Archive for March, 2011


I Can’t Pull The Trigger

My favorite new show.  And it’s about a topic I know very little about, other than the fact that I just can’t pull the trigger.  I can’t look through a scope of a rifle or a bow and pull the trigger/arrow to kill an animal.  It’s not because I’m a vegetarian or that I’m a member of PETA.  It’s that I know, unless it were about survival, it’s tough to shoot a breathing/living animal.  But what I now appreciate much more is that even though watching it on TV is, I must admit, an awkward and wussy way to come to grips with hunting, I get a better understanding of what one goes through.  Steven Rinella, writer, hunter, father, and husband, is one of those rare individuals who has that personality where you want to be his friend, even though he has just knived a boar in the jungle of Molokai.  He’s been hunting and fishing most of his life, so he’s quite comfortable in the wild where the sound of branches breaking would bring a bead of sweat to my forehead.  I will say that if push came to shove, I would kill an animal to survive, but here in America, I’m glad I don’t have to.

What I have much more of is respect for an animal that gave its life in helping me fill my hunger, likely hundreds miles away.  No, even after watching almost a full season of “The Wild Within”, I am not going to pretend that I would want to go toe-to-toe with a wild boar in Molokai.  Nor would I want to trek through the jagged ridges of western Texas to hunt for auodads and javelinas for a barbacoa.  BUT, I totally appreciate people like Rinella, who is not a mindless sports hunter, but a hunter who eats his own kill and who has total respect for the animal whose life he is going to take to feed not only himself, but the communities that he has taken this life.  This isn’t about mindless hunting where you kill a moose only to cut off its head as your prize and leave the rest of the animal for the vultures to come and pick at its body for days.  This is a person who is trying to tell a story.  The story that deep inside all of us men, there is a wilderness that lives inside our souls.  One where we used to hunt for meat because that’s how the circle of life has been designed.  Maybe it doesn’t ring true for all men at levels like it does for Rinella, but I get what he’s trying to say.  Even though I am not rugged, sporting an 18 gauge, awith a leathery face where matches can be lit, deep inside, I am more in tune with those who hunt not only because they enjoy it, but because it’s a way of life.  I don’t think I will soon forget the gut wrenching scene in which Rinella takes the life of a wild boar.  Not from a distance with a rifle or even bow and arrow, but with a knife.  With the boar at his feet, while stabbing its neck to try and pierce a major artery.  Quickly with as few stabs as possible so the boar isn’t suffering.  Even for someone like Rinella, to take a life with his own hands was a wake up call.  Is he the hypocrite huntsman who enjoys eating his fill of meat and yet cannot come to terms in which to get the meat?  Hunched over, breathing heavily, he looks at the camera – the soul of a man who you know had to make a split second decision to chase after that boar and wrestle it with his knife before viewers see a bloodied creek.  A man who has come to terms with the hypocrisy he does not want to live with.

This show will, no doubt, cause PETA and those who are extreme vegetarians to write emails and letters, pleading the Travel Channel to put Rinella away.  But that would miss the point of what he is trying to do.  He wants us to understand that the ribeye in front of us at Mastro’s didn’t just appear out of nowhere.  We ought to respect that animal, who gave its life at the slaughterhouse for us to enjoy the goodness of its body.  And that’s OK.  It would only be disrespectful for us to never think, for a second, of how this cow was bred to do just what it was intended to do.  To give up its life for many others.  Those of us wealthy and rich enough to pay $40 for that steak, even if it’s just once a year.  So I applaud Rinella for showing me a different perspective of hunting, one where I also had to ask some tough questions about whether or not I am OK with how the meat I gladly eat gets to our house.  It’s about a clean kill.  Rescuing that animal from suffering with one shot, rather shooting its leg and than letting it scamper away, wounded, and taking hours to finally lay to rest.  It’s about taking all the meat back and not just what you want/need.  To donate the meat you don’t need so others can enjoy what this animal has gone through. In one episode, after he and his brother find a half butchered elk in Montana, he says the hunter who killed this elk was totally and utterly disrespectful of this animal.  And that if he saw the hunter right now, he “would shoot him himself”.  Maybe half joking.  But then again, maybe not.

So when I cook now, it’s with much more precision and care to cook the meat I used to take for granted.  I’m not going to burn and char a piece of meat because I wasn’t paying attention to the heat.  And then throwing it away like it was someone’s dirty diaper.  I just can’t do that.  That cow/chicken/pig deserves much more than an absent minded cook, even a very amateur one, not being aware of heat and time.  I may not cook something magnificent each time, but I sure as hell will pay more attention in the preparation and how the meat will be cooked and served, that’s for sure.  Thanks Steven Rinella for igniting that part of my mind and soul to what’s there, in the wild within.

I Don’t Get It

Why FoodTV continues to give us crap shows, I will never know.  I’ve come to terms with my social soapbox-ish rant about Iron Chef America.  Where that entry may have come from a place of anger, I don’t know that I’ve grown that much since.  I still don’t understand why a television network named FoodTV gives us the worse food shows in this country.  Cupcake Wars, the now defunct Ace of Cakes, Triple D, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Challenge, and over the last couple of years, the heinously bad Chopped.

The premise is simple:  Rustle up some talented chefs, dangle $10,000 in front of them and then….wait for it….give them crap to cook with and see how much of an ass they can make of themselves.  All the while, being critiqued by “renown” chefs and restauranteurs who’ve all gone into “kitchen stadium” [ICA] themselves and LOST.  And they had awesome ingredients to cook with on ICA.  Here on Chopped, it’s just the bizarre on top of bizarre.  After watching the Chopped All Stars, where master chefs such as Anita Lo and Nate Appleman go against one another, I have affirmation that Chopped is a show I just don’t get.  I don’t get why putting bizarre ingredients in front of chefs and asking them to cook in 20 minutes is good entertainment.  We don’t learn anything, we don’t want to eat the food they serve, and we certainly would never attempt to cook anything they prepare.  Why giving a chef fresh pasta sheets, dried papaya, chorizo, and bluefoot mushrooms is suppose to get my culinary juices running is beyond me.  Granted, the Chopped All Stars have a social undertone to it.  These chefs are not just competing for themselves, but they are competing for some really great charities they partner with.  I have this picture of the production offices of FoodTV, snotty MBA graduates sitting around the table saying to each other, “Let’s put raisins, pine cones, spinach, and bitter melon and see what these a-holes can create in 20 minutes”, followed by maniacal laughter.  Oh FoodTV, how low you have gone in your desperate attempt to come up with something like “The Wild Within”, “No Reservations”, and “Top Chef” that Bravo and the Travel Channel are kicking your butts in.

I wish I could “chop” this show along with 90% of all the other shows this network puts together.  There’s a reason Anthony Bourdain, after just ONE year of “A Cook’s Tour“, decided to ditch FoodTV and jump to the Travel Channel.  Emmy Awards later, I am sure he is glad he never agreed to the preposterous idea FoodTV threw at him to travel the US to find the best BBQ.  Thank goodness Anthony Bourdain gave them the all familiar suggestion rather than buckle to fame and riches, both of which he was able to achieve anyway in another channel anyway.  And my new favorite show, “The Wild Within” would never fly on FoodTV.  Why?  Because it’s actually good.  Not only that, it’s social.  It’s thought provoking television.  Even if you disagree with hunting in general, you have a better appreciation of what Steven Rinella is doing on that show.  And FoodTV?  Another cupcake show?  Another show to squeeze every last bit of Bobby Flay?

Yes, this is another angry rant.  No, I am not happy.  Who can be, with this network?  Watching Guy Fieri devour another chicken fried steak is not my idea of good television.  Let’s do some real television people.  Tune into “The Wild Within”, “No Reservations”, and “Top Chef”.  Those are the shows we ought to be watching.

Dai pai dong.  Big license plate stall of goodness and cheap eats.  Where it used to be a ubiquitous sight in Hong Kong and Kowloon, these culturally rich fabric of Hong Kong is slowly and surely dying or moving indoors.  When I think of these food stalls, I think of my childhood where we would love to get the yau tieu’s [fried Chinese donuts, although they look nothing like it and they’re savory, not sweet] and congee.  Wonton noodles, rice noodles were other items we would get.

The rich history of these food stalls cannot go unnoticed.  After World War II, the Hong Kong government gave out ad hoc food licenses to injured civil servants so they can make a living.  These licenses had to be visible in public, and since they were food stalls, they were big.  Thus, the big license stalls.  Dai pai dong.  From there, the popularity and the quality of of food just took off.  But because of the amount of dai pai dongs sprouting, it was causing pedestrian and traffic congestion.  Additionally, because owners of these stalls started to “lease” their space out in the black market, the HK government no longer issued these licenses after 1956.  The licenses could no longer be inherited so if the owner passed away, it could only be transferred to their spouses.  If they didn’t have a spouse, the license would expire at the time of death of the owner.  Since 1983, the HK government, in order to promote healthier hygiene, began to buy back these licenses and push these stalls in doors in what could only be described as food courts.  Since the licenses could not be passed down, the owners were glad to be compensated in this way.  The number of dai pai dongs have drastically decreased over the years, much to the chagrin of people like myself.  Were they the safest place to eat food?  Probably not, but they certainly cranked out some of the best the city of Hong Kong had to offer.

It’s a rich food heritage that has come to a slow death in Hong Kong.  It wasn’t just a place to eat for millions of people.  It was a place where one might make their early morning stop to get a milk tea, a place where impoverished families could still go and get a decent meal for cheap.  A place where lower income couples could have their dates while whispering their sweet nothings to each other over a bowl of rice noodles.  But as most things in life, we learn to move on and change.  And while it lasted, the dai pai dong was good to the people of Hong Kong.  It became integrated in their every day lives as they provided meals for hungry souls in the city of fragrant harbor.

The Perfect Roast

 

While there really is nothing wrong with getting a roast chicken from your local grocery store for about $5.99, there’s nothing like making your own roast.  For those who are cost conscious, making your own roast chicken will cost more than picking one up at Ralphs/Vons/Safeway.  Drive, park, walk in, pick up, and purchase.  Depending on the drive time, takes what?  10 minutes?  For your own roast, there’s the prep time and cook time that we could be doing something else.  We could be at the park, hiking, rocking climbing, or doing something that would be bring the heart rate to a healthy level.  But really, would we?  Or would we be staring at the computer, chatting on line, or in front of the TV, watching another episode in the adventures of Snookie?

A perfect roast chicken is really, the easiest thing to achieve.  It takes as little as 3 ingredients [whole chicken, salt, and pepper] or as many as you would like depending on the herbs you want to use [thyme and sage being the most popular].  In following Thomas Keller‘s Bouchon roast chicken, there is nothing easier to make.  Yes, you have to prep the bird.  Take out the wish bone so that after it’s done cooking, you can carve out that breast without hindrance [if you’re new to this, about 3 minutes].  Rinse and dry the bird [1 minute].  Truss the bird so it cooks evenly and keeps the breast moist [2 minutes tops if you’ve never done it].  Stick it on a large iron skillet [less than 10 seconds].  In the oven for about 40-50 minutes depending on the size of the bird or until the thickest area of the bird reads 160F.  This entire process will take a whopping 1 hour, 40-50 minutes of which you’re not even doing anything.  Let it stand for 15 minutes and chow.

Yes, this bird will run you closer to $10 and you might be asking, “Why should I buy an uncooked bird for $10 when I can get one for $6?”  No arguments here.  But to me, there’s nothing like seasoning my own bird, infusing different flavors each time, and just waiting for it to cook.  There’s nothing like knowing what went in flavoring the chicken.  Again, I’m just saying that cooking home-y foods need not be complicated.  The 3 ingredient roast chicken will be moist and above all things, really damn tasty.  Get in that kitchen and invest about 15 minutes of prep time to get the perfect roast chicken.  If you want to be fancy, cut up some root vegetables [carrots, celery, onions] and some russet or sweet potatoes and throw them in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then put the chicken on top.  The natural juices of the chicken will get all over those potatoes and vegetables and coat them with savory goodness.  At the end of the 60-75 minutes, you’ll have a meal for 3-4.  Happy days.

 

Gratuitous Egg

 

I can’t think of too many dishes out there, that given a choice of adding an egg, I wouldn’t at least think about it for a few seconds.  I am just sucker for eggs of any kind on practically any dish.  Recently, I went to Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa and they had a dish that was an Idaho trout with a fried egg on top over potato hash.  Need I say more?  Do I even need to tell my gentle readers what I ordered?  Club sandwich?  Gotta have an egg in there.  A burger?  Fried egg.  Egg salad sandwich?  Please.  If there’s an egg on the menu, I will at least think about ordering it, even if I order something else.

Watching an episode of No Reservations, where Anthony Bourdain is once again in Vietnam, I completely and utterly know what he is talking about when asked if he wanted a fried egg in his banh mi [Vietnamese sandwich].  He said, “When is a gratuitous egg NOT going to be good?”  When we go out to eat broken rice, I almost always get a fried egg on the side and I plop it over my rice.  Break the yoke and cut up the egg white over the rice to get that perfect consistency and taste.  A little fish sauce and it’s over for me.  I know a lot of people might think eggs in sandwiches, other than an egg salad sandwich, is weird and not that tasty.  All I can say is, “Don’t hate it until you’ve tried it.”  My wife thought, or maybe still thinks, a fried egg in a sandwich is weird.  But now, even though she doesn’t ask for it, when I make her a sandwich, she never complains and she never asks me to take it out.  The runny yolk in the sandwich is perfection.

If you still think I’m mad, Thomas Keller’s world’s greatest sandwich is a fried egg sandwich with bacon, tomato, and lettuce.  Can you really argue with that?  Here’s a toast to glorious eggs!