Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Is it pretentious to have a food philosophy? I have one, and I think my point of view may resonate with some folks out there. So much has been written about food and cooking it. Sure, we need to mangia every day to keep the flesh bag moving, so it makes sense. But why read my personal screed?

Given, most people like to eat. This is not for you, move along. Some people love to eat. You should stick around, this might entertain you. A few people can’t wait to stick the next piece of gooey, crunchy, sticky, meaty, exotic, spicy, luscious morsel into their pie-hole and chew on it. You plan your vacations on where you want to eat. You go the extra mile, spend the extra buck, spend a whole lot of your precious time brooding over what you want to masticate. That’s me. If that’s you, you’re gonna like this.

Point two, a lot of people claim they can cook. They dust of good ‘ole grandma’s recipe for meatballs every time they get invited to a gathering. They screw it up, because they don’t want to spend the money on real ingredients, cut corners when making it, or they just don’t have the knowledge or the skills to do it up right. Everyone tells them the meatballs rock just to be polite, even though they taste like rocks, and Mr./Mrs. I Think I Can Cook leaves patting themselves on the back--mission accomplished. Aren’t I special? Guess what? You’re not. You can go away now.

Some people do try. They look up recipes. Watch the cooking shows. They see something they might like, haul out the wallet, spend too much buying the chef ingredients. The recipe they picked is way over their heads, and they end up sad and depressed when they produce a flaming pile of shit. Do not despair. This may be a necessary step before you go on to the next stage. To be honest, I am not totally out of this stage.

Then you have the die-hards. People who realize you need to take the time, learn the basics, practice the skills. You realize it may be more important to know why food reacts the way it does when you apply heat, than knowing a fancy recipe. You know how to grill, sauté, sweat, deep fry, broil, braise, and roast. You know when, and to what, you apply these principles. You know that the keys to flavor are fat, spice, and brown. You have a food-pro, but you know how to use a knife.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, I wish to go on this culinary adventure together with you.

And by you I mean cooks, not chefs. We must all concede that we do not own walk-in coolers, huge convection ovens, salamanders, griddle-tops, or industrial ventilation. We must suffer with what we can fit in our house, and most importantly, what we can afford. I cook on a four-top electric stove. That’s a stove, not a range, and not a convection oven. Living in a McNeighborhood that doesn’t even have a gas line constricts my options. Yeah, I could get an induction cook-top, but I ain’t got that kind of bread. I’m guessing neither do you. Also, you can’t afford sea-urchin roe, truffles, or dry-aged prime. Shit, even if you could, you couldn’t find it. While we can, from time to time, use such expensive and rare ingredients as pancetta. And we at least throw-down the cash for decent cuts every once in a while. For the most part, I concentrate on the stuff I can find, get it cheap, apply heat, knowledge, and time, and turn it into gold.

You know all that good shit peasant cooking the big time chefs are always talking about? We’re making it. The ingredients have changed with time. What used to be cheap is now expensive, and what used to be expensive… is mostly still expensive, with some exceptions.

Still with me? Let’s get to it.


Here’s this week’s recipe, or as I like to call it, application, because you can apply the basic principles to more than one thing. Some of these applications will be in ratios, so that you can cook a little, or a lot, depending on what you need.

The other day, my friend J.E. texted me with a question, “How do I make oven fries using two redskin potatoes?”

First off, you can’t, because “oven fries” do not fucking exist. To be fries they have to be FRIED. I understand if you don’t want to deal with heating oil for two measly potatoes (redskins at that, which would make lousy fries anyway). I kinda sorta understand if you don’t want to fry for dietary reasons. Though I would argue good fries done at the right temp in the right oil are not that bad for you. I do not count those abominations Ore Ida makes. In fact, whatever petrochemical grease-shellac they put on those things to make them “fry” in the oven is ten times worse than actually frying and tastes fucking nasty.

That being said, you can make some mighty fine roasted potatoes with those redskins.

For those of you who just want the freakin’ recipe without all the blah-blah, you can get it here.

Preheat oven, and aluminum baking sheet (Check out the Tools for the Talent later in this blog) to 425 f.

1 lb redskin potatoes
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cut potatoes into roughly 1 ½ inch cubes. I say roughly because you’re not a chef. This is not a test at the CIA, and you’re not gonna waste a bunch of potato just to get them perfect. To the guy who said, “but if you cut them all the same they will cook evenly,” shut the fuck up. Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl, stir toughly to coat the potatoes. I use my bare hands for this because I am not a sissy-boy.

Place on hot baking sheet. Here I will be a little fussy. Make sure the potatoes are all cut side down. You want to get as much brown on these things as you can, and peel won’t do that.

Bake for 15 minutes, stir*, doing your best to get them onto the opposite cut side. I’m not as fussy about this because the pan is hot and you need to get those things back in the oven quick before they lose heat. Cook for another 15 minutes.

As you see, I give ratios for this one. Be careful with this because the more potatoes you use, the LESS you will use of the other ingredients. Because of mass-to-surface-area-ratio, you won’t need as much of the other stuff. You only need enough to coat all the potatoes.

Some notes on the ingredients. Yes, I use garlic powder for this. I can hear the whiners now, “Always use fresh garlic!” I agree with them, except in cases where fresh won’t work, like this one. Add chopped fresh garlic to this and you’ll get nasty burned garlic bits. You could possibly roast a head of garlic and add it at the end, but that’s really more trouble than it’s worth. Go with the powder, just get the good stuff and use it fresh.

For paprika, once again use it fresh, I like smoked, but you could use sharp or sweet. I mix it up, depending on my mood.

A lot of people will also tell you that you don’t need to use extra virgin olive oil when you cook it. Cooking just kills the subtle difference between the straight olive oil and the extra virgin. Once again, I agree, except in this case. In fact, I say the generally rule should be when frying use the regular, when roasting I do notice a difference. You may want to go with the good stuff.

Salt can be kosher, or sea, let your heart be your guide. Always grind the pepper.

You can apply this application to Yukon Golds or your standard baker. Results will vary. You can also use this to roast most other veggies. Roasted asparagus done this way makes me drool just thinking about it.

You can use substitutions. My friend J.E. didn’t have any olive oil. He used vegetable oil and it turned out fine. You could also use melted butter, clarified would be best. If you use the butter lower your temp to 400 to prevent it from burning. Never use margarine. I would hope anyone who made it past the intro to this blog wouldn’t even have that shit in their house anyway.

*Note for the terminally stupid, do not use your hands at this point.

Tools for the Talent

One small investment you will not regret is good heavy-duty aluminum sheet pans. You can get Lincoln Wear-Ever® Standard Duty Half-Size Sheet Pan 18 Gauge for under $20 on Amazon. I got the tip on these from Cooks Illustrated, a subscription website. They test kitchen products and usually hit the nail on the head. Yes, a little pricy for sheet pans, but I’ve had mine for four years now. They don’t bend, they don’t bow. Most importantly, they cook evenly. Those of you who have had a batch of cookies come out half-brown-half-raw know what I’m talking about. You want these in your life. Other companies make similar products; just make sure they are 18 gauge. If you need to make a batch of cookies tonight, I’ve seen these at restaurant supply stores, and your local Gorden’s Food Service outlet, Sam’s may as well.

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