July 29, 2010

Gordon Ramsay

Not from my collection!
Since it seems I'm going to be subjected to yet another iteration of Gordon Ramsay bitching people out about food, I thought I'd put a few thoughts about him and his shows down on paper. Er... electrons.

My introduction to Chef Ramsay (whom I'm going to call Gordon, because it's my blog and I can) was on the UK version of Kitchen Nightmares. It was an interesting peek into the world of food-and-beverage, the simple and yet complex business of running a restaurant in the face of economic realities, food trends and fashion, and the changing face of the British dining-out culture. It was a reality check, and one that many of the restaurant owners desperately needed. It very ably illustrated some basic rules of restaurateuring: have a vision, and stick with it; keep up with trends and fashions, lest you stagnate; use the best, freshest ingredients, and forge relationships with the people who provide them. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with people who can compensate for your lack of expertise; if you're a chef, do the cooking and let someone else manage front of house; if you're not a cook, stay out of the kitchen. Have a clear structure of command. Consider what message it sends to let the staff drink in the bar after their shift or on their days off.

So many lessons, for both the restaurateurs and the viewers. But what was really remarkable about that show was that it came across very clearly that Gordon cared about the restaurants he was trying to save, about their owners, about their staff. Having had one of his own restaurants fail, he was well able to spot where people were going wrong, and - more importantly - suggest simple, workable ways to turn those things around. Whittle the menu down to something manageable, get rid of the bought-in menu items, use cheaper ingredients to reduce food costs while still making them into something delicious and remarkable, fire the incompetent/indifferent/unskilled chef and hire a good one, train kitchen and/or front of house staff properly, get rid of the 1970's decor along with the 1970's menu items, find something you're good at and make that a feature. Many of the owners Gordon worked with were in debt up to their ears and facing bankruptcy if they couldn't figure a way to turn business around, and Gordon knew what that was like. So he cared. He wanted to help them get back on their feet, to make a go of a business they'd poured their heart and soul into, and he was prepared to do anything to make that happen, including making people angry and making them cry if that's what it took to make them see the light. He insulted their food, he criticised their business practices. He even swore sometimes.

But only sometimes. No, really. Only sometimes. And, memorably, when one of the lady owners objected ("there's no need for that sort of language, Gordon!"), he changed his tack.

And the show was such a success that what could be more natural but that he should do Kitchen Nightmares in the USA? And since it's America, and everyone knows Americans like their reality television confrontatational, loud, and belligerent, the participants, in addition to having failing restaurants, were also arrogant and argumentative, bellicose with Gordon, and generating a truly dysfunctional dynamic among the staff and - sometimes - the patrons. Thus, only the Sweary Gordon would do, because the only way to act and react to the participants was with colourful abuse. He may have singlehandedly popularized the word "wanker" in the USA (though I don't know that it's actually popular, but a heck of a lot more Americans know what it means, now).

And then, what to my horrified eyes should appear, but Hell's Kitchen, in which would-be-professional-chefs subject themselves to forced infighting and systematic and ritualistic humiliation, as a short-cut to an executive chef post at a Desirable Restaurant somewhere in the world. Sweary Gordon is in sweary evidence and swears like a cranky, gratuitously sweary thing. When a team wins a challenge, and the reward is spending a day hanging with Chef Ramsay, they invariably remark that they didn't realize he could be so much fun, so relaxed, so different, outside the kitchen. And I invariably roll my eyes and think "it's his television face, you idiots", because nobody in the world could be such a prick as the Sweary Gordon, all the time, and still be (a) married, (b) in business, or (c) alive, given how many people around him carry sharp pointy objects around as part of their work.

Personally, I don't much care for reality TV of the competitive variety; I don't care to watch people have hissy fits at each other, all in the name of winning lots of money or prestige. And thus, I don't much care for Hell's Kitchen. However, Gordon Ramsay is an ex-schoolmate of my Beloved's (they weren't close, and aren't in touch), and thus anything Gordon gets a chance in our house. (We don't have any of his kitchenware, though. And one look at his cookbook had me backing away: too complex, too pretentious, too reliant on obscure ingredients, to be really enjoyable for someone like me.)

