Cooking Salade D’Onglet (Sorta)

I really enjoy reading Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook because the recipes sounds really interesting and I’m a fan of Bourdain’s. However, there’s a lot in there that isn’t super practical when trying to figure out what to make in any given week. Still, I try looking around stumbled upon a recipe for Salade D’Onglet (page 123) that I didn’t quite nail, but think will make for a good dish to work on moving forward.

Ingredients wise, the list is pretty basic, mostly things I was able to find at my grocery store. I didn’t have dark veal or chicken stock around (need to make some more chicken stock), so I used the stuff I had from the store. The real problem, though was that I could not find onglet or hanger steak at my grocery store. I probably could have asked the butcher, but I’m kind of on a time crunch when I get our food, so I wound up settling for a beef round Swiss braising steak. I have no idea how close that was to what I was supposed to get.

I also didn’t quite get the timing down for this one. Things have been a little crazy around here lately so, I didn’t get the meat marinating over night, but I did get four or five good hours in which he said would work. Aside from that, though, this is a pretty simple and easy meal to put together, it just has a fair amount of working parts when you take into account the marinating, sauce and dressing making and putting everything together. Still, it’s pretty easy.

I think I might have cooked my sauce a little too long or added too much soy sauce in one of the steps because the finished product turned out a little salty. Not, spit everything out on the plate salty, but still maybe a little too salty. Like I said, I’ve got some work to do to really nail this the next time, but I’m willing to try again.

Food TV: The Layover Series Premiere

I don’t believe my appreciation of Anthony Bourdain is any surprise to regular readers of his blog. I love his show No Reservations, I love his autobiography Kitchen Confidential, I liked the Fox comedy based on said memoirs and I’ve enjoyed reading through his Les Halles Cookbook. So, of course, I was excited to realize today that his new Travel Channel show The Layover premiered tonight at 9:00PM. Unlike No Reservations, which is more like a travel show with food as the basis, The Layover is a food show based in places to travel to. But, to differentiate things even more, Bourdain only has a short amount of time to get around, which actually counts down as the episode carries on.

The first episode was based in Singapore, an interesting choice that showed off the new format well. Not only are there a variety of different kinds of cuisine in the country, it’s also relatively small, which lent itself well to the concept. The purpose of The Layover is to really show you where to go when you’re in a place and don’t have a ton of time. It has a much more travel guide feel to it than No Reservations as Bourdain not only lists additional places and dishes to check out, but also shares screen time with locals and ex-pats discussing their favorite places to eat and visit.

There are plenty of other little differences between The Layover and No Reservations–including showing multiple scenes at once on screen in various panels to show even more of the place, making it feel like you’re trying to cram in as much as possible–but at the end of the day, if you like Bourdain’s main show, you’ll like this one. I did. And, if you’re left not wanting to book tickets for Singapore immediately, you probably shouldn’t bother watching future episodes.

My Brand New Knife

I feel kind of bad that I can’t remember when I got my first real knife. I can’t remember if it was when I first learned to cook in college or if it was around the wedding. I believe it was the former and a gift from my parents, but I know we got a few more when my wife and I got hitched. And, frankly, we’ve got some damn good knives. We’ve got a serrated, Santoku and paring knife from Wusthof along with a few others you can see in the picture below. They’re all housed in this great knife block we got from Bed, Bath & Beyond called the Kapoosh Universal Cutlery Block that allows for a wide variety of different knives, which, as you can tell, is great for us. Instead of having designated slots, the body of the block is made up of tightly packed bristles that allow for whatever arrangement that works best for you. You can either pull it out and wash it, which I clearly need to do in the near future.

Even with a good variety of knives, though, I’ve been thinking about picking a new one up. In the beginning of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, he sets aside a mini-chapter about knife care and selection. He says it doesn’t really matter how big or expensive the knife is, but that it feels comfortable in your hand. You don’t want something so big and unwieldy that you’ll be lopping off a finger or two. He also said you should wash them when you’re done, dry immediately and not put them through the dishwasher. Also, sharpen before every use.Like a lot of things I’ve read from Bourdain, I took this to heart and realized that I haven’t been treating my knives well. They still work, though they’re definitely looking worse for wear. There’s also maybe some dullness that I only recently realized. With that in mind, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled every time we go to a Marshall’s, TJ Maxx or Home Goods for an affordable knife that will work for me. Some of those nice Wusthof knives I mentioned before were actually purchased at those places for short money.Two weekends back, we were at a mega TJ Maxx/Home Goods in Poughkeepsie and I saw a 7-inch Santoku that I liked. There was also a chef’s knife, but it was even bigger, I think 8-inches or so. I walked away to look for a food mill in that gigantic place (no luck there) and then caught up with Em and Lu. The knife had lodged itself into my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. And, hey, it was around $15, so I wound up buying it.

