By: Vegetable Ogre | Oct 16, 2012 Forks & Knives
Having your shit together in the kitchen goes a long way towards transforming it from a battleground into a playground.
I often run in to people who claim that they cannot cook, or cannot cook at home. I find that nine times out of ten this is because people make the entire process a lot harder than necessary right off the bat, and therefore a lot more frustrating. We tend to not return to activities that continually frustrate us. So let’s break this down. When you see “TV personalities” with all their ingredients in their little bowls (that some poor intern schlub cut for them, by the way) in front of them.. well, that’s call having your shit together. Or, politely, “Mise En Place” – “Everything in place”. “Meez on plass”. This is learning to tie your shoes. This is learning left from right. In other words, this shit right here is funda-fucking-mental. If you do not learn to practice this methodology, you have already peaked in the kitchen. Maybe you’re some awesome multi-armed savant jacked up on adderall and don’t need the help, I dunno. But most likely the following will help most of you. It seems like common sense, but trust me, if it were that common I wouldn’t be soap-boxing about it.
Mise En Place is a French phrase defined as “everything in place”, as in having all your set up and prepared ingredients, well, uh, prepared. Part of having your shit together when you cook at home is have the recipe easily accessible (if you are using one) before and during the process. Why before? Well, you need to what and how much of it you need — and you need to know if there are any special instructions for ingredient preparation.
So, check the recipe for things like “diced, “chopped”, “julienne”, these are all pretty good indicators you’ve got some foot(knife)work to accomplish before you start applying heat to things. This is also a good time get water started if you need some to boil. This is also a great time to gather up all the utensils and cooking equipment you’re going to need; hunting for things in the middle of cooking isn’t always disastrous — but it will be eventually. Having found all the stuff you need to chop, dice, shred, squeeze, and or extract.. do so. It’s good to keep crappy spare cups and small dishes for this kind of stuff — you can put the ingredients in the bowls and store it in the fridge if you aren’t exactly The Flash with all the choppy choppy.
Once all of that is tackled, you can pretty much proceed. Make sure your cooking area is free of clutter and unintended flammable materials, gather up all your stuff and get it placed in or near your immediate orbit and start cooking. If you are using a recipe, feel free to consult it often. Good habits are formed through practiced repetition that yields positive results. You need to do this every time, until “meez” is habitual for you. If you need to move some stuff around in the kitchen to better facilitate ease of use, use this as an excuse to do it.
Last week I promised Frijoles Borrachos. So.
(Drunken Beans – Red & Black)
Beans and.. Beer? The smells released as the beer boils away with the stock, peppers, bacon, and onions will win you over. Great with enchiladas this is a true Northern Mexico/Southern Texas staple. These beans are easy to prepare but they don’t store too well, probably due to the yeast in your beer of choice. Try to freeze any leftovers within 24-36 hours.
Add some pico de gallo, salsa, or your favorite hot sauce as the muses direct you — stir it on in there while it’s cooking or afterwards.. your beans, do what you want. Scallions or chives on top are a nice addition as well. If you need to omit the bacon I suggest using liquid aminos and maybe a little liquid smoke or mesquite, but just a few drops of each, tossed in towards the end of the cooking time.
Serves 12 (scale it, I taught you how, slack-ass)
- 12 oz favorite beer — I like miller high life for this, but do what you like
- 3 Bay leaves
- 1/2 pound dried kidney beans, picked over and rinsed
- 1/2 pound dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
- 1 Large red onion, chopped
- 1 Red Bell pepper, cored, roughly chopped
- 1/2 pound bacon or salt pork, roughly chopped
- 2 Jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 Bunch cilantro, stemmed and roughly chopped
- 2 Large tomatoes, diced
- 3 Garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, finely chopped
- 3 Tbs cooking oil
- 5 qt water, or stock of choice
- Salt and pepper to taste
Method of Production
1) Heat a 6 quart stockpot for one minute over medium-high heat. Add oil. Heat for 30 more seconds, then add bacon. Stir bacon around a bit (about another 2 minutes) and then add everything but the stock, beans, garlic, and beer.
2) Stir vigorously for 3 minutes, then reduce heat to medium. Stirring off and on for about 5 minutes, let the veggies sweat until the onion is translucent. Add the beans and beer. Add stock or water to the pot.
3) Add your garlic now. We’re going to be cooking for a while.
4) Bring to a boil, cover with a lid slightly ajar to allow for steam to vent, and reduce heat to a simmer 180 degrees, or so (low-medium, or slightly bubbling) for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are tender.
6) Salt & pepper to taste and serve immediately. Fish out any errant bay leaves.
Next time.. We’ll talk about sauces, their mothers, your mother, and probably some tempeh and polenta enchiladas with ranchero sauce.
