7/17/11

Dancing in the Kitchen

This is about some of the basic rules in the kitchen. We have some experience working in busy commercial kitchens. In one instance at a well-known teaching institution. There, all the work in the kitchen is provided by volunteers. Many are old hands and know the ropes. But there is a revolving door of fresh energy constantly coming through. As you might expect, the general knowledge, skills, and experience working with others varies. This is taken into account and there is a good deal of kindness and charitable consideration for all.

The kitchen is no place to trot out one's neurotic compulsions. No games, please. Especially when there are very sharp knives, power appliances, and hot stuff everywhere.

Safety and cleanliness first.

Then, let's do it right, please.

Knives

We were in Williams Sonoma recently watching over a shoulder as a salesman was showing some young couple a too-large (naturally, very expensive) chef's knife. Admittedly, the question over the length of the blade is somewhat subjective; but neophites tend to go for the large blade, as if that somehow confers some culinary powers or cachet. Cachet is a big thing in the upwardly mobile kitchen. But as time goes by experience shows that, no matter how many knives you have collected, day in and day out there are some that get a lot more action than others. Our go-to knives in the kitchen are a firm blade paring knife and an Oriental style usuba with a 7" blade.
If you go for a more conventional design utility knife we recommend 6" to 8". (Most stores will want to sell you 8" and that's fine; we're favoring the smaller size these days.) If you slice a lot of bread and/or tomatoes, a serrated blade is a real joy to have. After that, let your actual needs dictate choices. Those non-slip grip knives (or that kind of grip on any other hand tool) are not Cooky Cat's thing. They feel icky. Do they ever get clean?

And when you use a knife, be sure to keep those fingers tucked, thumb included. There are several training videos. Here is a good starter tutorial. We are not going to dwell on the technique per se. But, we do emphasize safety first and starting from day one to impose proper knife skills on yourself and anyone else you are working with in the kitchen.

Next ...

How to Miso Cut

We would be remiss to not mention the miso style cut. Me so like it! Try as we might, there is no online video for how to miso cut vegetables. Nina Simonds, care to step forward on your video blog Spices of Life? Meanwhile, here goes a word lesson:

Using a carrot for example: Place a peeled, prepped carrot on a cutting board in line with the counter edge, small end on right (for right handed cutting). Begin at the small carrot end, cutting a bite sized piece at a 45 degree diagonal to the axis of the carrot. Next, roll the carrot toward you 1/4 turn and take another bite sized cut as before. Continue to do this until you don't see any carrot as such (silly!), only pieces. That's miso pieces. It "pleases" us. Great in stir fried dishes and soups. Maybe even adjust the size a bit bigger for that crudite at your next posh soirée on the penthouse patio overlooking ... (you can add your particular local loveliness).

The miso cut is easiest with long slender produce like carrots, daikon, or zucchinni squash. Oh, and don't thow away those broccoli stems. Peel thoroughly and use in just about anything savory, raw or cooked. Miso cut? Well, yes. However, once you get the idea for the miso cut, you can go on and do the same for any other appropriate solid flesh vegetable. Mainly, it's in taking the 45 degree angle cut. Also, if you have a more comfortable layout for cutting, go ahead. Just to keep to the required angle and 1/4 turn. The miso cut mantra: cut 45, quarter turn, cut 45 ... .

Aside tip: Try cutting scallion at a sharp angle. Really gives eye appeal. It turns Cooky Cat's head every time. Ultra-thin for garnish, medium to add in at the end of a stir fry, large for cooking in with the main dish.

Safely Moving Around the Kitchen

There's nothing more sobering, shocking, and potentially dangerous than when you are bringing something very hot out of the oven or off the stove top and turn around to find someone standing in your way; or worse, moving in your way. If you are in the vicinity of the cook at the stove, you say "Behind You". Or something short and sweet that communicates that you are there. Make that a religious principle in the kitchen. Or, get the heck out!

