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Andrea Nguyen’s Sriracha taste-off

http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2009/07/sriracha-chile-hot-sauce-taste-off.html

I’m fond of the bastardized version of the original Thai chili sauce that’s found in Asian restaurants everywhere (the ubiquitous squirt bottle is actually a Vietnamese interpretation that’s actually made here in the States, as she points out). You know the bottle – it’s the one with the rooster on the bottle. I like using it in tandem with sambal, that rough-textured hotter, oily sauce that you often find on the table. The sambal has a more direct, hotter flavor and “Sriracha” is a bit more laid back. Unlike her, I do like adding it to my pho, although I’m discrete with both chile sauces. I don’t like overwhelming the delicious broth, but I like tailoring it to my own tastes.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what chile sauces I can find at my local market and I hope I can find the “Shark” brand that she discusses.

Another great, informative post from Ms. Nguyen. She really does have one of the best foodie sites on the web and I’m looking forward to her dumplings book.

Sriracha

Photo courtesy of Andrea Nguyen, www.vietworldkitchen.com

Morton’s – The Steakhouse forced to close three locations

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From Nation’s Resaurant News Breaking News:

Morton’s shutters three restaurants

By Dina  Berta

 

CHICAGO (July  14, 2009) Morton’s Restaurant Group, whose namesake steakhouse chain has suffered dramatic drops in sales this year, recently closed three of its 81 restaurants.

Morton’s spokesman Roger Drake on Tuesday cited “a strategic assessment of trends” for the closures of restaurants in Southfield, Mich.; Westchester, Ill.; and Minneapolis. The Michigan and Illinois stores closed June 26 and 27, respectively, and the Minneapolis location closed July 3.

For the closings in Minneapolis and Westchester, a reported company statement alluded to those restaurants not meeting “base financial targets needed to support continued operations.”

Upscale steakhouse chains like Morton’s have seen falling customer traffic as corporate expense accounts shrink and consumers cut back on spending. In May, Morton’s reported that same-store sales plummeted 24.1 percent for the April-ended first quarter and said it expected same-store sales to continue to drop for the rest of the year.

“The recession affects convention business,hotel occupancy and air travel, which all have a direct correlation on our business at Morton’s,” Thomas Baldwin, chairman and chief executive, said in a statement in May.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=369808

The high-end chain steakhouse segment hasn’t proved immune to the economic climate. Ruth’s Criss has reported large losses, Capital Grill has suffered crippling quarterly drops in profit, and even the Palm, which seems to be outperforming the rest of the segment, has had to close two under-performing restaurants itself in the past couple of years.

Steakhouses are trying to attract new guests and save regulars by offering such things as half-price wine on certain days, inexpensive bar menus, and prix fixe dinners at reduced prices.

This is not symptomatic just of the high end segment. Mass market casual chains have also been hit hard and are trimming their properties as well. They are also being aggressive with coupons, 2-for-1 entree specials and special promotions.

While restaurants are being far more accommodating to the dining public than before, it isn’t totally a case of the guest getting what they want at all costs. Restaurants are getting closer to what they should always be, i.e. welcoming and flexible toward the guests’ needs and appreciative of their patronage. But one unintended consequence that the guest might need to be aware of is that restaurants are occasionally trimming their service away from their posted hours, especially in high-end restaurants. If you are dining late, it’s more important than ever to make a prior reservation  because you might walk in at 10:15 to find that the restaurant that normally closes at 11pm has already closed their kitchen. If you make that late reservation, the management can plan accordingly. These days, if the last table is at 8pm and there are only one or two walk-ins before 9pm, many managers now have permission to close the kitchen early at their discretion.

So, while guests might rejoice that they seem to have the upper hand in their relationship with the restaurant, there’s another side to the coin.

mortons-B08

Andrea Nguyen on Vietnamese herbs and celebration of 200th post

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love not only Vietnamese cuisine, but also Andrea Nguyen’s wonderful blog, Viet World Kitchen . You’ll find the link in my blogroll and if you plug her name into my search engine, you’ll find both reviews of her book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and her comprehensive and sweeping blog. If you type in pho, you will find my rather overheated defense of phở , done in the early days of this blog and reprinted from a music mailing list that I was participating in, back before I realized that I could cut and paste the word  phởfrom Nguyen’s blog to get the Vietnamese character. Maybe some day I’ll go and clean it up, but it was itself a cut and paste job from a mailing list post. Perhaps in the spirit of authenticity, I should leave it alone, resisting the urge to tighten up the overheated rhetoric as well.