Soon I would like to go into a little more depth about knives and the proper handling of them since I dropped mention on my previous article. This article, however, will not be about those technical details, instead I offer some other insight about some insidious nature of the food service industry, and even so I still work in it because I love cooking and I’m good at it despite the road blocks women face to which I will discuss at some other time, and the harshness of the industry.
Recently, I quit a job that worked everyone to the bone. I mean that most workers, at least line cooks were working over ten hours a day at five to six days a week, and sometimes longer. The amount of fatigue that sets in seem unimaginable if you have never worked a labor intensive job that requires standing on your feet all day. Sure, many people would say that ten hours a day sucks but it’s not that bad, though I tend to then go on to ask if that is ten hours at a desk or ten hours on your feet without a break. Usually the answer is ten hours at a desk with a leisurely break. Now, I know that ten hours of work is a long time and exhausting, but for those who work in labor intensive jobs that require a lot of time standing ten hours feels more like sixteen, easy! Hey, and it’s common place to not get a true break, and no one seems to be bothered by it.
So, I mentioned the line cooks working an average of ten hours without a break, well the prep cooks are usually the immigrants who speak very little or broken English are on staff for at least fourteen hours, six or seven days a week, often going back and forth between jobs sometimes for the same company that have more than one restaurant tied to the name. The immigrants are used to their last drop of energy.
Years ago I worked for a restaurant that employed a young man from Guatemala as a dish washer. He was employed under a fake ID and Social Security card. At one point restaurant needed to employ a second dishwasher to work the evening shifts, and when the restaurant couldn’t find one that would work the few extra hours available, the bosses went to this fresh faced kid and asked him to get a second ID and SS card so that he can become employed twice, but under two separate names therefore collecting two separate paychecks. The insidious part of this was that rather than paying a single paycheck to this kid by instead giving out two checks… they didn’t have to pay him over time. He worked over time but under a different name he got the same pay rate regardless of his hours worked. It wasn’t until years later, and now recently thinking about all the hours put in by all the immigrant workers I worked with at my salaried job from hell, that I began to feel really shitty about how these workers are treated and used. Workers in the food service industry are treated like shit for the most part, even us privileged white English speaking kids are often treated like slaves. And you know what? No one bats an eye at it.
I’ve started to refer to the food service industry as one of the last industries in which worker issues are seldom talked about and almost down right ignored, and there really are no unions for workers. Sure IWW has a chapter for retail and restaurant workers, but everyone is pretty set and used to the way things have been… we are taught from the beginning how the industry works.
I mentioned before about how the pay is pretty shitty often times, but most of working conditions and the hierarchy tears people down and you’re lucky if you get to be in a good place that is thoughtful and cares about workers. Be thankful for those places because they are very few and far between. I hope that if I were to have a restaurant or be a part in creating one that I would do my damnedest to make it a good place for workers. A place that has a cooperative spirit even if not a worker cooperative in name.
The meat… Rather the Mollusc’s
Thai Style Broiled Oysters
- One dozen fresh live oysters, scrubbedd
- Few dashes Fish sauce, wheat free/MSG free
- 1 TB Sambal chili sauce
- 1 TB Sweet Thai Chili sauce
- 1 large clove garlic, rough chop
- Kefir lime leaf, super fine julienne
- 1 TSP Coconut aminos or gluten free soy sauce
- Couple grinds, Fresh ground black pepper
- Coriander leaves, garnish
- Thai basil, garnish
- Pickled ginger, garnish, go for good quality not that sickly pink shit
- Sea salt
Heat broiler. Mix together fish sauce, sambal, sweet chili sauce, garlic, kefir lime leaf, aminos/soy sauce and black pepper.
Gently open oysters with an oyster knife as seen in any instructional video found of the internets. Be sure to keep the brine from the oysters. Place oyster in a pan for roasting. You can hold them in place with some rock salt lined in the pan. Sprinkle the oysters with a little sea salt. Add about ½ tsp of the chili mix over the oysters. Place under hot broiler for about four minutes or until the ousters start to bubble a bit around the sides.
Served with picked coriander, thai basil, and pickled ginger.
This is a nice spicy starter to a meal.
Greetings fellow humans, internet itinerants, and space-faring lizardmen with a penchant for world enslavement — an introduction.
My name is Dan Garrison and I am a chef living and working in the Midwestern United States. I have been cooking professionally in one capacity or another for a little over 20 years. I like to think I specialize in from scratch, home made, foods — usually with an emphasis on “poverty foods”, “cucina povera”, ”peasant food”, “soul food”, et cetera. I like to start with staples and work up from there. As a result of that I dabble in a lot of “international” foods (international to people that don’t live there, anyway) and flavor profiles. I play a lot. You will too. But first we need to talk about some fundamentals. As an addendum; I am generally terse and fairly potty mouthed.
My first plan was going to be to talk about beer beans, but I got caught up trying to decide if I wanted to write about how to soak dried beans & pulses. Then I needed to scale one of my recipes that I wanted to use.. and therefore finally decided that it might just be helpful to start there. With scaling.
This requires math. But I have confidence in you, human. I really do. I tell all my cooks part of tackling anything in the kitchen is you need to be smarter than the food. This should not be a challenge for you; plan accordingly. Speaking of which, we’ll talk about mise en place and how essential it is to being successfully productive in a kitchen next time, if someone else doesn’t beat me to it.
How We Scale Recipes, or How This Shit Works
You have a recipe that you love. It serves 4. You love it so much you want to prepare it for 17 people. Now what? Well, listen up.
Whether scaling up or scaling down; it doesn’t much matter — the method employed for adjusting the quantities in the recipe will be the same. This is called scaling, or scaling a recipe. Some things we don’t scale all the time. Like salt. You’ll see.
We need to calculate the conversion factor. This will be the number that you are going to be using to convert almost all the recipe quantities. I generally just round up when I get a long answer, like .45213 — just round up or down to the nearest hundredth — so .45 for your own sanity.
To resolve the conversion factor: Divide the desired number of servings by the original number of servings. The result is going to be your conversion factor.
Scaling that 4 portion recipe up to 17 portions involves two steps:
1) Divide 17 by 4, which gives you a conversion factor of 4.25
2) Multiply each ingredient by 4.25 — sometimes we scale salt, sometimes we don’t. When baking, we generally do – but not always. Most other recipes we don’t want to scale the salt UP because, well, shit gets too salty.
This will also spare you some sanity when converting one recipe to another.
Tsp= teaspoon. Tbs = tablespoon. C = cup.
3 tsp = 1 tbs.
2 tbs = 1 oz.
8 oz = 1 cup
48 tsp = 8 oz, or 1 cup
16 tbs = 8 oz, or 1 cup
Below, I have presented you with a relatively simple vegan baking example – we want to take this recipe that serves 24 and convert it to serve 6. Granted, the math is super simple — shouldn’t be an issue.
Sweet Tater Drop Biscuits
- 16 oz peeled & diced sweet potato – about 3 small sweet potatoes, or a couple large ones
- enough water to cook the sweet potatoes in
- 4 C whole wheat flour
- 4 C All purpose flour
- 8 tsp brown sugar
- 8 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp fine kosher salt
- 3 C rice milk
- 4 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 4 tbs vegetable oil
Method Of Production:
1) Preheat your oven to 425˚F
2) Peel and cut the sweet potatoes in to 1/2″ cubes. Place in an adequately sized pot and use enough cold water to cover them twice over. Lightly salt the water to help retain starches. This is also the reason for the cold water to start with.
3) Bring the sweet potatoes to a boil and then turn them down to medium heat and cook, covered, 12-18 minutes, or until potatoes fall apart by poking them sharply with a fork. Or a knife, I don’t care. After verifying harmlessness, remove the sweet potatoes from the heat. Remove the sweet potatoes from the excess water. Let them stand for 5 minutes and then mash them with your preferred mashing implement. A fork works. Measure out the amount you need and set it aside
4) In a small mixing bowl, mix together the rice milk and vinegar and then set it aside to curdle. Yep, curdle. The “wet mix”.
5) In a separate large mixing bowl mix together the flours, baking soda and powder, salt and sugar. The “dry mix”.
6) Whisk together the sweet potato with the now curdled rice milk mixture.
7)Now pour this “wet mix” into the bowl with the flours, “the dry mix”, and combine until almost fully incorporated; really just a few turns with a spoon or whisk is pretty good. Now we are going to add almost all the oil to the dough, but we need a little bit on our hands too. Slap a few drops of oil on your mitts and start kneading the dough for just a couple of minutes — this doesn’t take more than a minute or so. Once it’s all combined it’s done. Staaaahp.
8) Turn your oven down to 400˚F. We had it at 425˚F to ensure that when the oven cycles on and off that we do not dip below our desired temperature of 400˚F. Remember, be smarter than the food, people.
9) Using an oiled tablespoon, spoon out the dough about the size of a golf ball, or about 1″ thick on to a cookie sheet and keep them spaced about 1″ apart. Sprinkle the top with a little extra salt and sugar if you like, and proceed to bake for 10-12 minutes. When finished, the biscuits will be golden on top, and when you insert a probe it will come out clean, ahaha.
We want to scale this recipe down to 6. Divide 6 by 24 and we get a conversion of .25! That’s fuckin’ handy.
16 x .25 = 4. 3 x .25 = .75 or.. 3/4 a cup of rice milk. You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.
The first part of the scaled recipe
Sweet Tater Drop Biscuits
- 4 oz of sweet potato
- plenty of water and a pot big enough to cook in
- 1 C whole wheat flour
- 1 C All purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp fine kosher salt
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 3/4 C rice milk
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
So, maybe you learned something. Maybe you didn’t. In a couple of weeks we’ll talk about the importance of mise en place and having your collective shit together before you try to get started. Then we’ll make some Red & Black Frijoles Borrachos.
