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Brick Fight

Food and Putting it in Our Faces

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I cook for a living which is why I don't have the impressive militaria/machine knowledge you folks have. I've worked as chef and cook for several different types of kitchens, and although it can be pretty hot, long, and thankless work, I get off a little on being able to create something the way I do. I currently run a food truck with my friend, and we make Mexican food in as an authentic way as we can. After years of the faux-French cooking prevalent in American kitchens, it's been fun, yet difficult to start doing things like soaking & grinding corn for tortillas/tamales, or making our own cheese and sour cream from scratch. Current project is to make our own goat chevre from goat milk.

 

I've also found myself tearing down preconceptions in my mind of what seems to be commonly-held "knowledge" in the culinary world. The big one lately has been produce prices. While it's convenient and supposedly cheaper to have a food proprieter deliver produce for you on a reliable schedule, we've been having an easy time of getting produce from the market where we work. Most people look at the retail prices of farmers' market prices here and wonder how we can buy the stuff and get away with it. After dealing the farmers long enough, we found that whatever they can't sell at a market has to go for wholesale at auctions later. Their product goes away for some pretty medeival prices (especially for the Amish, who can't easily travel to and from the auctions). So, we just started seeing what they'd like to get rid of, and offering more than what they'd get (and less than retail) for some cases. As a result, farmers have become friendly and open to selling us large amounts of fantastic seasonal produce for very agreeable prices.

 

So is anyone curious about cooking/the food industry or have anything they want to discuss? If anyone's interested, I'll keep up on our little science experiments and trips. I've also had plans for a food blog where I want to teach people how to cook. Not like "here's some recipes." I want to teach someone how to efficiently feed themselves and others the way some cook making 200 perfect meals a night would.

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I can chime in a bit as well, went to culinary school and worked as a apprentice for 6 months and a line cook for a year or so.  I also hang out with a  bunch of cooks/servers at my local bar when I go for post work beers.

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In regards to beef, what is everyone's favorite cut for steak?  My personal favorite is a bone in rib steak.  I find that to be the best mix of price, flavor and tenderness.

I'm not a big steak guy, but I like Del Monicos and ribeyes the most.

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I'm not a big steak guy, but I like Del Monicos and ribeyes the most.

Yeah, the Ribeyes/Delmonico cuts are great but tend to be more expensive (significantly so) than bone in rib steak here, and I like the flavor you get from grilling with the bone on.

 

I like me a good New York. 

New York was my go to before I got into Rib steaks.

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Brick Fight,

 

In my study of different cultures I start with food and only study how they kill each other at the end.  This subject is fascinating to me.  My family is farmers and the how and why is always fascinating.

 

Many (I say many, but I mean more than before) restaurants have started to make deals with farms.  The farms grow what the restaurants want.  The restaurants pay for the product.  With the volatility of restaurants I am interested in how local regulation can support farmers in regional areas.  I used to hitch hike from the Texas border to Chiapas every year during my vacation, when I had money and was young and stupid, and many farmers in Mexico set up roadside stands from which they sold produce from the farmers and cooked it up for truckers and the occasional gringo idiot like me.

 

By the way, if your truck were within 50 miles of any state I work in now I would visit it and eat one of each thing on your menu.  

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Brick Fight,

 

In my study of different cultures I start with food and only study how they kill each other at the end.  This subject is fascinating to me.  My family is farmers and the how and why is always fascinating.

 

Many (I say many, but I mean more than before) restaurants have started to make deals with farms.  The farms grow what the restaurants want.  The restaurants pay for the product.  With the volatility of restaurants I am interested in how local regulation can support farmers in regional areas.  I used to hitch hike from the Texas border to Chiapas every year during my vacation, when I had money and was young and stupid, and many farmers in Mexico set up roadside stands from which they sold produce from the farmers and cooked it up for truckers and the occasional gringo idiot like me.

 

By the way, if your truck were within 50 miles of any state I work in now I would visit it and eat one of each thing on your menu.  

The one high end banquet hall that I spent some time working at had a half acre garden out back. We used it for about 80 % herbs and lettuce variants.  Also used to get some farm deliveries from outside the city.

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Lettuce is one of those crops where you get the most bang for having it grown local.  Considering the quality of mass delivered Iceberg lettuce, which tastes just like what the name sounds like, if it could be made economically sustainable then nearly every market could have a lettuce farm in it.  

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Lettuce is one of those crops where you get the most bang for having it grown local.  Considering the quality of mass delivered Iceberg lettuce, which tastes just like what the name sounds like, if it could be made economically sustainable then nearly every market could have a lettuce farm in it.  

Iceberg is kinda meh.  I prefer leaf lettuce (red preferably for the visual appeal)  I don't mind iceberg as part of a mix, but only about 1/3 at most.  It is good at retaining texture with heavier dressings on it, but that's about it.

I generally prefer a baby greens mix. (spring mix) maybe with some herbs and a light touch of bitter stuff like radicchio and frisse.

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Lettuce is one of those crops where you get the most bang for having it grown local.  Considering the quality of mass delivered Iceberg lettuce, which tastes just like what the name sounds like, if it could be made economically sustainable then nearly every market could have a lettuce farm in it.  

Definitely. The first two years of doing this was a nightmare, because we weren't able to get as much product to keep up with demand (besides people throwing a hiss at us because we weren't doing ground beef/iceberg/crunchy tortilla tacos). So, we'd have to get heavy on the salsa or veggies. Greens and especially local seasonal lettuce was a godsend. Surprising amount of flavor, good texture. It really helped out in those years. This is when we would try to make a pork shoulder last the week.

 

As far as buying locally goes, it's going to happen more, but it'll still be niche. There are too many things that happen in the average American restaurant that prevent it. A few examples:

 

-Lack of menu flexibility. We have a small menu of one type of taco, tamale, guacamole, and two drinks that we change weekly. This lets us buy up stuff according to what we can get from farmers, then supplement it from a quality purveyor or two. Many restaurants still run the same menu year after year, so they can't work easily with the limits of seasonal product.

 

-The hierarchy of restaurants is still shit. Opening a restaurant in the US is still shit. It costs a ridiculous amount of money, so the average person who opens one is either well-off (so with no restaurant experience), or has accepted money in private investments or bank loans (or in one case I worked at, straight-up loan sharks). This means the owner is either used to a rich lifestyle and cares more about production to have to worry about haggling prices, weekly/daily menus, inconsistent supply, etc. The latter type is the biggest problem because each investor wants their money back ASAP and to run the restaurant their way (I did short work for two restaurants that went down this way).

 

-It's lots of effort for a low amount of product. Just getting farmers to agree to the system we've worked has taken a long time. Most of them didn't want to do it, but we built up enough of a rapport that they prefer it, now. No kitchen with a chef that works 80 hours a week trying to serve Midwesternian portion sizes can keep up with how much of a pain this can be.

 

I think the big trend will be seasonal openings. The biggest trigger I see for failed restaurants is the Slow Season and the insistence to stay open. There are just more advantages to closing for some of the year than being open the entire year.

 

 

What do real food people think of the food network and game shows like Cuthroat kitchen and Chopped?

I respect Top Chef because they run it well, Tom Calicchio is no-bullshit (especially since he supposedly got rid of that one asshole British judge nobody could stand, even though he was a producer's delight). And I also realize it's mostly about high-falutin' food and not a great representation of the industry, and they don't make it seem like anything else. I don't give a walk-in fuck about aeolis and coulis these days, so it doesn't appeal to me, but I appreciate that they reward talent and drive more than they reward entertaining guests. The rest, I can't get into. I can at least appreciate Hell's Kitchen because they intentionally take the worst kinds of cooks and chefs on there just to be yelled at for being useless.

 

I buy good cheese and combine it with leftovers to make meals I cook for. I generally tend to want to cook for minimal cleanup, any tips there?

Bread is the first obvious choice. We share kitchen space with a fantastic bakery that does everything old style, perfectly fermented dough and everything. Just slapping some leftover queso fresco, beans, and avocado on a slice of their bread beats out half the meals I've eaten in my lifetime. Doesn't even need to be a sandwich. Cube some bread, throw in some cheese, and meat/veggies, some oil and vinegar, and you're good. Good bread has been denied to the average American for about 60 years now, and most won't even know it. If you can find a good bakery nearby or are willing to make your own, then you'd be surprised, especially if you're working with cheese.

 

For cleanup, work clean. It's the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to cook. I used to work a 13 hour hotel cooking job and any time I was getting overwhelmed or behind, one of the senior cooks who was like an uncle to me, would grab me, point at my station, and say "That's what your mind looks like." "Working Clean" is a big thing that makes cooking so much less of a hassle. Limit your work to a small zone. If an NYC cook can make 150 meals working in a closet-sized nightmare every night, you can make dinner for two on a cutting board-sized area of your counter. Clean as you work. Cut your onions, put them in a bowl, clean your station. Cut your garlic, put it in a small bowl, clean your station. The more you do now while you're working, the less mess later. If you're doing everything right, then the only dirty things you'll have are some modestly-stained dishes in the sink when you're ready to serve what you made. I'd rather spend an extra two seconds putting a few extra small plates into a dishwasher than spend all night dreading cleaning every inch of a kitchen after a meal.

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We are able to trade with the other venders at the farmers markets where we sell our fish. Most of the time, whatever the venders can't sell gets tossed into the compost heap, so we (we meaning my wife's dad) are able to swing some killer deals like trading a chunk of fresh or smoked sockeye for a 50 pound box of corn or several pints of berries. We then process and freeze the fruits and vegetables so we can eat them in the winter.

 

The one thing that I've learned since coming up here is how your food is handled from where it is produced and all along the chain of production matters. Immensely.

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I buy good cheese and combine it with leftovers to make meals I cook for. I generally tend to want to cook for minimal cleanup, any tips there?

 

1) Use an induction cooker. Induction cookers are extremely clean-up friendly because all you really need to do is to wipe the glass clean after spraying some water+detergent mix on it. They're also more power-efficient than older electric stoves. 

 

2) Use primarily stainless steel cookware unless it's for eggs and cheese. This may seem counter-intuitive, but stainless steel is actually easier to clean because you can scrub a stainless steel piece of cookware properly; whereas scrubbing a non-stick plan will cause the coating to peel off and ruin it (plus potentially poison you). Think of stainless steel as the tough dog that doesn't mind taking a bath no matter how hard you scrub him, while non-stick is the poodle that fusses when you're bathing him. 

 

In case of "stuck" food on your stainless steel... Employ the deglazing method. Just remove everything except the "stuck" bits, heat the pan, then add water when the pan is hot. Use a wooden spatula to scrape off the food as the water sizziles. The sticky bits come off easily, and in fact some pretty good meals rely on deglazing to make good sauces. I deglaze as much as possible as part of cooking because it's also just cool, and even something like commercial apple juice can suddenly become a nice sauce for say pork chops by using it as a deglazing liquid and adding some butter and seasoning.

 

I originally made the mistake of relying primarily on non-stick cookware, but once I was taught how to use stainless steel properly I never looked back. Always buy heavy pans - they distribute heat better and last longer. A good induction cooker will also tend to treat a thin pan with contempt.

 

3) Use non-stick pans for eggs, cheese, and pancakes. Always use only a paper or cloth towel to wipe the stuff off the non-stick pan. Avoid cooking at high heat on a non-stick pan - it will peel eventually if you do this even with a good pan. Instead, cook the high-heat portions in a stainless steel pan, then finish in the non-stick pan with cheese and other sticky ingredients at low heat. 

 

4) Albeit needing a bit more maintenance, it pays to invest in a cast-iron frying pan. Lodge makes some very good ones for cheap, and by default they are heavy and durable. Use cast iron for cooking that requires super high heat, like steaks that need searing. When cleaning, wipe off the oil with a paper towel, and then rinse with warm water. If there are stuck bits (which is uncommon since cast-iron comes "treated" to be somewhat non-stick), pour rock salt on the pan, put a paper towel on top of the salt, then scrub. You should this anyway regularly to keep the pan treated.

 

Once the pan is clean, heat it up, then rub some Canola oil on it. Always do this as it keeps the pan relatively non-stick and it prevents rusting.

 

5) A good toaster oven is superior to a microwave, and are very easy to maintain and clean. Buy a toaster oven that can hit 250 degrees and fit a chicken (allowing it to cook anything), along with a baking pan. A lot of stuff can be cooked on a baking pan without sticking.

 

Try this for instance - put white fish fillets (e.g. cream dory) in the pan, season and add oil. Then mix parmesan, mayo, and parsley, then spread on top of the fish. Top off with aluminum foil (covering the pan helps keep the parmesan from burning), then cook for 15-20 minutes on 180 degrees. If you're a little nervous that the fish may come out undercooked, then bake the fish first for 5 minutes before adding the parmsan mix, albeit do it without covering the pan so you can see by eye when the parmesan is nicely brown and good for eating.

 

As an alternative or supplement to a baking pan, if you can find a supply of cheap ones, get a cazuela or some other clay cooking vessel. Those also work VERY well for ovens and are also easy to clean up. I have a local supplier that sells one for only $2-3 dollars and they are great for making soups and other dishes in the oven. They will break eventually though so do get them cheap. Make sure to "treat" them before using as well - meaning you should use the vessel to boil water (half-full) before using for any cooking.

 

I've also heard very good things about using a cast-iron Dutch oven for this purpose; particularly enameled ones. They're much more expensive though.

 

6) Work on an easy-to clean surface, like stainless steel. Have a spray with water+detergent mix and always spray and wipe at the end of cooking.

 

7) Always buy a pan only just big enough for your needs. If you're cooking for one, always buy the smallest pan possible.

 

While folks may think it's better to buy a big pan, the reality is that you increase the amount of surface area you have to heat and clean every meal. I initially started with some big pans and some small pans, and in the end I realized I was always just using the small pans because they were easier to clean. 

 

===

 

Oh, and if you like cheese and are starting out cooking, the best cuisine to start out with is Italian. Not American Italian, but Italian that focuses on having only 2-3 main ingredients per dish. It's hard to mess up, tastes good, and gives you confidence to try out more complicated things.

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Cast iron cooking is the way to go. *Gasp*. Zinegata and Donward are able to agree on something.

 

The cast iron skillet is Alton Brown's first choice for "stuck in a desert island" cookware for a reason.

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Tonight's dinner (And a bowl for today's pre-bedtime snack) Fusili pasta with a spicy turkey and sausage based meat sauce with portobello mushrooms, red and green pepper, onions, a metric ass-load of garlic and black and cayenne pepper.

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Tofu is not food.  It is what you feed to your food to fatten it up. :/

 

Most of the times I find myself replacing meat, I find myself going to paneer. Part is because most of the time Indian food is where cubes of something with a firm texture like meat is called for, and part is just because it has a good texture and taste.

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Tofu's alright. If it's fresh, it comes with a very strong bean flavor, and it sucks up a ton of flavor from whatever it touches without overpowering anything. I've had it pair very well with salty meats like pork belly. It's not that it was particularly hard to make, it was just time-consuming, and the farmer we buy corn from gave us a good deal on soy beans.

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