schmuck whose job it is to put those damn stickers on anyways??!!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


For all of you whol live in regions with four seasons now it is Spring time and that means get your grill out and start barbecuing 

Here is my recipe for killer baby back ribs.  It looks like alot but it is actually very simple, there are different steps, that's all.

Serves 4

Baby back pork ribs, membrane removed 5.5 lbs

Rib rub (recipe follows) To coat ribs

Cider marinade To cover ribs

BBQ sauce (recipe follows) To coat ribs

BBQ mop (recipe follows) To coat ribs

Watered down Dijon or whole grain mustard To brush on ribs

Rib rub

Salt ¾ cup

Ground black pepper ¾ cup

Paprika, sweet ¾ cup

Garlic powder 1/8 cup

Cayenne pepper 3 T

Chili powder Pinch

Mix all ingredients together and set aside until ready for use.

Cider marinade

Apple cider vinegar 1.5 Cups

Olive oil 1.9 Cups

Fresh thyme, picked 2 sprigs

Garlic, chopped fine 5 cloves

Rosemary, chopped 1 sprig, large

Salt to taste

Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, set aside. Keep this marinade only as long as you would keep raw pork.

BBQ sauce

Ketchup 1 bottle

Smoked Tabasco (regular Tabasco is fine) dash

Worcestershire dash

White vinegar 4 T

Red vinegar 4 T

Dijon mustard 1 T

Brown sugar 3 T

Tomato juice ¼ C

Cayenne pepper dash

Honey- use a heated metal spoon 1 tsp

Garlic powder dash

Salt to taste

Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Basic Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a S/S pot and bring to a boil.

Simmer for @ 1hr. Taste.

NOTE: While some of the ingredients may be in small quantity please remember that adjusting the quantities even slightly will change the flavor considerably.


2 parts BBQ sauce

1 part water, beer or other liquid

To complete:

-If smoking the ribs: Smoke the ribs at about 275F for two-two and a half hours

-Marinate the smoked or non-smoked ribs in the cider vinegar marinade for 90 minutes (this step can be omitted if desired)

-Remove the ribs from the marinade, brush with the mustard just to barely coat the outside of the ribs

-Sprinkle the ribs completely with spice rub

-Place the ribs on a grill with high heat, constantly basting with the mop and cook until the ribs have a nice grilled color and heated thoroughly

-If the ribs are not smoked than you will need to cook them longer to make sure they are done

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Here is one of my favorite Italian things to eat: gnocchi.

For those of you who don't know, gnocchi are basically little potato dumplings.  They are incredibly easy to make and work with a number of different sauces and garnishes. 

Please note that while the recipe looks long, I always write recipes in bullet point form and I also like to write things out as simply as possible so it is easier for those who are not culinarily inclined.

Happy cooking


Serves 4

Ingredients                                  Amount

Idaho potato                               1 ea

Whole egg                                  1 ea

Flour                                          @ ¾ cup....enought to make a dough not sticky

Salt and pepper                          to taste


-Preheat oven to 350F

-Wrap the potato in foil and bake for an hour or until tender

-Make sure you have a clean and dry counter with @ 3 feet of space to work on. A wooden counter is ideal but not a requirement

-While the potato is baking, put approximately 1 gallon of water on high heat to boil

-Place a food mill in a mixing bowl large enough to hold the food mill

-Once the potato is cooked, remove the foil, place a folded towel in your hand and peel the potato using a small knife and your thumb. If you are careful you will not burn your thumb.

-Slice the potato up and place in the food mill

NOTE: This must be made right after the potato comes out of the oven, don't let the potato cool

-Pass the potato through the food mill and mix in the egg and seasoning

-Place some flour on your work surface and add the potato-egg mixture, more flour and seasoning.

-Mix everything together as if you were kneading bread until all ingredients are incorporated.

