episode 48 :: giving thanks

I’ve never understood why we only choose the fourth Thursday of every November to gather with our families, make food the center focus of the day, and give thanks for the wonderful things in our lives.  Why can’t every day be Thanksgiving?  Isn’t it time we take time out of every day to focus on enjoying our family, sharing a great meal, and talking to one another?

In this week’s episode, we visit the home of my good friend Afaf, who was born and raised in Syria.  As you’ll hear in our conversation, a day that resembles our Thanksgiving happens every day in Syria. At around 2:00 PM, the city shuts down, everyone returns home, and the family enjoys a big meal.  They spend two hours eating, talking, laughing, singing, praying, whatever.  The bottom line is, they stop everything to enjoy the things in their lives that matter to them the most. The only thing missing is watching the Lions get their asses handed to them in front of a national audience.  But who’d miss that?


Listen to episode 48 now

Afaf shares her history in Syrian cooking, how she was brought up to cook the smaller dishes as her mother focused on the main meal.  And as she settled into living in America, she began to miss the food of her home country. This prompted her to explore the idea of obtaining fresh ingredients, spending the countless hours (and sometimes days) it takes to make some of these intricate dishes.

More than anything, Afaf shares the ideologies behind Syrian culture, and why food is so important to them.

Later, we enter Afaf’s kitchen, where she shows me how to make Kebbeh, both baked and fried.  Believe me, it sounds easy and even looks easy, but that’s the magic of Afaf’s abilities in the kitchen.  It’s an involved process, and the results are beyond delicious.

Check out Afaf’s pictures on making Kebbeh here. If you’d like to try making Kebbeh at home, get the recipe and illustrated directions on Afaf’s web site.

Thanks for listening, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Great Northern California Duck Off

[In a continuing series of firsts for My Life as a Foodie, we have our first guest blogger. Thanks to Rick Sellers from Pacific Brew News for bringing this incredible story to us, and his fantastic pictures of an event that further proves that I live in the wrong part of California. I am honored to have one of my favorite wordsmiths sharing his storytelling talent on my blog.]

There’s a clear disconnect in our society and its relationship with food, I don’t think this is a news flash for the readers of My Life as a Foodie. Since the industrialization of food in America, we’ve witnessed a growing chasm between the fork and the field. It’s sad, when you think of it, that some of our modern heroes are people like Tony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver and Michael Polan; people that buck the system and eat the way we used to 70 years ago. It’s almost appalling, actually, that an entire generation of people can’t even cook their own food, let alone grow it, kill it, clean it and prepare it. Still, given the alternative, it’s obvious we need icons like these, people to help remind us who we used to be.

In Northern California we have a food hero of our own. He’s not a boisterous man with catch phrases or a TV show. In the food world, some might have said he’s just a food blogger, one of hundreds or thousands. We know, however, that this isn’t true. In 2009 Hank Shaw was nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award for food writing, as an amateur! His secret? Well, he’s sorta found a way to connect with the world around him. He hunts, loves to fish, gardens and forages the countryside for foods we’ve all but forgot about. He’s the Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook – incidentally the name of his blog.

Since his nomination Hank’s status around Sacramento has surged. Given his newfound celebrity status, I guess it was inevitable that his food prowess would be capitalized by someone local, someone who shares passions for local and sustainable food. Enter Chef Michael Tuohy of Grange Restaurant in downtown Sacramento. “The Grange” is quick to tout the use of local ingredients in their kitchen, but it isn’t till you ask that you learn they also bring in whole animals (pigs, goats) grown locally to be butchered on site, making sure to utilize the whole beast.

With their common food interests, it seemed only natural that Tuohy and Shaw would team up – and team up they did! On November 12th the duo hosted The Great Duck Off, a competition-styled event where each would put out dishes for judging – much like you’d see on Iron Chef – with one common ingredient, wild duck shot locally by Hank.

Now, there’s something to the Duck Off that need to be explained. First, the judges were given samples of the wild duck, the public was served free-range duck grown locally. Second, the judges weren’t just friends and parents of the cooks, they included Darrell “I sell groceries” Corti (owner of Corti Bros), Sacramento Bee’s Food and Wine editor Rick Kushman and writer Niesha Lofing and California Waterfowl Association president Bob McLandress.

