The video below is of two young kids (5 and 9) cooking up a recipe from the Alinea Cookbook. Co-owner of Alinea and also co-author of the cookbook, Nick Kokonas, puts his two children to work on the Pheasant with Shallots, Cider and Burning Oak Leaves recipe. It’s pretty fun to watch, and you get to see the kids making a cider gel, plucking oak tree branches, and ultimately eating the hot skewered pheasant balls. I like when one boy says that the dish they are preparing is only medium-ish in difficulty. Sure it is, kid.
If you aren’t familiar with the restaurant Alinea (pronounced uh-lin-ee-uh), it is one of the best restaurants in the United States, and its owner and head chef, Grant Achatz, is one of the most celebrated chefs in America. The food is – to say the least – fabulously creative but also not that easy to prepare. I’ve never tried making one of his recipes myself, but I did eat at the restaurant a year ago and loved it. You can read about my experience here. While there, I also had the oak branch pheasant balls that the kids are preparing in the video.
The pheasant dish is one of Chef Achatz’ most well known, and it was even featured on Martha Stewart recently. It’s not the most difficult of his dishes to make, but it is a memorable one. Chef Achatz likes to integrate meaningful aromas into his food, and for the oak skewers, the leaves are ignited to give off the smell of burning Autumn leaves while you eat your bite of pheasant. It’s quite creative and pleasing.
If you or your kids are interested in learning how to cook from the Alinea cookbook, there are websites dedicated to preparing Chef Achatz’ recipes. Alinea at Home is a good one, and on that site there is a step-by-step tutorial on the pheasant skewer recipe. Alineaphile is another good site for guidance.
And if you are ever inspired to go to the actual restaurant in Chicago, just be aware that it is very very good and also extremely pricey. The cookbook, however, will cost you about $40.
From PBS Kitchen Explorers comes this wonderful article about raising kids to love food. Eating habits are a big enough challenge for parents, but the next step of learning to cook is an excellent skill and can provide for quality family time. Aviva Goldfarb interviews J.M. Hirsch, who is the Associated Press food editor, about how he has involved his child in cooking. The article provides a lot of examples on how to include kids in cooking and provides great suggestions. Hirsch even gave a knife to his two-year-old, but explains how he created rules to ensure safety. Basically, when using a knife the child must only use one hand and keep the other hand by his side. Any breach of the rule means that knife privileges are lost. That’s a good idea for kids starting to use a knife regardless of age.
Some of the advice in the article includes ideas about kitchen games, having kids make spice rubs on their own, introducing kids to smells early on, and embracing the kitchen mess. You can also check out J.M. Hirsch’s cooking blog for his recipes and videos, and he also has a book out called High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking. The book gets good marks on Amazon and looks like a great reference for the parent who likes to cook but has limited time. There is also a video on Amazon of Hirsch actually putting his kid to work on a spice rub. I like the idea of putting selected spices that work together in a plastic tub so the kid can smell and combine with minimal guidance to come up with flavorful mixes.
Even if you as a parent aren’t comfortable with such mixtures or know what spices go together, there are some good books out there that provide guidance. Herbs & Spices by Jill Norman is a good reference and has a chapter on herb mixtures. Also, The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg has a lot of useful tables that even break things down into different ethnic cuisine flavors. Both are good books on herbs, spices, and other flavors.
I started to really get into cooking when I was a stay-at-home father several years back. During that time it was hard to finish tasks completely let alone get anything done, but cooking food was required. Preparing a meal was the one to-do-list item that had to get done (somehow). As the years went along, the meals became more elaborate and I learned a lot of technique. I usually prepared two to three new dishes a week, and it was a fun hobby and a nice break from the baby and toddler food fare that dominated breakfast and lunch.
With that said, I wish I would have had a resource such as the Rouxbe online cooking school during that time. Rouxbe has a lot of professionally produced videos that teach everything from technique to elaborating on ingredients and recipes, but the site is a great place to learn about food in general. Take this video about eggs below. I’ve cracked countless eggs but I also learned a lot in this 2½-minute segment. And when cooking with children, such information can really come in handy to answer basic questions and also learn along with your child.
Rouxbe has videos on numerous subjects that would be good learn-along aids with children. You can find out about pasta and how to cook it properly, and there is a lot of content covering rice and how to cook it properly. And when your kid gets to the knife-wielding age, learning to use the pinch-and-claw method for cutting will help make sure fingers stay out of the way. (I would also suspect that many parents could benefit from the knife-skill videos too.) Becoming a better cook is one of the most valuable skills to pass on to children, and proper technique will assist them long into life. I still remember when I taught my daughter that a good sharp knife will help prevent browning of fruit when you cut it, and to this day she recounts this lesson when I give her cut fruit. Some parents teach sign language, but I’m teaching cooking skills.
Many Rouxbe videos are only for paid subscribers, but you can always access limited content for free on their website. There is also a 14-day free trial to obtain full access if you want to check the school out more thoroughly. A couple of years ago I took advantage of the trial period and eventually signed up for a lifetime membership. If you want to improve your cooking ability and knowledge but don’t have the time or opportunity to attend off-site classes, Rouxbe might be a good option.
Lately I have been going through the last year’s worth of archives for some of the food blogs that I like. I must admit that I find the world of food blogs a bit overwhelming at times. There are just so many, and keeping up can be difficult, but every now and then I just relax and focus on a couple of blogs and start reading.
One of the things I love most about good food bloggers is that they can inspire cooking a lot more than a simple cookbook. Their dish is a story, and it’s fun to tell stories about food. I also like the bloggers that are good photographers, and some of the food photography out there is simply amazing these days.
So with that said, one of the blogs that I do like to read is Eat Make Read written by Kelly Carámbula out of Brooklyn, NY. She started her blog in 2008 and also publishes with some friends a food magazine called Remedy Quarterly. I’ll do another post on this publication once I start my subscription, which will probably be in a month or so.
But what I really like about this blog is that it mixes in both beverages and food. A lot of blogs can get heavy on the baking and desserts, and while Eat Make Read has its share of sweets, it breaks it up nicely with a lot of classic cocktails and seasonal food dishes. Here are some of my favorite recipes from the the site.
Granted, Kelly’s dishes can be on the simpler side, but I also like that. She is a professed picky eater who is now branching out, so simple, good flavors are a great way to break out of old eating habits. I think the two recipes I am going to try first are the apple grilled cheese and the rhubarb johnny. You can’t go wrong with hot cheese and rhubarb dessert.
I found this recipe for roasted pears on the popular blog La Tartine Gourmande. I fell in love with roasted pears while living in France, but it took this French blogger to give the dessert some flair and really make it amazing. Just look at those pears. The photo is great, and the pears taste even better.
I especially like how the lemon grass, ginger, and vanilla bean seeds give the dish an exotic touch. Then the ground pistachios add a delicate crunchy texture. It was tart, yet smooth, and was almost like a tropical custard.
If I ever wanted to impress anyone with a dessert — and I mean anyone — I would probably make this dish. It is really tasty and I recommend it highly.
Via Lifehacker comes this post about Microsoft’s advanced recipe search on Bing. I’ve never used Bing before and only tried it out yesterday to see how the recipe search function worked, but here are my initial impressions of the recipe feature.
First of all, I must say that it is pretty impressive at first glance with all the features to refine your search. There are categories to sort by ratings (stars), convenience (time), cuisine (French, Italian etc.), main ingredient, course, cooking method, and occasion (season and holidays). They even include health facts for each recipe. The best part, however, is its ease of use. There is no going to a separate advanced search page; instead you just filter the recipes using the sidebar tools. It is very intuitive and easy to use.
With that said, it appears that most of the recipes come from delish.com and myrecipes.com. Delish is associated with Microsoft, so there is no surprise there, but at least myrecipes.com pulls their content from cooking magazines — albeit not from most of the big guns like Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, and Fine Cooking. Ultimately, I think the success of this recipe search engine will depend upon how they populate it with content. At this point, other recipe sites such as cooks.com, allrecipes, and Epicurious are still better and Epicurious even has a good advanced search function already — though not as slick as the one on Bing.
The Bing recipe search is still a long way from becoming the go-to site for recipes, but the easy-to-use advanced sorting features give it promise. I wish other sites would take a queue from Bing and improve their search functions, and it would also be great if these sites started tapping the world of food blogs.
I am finally trolling the internet and going through my old bookmark folders to find my favorite food-related blogs. It has been on my to-do list for some time, and now I am finally getting to it.
As I add to my links (sidebar to the right), I will also be giving special attention to websites that truly amaze me. I am always impressed with bloggers who dedicate so much time to their passion, and food bloggers impress me even more. They cook, photograph, write and put it all in a neat little package for the rest of the world to salivate over. I love that.
Today the site that amazed me is Tartelette. As a person who loves good food and photography, this site is amazing. Just browse her blog entries and you will be impressed. The creator is Helen Dujardin who is French but living in South Carolina. She used to be a professional pastry chef at a restaurant, but now she describes herself as a recipe developer, food writer, food stylist, and food photographer. She also gives private pastry classes.
If browsing through her blog isn’t enough, you can also see her wonderful photos at her photography site: helenedujardin.com. I am definitely going to look into buying some of her photographs for my kitchen.
I have been seeing in cooking magazines recently an advertisement for the Top Chef Quickfire Challenge Game. I love watching the show and was just about to buy the game to try it out when I read a bad review at Amazon. Apparently, the reviewer says that the questions about the show are so obscure that they will mostly stump you. In the Eat Me Daily blog, the writer also concurs that the game is a bit ridiculous and makes no sense. Who really remembers the lives of contestants from four years ago? I don’t, and nor do I want to.
Of course, out of the 750 questions there are general food-related ones that have nothing to do with the show or contestants, but I still think the game is a bad idea. Why not just make a game about cooking in general and leave out the reality TV element? I would imagine that this product will get mediocre-at-best reviews as people leave more feedback, but at the time of writing there is only one review at Amazon. We’ll see.
With that said, I did find one website/blog for Top Chef enthusiasts that did play the game and liked it. You can read the post at All Top Chef, and I guess if you really love the show in a cultish way, the game may be more accessible. So even though I won’t be buying the game, maybe these sample questions will help make up your mind. Just ask yourself if this type of game would be fun to play with friends or family.
- Which Season 1 contestant was a part-time model at the time of the show?
- Which Top Chef judge earned three Michelin stars by the age of 26?
- In Season 4’s Restaurant Wars challenge, what dish of Lisa’s did Anthony Bourdain call, “baby vomit with wood chips?
- Who was the youngest competitor in Season 3 – Casey, Lia or Sara N.?
- What are the two ingredients in a roux?
- True or false: Adding sugar to water raises its freezing point.
- What are the two integral ingredients in ganache?
If this sounds fun to you, then you can purchase the game at Amazon for under $14.
From this issue, I am going to cull some of my favorites from the top 100, and the first one is The Fresh Loaf bread making website. I’ve never seen this site before, but it looks amazing and certainly deserves attention if want to make your own bread or already bake your own loaves.
According to the website The Fresh Loaf describes itself as providing “news and information for amateur bakers and artisan bread enthusiasts” and the site “contains featured recipes, lessons, book reviews, a community forum and recipe exchange, and baker blogs.”
The Fresh Loaf certainly does all of that, but the description also doesn’t do the site justice. Simply browse the baker blogs to get an idea of what you can do with the help of this site. In the blogs you will be lavished with picture after picture of fabulous looking bread with very detailed instructions on how it was created. Just looking at the pictures is inspiring (see above). So while the site does offer a lot of resources for the bread baker, even more importantly it offers inspiration.
The backbone of the site, however, is instruction. There is a bread baking handbook with useful information, and specifically I found the baker’s math section of interest as it gives you the basic proportions for ingredients and the math to adjust your recipes. There is also a lessons section that offers five instructionals such as “Your First Loaf,” “Glazing” and “Time and Temperature.” And if you ever have questions about baking a particular loaf or want to know what went wrong if you have less-than-satisfying results, there are plenty of places to post questions for individualized guidance.
This is a great site all around if you love bread.
The November issue of Saveur featured an article on the tableware store out of North Carolina called Replacements. This store started out as a flea market passion of owner Bob Page, who enjoyed finding hard-to-find missing dishes and flatware pieces for sets, and it now serves as a clearing house for replacement dishes of every variety and brand. So if you are looking to find a broken glass or plate from your Grandmother’s heirloom china or crystal set, then this is the place to go. I just did a search on a set I have at home and found replacement pieces available at very reasonable prices. At least now I know where to go if something breaks.
The store has over 300,000 patterns available, but even if what you are looking for isn’t in stock, you can request that they find it and you will receive a notification when it comes in. The website is basic and functional but not that great for browsing. I did go through the ’specials’ section and found the ‘Unique Tableware Sets to Go‘ to be useful to browse. You can essentially buy entire 40+ piece settings of fine tableware from $200 to $2400. A good number of the sets are already sold, but I am sure there are some good deals to be found.
The downside of the website is that it can be rather overwhelming. The sheer number of brands, styles, and patterns — while impressive — is daunting to say the least. I would love for them to have different search capabilities for retro, solid colors, modern, floral and other style preferences. Another good search option would be to only search dinnerware that is in stock. There are no doubt thousands of hidden gems in their inventory, but it is like finding a needle in a haystack with the current website design.
With that said, if you are looking to create an eclectic, out-of-the-ordinary table setting or want to find some retro dinnerware, then with a bit of effort you will be able to achieve this through Replacements. And when you need something specific or hard to find, this should be the first place to look. I also decided to test out the e-mail request service and put in some orders to find Lobmeyr crystal wine and water glasses. These items cost around $140 a piece, so it will be interesting to see if they find them and at what price they will be marked. None were currently in stock, so I’ll let you know what comes of it.