-Add more flour if necessary. You want the dough to be moist but not sticky

-Tear off a piece of the dough and cook it in boiling water until it floats and taste it. Adjust seasoning as necessary

-Take some of the dough and roll out the dough back and forth with the palm of your hands until it is the thickness of a thick cigar. Don't press down, let the motion of your hands form it

-Get a bowl of ice water ready that is large enough to accomodate a strainer or colander

-Cut the dough into pieces about and inch or two wide using a dry knife or dough cutter

-Put the dough pieces in the boiling water and cook until they are floating

-Remove them with a strainer and place in the ice water, repeat the process with remaining dough

-Remove the gnocchi from the ice water once cooled, drain and toss with a little olive oil so they don't stick. Keep in the refrigerator until ready for use.

To serve:

Either drop the gnocchi in boiling water or saute in a non-stick pan, finishing in the oven until hot and serve with your choice of sauce:

Here are some suggestions of what to serve with gnocchi

-Tomato sauce topped with ricotta and parmesan

-Parmesan cream sauce

-Cream sauce with gorgonzola

-Sauteed mushrooms, roasted garlic, smoked bacon and demi glace

-Use as a garnish to top beef, lamb or chicken stew

-Toss with any type of pesto

-Spicy tomato sauce with roasted peppers, caramelized onions and herbs

-Mushroom cream sauce with herbs

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Killer Thai soup broth

Here is a recipe I learned from one of my former Thai chefs.  This makes one of the best broths I have ever tasted. 

Thai soup stock

Ingredients                                                     Amount

Chicken bones                                              2 lbs

Cold water                                                   To cover chicken

Chinese five spice                                       1 Tablespoon

Leeks, washed and sliced                            ½ leek

Onions, peeled and sliced                            ½ small onion

Coriander seeds                                           pinch

Fresh garlic cloves                                       4 ea

Black peppercorns                                       8 cloves

Salt to                                                          taste

Palm sugar (honey subsitute)                         2 T

Powdered cinnamon                                     pinch

Whole star anise                                           4 ea

Oyster sauce                                                ¼ cup

Soy sauce                                                    ¼ cup


-Place all ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for one hour.

-Strain through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth


-Poach chicken breasts in the stock and slice and serve in the soup

-Add cooked vegetables, lime, basil, bean sprouts and hot sauce for an Asian style soup

-Replace chicken with vegetables, beef, fish, shrimp, or other poultry

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When to spend and when not to spend


Many times I see or hear of people spending money on top quality products but using them when the difference in the money spent will not be noticeable.

Depending on what you are doing with your products, you don't need to use the most expensive ingredients.  Spend your money wisely. It is true you can't make great food with inferior products but that doesn't mean you need to use a $35 bottle of olive oil when sauteeing beef for your stew.

I follow this general rule: I spend the money and use the best products when I am not cooking those products. Heating or cooking food products alters the flavor. Think sushi. If you want to make a tuna salad sandwich you don't need to spend the money to buy an expensive, sushi-grade tuna because you will be cooking the tuna completely. If you are making sushi, naturally the tuna will be raw so you want the buy the best quality tuna you can find because you will be able to taste it.

Here are some examples. If you are going to dress a salad, then use the best olive oil, vinegar and salt you can find because you are pouring those products right out of the bottle or container and consuming them.
Anytime you are making a liquid based dish such as a soup, sauce, stew or seasoning water for cooking food, then don't use the best, most expensive seasonings because you won't be able to taste the difference in those contexts anyway. 

Top quality food products like sea salt, oils, vinegars and mustards, just to name a few, can be expensive but remember a little goes a long way and they are not products you would most likely be using everday so keep them and use them when it counts.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The best Indian food

If you want to try the best food in any country, you don't do it by eating in five star hotels.  You need to have a native take you out and get some street food.  India is no different except you need to be a little more careful if you are not from there.  You don't want to go and just start eating street food everyday.  Try it a little at a time; your stomach needs to get used to it.

I used to work with a woman when I was in Bombay, and for the previous three years she was working in Singapore.  Well after a week of not seeing her, I asked her boss where she was. 
"Oh Thelma has a bad stomach problem." Her boss said.
It turns out that Thelma had been craving that Indian street food while she was living abroad and upon returning to Bombay, she just started eating it everyday. 