If you love the heaping fresh herbs that accompany such dishes as phở and bánh xèo (sizzling crepes). Nguyen has an article that you’ll want to check out:

 http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2009/07/vietnamese-herbs-la-times-article.html

It links to her July 15th article in the Los AngelesTimes food section about an appreciation for Vietnamese herbs. And the post also has a link to an article about growing Vietnamese herbs. Since finding a variety of fresh Vietnamese herbs is a challenge at best and impossible at worst, this is an article worth checking out. Herbs are fairly easy to grow, even if you only have a balcony and she gives you the rundown on easy ways to grow them in and around the home. she also has a link to a “Vietnamese herb primer”, where she goes down the list of important herbs.

If her blog isn’t on your subscribed list, it should be. And if you don’t have her book, what in the heck are you waiting for? She’s got a new book on dumplings coming out in next month as well.

vietnamese Photo courtesy of The Coriander Leaf, the Singapore “Asian Food Hub”

http://www.corianderleaf.com/vietnameseflavours.html

Oh yeah, this is post number 200!

Recipe of the day – Fried fish batter

Perfect for making fish and chips, this batter is very simple and  has a surprising ingredient – Guinness. It makes a very light and fluffy but crispy crust and gives the crust the most wonderful golden brown color . We had a visiting corporate chef that gave me the very simple recipe. It works best if you chill the flour first, but that’s not necessary. You can also find variations of this recipe on the web – you might experiment to see which one you like best.

Two bottles ice cold 12 oz bottles of Guinness

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Liberal dash of salt

Small dash of pepper

Reserve one bottle of Guinness in the refrigerator. Combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add Guinness.  Let sit for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. At the 20 minute mark, remove the reserved bottle of Guinness from the refrigerator and place on counter. 

When you use it, dust your fish filets in flour and dredge.  Immediately before dredging, open the top of the reserved bottle and pour into a clean pint glass. Tilt glass 45 degrees and fill 3/4 of the glass, pouring at a moderately slow speed. Return to fish and dredge your first fish.  Fry in 350 degree oil. Try to cook them in enough oil to totally submerge them. This will keep you from having to flip them over with a spatula which can tear the delicate batter. When the first batch is  about 1 1/2 minutes in, top off the glass of Guinness slowly, allowing the head to stay intact. At this point, the head should be a little over an inch tall. Stop as the head is just short of the rim. Wait a beat and then dribble the remaining beer on top. This should give you a slight dome.  Take an appreciative look at the glass that you’ve poured and take your first sip. The fish filets should be close to done  If you did have to cook it in less oil in a skillet, now’s about the time to turn them –  just make sure that you don’t turn them until the bottom side is almostthe final color). If they are floating in a deep fat fryer, give them a quick flip with a wooden spoon or spatula.  When you turn the filet, just be really careful flipping it. First of all, you don’t want to mess up the beautiful batter. But more importantly, you don’t want to splash oil on yourself and you definitely don’t want to get your glass of Guinness tainted with hot oil. this will destroy the carefully constructed head that you’ve built.

Some recipes add an egg. I found that the lightest, crispiest batter doesn’t use egg. So try it first without egg. But if you like a firmer, thicker batter, or you think the batter is too light, feel free to add an egg the next time. 

Try to choose firm white fish like cod or haddock and make sure that the filets are around an inch thick and fairly uniform in thickness. Make sure also that you haven’t used your last two bottles of Guinness because you’re going to need at least one more per person being served (I like to assure that I have 3 per guest, but your mileage may vary).

Thanks to Jeff, the corporate training chef who gave me this recipe.

guinness-is-good-for-you

Cookbook of the day – The World Atlas of Wine

wine_atlas

The World Atlas of Wine

by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

Publisher –Mitchell Beazley

ISBN-10: 1840003324

ISBN-13: 978-1840003321

A confession – I’m a sucker for a topographic map. Perhaps this is a remnant of my backpacking days or my time in the military.

So I’m a sucker for this book, especially since I love wine as well.