Easily, the most impressive name on the list of judges for me is Mr. Corti, the man is known the world over for his palate and passion for food, evidenced in every aisle of his store. When the judges spoke, they all carried weight, but the room seemed most captivated by the words that fell out of Darrell’s mouth.

It should be noted, getting slightly ahead of myself, that Corti had significant praise for the dishes put out by Hank Shaw, the challenger in this event. I can’t claim to know Hank more than his online persona, but I’m guessing Corti’s praise made his day.

The Event

Both chefs showed up for competition at 7:00am to begin the day-long preparation. By the time I arrived at 2:30 in the afternoon they were wrapping up the heavy lifting in the downstairs kitchen and moving the day’s work upstairs in the exhibition kitchen. Moments before I met Chefs Tuohy and Shaw, the unthinkable happened – the large wheeled cart that was carrying the labors of the day collapsed.

I wasn’t there, don’t have any details beyond that, but let’s just say the first face-to-face introduction with both chefs was understandably short. Each made quick order of trying to get back on schedule for their deadline with the judges, a more challenging task for Hank who was trying to familiarize himself with the new surroundings.

I must admit, watching the chefs working side by side, back to back, it didn’t come across as a competition. While Hank’s been out of the pro-kitchen surroundings for years, the two seemed to work in harmony, staying out of each other’s way (more than I did) and communicating effectively when needed. Still, regardless of the level of competition felt, this would have made for great television. Chefs mentally tracking time as they season, sear, chop and plate – always cognizant of the time and seeming more at ease with each passing minute.

For the first plating the judges reviewed, both chefs offered a selection of small bites. Hank Shaw’s plates featured something he called The Way to a Duck’s Heart is Through His Stomach:

• hand-cut duck sausage stuffed in a snow goose’s neck
• confit of gizzards with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms
• duck heart tartare

Chef Tuohy’s presentation was called Duck Liver Three Ways:

• crispy polenta fried with duck fat mayonnaise
• creamy duck liver mousse with pickled French prune
• grilled on a rosemary skewer with fig-balsamic preserve

To be frank, I believe a couple of the judges had some textural issues with the meats in front of them. Had nothing to do with the chefs, but perhaps a psychological aversion to such rich and savory items – stemming back to days of youth. Still, the judges made a good face of it and did the work they were charged to do. Corti’s words on the dish clearly carried the most weight, and it was clear that he was pleased. Unfortunately for the chefs, it was clear they had to be on to the next course before hearing the commentary. For those in the crowd, this is what we were here for – and how I wish there’d been a video camera running.

The second courses didn’t have the visual appeal of the first, but I believe were even more interesting for the palate.

Hank’s plate? Duck Sugo
• Served over handmade barley pappardelle made with duck eggs

Chef Tuohy: Warm Duck Rillette
• Fuyu persimmon & pomegranate salad

I can’t claim to have tried all (or even most) of the dishes presented to the judges, but I did have some of the duck-pasta made by Hank – it was my favorite dish. Not that this carries any weight, just thought I’d share.

The final course for the judges was a seductive offering, the aromas and visual impressions were absolutely incredible.

Hank’s Plate:

Ducks in the Orchard
• seared mallard breast with apples that were cooked in duck fat, served with reduced cider, mint and a little chile

Chef Tuohy:

Pan Roasted Duck Breast
• celery root & parsnip puree, roasted porcini & matsutake mushrooms and black truffle sauce

If you haven’t figured out yet, this was a pretty spectacular event.

The Results

At the end of the day the votes had to be cast and a winner announced. While the judges sided with Chef Touhy, Darrell Corti said the competition was a draw and said his favorite dish of the day was Shaw’s confit was the dish of the day. What’s more, all judges agreed that Hank’s Duck in the Orchard plate was their second favorite dish – how can you complain about that? I truly hope that this is just the first of an annual friendly competition between these two culinary talents. Not only is it fun to be around, I believe it’s good for Sacramento foodies and the public overall.

