Char-Broil Patio Caddie Electric Grill

Fri, Jul 25 • 0

Not half as good as a real gas or charcoal grill, but considering most apartment complexes won’t allow those on high-rise balconies, this is the best you’re gonna get.

I mentioned before that I got an electric patio grill for my birthday earlier this month, and based on some reviews on Amazon, I deviated slightly from the assembly instructions that came with it. Specifically, I added a little mass. Reviewers on Amazon mentioned that the grill just doesn’t get up to any real temperature. So, underneath the heating element, I added a round wire rack and a layer of lava rocks designed to be used with a gas grill. The real payoff with this mod is that the more I use the grill, and the more food juices fall and stick to the lava rocks, the more smoke. And smoke is what gives flavor.

I’ve been pretty happy with this, even though it’s just a glorified electric broiler element in an enameled steel encasement. It gets plenty hot — easily climbing to 500° — and it does it pretty quickly. It did blow the electric circuit when I tried plugging it in on one of the more heavily used circuits in my apartment.

It costs about $200 with shipping (though Amazon will ship it for free if you’re willing to wait a couple extra days), and it’s fairly easy to assemble with a screwdriver and a crescent wrench. Although I can’t say if it will last many, many seasons. If it lasts two or three, I’ll be satisfied.

Amazon : Char-Broil Patio Caddie Electric Grill, $159.

La Cense Mail Order Beef

Tue, Jul 15 • 0

Last week, the good people at La Cense Beef sent me a quantity of their products to try for free in the hopes I’d tell you good things about them here. And after trying some of the items they sent, I am certainly impressed.

Their website proclaims that their beef is all natural, hormone free, grass fed beef. The product comes in a styrofoam cooler, deep frozen with a block of dry ice to keep it that way. After allowing them the thaw, my wife and I have sampled two of the items they sent — their steak burgers, and their NY strip steak.

The hamburgers were fine, though not anything really to write about, but their strip steak was delicious. Strip steak is my favorite cut when I make steak. I usually go for the thick steaks that sell at Whole Foods for similar price, per pound, as La Cense, but they’re cut much thicker, and require a bit more care to cook.

The La Cense strip steak was about three-quarters of an inch thick. It arrives in a vacuum package, so the steak was a little misshapen when I removed it from the packaging. (Somehow, during shipping, the packaging on this steak had developed a small hole, so it left a bit of a bloody mess in my refrigerator as it thawed. You’d do well to thaw your steak in some sort of a tray or zip top bag to avoid a similar fate.) The steak displayed a good amount of fat and marbling, and the flesh was deep red.

After cooking the steak in the usual way (warming on the counter for 30 minutes to take the refrigerator’s chill off, drying the surface with paper towel, and then generously sprinkling with salt and fresh ground black pepper, I cooked the steak in a hot skillet for 3 minutes per side, putting a lid on the pan for the last 2 minutes of the second side, to cut down on the smoke, and to push the heat deeper into the steak. I then allowed the steak to rest for 10 minutes.) My wife proclaims that this is one of the best steaks I’ve ever made, better than the dry-aged steaks from Whole Foods.

Since I’m suffering from a head cold, I will have to take her word for it. I thought it fared better than a similar cut from the normal grocery store, but wasn’t quite up to par when compared to Whole Foods. Add to that the inconvenience of having to thaw the steak for several days puts it slightly lower in my book. However, if I had ample freezer space (which I don’t), I wouldn’t hesitate to order several of these steaks to keep on hand.

A 7.5oz strip steak will set you back $17.49, considerably less than a similar steak from other mail order companies (Lobel’s sells a 10oz. natural prime dry-aged bonless strip steak for a whopping $46.99, and Omaha Steaks normally sells four 8oz steaks for $69.99, which works out to be exactly the same as La Cense. My local Whole Foods sells its grass-fed beef for $15.99 a pound, dry-aged for $17.99 a pound.)

La Cense Mail-order All-Natural Beef

Chicago Lifts Ban on Foie Gras

Wed, May 14 • 0

You know, I can understand the outrage of people who think that eating foie gras is evil. The animals are most definitely mistreated in the production of the product… where a tube is forced down the throat of a goose, and they are forcefed their body weight in corn, every day, to the point that their livers are enlarged 10 times their normal size. I can completely understand how, after knowing that, you’d choose not to eat this particular delicacy from our friends in France.

But then I’d also expect you to avoid just about every other meat product on the market, including eggs (where the hens are crammed so tightly in the laying racks in the farm/factory, that they usually lose all of their feathers, and their bodies get bruises all over it) and beef (where steers are hardened off on corn, a food their bodies aren’t made to digest, causing all sorts of infection and diseases that the farmers need to pump them with medicines and antibiotics). And if you did choose to avoid those foods, then I can understand it, completely.

It’s when you decide that I have to avoid those foods, even if I eat them at my peril, that is the flaw in logic. The key for being self-righteous in your beliefs is that “self” is just as important as “right” in the phrase. Your beliefs are yours. Don’t try to force them on the rest of us.

And it’s easy to see why the animal activists would pick foie gras as their beach-head into food policy. It’s an obscure product that only the fringiest of the fringe even cares about. There’s no huge market for the stuff, so Big Industry isn’t going to apply pressure to politicians that are thinking about enacting legislation limiting the consumption of it. Today, foie gras. Tomorrow…?

And while I do have some complaints about the way big Agro-Industry has changed the face of farming in the last 30 years, I prefer to think that there’s more power, long term, in the pocketbook than there is in the lawbook. The ban on foie gras is a perfect example. Any law passed can be overturned. But if enough people rob the industry of the money it needs, that will surely force change. The problem is getting enough people motivated to participate in a boycott.

Anyway, here’s a brief news article describing how Chicago came to its senses and overturned the 2-year-old ban on the delicacy. (For the record, I have sampled foie gras as part of a tasting menu at a ritzy restaurant and, pretty much like veal, I didn’t find it appealing enough to justify the guilt associated with purchasing it.)

Salmon Fritters

Wed, Apr 30 • 0

If you’re feeling rich and extravagant, replace the canned salmon with fresh chopped salmon, or lump crab meat.

5 green onions, finely chopped
½ sweet red pepper, finely chopped
1t garlic powder
¼c mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
6 oz. flaked salmon (canned or in those foil packages)
1/3rd c corn flake coating or bread crumbs plus extra for coating
pinch of cayenne
juice from ½ a lemon

Mix all of this up in a bowl, and then make 4 balls, about the size of a golfball. Roll them around in more corn flakes/bread crumbs. Just before frying, flatten the balls to make patties. Fry in butter over medium heat, 3-4 minutes on each side.

Update, May 17 : I just made these for lunch today, using some leftover pan-fried salmon from the other night, and thought they were far superior to the packaged salmon I used last time. I didn’t explicitly point it out, but if you use fresh salmon, you might be able to get away with using it raw, if you chop it into small pieces, but even cooked salmon works well with this recipe.

The Last Meal on the Titanic – The Other Classes

Wed, Apr 16 • 1

What the second and third class passengers on the Titanic ate.

As an aside and an update to the last entry about the Titanic, some people who saw it were wondering what the other people on the ship were eating. The 2nd Class Dinner Menu for April 14, 1912 lists :

Baked Haddock
Sharp Sauce
Curried Chicken & Rice
Spring Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Turkey, Cranberry Sauce
Green Peas
Purée Turnips
Boiled Rice

Boiled & Roast Potatoes
Plum Pudding
Wine Jelly
Cocoanut Sandwich (sic)
American Ice Cream
Nuts Assorted

Aside from the coconut sandwich, nothing is particularly unusual or foreign from food most of us would still eat today.

As for the 3rd class passengers, they apparently didn’t have a separate menu for all of their meals. A surviving copy indicates they were offered:

Breakfast: Oatmeal, porridge and milk, smoked herrings, jacket potatoes, ham and eggs, fresh bread & butter, marmalade, Swedish bread, tea and coffee.

(Jacket Potatoes is another name for normal baked potatoes. Fannie Farmer said, in 1918, that Swedish bread was a kind of yeast risen coffee cake, shaped into a braid or a ring, and flavored with almonds.)

Dinner: Rice soup, fresh bread, cabin biscuits, roast beef and brown gravy, sweet corn, boiled potatoes, plum pudding, sweet sauce and fruit.

Tea: Cold meat, cheese and pickles, fresh bread and butter, stewed figs and rice, and tea.

Supper: Gruel, cabin biscuits and cheese.

(Gruel is a hot, wet mixture of some type of cereal, wheat or rye flour, and also rice, boiled in water or milk, similar to oatmeal. According to Technology of Biscuits, Crackers and Cookies, Second Edition, by Duncan Manley, (2000), cabin biscuits are thin butter cookies, usually flavored with vanilla, but not a lot of sugar. )

You may also be interested in reading about what the first class passengers on the Titanic were eating.

The Aerogarden

Wed, Apr 16 • 0

Aerogarden ProI’ve had an Aerogarden for about 2 years now. When my wife and I moved into an apartment building, I really missed having my own backyard garden, and I thought that this might, in some small way, act as a replacement. I’ve been moderately satisfied with the results, and it’s fun to grow your own kitchen herbs.

As with all advertised products, the yield isn’t what the box or the literature would have you believe.
Keep reading…

Seasoning a Cast Iron Pan

Tue, Apr 15 • 10

a cook's best friendWith proper care, these inexpensive pans will become treasured heirlooms. And it really isn’t all that tricky to maintain them. The prime directive for these pans is, never, ever use soap to clean them. I know it probably sounds icky, but you should never use soap on a seasoned cast iron pan. The stuff that makes a cast iron pan seasoned is oil, and soap breaks down oil. So soap goes against everything you’re trying to accomplish here.

Keep reading…

Cookbooks I’m Liking

Tue, Apr 1 • 0

The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson. Many interesting and unique recipes. Fergus is known for his use of products that many of us wouldn’t consider eating … innards, marrow, etc. I’ve tried a couple of the recipes, including marrow bones. One thing that has sort of thrown me, though, is his recipe for brine, which is a simple one, made of 1 part superfine sugar to 1¼ parts sea salt, plus herbs and spices like juniper berries, bay leaves and peppercorns. The thing is, he suggests keeping the brine, and using it over and over… “a nurtured friend, whose character should improve with time and should give delicious results.” (I started a conversation about this over on Serious Eats. Just about everyone there said they thought that brine was too cheap to keep and considering the fears of bacterial growth, Fergus is nuts to keep it.) All that aside, this is a great cookbook for reading about recipes you probably won’t find in many other recent cookbooks. Offal cookery is a dying art.

The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater by (obv.) Nigel Slater. Sort of a Luddite food blog. Nigel kept a diary of all the things he made in a year, and along the way, you really get to know him, and the way he leads his life, in rural/suburban England. Though Nigel does give recipes in his book, he doesn’t seem to be a cook that consults them, cooking in a more intuitive way. He also focuses on cooking seasonally, and so it’s an interesting read in that regard.

These and more cookbooks I use and recommend …

Steel Cut Oatmeal

Sun, Mar 16 • 0

I’ve been using a tiny little one-serving crockpot to make my morning breakfast this past week. It’s turning out pretty well. ¼c steel cut oatmeal, 1¼c liquid, and a pinch of salt. Plug it in and let it sit all night. I’ve been putting dried fruit in, along with a splash of fruit juice. I tried putting chopped pecans in, but I think they’re better when you add them in the bowl before you eat it. I find the end result does require a little sweetener, so I add a tablespoon or so of maple syrup. It’s definitely a little tricky to clean. To help in this end, as soon as I scoop out the oatmeal, I fill the little crock with water, because once the oatmeal dries, it might as well be cement. Others, I’ve heard, use a little souffle ramekin, slightly smaller in diameter than the crockpot.

Update, 4/11/08 : I’ve settled on a standard recipe. 1/3rd plus 2T of oats, plus 1¾c of water, a pinch of salt, and a small handful of Trader Joe’s dried orange-flavored cranberries in the little crock pot. I let it sit overnight, and in the morning, I line the bottom of the bowl with black raspberries, and I cover it with the oatmeal, and I add a splash of grade-b maple syrup to slightly sweeten it. As for cleaning the little crockpot : as soon as I empty it, I take a butter knife and slide it underneath the band of browned oatmeal that forms over the heating element. It’s sort of a game to try an make it all come off in one long piece. I imagine I could eat it, but I just toss it out. The the remainder of the residue left in the little crock is easily cleaned out with a little water. According to the label on the oatmeal, this quantity of it is heart-friendly and more apt to help you lower your cholesterol.

Ruhlman on Chicken Stock

Wed, Feb 6 • 1

On The Splendid Table (a public radio program that I listen to on podcast), their guest, Michael Ruhlman, suggests an unusual way of making chicken stock. He recommends putting the aromatic vegetables in only at the last hour. He says that by putting them in at the start, they overcook and fragment, clouding up the stock. But, more importantly, after all that time, they’ll soak up too much of the precious liquid. Makes sense to me. I’ll have to try it next time.

Here’s a link to The Splendid Table’s website where they have his recipe for veal stock — a magical elixir that he claims will allow an ordinary cook to be an extraordinary one.

The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen by Michael Ruhlman.

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