Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Service

April 4th, 2012

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What do I want from a server? What do I expect?  I expect the proper handling of my dining logistics; I expect some semblance of warmth; I expect the food server to at least act like they enjoy what they are doing even if they don’t.  I am in the business so I tip at least 20%… always…unless the actual service is atrocious and the server is down right unpleasant, then its the %15.

What I yearn for, though is to find that waiter, the one who loves what he does, realizes the meaning of integrity, and has the support to engender that integrity into the food service with sincerity and aplomb. (See Frank Byrnes)   I will tip 25% to a server who is methodical, pleasant and manages my dining experience without me noticing her service other than the occasional “thanks” on my part.  I’ll give 30%-40% to waiter who is sincere, knowledgable and humorous along with the properly apt service.

My Uncle Larry read the paper everyday and advised us boys to read it everyday, especially the sports section, if we wanted to be good waiters someday.  This was in the late 70’s, but it still applies, via IPad and what not…but he was trained in Dublin in the discipline of food service.  In Europe the dining business is an old and established trade, one which is not only quite respected, but carries with it an almost symbolic,  shamanic admiration.

So many articles written about rude waiters, or clueless waitresses fail to bring in the consideration that the customers themselves are rude, ignorant people who do not know good food, would not recognize good but not fawning service, and really should not be given the official permission to go out to eat.  Oh, that is not something you have to get a license for?  Well, make it mandatory to work a restaurant for a year to graduate from high school and i guarantee you a much larger group of respectful individuals.

But that’s just my take.

Chili Relleno

January 20th, 2012

chiles rellenos

Chili relleno may sound like a foreign and difficult dish to prepare for dinner, but it is really quite straight forward and somewhat simple to make.  There are many variations of this dish ranging from pepper stuffed with garlic and diced pork shoulder to the basic recipe which is just a poblano pepper stuffed with cheese.

In our kitchen back home we tend to twist old recipes around and so our version of the chili relleno is served draped with a bernaise sauce which not only utilizes the egg yolks but also brings a little added tang to the entree.  You take your poblano pepper (and again once you know what you are doing you can use whatever pepper your palate desires) scorch it and sweat it and peel the shiny outer peel off.  Lay the pepper to the side.

The simplest form of chili relleno is to merely dredge the stuffed chili in flour and fry it.  The more popular recipe includes covering the chili in egg batter and then frying it.  At duckspoon.com my dad separates the egg yolks from the whites and then whips the egg whites into a froth.  That foamy egg mix becomes the outer coating of the flour dredged chili which is then tossed into the frying pan.

Chili relleno can be served with any sauce you desire or no sauce at all.  Many variations are served with a spicy tomato sauce.  This can range from a simple marinara sauce with added jalepenos to a basic pico de gallo that will give the chili relleno some bright citrus and spicy hot notes.

Come visit duckspoon.com and watch my dad make his version of chili relleno.  Sure it is a tad lavish to cover it in bernaise sauce…French/Mexican fusion? and it might not be to everyone’s taste.  The basic recipe for the chili relleno is at duckspoon and if you find a recipe that you like better then please load it up and share with us.

Cheers!

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Pork Shoulder

December 20th, 2011

brining pork

A pork shoulder recipe is exactly what I am looking for if I am being extremely budget conscious, but still need to feed a few people and have some left overs to last my sporadic foraging through the fridge.  Chicken is another go-to meat if I am wanting to serve a seemingly lavish dinner for pennies, but chicken can sometimes be a tad over served, if you get my meaning.

White fish is generally inexpensive, but you there’s only so much you can do with white fish, and I try to avoid creating a weeks worth of left overs from fish.  A pork shoulder recipe can be cheap.  That particular cut of meat is on sale at the grocery store on Burnside quite often: $.99 a lb is a good price.  Four bucks is enough to have dinner with a buddy and have leftovers for the week.

I am just beginning my journey into the realm of cured meats, but the pork shoulder recipe that I am shaping inside my mind is something braised, roasted or barbecued.  In short, I want the meat cooked thouroughly, but in a form that is somewhat flexible to work with when creating left over concoctions.  A few different options spring to mind.

The pork shoulder recipe that I love the most both for its flavor and relative ease of preparation is the dry rubbed, barbecued recipe.  I picked up a dry rub in Mexico for about a buck ten that I like a lot.   This is just a “common sense” pork shoulder recipe, but you pat the moisture from the shoulder and smear the dry rub over every surface of the pork.  Allow that to stand (refridgerated of course) for a few hours and then throw that hunk of pork on the BBQ using indirect heat.

