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A Treatise on Mayonnaise

July 28, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve always been a fan of mayonnaise.  Most of my experience with it was with the jarred variety: Hellmans first, now Duke’s.  I like the additional tang of Duke’s mayonnaise, and it’s my go-to for general sandwich making.

Recently, however, I’ve been making mayonnaise at home – it’s not as hard as it sounds.  If you can get yourself over the raw egg hurdle and can operate either a blender or whisk, it’s actually quite easy.  While I usually like to avoid recipes and encourage creativity in the kitchen, the egg yolk has a limit to how much fat can be incorporated until the sauce “breaks” (more on that later), so I will give you the basic elements.  The recipe starts with 2 egg yolks and 1.5 cups of the oil of your choice.  To make the standard recipe, you’ll also need a splash of a vinegar or acid (white vinegar, champagne vinegar, or lemon all work well), a small amount of prepared dijon mustard or dry mustard powder, and some cayenne if you like spice.  Mix the egg yolks with everything but the oil, then slowly drizzle the oil in as you stir vigorously.  The same process applies with a blender – all ingredients except the oil are blended first, then the oil is drizzled in as the blender spins.  Not too difficult, eh?

I like two things most about homemade mayonnaise: it’s a culinary blank slate, with endless variations possible, and it’s a versatile player in the kitchen.  Other variations?  Any chopped herb you can think of; pureed and roasted garlic or tomatoes;  pesto or other herb paste; wasabi or curry paste; capers or chopped pickles; chili or curry powder; or different oils can all be used to alter the taste to your liking.  These are best added after you finish the sauce.  Chicken or tuna salad both turn from the mundane to the special with homemade mayonnaise.  Buy tuna that’s packed in oil and use that oil in making your mayonnaise, which will give additional depth to the salad.  It’s a great sauce for poached fish or chicken and can also stand up to grilled fish with the right additions.  It’s a great dip for vegetables, chips, or fries.  What can’t it do?

If pour the oil in too quickly, your emulsification will break – the oil will separate from the yolk.  There are several ways to fix this, both preemptively and once it has happened.  Using a bit of prepared mustard will help the yolk and the oil mix better and stay emulsified.  If the sauce breaks despite this, take a small amount into another bowl, mix with a few drops of water, and whisk vigorously until the emulsion reforms.  Add more of the broken sauce, and whisk again until it comes back together.  Keep doing this until you have mixed it back together.  Don’t get discouraged if this happens.

If you made it this far and still think you need a recipe, try this.  I won’t judge you (too much).  For more info, you can also go here.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Stunt Eater Review: Beer Run, Again

July 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Since I last reviewed Beer Run, I made it a point to go back there as well as to do some thinking.

At first, I felt a little guilty for not giving a glowing review.  After all, the owners are surely nice people that are just trying to make some scratch.  And who am I to give middling reviews anonymously?  On the other hand, I had a minor epiphany last night.  The person I was with mentioned that one of the issues he has with the restaurant is the atmosphere.  It struck me that Beer Run sits in an awkward middle ground: more than a sandwich place, less than a fine dining place; more than a beer store, less than a bar. It is the middle ground between Bel Air Market, the uniquely Charlottesvillian gourmet gas station,  and our example of extreme thinking gone wrong (and out of business), Fuel Co.  You don’t go to Bel Air for the ambience – you get your sandwich and maybe you eat it while you watch people fill up their cars.  Fuel Co’s concept of fine dining and gasoline was, at best, flawed, and at worst, fatal.  If you go, your expectations should be set above “Bel  Air” and below “Fuel.”  However, I do hope that they fare better than Fuel.

As far as the food and service go, my opinion hasn’t changed.  Service is attentive and they serve great beers well.  The nachos are pretty good and the sandwiches are affordable.  The burger is still $13, which is a stretch.  They won’t beat Continental Divide’s nachos, which deserve a treatise themselves, but they are worth ordering again simply because they are reasonably priced, taste pretty good, and they are great to eat with beer.  In the end, Beer Run is worth a trip if you’re bored of your usual casual restaurants and want to try something new or if you’re looking to pick up a six pack and some food, but don’t expect fine dining.

Categories: Restaurant Reviews

An Open Letter to the Hungarian Baker Lady

July 22, 2008 Leave a comment

I love your poppy seed rolls.  You sell them on most Saturday mornings at the C-ville Produce Market.

Whenever my grandmother used to visit, it seemed like the trunk of her car would be filled with baked goods.  Chocolate chip cookies, angel food cake, pie – it was all there.  However, the thing I looked forward to the most was her poppy rolls.

It’s relatively simple: a yeast dough, a jar of poppy seed filling, perhaps some golden raisins, rolled up like a jelly roll and baked.  To my young mind, it seemed more like alchemy; she turned something that went on top of bagels and sandwich rolls into a mysterious sweet filling.  Of course, it was baked with love.

So, thanks to the Hungarian baker lady for keeping those delicious memories alive.

Categories: An Open Letter

Thinking Like a Chef

July 17, 2008 Leave a comment

My wife and I subscribe to Horse and Buggy Produce , a local CSA.  We get the benefit of farm-fresh local produce without the hassle.  While most of the produce is familiar, some is not or it can arrive in greater quantity than we are prepared for.  It occurred to me that this was more a test of my cooking philosophy than it was a way to churn through new recipes. 

One of the dishes I’ve taken to making is a summer vegetable “ragu” – a sautéed mix of diced zucchini and squash.  If we have tomatoes, they get chopped and tossed in.  Corn?  Definitely.  Peas?  Sure.  A little white wine works if you have it.  It can work with a variety of fresh herbs, but I especially like basil and thyme right now.  I finish it with some good olive oil at the end and fresh a few grinds of black pepper.  The ragu itself is just a framework, though, a way to take summer’s bounty in front of you and cook it respectfully. 

The ragu works as a sauce for pasta – last summer, I tossed it with penne, a little balsamic, and topped the plate with shaved parmesan.  This week, it’s been used as a base for some grilled salmon.  The next night, we mixed the leftover ragu with cous cous to make a salad to serve with grilled shrimp.  It would be equally great stirred into or set on top of a risotto.  With different herbs and spices, it can move from a dish with more Mediterranean sensibilities to something a little bit more Indian.  So many different forks in the culinary road, all based on this simple sauté.   

Tom Colicchio’s book Think Like A Chef  puts this way of thinking into better-edited words.  His book is a study of the thought process behind building a dish, starting from a single basic element, and then putting that element into different dishes in different ways.  It’s a beautiful way of thinking about food, one that moves away from recipes and towards an evolutionary perspective on how a dish can work.  I’d highly recommend it, especially if what I’ve said resonates with you.

Categories: Uncategorized

Fresh Links

So many good articles, so little time to pontificate.  The second one is a rediscovered gem.  The last two clearly deserve their own post, and may eventually migrate, but for now, read on.

 

 

Categories: Fresh Links

America’s Best Barbeque?

Concierge.com posted this list of barbeque spots across the US.   Normally, these kinds of lists incense and enrage me; they recommend chain restaurants or the most popular places and have little regard for the kind of delicious, hand-crafted barbeque that gets me excited.  However, this list doesn’t suck too bad.  

As some of you know, I am a major barbeque fanatic.  I’m also a rigid, dogmatic purist when it comes to barbeque.   I could not care less how you spell it – it’s all in how you cook it.  It’s got to be cooked with low heat near (not on top of) a wood-based fire, and although I prefer pork as a matter of principle, I’ll accept almost anything in a pinch.  If it’s made in a slow cooker, I might punch you in the throat if you call it barbeque.  With that, let’s dissect a few areas of the list.

Memphis: It’s a start when Concierge.com recommends Cozy Corner instead of Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous as a source of real Memphis-style barbeque.  You could argue that Rendezvous was the originator of Memphis competition-style dry ribs, and I wouldn’t argue with you that much.  I would debate whether the Rendezvous is real barbeque, as their website even states that their ribs are “charcoal broiled” instead of barbequed.  So, Concierge.com gets a pass. 

If you’re ever in Memphis, I would highly recommend BBQ Shop and The Commissary as additional palces to get delicious barbeque.  Apparently, BBQ Shop is home to the original BBQ spaghetti recipe, and while I am not a huge fan of barbeque spaghetti, I have been known to destroy some barbeque nachos, which BBQ Shop and Rendezvous both have. 

California: I do take issue with the inclusion of the Hitching Post.  It’s not barbeque.  It may be delicious (who doesn’t like grilled meat?), but it’s not the technical definition of barbeque.  If they do to barbeque what they did to sushi in California, I’ll be pissed.

New YorkPlataforma Churrascaria is not barbeque and should not be on a barbeque list.   I am surprised to see that place included, but others not, as there has been a rash of “real” barbeque restaurants opening in New York City recently.  Either the transplanted southerners have finally revolted or New Yorkers have discovered “a quaint southern culinary tradition.”  I’ve eaten at Hill Country  and have been told that Blue Smoke and Dinosaur BBQ both good.  My experience with Hill Country’s Texas-style barbeque was positive – the brisket, sausage, chicken, and cornish game hen were all nicely flavored, as were the multitude of available sides.  However, I couldn’t help but think that the restaurant had veered into theme restaurant territory.  Any food, including barbeque, needs to have proper context in order for it to work.  The meal, served in New York, in a restaurant that is a facsimile of the old Kreutz Market is not necessarily the greatest context in which to enjoy barbeque.

I’m also surprised that there was no mention of Arthur Bryant’s, which may or may not be the best restaurant in America, according to Calvin Trillin.

This mildly divergent rant has sapped me of energy and made me hungry for some good barbeque.  I believe I know what I’ll be doing this weekend. 

Categories: Uncategorized