You see, at the end of the day the event was covered by the local news outlets (TV and print) and the message of eating local and sustainable was put out, even if only in small doses. If only a handful of people who saw the event in the news thought twice about where their food came from, it wouldn’t matter who won or how much publicity was garnered – it would have been worth the effort.

For those lucky enough to attend the public dinner that followed, there’s little doubt the labor and time involved was worth it – the meal was a knock-out! Five course of duck in all its glory. Thanks to Hank and Michael, as well as the staff at Grange Restaurant. Additionally, congratulations to both chefs.

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love at the pub :: a conversation with mary jane mahan

Listen to the interview with Mary Jane Mahan now!

To honor today’s release of the new book “Love at the Pub,” we have an added bonus to episode 47 – a special interview with the books author Mary Jane Mahan. She loves craft beer with a passion, and it shows.

Listen to My Life as a Foodie Listen to the interview now

Mary Jane shares her passion for the Brick Store Pub, the community atmosphere that surrounds it, and her love for all things craft beer.  Rated #2 in the country by Beer Advocate, the pub is the foundation of the people who make up the community of Decatur, Georgia. It’s a pillar of strength for anyone who advocates good beer, good food, and a place where you can hang your  hat and feel at home.

Buy “Love at the Pub” on Amazon.com or directly from the books web site www.loveathepub.com. 10% of Love at the Pub profits will be donated to SkaterAid, a youth skate and music event that benefits families dealing with pediatric cancer.

Also, don’t forget to check out the one-of-a-kind true vision of the perfect American pub at www.brickstorepub.com

Happy Veterans Day, troops!  Thank you for all you’ve done, all that you do, and all that you will continue to do to make us safe.

episode 47 :: ad hoc at home

episode 47 :: ad hoc at home

My favorite restaurant finally comes home. With the recent release of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook, my kitchen is complete. It’s a book filled with recipes for family-style comfort meals, cooked with French techniques, as only Thomas Keller can do.

In episode 47, I recap my recent Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Kit experiment, and share the recipe from the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook (kind of – you need to buy the book if you want real measurements), and compare how the recipe and techniques from the book compare to the store-bought kit.

Listen to My Life as a Foodie Listen to the episode now.

Topics:
• Food Inc. DVD deleted scenes – worth the price of the entire disc
Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook, and the Cookbook @ Home blogging craze
• How the Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Kit compares to the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook recipe
• Anthony Bourdain’s Alternate Universe – Is this where Tony jumps an animated shark?
• Paula Deen’s Donut Burger – Is it hers, or is it verboten to call her out?
• Top 10 worst dining trends in the last decade
• David Chang – the next big rock star chef, or just another asshole in the kitchen?

Purchase Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home here.

Music in this episode from Chevelle. Download the song in the iTunes store, and visit their web site www.chevelleinc.com

Special thanks to VBS.TV for the feature on Chef David Chang from Momofuku. Watch the whole thing in its entirety here.

NOTE: I recorded this show just short of the Podcast Awards nominations, so I was unable to include the results of nominations on the show.  Unfortunately, we did not make it this year, but I thank all of you who took the time out of your day to nominate the show. Apparently, we didn’t make the grade this time around.

However, our good friend Bob at The Baub Show did get nominated in the Entertainment category, and I hope all of you can show some love for Bob once nominations open November 13th. I am very proud of him and his show, and I’m urging all of you to help Bob launch his way to the top.   His show is awesome, and it would be a well deserved award for him.

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Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Kit

Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Kit from Williams-Sonoma

I love eating at Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s casual restaurant in Yountville just a block away from Bouchon and the tiny Bouchon Bakery.  Their prix fixe $49 menu never disappoints us when we visit.  As I’ve said twice on the show before (here and here), it’s like eating a home cooked meal prepared by a top-tier kitchen staff.

Because we live so far away from the restaurant, we’re not able to go as often as we’d like to.  In fact, Arnold at inuyaki.com takes the cake, having been to the restaurant 30 times in 2 1/2 years. Oh how nice it must be to live that close to all the good stuff.