And thus we come to MasterChef USA, in which passionate amateur chefs compete to be the first American Master Chef (a title whose significance, purpose, and cachet I am unclear on as yet). The first show aired on Tuesday, and we're still at the 'audition' stage, in which those who made it through the first round (video audition, presumably), show up and make their specialty dish for the panel of three judges, who taste and then either award them the symbolic apron - the cooking equivalent to Idol's ticket to Hollywood - or destroy both the dish and its cook's dreams with a few well-chosen words. ("I encourage you to continue to date chefs, because you're never going to be one" was among the most searing dismissals from this week, but I'm sure the guy who opened the show by making Beer Cheese soup was also shattered to hear Gordon say "that has to be the most disgusting soup I ever tasted in my life".)

So far my money is on the female physician whose inspiration and talisman is her mother's book of family recipes, and the young father who had to put his dreams of culinary school on hold in order to provide for his family. Oh, and the Korean guy who, according to Gordon, "moves like a chef, and cooks like one too". They are my front runners.

I hope they have Mentor Gordon on tap for this show. I don't think I can stand much more of Gratuitously Sweary Gordon.

July 21, 2010

Grass-fed beef

Look at those t-bones!We ate the first of our organic, grass-fed beef tonight. T-bone steak. Grilled. With grilled asparagus. And salad.

Thawed the steaks in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Air-dried overnight. Seasoned with salt and pepper only. Grilled to rare, and served with aforementioned sides.

The beef was tender, juicy, and both more intensely and more delicately flavoured, if that makes sense. (The intensity might be because of the meat being on the bone; we usually eat boneless steaks, and it's been yonks since I ate a T-bone.) The sirloin side of the steak was delicious and tender and flavoursome and wonderful. And the tenderloin side was like a little slice of heaven.

Big steak? Or small plate.Grass-fed beef. A bargain at $6 per pound, for the variety we got. And oh, so worth it.

Also, grilled asparagus? Best ever way to eat asparagus.

On a related note, but not to do with this evening's meal, grilled pineapple actually is a little slice of heaven. Cut the top and bottom off a whole fresh pineapple. Take the outer layer off so that there are no brown bits in the flesh. Slice into 1-inch thick slabs. Season with a little salt and pepper if desired (no, really). Grill until just juicy and tender. Let cool, and then cut into chunks, being sure to discard the hard core. While still warm, top with a bit of good quality vanilla ice cream (or similar), and enjoy.

July 18, 2010

The Joy of Herbs

Grow Your Own Garnish!I may have mentioned that I have a little bit of a herb garden on my deck. I've already made rosemary pesto from one of my pots, and we've have numerous salads from our tiny lettuce garden. Haven't come up with anything yet for the fresh oregano, but I'm sure I will. And it hasn't really produced much yet, either, so I'm content to wait until it does.

The basil plants have recovered from their neglected early days and are now robustly green and healthy, which is all the invitation I need, really. Had some bocconcini in the fridge, so got a few grape tomatoes to go with, chiffonaded some of my lovely basil leaves, drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar over top, and seasoned with the trusty ol' S&P. Voila, Caprese salad, after a fashion.

The most impressive plants at the moment, though, are the mint ones. I have one from last year and one from this year (because I forgot about the one from last year), and just in the last week or two the sun has finally come out, it's been hot and summery, and the mint has exploded in joyous celebration. And because they're spearmint, they're perfect for mojitos. So that's what we did tonight. Pitchers of mojitos. I won't post the recipe because the one I followed was for drinks by the glass, so we faked it, and also the internets are groaning under the weight of all the different mojito recipes out there.

They do all have the same basics, though: rum (golden or white), fresh lime juice, sugar syrup, mint, muddled in a glass, topped up with ice and then club soda, and a straw if you're the kind of person who has straws at home.

Yes, you can buy basil and mint - and everything else - at the store, but it's sure nice not to have to.

July 11, 2010

Success: Creole Potato Salad

This potato salad involved a lot of chopping, and thus gives a novice chef plenty of opportunity to practice her knife skills on potatoes, onions, celery, peppers and eggs. One of the earliest lessons at Rouxbe Online Video Cooking School is on knife skills, and the words that stuck with me from that one are to the effect that, when your knife is in motion, you need to keep your eyes on the area between your knuckles (never fingertips) and the blade of your knife. And indeed, you look away at your peril, as I reminded myself today.  Ow ow ow friggin' ow.

