EEF33646-832E-47C7-9329-A006153AD436 Gourmet | Baghdad By The Bay

Posts Tagged 'gourmet'

Butter With A College Education

Cultured ButterOK, bad joke maybe, but I’ve been noticing that the next new big thing in San Francisco cuisine is all about cultured butter. Restaurants are making their own like it’s something new that’s never been done before and mixing in bone marrow or herbs or whatever they have laying around in the kitchen. The reality is that it’s not that new, it’s actually been around since people discovered milk comes out of cows and oddly enough it’s pretty easy to make yourself.

Why would I want to make butter? You’re probably saying. You can buy it at the store and if you look hard enough you can sometimes even find cultured butter. This is a bit different though because it’s fresh since you made it yourself and the thing that the restaurant chefs aren’t talking about is that if it’s made here it’s got San Francisco bacteria in it that you can’t find anywhere else. Just like our sourdough bread has it’s own flavor, cultured butter made in San Francisco has it’s own super rich awesome flavor.

I came upon making butter totally by accident actually. I kept hearing about creme fraiche as a new big thing and realized that I didn’t think I had ever tried it before so I had to make some. That part was easy. Here’s what you need:

1 pint heavy cream [not ultra-pasturized]
2 tablespoons plain yogurt with live cultures or cultured buttermilk
1 jar

Yes, it’s that simple. Pour the cream into a bowl and whip in the yogurt with a whisk then pour it into the jar. Here’s the part where people might get a little hincky. Lightly cover the jar and leave it out for 24 hours and you’ve got creme fraiche. The creme thickens up and starts to get a taste that kind of between cream cheese and sour cream. You’re free to stop there and use it anywhere you’d use sour cream. The fun fact with creme fraiche is that it’s higher butterfat content means you can mix it into sauces and it won’t break. I was tossing it on everything just to see where it would be good. Baked potatoes are great. Add a little sugar and pour it onto berries or dessert and it’s great. Mix in herbs for a super rich and wonderful dip for whatever you want to dip in it.

Now for the butter part. You can take your creme fraiche and pour it into a butter churn. Don’t have one? A food processor will work just fine. Turn it on and watch it start to look like beaten whipped cream in a couple of minutes. Let the processor keep going for about 5 minutes and it starts to break up from all that agitation. You’re getting butter and buttermilk. Pour the buttermilk off and add some cold water and run the processor again. The water will wash out more of the buttermilk and you might have to do this a couple of times before the water starts to come out clear. The more buttermilk you can extract the longer it will last.

When you’re done you have cultured butter. The buttermilk you got out of it you can use to make more by adding a couple of tablespoons to more cream or you can make buttermilk pancakes. Part of the culturing comes from the yogurt cultures and part comes from your geographic location, i.e. San Francisco. It’s very high in butterfat like European butter. It’s kind of like a rock when you pull it out of the fridge. You can use it on whatever you like. I personally like it melting into some homemade dinner rolls, but again, I’ve been putting it on just about everything to see where it’s best. I’ve yet to be disappointed. It’s a little bit tangier than regular store bought butter and more than even the store bought cultured butter I’ve tried. I’ve used organic cream from Clover Stornetta or Straus Creamery because they’re local and I know the cows are grass fed so you get more Omega 3’s and all the good stuff that comes with grass fed cow’s milk. At the very least don’t tell anyone how easy it is to make and you can been all food snobby when you tell them that the dish you made incorporates hand made butter from the cream of grass fed cows. That’s a lot of words so that means it’s really good.

Yes, it’s pretty much all saturated fat, but it’s healthy saturated fat so it’s good for you right? Just try it and taste it and you really won’t care. I think I’ve found my last meal that won’t disappoint me.

The Sophistry Of Food

Madame! This is simply NOT tahitian vanilla!Soph•ist•ry noun 1. the use of fallacious arguments, esp. with the intention of deceiving.