I still see many young starry eyed people wanting to join in on the culinary profession with the express desire to become one of the very few famous chefs. I blame all the food TV shows for this unrealistic expectation. The reality is far from the glossy cover of a magazine with your name on it, or your own brand of olive oils with your scary bleached white toothed smile. The reality is that this industry is hard. No, I take that back, it is really FUCKING hard . It is hard on your body, it is hard on your relationships, it is long grueling hours in a dangerous world of knives, meat slicers, steam, fire, and hot oil, it also doesn’t pay very well, women are still a minority and deal with sexual harassment; even so it can be rewarding and fulfilling given the right environment that nurtures growth to striking it on your own under the title of Chef, and if you are lucky enough to know the right people, or you are really superb at what you do famous will be tacked on to your title.
The aim of this column, Forks & Knives, is to share musings, rants, commentary, and recipe guides from seasoned professionals. Food and the culture around it is every much as socio-political as it is a way to strengthen the human bond we all share. Many gatherings are done around food and drink as a catalyst for some bond we have for the people we are sharing our time.
If there is one thing that I feel is the single most important part about being a good cook or chef is to have three knives (Chef, Boning, and Paring) kept sharp. Buy a whet stone and learn how to sharpen properly, or if you are not confident in yourself to keep your blades sharp take it to a professional. A sharp knife is a much safer knife because it will slice much easier through material, and if you cut yourself it will be a clean cut. I know that is not much of a condolence to some of you, but hear me out. A dull knife requires that you push and work harder for the cut to be made, this extra muscle work puts you at greater risk that if you were to cut yourself, you would mangle the cut. The fact is that a clean smooth cut will hurt much less because less nerve endings have been cut or bruised, where as a mangled cut is quite painful and takes longer to heal.
I would also like to mention that even if you have no interest in becoming a professional it is a wise idea to find good teaching sources on how to properly hold your knife and how to properly position your fingers. This will make your life much easier and less scary when it comes to cutting, also allowing for more stamina and speed to develop in preparing your meals. I cannot describe enough how poorly some culinary schools teach students in these areas, and if I could I would tell that student, or former they got ripped off and demand some of that money back I would. Holding, finger position, and sharpening are fundamentals as far as I am concerned, and when I teach others “how to cook” I always demand that the lesson begins with this core, if I don’t, I am not a good teacher.
So you all know this is often how I work on my own blog postings for my site A Saucerful; I start out with some musings or a rant and then I get into what I call “The Meat” of the post which is some “Food Porn” that I capture myself and often a recipe guide. This will probably be pretty common for my postings here on Gonzo Times.
“Banh Mi” Lettuce Wraps
- Pork Jowl, cleaned of all the “bubbly” stuff attached on the inside of the jowl, keeping the top fat
- Enough to cover, Coconut Aminos, or Gluten Free Tamari sauce
- 2 TB Fish sauce, Gluten Free
- 1TB+ fresh Ginger, minced or grated
- 2-3 large cloves garlic, minced or grated
- 2-3 Serrano or Thai chillies, minced (or as hot as you like it)
- 1-2 sprig scallion, sliced thin
- 2 TB fresh coriander/cilantro, minced
- ¼- ½ tsp ea. cinnamon, anise or fennel seed, coriander, fresh ground spices are best (depending on how much you like these spices and how big the meat)
- Black Pepper, fresh ground, a good 6-8 grinds
- 1 TB honey, optional
Place all ingredients in a zipper bag and mix together, add the jowl and press out most of the air leaving the marinade to surround the meat. Allow to marinade for 12-24 hours.
Remove jowl, reserve marinade for basting if desired, and roast fat side up on a low temperature (about 250-270) for 1.5-2.5 hours, or until tender. Depending on the size of the jowl it may take longer or less time. Remove and allow the roast to rest before slicing into thin slices.
Serve in large butter/bib lettuce leaves with mayonnaise (home-made is best), thin sliced radish (if desired), thin sliced cucumber, carrot, fresh cilantro leaves, and your favorite Thai or Vietnamese chili sauce.
Because jowl has a similar meat to fat ratio to pork belly it is a very satisfying and inexpensive cut of meat to use, and I may be a little blasphemous in saying that it might be better than pork belly even if by a small margin.
You may notice that I call recipes guidelines instead, and that is because I generally do not believe in some sort of “exact” measurement for most food preparation because there are a lot of variables to consider that can alter the result of a recipe, and so I write out guidelines almost never stating an exact. One needs to learn how to tap into their intuition and learn the concepts of fundamentals to guide a desired outcome, plus following recipes is a sure way weigh down the creative process in a lot of ways.