'Nuff said. On to the recipe. I had new potatoes hanging about, so decided to make a potato salad because I haven't made one in forever. And I don't think I've ever made one with new potatoes. New red potatoes, no less, because red potatoes are my favourite. The picture? Oh, the picture is of IKEA's Charm egg slicer, which enabled me to chop the egg for my salad, without actually needing a knife. Charm, indeed. I'm very glad I spent that $1.99.

Creole Potato Salad

This is a great make-ahead salad, as extra time chilling in the refrigerator helps the flavors sink into the potatoes. (From Simply Recipes)


  • 2 pounds Yukon gold or new potatoes, scrubbed clean (peel on or off, your choice), cut in 1 to 2-inch chunks
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup Creole mustard
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (less or more to taste)
  • Salt
  • Cajun seasoning, for garnish


  1. Place potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water by an inch. (If you haven't already hard boiled the eggs, you can boil the eggs with the potatoes.) Bring to a boil and add about a teaspoon of salt. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander.
  2. While you are boiling the potatoes, mix the sugar, vinegar, mayonnaise and mustard in with the celery, peppers and onion in a large bowl.
  3. While the potatoes are still warm, gently mix them in with the dressing. Stirring them in while warm will allow the potatoes to soak in the seasonings better.
  4. Gently fold the chopped hard boiled eggs into the potato mixture until well combined. Taste the potato salad and add salt to taste. Put the salad in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.
Serve chilled, garnished with paprika or Cajun seasoning.

Serves 6-8.

If you don't have creole mustard (as I didn't), you can make your own. The internets have several recipes for this. I chose this one for its brevity. Link

Creole Mustard

6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce or hot sauce

Mix all together.  Yields 1/4 cup.

(Though come to think of it, I used regular yellow mustard, not Dijon. Must change that for next time.) This makes a boatload of dressing, let me say, and I worried that it would be too much. And it might have been, but then again, I had slightly less than two full pounds of spuds by the time I'd washed and trimmed 'em, so maybe that made a difference. However, the hot potatoes do in fact absorb the dressing, and it was a heck of a lot less gloopy after an hour or two in the fridge than it was when it went in.  And I didn't have any Cajun seasoning, so had to settle for Tex-Mex, but I'm not sure it makes any difference; you don't use that much of it.

I call this one a success because S liked it. And so did I. Also, it makes a LOT if there's just two of you, so I've got a lot of leftovers. Think I'll take them to work, to share, because much as I like it, I'll weary of it before I can finish all that.

July 9, 2010

I'm a Culinary Student now!

I did it. I enrolled in culinary school. Quit my job, reconciled my husband to the temporary loss of income, and committed the next two years of my life to becoming a professional chef.

Okay, not really. But I did buy a year's membership to the Rouxbe Online Video Cooking School. My 14-day free trial ended today, and in the last two weeks, I have viewed 67% of the online video cooking lessons, achieved an average 95% on the related quizzes, and learned absolutely heaps, starting with how to test a pan for appropriate heat before adding either oil or food, to how to choose and hone knives, to how to use those knives to cut absolutely anything, safely. Food safety, how to cook eggs, steaks, poultry, vegetables. How to steam, how to pan-fry, how to braise, how to roast. How to make stock and broth, and what is the difference between the two, anyway (stock is made from bones; broth is made from meat on the bone).

It's fascinating. And really inspiring. I have hardly had any occasion to use any of the stuff I've learned, yet (except for last weekend's direct application of the technique on "How to Segment Citrus Fruit"), but I have learned heaps, and I'm quite excited to start trying some stuff. My Beloved is going to some NHRA event in Seattle on Sunday, so I'm hoping to be trying my hand at some bread, if it's not too hot out to have the oven on. 

July 4, 2010

Experimenting: It's what's for dinner!

There are a few recipes the Beloved and I have been antsy to try, and this weekend - well, today - was our chance! Our football team was playing an away game today, so we had our football friends D&D over for a barbecue. And, like my mother always does, I pulled out the "try ASAP" file and plucked out a few recipes. (What? Doesn't everyone experiment on company? Why else have anyone over?)

Full story and a couple of pictures after the jump.