This is a good word I discovered several years ago and I’m finding as every day goes by that me being into food, that this would make a great title for an article. As many of you know I’ve developed a huge hatred for the words that have now become meaningless such as gourmet and artisanal. Every week the local paper has a taste test where they put several items together to see which brand tastes best. More often than not the cheapest brand tastes the best. The gourmet and artisanal brands don’t tastes right to the people and they would not buy them. This leads me to believe that most people who purchase said items tend to be purchasing the packaging more than the product.

As many of you have heard me say before, my Mom could cook and she started me early in the kitchen. I know how to cook. I like to have things on hand so I can just grab them and throw them together and make something that will impress people’s or my own taste buds. Is what I do gourmet or artisanal? By some definitions I guess so since I hand make my caramels and fudge and pesto sauce, etc. Organic? Not usually, but you don’t have to be organic to be gourmet or artisanal.

These are two words that today are thrown about by marketing departments to justify charging more for something that really isn’t all that special. I tried a certain local artisanal chocolate that I won’t name recently and it really wasn’t that much if any better than a Hershey dark chocolate bar that I could have gotten four times as much for the same price. To further feed the aforementioned two words you have to add adjectives to further describe said product. It is not a piece of dark chocolate, but an artisan crafted, sultry, smooth and creamy dark chocolate. They need those adjectives so you won’t think that it’s a poorly made piece of dark chocolate that tastes like crap. Besides, I don’t like it when my chocolate pouts.

I shouldn’t pick on chocolate because I like chocolate. I like it a lot. Let me point out another even worse use of artisanal. There is a bar that is in the process of opening in San Francisco that wants to cater to the techie crowd and attract them to a part of the city they don’t normally go to. How are they going to attract them? Our cocktails are going to be artisanal . I’m sorry, but a bartender or mixologist who’s in their 20’s isn’t an artisan. You need to be working your craft for about 20 years to be considered an artisan and last time I checked throwing a piece of basil  into a big liquor company’s vodka that you’ve stuffed a handful of basil from the local grocery store into isn’t artisanal.

Please don’t fall for this. It’s sophistry. It is deceiving you the buyer into paying more for something that isn’t really worth that much more if at all. Basil vodka? Interesting idea. Is it worth three times the price? I think not. There are few things that are also thrown around like free range eggs. Does it make them taste better? No, but it might help you feel better about eating that unfertilized chicken embryo if you felt they had more room to run around [note free range chickens while having more room to move about still smash themselves together into a giant mass.]

Personally, for me a treat is a breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs. It’s just swine and poultry and doesn’t need any fancy adjectives to make it taste better. Now can I get some hash browns with that?

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Cast Iron Cookoff, Part 2

It puts the eggs in the panA few of you might remember my article from back in April about me finding my Great-Grandmother’s cast iron pan that I reconditioned and brought back to life. Well, finally I got around to using it and here’s what happened.

Just to bring you all back up to speed. I’ve never used cast iron cookware before other than in the Boy Scouts which, well that was never really cooking, but more tossing meat on heated metal until it was safe to eat. We never took proper care of the pans because they were cast iron. In actuality we treated them a lot worse than you’re supposed to, but because they’re cast iron they held up. Since getting married, Wife and I have had non-stick pots and pans. Wife doesn’t really like non-stick and I didn’t really know any better. Luckily Wife didn’t like the idea of me cooking in pan that was made back in 1903 [maybe she though it would turn us into zombies or something] so I got the pan and the kitchen all to myself.

The pan, because it’s really old has a certain quality to it. If you go to a store and rub your fingers over the bottom of a cast iron pan it’s a little rough. This one because of the way they used to make them was smooth and I mean silky smooth. I had re-seasoned the pan and had it all ready to use. Turned the heat on medium and let it warm up with a beat 3 eggs with a couple of teaspoons of water [this is called French eggs I was told by a friend of mine]. I tossed a bit of butter in the pan and swirled it around before tossing the eggs in and once I added the eggs the magic happened.

small amount of sticking, but it easily scraped away

Non-stick pans become, well, sticky after awhile and the true test is whether or not you can cook a liquified high protein material like eggs without it sticking. Cheese is another good one, but I like to eat eggs more than a fried handful of cheese. Our scrambled eggs from a non-stick pan always looked awful. They bound together in clumps and were nothing like the omelets I used to be able to toss out when Wife and I were first married. Well I quickly noticed a difference.

