Bits Deglazed from Bourdain World

January 31, 2011

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain should find this welcome news: blogger Broke-Ass Stuart says Tony is “definitely filthy rich,” but has maintained his common touch by never forgetting his broke-ass roots.

Since we’ve been having some foodie vs. non-foodie discussion on my Kitchen Basics recaps, you may find this post by The South in My Mouth interesting. She rates how she has trained her teenage son Noah in the kitchen, using Bourdain’s chapter, “Virtue,” in Medium Raw as her yardstick — or should I say measuring cup?

When it comes to cleaning fish, I’ve got nothing on Noah.

Bravo’s milking Top Chef All-Stars to the max by sprinkling it with reruns, so nobody went home last week. Now I can’t remember if I saw Tony in the previews for this week (if it’s not another rerun) or not.

Speaking of Top Chef, Padma’s baby-daddy Adam Dell, from her ever-growing ex-pile, is taking Padma to court for custody of their 11-month-old daughter. His paternity doesn’t seem to be in question, but he’s concerned that Padma’s celebrity lifestyle and her apparently insatiable addiction to using rich/influential men don’t create the best environment for child-rearing.

Slashfood voted Ruth Bourdain the “Sexiest Male Chef” in the food industry. Check out who else was in the top 10.

And here’s The Daily Meal’s truly bizarre list of “America’s 50 Most Influential People in Food.” They coyly ranked “You” as No. 1 (like when TIME used a mirror cover to cop out on selecting a “Person of the Year”), and Hugh Grant was No. 3. HUGH GRANT??!!

(Oops! Further digging revealed that they meant a Hugh Grant who works for Monsanto. But still… In my mind, Monsanto = floor products.)

Then they had readers weigh in via Twitter and Facebook, netting vastly different results. Bourdain and Mark Bittman of the New York Times tied for first place. Bourdain wasn’t even on Daily Meal’s original list (but Oprah was).

On a side note…

Andrew Zimmern went all political on his Travel Channel blog about Obama’s new policy toward Cuba. He mentioned that he filmed a show there last year. So Zimmern got in, but Bourdain can’t. Go figure.

Tonight is the grand finale of my Kitchen Basics class at Sur La Table and it’s a meat-athon of roasting, braising, and sautéing: roast chicken, seared steak, boeuf bourguignon, and fish stock/stew.


Obama’s New WTF Strategy

January 28, 2011

By Yul

If a ditz like Sarah Palin can figure out that Obama’s new slogan, “Winning the Future,” abbreviates to WTF, you just know the morning after his State of the Union speech, Obama was incredulously asking, “Didn’t anybody realize that?”

(Note to Palin: WTF is not an “acronym” because it doesn’t form a pronounceable word. But I bet you call all abbreviations acronyms, don’tcha, because you think it makes you sound smarter.)

Although I’m still proud there’s a black cat in the White House, my reaction to “winning the future” is WTF?

Think about it.

“Losing the future” means dying, so “winning the future” means not dying. But you know the politicians intend to spin it to mean anything. Circular gibberish is partly what got the U.S. into a mess in the first place. Shoveling another slogan on top isn’t going to help.

Except for WTF, Obama’s State of the Union was breathtakingly devoid of facts, specifics, and eloquence. About 18 minutes in, he said…

“We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.”

…and got a standing ovation. Clearly, some barrel-bottom-scraping was going on.

That applause was particularly hurl-worthy when we all know some of the bastards who clapped will turn around and try to decimate education spending because they believe book-larnin’ ain’t gonna fix what ails this country — but letting every redneck and psycho pack an assault weapon will.

(BTW, Obama must have ad libbed that Super Bowl/science fair comment because it’s not in the official text. Too bad he didn’t ad lib the rest.)

His other gem was, “This is our Sputnik moment.”

Sputnik!? WTF indeed.

Obama even fell flat sprinkling in those little stories about the nobodies he had planted in the audience for their 15 seconds of fame.

But what he did give us was a non-pharmaceutical cure for insomnia. Tonight, if you have trouble sleeping, watch this. You’ll be sawing logs within minutes. Guaranteed.


Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics: Session 2

January 26, 2011

By Karen

Things were looking up with stocks, soups, and sauces, featuring:

  • Rich Chicken Stock
  • Fish Stock
  • Mushroom Soup *
  • Mussels Steamed in White Wine (Moules à la Grecque) *
  • Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Béarnaise Sauce

* (From Les Halles Cookbook, soup page 47, mussels page 84. Contrary to Sur La Table’s handout, the béarnaise recipe was significantly modified.)

Fish stock got postponed until next week. Fish heads were too hard to come by.

Our instructor, whom I’m calling Sue, gave us an overview of stocks and explained how roasting bones makes them richer. Then as she quickly ran through all the recipes, panic set in. The myriad details of stock, soup, mussels, and béarnaise reeled off at once made me feel as if I’d jumped into the deep end and couldn’t swim.

My partner and I tackled the chicken stock, which no one else had any interest in. We weren’t given a recipe, but everything we needed was assembled on a tray.

With a big knife (that felt no sharper than my own Henckels) I chopped, unsupervised and without peeling, some dried-out carrots and an onion. If Bourdain actually has any knife instruction in his curriculum, it hasn’t trickled down yet.

Our stock also got some brownish celery with wilted leaves, 10 peppercorns (exactly), thyme and rosemary (I think) with stems, store-cooked rotisserie chicken bones, and water.

We also threw in the onion skin. I’m sorry, but nothing will convince me that was called for. I’ve never made anything that started out looking like floating compost and had it turn out well.

While writing this post, I saw that Bourdain specifically says to peels carrots and onions and not to use celery leaves, stems, or other junk (page 38). And it was included in the section of Sur La Table’s handout that we didn’t have time to read.

Our stock simmered all through class, but was nothing special when we tasted it. It’s supposed to spend more hours on the stove, and next week we’ll skim off the fat.

The béarnaise was tag-teamed, with one person stirring and one person dribbling in the butter.

The mussel recipe called for fennel (again with the fennel!) and other spices. This time, the fennel contributed to the dish and the mussels were great.

Someone pounded the chicken and pan-fried it in butter, but it overcooked in the oven waiting to be served. I could have seen that coming.

While we took a break, Sue puréed the mushroom soup, which turned out absolutely delicious. It was easy and I’d definitely make that myself.

Even after sitting around for 15 or 20 minutes, the béarnaise sauce was perfect. They succeeded with smoothness where I failed on my first attempt. But it wasn’t the cookbook recipe. This version added sherry, lemon juice, and water, and substituted white wine or tarragon vinegars for sherry or red wine vinegar.

So what did I learn this week?

That commercial chicken stock/broth is not created equal. Let Top Chef be Swanson’s whore. I’ll never buy it again. We sampled a brand called Kitchen Basics that made Swanson taste like swill in a box.

That if you have to let chicken sit around, don’t cook it beyond medium rare.

That it takes more than 2 hands to make good béarnaise.

That you test a partially-opened mussel’s freshness by tapping it on the table. If it reacts and closes up, it’s alive and ripe for killing. If it doesn’t, and smells like the bottom of a bait bucket, toss it.

Speaking of which, as I was driving home, I started feeling queasy and thought, “Oh, no, the mussels!”

By the time I got home, I could have thrown up, but I’d left the TV on for the cats, and Tony was in Provence, which distracted my stomach. I drank some peppermint tea and took a Pepcid Complete before bed and woke up fine, so who knows?

Next week, we have the fish stock and meat grand finale.


Bourdain’s Gone Fishin’

January 24, 2011

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain took No Reservations back to Brazil, where he fished in the Amazon and made an impressive catch. Is it a trick of light, or does he look unusually svelte? (Tony, not the fish.)

Meanwhile, controversy simmers back in the States after Hannah Hayes, daughter of a Cargill executive, publicly called Bourdain out on Chapter 9 of Medium Raw, his rant on “Meat” where he named food giant Cargill as a force of evil.

Bourdain was surprisingly benign in his blogged response, although he stood his ground (beef) on treating meat with ammonia.

A Faustian Bargain declared “Bullshit!,” saying Bourdain at any other time is “the Glenn Beck of the food world.” He also claims his comment on Bourdain’s Travel Channel blog got deleted, so he posted it himself and expanded upon everything that he thinks is wrong with Tony.

I’m going to claim non-foodie neutrality here and not pick sides. However, I do think that Faustian may be spot-on that Bourdain softened (or was advised to soften) his stance because HarperCollins’ lawyers smelled a potential libel suit cooking.

In the Win Some, Lose Some Department…

The 2011 Producers’ Guild Awards were held on January 22 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. No Res lost to Deadliest Catch for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television.

And on a lighter note, Chicago Foodies posed an interesting question: Is Bourdain starting to look like Eric Ripert? Hmmm…

Tony returned as a judge for week 7 of Top Chef All-Stars. If the Quickfire Challenge of filleting fish at Le Bernadin really was his brainchild it was, hands down, his finest hour ever on TC. Not only did he refrain from gratuitously making the cheftestants look silly just because he could, but he gave them an opportunity to display real-world skill.

Bonus: Padma was nowhere, which instantly elevated the challenge’s stature.

Tony shared judging duties with Justo Thomas, Le Bernadin’s resident fish prep chef and the hero of Medium Raw’s Chapter 18, “My Aim is True.”

Dale won the Quickfire, but the ensuing Restaurant War made me a bigger Fabio fan than ever. Last week, Fabio launched his own hilarious blog, and one of his first posts was about the Restaurant War, where he distinguished himself with a superior dessert and his management skills.

I’d like to see Fabio with his own cooking show. He could be the Italian Emeril.

Bourdain also blogged about the Restaurant War. In case you missed it, the increasingly scary/delusional Marcel had to pack it in with the foam and go.

There are many great recaps of this episode in the blogosphere, but David Dust’s had me laughing out loud.

Gawker was also hilarious. You know how I love a good Padma joke.

Tonight, I’m off to Sur La Table for Session 2 of Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics class, where I’ll learn about Stocks, Soups, and Sauces. Our dishes include: Rich Chicken Stock, Fish Stock, Mushroom Soup, Mussels Steamed in White Wine (Moules à la Grecque), and Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Bearnaise Sauce.

Full report on Wednesday…


Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics: Session 1

January 19, 2011

By Karen

A dozen of us donned aprons in Sur La Table’s kitchen to learn about cooking, Anthony-Bourdain-style. To my relief, there didn’t seem to be any finicky foodies.

To my surprise, there didn’t seem to be any Bourdain fans. When our instructor (I’ll call Sue, in case I inadvertently embarrass her) asked if we had read Kitchen Confidential, I think I was the only one who raised my hand. It was required reading in Sue’s culinary school, but she found the salty language kind of offensive.

Our recipes were:

  • French Omelet
  • Pommes Purée (Mashed Potatoes)*
  • Rice Pilaf
  • Fennel and Haricots Verts (Green Bean) Salad with segmented orange
  • Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce

* From Les Halles Cookbook, page 245

Sue showed us how to easily peel and seed raw tomatoes and laboriously segment an orange, and introduced us to truffle oil and truffle salt.

She also explained where we’d deviate from Bourdain’s methods. We would not clarify butter, but use Ghee (100% same thing in a jar). We would not peel hot tomatoes or potatoes. She also increased the Pommes recipe to 9 potatoes instead of 6 because the recipe’s 2 cups of cream makes them soupy.

The dishes didn’t suffer.

Next, Sue demonstrated an omelet, and I don’t get what Bourdain finds so magical about that, although the fresh rosemary and basil were tasty touches. Folding it into thirds instead of halves seems a tossup, and Sue cracked her eggs on the side of a bowl, not on the table à la Jacques Pepin.

Then it became sort of a controlled free-for-all. After washing our hands, we paired off to make omelets, one at a time because there was one burner, and to help prep the other dishes.

My partner and I tackled the omelet first — a strategic blunder I’ll not repeat because it took us completely out of the action.

After eating the omelet, we joined the rice pilaf group, which had gotten bogged down chopping onions.

This dish was the night’s disappointment, thanks to not multiplying all the ingredients by 1.5, a curveball I missed while noodling with the omelet. It tasted OK, but too much broth and not enough rice resulted in mush.

Next, I watched someone toss blanched green beans with raw chopped fennel. Thrilling.

I never touched a knife myself, so no “Knife Basics” for me. Nor did I see anyone look like they were executing any new moves.

In the blink of an eye, there was nothing left to do but wander around the store while the dishes cooked.

When we returned, the food was plated and served to us. I’d have been just as happy if they’d shown us how pretty everything looked, thrown it down the disposal, and called it a night.

Instead, we ate mushy rice, chunky mashed potatoes, and spaghetti with a side of ice-cold green beans and fennel. Wine was an option. Bourdain’s right about one thing — alcohol helps.

So what did I learn, if not knife skills?

That raw fennel is as tasty and attractive as cauliflower. It needs more than Bourdain’s simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing to make it worth lifting a fork for. Much more.

That tomato sauce needs much longer cooking time than class allowed. I’d have pronounced that watery stuff an utter failure if I’d made it.

That I will never segment an orange. Fiber is good for you.

My actual participation: 1) cracking 2 eggs into a bowl and whisking them with milk, 2) swishing raw egg around a pan, then folding it into thirds, and 3) melting Ghee.

The recipes were “useless screwhead” level, and Sue circumvented Bourdain’s most pigheadedly old-school and time-consuming methods.

Did I add any new dishes or techniques to my culinary repertoire? No. But I’ll probably buy a peeling utensil.

I’m still optimistic. Next week is soups and stocks, which I’m most eager to learn about.

When I got home from class, I flipped on the Travel Channel and there was Bourdain, in Dubai, eating mush with his fingers. He probably would have loved our Rice Pilaf.


Zenyatta FINALLY Wins!

January 18, 2011

By Adele

Zenyatta can forget being the Susan Lucci of horses. On her third nomination in a row, Zenyatta finally was named “Horse of the Year” and received the recognition she deserves as one of racing’s greatest mares ever.

Zenyatta won 19 of her 20 races, and lost by only a nose her last race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. (Yeah, yeah, some revisionists say it was a head. But watch the race yourself. It was a nose.)

That nose happened to belong to a colt named Blame, the other leading contender for Horse of the Year, but Zenyatta received 8 more votes than he did.

Fortunately, horse voters don’t think like Top Chef judges. They considered Zenyatta’s long and glorious career, not just her last near-miss.

At 6 years old, Zenyatta was only the second mature horse to win the title, joining Cigar who won it in 1996.

So the crown of 2009’s Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, passes to Zenyatta.

Zenyatta is retired now at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky, where she’s waiting to hook up with a great guy so they can start producing the next generation of champions.

Blame and Rachel Alexandra are also retired. It’s a shame that race horse careers are so brief. Just when we grow attached, they’re gone.

Congratulations, Zenyatta!


Bourdain Gets Burned

January 17, 2011

By Karen

The 2nd annual Tasty Awards were bestowed in Hollywood January 13 and get this: No Reservations lost Best TV Food Program to — Top Chef! And Anthony Bourdain lost to Alton Brown for Best Male Host in a Series.

But NR was vindicated by winning Best TV Food Travel Series, beating Avec Eric, Bizarre Foods, and 3 Food Network shows.

The Bourdains skipped the Tasties for the Cayman Cookout, where Tony got immediately sunburned.

Last week, Bourdain blogged about his visit to Boston and plugged a new Travel Channel show – twice – called The Wild Within, produced by Zero Point Zero. Host Steve Rinella apparently goes places to kill things so we can see where protein REALLY comes from.

I’m thinking he’s a better-looking Zimmern with weapons.

And WHY do foodies insist on thinking the rest of us have NO IDEA where grocery-store meat comes from? Just because we don’t consider butchery entertainment doesn’t mean we’re oblivious to or condone the cruelty of mass-producing and killing animals.

Watching a New Yorker with an empty freezer – or a former Alaska governor with an empty head – reduce noble beasts to bloody carcasses isn’t edifying.

Baristanet got Bourdain on the phone for a 20-minute interview before his upcoming appearance February 10 in Red Bank, NJ, and covered almost no new ground except to ask him, “In your mind’s eye, are you a chef, a writer, or a celebrity?”

Tony answered, “I would prefer to think of myself as a writer because without a story to tell, there’s no product. I guess, a storyteller.”

Hmmm… That’s what I’ve always thought.

If you haven’t read his latest, Medium Raw yet, HarperCollins has signed copies for $26.99 (with free shipping) until 11 p.m. Thursday night (Jan. 20).

Bourdain did a short video on his three favorite 10-second hangover meals (mac & cheese, Cap’n Crunch, and cold Kung Pao chicken) for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Why was he sitting in a bathroom?

And now, week 6 of Top Chef All-Stars

Bourdain wasn’t a judge, but he blogged about it.

Jamie FINALLY felt Padma’s velvet boot on her ass, but not before playing the douche card by calling Fabio, Richard, and Marcel’s single dish a “copout.”

Gee, Jamie, what do you call NO dish?

For the record, I wasn’t a Jamie hater, but what I DO hate is someone calling herself a chef and cooking on TV no better than I would. (And that goes for Padma on the Today Show, the Melting Pot, or wherever else they let her near a hot stove.)

Eric Ripert, in an unexpected bit of masochism, has issued Jamie an open invitation to learn to cook fish at his NYC restaurant, Le Bernadin.

Bourdain will be back at the Top Chef judges’ table this week, and says he helped design the challenge, which can only be an improvement.

Adele (the cat) fluffed with pride when she uncovered this clip from Boston where Tony wasn’t allowed not to admit he has no love for Sarah Palin.

My Bourdain Kitchen Basics class starts tonight at Sur La Table and I’m edgy. I keep telling myself it can’t be any worse than taking up ballroom dancing at 42 was. At least cooking doesn’t require a partner.

In addition to knife skills, we’ll be tackling a smorgasbord: French Omelet, Mashed Potatoes (Pommes Puree), Rice Pilaf, Fennel and Haricots Verts Salad, Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce.

Wish me luck! And stay tuned to hear all about it…


%d bloggers like this: