Catchy Headlines That Get You Everytime!

How to Abandon Your Blog

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Tips for leaving your loyal readers in the dark.

And a comeback?

From my poor perspective, as someone who has no clinical or psychological training whatsoever, I always imagine that a person with Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, is someone who gets up to go to the bathroom, gets distracted, winds up with a snack, sits back down and remembers the bathroom.

I don’t have ADD, but there must be a clinical term for my condition. I have a condition many wives loathe, which is a combination of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, mixed with ADD, but on a much less noticeable, though very time consuming and drawn out scale. I will call it Obsessive Compulsive Attention Deficit Disorder, or OCADD for short.

You see, I have many interests, and I am very ambitious. I find things that interest me, and I pursue them with all of my energy, both mentally and physically. That would, in itself, seem like a noble characteristic to be saddled with. And it is, in itself. However, there is more to it. The nature of that characteristic leaves one unsatisfied with whatever the most recent pursuit was, in favor of the next one. It has left several DIY household renovations at a point just shy of completion, two Frankenstein-like motorcycles waiting for life, an internet search of permits for housing chickens, a potential job in Sint Maarten, and so on.

In a nutshell, I once decided that I liked kayaks. So I put all of my meager and over-spent money together and started looking around for one. I couldn’t, at the time, find any that were in my price range, used or otherwise. Eventually, after conversation after conversation about my new obsession, I found a guy who wanted to get rid of an old fiberglass white-water kayak with several target-practice bullet holes in it. A little duct tape, and I was floating around in my very own kayak. Then I noticed a giant spider floating right along with me, and paddled to shore as fast as I could. And that was the end of that obsession. For nearly two months I dedicated every spare minute I had to getting a kayak and taking it out on a nice peaceful lake, and just like that, I don’t care if I ever do it again.

My OCADD has led me to some fun and exciting things, though, and I quite enjoy the thrill of achieving my goals. It is a motivational force, with a strong good side to it. I would prefer OCADD to other similar ailments, like Unable to Project Smile Disorder, and Gluten-Free People Intolerant Disorder.

It seemed to me, for a time, that my blog would endure all of my insanity. But, as the weather turned nice, I found a cheap 1970’s dual-sport bike that needed some love. That obsession was funded by the previous summer’s go-kart build. The point is, that unlike many of my hobbies (that’s right—I still write for free) this blog was an obsession of mine that has fallen by the wayside.

So here are my tips for blog abandonment:

  • Don’t call, don’t show, don’t offer an explanation.
  • You are easily replaced, so don’t lose sleep over it.
  • Don’t check your stats. This was frustrating considering how much time and effort I put in to pump up my stats while blogging, and that while I was abandoning my blog, it had a couple of surprisingly decent weeks.
  • Keep writing. Even if you don’t intend to publish anything, the hard part of writing is getting in the habit of writing. Once you lose the habit, and find a TV show in its place, it’s hard to get back to it.

There will be a comeback, and it will come soon. I just need to finish a couple of projects, and I’ll be back. Thank you for reading!

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Socrates takes on The Cook as told by Plato

Socrates seeks universal definition of “homemade.”

A work of fiction by Eric Damkoehler

I found this letter in my attic, with no date on it, written in an ancient handwriting, in an ancient language.

I spent the better half of a year obsessed with it’s contents. I studied it, and made several attempts at translating it on my own, though I could never quite satisfy my curiosity. At one point, I was certain I had broken the code into an alphabet, and re-wrote the entire letter into jumbled words, and searched dozens of dictionaries to find a possible match. To no avail, until finally I had several historians research the letter, of which here is the best, and the least expensive account:

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How to Avoid Rookie Cooking Mistakes

Five suggestions to improve your kitchen skills.

5. Learn how to hold a knife.

The very first thing every aspiring cook should learn, be it a food enthusiast, a culinary student or an inexperienced person cooking for a paycheck, is to hold a knife properly.

Knife skills are important for several reasons. It should be understood without mention that improper knife handling can lead to many painful and embarrassing trips to the medicine cabinet, or hospital. Beyond the obvious, though, there can be sometimes permanent, irreversible damage to ones joints, in the form of carpel tunnel syndrome, if someone is using the knife in a strenuous way.

The “pointed finger” manner of holding a knife is the most common mistake made by amateurs, and it involves the index finger pointed straight down the top of the knife. This way of holding a knife inhibits the ability to maneuver the knife, and will become quite painful if the handler makes more than 30 or 40 cuts, much like a poor throwing motion will cause a baseball player to get frequent dead-arm.

One of the most important lessons I learned as a young cook (working for a paycheck) was to hold my knife where the handle meets the blade, with my thumb and index finger on the steel. Several years later I learned how to safely use my left hand as a stopper, and I haven’t cut myself in the traditional way since (I’ve cut myself because of other reasons—like flipping knives, or simply not looking at the food I was cutting).

Hold a chef knife like this:

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4. If you aren’t cooking, or helping, get out of the way.

Most modern-home kitchens are planned and constructed in a way which promotes efficiency. If you were to draw a straight line from the sink to the stove, from the stove to the refrigerator, and from the refrigerator back to the sink, you would have a triangle. This triangle layout was designed so the cook can easily get back and forth from the most important places in the most efficient way.

What is the best way to stop this efficiency? Put someone drinking wine and marveling over the wonders of food directly in the middle of the triangle.

When my sister, the artist, makes Christmas dinner, she has every right (a right she is not shy to exercise) to tell my brother and I to get lost. As though it isn’t difficult enough feeding a family of chefs, my sister has to listen to us correct her every mistake. On this occasion, we are invading her space, and not only are we not helping, but we are actually hindering the process.

If you’re the home cook, protect your space. Put some stools or seating out of the way of the triangle and have your guests do their socializing there.

If you are the culinary student, or inexperienced cook in a professional kitchen, make yourself small.

The inexperienced cooks probably don’t have as much to do as the ones who have worked in a place for a long time. At crunch time, when the busiest cooking is going down, that’s the worst time to stand idly in a travel path, yet it is the most common time for rookies to get run over.

Don’t get run over; shrink yourself.

A unique quality of kitchen people, even the large ones, is the ability to shrink. They can do this even while carrying heavy sheet pans above their heads, and pass another large person doing the same, in a space not large enough for one of them to comfortably fit.

3. Don’t cry over sliced onions.

A great indicator of a person’s cooking experience is how they react to sliced, diced, chopped, minced or peeled onions. Do they bring tears to your eyes? Is it because you’re just so happy to be cooking? Great, because if you do it long enough, those onions will have no power over you.

In the meantime, refrigerate them. According to my experience, a couple of days in the refrigerator will have very little noticeable affect on the texture of the onion, and absolutely no impact on the flavor. If you won’t compromise on the temperature, try running the room temperature onions under cold water before cutting. Refrigerating or cooling the onions will reduce the amount of tears you shed.

If they still make you cry, maybe it’s because you need a new knife, or need to sharpen your old one. A sharper knife will slice through the onion with less resistance and splatter less, releasing less Propanethiol S-oxide, which is the gas that causes the irritation in your eyes. Though I have no understanding of the chemistry involved here, I also suggest that you clean the tomato juice off of your cutting board before cutting the onions. I have found through my own experience that failure to do so will increase your tears.

Finally, when those tears boil over, and you have very little choice but to close your eyes, stop cutting and go to a freezer. The walk-in freezers in restaurants are a great place to find a crying rookie cook, not because he or she was yelled at, but because their sympathetic boss told them that was the best thing to do for onion eyes. The cold air blowing in your face will immediately relieve your pain.

2. Taste everything, everywhere, every chance you get.

The only way to apply your new cooking skills is to get in the kitchen and cook. However, you won’t be doing it all the time, and when your not cooking, make sure you’re tasting. I don’t mean eating, I mean tasting.

Eating and tasting are two different things. You may eat in a lot of restaurants, but you may not be tasting the food. If you add hot sauce to everything, it will all taste like hot sauce. If you add a lot of salt to everything, after a certain point your taste buds will dull. If you’re like me, and you add ranch to everything, anything served without ranch seems to be missing something.

When you eat, slow down and try to identify the tastes of the foods. Don’t bother the waiter or chef for an ingredient list or recipe every time you enjoy something, just savor it and try to repeat it yourself. When you taste the version of your own creation, play with the seasoning until your taste buds agree it’s the same.

Taste everything you serve, but not to excess. One of the worst feelings a cook gets is after he has taken a break to wolf down some dinner or lunch. You will notice a sharp decline in his enthusiasm after he returns to work.

Eating too much before cooking, or during, causes you to resent your job, whether you are the host of a dinner party or the culinary student on internship. Once you have a full stomach, and your body starts to digest the meal, your ability to quickly perform your duties will deteriorate.

The trouble is, of course, that working with food makes you really hungry, and cooks will often load up their own plates, without thinking about cleanup, or dessert. Just save some energy for that last push, and don’t eat to the point of a food-coma.

1. Do not stand idle.

There is nothing more aggravating to a professional chef than seeing a subordinate cook doing nothing. Often, the culinary student or rookie cook doesn’t mean to anger the temperamental boss, and this idle time is not always an indicator of a poor work ethic. It’s an indicator of inexperience, and perhaps, a poor training regiment.