Cut eggplant

Of course, the next week (last week) wound up not involving any cooking because of scheduling problems, so I didn’t really get to put it to use until a few days back when I made pasta sauce and botched some eggplant, but at least I got to use it! Every time I do the dishes, I scrub the knife down with soap and water, wipe it down with a towel and after I know it’s all the way dry, I sharpen it and then return it to the block. I’m not taking any chances with this one!

Food Book News From Anthony Bourdain & Michael Ruhlman

Apologies to anyone who reads both this and my pop culture blog UnitedMonkee because I’m about to double dip a bit. As I mentioned over there in my link-blog post Casting Internets, there were a few bits of chef book news that I found pretty interesting. First up, Anthony Bourdain will be getting his own imprint through Ecco which itself is part of HarperCollins. I read about this over on The New York Observer who had the following quote from Bourdain:

We look forward to publishing an unusual mix of new authors, existing works, neglected or under-appreciated masterworks, and translations of people from elsewhere who we think are just too damned brilliant not to be available in English. We’re presently looking at an initial list composed of chefs, enthusiasts, fighters, musicians and dead essayists.

I’ve read and seen enough of Bourdain to understand that the man has a lot of influences both in and out of the cooking world that he will hopefully bring to better light. I’m curious to see what the three to five books per year he’ll have his name grace, at least as a logo. Meanwhile, in the world of books that are actually available at the moment comes Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty. I first experienced Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of Bourdain’s No Reservations, which instantly endured him to me (I have a kinship for that city because it’s where my mom was born). He’s been on a few other episodes and even popped up as a judge on Iron Chef America. I don’t know a lot about him other than he’s really into cooking, smoking, curing and preparing meat, which I appreciate. I just started checking out his website, just in time to see him writing about this new book that posits there are only 20 techniques you need to know to cook anything. He explains himself better in a post on his site. I like the sound of this book because it’s part recipes and part text book. I think I can use a few textbooks on the cooking class that is life (ooh, that was deep…).

Food Epiphany: Buy Local

The thing about epiphanies is that they can be flapping around you for quite a while before finally finding a place to land in your brain. When they do, though, they can be headslapping revelations. “Why didn’t I think of this before?!” Fireworks. Things are different now. Even if it’s a subject you’ve thought about it before, but just didn’t focus on it or really mulled over, there might be that one thing that really makes you take notice. I’ve been hearing about farmer’s markets, buying local and the slow food movement for a while now, but it wasn’t until I saw (my wife will laugh at this because I talk about him more than I probably should) Anthony Bourdain in Provence, France on an episode of No Reservations last night that the idea of buying local really landed in my brain. It was probably the 20th episode I’ve seen where he talked about using local ingredients that are in season, but I think it was the beauty of the area, the bright colors and calming aesthetic of the place that allowed some of the background chatter in my brain to calm down long enough for the idea to really take up real estate in my head.

For a long time, food was more social or utilitarian, something that filled my belly and gave family or friends the opportinity to catch up. There were good and even great meals in there, but overall, I didn’t really think much about the food I was eating. Even when I moved out on my own, the extent of my cooking revolved around tossing a piece of meat in a plastic bag with marinade and cooking it on the George Foreman. Since getting married, I’ve moved in and out of cooking on a regular basis, but in the last few years I’ve really jumped in. Grabbing a recipe and buying the ingredients from the store was never really anything I gave much thought to. Where else would I buy groceries than at the grocery store?

I’ve mentioned here and there that I try to make it out to the farmer’s market in nearby Cornwall, so I guess the whole local thing isn’t a completely new revelation. But, after watching that episode of No Reservations I realized how lucky I am to live in an area with so many farms. Depending on the season and my needs, I can get pretty much anything I’d want or need from eggs and milk to meat and veggies. Sure, I’ll probably have to go out of my way a little bit and maybe get a bigger cooler for transporting and even shift my schedule around to accommodate the dates of farmer’s markets (not to mention planning for winter way ahead of time), but I think it will be worth it.

To be clear, I’m not interested in buying local for moral reasons. I think the way beef and poultry is mass produced in this country probably isn’t the best or healthiest way to go, but it works for some people. I’m coming at this from more of a taste and health point of view. Food that hasn’t been frozen and just came off the vine/tree/whathaveyou is just plain fresher and tastes better. Then you get into things like animal feed and how that plays into how they taste when you cook them up, that’s a whole different level as well. In addition to all that, I like the idea of supporting local business people, especially farmers. My paternal great grandfather was a farmer, so I feel some kind of kinship there even though he passed away before I was born. Besides that, I also have a deep respect for anyone who works that hard with their hands.

I spent a good deal of last night looking around for farms and farmer’s markets in the area. I’ve got a few in mind that I’m going to check out. I’ll let you guys know how that goes. I’m also looking around for people making awesome cheeses and meats (dried, smoked, sausage). I feel like I’ve been listening to boy band music and digging that for years only occasionally hearing Led Zeppelin and liking it but not really jumping in. Now I’m knee deep in the catalog and branching out into all kinds of other things from Pink Floyd to Miles Davis. There’s a huge world of food out there that I’m excited about jumping into starting with the foods that around me. Now I just need to learn what’s in season and when!

Cooking Boeuf a la Ficelle

As I mentioned earlier today, Anthony Bourdain warned me in the intro to his Les Halles Cookbook not to worry about screwing up when it comes to trying these recipes. His words echoed in my head by the time I finished making Boeuf a la Ficelle (Les Halles Cookbook page 122), a dish that boils carrots, onions, turnips and leeks before inserting a hunk of meat and then making a sauce out of the broth. It seemed really simple, but turned out to be a bit difficult, mostly because I bonered a few ingredients while shopping.

First off, I’ve never even tasted a turnip as far as my memory goes, so I don’t know what a good one looks or tastes like. I should have done more research. I grabbed four purple ones as they were the only my grocery store had. I also got a bag of baby carrots which I regretted as soon as I got home as they were a little slimy. The last piece that didn’t come together was the meat. The recipe calls for 2 pounds of beef tenderloin. I looked all over the meat section of my grocery store and didn’t see anything called that (again, I’m a novice, as if that needs to be explained). So I checked my phone and wound up with over 3 pounds of top round. A little more research (and with the pressure off) I realize now that that’s not even close. What I should have done was talk to the butcher, but my trips to the store with the baby can go sour fast and I wanted to get back home.

When I actually got to cooking the meal, things seemed to go pretty smoothly. I wound up using the whole bag of baby carrots, sliminess and all. I also got the bouquet garni together, which is a mix of parsley, thyme and a bay leaf wrapped in cheesecloth so you can get those flavors in whatever you’re cooking, but not deal with the herbs floating around. Then I chopped an onion in half and poured a little ground clove on it to take the place of actually studding them with cloves. Anyone know if this is a good substitute? I just kind of winged that one. Next I cleaned the leeks the way my wife taught me. Those guys get a lot of dirt between the sections, so you can soak them in a bowl of water, move them around a bit and the dirt sinks to the bottom.

With all the veggies in the pot, it was just a matter of waiting for the water to boil before inserting the meat. I realized that the extra pound of meat meant that I should have some more liquid and also that the cook time should be a few minutes longer. After boiling for about 25 minutes, I pulled the meat out, then got the veggies out. Seemed good. I even let the meat sit for a while like the recipe says, but when I cut into it was still really raw. Like purple-raw. So, I heated the broth back up to a boil and put the meat back in. Not sure how long that lasted. I pulled out again and decided to cut the slab of meat into smaller slices and then putting them back into the boiling broth. It was kind of a mess.

The meal wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t amazing either. The meat was kind of tough and the vegetables not the best. Using the wrong meat surely didn’t help matters and like I said, I don’t know from turnips but my wife said I didn’t wind up with very good ones. But, it wasn’t a total wash. I learned about checking on my ingredients and doing a little more research. For lunch today, I wound up putting some of that broth in a pan, heated it up and them warmed some chopped up beef and some leftover veggies and it wound up being not half bad.

Cook Book Nook: Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

Anyone who’s read this blog knows that I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain. I like his attitude, I like his outlook on food and I like how he writes. So, it should come as no surprise that I was also looking around to get his Les Halles Cookbook. My wife and I went to a closing Borders and I immediately went to the food section looking for anything of interest, but especially Bourdain books. I didn’t walk away with his cookbook, but I did get the follow up to Kitchen Confidential called Medium Raw which I’m excited about. Then, as if by magic, Bourdain’s Les Halles book showed up on my doorstep from Amazon. I really had to think, “Did I do some late night ordering after a few beers?”