Visa versa, if you are moving in the kitchen with something hot or delicate, let 'em know. "Coming Through!" "Heads Up!" "Hot Stuff, Coming Through!"

We are so finnicky about the foregoing, that if you don't get it right here and now about why those kinds of communciations are vital, please leave this article and don't come back to Cooky Cat's kitchen until you are ready to sit at the masters knee. (Lavish gifts, humble prostrations, and abject demeanor will be required. Yet, he may not admit you. So, best to do it right the first time.)

Cleanliness

Cooky Cat is a clean kitty. It goes without saying the kitchen, and the tools you use there, should be clean. That would include your hands. A good soap and water scrub before handling food. If you are some traditional grandma who's been cooking for eons, you get a pass. Her hands, though, are always clean. Those kind of hands confer blessings to everything they touch. So, grandma, no need to read further.

We're not done with you though. Listen. Just because you washed your hands doesn't mean you are finished for the duration. If you touch your lips, your skin, your hair—anything that you wouldn't eat from—go to the sink and wash up. Please, no cute comments about eating sushi from a naked belly. We could go off on a whole other tangent on that decadence.

If something falls to the floor, best advice is to toss it out. You are on your own as to when and if there are exceptions. But remember, HE is watching. (Or, SHE, if you are a touchy feminist that has to keep the verbal space even. No letters from feminists, please. Just a little kitting.)

While we're on the subject, can we please do away with all those prissy fingers placing little this's and that's on the plate. Give us a break. We do not want anyone (grandma excepted) touching the food going onto our plate, especially the kind of overly fussing and arranging you sometimes see on cooking shows. If they are doing that on television, imagine what the working reality is in a busy restaurant kitchen. So, use a utensil. Latex gloves, ugh; but, if you must. Just don't fuss over the food anyway! To put a fine point on it, we want to gag up a hair ball every time we see some swell chef dandying up some visual wonder of the world. For us, meat goes there, potatoes there, vegetables there. Salad on a separate plate. And waiter, when we're finished with a course, please TAKE AWAY THE FORK AND BRING US A CLEAN ONE. [Editors apology: We didn't see that coming. Cooky Cat is, as we already pointed out, finnicky. He has his standards. He insists on star treatment. What can we do?]

There is the story told of a Thankgiving dinner in the not too distant old South. The maid brings in the much anticipated turkey from the kitchen to the delight of all the guests seated in the dining room. Without any warning, she drops the golden bird right onto the floor. Just as quickly and without any hesitation, the hostess casually instructs the maid to, "Please, take that back to the kitchen. And, bring in the other one."

Some situations require a suspension of the conventional rules. But, best to keep the dining room floor clean as a whistle.

Finally, here's something that has it all. A kitchen, grandma, cats, dirty dishes, inappropriate use of kitchen items, and some good examples of what not to do in the kitchen. Like—watch for it at the beginning—standing on the sink. And later, blowing into the teapot spout.


7/8/11


Cooky Cat Apprentice Program
If you have what it takes and want to learn from the Top Cat himself, then you may qualify to learn at the knee of the master.

Cooky Cat is old school. Expect long hours and days, months, maybe even years learning the basic skills. Think samurai sword master's apprentice: spending years cutting just the wood for the charcoal for the sword maker's fire. That'll give you a taste of the rigors you will face. There's fire in Cooky Cat's kitchen. Don't expect to leave the kitchen until you are fully cooked. [Please, no email outrage; just speaking metaphorically.]

We are not looking for the many. No, not even the few. We are looking for THE ONE — who will have what it takes to be the Top Cat's Top Cat.

Pussies need not apply.

Summer Cooler Supremo


Forget your lemonade or limeade. Let those little brats in the neighborhood try to sell those pedestrian beverages in front of their homes. (Don’t get us wrong, they’re good drinks, just that we need to create a little buzz for what follows.)