The reason is usually simple—the cook doesn’t know what to do next. He has finished the prep he’s been assigned, and maybe the chef is too busy to give him further instructions. At this point, the rookie cook should clean, ask somebody else if they need a hand, wash dishes, scrub pots—anything.

One of the best things a rookie cook can do is put away dishes. This job usually brings the cook to every area of the kitchen, and often the dining room. Wandering aimlessly, trying to figure out where that funny looking pot goes will open his eyes to many other things. One day of putting away dishes and the cook will know where everything in the kitchen is, and maybe even learn where things belong.

The same concept can be applied to the dinner host, whether you’re serving your direct family or several business clients. Idle time shouldn’t be spent leaning against the counter, rather, get a jump on the dishes. Idle time should be spent setting the table, unless you’re the eat-first-ask-for-a-fork-later type, in which case you should fold some napkins.

Remember, a watched pot doesn’t boil, so go ahead and let the science take over for the heating time, and use some spare minutes to clean the refrigerator or the cabinet under the sink. Anything you do while the pot is heating will be time gained at the end of the meal, when you’ve probably eaten yourself into a stupor, and the last thing you want to do is clean. 

Photos Courtesy David Damkoehler

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Stretch it!

Bacon-Stretcher Operating Tips

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Every professional cook knows a thing or two about “stretching it,” the mathematical-art of making enough be just enough.

Chefs take pride in their 86’d boards being white, green, black or whatever the wipe-able surface color may be. They pride themselves in a lack of 86’d (out of stock) items.

Customers don’t really appreciate this unique ability possessed by the best of the professionals, but they can certainly be bothered by its absence. Have you ever been to a restaurant where half of the specials on the list are crossed out? Or, worse yet, you have probably exhausted precious time thumbing through pages of a menu until finally deciding on what to eat, only to be told upon ordering, “We’re all out of bacon.”

All professional cooks have 86’d something. There are certain products which can’t be found, or purchased, and some trips to the grocery store in a pinch could result in an accounting and financial disaster. Chefs are occasionally forced to admit that they are not, after all, God (but still God of their domain!). The phrase, “I’m a cook, not a magician,” has been useful for this problem.

Chefs in charge of purchasing are often the last to admit when something is 86’d. They are defensive when confronted with the possibility of a missing ingredient, and almost always insist the cook or server just can’t find it. They always know of secret stashes of things, and always seem to find the item that no one else can.

Imagine a storeroom or walk-in refrigerator, and picture several people in that room, pulling their hair out, trying to find the same thing. Now picture the purchaser, who walks right past them all, with no effort or hesitation whatsoever, and picture him grabbing the 86’d item and tossing it to a dumbfounded cook. This is a learned trait.

You see, every cook, chef, purchaser or restaurant owner has worked at least one “first day.” On that first day, they didn’t know anything about food, labels, storage—you name it. They have all told their boss, “We’re all out of such and such.” And they’ve all been proven, many times, that they’re wrong. Frequent suffering of the humiliation of being wrong will cause even the strongest willed cooks to amend the statement to, “I can’t find it.”

When something is truly 86’d from the stock room or walk-in, the purchaser will undoubtedly become more defensive, and insist one of the following things happened:

  1. You are over-portioning.
  2. The supplier screwed up the order (which is most likely the actual reason).
  3. It wasn’t on the “needs list” (a fail-safe mechanism which all restaurant employees should contribute too).
  4. It was there yesterday.
  5. Someone stole it.
  6. You’ve been selling it like crazy?
  7. (Finally, the closest thing to an admittance of guilt) Huh. You’ll have it tomorrow.

Before the ingredient, and all of the menu items which require it, are written in dry-erase marker on the 86’d board, a good chef and proud purchaser will “stretch” it. He might tell a cook to get the bacon stretcher. The cook might go look, and come back with the same problem, “We don’t have a bacon stretcher.”

Again, many cooks have fallen for some prank of that nature. Bacon-stretchers only work with thick-sliced, uncured bacon, and each town only has one, which is shared between restaurants. It works best at setting number three.

Suppose the missing, or about-to-be-86’d item is bacon. Suppose there are thirty slices left, or enough for ten turkey club sandwiches. A clever chef or purchaser will chop half of the bacon into bits, and mix it into the sandwiches’ heavy-duty mayonnaise. He’ll call it, “Bacon Aoli,” and charge an extra dollar for the up-sell.

That leaves fifteen slices of bacon. He’ll cut them all in half (across) and carefully slice the thirty half strips into thirds (lengthwise). Now ninety small slices of bacon, he will instruct the cook to put three slices directly in the middle of each sandwich, visible to the guest, where the first bite will take place. He will use twenty more slices to create eye-appealing mini BLT skewers.

He will spread a teaspoon of his Bacon Aoli onto a quarter section of a grape tomato, which he will wrap with a large baby spinach leaf, which he will wrap with the model railroad sized bacon strip, held together by a six-inch skewer. He will instruct the cook to impale the turkey clubs with the mini BLT skewers, which will be a big hit with the customers and cause them to completely ignore the fact that they are getting half the amount of bacon they normally do, and being charged an extra dollar for it.

Bacon stretching at its finest! The clever chef has managed to double the amount of turkey clubs he can sell without 86’ing bacon, and in doing, has made an extra twenty dollars. And there’s still ten one-sixth slices of bacon leftover.

It’s not magic, it’s wicked cool magic. So is this event being held at a wonderful banquet facility in Massachusetts: BACONFEST!!!

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A Food Photographer’s Conflicting Interests

And a recipe for a healthy snack!

I have a conflict of interest. As an online writer who specializes in food things—restaurant industry, recipes, fun food facts—I should never allow an elaborately plated and vibrant dish to leave the kitchen without some photos. As a professional chef, I won’t let a dish sit on an unheated surface to be photographed like some bored model at an unorganized photo shoot.

With that in mind, many of the photos you will see on this site are staged specifically for this site. Before I began this blog, the only reason I ever photographed food was for a practical reason—to show an employee a specific presentation—or for a joke:


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Above: Chef Wilson

I subscribe to the philosophy that cooking is a science, not an art. There are several reasons I believe this to be true (outlined in a previous post) but the first and foremost is that I’m a lousy artist! I can’t draw, paint, write poetry, sing, dance, play music; I have absolutely zero artistic aptitude.

In fact, I am so inept at the “art of food photography” that each food dish you see is selected from a file of a dozen or more blurry, smudged, poorly lit photos destined for the “Recycle Bin.”

And the only way I can get a good one is if I re-enact a glitzy and flamboyant stereotypical Los Angeles photographer, which is rather ridiculous, considering my model won’t pout or smile, and I circle around the dish, and the entire table it’s on, to get those all-important crooked angles. I could just as easily turn the plate, or tilt it ever so slightly.

Anyway, sometimes the science of cooking lends itself well to the art of food photography, as in the case of these inexpensive little snacks, or appetizers. It is an easy recipe—fifteen minutes with ten minutes of photos—and it is somewhat healthy. I suppose anything that’s green is healthy, but I’m no expert about that. Here are the pictures, the recipe follows.

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Above and Beneath: Marbled Rye Sausage and Watercress Stuffing

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Above: Place a thinly-sliced radish in the wrap for some bite and a fresh “crunch.”
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Above: The stems of the Swiss Chard make for a nice, eye-catching tower for the wraps.

Sausage Stuffed Swiss Chard Wraps

For the Stuffing:

  • 5 slices marbled rye, dried or toasted and cubed
  • 2 sausage links, cooked and diced (I prefer Andoulle Sausage) (cook with butter and de-glaze the pan with chicken stock to increase the stuffing’s flavor)
  • 1 cup of mirepoix
  • 1 1/2 cups of Chicken Stock
  • 1 radish, diced
  • 1/4 cup “crunch” (I used roasted chick peas, but you may use some sort of nut or sunflower seeds)
  • 1 cup watercress leaves

Directions: Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix, adding the chicken stock a little at a time. If the stuffing is too moist, place it in the oven to dry it out some. If it is too dry, add some extra chicken stock. Read the Disclaimer to find out why the measurements might not be perfect.

Assembly: Roll the swiss chard up with stuffing and a slice of radish in it. Finish the dish with a drizzle of light salad dressing.

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Chef Wilson is happy with you.

Croquembouche for Too Many

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Published March 26th, 2015 in The Montague Reporter

Croquembouche (kroh-kuhm-BOOSH uh huh wee) is French for “crisp in mouth,” but for all those who’ve had the responsibility of making it, croquembouche is synonymous with “pain-in-the-rear.” In it’s most simple form, croquembouche is a pyramidal stack of cream puffs with a hardened caramel coating. If you are a “foodie,” you already knew that.

Foodies, or epicures, know everything about food. At least, they think they do. They are like the back seat drivers of the restaurant business.

Their comments that they post on internet based review sites always give them away. They start with something like, “Anyone who knows anything about cooking knows that you should always . . .”

They intentionally imply that they know something about cooking. So why are they the one’s eating, and not cooking? Don’t like it? Make it yourself!

The other irritant, though slightly drifting from the topic here, is the foodie that complains about slow service when he or she ordered a two-inch-thick steak well-done. It’s the incessant, “Are we there yet?” coming from the back seat.

Croquembouche is a foodie favorite. It has just enough pain-in-the-rear appeal to it for the ultimate pain-in-the-rear customer, or dinner guest, should you dare to feed these people, who actually become more obnoxious when they’re pleased. Then the comparisons come out, about this chef and that restaurant and it just never ends. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, a sort of let-them-have-their-profiteroles-and-eat-them-too compromise, I will teach you a couple of simple tricks to make the process a little bit simpler.

First off, buy the cream puffs. In today’s fast paced work, shovel, cook, sleep, repeat life you’re wise to let someone else do the baking.

In all reality, the hard part is the sugar, and there are no ways around that.

The second trick is to use a filler. For instance, take an upside down soup cup or small cereal bowl and put it in the center of the plate or platter you intend to use.

Last, add some chocolate covered strawberries to the first row as a solid, tacky foundation. For clean up, I recommend a hammer and chisel.

Now comes the hard part. Prepare an ice bath large enough to fit a small saucepan into. Using that small saucepan and a wooden spoon, melt two and a half cups of granulated sugar with two thirds cups hot water. If you have a candy thermometer, stop reading this article.

For everyone else, allow the sugar to melt and boil over high heat, stirring constantly, until the color begins to darken.

The darker the color, the harder the sugar will be when it cools. When the color is a nice light brown, or resembles that of caramel, take the pan off the heat and dunk it in the ice bath, just for a few moments to stop the cooking process, stirring all the while.

Quickly and frantically dip two cream puffs at a time in the sugar, and glue them together. Scream at the top of your lungs when the molten sugar sticks to your fingers, and shake it off.

It’s important that you get as many cream puffs stuck together as you can, so don’t go running off to bandage yourself now.

If the sugar hardens, put it back on the burner and stir until it is syrupy again.

If you used the chocolate covered strawberries on the first row, and were careful in selecting your plate ware, you should be able to glue two by two, and then start gluing one on top of the other, in a circular way around the plate, until you get something like a pyramid.

Now, for the spun sugar, there will be yards of tiny and shinny sugar hairs, gleaming in the smoke burning from the splatter of sugar on the stove top.

You can either dangle the melted sugar above the croquembouche-like-thing and let strands of sugar drape over it, or just collect all of the residual strings that are now getting permanently hardened to your counter top.

Or you can attempt to make spun sugar, or just plop another strawberry on top.

When you’re finished, and satisfied, turn off the smoke alarm, then announce to anyone who cares to know, “There’s your (expletive) croquembouche!”

You think it’s over, do you? Local pastry chef Mark Wikar recently told me a nightmarish tale about an elaborate event he hosted at Captain Toby’s restaurant on Nantucket,

“There were so many people in the room that the temperature rose past eighty, causing my sugar that held it all together to melt, causing my croquembouche to start to fall apart onto the dance floor.”

Wikar also suggests to use the ice bath, in addition to cooling the sugar, for the burns you will have on your fingers.

There you have it, Croquem-pain-in-the-bouche.

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By Eric Damkoehler

Crowd-Pleasing: How to Make Every Stinkin’ Guest Happy

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Above: Chef Toddler gives his opinion of a meal, high in fruit.

Apply restaurant business principles to your home cooking and watch your guests marvel in delight.

Taste is unique, subjective and different. When something tastes too salty, or too spicy, it’s a matter of contention between two separate tasters. When something tastes good, though, everyone seems to agree.

When dining out, you’re going to decide what to eat based on your opinion of what tastes good. But, when preparing a meal for your family, much like a professional chef, you must decide on their behalf what tastes good. Is it possible to please everyone?

The short answer is no, it isn’t. However, many cooks have pleased everyone at one time or another, and considering all of today’s diets and allergies, you wonder how that’s possible? When serving a large group, the amount of options you include in the single meal, or variations of the same things, will earn you the crowd-pleasing award, with only a grain of extra work. With Easter Sunday on the menu this weekend, heed these tips:

  1. Know your patrons, or guests. Understanding the needs and tendencies of your guests will make the art of pleasing them much simpler. For example, if your brother is allergic to nuts, remove them from the menu, and replace them with sunflower seeds, which are now specially produced in separate facilities to avoid the awful lawyer written package disclaimer, “May contain traces of nuts.”
    • Knowing your patrons eating habits is critical in the restaurant industry, where a puny $70 lamb chop with truffle-fed-pig bacon and caviar might go over brilliantly in one market and have the creator of it run out of town on a pitchfork in another. Use the insight of the professionals, do market research, ask your guests if they have any allergies before you begin cooking, and do your best not to give them the, “are you really allergic or is this just a new fad” look.
  2. Do more with less. Cross utilization of ingredients is a good way to offer more options, and please a large amount of people. If you plan to serve mashed potatoes to twelve people, you will need about six pounds of potatoes. If you serve them mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes, you will need about a few more pounds of potatoes, and with a simple three-step cooking process, there will be another choice of sides.
    • Restaurants seldom incorporate menu items which only have a single use. Principally for cost effectiveness, cross utilization of products is critical when figuring preparation, spoilage, waste, storage and purchasing.
  3. Give them wine, and more wine. As mentioned here before, the quality of conversation is directly equivalent to the timeliness of the meal being served. Guests engaged in engrossing, entertaining conversations always feel as though they received speedy service, whether it was from the host at a dinner party or at a popular and busy restaurant. Conversely, the guests who have nothing to say to one another will undoubtedly require some diligent attention from the host, or the opinion of the meal will suffer. Use wine to get the people talking, to get the mood entertaining, and let the guests forget that you said dinner would be ready in fifteen minutes—about forty-five minutes ago. Also, some popcorn and snacks go a long way in buying time. Here is Chef Toddler making popcorn:20150330_162844
    • As one might expect, The Sober Sous Chef doesn’t drink, but that should not be an excuse, nor is it a good reason, to neglect one of the most traditional, time-honored focal points of a gathering. If you don’t drink, or are inexperienced with purchasing wine, ask your guests to bring a bottle. For a large holiday, they assume you put a lot of work into preparing their meal and are more than happy to bring something. They will feel like they contributed to the overall meal, which in turn pleases them.
  4. Play some music. Mood, ambiance, call it what you will, play an important role in the final opinion of the meal. Remember one of the nicest meals you ever had, and try to visualize the surroundings. Was it in a nice restaurant, elegantly appointed and with pleasant—but not overwhelming—music playing? Chances are, if you think real hard, you will remember some sort of pleasing ambiance when you remember your favorite meals.
    • In two studies, published in 2000 in the National Library of Medicine, an identical meal was served to guests in a restaurant, laboratory and cafeteria. It should come as little surprise that the restaurant meal received better reviews, however, the laboratory came in second over the cafeteria. The studies go to show that the perception of food and the manner and environment in which it is served has a decisive correlation on the taste of the dish, or at least the perceived taste. The studies fail to mention that this is common knowledge among restauranteurs, and that they wasted some grad student’s time and money in conducting them.
  5. Show the love! Best served as a side dish in itself, love is the most essential ingredient to show the guests. If they see you putting heart and sole into the dish, they may be disgusted. So, talk it up, remind them how much you enjoy their enjoyment, and they will walk away pleased, as ever they can possibly be.
    • People have a reverence for a person wearing a crisp, clean, pressed and embroidered chef coat. The best thing a chef can do to ensure that everyone is pleased is to talk to his guests. The difficult thing, though, is the chef is supposed to be cooking for the other guests, and if they see him at the wrong time, say, when their meal has been taking too long, they may become irritated, which defeats the purpose of pleasing everyone. It is best to avoid asking to “speak to the chef” for this reason, and others, in general.

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Asian Bratwurst Reubens

The Sober Sous Chef’s first demonstration video!  Continue reading to learn more.

Asian Bratwurst Rueben

What to eat?  You may think the family of a chef has a five star meal every night, but the chef is working five, six or seven days a week, and when he’s home, the last thing on his to-do list is cooking.20150325_174852

Above is Chef Toddler, looking for something to cook for his family’s dinner.

You may find yourself in the same predicament, far too often.  You go to the fridge, open it and look inside, just as you’ve done a dozen times in the last hour, as though you’ll actually find something this time.  The longer you stare at it, the less motivation you’ll have to cook, and the hungrier you’ll get.  So, start grabbing.  Grab six or seven leftovers, sauces, veggies—whatever.

They don’t all have to get into the meal, but taking them out of the fridge is the hardest part.  Once they’re on the counter, the combinations will appear to you, and you should be able to come up with something.

This dish did require a trip to the store, but the “use it up” mentality was applied here.  Get rid of the old, and make room for more.  The store lacked kim chee, a spicy Korean pickled condiment, however, as mentioned in previous articles on this site, limitations are the launching points for discovery and creativity.

For this dinner, Chef Toddler and his brothers chose broccoli as their side.  Here is how to cut broccoli, please excuse the whining toddler:

For the Asian Bratwurst Reubens you should have:

  • buttered rye bread
  • swiss cheese
  • 1,000 Island or Russian dressing
  • A POSITIVE ATTITUDE!
  • bratwurst
  • spicy brown mustard
  • The Sober Sous Chef email subscription

Make this Asian Kraut Slaw:

Use a griddle to make the sandwiches, because it is less to clean up afterwards.  If you use the last of the butter on the bread, use this trick to get the rest of it—that stuff is expensive!

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Try to save time, by cooking the brats and browning the bread at the same time, like so:

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Add the Asian Kraut Slaw as soon as you add the cheese.

Some soy sauce added to the cooking bratwurst once they have a golden-brown color and slightly crispy texture goes a long way.  Before assembling the sandwich, add some more 1,000 Island dressing and some spicy brown mustard.

Cook it ’till it’s done.

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Video courtesy David Damkoehler

 

Deep Fried Corned Beef

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Beer-Battered Corned Beef with Golden Beet Chips http://www.thesobersouschef.com

Can you smell the cabbage?  St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner.  That green, boiled, stinky vegetable is waiting for the stock pot. The bars are staffing short term labor, and restaurants will soon stock up on the brisket.

As a teenager I despised St. Patrick’s Day. I was the CBC, or Corned Beef and Cabbage, guy. With the green sweaters and goofy ties came the ritualistic sacrifice of one cook—me—whose only purpose throughout the seemingly endless shift was to plate corned beef, cabbage, carrots, beets and a piece of curly parsley.

One after the other, after the other, over and over again.

I have served CBC every St. Patrick’s Day in every restaurant I’ve ever worked in, for my entire career. I had a momentary opportunity to avoid it this year, however, fate has brought me back to that evil dish yet again.  By the time this writing goes to print, I will be so sick of corned beef that I just might consider going vegetarian.  The horror!

The funny thing is, after all of these years, I cannot recall one single time in my entire life that I have ever dinned on a boiled dinner, as the old timers call it. And yes, with the CBC comes my annual self-conscious need to tell people that I am, in fact, at least half Irish.

With that in mind, if for some reason or another you will not eat the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, I offer this alternative.

I often find the process of creating food as enjoyable as the act of eating it, so allow me to give a little back story. For two weeks I told everyone I knew that I had invented beer battered corned beef. The unlikeliness of this being true did not deter my shameless enthusiasm.

I was quite certain, as I made sample after sample, that no one had ever thought of this. Never mind that there are volumes of books and websites entirely dedicated to deep frying everything, and I mean everything.

It wasn’t until I had exhausted the original ego boost that came with my proud creation that I actually sat down and typed “beer battered corned beef” into an internet search engine. When I hit the “return” button, imagine my dismay, as I scrolled through page after page of my “invention.”

Anyway, here’s the recipe:

  1. To begin, prepare your mise en place (gather everything you need).  This should include your deep fat fryer preheated to 350 degrees, or a pot filled with oil, should you be lacking this essential piece of equipment.  Included herein is your corned beef, which you either bought, or brined for five days, boiled, cooled and trimmed.
  2. Prepare the batter by whisking together one part beer with one part flour. The measured amounts will change depending on how many people you are feeding. You may use whatever type of beer you have available, though a light ale is generally preferred.
  3. The flour can be the flour you have in the cabinet, or you can use rye flour or corn meal—or some combination of all—to give another level of flavor.  Changing the flour may change the consistency of the batter; adjust accordingly.
  4. Add some whole grain mustard or some dry mustard to the batter, again, being careful not to change the consistency too much. Add some fennel, cumin, or your own spin.
  5. Reserve some flour to dredge, or coat, the corned beef before dipping it into the batter. I am always surprised by how little you actually need for this stage of battering.
  6. Cut the corned beef into strips, about a quarter-inch thick and a manageable length. The size is entirely conducive on the size of your fryer, plates, guests and whether or not you intend to use it as an appetizer or entree.
  7. Bring the batter very close to the fryer. Some cooks will create a drip area, for the inevitable mess that will result, by placing parchment paper or aluminum foil beneath the area where the meat will be transferred to the fryer.
  8. Dredge the pieces of corned beef in the flour you reserved and then dip into the batter. Allow your fingers to get dirty! As you remove the corned beef from the batter, allow the excess batter to drip off, but don’t obsess over this step.
  9. Slowly allow each piece to enter the fryer, so that it can begin to cook before it sinks to the bottom. If you neglect this step, it will stick to the bottom of the basket or pot and become very difficult to remove without damaging.

Cook the deep fried corned beef ’til it’s done. How long, you ask? Probably a couple of minutes.

But, as a professional chef, I cannot answer that question without breaking an unspoken rule in the industry. There is also a two minute rule. In the industry, if a server asks a cook how long until a certain table’s food is finished, the cook will have an automated response. Cook’s have very little understanding of actual time. They have what is known as “cook’s time.”

My default answer is always, “two minutes,” regardless of how long it will actually be. If something is very near completion, I will abruptly change my answer to “ten seconds.”

If I am in the weeds, or backed up, my answer will be “an hour.” That’s it. It’s either ready in two minutes, or ten seconds, or an hour. Can you appreciate a smiling server a little more now, knowing that even the simplest question will likely lead to aggravation?

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As published in The Montague Reporter

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Chef Toddler

5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Love Cooking

Turn the medial task of cooking into wholesome family fun.603925_10151118666662212_979419821_n

5. Shop with them

Bringing kids into the grocery store, especially toddlers, can be a hassle, for both you and the other shoppers.  But the nice old ladies, and the lessons the kids can learn are worth the headache.

To keep the kids behaving and help them understand food, reward them with a fruit, instead of candy.  If you bring your kids to the fruit aisle and allow them to choose a fruit for good behavior, and require they vary their selection each time, they will gravitate toward the more bizarre fruits.  They will learn to be experimental.

Ask them what things taste like to spark their curiosity and allow their imagination to do the hard work of convincing them they like something.

Point out prices, and help them do some simple math, to figure out how much a single portion of something will cost.  A valuable math lesson and a lesson which will remind them that “food costs money!”76960_10151192523672212_1067767517_n

4. Involve them in the entire process of cooking—including the “dangerous” parts

Chances are you’ve taken a kitchen tool away from the kids on more than one occasion, and chances are better one of them was a knife.  Unless you have finely honed steel knives, this should be something you encourage…at the correct times and under the correct supervision. Teaching kids the proper way to handle a knife and respect for that knife will take away the mystery and translate to more appreciation for the dangers.  Most kitchens have at least one fifty-cent knife, which is shaped like a chef knife, looks like a chef knife, but isn’t.  Toddlers won’t be strong enough to cut themselves with that fifty-cent knife.  Use it as a practice knife, and buy a practice cucumber each week.

Don’t cook your kids.  Burns hurt, but they’re great teachers.  Allowing your kids to put things in the oven, or stir sauce on the stove may teach them a hard lesson, but a lesson nonetheless.  If you show them to be careful, and how to handle the equipment correctly, instead of forbidding it, the mystery will vanish.

Make cleanup fun!  Then invent a perpetual-motion machine, then tackle World Peace.

3. Don’t make them cry when they spill the milk

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Professional chefs spill things all the time.  Grownups spill, too.  The kids are going to make a mess, so be ready for it.  Have a broom handy, or lay a shower curtain on the ground where you are working, depending on the scale of mess you expect.  Cleaning as you go will teach the kids to be organized and help them become more efficient.  The saying goes, “A clean kitchen is a slightly-less-disgruntled kitchen.”

2. Taste!

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This is strong advice to give to adults who want to learn how to get off of the couch and into a kitchen.  Kids must taste everything!  And they will want to taste things which you have never tasted, such as raw potatoes.  Keep the raw meats and chicken away from the other ingredients, and encourage them to do this.  It will give them an understanding of what french fries are. Teach science, or demonstrate the change of the ingredients throughout the various cooking stages.  The curiosity bug will take over, and they will want to see more, and learn more.

Kids have the attention span of gnats, and their impatience will require you to let them snack as they cook.  Keep this in mind when planning your dinner.  Let them have a small piece of as many ingredients as possible, even the dry pasta and flour.64727_10151317559307212_594051988_n

Season food with them.  Taste before and after.  Taste the seasonings themselves.

1. Love to Cook!

How can you expect the kids to want to cook if you don’t want to cook?  If you and your spouse constantly argue about whose turn it is to cook, only to settle on take-out, kids will learn that cooking is a chore.  If you are sick of cooking, try to do new things that you haven’t made before. Cooking is really quite simple, and if something looks too hard to make, it probably just has a snazzy garnish on it.  So skip the garnish, and make it!  You might not find everything to be your favorite, but you will have fed your family, and learned something.

Just remember how children are sponges, and absorb everything. When you go out to eat, and you tell the waiter you don’t want onions on your salad, or hold the sauce, you are teaching kids that it is okay to be closed minded.  When you scold them for not eating their broccoli, and they say they hate broccoli, it’s because they heard it from a friend, or saw it on TV.  Or it may be really overcooked and poorly seasoned, which you can fix.  You don’t have to eat the broccoli, or onions, just don’t let the kids know.

If your toddler tells you something you made tastes like Styrofoam, he has a discerning palate; he is complementing you.  Toddlers love Styrofoam.  But, just to be safe, you should skip the next Hamburger Helper day.

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