Music Be the Food

If music be the food of love, play on
—From Twelfth Night (I, i,1)

When I graduated from culinary school, my partner at the time gave me one of the first generation iPods with the above quote engraved on the back. I still have it and probably won’t part with it for many years even though its battery long ago gave up the ghost and I have moved onto a sleek black nano. I’m a sentimentalist if nothing. The gift reminds me of the support he gave me while I reinvented myself and careened towards a new part of my life. After graduation, my externship was on the opposite side of Queens from our midtown-west apartment. The two hour commute was barely tolerable only because of that iPod. I learned to cook large volumes of food with it tucked into the back pocket of my checks, the headphone cord slung over my shoulder so it ran down my back. I suppose that’s where I learned to dance in front of the stove.

The Amateur Gourmet is asking other food bloggers to create a mix for cooking. It’s a fun idea that I can’t wait to see (and hear) the results of.

Music in the kitchen is an important part of cooking for me. It sets the tone and mood of the work flow for me. I’ve worked in kitchens where we kept a radio on all day to the local classic rock station. Other kitchens we took turns with CDs and tapes that each person brought in. And in others, the chef ruled the music with an iron fist saying “When you’re the executive chef, you can choose what you want to listen to, now get back to work.”

I’ve read that Anthony Bourdain plays punk. Daniel Boloud plays classical. Another chef plays jazz while another plays salsa and merengue while she serves up classic French fare.

I tend to keep deep house, trance and tribal music going in my kitchen. It keeps me moving, keeps me happy, and keeps the rhythm set for a quick pace. I find myself zipping through large blocks of chopping and slicing faster if I’m pushed by a driving base rhythm. Check marks appear on the “To Do List” quicker.

And yes, a lot of the time, you might catch me shaking my ass all over the kitchen like some sort of spasmatic-chopomatic. You’ll see me shifting my weight back and forth from one leg to the other while twisting and turning my torso like some psychotic knife weilding circuit boy. I know it looks ridiculous and that it really doesn’t serve a purpose over all, but it keeps it fun and light for me. I can get very serious and my field of vision can narrow to millimeters when I’m catering, so every little bit of fun helps.

You don’t even want to know what happens when I put boogie-woogie on. It’s just scary.

I don’t just keep dance music going. Sometimes I need a little Holst or Beethoven or Mozart to keep me going. Somehow making composed salads requires the delicate artistry of 17th century musical geniuses. Plating and service need to measured and careful pace of classical to get everything right.

I’ve been known to even put on the most dreaded and feared of kitchen music of all, More terrible than any other genre, I have been known to inflict on my helpers a sin so grievous that I still regret it. Yes, I made them listen to show tunes. Worse I’ve been caught singing in the kitchen. Singing Andrew Lloyd Weber. It’s just all too terrible to admit and I won’t frighten you with further tales of woe and Sondheim. Let me just say that there’s a reason why my efforts at being an actor never went anywhere and theaters audiences everywhere are grateful.

Inevitably though, there comes a time during Crunch Cooking that I need to turn that off and let silence rule. After cranking out food for 8 or 9 hours, I need to slow down, focus and figure out where I’m going next. I find silence is best for cleaning. Scraping choux paste off the floor in silence is humbling and grounding. Listening to the sound of a dishwasher hum and buzz at the end of the meal reminds me of holidays at my mothers as we finished the day and collapsed together, sated and happy.

In a way it is it’s own music.

What I’m Eating

This week’s What I’m Eating is also what a lot of other people are eating.

Mark Bittman at The New York Times has labeled it “my favorite bakery in the United States“. While I can’t judge whether that is accurate or not, it is one of my favorite places as well. The lines out the door suggest it is the same for a lot of other people too.

I was first taken to Tartine by a friend with whom I stayed for two weeks in early 2004 as I tried to decide if moving to San Francisco was a wise choice or just running away from home (I’ve since learned that answering yes to both is possible). In the midst of feeling enthralled with the possibilities of San Francisco, he took me there as an example of what food means in this town. I ordered a croque monsieur and we sat outside in the spring sun light reveling in the food. Before I knew it, the April sun had gone behind a cloud and I found myself shivering in the sudden cold, so he threw a congenial arm around me and drove me home. We finished lunch in his house over looking the Castro.

Three years later I don’t know where he is. I know he’s around. He just doesn’t call me back or reply to my emails. I don’t quite know if I offended him or we just never formed that strong of a friendship.

Three years later I bring people from out town there myself, preaching the gospel of croque monsieur to them, reading the lines of swiss cheese over the chapters of broiled ham and books of grilled bread. All say Amen as your brush the crumbs off your lap.

I worry that now that Bitman has discovered Tartine, that the lines there will be longer and filled with gawking touristas and food adventurists who really only take and rarely give back to their conquests and latest finds.

I also know people who loathe Tartine with blinding passion who will see the NYT’s discovery as the perfect final nail in the trendy coffin.

For me… I better learn to make my own croque monsieur……

Stew

This morning I got up and strained out the sauce espagnole. While it drained, I put on some dance music and started to diced up the chuck and tossed that in seasoned flour. In small batches I fried that off in the same pot I made the sauce in using the beef fat that’s been sitting in the freezer. Removed the beef from the pot and then tossed in a pound of sliced mushrooms.

Note: Slicing mushrooms and searing beef while dancing around the kitchen to the latest remix from your buddies is a recipe for setting dish towels on fire.

I let the mushrooms get going but they did what mushrooms do and they sucked up all of the residual fat in the pot and the fondant in the bootm was turning a darker color than I liked. So I threw in a ladle full of the sauce and the mushrooms promptly absorbed all the fond. Really a neat trick if you think about it, but I was kinda irked. I realized I had just destroyed any chances of getting good carmelization on the fungus, so I just stood there listening to it sizzle and bubble and pop. I decided to just keep going and poured in 3/4 of the sauce and a 12oz bottle of cabernet. I put the beef back in and stirred it up. I then added 2 cups of barley. Covered the whole mess, put it into a 250 degree oven and turned off the dance music and wenbt back to the couch for the first nap of the day.

I was roused from my nap by someone calling me and asking for Lawanda.

Who?

Lawanda…L_A-W-A..

You’ve got the wrong number.

Ahhh, but now the house smells like stew!

I got up and pulled open the oven and was met with a facefull of steam that smelled like wine and beef and garlic. I did my best shake shake shimmy shimmy in front of it in glee. I gave it a stir and put it back. It had only been in there for 1 hour by this point.

What? You mean you don’t dance in front of the stove when things come out right? Hmmph…some people.

I pulled more beef fat out and left it in a bowl on the stove for later use, packed up and went to the gym. I tried to put in a good work out but my mind was more interested in the stew. But I knew to just let it be. So I went and got a cup of coffee before I walked home…probably a little quicker than necessary. I dropped my gym bag and made a bee line for the stove.

Zowie. My stew had congealed into a solid mass. Hmm…well, sure. I knew that was going to happen when I added all that barley! Duh. I poured in the remaining 2 cups of sauce and 1 big glass of water and stirred that in and as the stew loosened up, was pleased to see that the beef had basically disintegrated into little threads of pinky fleshy goodness. Again, I shoved it back into the oven to let it do it’s thing and shook my ass around the kitchen in a dance of happiness.

Next, I took the beef fat that I had pulled out before heading to the gym and threw that in the bowl of the kitchen aid with a dough hook. I added 2 tsp baking powder, 1.5 cups of flower and let it whizz around. I kept waiting for the mysterious “cornmeal like” consistency to occur but figured hommade shortening may not be cooperative. So in drips and dribbles, I added maybe 1/4 cup of milk until I saw the dough coming together. I let it knead away in the mixer for a minute before pulling it out and letting it rest in fridge for an hour.

Note: What is it with you and dish towels? First you set them on fire and then you lose them and discover you’ve been putting them in the fridge with dough. What the hell? Are you some sort of bipedal squirrel? Squirrelly is more like it.

I came back and rolled the dough out and folded it over two or three times before cutting out about 10 biscuits. I shoved the stew to one side and slid them in next to it. I closed the oven and did my best evil genius inspired rubbing of the hands together. (I then looked out the window and saw my roommate watching me from the balcony where he was smoking a cigarette. I left the kitchen promptly.)

Half an hour later I heard noises from the kitchen and went in to investigate (besides, I couldn’t find the Korean melodramas on public access). My other roommate was making pasta. I opened the oven and the biscuits called out to me. As I pulled them out, the hot metal sent a wave of heat through the dish towel I was using as a hot pad. I dropped the sheet pan a little and sent one biscuit flying. I managed to rescue the rest. Second roommate just watched looking mildly horrified. I set the biscuits on the stove and dropped the dish towel next to it.

They were not bad. Definite and clear beef flavor to them but they needed salt badly. Despite that, I swore right there that I would never be a patron of The Doughboy Tube again. There were just too easy to make. And by the way… do you smell something burning?

Note: When you drop a dish towel on the stove in your haste to eat home made biscuits, and your roommate has a pot of water on high flame, combustion may occur…. ya dimwit…..

I managed to get the towel into the sink and extinguished before I pulled the stew out next to the biscuits. I gave it a taste and….

Hmph….well…okydokey… that’s kinda…. well…drab. The wine flavor was gone. The beef flavor was nice but not really there. It not only needed salt… it needed more wine. I went to the cabinet where we keep the wine and wasn’t really feeling inspired to open any of the bottles we have on hand. That’s when I noticed the bottle of cognac.

I added about 2 cups of it and mixed it in before setting the stew over a really low flame. Once it came to a boil and ladled out a big bowl of it, dropped two biscuits on top and waddled into the living room to watch Alton Brown. I grunted and moaned and shook and shimmied and quivered and quaked and… well, you get the idea. It was damned good.

It will feed me for days, which is just fine since money is tight this week. But the best part is that I managed to amuse myself greatly in the process.

Now if I can only convince myself to do the happy dance when I’m doing dishes…….

Beef stock

It’s technically sauce espanol, but the basic idea is the same.

Normally I’d make a sauce like this in the slow cooker, but I need a larger volume for the stew I’m going to make tomorrow. This time therefor, the whole thing is sitting in a 200 degree oven for several hours. I’m apparently getting the same level of radiative heat and a slow simmer is occuring. As you’d expect, the house smells great.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll drain it and add it to the cubed chuck and some barley, and make a nice stew that will sit there and simmer just like the sauce. And then I’ll have a nice healthy dinner.

Results and Bones

Woke up this morning and the right side of my head felt like someone had been rubbing it with sandpaper… from the inside.

How’s that for a picture?

It wasn’t a big surprise. I’ve felt like I’ve been fighting off something. My throat has been sore and I popped a bloody nose before work the other day. I figure I’m just getting a cold. But since this is the first cold I’ve gotten since quitting smoking a pack a day, I may be just facing a different ball game. I don’t feel sick per so, but there are places on my skull that hurt like hell.

The HST work out routine is showing results. I got on the scale the other morning and was rather tickled to see that I’ve officially gained 5 pounds since starting the program. I can see that my shoulders are bigger. I went to calculate the amount of weight I did on the hack squat machine and had to multiply 6 by 45 and then add to the 2 times 25. (that’s 320 pounds by the way). I was actually giggling on the floor at the gym when I realized I had just done 6 reps of hack squats at that weight. My thighs hurt like hell today, but in the best way.

This morning I walked over to Falleti’s market which several people have told me I needed to look at. I had only intended to look but instead walked out with a 8 pound chuck roast and 4 pounds of beef bones. The bones are currently in the oven with some rough chopped mire poix getting nice and brown in my big stock pot. Once I see a satisfactory color on them, I’ll add some tomato paste to the bones and let the sugar caremilze before covering them in wine and water and herbs. They’ll sit in a low oven over night and tomorrow I’m making stew with the chuck.

This afternoon MediaMutt and I are hitting Rainbow so I can let him in on the Hippie Goodness of a co-op grocery.

Beef Fat Results #1

Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions for what to do with the rendered beef fat from earlier this week.

This afternoon I had a loaf of sourdough rising and suddenly nothing to do while waiting for it. So I yanked one of the quarts of fat from the freezer. Melting it took some time and I was surprised at how much moisture was inherently in the fat. Once the splattering and spitting subsided I got to work.

Beef Fat Results #1

Fat

I’ve been helping out at a corporate kitchen this week while looking for full time work. Yesterday I cut 30 pounds of beef into 1″ cubes, which included trimming off any extra fat and connective tissue. As I worked, all of this got tossed into a bowl on the assumption that the chef would have some purpose for it. When I asked what he wanted me to do with it, he said to toss it. The tight-wad in me couldn’t stand the idea of all of this potential going into the garbage, so I wrapped it all up and brought it home.

“Kitchenbeard,” I said to myself, “You’re an idiot. What the hell are you going to do with 10 POUNDS of beef fat?”

The rocket-scientist side of me said “Freeze it. Freeze it now. MythButers is on in a few minutes.”

The pragmatic side of me said “And exactly what are we going to take out of the freezer to make room for this? Might I suggest the rabbit carcass from when we braised a bunny 9 months ago?”

The rocket scientist piped up again “We just need to reduce it’s volume.”

Pragmatist said “I suppose we could render it out.”

I said “While you two argue, I’m gonna go get the slow cooker.”

I poured half of the scraps into the cooker. I added about 1/4 cup salt, a few whole black peppercorns, whole allspice, and whole cloves. I covered all that with the rest of the fat and then tried to put the cover on it. It was mildly over flowing.

I came back a couple of hours later and ladled off a quart of fat and put that in the freezer. It froze up to a milky white solid. I began to giggle.

A few more hours later I came and ladled off another 3/4 of a quart. This too froze up milky white but a thick brown gelatinous layer separated out. I openly laughed in anticipation.

Here I am 24 later and I have about 3 quarts of rendered fat and colagen in my freezer. It’s just this side of obscene. Yet I am openly jumping up and down at the idea of making….. um… well gee….I hadn’t quite gotten that far.

So far I plan on Yorkshire pudding and roux. I might roast some veggies in it for a special dinner I’m having later this month.

Aside from that… what would YOU do with it?

Today in San Francisco

I saw the following today….

Cutting through Yerba Buena Gardens on my way to my temp gig. I see a flock of elderly Chinese women doing their tai chi, their graceful and deliberate movements somehow fittng right in with the park. I breeze past them and come around a corner to find another flock of Chinese women….doing the macarena.

Cutting through the Mission I look up and see the top spokes of Sutro Tower over a building. I wish I had a camera because the light of the setting sun behind the tower cast a perfect shadow in the haze of the day, giving the illusion of giant reaching for the sky with a halo.

Duboce Parkand the dogs are running and playing. My cares for a breif moment drift far away as small white dog zig zags across the grass, looses it’s footing and rolls down the little slope. I rights itself and stands there panting. Bewuildered? No…I could almost hear it laughing.

At Pierce and Webster there is a big pink Victorian that is under constructuion. As I walk past it, a woman comes around the corner in a pink hoodie. Her face is flush in the cold. She matches the Victorian perfectly to the point that she almost fades into the background. Again, I wish I had my camera.

I get home and see that the 10 pounds of beef trimmings I’ve had rendering over low heat for 24 hours have produces almost 3 quarts of fat. I rub my hand together gleefully in anticipation of what I’m going to make.

Laundromat Diaries

I finally got around to doing laundry today. Despite the beautiful weather, I needed to get it done. Once my clothes were tumbling around, I grabbed my copy of Grastronomica and sat outisde and read in the warm sun while my laptop stayed in my bag. I figured Icould blog once the sun went behind the trees. But two women getting into a screaming match over a dryer is enough to make Kitchenbeard think twice about blogging at the Laundromat. One homosexual with a laptop and a food cultural magazine isn’t enough to get in the way of that.

I shoved everything in the laundry bag and high tailed it out of there. I dropped the bag by the dining room table and made coffee. I set to folding the items of my life that give people their first impression of me. Aside from my face, my clothes say more about me than my voice, my words, my smell. It may not look like it, but each peice has been carefully chosen.

I was annoyed today to see that in my haste to get out of the laundromat, I had removed my whites from the dryer before they were actually fully dry. Damp clothes had wrinkled and cooled. Warmer clohtes from the other dryer still held their heat and folded neatly.

But I was safe in my home, with my identifiers, with my coffee, with the sun pouring in the windows. I folded each peice carefully and deliberately.

Not a bad Sunday.