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April 21, 2014

Leg of Lamb: Easter Sunday




Well. Yesterday was Easter. This is the Christian holiday where the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Probably the holiest of weeks for Christians like myself. It's the center of the faith. The lamb also had some important significance. In Exodus, it was the blood of a Passover lamb that was painted over the home's of the children of Israel. Every door with the lamb's blood painted over it, the Angel of Death passed that home. Lambs were also part of daily temple sacrifices in the Old Testament as well. Jeremiah also wrote about one being like "naive as a lamb
being led to slaughter (1) and through that, Israel would be redeemed through this sacrifice. Lamb was also a big item in Passover feasts as well (in particular, in the Old Testament days). In the modern day, I'm not as certain. I've heard debates on both sides (specifically, eating the entire lamb and how the lamb is prepared. Some of those who don't is due to what I understand as the Paschal sacrifice. (2)

The pictures you see are of the lamb my parents and I ate. This was Easter dinner last night. We also had sweet potatoes and white asparagus. In the moment, I was not going to touch on this. Then I recalled that I did an Easter lamb recipe a while back. Mom, as usual, did a wonderful job with it. Unlike the lamb recipe I did before, this one was much simpler. The breakdown is below.  
1. Mom purchased a 7-lb leg of lamb. I know you can get a roast or something of the like. The leg is VERY flavorful and obviously, more meat to enjoy. The bone was also left in. 
2. What did she use to season it? Pretty simple. She used Kosher salt, crushed pepper, a touch of oregano, some granulated garlic (since we had no fresh garlic on hand)  & rosemary. Maybe next time, I could create some sauce to compliment it instead of using a crust as I did before. 

3.  She roasted it at 325 degrees F (or 190 C) for about 4 hours (25 minutes/pound). She cooked it to rare to medium rare for a couple of reasons. The first is she knows that's the way I like it. Also, there's a pretty simple trick to cook it a bit more. Just put it in a skillet of stove flat top and cook a piece to your liking. I don't suggest going past medium. Next time and if time allows, I'll pull out the grill and do it there. I touched on making a side sauce like something cream-based. The thing is the meat itself is good on its own. 


As you can see, sometimes the simple works better than the complex. Any other questions, feel free to ask. Sorry I didn't show this plated so I hope this does the job. 


Work Cited:
1. Jeremiah 11:19 (The Message)
2. "Eating Lamb for Passover", Ask Rabbi Lerner, http://judaism.about.com/library/3_askrabbi_c/bl_pesachlamb.htm

April 7, 2014

The Stock Experiment



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                                 So I was on a chat session a while back and a couple subjects came up. Actually, it was somewhat a debate. The thought was the use of crock pots/slow cookers and how someone would use them. The discussion was fun but civil. As it relates to the use of a slow cooker, I'm pretty neutral as I think about it. It depends on how much time I have and what I'm making. You might be curious of how the discussion went? Well, it went like this. The question was about the use of a slow cooker and how do you use them. Well. As you can see below, the responses were pretty spirited. Please notice the comment I placed in "italics" to set the table for what I'm writing about.
                                     So this is how it went down in a nutshell. There was more so if you're curious, use the #FNIChat and go to the date of the discussion. So being somewhat the outside thinker, I decided to try something different. Someone did mention using the slow cooker for making stock. I bought a whole rotisserie chicken from a local store. As I drove home, it dawned in me. What would I do with the carcass once I ate the chicken. Then decided to embrace a "Mind of a Chef" moment (or my version of it anyway). What if I decided to make a stock from my slow cooker? That's what I did and there were some pluses and minuses but neither were too difficult to overcome. As I said before, things on this blog do not always look pretty but it will taste good.


This is what I did first. I deboned the chicken (which you can see on the right) and separated the meat from the bones). You may not see this, but I did leave some meat on the bones (not very much but enough).  Then I took the remaining chicken meat and put it in the fridge. That was the easy part. 



Now before I put the chicken away, I decided to mix some tomato salsa and sun dried tomatoes for some extra flavor. 


Here's what remains of the carcass. Before I put the bones in the slow cooker, I decided to season the bones before I put them in the slow cooker. I covered the bones with grape seed oil (since I didn't have either olive or avocado oil). I used the basics (salt, pepper, and garlic powder since I had not fresh on hand) as well as 1/2 a yellow onion, Hungarian Hot Paprika (since I'm the only one eating this), peppercorns, and crushed bay leaves. I felt that would make a nice mix and figured than some of that flavor would stick to the bones and meat. 

This is the mix I mentioned just before adding to the slow cooker. 
What you see below is the result. I left this cook for 12 hours on low temperature (since I knew I was going to be gone all day). The result was pretty intense but good. That is what I went for. It took about 45 minutes to fully cool down. I took a strainer and took out most of the excess onion and all the bones. This stock was intense enough to the point where I could dilute it with some water and still be edible. I used probably 1 quart or so


I will revisit this stock within the next week or two. What I found out caught my attention. One of the pluses of this is that if you don't have time to sit in front of a pot, this could be a solid way out. As a whole, I'm very pleased with how this turned out. In other words, put on and forget it. While you do what you need to do, this stock can cook and will be ready when you get home. VERY convenient as I see it. Now the minus side. The biggest one is seasoning. Some debate one way or the other but most people I know season their stock as they go. In this case, I couldn't. I found myself seasoning this as it began to cool down. I did wait about 15 minutes before turning the cooker off but did begin to season the stock at that time. It took about 45 minutes for me to season it to my liking. It took about that long to cool down as well. In other words, the seasoning could be tricky to get right if you're in a hurry. If you wanted to thicken the stock, that could a trick especially with that much water (about 3 quarts). So if you want something thicker, you'll definitely want to do that in the early stages while the water is still cold. Or at the very least, consider that. You also must remember what you put in the stock (e.g., peppercorns in this case). I may also add the salsa after the stock has cooled down or at least more of it than I used. I did strain and put away the remaining stock (about a quart). 

So sure, I get it. It's cheating a bit. Not the pure "foodie" play. Let the cooker do the work for you.What can I do with a slow cooker that you can't do with a normal pot? Very little at face level but there's more than meets the eye. Drop it and forget it. If you're not home for long periods but need to eat, what are you going to do? Take out not only gets expensive but gets as played out as a Spice Girls song. I don't want to be rude, but I'm going to use what's at my disposal when it comes to cooking. This is especially true if you live alone. Would I PREFER to use s stove top? Absolutely. Sometimes, that isn't possible and the slow cooker is just one avenue to achieve a good meal. I won't say sorry for that. For a first time experiment, I think this turned out well. Soon, you'll see what I did with the remaining stock. I have a few ideas but need to give this more though. Now when you can say you've stood over a BBQ grill (charcoal) for over 6 hours, call me. I think that alone give me the right to cheat just a little bit.
   
   Work Cited:
1. Picture taken from: http://lumdimsum.com/2009/12/14/soup-nazi-herbal-cafe/

April 2, 2014

Sweat the Technique

While finalizing pictures for my final Eataly post, I got inspired. It was moments ago while bouncing between various social media pages where I said what the heck, let's do this. Then as I toyed around Pinterest, I noticed myself drawn to a certain subject. It's also the inspiration from one of my boards. My Sweat the Technique" board is about cooking techniques. Now if you're of a certain age and listen to "Golden Era" rap, you might get the pun here. So after a few pins, I decided to place them here.

taken via Pinterest.
                                  Many of you probably already know this so let it serve as a reminder. In other cases, some of you may not know these things and could be of help. So here goes nothing.                                       Now if you're of a certain age and listen to "Golden Era" rap, you might get the pun here. So after a few pins, I decided to place them here. Many of you probably already know this so let it serve as a reminder.



In other cases, some of you may not know these things and could be of help. So here goes nothing.

On the right and left address how foods should be stored and for how long these foods may be kept. While I personally like my fruits cool. Nothing says yuck like warn guacamole.                                                                                  

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This is really more for visual purposes. For those who know what these terms are, pay no attention to this (like I had to say that anyway). For those who may not understand or may not know these terms, they speak for themselves. The featured Facebook page is actually the page for an English teacher. There are some good materials there but the emphasis is speaking English. 

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 Now what you see on both sides are cooking methods and volume conversion. You will notice on the left picture explaining the type of cooking and the temperatures and times to cook something. It also makes the distinction of cooking with dry heat (e.g., baking, roasting, pan frying, etc) versus moist heat (e.g., simmer, steam, boiling, etc). On the right, you'll notice volumes and I think this is pretty relative and some more exact. For example, I noticed 60 drops will equal 1 teaspoon. Now that can actually be measured. Same with converting tablespoons and ounces to cups as well as cups to pints and quarts. Now when I notice the "pinch" and "dash" descriptions, that could be pretty relative. My hands are exactly dainty but not huge either. Someone with a bigger hand may have a bigger "pinch" than someone with smaller hands. Again, this is no deal breaker but serves as food for thought.



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Ok. Slow cookers are making a comeback. Above are cooking times on each setting. Most I've seen have 3 settings- high, low & warm. Warm temperature is actually cooler than low in many cases. That setting is meant to do one thing. That's to keep the food warm. 

(4)

I'll end with mixing methods. You can see that this features everything from making angel food cake, muffins and just about anything that can be baked. It also suggests the tools and mixing methods best suited for what's being baked. It also shows what steps on when and what ingredients are to be added. In some cases, you are encouraged to add certain ingredients in steps and others add all at once. This also will also mention a technique such as whipping or folding. 

OK. A pseudo-cooking school moment. I hope this may help those who are starting the culinary journey. When you really thing about it, we're all on a journey. Some are much further than others. As long as the journey is fun, that's all that matters. Become a better cook than you were the day before. 


Works Cited:
2. Pictures were taken from http://chasingdelicious.com/ via Pinterest. 
3. Taken from Pinterest.com with no direct source mentioned or cited.
4. Pictures was taken from http://chasingdelicious.com/ via Pinterest.   


February 3, 2014

12/19/2013 Adventure #1: Eataly Chicago, Part 3

OK. So I've been a bit busy and have meant to do this for a while. This is installment #3 of 4 on my adventure to Chicago's Eataly. From other people I've know who've visited here, they were as impressed as I was. So far, I've taken you through the bottom levels where sandwiches, desserts, coffee, cooking utensils, books and so much more as well as PART of the mind-blowing level two. In the next two posts, I will TRY and finish level two. Most of this posts are in picture forms (and plenty of them as well) with a description of what you're looking at. Sit down and enjoy the view. I think this post may cause hunger so proceed with caution.        

The butcher's spot/meat counter. 
                             So you want meat? You get just that. Just about every cut you can imagine is here. As for the beef itself, I noticed they served two breeds of beef. The nice thing they do here is that you know exactly what breed you're getting and where it came from. The old reliable Black Angus was one and the Piedmontese was the other. For those not familiar with the latter breed, the Piedmontese is a breed from Piedmont (or Piedmonte, in Italy's far northwest corner). This breed is not only used for meat but for its milk as well. Care for the Piedmontese is pretty labor intensive. The Black Angus, or "business breed" as some call it, is the breed where you get the most beef but the less amount of work. Black Angus is also good for cross-breeding.



As far as the differences between the 2 breeds I mentioned, I took this from the Eataly Internet site. I think it covers it very well (which I cut and pasted below): 

"The Piemontese breed of cattle, known in Italian as Razza Piemontese, is considered among the best in the world. In addition to its unparalleled tenderness and taste, Piemontese beef is beloved by Italy, America and Eataly for being lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than conventional beef.
A truly grandiose steak, cut from the middle to rear section of the loin, a combination of NY Strip steak and filet mignon separated by the tell-tale T-shaped bone. Thick yet quick to cook, the porterhouse is perfect for grilling.
Eataly's exceptionally high quality 100% USDA Prime Black Angus Beef from Diamond Creek Ranch in Kansas is pasture-raised and grain finished resulting in the perfect taste and buttery fat content. Our Black Angus cattle graze on lush pastures and are raised with NO antibiotics, NO added hormones, and NO artificial ingredients." (1)



More from the meat counter. Beef isn't the only thing this butcher offers. Hampshire pork is the choice here. Like the Angus beef, the Hampshire pork is fairly easy to raise and produce well (2). This hog is also lean (compared to other breeds). Veal sold here is milk-fed. Meat is from Pat LaFrieda's Meat Purveyors from North Bergen, New Jersey.




As you can see, quality doesn't come cheap as the prices show. Excellent selection though. 