One of the meals regulars like Arnold rave about, that we’ve never been fortunate enough to enjoy, is their weekly “Fried Chicken Night” on Mondays. Keller loves making fried chicken, and I have only heard great things about this weekly meal at Ad Hoc.

Enter the Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Kit from Williams-Sonoma (available in stores only – no longer available online).  What appears as a small flour sack contains packages of brine and coating mix to make two batches of fried chicken.

Brine and Coating Mix

When made according to the inconceivably precise directions on the back of the bag, it’s like eating at Ad Hoc on the infamous Monday night everyone raves so much about.

The first step was simple.  In a large pot, combine the contents of the bag of brine mixture with 6 1/2 cups of water, bring it to a boil, then allow to cool in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Brine

While the brine was cooling, I figured I’d get to work on the chicken. We eat a lot of chicken in our house. Two or three times a week, usually. So I’ve had a lot of practice carving these birds.

Chicken

I cut the chicken into 8 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and 2 breasts).  After taking this picture below, I re-read the instructions which said to cut the beasts into halves.  So I did that.  Again, if you’re cooking Keller, do what the man tells you to.

Chicken pieces

Once the brine was cool, I dropped the pieces into the solution, pressing to submerge them as completely as I could. Then I covered it, and put it into the refrigerator to begin the brining process.

Chicken in brine

Guess how long the brining process takes.  EIGHT TO TWELVE HOURS!

Yeah, that’s what I said too.

That seemed a little long for me.  I was happy to get an early start on this project, but at this rate we were looking at a pretty late dinner.  On the weekends, we tend to eat earlier because I have more time to cook and prepare. This was going to be pushing it a little.

After the 8 hours were up, I took the brine from the refrigerator, removed the chicken pieces and rinsed them with cold water to remove any herbs and spices that were sticking to them. After drying them with paper towels, I allowed them to sit at room temperature for a while.  I took this time to make my fry station, splitting the coating mix between two plates, and 3 cups of buttermilk in a bowl between them.

Fry Station

I heated my peanut oil to 330 degrees, then started coating my chicken pieces one at a time.  Starting with the legs and thighs (directions were very specific about which pieces to do first), I dredged the chicken in the coating mix, dipped it in the buttermilk, then dredged it in the second plate of mix until thickly coated. The directions stated not to shake off the excess, so I didn’t.  After all of the chicken pieces were coated, it was time to start frying this stuff, two pieces at a time.

Everyone in the pool!

Almost finished piece of fried chicken

I started with the legs and thighs, frying them for 10-13 minutes until they were golden brown.  When the pieces were finished, I transfered them to a paper-towel lined rack to drain.  The breasts and wings came next, which took less time to cook – about 6 minutes.  It was at this time that my oil became really nasty looking. Some of the batter found it’s way into the pot of oil, and I realized my temperature had gotten to 350 degrees at some point as well.  This had no apparent affect on the chicken, but the oil was definitely toast.

I served the chicken with biscuits, herbed mashed potatoes, and chicken gravy I made using some stock prepared from the neck, back, and bones from the cut up fryer.

Dinner's ready!

So how was it?  It was delicious – that’s how it was.  The meat was remarkably juicy and tender, and had a pleasant lemony flavor to it.  The brine certainly did this, and it helped tighten the skin as well, which helped the crust.

The crust itself was OK, but not as crunchy as I thought it might be.  After having experimented with Trisol, I’m kind of spoiled in that regard.  Nothing will ever be crunchier than that.  Overall, the flavor of the chicken far outweighed the flavor of the crust.

Either it was really delicious or we were both famished from the 12 hour wait for dinner, but this plate says it better than I can.

Complete slop - ever again!

I’m going to try Keller’s recipe from the September 2008 issue of Bon Appetit next, followed by the recipe in the new Ad Hoc at Home he’s recently released.  It will be interesting to see how they fare compared to this.

Supplies may be limited, but look for this mix in  the Williams-Sonoma store near you.  And buy Ad Hoc at Home, so you can start enjoying the comforts of Ad Hoc at home.

Wow.  That sounded just as weird as it looked when I wrote it.

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