My second favorite pork shoulder recipe is the one I started my pork shoulder collection on duckspoon.com with.  I brine the pork shoulder over night with whatever salts and seasonings grab my attention (using the basic brining principle that is) and then braise it for a few hours in chicken stock and carmelized mirepoix.  Come visit duckspoon.com and check out my pork shoulder recipe collection and maybe even add your own.

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Razor Clams

October 24th, 2011

razor clams

Razor clams are by far my favorite mollusk.  Sure there are the ubiquitous manila clams in some sort of broth with toast points or some other form of bready dipping instrument. Mussels I generally only enjoy if I have pulled them off the rock myself and cooked them shortly thereafter.  I am unfortunate enough to being at odds withe the royal mollusk, the oyster.

There is a hunting season up and down the Pacific coast, and one should check with the locals to find the best clamming spots.  Razor clams are an ellusive find and even though they are legless and inert by the time they get to your plate, they can motivate some speed when they are in their element (sand) and sense the intruding cleave of the hunting shovel digging into their space.

Proper gait must be adorned (the Oregon coast is notoriously wet), sufficient lighting gathered (for the early morning hunting of razor clams), and the tools must be aqcuired.  Now one can hunt with the humble shovel, but  must be quicker than a snake to reach into the freshly excavated whole to capture the prize.  The fastest, easiest way to claim the fifteen clams allotted to you by law is to use a clam gun.

Razor clams will attempt to flee if they sense any movement in the sand around them.  The clam gun is a cyclindrical tube that plunges down around the blow hole of the clam and, before they can dig deeper, pulls up the vertical column of sand it is loitering in.  A little bit of cleaning and a little bit of shucking and the razor clams are ready to enter the kitchen.

Like I said, I love razor clams and will eat these fresh mollusks above almost any other seafood (I come near to fainting in pleasure when I can eat fresh sea urchin).  The frozen clams are really very good as well.  Order some up, come visit duckspoon.com and see how we cook ‘em fried in butter, and see whether you too fall in love with razor clams.

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Lentil Soup

October 4th, 2011

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“The lentil soup recipe,” he says, as I am pacing up and down the kitchen with my phone’s ear piece in.

“But Pete,” I interject,” I have all kinds of soups frozen right now, chicken and grilled corn, roast squash and garlic, gazpacho…none of it?  Just that one soup?  You are telling me that your broke butt is so flush that you don’t need some of these freshly frozen, hand made soups for free?”

Pete is my dad’s best friend and he lives up on the mountain and doesn’t get down very much to buy food, and generally buys processed food.  I had just made a big batch of soup from duckspoon’s lentil soup recipe and frozen it in single-serve, quart size bags.  Soups can be very economical to prepare and freeze for use, and I generally keep a stack of frozen soups on hand.

As much as I love cream soups, they don’t freeze well.  Sometimes it would be nice to whip out  a crab bisque instead of whipping out  the lentil soup recipe or the chicken chowder.  Chowders don’t freeze well with the potatoes in them either.  The potatoes break down and make the soup kinda starchy.  It’s best to freeze just the basic soups and add what you need to as you reheat them.

My dad’s lentil soup recipe is by far one of the most economical, healthy and easy soups to keep on hand in the freezer.  I use the freezer because I don’t often get a chance to spend an hour or two in front of the stove preparing dinner.  Instead I prepare it in advance, a cooking binge I guess.  Pork shoulder, whole chickens, bags freshly made from the lentil soup recipe all inhabit my freezer out in the garage…all at my disposal.

The lentil soup recipe is a symbol of duckspoon.com’s mission statement: to teach folks how to cook good, inexpensive food and feed their family healthy meals.  You can learn to fabricate a turkey out, or butcher a whole hog, or even how to 5$ dinners to feed a family of four.  My dad’s lentil recipe soup is a perfect example of that.

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Home Made Gravy: easy enough for anyone to make

September 22nd, 2011

mushroom gravy

What can beat home made gravy? Nothing!  Whether it be a simple pork sausage gravy to cover flaky biscuits just out of the oven or a morel mushroom gravy to top a fresh grilled New York steak the taste and cost benefits of whipping up this humble sauce at home far outweigh the store bought packages which are filled with who knows what kind of additives and chemicals.

The ingredients required to make gravy are really pretty mundane and are bound to be around any well stocked kitchen.  Flour, butter, bacon or sausage, if it is the pork inspired version of home made gravy, beef and chicken stock, and a little corn starch to tighten it up when all is said and done.  The process is rather simple and doesn’t vary too much depending on what variety you are whipping up.