Eataly has 2 types of pasta for sale. This is the fresh pasta section.The pasta section was pretty interesting. Pretty solid selection here and more flavors than I could have even imagined. The pasta is made fresh on site and I noticed all the main types of pasta. Below are the various ravioli selections and the fillings varied in type. One that stood out for me was the squid flavored fettuccine. That was pretty strange to me but they must sell it. Definitely a unique offering. The pasta is made fresh daily on site. Each pasta is also dedicated to the various regions of Italy. Tajarin (or taglierini), a ribbon pasta from  Piedmonte and ravioli quadrati (of the traditional "squares") from Emilia Romagna show the Northern Italian influences. Tuscan papparadelle and pastas from every Italian region can be found here.

There are also 4 types of pasta they make here and sold here as it relates to a dominant ingredient. Egg pasta, gluten free, semolina pasta (made from semolina four) and whole wheat are the main staples here. 


More ravioli. 


 This is the meat aging cooler. It's in plain view of the customers. At the time I went, I noticed the meat being aged was in what seems to be the fase frollatura (or maturation phase). As I read the cooler, the temperature is set at 3 degrees Celsius (or 38 degrees Fahrenheit). It was busy enough where I couldn't ask how long the beef was aged. If history repeats what I've seen before, my guess is between 14-28 days.




A sample of cookbooks on hand


 This was a pretty fun but small section. This is a variety of wild game sold here. On the right are Mallard duck legs, fed an all vegetable diet. To the left and below are wide shots of the case itself. What you'll find here are anything from quail eggs, poussin, duck fat, rabbit and much, much more.



You want sauce and crushed tomatoes? Well take your pick. The selection is huge and many of these items are imported from Italy.


This version of Barilla pasta is unique to Italy itself. This pasta is egg based (all'uovo). The next series of picture are a sample of various Italian pastas. This is one row of about 7-9 rows dedicated to PASTA!!! Any type of pasta, any Italian maker of pasta, is found here. I'll let the picture speak for themselves. If I said the pasta section alone was bigger than many convenience stores, would you believe me? I think those who have visited Eataly would say I'm not far off.  All pasta imported from Italy. The photos below are just a sample of what they have on hand. 
















 


     To the bottom right is dinner service at the La Pizza and La Pasta section of Eataly. One of SEVERAL dining choices on the Eataly premises. Over 60,000 square feet and over 10,000 items on hand and all things Italian food are for the taking. I didn't look at the beverage area (e.g., beer and wine).

 The fourth and final post will try to sum up what I didn't share here. One thing I noticed here was how easily someone can get overwhelmed here. There is so much here it can't be experienced properly in less than 2 to 3 hours. If you eat dinner, then make it 4 hours. I wish that I could have taken better pictures. As time went on, I wanted to get more pictures of the food they served but the pace was VERY fast. As fast as a plate was up, it was out. The issue was it was VERY crowded on the day I went.

There are some unique concepts all under one roof and I can't recall experiencing something like this as a free standing concept. For those who can remember Marshall Field's on State Street when they had a deli area, it's a good start to try to describe it but again, on a MUCH larger scale. I hope you now see why I'm giving this one more post. Not to mention it gives me a chance to brush up on my Italian. I knew it would come in handy one day. The remaining entrees and shacks will be in the final post. I found a video done by Steve Dolinsky for his "Hungry Hound" feature on WLS-TV Chicago, which may do this more justice. This may give some insight on how I will finish this series of post. He also did more than one segment on Eataly Chicago (which is rare) so that might tell you something. The spectrum Eataly covers is huge.

I tried to embed the video but couldn't do so. Here's the link: http://abclocal.go.com/wls/video?id=9381558

Eataly Chicago can be found at @EatalyChicago on Twitter. Steve Dolinsky can be found at @stevedolinsky on Twitter and on WLS-TV Chicago.                                                

References Cited:
1. "PIEMONTESE VS. PRIME BLACK ANGUS" via Eataly.com        

 2. "Breeds Apart", Molly Langmuir. New York Magazine Internet site, December 12, 2010. http://nymag.com/restaurants/features/70096/

3. "Hungry Hound" segment by Steve Dolinsky, WLS-TV Chicago, January, 4, 2014. http://abclocal.go.com/wls/video?id=9381558