First, just a reminder that Sunday, May 22, 2011, is our monthly exercise in folly, Savoy Cocktail Book Night at Alembic Bar. If any of the cocktails, (they also have a great beer selection,) on this blog have captured your fancy, stop by after 6 and allow the skilled bartenders, (and me,) to make them for you. It is always a fun time.
When I was growing up, my sister and I weren’t really allowed into the kitchen. Basically, about the only things we were allowed to do were load and unload the dishwasher and decorate Christmas cookies. Especially since the family roles were very traditional, even if I displayed some interest in cooking, men were really only allowed to grill things outdoors in our house.
Consequently, I was sent off to college with very little idea of how to feed myself. I survived the first couple years on dorm food, Ramen, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
But then I went and spent what little money I had saved on Comic Books and Records, so I had to get a job. I also needed to an apartment outside of the dorms, so I didn’t have to spend summers at home with my parents.
I really don’t remember how I ended up getting a job at Brat und Brau, I don’t think it was anything more than a random job application submission. Anyway, after they determined that I was unsuited for service work, I was assigned to the job of getting the dining room in order for lunch service, including setting up the salad bar and popping the corn.
Somehow, I parlayed this experience at Brat und Brau into a job as a prep cook in the catering department of a local deli chain.
It was there that I realized that I really enjoyed cooking. I mean at first I didn’t make anything more complicated than my typical bachelor food: fried potatoes with bacon, eggs, and cheese, but I sort of sunk into it and started to absorb the business and culture.
I’d always felt a bit like an outsider, and the people at the catering company were people I felt more comfortable with than a lot of the friends I had grown up with. They were outsiders. In the 1980s and 1990s, cooking was not yet really a reputable career, and my parents weren’t exactly thrilled with this new direction. I even tried to drop out of college my junior year and just cook, but they wouldn’t let me, “We’ve paid for your tuition this far, you WILL graduate.”
Anyway, I did eventually graduate, with a lovely and useful Bachelor of Arts in English, but as soon as I had finished college, I went into cooking full time at a local Southwestern Restaurant.
At the Southwestern restaurant, I was initially thrilled, this was really good food. Or, well, it seemed to be at the time. But then I started reading about actual Southwestern and Mexican Food, Mark Miller and Diana Kennedy were my first two big authors, and realized what we were serving was, well, not that good. A mishmash of Italian-American comfort food and Southwestern food, even though we were using decent ingredients, it bore no resemblance to any of the dishes I made from Ms. Kennedy nor even Mr. Miller.
Along with the early influences of Ms. Kennedy, Mr. Miller, and the Chinese Food Books of Nina Simonds, one of the people who has been most influential on me later in life is Alton Brown.
I always really like people who get down to the basics and demystify things that seem too complicated. Or, well, things that other people have made seem too complicated. Sure, cooking is complicated, but there are methods which allow us to understand it, and even generally end up with predictable outcomes.
I really like that he has always been on the side of demystifying food from a technical perspective, but not only that, but that he has championed American Food and Food Culture. He even seems like a sensible man.
I recently learned that Alton Brown has decided to stop producing new episodes of his Good Eats show on the Food Network, after a mere 249 segments and something like 10 years. Get sad about the end of a TV show? Especially one on the Food Network? Seems a little pathetic. But, I am. You can make fun of me now.
The first beer this week, is the Orchard White from the Bruery.
Orchard White is an unfiltered, bottle conditioned Belgian-style witbier. This hazy, straw yellow beer is spiced with coriander, citrus peel and lavender added to the boil and whirlpool. A spicy, fruity yeast strain is used to add complexity, and rolled oats are added for a silky texture.
I didn’t read the label at first, and was like, “What’s that flavor?” Put on my glasses, checked the fine print. Oh right, Lavender. Well, at 5% ABV or so, the Orchard White is easy drinking and enjoyable. Spiced Wit Beers are not generally my favorite Belgian style, but this isn’t bad, despite the Lavender, maybe on a hot day, when you’re feeling a little floral. Interestingly, I recently read that the Bruery is reorganizing its beer production and varieties, and to make room for other things in its schedule will be discontinuing the Orchard White.
Monty, however, is not impressed, with all this boring monkey talk about beer and food preparation. Until all this blah blah is over, he will be waiting on his chair at the table.
The second beer is Hops on Rye from Firehouse Brewing. I really know zilch about this beer and brewery other than a friend recommended it to us. Looks like it is brewed at a sports bar chain which has locations in East Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. The beer isn’t bad, a Rye based IPA, but I think Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye is a more, uh, elegant example of this style. Mrs. Flannestad enjoyed it more than I, it seemed just a little unpolished to me.
One of the first dishes I made from Diana Kennedy’s “Art of Mexican Cooking” was a pork stew called Chilayo. Like most Mexican dishes, there’s a bit of semi-labor intensive prep on the front end, and then its pretty easy. Preheat your oven to 300. Basically, soak some chiles in boiling water, then puree them with onions, garlic, and spices. While that is going on, cut up some pork stew meat (this was a very nice piece of Kurobota pork shoulder from Avedano’s Holly Park Market), pour warm water (or stock) over it, start it simmering. Add the pureed chiles and a half pound of quartered tomatillos. Cover and move to the oven and cook until the pork is tender. I served it with Rancho Gordo Cranberry Beans (cooked with a ham hock), Plain Brown Rice, spicy braised chard, and warm corn tortillas.
Definitely Good Eats.