No. In fact, the book was actually my very first piece of Monkeying Around The Kitchen fan mail. My mom saw how much I enjoyed Kitchen Confidential and picked it up for me, so thanks Mom! I was really jazzed and, as I mentioned, found a recipe that didn’t involve making stock to cut my teeth on. It’s not that I don’t want to make stock–I really do–it’s just that I haven’t had the time to get the ingredients and get them simmering.

But, before I cooked, I read the intro sections and was not disappointed. Bourdain was not mellowed in any way, but his point was very clear: you CAN cook this food. You might screw up, you might throw away entire meals, but you can cook this food. It’s basically peasant food. He also stressed the importance of having a good knife, making your own stock, preparing not only a shopping list but also your cooking area and ingredients before starting and keeping a good attitude about all of this. I should also explain that Les Halles is a French restaurant in NYC that Bourdain is (I believe) still the executive chef for. He was there when her wrote Confidential and still returns every now and then when his traveling schedule for No Reservations allows.

So, how did my first experience cooking French food go? Well, you’ll just have to wait a few hours to find out. Let’s just say that I’m glad Bourdain explained how failure is a big part of the game.

This Week’s (Intended) Menu: French, Italian & Poultry, Oh My!

I was feeling ambitious when I started working on this week’s menu plan. I’m not only attempting my first crack at French cooking thanks to an unexpected gift of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook from my mom, but also the first recipe of many out of Northern Italian Cooking by Franceso Ghedini and a pair of other recipes I hope to whip up pretty quickly. Both of the cookbooks rely heavily on big vats of sauce and stock that should be made ahead of time and while I do want to get to those experiences, I went with ones that didn’t require either. I’m also a little limited because our oven isn’t working, so I can only work with the top five burners. For what it’s worth, I don’t think about which meals will be eaten on which day, but here’s what I’m hoping to cook this week. Hopefully our darling daughter will not only allow us to run to the store, but also not freak out in the evening too much so I can actually cook. Fingers crossed.

Boeuf a la Ficelle (Les Halles Cook Book by Anthony Bourdain, Page 122) Bourdain translates the name of this dish as “beef on a string” but says you don’t really need a string anymore. Basically, you toss carrots, turnips, leeks and onion in a pot of water, boil and then cook the beef in there. Take the beef out, make a sauce and serve on a plate. I like the simplicity of this recipe and that it already includes a vegetable. Here’s hoping this will be a good introduction to French cooking.

Maiale Ubriaco (Norther Italian Cooking by Francesco Ghedini, Page 135) Again, I liked this recipe because it isn’t super complicated and doesn’t involve the red sauces that pack the front of this cook book. I’m really excited about getting to those recipes, but just don’t have the time yet. This Tuscan dish is explained as “braised pork chops with wine sauce” and involves cooking the chops in a skillet for a while, removing and then making the sauce. The only problem is that I’ll have to make another stop to pick up the dry red wine.

Pasta with Pesto Cream Sauce (The Pioneer Woman by Ree Drummond, link) I’ve never cooked any of Ree Drummond’s recipes. In fact, I hadn’t heard of her before last week when I started seeing ads for her new Food Network show. I checked out her website and was blown away by her photos. Man, some of these food bloggers know how to snap pics! Anyway, I was looking around at her recipes and this one stuck out because I’ve got a lot of basil growing in my mini herb garden. I’m no stranger to pesto, so this one should be tasty and not too difficult (hopefully).

Grilled Chicken with Arugala (Food Network by Tyler Florence, link) This is the only recipe this week that I’ve cooked before. It turned out well last time and I’m hoping for a repeat performance. I’m a fan of pretty much anything with olives, so I’m guessing it will be!

There you have it. Considering it’s Monday evening and I haven’t made it to the store yet thanks to a generally cranky baby (notice, I didn’t say “colicy”) I might wind up dropping a thing or two from the menu. By the way, I’m always looking for interesting vegetable side recipes, so if anyone has any good ideas for what should go along with the pork chops above, let me know!

Book Review: Kitchen Confidential By Anthony Bourdain (2000)

Originally published UnitedMonkee, 8/11/11

I’m kind of obsessed with Anthony Bourdain. On Monday I realized that I had spent more time watching his show (five different episodes of No Reservationsstill my current favorite show–were on, including the new one) and reading his chef memoir Kitchen Confidential than I did with my wife. The worst part about that is that I’m sure it would completely creep the dude out. Heck, it creeps me out a little.