For example, if it is breakfast time, then the home made gravy that generally ought to be used is the pork sausage variety.  Render some pork sausage, remove the sausage and add flour to the pork fat to make a roux.  Cook that roux until it is a nice golden color and has a little nutty taste, and then add the cold milk slowly…steadily whisking the milk and the roux together. Reduce this down a bit until the flavor is where you want it and then add the corn starch slurry to thicken it more.

Home made gravy doesn’t need to be packed with meat to be a lovely addition to the dinner table.  Make the roux with butter and flour and add a cold vegetable stock that you have made from vegetable trimmings and scraps and whisk this together and finish with a little cream if you like.   In fact you can make the home made gravy vegan if you use olive oil instead of butter and keep the cream away from the process.

I have to admit that I have a bias for meat laden, home made gravy.  This doesn’t mean that I am not interested in vegetable gravies or am unable to whip one up if need be, but only means that my history is that of pork sausage gravy, and brown sauces augmented with veal stock.  Come visit duckspoon and check out our selection of gravies and brown sauces and see how easy it is to make a quality home made gravy for yourself and your family.

Cheers!

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Pate de Campagne: a front line look at French butchery

September 16th, 2011

The butcher didn’t speak english and I don’t speak french so the beginning of my first pate making experience did not look particularly auspicious.  He had agreed to coach me on the fine points of french butchery as a favor to one of his very good clients: my long time friend whom I was visiting after not seeing him for seventeen years.  I had mentioned that I was interested in french butchery and he had arranged this experience for me.

Nikki, the butcher, placed a hotel pan in front of me filled with pork neck, slivers of pork belly and livers.  The initial feelings of discomfort on both our sides evaporated after I dug my hands into the meat pile and started grinding it up  in the first step of making pate. I ground up two kilos of liver and two kilos of neck and two kilos of belly.  I also added garlic, onions sauteed until they were blond, shallots, parsley and chives.

Nikki then added salt, curing salt, pepper and mustard seed and then poured a little cold water and 6 eggs into the mixer: one per kilo, he said.  After the ingredients were ground up, I scraped the ingredients into the mixer.  After a few minutes in the mixer the ingredients had begun to look like pate.  With a baking spatula I scraped the bowl of the mixer, making sure that no remains were left clinging to the sides of the bowl.

I next placed pig belly skin (fat back) in the bottom of the terrine casserole dish and heaped the pate in up to the rim of the dish.  Nikki brought the caul fat out, asked me if I knew it (with gestures and broken english), and when I nodded, proceeded to lay it out over the terrine of pate.  Caul fat is the intestine of a cow, similar to thick spider webs in appearance.  I patted the air bubbles out and then we put the terrines in hotel pans and then put them in the oven at 200 degrees for 2 hours.

After the time had elapsed we pulled the pate terrines from the oven, and then, leaving them in the hotel pans, added water to the hotel pans so that the terrines were in an inch of water.  We then placed the hotel pans back in the oven at 145 degrees and slowly cooked them until they had reached 70 degrees celsius in the middle.  We made quite a few other different kinds of pate, but this one stands out in my head as my very first experience with french butchery.

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Local Eggs

September 10th, 2011

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The search for local eggs has intensified in the public eye with the outbreak of salmonella poisonings in recent history.  One would think, in an ostesibley free market system, that the best eggs would not only be cheapest,  BUT HEALTHY FOR US AS WELL.  The cost of illness, hospitalization and death were not configured in the chicken egg talleys when it came to corporate profit accumulation.

The eggs sold by some of the large corporate farms killed people.  It became profitable to serve poor food because of marketing and social apathy.  One would guess from our addiction to mass production that finding correctly priced local eggs would be difficult, but it is not.  Websites abound in providing folks the knowledge to find grass fed beef, organic vegetables, etc…It is just the dominant paradigm which quietly urges people into the easiest, most convenient decisions.  Apathy.

Those decisions invariably result in some loss of productive life and the consequent profit for the corporation holding the reigns.  Start a garden, buy local eggs…heck raise chickens (please don’t attempt to raise animals unless you are comitted to the utmost integrity of their existence, and very importantly, their demise).  Capital has an insidious means of influence.  If one can escape the pathways that have been mapped out for us, then one has a chance to be free.

Local Eggs.  Start with a circumference of 15 miles.  Eventually you might be able to get within a mile, or even pehaps your back yard…Local produce…local meat…the possibilities abound.  Just  the first step, say to merely buy local eggs or to shop at the farmers market, is a move away from the system.  Away from money in the pockets of people who don’t know us, and don’t really care about our health or welfare.   We are merely numbers in an inhuman mathmatical equation.

If I had a Volkswagon bus right now, I would paint “Local eggs!” on it and drive around town sparking conversation.  Wouldn’t it be fun (and cost effective, my sceptical friends) to be able to barter eggs from the around the neighborhood;  trade eggs for honey maybe, salads and vegetables during the spring and summertime; squash and apples in autumn.  We can start with local eggs and see where that takes us…

Come learn to flip an egg with us at duckspoon.com!

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How to make enchiladas

September 3rd, 2011

enchiladas

How to make enchiladas is, in my mind, a fundamental lesson for our children to learn how to respect other cultures, and Latino cultures in particular.  Food can help us understand people and learning a people’s cuisine can shed insights on how they think and why they perform certain actions.  Understanding food by the actual cooking of it far surpasses what we can learn by going to eat in a restaurant that serves that food.

The use of corn tortillas, for example, in learning how to make enchiladas shows us that the Mexican culture has an abundance of corn and they can feed the populace cheaply using corn tortillas.  Chickens can be raised in the back yard and tomatoes and chilies can be grown in abundance in the garden as well.  All these geographic nuances can be deciphered by breaking down the varied components of the dish.

First we learn the ingredients, and then we can learn the entire process of how to make enchiladas.  The corn must be milled and then fried into tortillas; the tomatoes must be roasted and made into a sauce; the chiles need to be dried, pounded into powder, and mixed with herbs.  Of course most people in Mexico buy the tortillas from someone who uses those efforts to earn a living, but the knowledge of making corn tortillas is easily learned, and once learned, understood.  Although the final dinner can be put together quickly, the preparation takes time and has a history of its own.

“How to make enchiladas”  isn’t merely a procedural task.  The creation of this truly hispanic meal is ingrained with the culture, history, and character of the people that it sprang from.  Whereas a taco can be thrown together somewhat quickly (if the tortillas are made, the chickens slaughtered, etc…), how to make enchiladas really revolves around the slow formation of the enchilada sauce.  The enchilada sauce itself is a tradition that varies throughout the many regions of Mexico.

I am very happy that when my niece, Ronnie, asks me how to make enchiladas I can reply not only by taking her to a computer and showing her a video detailing the steps out, but I can also fill her in on some of the historic, cultural and geographic facts that helped shape the food we eat.  I sincerely hope that by teaching my niece how to make enchiladas I will be opening her eyes to the vast information that can be learned from world cuisine.

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Cheap food

September 1st, 2011

cheap food

Let us first define cheap food as food that is inexpensive, but not of low quality.  We can even add that this category of food needs to be wholesome in some way as far as taste and nutritional content.  There exists via the internet the ability to view literally thousands of recipes from countries all around the globe.  So often inexpensive food translates into food that is inferior in both taste and content.

Up until recently people shared recipes with other folks that they interacted with and knew personally.  The internet has changed this.  When I surf the internet searching for cheap food recipes, I can gauge the inexpensive nature of the recipe by mentally adding up the cost of the ingredients, but I can’t really evaluate the quality of taste.  So to eliminate the tedium of cooking every meal you come across you must find food a cook you like.

I have tasted foods around the world and find that the vast amount of cheap food is prepared rather poorly.  The novelty of a kid eating land crab stew on an island in Honduras does not disguise the everyday low quality of food that characterizes the staple diet of the poor.  If you were to ask a schoolroom full of Nicaraguan kids whether they knew someone in their immediate or extended family that had diabetes most would nod their head.

Cheap food done right is really an art that has been passed down for a few hundred years.  Braised pig’s feet may now be a popular delicacy on the menus of the upscale eateries in town, but it originated from a time when survival depended on utilizing all parts of the beast, and even the wealthy lived under this edict of nature.  Cheap food meant the pickling and drying of foods.   This now seems trivial to many of us westerners.

Cheap food in today’s world means industrialized fast food, even to the poor.  In Portland, Oregon the poor are able to use food stamps at the farmer’s markets where the farmers come to sell directly to the public.  On duckspoon.com I have started the process of collecting video recipes that are inexpensive, but that do taste good and fill the belly.  Cheap food can be done right; it can be easy on the wallet but still stock full of nutrients to keep us healthy.

Come check out duckspoon.com and check out the Economy Recipes!

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