This Guy

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Native son to the American Deep South - now living in Portland, OR. Lover of people, sustainability, justice, culture, writing, history, cuisine and coffee.

Monday, June 13, 2011

new blog!


I hate doing this, but I'm moving my foodie blog to another location. Wordpress allows me to do so much more, so I really hope that you'll continue to follow me there!

Plus, there's some exciting news awaiting you!
Check it out!!

Much love and thanks,

Monday, June 6, 2011

the industry

Usually people find themselves in the service industry on their way to something bigger and better. Some are in school hoping for that sweet spot to open up right as they walk across the stage to receive their 20,000-dollar education. Others are in this line of work because they have no other choice and the economy is pitter-pattering slowly, but surely. Then there are the ones who get pulled in and have a hard time leaving.

I guess I would say I’m somewhere in between them all. My brief stint in the fast-food industry ended in 10th grade when I thought I could work at Wendy’s, only to be frightened by the man (who had just gotten out of jail) turning burgers on the flattop and flipping out because I thought I had locked myself inside the walk-in refrigerator. I had a lot to learn. My work ethic was next to nothing, but luckily… that has changed.

The industry makes you harden up. Sometimes it makes your cuss more and forces you to bite your tongue more than ever. Some are better with customers and others are better at making the products to serve. I’m better at the latter, but learning to fight off my introverted tendencies to feel energized by small talk and the usual “hey-how-are-yas”.

I think the people in the industry do some of the noblest work there is. The cooks, servers, bartenders and baristas face the best and worst of the human condition. People have to eat and drink, so we give it to them. If they don’t like it, we hear about it. There’s a special place in my heart for these people and anyone who knows me well will tell you how intimidated I am about the waiter/waitress. After all, they are the ones to judge whether you are cool or not. I imagine their thumbs, edging up and down, determining whether you’re a decent human being like the final say of a gladiator’s death.

But we all know about the bad ones. The servers and staff who just stink at what they do. And bless their heart. It’s not always their fault [though sometimes it is]. When you get stuck in a rut, it’s hard to act happy. Some customers will eat you alive because their money is in your hands. You better not waste it on a bad experience. I’ve been around some who take this too seriously – patronizing every action of the server when I think it’s just fine. “She totally forgot the bread!” or “I can’t believe how awkward he is…”
Of course, everyone is different. I like the simple small talk and order. The waiter doesn’t need to know where I went to high school or when my sister’s birthday is! We have such odd expectations. Most other cultures wouldn’t give you nearly as much attention as we do here. I just want to be liked by the employees, because I know how it is. When you work in the trenches, you join a special group of people.

You are a part of the industry.

A couple of nights ago, I was serving drinks at a local event. A guy walked up and I gave him his deliciously cold IPA saying, “Here ya go sir…” in a fairly relaxed tone. He responded… “Ahh, don’t call me sir. I work in the service industry too. I’m a chef. Look at my hands. We’re all equals here…” He smiled and walked off. As a person who admires the work, I felt some small pride that I had just joined the ranks of the disgruntled, [at times] over-worked and underpaid folks who make a living feeding other people.

Tip your servers well. You can always tell the kind of folks who have worked for tips because they generally tip well. I can only assume that many believe the restaurant or café pays them well enough to make a living. This isn’t always true. In fact, it’s rarely true. We count on tips as major parts of our income, so we do appreciate it when you treat us well. And as the rule goes in our household, if we can’t afford to tip, we probably shouldn’t go out.

But, I’m only speaking upon myself because we all have our things and this just so happens to be important to me.

After all, in the bigger picture, we’re all equals. Let’s work on treating each other like human beings.

I mean after all, just look at our hands.

Monday, May 30, 2011


What is it about pie that makes us so weak in the knees? There’s the heavenly aroma of butter, sugar and fruits – the golden lattice reminiscent of the plaid tablecloths they’re known to sit upon after Sunday lunch on the grounds or festivals or diners.
Word on the street is that cupcakes are out. (Get back, you! Get back, you cupcake boutique mobsters!)

Since I work in a pastry shop, I’d like to think that my word is good. So, I say unto you, my friends: watch out for the pie revolution! More importantly, don’t get left behind! (Like we were supposed to last week! Thanks a lot, Harold Camping!)

It’s important to know what’s in season when you cook. Strawberries in January are a crime against Mother Nature. She knows what’s best, when it’s best. We should leave it up to Momma Earth to fancy our palates. So, in typical May/June fashion, we’re gonna’ do it up Strawberry Rhubarb style.

To be honest, I’d never tried rhubarb till a few weeks ago. It blew my mind! The tangy mystery vegetable of winter/spring growing seasons – not to mention how cool it looks with its beautiful reds and green webbed tops.

I tried a recipe I found, mixed with a few pointers from our pastry chef and set out to make my first strawberry rhubarb pie. It did NOT suck. In fact, it’s so easy; I think y’all need to give it a shot while strawberries and rhubarb are in season together.
First off, you need a good pie dough. I’ve tried a few and have yet to have one as good as Thomas Keller’s recipe from Ad Hoc.

Most other recipes call for shortening, which is fine, but I much prefer the taste of butter throughout the crust. And while I’m on the topic of butter, you’ll need a lot of it. I make a good amount of biscuits at home, so butter is one of my pantry items I try to keep stocked at all times.

Here’s the recipe for pie dough:
2 ½ cups All Purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, chilled (if not frozen)
8-10 tbsp. of chilled water, add one at a time

Mix together your flour and salt. Incorporate your butter into your flour. You can either do this by food processor or cheese grater. Lately, I’ve been using our food processor because it’s so much easier. Just don’t overdo it – you want the bits of butter to be about the size of peas and maybe a bit smaller. Once all the butter, flour and salt have been mixed, you can start adding your cold water one tablespoon at a time. I’m still working on my hydration levels, but I’ve found 8-10 tablespoons generally do the job. You can always add flour and water to get the consistency you want. Once the dough has come together [not too sticky, not too dry], divide the dough making one half slightly bigger than the other.

Press down into 1-inch discs, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour so the butter has a chance to firm back up. When the dough has had time to rest, bring out your rolling pin. Start rolling out the bigger half of dough into a good 13-inch circle, respectively. It doesn’t have to be perfect because you will most likely be trimming off the funky edges. Roll your dough over your rolling pin and lay it ever so wonderfully over you pie dish, making sure to press the dough to the sides and bottom of the pie pan.

Do the same for the top crust. You can go either way here and make a sweet lattice or just a straight up flat crust. If you do make a flat crust, be sure to poke a few holes in the top because this pie will spatter a bit.

As for the filling, I’ve found this recipe to be delightfully toothsome:
3 ½ cups of (washed/trimmed) rhubarb, diced
3 ½ cups strawberries, quartered – depending on size
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup corn starch
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon juice

1 egg + tbsp of water for egg wash

Mix thoroughly and dump into your bottom pie crust. Apply your top crust, paint with egg wash and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 for an additional hour and 20 minutes. Make sure you have a jelly roll or baking pan below the pie because it will cook over a bit and you don’t want that sticky mess on the bottom of your oven smoking up your kitchen.

Once your pie is done, and if you can, let it rest for a while. It’ll give your filling a moment to solidify a bit, giving you better slices. Top with some fresh whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you want to go over the top – I mean, why not!

Thanks for reading and I really hope you try making pies – I find them restful and enjoyable to make.

And as always, share with your friends – see y’all next week!

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

Monday, May 23, 2011

lentils, beans and peas [and why they're so, so good]

Recently, I wrote on the importance of stock – how to make it and why it’s such a valuable product to have around. I blabbered too much for your attention span most likely, so in this post I’d love to throw out some ideas as to what to do with it.
A good portion of our income in seasonal, so in the winter and early spring months, we’re left tightening our budget and letting go of that hard earned green stuff to pay off our electric bill that heightens over the colder months. So, like any human being looking for a full belly on a small dime will tell you, they tend to revert to eating beans and rice. There’s nothing bad about this. I used to hate beans and rice, but now, we eat them happily (which is a good thing.)

Whether it’s beans, lentils or split peas, we love cooking them with stock. This is why it’s good to pick some up at the store, or save your spare veggie and bone scraps. The ratio I’ve found useful for beans (without cooking them to a mushy pulp) is about 3:1. This is three cups water/stock to one-cup beans/lentils/split peas.

Depending on what your taste is, veggie or chicken stock will be your main cooking liquid. I like to save my beef stock for stews and anything I’m braising with red wine. By the way, lentils are amazing if cooked with red wine and beef stock. It takes a humble staple and jacks them up to a new level of greatness. The way I see it, if you can make beans taste good, then you have nothing to worry about.
This is my recipe for a simple bowl of lentils. It’s filling and really hits the spot.

(Serves two Harrod Casper-sized appetites!)
You’ll need:
1 cup lentils
3 cups chicken, veggie or beef stock
1-2 tsp. kosher salt (or ½ - ¾ tsp. table salt)
Black pepper
1 small yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tsp. yellow curry
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 bay leaf
A few dashes of hot sauce
A tiny pinch of cayenne pepper (if you want some heat)

What you’ll do:
Heat up a tablespoon or so of oil (or bacon fat, if you have it!) Throw in your onions and garlic and sauté till the onions begin to turn translucent. While the onions and garlic are cooking, add your spices: salt, pepper, curry and cumin. Let them cook into the onions.

You want it to look somewhat pasty. These are your base flavors and will make your house smell utterly ridiculous. (In a good way, of course!)

After your onions are done, add your stock, bay leaf and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Add your lentils and cook till tender – about 30-40 minutes. I like a little chew with my lentils, but feel free to cook them however short or long you like them. And let’s be honest, they’re lentils. You can pretty much add whatever you want to them.
Also, you’re salt tolerance may affect the outcome, so start small and add more as you like. Remember, as you reduce stock, its flavors become more concentrated.

If making red beans, I’d generally leave out the curry and cumin, while adding some cayenne and hot sauce. Add to your taste, of course. Always remember to soak your beans overnight, if you can. There is a noticeable difference in the mouth-feel, but you’re not completely up the creek if you forget.

When making split pea soup, I use all of these same ingredients, but really try to use bacon if possible. At our local market, they sell bacon ends and pieces. These are really useful if you don’t want to use a ham hock. I like to render out the bacon fat to sauté my onions with. Then, when the soup is almost done, I throw in my bacon pieces and serve it with a little bit of crème fraiche on top.

I was actually just reading that cultured cream on top of beans, lentils and split peas help you to process their nutrients more efficiently. How rad is that? Plus, it gives your soup an extra creamy layer. What’s not to like!?

So, if you ever have any questions, feel free to comment! I’m a nerd about this stuff, so I’d love to be useful about it.

Happy cookin’ and bon appétit!

Monday, May 16, 2011

the poboy [a way of life]

“The Poboy is NOT a sandwich – it’s a way of life!” says Steve Zahn’s character in the HBO series, “Treme”. A series that I’ve grown to love and appreciate not only as a testament to New Orleans, but to the people who pressed on and continue to reclaim their city to this day. They are fighters for their way of life – music, people and food. Oh good God, the food. I may or may not have written about Poboys before and if I have, I must not have done them justice.

And like the statement above, a Poboy isn’t just a sandwich compared to the likes of a hoagie or sub – but a beacon of hope to the traditions of New Orleans and my Beloved Deep South. Everybody has their favorite and everybody has a place that does it just right. Once you get out of the Deep South and Louisiana, it becomes harder and harder to find a good Poboy. For one thing, it’s the bread!

It’s not French bread nor is it anywhere close to what they serve at sub joints. Poboy bread is painfully unique. I say painfully because what makes a good juicy Poboy is this elastic, airy, buttery goodness. It’s nearly impossible to find a recipe on the internet because it is such a widely kept secret for so many family run businesses. Don’t let this discourage you from building your own Poboy though – just sayin’, when you’ve eaten a Poboy out of New Orleans, there’s no turning back.

Historically, a Poboy was a way to stretch out your meager groceries. After all, bread is carbs and filler and we can’t deny that most things between it taste pretty damn good. One would simply pile leftovers in between two pieces of bread and feel the angels ascend from Heaven. Okay, it’s not that dramatic.

One of my favorite Poboy joints is located in Picayune, MS. -- my hometown, where Jesus is Lord, according to the big blue sign off the North exit. Most of the women in my family go for their roast beef Poboy. It’s the kind that drips down your elbows as you watch your bottom slice of bread surrender to the salty brown gravy. Here, I prefer the fried shrimp – or fried anything, really. Soft shelled crab, catfish and my mom’s favorite, French fries! That’s right – the French fry Poboy (smothered in gravy)!

We are lucky to live close to a New Orleans style restaurant up here in North Portland called, “Eat: Oyster Bar”. They serve some dang good Poboys. In fact, I have a hard time ordering anything else here besides their debris Poboy. It’s basically a roast beef poboy with the usual fixins of lettuce/cabbage/slaw, tomato slices and either mayonnaise or some form of Creole concoction that brings it ‘over the top’ good.

Those who know… know. Those who have yet to fill their bellies with this beautiful creation of a sandwich, I hope can meet their rightful duties as citizens of this world. And like I said before, it has always been more than a sandwich. It’s about cold Abita and Zapps chips on the side or the sounds of those familiar streets, with those familiar smells. Like the smell of cut grass or the beach; it has the ability to take us back and fill us up.

And when we’re filled up, we’ll talk about what else we’re going to eat. Food and culture go hand and hand, and I’m thankful to have been born into southern food ways. There’s nothin’ like the hospitality that food brings. So if you’re there, do me a favor and remember these words when the gravy drips down to your elbows – the Poboy is NOT a sandwich – it’s a way of life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hold Fast, Cooks!

It can be overwhelming [as a home cook] to discover that after one makes dinner, the kitchen is left in a state of glorious unrest. It’s healthy to understand that cooking your own meals involves dirty dishes, stovetops and caked flour between the cracks of your countertop. (Well, we have tiles for our countertop -- obviously not the best for cleanup. Thank you, brilliant kitchen designer of the 1960’s.)

But I must say unto you, Hold Fast! Do not let it discourage you. Most importantly, you are not alone. It is always a battle when you’re at that point of the day, and like many of us, have been on your feet all day working and taking care of kiddies and babies, to decide upon take out, going out or buying frozen. And let me be the first to say that there isn’t anything wrong with that. Some days, we want take out, so we get it. I’m not trying to come off as though I cook every single day and feel energized at the end. I do, though, find home cooking to be an exciting part of the day…when I do have the energy.

There are a few ways I’ve found to overcome those daily battles of cooking in and ordering out. First, there’s the hassle of having ingredients to cook with. Think about what you have in your pantry and refrigerator to determine if you can even make anything without going to the store. I generally only have to cook for two people, so it’s somewhat easy to throw together a few bits and respectively, chow down.

As a Southerner, I’m almost trained to start thinking about food before it’s time to eat. In general, we are known to talk about lunch after breakfast and dinner after lunch. This is nothing new, but it does help you get motivated to cook. If you have what you want to eat in mind, and you have the means to acquire those ingredients, I’ve found it much easier to ‘want’ to cook.

So let’s say you’ve decided upon cooking – sweet! You will now know everything that goes into your food [generally speaking]. You can feel it with your hands and find comfort in a full belly because of you or the person who cooked it worked really hard at making it taste good!

Clean as you cook. This has been one of the biggest things I’ve learned. If you can clean your utensils, pots and containers as your food is cooking, you have already beaten that dirty monster that comes out to frighten you at night. There’s nothing like eating dinner and knowing that overwhelming kitchen won’t be there to haunt you in the morning.

Think about one-pan/pot dinners. Casseroles are great for this reason. Also, roasting a chicken on top of root veggies or brussel sprouts is generally easy to do. It also allows the fat from the chicken to cook the veggies, which certainly does not suck.

Take pride in your work. Because in the end, it is work that you’re not getting paid to do. In fact, you’re paying to do it. And this is so important – to find value in this way of life. Most cultures don’t have the option of not cooking. After you cook, you clean and you start cooking again. It is time we get over our fear of dirty dishes and frozen pizza and discover the joy that is cooking for ourselves and the people we love.

Monday, March 21, 2011

stock [nerdy and delicious]

Bones. Veggies. Aromatics.

The building blocks of a good stock.

I know stocks may seem like a boring subject, but they’re one of the most important ingredients in many dishes. Stock is the base of many sauces, soups and stews. Plus, they’re just fun to make! (For me, at least.)

So, for the sake of going back to the basics, let’s talk about what makes a good stock. In making it yourself, you’re allowed to introduce many of the flavors you like – such as thyme, rosemary, tomato, garlic, etc.

Ratio is important. You really need a lot of bones. Whenever you roast your chicken, or buy one already roasted from the store, save the bones! You’ll need all the bones you can get. Just put em’ in the freezer. When it comes to vegetables, you’ll need carrots, celery and onions. The ratio for veggies is about 25% carrots, 25% celery and 50% onions. One time, I used a pizza pan to roast my veggies, and made a sweet looking pie chart that put that ratio into perspective.

But, I’m also a total nerd.

Roasting your vegetables will surely give you a darker, more robust stock, but you don’t have to.
A good stockpot is generally something that’s heavy bottomed and taller than it is wide. I don’t have a bunch of space in my kitchen, but I generally have one pot that I use just for stock. As enjoyable as it can be to make stock, it’s a lot of work for relatively little product, so you want to make it count when possible.

This is how I like to throw down.

Veggie stock:
Throw you veggies on a pan, coat with a bit of olive oil and roast on 350° for 30-40 minutes. Once they’ve gathered some color, throw them into a big stockpot, fill with cold water and add the rest of your aromatics. Peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme and garlic. [Follow below instructions.]

Chicken stock:
Chicken bones (back, neck, breast), carrots, celery, onions, a couple of bay leaves, teaspoon or so of peppercorns, thyme, and a few cloves of crushed garlic.

Beef stock:
I can generally find good knuckle and joint bones from the grocery store. They’re pretty cheap, so get as many as you can. If you want, smear a little tomato paste on the bones and roast them in the oven (along with your veggies) at 350° for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally. Be careful to not burn them; just brown them up a bit. The smell will drive you crazy – well, at least I like it. Then, I add the bones and the same barrage of veggies and aromatics to a big pot.

Fill the pot to the very tip top with cold water and bring to a nice, slow simmer. Generally, I’ll bring the pot up to a boil and turn it down immediately. You never want to boil your stock. It won’t affect the taste too much, but it will disperse the fat too rapidly giving your final product a somewhat greasy mouth feel and will cloud up your stock (which is not really important unless you want a very clean, clear soup).

You really just want to see a few bubbles popping up. Slow and simmering. If you see oil, foam or scum, feel free to skim it off the top. This will help you out in the long run.

After about 4-5 hours, you can go ahead and strain your stock. It’s best to use a fine mesh strainer and cheesecloth, if you have it. The more you strain, the better. After you strain your stock for the first time, you can cool it off and store it for future use. You can keep reducing it, as well. The more you simmer, reduce and strain, the stronger and more flavorful your stock will be.
For beef stock, you can make what is called “demi-glace” which is a highly reduced beef stock (generally veal stock). To get demi glace, you need some red wine at about a fourth the volume of your stock. Throw in a few peeled shallots to the red wine and reduce on high heat till the volume of wine has been cut in half. Once the shallots and red wine have been reduced, go ahead and add you beef stock and continue to reduce.

Your final product will be a dark, intensely flavored brown sauce. You should know it’s thick enough when it coats a spoon.
This stuff is gold (and usually really expensive to find for such little volume). If you want, pour off some demi glace into an ice cube tray and keep for you soups, sauces or stews. It’s sorta like adding bullion cubes, but a million times better. That rich beef and wine reduction adds so much to the final dish.

As you can see, it’s a lot of work for a little product, but I love it.
It makes your house smell so, so good. I’ve heard of people having stock parties, but I’m not nearly cool enough to make that seem fun. (Or maybe I am!)

I love using stock to make rice, lentils and beans. Any time the water you cook with is absorbed into the product, it’s almost always better to cook with stock. It’ll automatically up your final dish.
Mmm. Delicious.

Well, if you’ve made it this far, enjoy making your stock and as always, share your meal with others – after all, you put in a lot of hard work!