The eggs didn’t stick at all. As a matter of fact I would have had to work hard to break them up as after a minute I noticed the eggs had set and were actually cooking a bit too quickly. Next time I’m going to try a medium low heat. I tried to break the egg mass up, but it stayed together so I tossed a handful of cheese in the center to add more difficulty to the test. The edges flipped over nicely and effortlessly to give me in the end an omelet when I was just trying to make scrambled eggs.

The taste? Awesome. Wife and I liked to go out for breakfast and I have to say that these were better than what we got when we went out, easier to make than the scrambled glop and the clean up was pretty easy as well.

The finished productAfter all the omelet had left the pan I let it sit while I ate. I came back and the pan had cooled a bit, but was still pretty warm. I ran some hot water in the pan, no soap then hand dried the pan and put it back on the stove and heated it up to get rid of any left over moisture. After about five minutes I took a napkin and put some corn oil on it and rubbed it all over the pan and let it finish cooling. Cast iron is kind of like a car. You have to wax it and several thin coats of wax is better than one thick coat. After it was completely cooled down I picked it up and put it away.

While my execution could have been better, it was my first time with cast iron and I really didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked and I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for a smaller one in the future. To duplicate my recipe you just do the following:

3 eggs
1 teaspoon of water per egg
pinch of kosher salt
dash of pepper
beat it like hell with a wisk.

Today food in San Francisco is all about gourmet, artisan, etc. words that are usually tossed around more to raise the price than improve the taste. I do have to say though that while it’s a little more work to take care of a cast iron pan it sure beats having to replace it ever couple of years to get the same results. You also don’t have any toxic fumes from the non-stick coating to deal with and you get the addition of iron to your diet. I suspect this pan will just get better and better over time and I hope it keeps getting handed down throughout my family for many years to come.

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Cast Iron Cookoff

When my Mom died we had an awful task on our hands. We had to go through all the junk she had collected over the years that was useless to us now. We happened to save a few things that we weren’t sure why until I came across a piece that struck me as something I had to play around with. My Mom’s old cast iron pan.

This pan was a Wagner #10 pan and my experience with cast iron only had been in the Boy Scouts when we were camping and from what I know now they didn’t teach us how to handled the cast iron pots and pans very well. My Mom’s old skillet had seen better days and I wish I took a before picture just to give you an idea what it looked like before I started reconditioning it. I did find a couple of pictures below which are pretty close to what it looked like before I started, but it was actually worse than this.

I started searching google for different ways to recondition a cast iron pan and found a lot of information, but most of the techniques were minor variations on the same thing.

1. Coat the pan with an oven cleaner and leave it for up to a week spraying more on every few days
2. Wash it with soap and water
3. Use fine #000 steel wool to remove any of the left over bits that haven’t come off
4. Re-season the pan

photo from black iron dude's blogThat’s all pretty easy stuff to do so I started off to work on it. I sprayed it down and had it bagged up in my basement where I’d re-spray it every few days and then one day when I was looking at some info I found on cast iron pans I found the following information, The Wagner Sidney, OH plant was closed in 1903. Uh, wait a sec, WHAT?! I started looking up pictures and found an exact match for my Mom’s pan and it turns out that I had a cast iron pan sitting in a caustic solution for close to a week that turns out she got from her Mom who got it from her Mom. I had my Great Grandmother’s pan from the late 1800’s to beginning of the 20th century sitting in a death bath of evil chemicals.

I yanked it out of the bag and started washing it off to make sure I hadn’t ruined it. I had forgotten something, it’s cast iron. The pan was fine, but still had a few spots of over a hundred year old seasoning left on it so I put it back and sprayed it some more. When I was finished I added another step that the Black Iron Dude suggested of soaking it in two parts water to one part white vinegar to counter act the lye in the oven cleaner.

Now it was time to re-season the pan. This is where people differ in their views. Some like it hot others like it not so hot. I chose the not so hot since some people seem to like this first and then move up to the hotter seasoning plus I’m not sure our pot holders would help me with a red hot 550° skillet. I put it in the oven after washing it off set to around 150° for about 15 minutes to make sure it was completely dry. I pulled it out and turned the oven up to 350° and started rubbing some coconut oil all over the inside and outside of the pan. It then goes back into the oven for about an hour and then when you let it cool down it’s seasoned. I’m going to do this a total of three times so I’m not finished yet, but you can see how far it’s come from the picture. After the first seasoning you can see that the pan is a little spotty, but it’s still smooth as glass on the inside.

I’ll start off Sunday by cooking eggs in it. On a side note the inside of this pan is a smooth as glass even before I started to restore it. That’s a sign that it’s an old pan. Looking at this pan taught me something in that when I got married 16 years ago we were given a lot of pots and pans, almost all non-stick. Most of those aren’t what you would call non-stick today. The teflon wears down and just doesn’t exactly do what it’s supposed to after awhile while friends of mine who swear by a good seasoned cast iron pan say it never sticks. Here I’ve got a pan that lasted over 100 years and was pretty easy to bring it back to looking better than new. I’m hoping to get another 100 years out of the pan now. If this works out like I hope it will our non-stick pans will be going away very soon and I’ll be adding more antique cast iron [hint, it’s usually cheaper than new non-stick if you want to do the work].

Stay tuned for more info.

Your dream comes true, then you’re kicked in the nuts

Well it finally happened. I have had my dream come true. My dream has always been to get a job where I made enough money to shop at Andronico’s regularly. That doesn’t mean I’d only shop there, just that I had enough money in my pocket that I wouldn’t flinch when I saw he cash register ring up.

Well, now there’s a problem. Andronico’s may be going out of business.There’s a good chance they will be bought out by a company called Renovo, and I’m hoping they will. I love their meat department and deli department and the fact that it’s not always crowded and you can find products that you can’t find at other stores. I’ve written about them before and this morning we went in to pick up a few things at the deli and I happened to walk past their cheese section and actually was able to stop and look at the cheeses with the possibility of buying some. I did, and I also hit the olive bar which I love and stocked up heavily.  It felt good to now be able to eat more healthy food than the cheap packaged crap that’s out there that’s pushed my blood pressure up a few times that I could have exploded.

I’m keeping my hopes up for now that they’ll still be there next week.

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San Francisco Foodies: Gourmands

Well, finally! I get to talk about food again. I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about people labeling San Franciscans who like food with the term which I assume is derogatory, “foodies” or more specific, “San Francisco Foodies”. I say derogatory because the word “smug” usually comes up in most cases.

Yes, we’re smug, we know it all and we could fix the world if you’d just let us, but let’s put that aside for a moment. Let’s look at the word foodie and how it applies to San Francisco. Originally coined in 1981 by Paul Levy and Ann Barr and used as the title of their 1984 book, The Official Foodie Handbook. It described a person who was not a gourmet who had a very sensitive palate that could discern the difference between a 1978 Chateu la fit Rothchild and and 1979 Chateau la fit Rothchild.  Anyone who comments on my possible misspelling is not a gourmet, nor smug, but a snob who can’t find anything else to pick apart to discredit me.

Foodies are people who have a love of food that tastes good and are interested in why it tastes good so that they could possibly make it themselves. There was a term prior to this that actually fits San Francisco foodies much better. That term is Gourmand. They don’t necessarily have the refined palate of a gourmet, but they can at least tell the difference between a Cabernet and a Merlot and they love food whether it is a succulent slice of prime rib from the House of Prime Rib to a bronco burrito from El Burrito Express. I would say Gourmand is a much more fitting word than foodie. First off, while being a modern word, foodie is almost 30 years old and well, sounds so 80’s even though I don’t remember anyone using the word here in the 80’s. Gourmand in and of itself is a word that has some class behind it, probably because it’s a smug French word and we being the smug people we are should be able to identify with it more.

In a recent story I read in a place I can’t remember, but probably sfgate.com, they mentioned that New York has the most diverse cuisine options to eat followed by San Francisco then followed by, well who cares, I’m trying to focus on San Francisco here. We are the second food Mecca of the US with the flavors of many countries around the world at our finger tips. Yes, we have lots of high brow restaurants in this city, but the people who eat there are perfectly happy walking up to a taco truck or one of the new versions that don’t serve tacos, but some form of portable cuisine that’s fast and easy to get and tastes good when you’re sitting on the curb consuming it.

There is a guy in the Mission who cooks up crepes from a side walk stand that moves around daily and he announces where he will be on Twitter. We have trucks that drive around the city cooking up BBQ, Korean food, even curry dishes. Highbrow? Nope. Good food? You bet.

Anthony Bourdain, a former chef who worked in gourmet restaurants travels around the world eating what he calls good food, well….I beg to disagree. He did a show in San Francisco and ended up eating a burger at Red’s Java House. There are some people that love the place, but I had a burger there once and I’ve done better with frozen burgers from Costco. A good burger shouldn’t be served with processed american cheese in this city. Anthony didn’t focus on any of the great mobile food purveyors in the city, but he did at least start with the House of Prime Rib. Anthony I would call more of a foodie than a gourmand. He’s trying to identify with the normal person who likes food, but he tends to choose places that don’t serve very good food when he steps down to the level of the average person and he basically eats shit.

San Francisco foodies [gourmands] can usually cook for themselves and enjoy cooking. There is nothing better for me than a day in the 60’s which causes me to pull out the BBQ. I try all sorts of different marinades and side dishes and in the event of a major disaster I know that my family will be well fed. I know how to turn a cheap piece of meat into a 5 star dish because that’s what you need to know in this economy. We know that you don’t have to pay $300 for a meal for two in San Francisco and sometimes the better meals you can get for under $15 for two people.

We also like to try new foods that are outside our comfort zone such as the fruit cherimoya. It really does have a taste like bubble-gum and pineapple but with all those seeds you have to be careful not to break a tooth. I have indeed stooped to the level of what some people would call third world countries and through some of my hispanic friends have been able to try chapulines over several shots of tequila. It takes about five shots of tequila for the average caucasian to even think of popping a deep fried grasshopper in their mouth, but I admit, they’re tasty. I’ve eaten dim sum that I have no idea what was in it, but it sure did taste good. I should probably learn more Cantonese or Mandarin to better converse with the vendors to know what I’m putting in my mouth, but if it looks good I’ll try it.

So for now, I’d say we should move away from the term foodie in favor of gourmand because after all we are San Francisco and we’re smug. Get over it.

Valentine’s Day: San Francisco

I am lucky that my wife never even looks at this site and couldn’t even tell me what color it is if her life depended on it, so I’ll share this with you instead.

I never liked Valentine’s Day very much because I always felt guys are on the short end of the stick. It’s all about what you’re buying for your girlfriend/wife. I suppose it’s slightly different in the gay community, but not being gay I don’t know for sure.

I never get even a card on Valentine’s day, but I’m usually expected to “put out” something along the lines of chocolate and sweets or jewelry. Well, I’m lucky. I didn’t marry that kind of girl. When we go out to dinner we don’t like to sit and languish for hours and hours. She’s a simple girl and that’s why she’s put up with me for over 14 years.

[mappress mapid=”33″]So I’m going to do something different today. Today I’m going to take my wife to a special place on Union Street called American Cupcake for lunch. This is a place that isn’t just a bakery shop, but more of a café that specializes in cupcakes. They’ve done so well that they’ve been featured on the Food Network or the Cooking Channel [I can’t keep the two straight anymore]. They have lots to offer outside of their sweet menu which is their cupcakes. They also offer a savory menu which is what you’ll want to get for lunch or dinner unless you like to eat cupcakes for those two meals.

They also have a PBJ assortment to offer as well as beer and wine based cocktails. All of their goodies are organic and sustainably farmed so the eco-geek in you will be kept very happy. I suggest you check them out and see what you think.