Within my first few months one of my new Indian friends invited me over for dinner.  He said, "Curt I will show you real Indian food." Being a chef I was naturally excited.  One thing that always drove me up a wall is when someone bastardizes food.

It was about 7 p.m. and as we turned onto the road that his apartment was on, a wonderful (sarcasm there) smell of sewage just penetrated the car.  For those of you who don't know, Bombay has open sewer lines that one would think is a stream or creek but it is not. Plus you have people living in makeshift shacks on the side of the road who just throw their trash anywhere and as you are driving down the road, one minute everything smells rosey and the next it just smells like toilet.

We parked on the side of the road and saw this little makeshit food stand.  There was a grill, deep fryer, couple other pieces of equipment that looked more like the guy went to the junkyard and grabbed scraps of metal and threw together this alleged "kitchen." If you have ever seen any of the Mad Max movies, do you remember how those cars looked?  Ok, imagine a kitchen version of that.

The guy cooking looked drastically malnourished, which is unusual for a cook, unless you are a cook in "The Empty Plate," the anorexics restaurant.  Sorry, I had to borrow that line from George Carlin.
Ok, back to the story.  The dude has this filthy, grease stained shirt, some scrawny, mangy looking cat was walking around the wooden counter where the cook was working and some other guy was standing there.  Maybe that other guy was the sous chef. LOL.
As I walked by all I could think was, "what Health Department?"

We approached the front door of the apartment building, rang the buzzer and our friend let us in. They are very nice people and the first few times we hung out, I could never understand why his wife would give me a puzzled look at times.  I later found out that I spoke too fast for her at times (which I have been told before) and she wouldn't be able to understand me.  I told them I would bring one of those Universal translators from Star Trek next time.

We started the night with an Indian cocktail called Feni, a cashew vodka.  My friend told me to just try it straight first, then we will give you the mixer. As I brought the glass to my face I thought I was going to faint from the smell.  It was a cross between urine and rancid peanuts.  "Holy shit, you drink this?" I asked.
"Of course. Curt, now add the mixer to it."
I did and tried it again and in all fairness, it was a little better but now it tasted like urine and rancid peanuts crossed with a Long Island iced tea.
"Dude, I will just stick to my vodka," I told him. I wanted to get some bleach and wash the taste of that shit out of my mouth. Even a couple hours later the taste of that stuff was just hanging around like some psycho ex-girlfriend that can't admit it is over.

There was a knock at the door and it was a delivery man.  Adrian (my friend) brought this paper bag to the table and pulled out a bunch of packages wrapped in newspaper.
"What is that?" I asked.
There were about four different things.  There was a Kathi roll, which would kind of be like the equivalent to an Indian version of a burrito. (Very good.) There were fried cow's utters, samosas and something else I don't remember. The biggest surprise was the cow's utters; great flavor but strange texture. Imagine cutting the finger off a pair of dishwashing gloves and putting it betwen your teeth, rubbing it back and forth.  That is what it was like.  The samosas were ok and the other thing was not memorable.

"Where did you get this stuff, it is killer dude?" I asked.
"From that stand on the street."
At that moment I kind of froze and thought of that mangy cat and anorexic, dirty cook making my food.
I thought, "am I going to end up in the hospital?"
"Are you serious?" I asked.
"Wait, you mean we just ate food from the WHO stand outside your place?"
"I would have never guessed" I said.

So there you have it. Between a urine smelling and tasting drink to food made by "Mr. sanitary" I had my first experience with real, authentic Indian street food.  I was a bit worried after eating it, but then again, isn't the whole point of travelling to experience the culture?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An easy, quick way to spice up any sandwich

Go to your grocery store and get a can of chiptole peppers.  They will come in a kind of sauce.

Take a pepper out, remove the seeds and chop it fine.  Mix it with equal part of mayonnaise and use that on a sandwich.  Trust me it is killer.

Some fine chopped chiptole peppers are also great in chili con carne

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why America is soo fat?

I put a question mark at the end of the title because I feel I only have part of the answer.  I would like to do some thorough research and get some figures and statistics for you all in a future blog.

I have lived in seven countries, including the United States and travelled to many more.  I have found that while living abroad and coming back to the U.S. for a visit, I always ate like a pig.  I would eat even when I wasn't hungry.  I never understood why until I returned to the U.S. last year.

I know part of it is because there is a lot of food you can get in the U.S. that you can't get or is very limited overseas so whenever I would return to America for a visit I would eat everything I couldn't eat abroad.  For one thing, Mexican food is virtually non-existent in the countries I have been overseas.  I don't understand it really; everyone likes rice, tortillas, tacos and burritos but for some reason that cuisine just doesn't work. Italian food works in every country.

A sandwich overseas just doesn't compare to what is available here in the U.S.  Go to Katz's deli in New York and you will see what I mean.    There used to be a place in Washington D.C. on M street that had killer steak and cheese sandwiches and I would always make that one of my first stops when I visited D.C.

One of the most noticeable things about living abroad is there is less processed food available.  You can find potato chips, sodas, frozen food and other convenience items but it is nothing compared to here.  Christ man, you go down the snack food aisle at any grocery store in America and the selection takes up an entire aisle. 

Overseas you may have three to four flavors of potato chips but here.....Holy Shit! Ranch flavored, BBQ, Cajun spiced, sour cream and onion, mesquite smoked, jalapeno, black pepper, baked, oh and of course, regular flaovred.  Did I leave any flavors out?  Then there are different cuts of potato chips too.  Thick, crinkle cut, thin, shoestring cut, etc. That is just potato chips I am talking about. I haven't even gotten into the countless varieties of cereals, frozen dinners, granola bars, candy, etc.

I have also noticed that some companies change the flavor of their product to suit different tastes in different countries.  Mountain Dew is my favorite soft drink but in every country I have been it tastes like medicine so I never drank it abroad.  Coca Cola seems to be the most consistent, however in the Maldives it tastes funny.  Sometimes things you may not expect or be aware of come into play.  I knew one dude who worked in the Seychelles and he told me that the Sprite had a cloudy, muddy type color.  Come to find out, the Seychelles had run out of white sugar so they substituted brown sugar when bottling the Sprite.  Can you believe that?  How funny is that? An entire country ran out of white sugar.  Hilarious!

I also noticed that processed junk food is not so prevelant overseas as well.  I just never noticed it before.  I went to the auto store a few weeks ago and what did I see on a rack right as I walked in?  A rack of candy and other junk food. I mean, this is a friggin' auto store for Christ sake.  There should be oil filters and spark plugs there, not junk food.  That got me thinking about how in the U.S. we are constantly surrounded and bombarded by junk food and processed food.  Think about it.  Junk food is everywhere. Gas stations now are more like a supermarket.  It is almost like the gas is an amenity to the supermarket. You can eat a complete meal in a supermarket nowadays. I had a pizza from one last week and I must say, it rivaled Domino's. Go to your local video store and the checkout aisles are filled with junkfood. I went to the bookstore yesterday and again, junkfood lined the checkout aisles.  Watch TV and all the food commercials are for junk food.

Unfortunately it is also cheaper to eat junk food than heating natural food. Have you ever noticed that in your average supermarket about 90% of the stock in the store is processed food?

Our nation's children: What is also unfortunate is that some of these food companies that serve and sell this unhealthy, processed food pay schools to serve it. Yes, the shools make money by having junk food vending machines in their schools. How would you like your kids eating some processed, unhealthy food day in and day out over the course of each year they are in school? Plus, with the hormones some of these companies are injecting into their meat it is no wonder boys are starting to grow tits during puberty and teenage girls are filling out more quickly.

I was watching a documentary on this very subject and at the time, Governor Schwarzenneger of California signed a bill banning junk food vending machines in all schools in California. This documentary showed parents protesting and even handing their kids junk food through the school fence since they couldn't get it in the school.  Maybe in america we want to be fat.

In America we are lucky to have such an abundance of readily available healthy food, but we are some of the most obese peole on the planet.  Something just doesn't add up.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dubai and Bombay

After living in Bombay for two and a half years I moved to Dubai in early 2006.  I had visited Dubai a couple of times while living in Bombay and it was nice because it was a quick two and a half hour flight. It was a good place to go for a weekend getaway. Plus, you can't eat beef in India so how else was I going to have  a steak?  I suppose that is normal for most people, flying to another country for a steak.

Dubai was nice to go to because it was so clean and pristine compared to the filth and poverty of Bombay. Of course, Bombay has culture and character, Dubai does not.  On the other hand, Dubai has an indoor ski slope. (not that I care, I don't ski)

You don't see beggars in Dubai but the beggars in India are persistent as hell.  In any other country I have visited, if a beggar approaches you and you tell them "no," they leave you alone.  In India those dudes don't leave.  If you are in a cab and stopped at a red light they just stand there staring at you. Don't make the mistake of giving  one person some money because you will get swarmed by others.

There was one thing I noticed Bombay and Dubai had in common; they are both cities where you wouldn't just stroll along the sidewalks. I mean, they both have sidewalks but it isn't like taking a walk in New York or a city in Europe. Bombay's sidewalks were soo crowded, a simple stroll would quickly turn into a struggle to just walk in a straight line. To give you an idea what it was like, picture this: Have you ever seen a video of all those sperms trying to fertilize the egg?  Well, there you go.

Dubai is kind of funny because it is a cool place to visit but living there wasn't soo cool. It is really just shopping malls, hotels and sand.  There really isn't much else to do.  I would take Bombay over Dubai any day.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dubai......prostitution central

I lived in Dubai for about a year in 2006.  After living there I came to the conclusion that Dubai is should change its name to "Contradiction."  I was in the City Center Mall one day and bought a few magazines.  I bought a copy of FHM, GQ and Guitar World. I was at a friend's place flipping through FHM and noticed that some of the pages had been ripped out. I was pissed off.  I put the magazine down and then started thumbing through the GQ magazine.  It also had pages ripped out.  I told my friend that some asshole must have been through my magazines first.  He said, "no dude, they have people in Dubai that go through magazines and rip out the pages with questionable content." I was like, "are joking me?" He quickly replied "no." To think some dude gets paid to sit and take out magazine pages.  Fucking hell! I think that rivals the poor schmuck that has to sit there and put those damn stickers on each apple or bell pepper.

In Dubai you can't even go on questionable or pornographic websites in the privacy of your own home if you can believe that shit. Talk about controlling people. For Christ sake, the country is like 70% expats.  It is only a Muslim country by its location, not by the demographics of it's population.

Here is where the contradiction is: If you go to any club or bar, it is like 90% hookers. It isn't like you go to some "speakeasy" where the hookers hand out either, it is out in the open. Hyatt has two top hooker spots that I know of.  There is the Premier club in the Hyatt Regency Dubai and Spasso in the Grand Hyatt Bangkok.

It is hard to meet a legitimate chic in Dubai if you are in a bar.  It is quite frustrating as well. Plus, the hookers there are aggressive.  I can remember times in the past when I was dating a woman in the U.S. and told her I would meet her at a bar or something and she would tell me to make sure I arrived first because so she wouldn't get hit on by strange men.  I never thought a woman sitting alone was such a big deal.  I didn't understand it but after living in Dubai I understand it completely. If you go to a club without a woman the hookers don't stop coming on to you.  It is more like men are the goldfish and women are the sharks.  Or maybe an Amercan way to put it is the men are trailers and the women are tornadoes....LOL

There is one club in Dubai called Cyclone. I had just moved to Dubai and asked the concierge of the hotel where I can go to meet women and he told me to go to Cyclone. He was kind of smiling when he recommended it but I didn't think anything of it at the time.  When you walk in this club, one side is all blonde Russian hookers and the other is all Asian hookers.  It is like Pimp Moses parted the sea of hookers or something. I walked in, ordered my usual Black Label on the rocks and lit up my favorite Monte Cristo no.2 cigar and just enjoyed the view. A hot Asian chic approached me and started making advances.  I thought to myself, "this is great, I don't have to make the effort."  She started showering me with compliments like "are all American men as handsome as you?" Note to readers: no, not all Amercan men are as handsome as me:) She then told me I could have her for 600 dirhams, which is about US$200.  I told her  "no thanks." It was then that I started to realize the type of club that concierge sent me to....bastard!

Since I was sitting on the Asian side of the club I was only approached by Asians.  It was like there was this imaginary border that nobody crossed.  The Asians didn't go to the Russian side and the Russians didn't go to the Asian side.  I wonder if they pay rent? It was like some street gang thing that controls certain city blocks or something.

Then another hooker approached me and I turned her away.  Then another approached me and another.  I felt like a piece of fish food thrown into the fish tank.  If you have ever had fish and you put a piece of bread or something in the tank that is too big for the fish to swallow whole they just swim around it taking  little bites of it until it is gone.  That was me in this club.  It was at that moment that I finally understood why single women don't like going to bars alone.

I asked the bartender if he knew of a club that wasn't infiltrated with hookers and he said "this is Dubai, all the clubs are like this. How do you think they get all the businessmen here?"

One time I was in this bar called the View which is located on the 52nd floor of the Emirates tower.  It has windows for walls so you can sit there and have a drink overlooking Dubai.  It is quite nice, and like everything in Dubai, it is expensive. It is more upscale so I figured it wouldn't be riddled with hookers and I turned out to be right. Actually, I am always right....except when I am wrong:)

I was sitting there and a blonde Swedish chic sat next to me.  We ended up talking for a couple of hours and had a good time and I was thinking she wasn't a hooker which was a relief.  Plus she didn't fall into the prerequisite of hookerness in Dubai by being Russian or Asian.  As the bar closed she offered to give me a ride home so I was thinking I would get lucky.  When she pulled in front of my apartment I asked her if she wanted to come in but she said "I can't, I am a hooker."  I was puzzled to say the least.  I was tempted to pay since I got that far and didn't want to go to bed alone but I just told her goodnight. I went to bed thinking, "this really sucks." That is like looking forward to going to the Sizzler buffet all week only to find the salad bar doesn't have Ranch dressing.

It cracks me up that in Dubai they try soo hard to control what you see in print and on the internet but the clubs are filled with hookers. I don't have much tolerance for hypocrisy. At least you can eat pork there.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A tip when preparing soups

Here is a good lesson I learned years ago.

Anytime you make something liquid based (such as a soup, chili, stew, etc.) that has vegetables in it, make sure the vegetables are cooked prior to adding your liquid, otherwise you may get some of that raw flavor in your soup.  Plus, sauteeing vegetables as opposed to just throwing them in your broth and boiling them gives a better flavor. With experience you will learn when to put vegetables in as each vegetable takes a different amount of time to cook.  In other words, if you are using different vegetables, you will add them in stages. To further illustrate let's say you are making a vegetable soup and you have: carrots, fennel, eggplant, onions, celery, garlic, peppers and zucchini. Assuming your vegetables are cut in soup-size pieces, I would add them in the order listed, cooking each vegetable for a few minutes before adding the next one.  I would add the onions, celery, garlic and peppers at the same time, finally adding the zucchini at the end prior to adding my broth or water.  I would then simmer the mixture for about an hour to allow flavors to develop and you are done.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The problem with vegans

Ok, I am going to piss off a small segment of society but I have to get this off my chest.  I just don't understand vegans. 

I lived and worked in India for two and a half years and for those of you who don't know it, India is about 75% vegetarian.  Living there I learned there are different types of vegetarians so for today's lesson I will explain them to you.
Fishitarians-vegetarians that eat fish (if you are puzzled by this you are not alone).
Jain vegetarians-in addition to being vegetarians, don't eat anything from the ground, such as potatoes. That must suck. Not even French fries?!
Egg and Cheesetarians-vegetarians who eat eggs and cheese
Full-on vegans-don't eat anything even related to a living animal or wear leather or animal products.
For those of you who don't know, the definition of a vegan is: one who consumes no animal food or dairy products and one who abstains from wearing animal products, such as leather. I bet most of you didn't know that a proper vegan should not even wear animal products.  I do believe they can own a cat though.

To be clear, I don't have a problem with vegetarians, many of my friends are vegetarian. I don't care what someone's choice of diet is.  To each his own I say.  It is certainly healthier to be vegetarian than not to my knowledge but I just love my steak too much. The problem I have is with this last class of vegetarians: Hypocritical vegans.  I don't know how many times a vegan has come in to a restaurant or hotel I have been working in and they eat cheese or eggs.  On top of that I see them wearing leather! I mean if you are going to call yourself a vegan than be a vegan.  I mean, are you going to call yourself a Muslim and then go to Denny's and have the Grand Slam breakfast complete with bacon? Don't think so.

Here is my favorite vegan story. The hotel I worked in India had a restaurant with an open kitchen where we served Sunday brunch. A guy approached the kitchen and I asked him if he would like some eggs or an omelette.  He said "no I am a vegan." As he told me this I couldn't help but be puzzled by his brunch choices. He had a plate full of desserts that all had eggs in them.  Friggin' cheesecake, chocolate cake, mousse and so forth.  I asked him, "sir, not to be rude but every dessert on your plate has eggs in it but you won't eat an omelette?" He replied "in these desserts I can't see the eggs."
I had no idea how to respond to that.  I was dumbfounded.  Freak!!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Olive oil, Salt, Vinegar and Mustard

I am often asked what food items a cook should keep in their kitchen. The answer to that may vary depending on the type of food you like to cook and eat, but here are a few things you should have on hand and how to be smart about using the products you buy.

Remember you can't make great food with poor quality ingredients.  You don't need to have the most expensive food products available but there are some items where the expense is worth it and shows. It is also about how you are using food products.  Here are some examples.

Olive oil-have a good bottle on hand and store it as you would wine. For those of you who don't know how to store wine, two things are important.  Consistent temperature (not hot) and out of the light.
It doesn't make any sense to buy a $30 bottle of olive oil if you are going to use it for cooking. If you are going to saute or cook with the oil, then get a basic olive oil or even blend.  Once you heat the oil to high temperatures it won't matter anyways.
If you are making a salad or drizzling olive oil over a piece of cooked fish then use a high quality one. 

Salt- spend a little bit on a top quality sea salt.  My favorite is the Camargue brand but there are many others.  There are also many flavors now such as red wine infused, black salt, red clay salt and so forth.  I really like a high quality smoked sea salt on a piece of meat, fish or poultry.

Vinegar-There is a huge difference in a salad made with a top quality vinegar and oil as opposed to one made with cheaper quality products.
If you go to the store and purchase a few nice greens, toss them with a little high quality olive oil (don't drown them), vinegar and sea salt you will see how much different a simple salad can be.

Here is my favorite salad.  Baby red romaine, endive, hydroponic bibb lettuce, green oak and baby arugula tossed with Frantoia extra virgin olive oil (about $32 per bottle), Banyul vinegar and high quality sea salt.
Try it. 

Mustard-I absolutely love mustard. I put mustard on everything.  Steak, lamb, chicken, sandwiches, hot dogs, hot cats, everything! Maille is very good.  My favorite is Edmund Fallot.  Grill a piece of steak, sprinkle some of that smoked sea salt and serve it with a dollop of Edmund Fallot dijon, tarragon or green peppercorn mustard..BAM!!!

Remember this important rule when using any of these ingredients: Use them for simple preparations.  It doesn't make any sense to use a top quality oil or salt if you are making, for example, a stew, casserole, braised item, lasagna or anything like that because you won't be able to taste what you spent your money on. Remember, you want to be able to taste these items.
Grill a piece of meat, fish or poultry and sprinkle some of that nice olive oil and salt on top. 
If you are making barbeque sauce with vinegar in it don't use the high quality one.
Basically what I am saying is you don't want to cook with any of these items.

You will find that a top quality oil, vinegar, mustard or salt will be expensive but here is the good thing: they will go a long way because you won't be using large quantities of them.

Happy cooking