Saturday, December 23, 2006
As Chuck Boyd has observed, several more of Charleston restaurants have gone 100% smoke free of their own volition.
I'd seen quite a few articles about The Sanctuary on Kiawah, the Wentworth House downtown, and the Woodlands in Summerville getting five-diamond ratings from AAA. But now the stories appear to have gotten picked up as far away as Canada. Too much more press like this and Charleston may turn into a tourist destination.
Posted at 7:02 PM
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Posted at 6:28 AM
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
Like much of the prepared guacamole sold in supermarkets, Kraft guacamole is essentially a whipped paste made from partially hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, corn syrup, whey and food starch. Yellow and blue dyes give it the green color.
Of course, no story is ever quite what it seems. As it turns out, the woman bringing suit against Kraft is a serial plaintiff in class-action lawsuit against corporations, and Kraft's "Guacamole dip" isn't even all that popular. But still--green-dyed whipped oil/sugar paste? Gargh.
And, Kraft isn't the only one skinny-dipping us on the avocado. Thank God there are plenty of lawyers out there who are selfless enough to protect us.
Posted at 9:22 AM
Sunday, December 17, 2006
But, I can't recall ever having seen triggerfish on a restaurant menu before the fall of 2006.
Posted at 7:45 PM
Saturday, December 16, 2006
I am a notorious fan of economical cuts of meat (flat iron steak, for example). Taking an inexpensive cut and transforming it through braising and reduction into a fine dinner satisfies both my inner gourmet and my inner cheapskate. So, it was with great joy that I found a nice selection of sirloin tip side steak at my local grocery store--.85 lbs at $3.89 lb, for a total of just $3.31 for two serving's worth.
And here's what I did with them:
Braised Sirloin Tip Steaks
Approx. 1 lb sirloin tip side steaks or other inexpensive "braising" steaks
1/2 white onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled & finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
approx. 2 T minced parsely
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 glass of red wine
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, adding in a drizzle of olive oil when the pan is hot.
2. Season the steaks liberally with kosher salt and pepper and add to the pan.
4. Cook until steaks are fully brown and vegetables are cooked translucent.
5. Add the red wine to the pan and let it reduce away, stirring up all the crispy bits at the bottom of the pan.
7. Allow to simmer, turning the steaks occassionally, for between 1 and 1-1/2 hours until the meat is tender.
8. Remove the steaks to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
9. Strain the vegetables and cooking liquid through a sieve into a bowl, pressing and mashing the vegetables to extract all the juices. Discard the vegetables.
10. Return the pan to the stove, turn heat to high, and add in the cooking liquid. Cook over high heat until reduced to a thick sauce.
11. Put the steaks on plates and drizzle with the reduced sauce.
I served my sirloin tip side steaks with some white rice and crusty bread and it was so good I forgot to take a photo of the finished product until I had almost finished the entire plate (and nothing looks more unappetizing than photos of half-eaten food!)
Braise, braise, braise, then reduce, reduce, reduce the cooking liquid. It can turn even the lowliest cuts of meat into an uptown meal.
Posted at 9:28 PM
Sunday, December 10, 2006
1. Stop using margarine and start using butter. This has nothing to do with the health benefits of one over the other (and who can keep track of the latest scientific consensus, anyway). Butter has a creaminess and a texture and an enriching quality that you just can't get from margarine, which is essential salty vegetable oil, and it is indispensible for so many classic recipes. Unsalted butter is best--you can always add salt to a dish, but you can't take it away.
2. Use wine to deglaze pans. This is a simple step that adds so much. I keep a four-pack of those small bottles of white wine (the single-serving size) in my refrigerator for just this purpose.
3. Don't thicken sauces with flour or constarch: reduce them instead. Using a lot of flour to thicken sauces dates back to the days of Scientific Cookery in the late 19th Century, but it can be a crutch that ruins the texture of sauces. It's a snap to stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour to thicken something up; using cornstarch is even easier. But, they introduce an unpleasant gummy texture and, since they replace the long-simmering time required to make reduced sauces, result in a less-flavorful sauce. It's a shortcut that isn't worth it. Just turn up the heat and let the sauce bubble away until it is reduced down to the thickness you desire.
4. Make your own stock and use it liberally. Non-cooks seem to be overly impressed (or just puzzled) by people who make their own stock. I'm not sure why. It may take hours of cooking time, but the actual work involved is minimal--you just put a pot of water on to boil and toss in some meaty bones or chicken carcasses and some roughly chopped vegetables. Even if you roast your bones and vegetables first and skim the stock while it simmers, it's just not very labor intensive. And the payoff is huge. Using stock in dishes adds so much more flavor--and complexity of flavor--that once you start cooking with it, it's hard to imagine going back. It's an essential component of many classic sauces, and certainly a key for "high cuisine", but it also makes every day recipes--like chili and spagehetti sauce--richer and more flavorful as well. And, if you make a big pot you can freeze it in plastic containers and always have it on hand for cooking.
5. Control your own spices. The supermarket boasts dozens of pre-made spice mixes, like "chili seasoning" and "Italian Herbs", that are convenient but take all control of the flavoring away from you. Many contain non-spice additive like starch or MSG that, like using flour in sauces, is a shortcut way to get some thickness or body to cooking but, ultimately, result in an industrial aftertaste to food. It takes trial and error to learn what spices go well together and in what proportion, but over time you will achieve far, far better flavor than you would if you rely on a packaged mix to do it for you.
6. Get a good chef's knife and learn to chop and dice. I got a good chef's knife as a wedding present, and I'll never go back. There's no need to drop 75 bucks on a package that comes with 12 different knives (most of them serrated, which is the only way to make cheap metal able to cut) and a block to store them in. The same $75 will buy you a nice chef's knife, and that's really all you need--and I mean really. I have only two other knives (a thin boning knife and a bread knife), but in a pinch the chef's knife could substitute for either of them. Spend a little extra for a steel and keep the knife sharp.
Those chef-sized knives with a serrated edge are next to useless (q.v. bad kitchen equipment)--you can only use them for sawing, not chopping or slicing. With the cheapy knives (or a dull good knife), you'll never be able to chop or dice vegetables finely, which cuts out a whole spectrum of cooking. Once you have your good knife, it will be a prized tool for years to come.
These are just a few of my favorite kitchen lessons: I'll add some more down the road. I love hearing what other cooks have found to be their key tips and tricks, so please share!
Posted at 9:16 PM
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Josh M, a student at MUSC, has started a new blog devoted to South Carolina barbecue. Just a few posts so far, but let's hope he keeps it going.
What does Brown's Barbeque in Kingstree, the Chestnut Grille in Orangeburg, and The Beacon in Spartanburg have in common? As the Post and Courier notes, they are all regular pit stops on the South Carolina political circuit. The Sunset Restaurant, a meat-and-three in West Columbia, is another noted hot spot (Republican, in this case) that didn't make the list.
A host of Charleston retaurants, including FIG, The Boulevard Diner, The Noisy Oyster, and Charleston's Cafe will be featured on the Food Network's "Hungry Detective" program Tuesday night (Dec 12th) at 10:30 PM.
Posted at 6:18 AM