I started off enjoying Bourdain’s TV persona as a world weary traveler who actually really likes traveling and then wanted to learn more about him and also check out his experiences as a chef. I didn’t really know much about Kitchen Confidential other than the fact that it spawned the Fox sitcom I quite enjoyed both when it was on the first time and again recently. Turns out the book’s no nonsense, brutally honest account of Bourdain’s time in kitchens all over New York not only caused a stir among the cooking world but also gained all kinds of attention from the general public. I had no idea about any of this at the time because I was, 17, in high school and didn’t care about cooking at all.

I care about cooking now. A lot, even. I love cooking for my family, wish I had more time and space to really mess around and was even thinking about maybe, possibly doing something in the industry in the future. I’m not so sure anymore after reading KC. Bourdain’s account of working in restaurants, starting out in the 70s through the 90s, is pretty rough. He compares the groups of cooks behind the scenes making your food as a pirate crew and it sounds about as debaucherous. Aside from all the grab ass and drug use in the kitchen, the point that Bourdain makes over and over again is how absolutely dedicated you have to be to really make it in the biz. It’s not that I lack the motivation, dedication or dislike the idea of working my way up, but I feel like I’m too old at this point and will be even older by the time our daughter will be ready to go to school. I guess I’ll just keep having fun in our tiny galley kitchen before moving up to something bigger at our eventual house.

I’m also impressed by Bourdain’s writing skills. I assumed he wrote a lot of his on-screen dialog on TV, but this guy murders every page (that’s a good thing). Words, often profane and crude ones, flow out of him with such ease that it actually depresses me as a hopeful writer. He writes like he talks to the point that I was reading the book in his voice instead of mine. That’s how I write in my head, but somehow things get wonky when I start putting them on paper or typing them out.

Lately I’ve been really getting into people like Bourdain who worked hard, got their hands dirty and wound up doing something pretty amazing that a lot of people enjoy immensely. Bourdain fits the bill, obviously, but so do podcaster and comedian Marc Maron whose podcast is currently a favorite, filmmaker and podcast empire-builder Kevin Smith and baker/TV personality Duff Goldman. These guys all saw something they wanted, went after it and have turned that into wealth and celebrity. They worked hard and are reaping the rewards now. It’s nice to see that in the world still.

Anyway, I think anyone interested in cooking, rock and roll, self-made people and bad asses doing bad ass things will dig this book. I tore through it and I’m a pretty slow reader. I want to read the rest of his books and buy his cook book now to learn some French cooking. But, again, this is starting to feel a little stalkerish. I swear, I don’t have a problem.

New Favorite Show: Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations

Originally published on UnitedMonkee, 2/28/11

Over the past few months, I’ve found a real love for Travel Channel’s No Reservations, a show featuring renowned chef Anthony Bourdain traveling around the world, sampling local food and waxing poetic about his encounters. I don’t want to paint the wrong kind of picture here. Bourdain’s no hippie beatnik, but instead a man who looks past the glossy images we’re presented with of most foreign countries and instead experiences them himself through the most communal of endeavors: sharing a meal. The best episodes happen to be the ones where things don’t quite go as expected. There was one where the production crew found themselves in a country ripped apart by civil unrest or revolution (I can’t quite remember which or what country at the moment). Instead of eating his way through the area, Bourdain got to really experience what it was like to be in that kind of situation and he has such a way with words that those emotions are well conveyed to the audience.

Tonight’s season premiere found Bourdain traveling through Haiti, a country that has been devastated by both earthquakes and a corrupt government. But even with all the death and hunger and poverty, as Bourdain points out, the people still seem to be in somewhat good spirits, create new art and music and do their best to keep their clothes fresh and clean. He and his fellow travelers like Sean Penn along with native hosts point out that the media has a tendency to show only the awful things that have happened without 1) showing the full story and 2) doing any real good. It’s gotten so bad that the people of Haiti don’t want to be photographed, something that I haven’t seen on any of the previous episodes I’ve had the pleasure of watching. It’s a lot to take in, which is why I like the show so much. It teaches you without being too heavy handed and shows off the world in a different light than I’m used to seeing.

So good is that show, in fact, that you almost forget it’s about food, which makes it an apt choice for the Travel Channel over, say, The Food Network. Yes the food is important, but it’s more of a way to get into the lives of people instead of the main focus. But man, sometimes, No Reservations makes me HUNGRY. I mentioned that my favorite episodes tend to be the ones where things don’t go quite as planned, but that’s not entirely true. I also adore the ones where Tony, a generally cantankerous man, finds himself completely absorbed in the pleasure of enjoying food and drink with others. There was one where he was in I believe Brazil, and the episode ended with him just hanging out and enjoying some cocktails and kind of zoning out. It looked pretty fun.