This is sure to please:

2 firm cucumbers, peeled and chopped
3-4 fresh limes, juiced
3-5 T cane sugar (or to taste)
1 C Water

Blend to liquefy/juice
Chill in refrigerator
Pour to half fill tall glasses
Add ice cubes
Top with seltzer or soda water
Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint

Optionals:
Tequila, vodka, gin, or rum
The Beverage for the 21st Century
Introducing

Frak-Watur©®



We all want to reduce or eliminate our country's dependence on foreign oil and at the same time explore other cost effective and environmentally friendly sources of energy.

Well, Mr. T. Boone Pickens has a plan. A large part of it involves natural gas. Seems we got a lot of it up the you know what. But, really. It also seems that New York State and Pennsylvania are sitting on top of a big bunch of it.

Now just how to get it out of the ground. There's a hydraulic water technology that does the trick. Governor Cuomo of New York State favors allowing such drilling. Below is a piece that pretty much covers the whole issue from Mr. Stephen Colbert.

Cooky Cat, one never to pussyfoot around a marketing opportunity, has gone into exclusive licensing with Mr. Pickens and the Governor to market the beverage of the century, Frak-Watur©®. Not in stores yet, but this stuff will put the fire in your belly—quite possibly the very thing that this country needs to get us all moving again.

Do not accept substitutes. Frac-Water©® is not a reprocessed derivative from some leach field. It isn't from some hoity-toity, drilled deep well with low level fracking by-products slowly seeped into the ground water aquifer. Frac-Water©® is full strength "direct from the pump"©.  

7/1/11

Kimchi Quties

The New Must-Have With Your BarBQ

1. Kimchi is the famous fermented/pickled cabbage that is a staple of the Korean table. Korea is also famous for its taste for barbeque. There’s a whole cornucopia of other stuff; but, hey, you got Wikipedia and Google for that.

2. Plain old white bread is a staple BarBQ accompaniment in all parts of the good old US of A.

Add it all up…we took the hint. Introducing Kimchi Quties: The perfect side for your next BarBQ.

(When we are saying BarBQ, we are most certainly talking about smoked meats. Grilled things will work, but long cooked smoked meats is what we were aiming for with our Kimchi Quties.)

Once there was a place on Lexington Avenue in the 80s (1980s and streets 80s) in Manhattan called the “Texas Barbeque”. We were friends with the owners. They were Korean. The thing we liked to do was to make a noisy entrance and bellow “Ya-Hoo, give me some of that Texas Barbeque!” Our Korean friends would smile politely. They could not be persuaded to give the phrase proper, full throated voice. A timid trial only, barely under their breath. No irony served in that joint.

Because they were Korean, there was kimchi. Not for the regular customers, for the family. They were also Rolfing clients, so we got some kimchi every now and then. If you know from kimchi you know in a traditional Korean family there is probably not a meal were kimchi is not served. Also, the world is your oyster kimchi-wise. The variations of types and variation for each type go on and on.

The Kimchi Qutie below is a rounded eye take. But one that any native born Korean, we are sure, would happily gobble up.


The thing about the Texas BarBQ was that the Korean folks there could not be persuaded to feature kimchi on the menu. Straight conservative Texas style all the way over there.

So now the other shoe has dropped, and we finally have a kimchi based item to go with your Q.

A Kimchi Qutie is a grilled white bread sandwich with kimchi in the center. Our original has a thin layer of béchamel (mayonnaise, if you must) on one side and a thin layer of spicy mustard on the other. (Martha Stewart: Honey, if you don’t have some homemade mustard on hand, then some imported Dijon mustard. But only the best; but we know you will anyway.)

We recommend so-called Texas toast style thick sliced white bread. It stands up to the moist kimchi filling. And, after all, it is a proven approved item for BarBQ. If there is a Texas toast in potato bread, that would be tops. But, thick sliced packaged white bread may itself be scarce in some parts. If the baker has it, get a pullman loaf (square when sliced) and slice it to the thickness you like.

So here is the recipe for the Kimchi itself. We have been making this stuff for a while so trust the amounts. After a first batch you can proportion to taste. And, remember, there are tons of kimchi recipes out there; so, as we said, it’s your oyster. (In fact there is a recipe out there that includes oysters.)