Johnson and Robinson are leading wine writers and so, they are perfect for fleshing out the details behind the maps.

And these maps! Some are detailed non-topographic but coded for vineyards, forests, etc.  Some have terrain features like hills and mountains airbrushed in. And some offer the detail of a USGS topographic map. Regardless of what type of map they use, there’s detail down to some of the smallest settlements and clearly defined vineyard areas.

You also get detail soil analysis as well as climatic issues that impact the region. You get details on plantings and there are copious photographs that flesh out the life behind the bottle.

This book should be part of any reasonable wine library, as it’s a valuable research tool.

Johnson and Robinson

Cookbook of the day – Jerk, Barbecue from Jamaica

Book_Jerk 

Jerk: Barbecue from Jamaica

By Helen Willinsky

Publisher  Crossing Press (September 1, 1990)

ISBN 10: 0895944391

ISBN 13: 978-0895944399

The book opens with the holy trinity of jerk cooking – jerk rub, jerk marinade and dry jerk rub. It then goes on to explain that allspice, one of the foundation spices of jerk, isn’t what most people think it is, that is, a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. This is a reasonable mistake that many cooks make because they take the name of the spice too literally. It was named precisely because it mimics several other spices. But it’s actually a discrete product, pimento, which is the berry of the tree, Pimenta officianalis.

You’ll find recipes for such famous dishes as curry goat, jerk chicken, broiled jerk snapper, and the like. You’ll also find a very reasonable bread pudding as well as festival, an accompaniment similar to hush puppies. You’ll learn about a lovely dish of jerked lobster with coconut.

All in all, a no -nonsense, no-frills book which was praised by the Jamaican Daily Gleaner as “Charismatic! Spicy! Authentic”!

I highly recommend this out-of-print book if you come across it. You can preview a large part of the book here:

http://tinyurl.com/Preview-Jerk

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New link added – Slashfood

This site is one of the new breeds of blogs – the compendium. It’s not a single person laboriously typing blog post after blog post promoting a single viewpoint, but a group of single people typing blog post after blog post, blending viewpoints and outlooks from all over. Each has an area of expertise and a unique viewpoint. It’s a veritable bouillabaisse of blogs.

Here you’ll find a wide-ranging and interactive culinary universe. There are waiters, home cooks, food critics and general know-it-alls. If you can’t find something of interest here, then you should re-evaluate whether you ‘re actually interested in the culinary world.

It is a pretty commercial site, with garish ads that explode onto your screen and obscure the landscape. However, there’s nothing wrong with that, now is there? It looks like an upscale food court, and I mean this is the most positive way.

 This should be one of the sites that you regularly check in with, and, as such, it receives the ultimate honor here at SYWTBAW – it’s own place in the Foodie blogroll.

So, let’s welcome Slashfood!

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Kitchen tool of the day – electric coffee grinder

Many kitchens have one of these for grinding whole coffee beans. A true coffee mill (burr grinder) is better because a coffee mill doesn’t chop it, it truly grinds it between two sets of “burrs”, which doesn’t heat the beans as much as chopping, plus it allows for better extraction than what we normally call a coffee grinder because, unless it’s incorrectly calibrated, will grind more uniformly than a chopper. However, this is what we’ll be talking about today:

Braun%20coffee%20grinder

krups-fast-touch-coffee-grinder-black-20342

Actually, it’s a little misleading to call these ‘grinders”. They are actually “choppers” similar to small blenders (they operate exactly the same way as a blender in that they spin a blade at the bottom of a container which chops ingredients into bits).

My purpose in talking about them is to say that the savvy home cook will have two of these, one for coffee (if they don’t have a true coffee mill) and one dedicated solely for spices. They might even have an additional one for sweet spices if they do a lot of baking of dishes that use a lot of spice blends because they might not want their carrot cake to taste like vindaloo.

They are cheap and long-lasting and I find them almost indispensable for doing far-eastern or middle-eastern curries, Mexican dishes, making my own ground chile powder from dried chiles,and custom dry rubs of all descriptions.

You should never use one of these for both coffee and spice blending. It’s almost impossible to remove all of the aromas from the grinder, so you don’t want your coffee tasting like ras-el-hanout or vice versa (or maybe you do – if you do, then I say, go for it pilgrim!).

The Krups and the Braun are both equal and I recommend either one. They are both well-designed and about as cheap as any other off-brand, and less expensive than some of the more trendy brands. I don’t recommend buying a second true coffee mill for spices because it’s a waste of money and a pain in the ass to clean.

Having one of these enables you to roast your own whole spices and grind them to order. If you’ve only used pre-ground packaged cumin or coriander or mustard powder, you’ll be amazed at the vibrancy of quickly toasting those whole seeds brings to your cooking. and in the case of an Indian or Thai curry paste, it can really make a big difference in the outcome.  Obviously, I’ve extolled the virtues of a mortar and pestle in a previous post, but this little item can act as a complement to a mortar and pestle and save you a lot of elbow grease with little reduction in quality. I use this to create a powder and then I combine the result in a mortar and pestle with soft, more “liquid” items like fresh garlic or onions to create pastes. Saves a lot of time and sweat.

So, go out and spend an extra $30. Or find one in a thrift store for $4 as I did. You’ll be glad you did.

2 gays kicked out of Texas restaurant for kissing

http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_12790543

I found this quote interesting:

“Civil-rights lawyers say the security staff was out of line. Police, though, contend that a business such as a restaurant can refuse service to anybody, any time”.

Oh reaaaaaalllly? So, you can refuse service in Texas is a person is black. Or female. Or handicapped. OK. I think I’ll take the long way around the next time I drive to Arizona. Even though I’m not gay, black, female, handicapped, or all of the above,  Oklahoma is looking good to me right now.

Texas seems to have a lot going on down there. If you’re Hispanic, apparently you can be stopped and basically robbed by the Texas police. Hell, you don’ t even have to be Hispanic.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/05/05/texas.police.seizures/index.html

As a coda to this story, and the thing that makes it art, I leave you with this:

“On June 29, 2009, security guards called police because two gay customers kissed each other, reportedly telling the two men “they didn’t allow that faggot stuff to go on there.” El Paso police officers showed up and made the two men and the group they were with leave the restaurant”.

I say Kudos! to you at Chicos. Push the tacos instead of the burritos! You know what I’m talkin’ about :wink wink:.

porno burrito

taco-porn

Cookbook of the day – The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery

Fish cookery

The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery

by A. J. McClane

  • Publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1st edition (1977)
  • ISBN 10: 0030154316
  • ISBN 13: 978-0030154317
  • This book looks all 1977. In fact, it looks all 1967, if you ask me. But looks can be deceiving. Despite the dated look of the copious photographs, this book is an authoritative overview of fish. From taxonomy of species to regional processing, to historical uses, to market availabilities, to recipes from around the world, this book is chock full of useful information. If there’s a fish that you were curious about, whether it’s something as common as salmon or as oddball as ocean pout (a type of eel), you’ll find an entry on it. You’ll learn how to shuck an oyster, make gravlox, make caviar if you have access to fresh sturgeon, and see how the Finns make crucified trout.

    There are recipes and preparations from around the world that can liven up any dinner.

    However, there are limitations to this book. It couldn’t anticipate the fickle nature of the culinary world. How, for instance, could it possibly anticipate tilapia becoming a trendy fish? How could it predict the overfishing of such species as sea bass?

    Which beings me to another little quibble. I personally disagree with some of the characterizations, especially sea bass. How can sea bass be considered “bland”?  I guess I understand where he’s coming from, since the flesh is bone white and not “meaty”, but how can the savory and buttery nature of its flesh be denied? Also, there’s no mention of Patagonian Toothfish, which is what you usually get when you order “Chilean Sea Bass”.

    Despite these quibbles, this is a very useful volume for the waiter who wants to know everything he or she can about the seafood on their menu. If you have this book, you might even know more about it than your chef.

    I see this book in used bookstores all of the time and I picked it up yesterday for the staggering sum of $2.00 (and a First Edition to boot!). I’ve passed up a few opportunities to buy it over the years because of the dated look (I sometimes quickly page through a book to get a feel for it, and this volume just looked a bit long-in-the-tooth). If you find it, by all means, pick it up, if only to see a picture of the salt collecting facilities in Portugal used to make salted cod.

    patagonian toothfish

    Patagonian Toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass)