Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eat for Performance - Energy & Recovery

We all have to eat to live, we do it for entertainment on a Saturday night.  Taste and flavor combinations can elevate any dish to a gourmet treat.  Special foods indicate special occasions.   Families and friends gather around the table, in the kitchen, outside by the grill.  Food plays a huge role in our lives.  One's relationship with food is important, and when its off, the individual suffers...every day...3 times a day.  Everyone knows and deals with food personally.  While in training for the MN Ironman Bike Race, I've been reading about what your body needs at different points in exercise. I don't have any answers or new tips to try, but a shift in focus as your mowin' down: What is your food doing for you?
What eat depends on what your needs are.  If you're building muscle, ingest protein to support that.  If you're going the distance, more potassium from bananas or potatoes.  If you're not doing much but going to work and then a happy hour, there's no need to carb load or eat that T-bone.  I've heard it too many times among my sailing crowd, about girl food and boy food.  I cant tell you in how many ways that makes my blood boil.  There's no such thing.  I did propose that in the middle of winter, while we work on serving and tarring foot ropes, that I didn't feel like a hamburger sandwich...but more of a chicken salad.  Still doing work, but not THAT much work. 
I think its also key to think about what your sources are for the nutrients you need.  For example:  you can get protein from nuts, beans, meat, cheese.  It boils down to plant or animal sources.  Fats can come from dairy, oil, vegetable, seeds, meat, but depending on one's needs, there is a best choice. Be smart about choosing your sources.  I've heard rumor that having some caffeine before exercise is beneficial.  Which doesn't mean go have a skinny vanilla mocha, it means make a cup of tea or a shot of coffee before you go out and play.

One of the best things about biking is that food is your fuel.  Think about stimulating your muscles, having a combination of energy that ready for your now, and some that will be there for you in an hour.  If you've got a kickball game in the park you need to think about keeping yourself agile, keeping your reactions quick, there's food for that...sweet, eh.

The other part of my query that has been an eye opener has been the focus on recovery. Its natural for you to focus on the work involved in an event, like biking 70 miles or running a 5k, but the pivotal difference is making it easy for your body to recover from the work so that it can do it again.  That, friends, is what I have learned in my brief training process for this race.  The average person does an activity once, a few times, but the athlete performs the work repeatedly,  and therefore needs to recover from the stress of the soccer practice...rest up before the big game.  What you eat can support that recovery and repair, making it easy on your body to mend the stress put on during practice.  It takes work to break down turkey in your body, there are a lot of chemistry that needs to happen to access the nutrition it provides.  Enzymes need to come to the scene and break down the protein then other stuff breaks it down further, and then your body gets to use the food.  Take it easy by eating things that have more accessible nutrition.  Its about creating the right chemistry in your body to support the things you like to do.

These principles need not only be applied to sports events, but to your life at large.  Moving day is a big day, eat for the occasion...but not so much it makes your sluggish, right? Long lasting energy with a few bursts for lifting the couch. 

That's all for now.  Thanks for tuning in.  See you in my yard for a BBQ on Sunday in prep for Race Day. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Butchery - Taking Apart a Steer

Tomorrow, I, Sarah Gross, will be assisting in the butchering of a steer.  I am excited about this opportunity, nervous, horrified, grossed out, even fascinated at what I'm about to get into.  I set the date about a week ago, and have been preparing myself for what I am about to do.  Its not just me, I'm assisting someone who knows what they're doing...what a relief!

I've had a on and off relationship with meat.  My father is a hunter and a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy, so I was raised on wild game, foul, deer, beef, chicken.  Ate it, no problem.  In my teenage years I went camping during the summers.  No meat was brought along while on trail, so I learned to be very satisfied with out any meat in the picture.  I hung out and cooked with the veggie kids at camp and at school, went to the co-op to pick out food, brought it to someone's house, cooked and ate.  One year at Thanksgiving asked for a portobello instead of the drumstick, and my father jokingly told me I wasn't his daughter anymore.  My grandma Maggie asked me what kind of fad diet I was on.  Traveling, I went to Italy with a group of friends in High School, everyone ordered their meals and I told the waiter, "vegetarian".  When the plates were delivered people got these beautiful plates of pasta and meatballs, of chicken... and I, I got a stinkin cheese plate.  At the time, Not impressed.  The rest of the trip I'd get gelato before sitting down to a meal.  College came and it was popular for girls to be vegetarian.  Someone during that year gave me a taste of their beef jerkey, and that's the day I went back to my meat eating ways. Currently, when others are cooking for me I tell them I'm demi-veg. I eat meat, just not a lot of it.  I live and cook with a vegan and have learned TONS about food from all the things one can do without using anything animal...(more about that when we discuss Vegan food). 

Back to the topic...

In preparation I've been researching high and low, (in reverse order,) about cuts of meat, butchering technique, the slaughter of animals at different ages, living conditions and their results on flavor, feeding the animals grain or letting them graise on pasture grass.  It really is about the care of the animal though its lifetime a good care will result in great flavor, texture, and aroma of its meat.
Its said that meat gave humans the extra boost which allowed our brains to develop, marking the evolution of  humanoids into humans. Meat also let humans thrive in cold areas of the world when the animals would eat the seasonal vegetation and the humans would eat the animal during the winter.  Bringing a bison, (ta-tonka), back to the tribe was reason for celebration, pride and gratitude.  At this point in time, our culture is so far from the animal, even far from the butcher shop that kids think chicken nuggets are part of the anatomy.  Well I'm about to dive in, elbow deep into something that is messy, bloody, but important for to see.  A steer, no heat, no feed, but the body of a freekin cow, come in and leave in parts. 

I look forward to tomorrow and hope I remember everything I see.  If all goes well I'll do this again, hopefully to the point where I get good at taking a part a steer.  This shop that's allowing me to participate is a great meat & fish joint in the lovely Linden Hills neighborhood.  Clancey's has wonderful relationships with all their suppliers.  If all goes well it might be a lamb I take apart next week.  We'll see how I do.

Butchering stories are always welcome.  

Thanks for your time,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Language of the Kitchen - se habla espanol

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. 
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
~ Nelson Mandela

I always thought it funny that French is thought of as the language of food, but its all Spanish in the kitchen.  Not just some kitchens, but all the one's I've seen. Usually its the dishwashers, a lot of line cooks, prep chefs are Latino.  I has just returned home from studying abroad in Venezuela and I knew that if I didn't keep up, all the Spanish I struggled to learn would go out the window.  Cant have that happen, it would be a waste.  My first day working in a professional kitchen was overwhelming and amazing AND there was Spanish everywhere.  Relief!
If all the hoity toity clients knew that it was Latino's making all their fancy food, they might think twice about passing up the hole in the wall Mexican joints on Lake Street.  The Bakeries, (las paniderias,) are to die for.  Let me pause for a minute for dramatic effect..... ..... .... the juice these girls make....its so fresh and flavorful with all the flavors as there are fruits and vegetables.  That's what I want to learn from them, how to make delicious juice.

Over the years, I have really grown to love this position of being able to speak to all the staff.  Not just about kitchen stuff, but about preparing the food.  Which spices do they use at home to make chicken? What goes into their salsa to make it pop? Co-workers who don't speak Spanish have expressed the language barrier as an issue.  I'm so relieved that is not a concern for me, I can talk to whom ever I need to.  There is a downside to being the hub of this communication divide.  It becomes my job to carry out someone else's job.  I'll hear my name a thousand times a day, with questions that aren't meant for me.  I then go and ask the person with the answer and relay it back to the girls.  In the meantime, the cheese samples have been sitting and customers waiting.  Its all for the function of the kitchen, and I'm happy to do my part to help it run smoother.

This skill has landed me in some great positions.  I've acted as translator during an interview, loved it.  I've been the bridge between management and a problematic check with our dishwasher.  The sandwich girls, as we lovingly call them, were up to their ears in bread, and I was able to help them readjust their order.  I makes me glow to know that I, me, Sarah Gross, make people's jobs easier and there is a skill I have that is useful in the kitchen.  I'm shocked, stunned, fuckin pumped about it.

"Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people."
~William Butler Yeats

I had an experience the other day that was really neat.  I was working in the back doing prep instead of on the line, and having a chat with Elizabeth the main prep girl.  She was telling me about all the different kitchens she's worked in.  This woman knows how to roll  20 different kinds of sushi, open oysters, cut beef, bake killer cinnamon rolls, soups of all styles.  Then it hit me, that with all her experience she might be getting paid the same wage as her dishwasher co-workers.  Its an amazing benefit to have this cultural infusion in kitchens all over the country, but at the base is the fact that Latino's are cheap labor.  They have all the talent needed to be great, but are willing to work at low wages.  Kind of sad really.  Lesson: don't work for too little.  I work hard, and I don't obsess about clocking in, I will give my all I just wont do it for long if I'm getting paid too little.

"Food is out common ground, a universal experience."
~ James Beard

To end on a lighter note, thanks for checking in.  Keep reading, keep responding, and if you have topics you'd like to have covered, send them my way.  Thanks again, tune in next time!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tasting Cheese - so the flavour wont get lost

The theme of this weeks discussion is .... Cheese! On Tuesday evening, March 29 at the Ginger Hop in NE Minneapolis, a co-worker and I will bring our World of Cheese to a sold out room of 40 people.  I couldn't be more excited.  In preparation for this event, (Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance,) I thought I'd share the tools and understanding that makes cheese an amazing and tasty food.

Note: Cheeses are very individual and specific.  These are general guidelines.  No one has to follow these if you don't want to.  The idea is to elevate the taster's consciousness and the result will be more flavour and enjoyment from your food.

Cheese has a lot of history.  It's function started as a way to save the milk from the summer throughout the winter.  There are stories about following early recipes, about which caves and planks the cheese is aged on to impart its particular flavour, stories about black nosed highland sheep gettin it on with the lowland red nosed sheep...I basically just gave that story away, didn't I.  Nutritionally cheese has calcium, proteins, fat and minerals.  The bacterium in cheese helps the body absorb and digest the calcium, if its raw milk cheese, which is much more tasty.  The key to eating cheese is moderation.  If you eat too much your belly will puff out and digetive system will grind to a hault.  BUT, in moderation your tongue can enjoy the flavours and textures and your body will use the nutrients.  Win-win.

Now, for the tasting...
Name it

"Why isn't there a special name for the tops of your feet?"
Lily Tomlin
People forget this, but cheeses have names.  This tells you about where it originated, it can tell you what type of milk the cheese is made from, (goat, sheep, cow, raw).  There are names for the categories of cheese, (gouda, alpine, soft ripened,) names for the types of rinds, (washed, natural, bloomy, rindless).  All of these names help define what processes the cheese has been through.  Some names are protected by the country of origin.  When something is called a roquefort, you know it is French bleu, with milk from organically raised sheep's, Aged +3 months on Oak Planks in the Mt Cambalou Caves...right? A no-brainer. 


When sampling cheeses it is a total sensory event.  Some cheeses you smell before they get to you, others you really have to get face to face with it.  There is a surprising lack of correlation between the smell and the taste of the cheese.  This ties in your smell detectors with your taste buds.  Inhale and try to detect a few characteristics about the cheese.  Aroma adds to the complexity of the food, which can, in turn, add to your enjoyment of eating it.

Competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder.
Laurence J. Peter
This step is gathering information about the cheese based purely on superficial observations.  Check out the rind.  Is it hard, ashed, does it look like crocodile skin, or is it covered in wax? What does the interior look like? Snowy white goat cheese, smooth and dense like a gruyere, does it have hairy green veins or is it running all over the plate?  Note textures and colors. If the rind is cracked or goopy, the bloom is flat and not fuzzy looking anymore...then its past its prime.
Touch it
As a store selling cheese, the largest variable in the condition of your product is how its handled.  Some are delicate and others are made to roll down mountain sides and be alright to eat. At the Cheese Shop, before a customer asks me what's ripe today, I give the soft ripened cheese a light press with my fingers.  So cheese should just give in and leave a dent, if it does its way overripe and probably tasted ammoniated.  If you press on the pad of your palm, below your thumb, a ripe soft cheese should feel like that.  Structured, yet tender.  Semi-firm cheeses I like to give a quick pinch by the rind.  Assess what kind of give its giving me.  Hard cheeses are just hard, but some are creamier and others are fractured and crumble, (Saenkanter Aged Gouda, Parmiggano Reggiano). With the bleus, by touch is where you can tell if its a creamy bleu, (St. Agur, Montagnolo, Cambazola,) or a crumbly bleu, (most of the rest).  How does the knife cut the cheese?
Taste ... finally
When you're tasting cheese, let it sit on your tongue for a bit.  This allows the cold cheese to warm up, and releases the flavours.  When you gobble down cheese, all you taste is creamy, this way you have a chance at catching the subtleties.  Some people close their eyes when the food goes in their mouth.  This cancels out sensory distractions and concentrates on the tongue.  Does the flavour evolve? Does it have a bitter finish or smooth?  Is it assaulting, or approachable?  How does it feel in your mouth?  Does it dry it out, or make it water, (6-15 year cheddars have this effect on me.  Its sorta fun in a way).
Lastly, as with most tasting events, write down what you like and didn't like.  By the time you get to the 4th sampling, you forget about the first.  Don't worry, this happens to everyone.  Add in a little too much wine at the Cheese tasting and then its a lost cause.  Everything we've brought up here is something to write down, (ahem! like the name).  Write down things that will remind you of what it tastes like.  You don't have to be studious about it, but otherwise, and I see this all the time at the Cheese Shop, you start over from the beginning each time you go. Worse things have happened, but you may as well make progress with your palate.
Thanks for sticking with me.  There are a hundred other things to say about cheese.  If you're interested in signing up for a cheese class contact Surdyk's Cheese Shop and ask when my class is - wink! Otherwise tootle around on these sites and browse to see which ones you're attracted to.
Wish me luck.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cardoon - Exotic Ingredient #1

As and assignment from my friend and co-worker at Surdyk's Cheese Shop, Head Chef Heather Saliba handed me a magnet of an oil painting where the subjects were fruits and vegetables.  She pointed out a strange looking something that looked like Celery stalks, and told me a bit about the Cardoon.  My assignment: figure out what this thing is and how to use it.

Cultivated in the Mediterranean, the Cardoon has an Artichoke-like bulb with pedals and meaty heart, crossed with a Celery-like stalks.  The vegetable's blooms, a vibrant periwinkle, are edible as well.  Cardoons are in season during the winter months and may appear in Farmers Markets May, June, July in the U.S.  It takes about 5 months for this plant to mature.  This vegetable was very much in fashion until Europe's late 19th Century and was present in colonial America.  The plant adapts well to dry climates and is considered a weed in California, Australia, and Argentina. Cardoons typically add an earthy, herbaceous and citric flavor to dishes, commented on my Celebrity chefs as having a, "sexy flavor".  Ooo la la!

Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Cynara
Species: C. cardunculus
Binomial name
Cynara cardunculus

Typically braised or steamed the earthy flavor is appealing in European soup, though in New Orleans they are battered and fried, I should have guessed.  This is interesting for the cheese lovers.  Cardoons carry and enzyme that is used as vegetarian rennet in the production of cheese.  (Rennet coagulates the curd and keeps the form of the cheese.  Traditional rennet is found in the stomach of the mother's milk, but vegetarian rennet is commonly used in Europe and the U.S.).

Cardoons can be used in dishes such as:

  • Soups - a classic Italian soup of Cardoon in chicken broth, meatballs and egg drop spindles.
  • Fried - battered in chick pea flour and deep fried.
  • Cocido Madrileno - a hearty sephardic dish from Madrid, made of chick peas a vegetables: potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnups.  Later on adding pork belly, chorizo or blood sausage.

For more recipes check out Epicurious.com

If any of you chefs have another Exotic Ingredient assignment, let me know.  I love this kind of research.  Lay it on me!

Again soon!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Standards Set One Chef a Part From Another

After each day on the line, behind the counter or in the back, when ever any dish is made clientele trusts that each plate is done to the business's standards.  Who ever trains in the new guy shows them what is up to par, and then what would be below.  The yardstick I'm talking about extends beyond one business's ideal, and touches on the standards of the individual and the importance of following that internal measure, even though its a pain.

My thought is: that if 2 cooks have the same recipe, the 'true' Chef's food is going to taste better.  How can this be, you say? I believe, its because the Chef has high standards. 

Small insight and discernment occurs at every step along the path from concept to execution.  Start with picking out produce for a salsa.  Most would grab what's available and start chopping, I think the chef would sort through all the available produce to find the best.  If there wasn't anything that looked good enough...then the chef would send it back.  These are not hypotheticals that I'm imagining, I've seen the kitchen waiting on a delivery from Bix Produce, and as they check in the case, they send it back because it doesn't look that good.  Same grade applies to plating your food.  You might have 10 plates set out in front of you, but each one has to look good, and they cant be sloppy, and they speak of your criteria as well as the place you're cooking for.  Each plate has to make it over the benchmark. Way over.

I would think that it is hard to execute such high marks.  I find myself running into problems that its wasteful to get rid of food that is still good, yet sub-par.  There's a goal to meet and these standards are slowing things down. This steak needed to be ready yesterday! Another example: there's a knife shortage and in the rush of things your coat catches the handle and the knife hits the floor.  Its a groaner, and many would pick it up, run the knife under water, and continue chopping.  I believe the Chef would NEVER drop the knife in the first place, or take the time to run it though the Hobart...and then chop like a tornado.

One way around feeling wasteful with food, is to deal with the symptom.  Find somewhere the food will not go to waste.  At a deli I work for, there's a local food shelf that stops in early in the morning and picks up the food we cant sell.  Its easier to act on such tall ethics when the food isn't going into the trash.  Customers see great quality food, and the food shelf takes home a haul.

The public trusts the opinion of a chef and a huge part is the unstated High Standards that go along with the job.  All steps need to be carried through with such concern to detail.  Embodying that will allow ones food to stand out, have integrity, and the food will taste the best. If a chef is going to rise to the top, their perception, refinement and judgment are part of trusting them.  So my point is, that Standards, high ones at that, are something an aspiring chef has to acquire.

Question: What about when a customer's measure is higher that the chef's? What should happen in that situation?  Is the customer just being picky, or is the management being lax? What is the professional way to handle that?

Again, comments always welcome.  I hope to start a discussion here, pool some great ideas. From the front of the house and the back. Thanks for reading. I look forward to hearing from you.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Classic Cooking References

First of all, I'd like to give a shout out to all the people riding their bikes.  Its not yet spring, but these guys and gals are out there navigating not only the flattening snow banks, crazy parking, puddles and traffic, but they're out there in the cold doing this.  Its amazing.  Way to go.  I'll see you on the streets this weekend.

Now, for the reason why we're all here: to talk about food...books, fine then, books on food. In each kitchen I've been asking each professional which books they have that they turn to the most often?  What sites they go to for recipes and research?  This seems the most streamline way to get to the gold nuggets that make up a quality food philosophy. Go straight to the source.  Here's a list of a few books, that I use and have been recommended to me.

Joy of Cooking - thousands of recipes in all categories.  This book breaks down each section and offers popular variants.  The instructions are fool proof, I know cause I had someone foolish test them, and the cook feels successful , inspired, as like they can take on and accomplish any culinary feat.  I use this as an encyclopedia for ingredients and techniques.  Gives specifics without wordiness. On the Picton Castle, this book was heavily used by the crew.

Food Lover's Companion - a reference guide that spells out techniques, ingredients, wines, sauces, you name it, all in alphabetical order.  There are cross references, common names, abbreviations to lead the cook to the origin and its definition.  Its all here, the appendix is amazing. It breaks down cuts of meat, conversion charts, safe cooking temps, pan substitutions, you get the idea. Great book, especially to answer the first round of inquiry.

On Food and Cooking - Harold McGee is the father of thinking of cooking as a science, a topic of great interest.  This book takes the reader every step of the way when it comes to dairy, for example. McGee breaks down the process from how the cow makes milk to the chemical break down of lactose, sugars, fat and protein. Then into yogurts, creams, cheese, (which is a huge topic on its own). The book hits all the major categories of interest and more, cause its all interesting.  This gives the cook an understanding of what is happening to their product in each stage of cooking.  I can imagine when you become comfortable and eventually master these concepts, that the cook can stop food at any step in the process, giving crazy control to the outcome of the product.

Thrive - Brendan Brazier is a vegan professional triathlete.  His perspective on food is valuable because he uses it as fuel and as a tool to recover from physical stresses.  He teaches the reader how to be good and take it easy on their body and how to maximize nutrition in every meal you make.  Something as simple as soaking grains before you make your morning cereal can boost the nutritional availability exponentially.  His recipes are tasty.  I'm a huge fan.  We'll be discussing the vegan topic in depth at a later date... stay tuned.

Culinary Artistry - Dorenburg and Page have written a few books together.  This one I like cause it breaks down flavors and plating, putting together a menu as their own skills.  Someone may be awesome at composing a dish, but doesn't know jack about making a restaurant menu.  My favorite part of this book is the Desert Island Lists.  The authors asked major chefs in major cities what 10 things they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert isl.  Start gathering your ideas, folks, that question will be posed to the audience.  You can count on that.

This is just a short list.  There are many more quality guides that exist.  If you have other books that are priceless to your collection, don't hold back, let me know what I'm missing. 

Thanks for reading.  Become a follower.  Post it your facebook, and tell your friends.
You're the best!


P.S. - I received more suggestions in the days following the post.  Heat, and Kitchen Confidential are other favorites to look into.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Technology Experiment...stand back

Blogging, never thought I would do it. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself setting margins and picking themes for my public journal. I surprised myself today.

The purpose of this site is to involve others in a quest of a career in the trades.  This is an academic quest. My grandfather Leo Gross would be so proud. He's the one who told me. "If you want to be spoiled, spoil yourself with books." Boy, did I take that to heart. I kept all my novels and text books from undergrad, and keep moving them around with me, for the love of god. Now that I've decided to take an academic approach to the food industry, I've got a wooden chest filled with papers, recipes, menus and guides, the conglomerate all touching the subject of food.

Food is such a complicated topic. Everyone eats, everyone has their favorites, everyone expects different things from their meal. Some people live to eat, and others eat to live. I want this column to appeal to the snobbiest of foodies and the college freshman who makes burnt eggs and frozen pizza.

This, here is the experiment. I'm sure its a learn as you go kind of affair, so hang with me. I realize and accept that I may be talking to no one.  For me, it is in the act of writing where the profundity occurs.

Thanks for reading.
Come back soon.