Time start to finish: 2 Days

One pound Cabbage
     Shredded medium thin

Chinese Napa Cabbage is traditional, but we are suggesting regular old head of white cabbage for the Kimchi Qutie. It gives homage to Cole Slaw, that other must have BarBQ side dish. And has a little more crunch.

One pound Daikon or Korean Radish
     Thin short julienne cut

— Place prepared Cabbage and Daikon in 4 cups of water (to cover) with 2 Tablespoons Salt. [Salt brine ratio is 2 Tbls. Kosher Salt to 1 Quart Water.] Alternate: Sprinkle 1 Tbls. Kosher Salt of vegetables; let them sweat overnight, then drain (setting liquid aside).

NOTE WELL: Use Kosher or pickling Salt (no Iodine). Spring water (no Chlorine), or boil water to remove Chlorine. Iodine and Chlorine inhibit/prevent fermentation.

— Mix thoroughly and let stand 12 hours, overnight. Stir a few times during.

— Drain Cabbage/Daikon, saving brine aside.

Mix in the following:

6 large Scallions
     Sliced thin on the diagonal
Fresh Ginger 1” piece, or smaller (your pinky tip as a guide)
     Very thin julienne slivers (or finely minced)
1 Garlic clove
     Minced
1 T Korean chili powder***
1T Korean chili flakes***
1 tsp. Salt

Combine all ingredients.

Place in deep narrow vessel/bowl or large glass jar, leaving space on top (The kimchi will increase in volume due to fermentation. So, push it down. Be sure to protect against overflow. )

Pour enough brining liquid to cover.

Place something to weigh vegetables down (a sealed plastic bag with enough brine to make a weight, or a glass or plate or anon-reactive metal something from around the kitchen), under the brine. Fermentation is anaerobic; i.e., no air.

Cover loosely with lid or cheese cloth.

Let sit on counter for 24 hours.

It’s ready to eat. Gets more sour day by day. 

When you have it at the taste you like ...

Store in refrigerator. Chilling slows fermentation.

Note: The recipe above is for a mild kimchi. The degree of sourness/fermentation is a matter of taste. It will continue to ferment over the next 2-3 days if left at room temperature. Keep an eye if you leave it longer than 24 hours. Taste test for how you like it. Be sure to tamp it down into the brine every so often. Store in the refrigerator. It will continue to develop, but slowly, under refrigeration. It's a living thing, remember. Very good for the digestion. The traditional Korean approach leaves it buried underground in sealed vats over the winter months. They let it go long. Very piquant.

For the Kimchi Qutie…

As stated above, Texas toast (thick) bread slices , a thin layer of béchamel/mayonaise and a thin layer of spicy mustard. Drain kimchi and stuff 1/2 cup or more between bread slices. Toast well buttered in pan (panini, if you got it) over medium heat. Slice cutely, and serve it with some righteous ribs.

Ya-Hoo! Give me some of that Texas Barbeque!

And, pardner, be sure there is a nice generous plate of Kimchi Quties. OK, cutie?

***We strongly recommend Korean chili both powdered and flakes. They know chili. A little harder to find, but clearly worth it. We won’t even hint at substitutes.


The following menu is for a gargantuan garden of green grazing goodness. It is dedicated to the movie star Bharati S. Kemraj. Cooky Cat first took notice of her when she was featured in a Bronx Flavor TV program, The Roti Express.

Here she is below in classic Bollywood style with that upstaging upstart himself, Baron Ambrosia. He does his best to steal the show, but Ms. Kemraj holds sway. (Sway… dancing… it’s a sort of a pun. Get it?)




But, be sure to come back because we have some rare treats for you, food-wise.

Bharati Kemraj is of Guyanese descent, with East Indian affinities. In homage to her we have put together a once-every-1,000-years, maha Indian style vegetarian meal. As rich as an Indian paisley. And, green, inspired by the verdant setting of her pas de deux with… ahem, HIM(!).

NB This is probably the longest post in blog history. So, first read through, then go back for each video. That's our recommendation; we want you to get to the end. DO NOT MISS THE END. Alright? But, do as you will. 

MENU


Paatra Gujarati Style
Aloo Methi
Bharwan Bhindi
Tamarind Chutney
Coriander Chutney
Cucumber Raita
Basmati Rice
Diced Summer Spoon Salad
Seviya Kheer
Gulab Jamun
Ras Malai
Chai Tea
Pan Daddu

Paatra: Also called Elephant Ears is made with the leaves of colocacia (taro) rolled with a spicy filling bound with besan (gram/chick pea) flour.

Aloo Methi: Potatoes and methi (fenugreek) leaves.

Bharwan Bhindi: Spice stuffed sautéed okra.

Tamarind Chutney: Sweet/piquant jammy condiment.

Coriander Chutney: Minced coriander leaves and spices.

Cucumber Raita: Shredded cucumber in spicy yogurt.

Basmati Rice: Simple basmati rice garnished with fresh parsley flakes and toasted cashews.

Diced Summer Spoon Salad: Iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and onions and a simple oil and lemon juice (or red wine vinegar) dressing.

Seviya Kheer: Indian vermicelli milk pudding.

Gulab Jamun: Dumplings in syrup.

Ras Malai: Paneer balls (farmer's type homemade cheese) in sweet milk. [Size matters.]

Chai Tea: Sweetened spiced milk tea. 

Pan Dadu: Borrow Grandma's stash. (After that you are on your own.)

We’re gonna cut right to the chase, as they say, folks. No written recipes. The videos that follow have saved Cooky Cat a lot of scratching; as in, scratching words on paper. Does anybody know what that even means? Think quill pen, ink bottle, parchment. For you of the recent generation, let’s just say the videos have saved a lot of thumb time on the digital device. (How are your thumbs, anyway?)

But, you will need a shopping list. Use it to note the amounts you will want as you watch the tutorial videos. Here it is… (If you don’t know where to get all that stuff, maybe this isn’t for you.) Don’t be put off by the number of (maybe for you) strange things you’ll have to buy. Nor, by the intricate steps in the preparation. DON’T, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PUT A PRICE ON LOVE. PUT IN THE EFFORT. We promise everyone who partakes of this plentitude will throw money at you. You will be famous!

If you are daunted by the complexties of this menu, ney, by the complexities of the world in general or any particular way, don't proceed until you have experienced the power of Lord Ganesha. Sit in a comfortable upright posture, close your eyes, listen, then join in... "Om Gung Ganapataye Namahah"!



SHOPPING LIST

Paatra leaves
Besan (gram/chickpea) flour
Cane Sugar (really, "cane". If it's that it's marked on the package. Other are beet sugar and don't have the taste.)

Jaggary (unrefined cane or date palm sugar)
Baking soda
Salt
Citric acid
Turmeric powder
Fresh green chili
Cooking oil
Black mustard seeds
Sesame seeds
Fresh curry leaves
Fresh lemon
Shredded fresh coconut
Coriander leaves
Potatoes
Methi (fenugreek) leaves, preferably fresh, or frozen
Sweet onion
Garlic
Vine ripe tomatoes
Chili powder (cayenne)
Fresh okra
Sambar powder
Amchur powder
Fresh lime
Tamarind pulp
Iceberg lettuce
Cucumber
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Red wine vigegar (substitute for lemon juice)
Pepper
Garam masala
Cumin seeds
Fennel seeds
Jalapenos
Green bell pepper
Fresh ginger
Chat masala
Yogurt
Black salt
White lentils (moong dahl—dehulled type)
Yellow mustard seeds
Flat leaf parsley

Chopped cashew nuts
Vermicelli, Indian variety only (very thin or handmade)
Ghee (clarified butter)
Powdered milk
Whole milk
Golden raisins
Almonds, slivered and chopped
Saffron (kesar)
Cardamom powder
Pistachios
All purpose flour
Rose essence
Oil for deep frying
Edible silver foil (Varakh)
Black tea (loose)

SPECIAL NOTES: Some of the above ingredients do double duty and are included in more than one recipe. For the Patras you can sweeten with jagary instead of sugar. A touch of tamarind in the patra mix is also an option. For the Aloo Methi we prefer to add the methi leaves directly, skipping the step to debitter with salt (full throttle methi). The salad is chopped small enough to be able to eat with a spoon. Don't demure on that, it's purrr-fect. Garnish the Seviya Kheer with crushed pistachios to be certain the green theme carries through in the dessert. For the Gulab Jamun syrup hold the rose essence and cardamom to the very last to keep flavor from boiling away. The Chai may be made with the sugar in the water/milk mixture before infusing the tea. Also, we recommend straining the whole batch of tea then pouring into the drinking cups from a height to develop some nice bubbles. (For a whole treatise on bubbles see Bubbles in My Soup.) Ginger in Chai in our opinion is a matter of taste. It is traditional, but sometimes overpowers the flavor balance. Proceed accordingly.

Now sit back and learn from the experts in preparing the best Indian foods… (The style of the presentations is as varied as the Indian cuisine.)

Paatra…



Aloo Methi…




Bharwan Bhindi…




Tamarind Chutney…





Coriander Chutney…



Cucumber Raita…



Seviya Kheer…



Gulab Jamun…



Ras Malai…



Chai Tea…



Pan Daddu…



PS You must know even from a casual search on The Google that there are as many different recipes for things as there are cooks. We have endeavored to bring the best we could find for this menu. If this article seems complex, well it is an essential taste of the complex essence of the Indian cuisine itself. Our great, great uncle Nigel used to regale the assembled family whenever he could with his wistful reminiscenses of his time in the sub-continent during the Raj. [Breezy monsoon nights, the scent of jasmine wafting in the gentle swaying night air, chilled Gin Gimlets on the veranda, the occasional bengal tiger strolling through the garden, impulsive midnight forays into the countryside in the Rolls Shooting Brake, shocking the staff with the whole crowd of them stripping naked and canonballing into the pool, hits off hastily made mango bongs, peeled grapes, awakened at the first of dawning and watching the day's rangoli being lovingly applied at the front gate with hand ground semi-precious gem powders while we relax with a hot cup of chai and a hand rolled bidi, the morning bath scented with rose water and exotic perfumes.] Those were the days.


The only thing more we would say is about the Paatra. The first time we tasted Paatra was at the Shree Muktananda Ashrama in Upstate New York. An Indian devotee made a whole batch of Paatras as prasad (Gift. In the hightest meaning, the true gift is from the Divine.) Now ,we like pepperoni; and that prasad was a gift of the taste of pepperoni in vegetarian form. If you are similarly afflicted with a taste for that spicy dry sausage make your Paatras with some hot pepper flakes. Then cut into thin slices and fry in oil to a nice crispy golden brown. Pair with some India Pale Ale and you have something to go along with the cricket match you're watching on the tele.

Last, Indian food is not just for special events. Indian folks eat like that on a daily basis. Celebrate! Get in the celebratory bav with this lively song... (play at full volume). Get that kundalini raising.




PPS Be sure to keep looking at Cooky Cat for his next Indian extravaganza: Chat, in all its variety at the Chit Chat Caboose, On The Chat Wagon Express. (Roti Express! Roti Express! I got your Roti Express! )
El Artesano

Just outside the Lincoln Tunnel leaving New York City the Hispanic section of Union City awaits with its colorful street life, shopping, and restaurants from all corners of the Latin world.

One of the oldest and our favorite restaurant is El Artesano. The food is always delicious, the ambiance is sparkling and convivial, and the service is just the best. We always are well fed, and well cared for at El Artesano. Click for their website with menu and in depth reviews.






We are particularly charmed by the ice cream menu. One wonders if you eat the "Vainilla" after a big meal whether you will be full, and full of yourself at the same time.