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Cooking Meat

Cooking Meat

A Butcher's Guide to Choosing, Buying, Cutting, Cooking, and Eating Meat
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Living High Off the Hog

Living High Off the Hog

Over 100 Recipes and Techniques to Cook Pork Perfectly
tagged : meat, reference
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From the Introduction
If you have ever found yourself staring at the landscape of pork cuts in the cooler at the grocery store and felt lost as to what to buy (let alone how to cook and serve it), I am here to guide you. This book is packed with delicious pork recipes of all sorts—quick weekday suppers, appetizers for a few or many, elegant main courses and some BBQ and grilling fun. My goal is to help you expand the types of pork you purchase and then develop your confidence to transform those cuts into meals you’ll be proud to share with family and friends.

And who am I to guide you on this journey? Well, I’ve been cooking pork for over 30 years—my entire professional career as a chef. I can offer the perspective of someone who has spent three decades in professional kitchens, planning menus, buying on a large scale, trimming, portioning, turning wholesale cuts into attractive single servings, and more. I’ve always loved working in kitchens, experiencing the adrenaline rush, the teamwork and the satisfaction of service. But, these days, having left the pro kitchen behind, I also understand what home cooks are looking for. I now focus on the practical angle of creating delicious meals in a timely manner without going overboard or getting too complicated.

Of course, cooking at home is entirely different from doing so professionally. There isn’t the same urgency, budget or labor cost concern, and you get to eat the food! That said, regardless of the environment, I see cooking as a fun activity, almost like a puzzle to solve. Whether it’s a meal for a holiday, a special occasion, or a regular Tuesday evening, I love the planning and shopping; choosing the right music; pulling out tablecloths, platters and glasses; and even buying fresh flowers. I experience an unbridled sense of joy as I bring it all together, checking off the to-dos from my list, grooving to the music and tasting great results as I wait for the guests to show.

But the best part of cooking is the sharing. Most of my meals are enjoyed with just my sweetie, Anna, and when I get the nod of approval from her, it’s the best compliment ever. We’re so well-suited and nerdily enthusiastic about food that we often plan our next meal while eating the one at hand. Anna, as many of you may know from her TV work, is a trained pastry chef. My culinary background is as a saucier (someone who cooks meat and prepares sauces). When we cook together, magic happens. We instinctively go to our own areas: Anna works on dessert and the vegetable sides, and I do the trimming, cook the meat and make the sauce. We clean as we go and laugh the whole time. Even if there are serious things to discuss, we do so in the kitchen. Now that my daughter, Mika, has become an accomplished cook in her own right, she gets in on the action. She grew up surrounded by good food and has always understood how to survive without having to order out. As a family, we hit our stride in the kitchen or at the table—and I’m good with that.

“Living high off the hog” is an old term used to suggest you’re living the good life, able to eat the more expensive cuts of meat. In general, regardless of the animal, cuts from the upper (or “higher”) part of the body are more tender than the lower ones—historically, only the poorest people would eat the jowls, belly, hock or feet. However, pork is an affordable meat choice for many, so in this case, the phrase is not about living beyond your means but rather about getting the most out of life by enjoying good food.

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100 to Dinner

Better Cooking for camps, clubs, resorts, schools, institutions, industrial plants, offices, and public dining rooms
tagged : reference
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Good, Better, Best Wines, 2nd Edition


If anyone can wobble into verbose, irrelevant, wayward, noun-strewn-as-adjective criticism, it’s a wine writer. I know. It’s my profession. But who cares if the grapes were handpicked by Jean-Paul with the blue beret and his three sons before being thrice sorted, pneumatically pressed, fermented with wild yeasts, aged in large old oak barrels, and blended with 2.4% Sémillon to enhance the mouthfeel? Or that the vines grew in soil rich in calcareous Kimmeridgian clay and Jean-Paul’s wife Martine once drank the 1967 vintage with Pierre Bardot, fifth cousin of Brigitte Bardot?

What does the wine taste like? Is it a good price? And is it available at the wine shop or supermarket down the street? That’s what matters, especially when you’re looking for a great-tasting, five- or ten-buck bottle to enjoy midweek. Sure, a little story is a great conversation starter, but talk of wine can quickly dwindle into mind-parchingly dry drivel about vineyard location, vintage quality, and the tepid tedium of winemaking techniques, such as malolactic fermentation, micro-oxygenation, and filtration.

With this book and the style of wines reviewed in its pages, I’m putting my foot down. Slamming my fist on the table and giving you the stuff that matters. The dirt. The goods. The short, sweet, critical information on what the wine tastes like so you can get on with drinking. I sample, you sip. Deal?

Thus, I’ve tasted the best-selling brands in the United States. These are brands you know, bottles you recognize, and names you trust to make wines that suit you and everyone you know.

And I’m not pulling these brands from thin air. Each year, a respected market research company called the Beverage Information Group publishes the Wine Handbook, which includes a ranking of the top 120 wine brands based on volumes sold across the United States. I’ve based this book on those brands in the 2017 Wine Handbook rankings. Additionally, a few PR people persuaded me to include names outside the top 120 by nearly breaking into arias about the greatness of certain bottles, then anchoring their enthusiasm with compelling information to show that these wines are popular and widely available. So I also tasted these bottles on your behalf.

Just how popular are the brands in this book? The top brand sold the equivalent of 284 million regular-sized bottles in 2016, and most brands represented here sold no fewer than about 5 million bottles in the same 12-month period. These aren’t wines people buy, say “meh,” and don’t buy again. They’re repeat purchases. The numbers bear that out. Plus, the wines aren’t just stocked at a handful of out-of-the-way wine boutiques; they’re the most widely available bottles in the United States. And most of the wines in this book are also available in other major markets.

So what I’ve done with this guide is compare grapes to grapes. All the $5–$7.99 Chardonnays were tasted side by side to determine which ones are best, as were the $8–$10.99s and the $11–$15 offerings. For this book, $15 is the cutoff because volumes drop considerably beyond that price. Most wines that cost more than $15 are generally made in smaller amounts, aren’t as widely stocked, and thus aren’t relevant to these pages. 

This book also offers a cross-section of the most popular varieties sold in the United States—the Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios, Sauvignon Blancs, Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, and so forth—with a chapter devoted to each. To cover some other interesting stuff, a couple catchall chapters called “Other Great Whites” and “Other Great Reds” were added. And to account for the usually terrible but sometimes quite drinkable wine that costs less than $5 per bottle—or the equivalent value in boxed form—I’ve tacked on a chapter called “Good Deals at Super-Low Prices.”

I might add that Americans drink more domestic wine than imported, so the regional cross-section of wines here follows suit. A bit of Argentinean, Australian, Chilean, German, Italian, New Zealand, and Spanish wine is included, but there’s a whole lot of great-value American stuff.

This book not only recommends the good, better, and best wines in every significant category—with bottle images to help you find them on shelves—but it also slips in other interesting bits of information, including food pairing suggestions, best serving temperatures, and factoids for conversation fodder.

A useful guide to popular wines is necessary given that Americans now drink more wine than any other nation, topping 4.24 billion 750ml bottles in 2016. And the majority of the wines Americans drink are popular big brands that sell for less than $15 per bottle. It makes sense: Although thousands of wines exist, big brands like Bogle, Cavit, Concha y Toro, and Kendall-Jackson deliver great value for the money. They taste pretty much the same year to year, they’re widely available, and they sport clear and recognizable labels. And, of course, they’re made to appeal to the many rather than the few, so wine drinkers can count on them to not let them down. 

While wine snobs with raised pinkies are buying, swirling, and sniffing the wines that cost two arms and a leg per bottle and are tediously hard to find, the rest of Americans are just drinking wine. Popular wine. Big-brand wine. Ironically, a disproportionate amount of wine writing focuses on big-ticket, small-scale wines in infinite detail, but no book had ever focused on ranking popular big brands—until the first edition of this book hit shelves in 2010.

One reason little ink is spilled on big brands is that there’s a stigma attached to them. Among wine critics and connoisseurs, they’re often seen as less interesting. Too commercial. Too generic. Too industrial—as if quantity has an inverse relationship with quality, which, of course, it doesn’t. Uninspiring wines are made by big and small producers, but this stigma persists.

Among some wine critics, it’s even believed that big brands are simply a means for driving shareholder value, leading to marketing that overpromises and bottles that underdeliver. Although this is sometimes the case, it’s certainly not always true. It makes better business sense to do the opposite: Use economies of scale to make wines that overperform at each price point and then encourage awareness with honest marketing. 

Sure, big brands use economies of scale to muscle into the market, and it tugs at the heart to watch cold, hard market forces squeeze out smaller winemakers. With little money to toss toward marketing, merchandising, and advertising and without the quantities of wine or dollars needed to secure wide distribution, the little guy loses and the big guy wins—simple as that. It’s especially difficult for wine critics to watch this happen when we spend time visiting smaller winemakers, seeing the dirt under their fingernails, feeling the grip of passion behind their words, and appreciating their daily struggles with those gnarled vines to produce wines of beauty, place, and often pedigree. 

On some level, it’s hard not to fall in love with these producers when they charm you with their honest lifestyle, take you into their homes, cook you meals, and court you with their most treasured wines lovingly drawn from their cellars. But the people behind the big brands also work hard, and their wines couldn’t be successful without consumer consent—without making wine that people like to drink, can find on shelves, and count on for pleasure. Big brands are there to turn to as reliable, go-to wines for Wednesday’s pasta, Friday’s hamburgers, or that upcoming wedding reception for 100 of your closest friends and family.

The trouble is, with upward of 20 big-brand $8 Chardonnays on the shelf side by side, it’s hard to know which one to choose. You certainly can’t taste or even smell them all before you buy, and there aren’t many scratch-and-sniff labels. So I’ve taken a good, hard look at—and taste of—the most popular wines in the United States, squirreled out the best in each style and price category, and independently published the results here in this book. For the second time. 

Therein lies the purpose of this book. I hope you find it useful.

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For the Love of Cheese

For the Love of Cheese

Recipes and Wisdom from the Cheese Boutique
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From "Cheese 101"

The first thing I will tell you about this subject is simply: buy what you need. I’ve seen it too many times in my shop. Cheese lovers come in, andthey get really excited by the aromas, textures and flavors of all the beautiful cheeses we carry. They eat with their eyes, and as much as the businessman inside me says “sell, sell, sell!” I try to refrain from letting my customers overbuy. The last thing I want is for the client to have a bad cheese experience. What’s a bad cheese experience, you ask? I will explain.

Imagine that you go to your trusty cheesemonger, and you end up with much more cheese than you need. You just can’t help it—you wanted it all! You arrive home overloaded with this goodness and put it away for when you’re ready.

As I’ve said previously, many cheeses get better with age, but I’m not talking about the smaller, cut pieces that are wrapped up in your fridge. An amazing glass of wine, no matter how prized and rare, is meant to be drunk and enjoyed—you’d never think of saving a solitary glass of wine for later. And the same is true for cheese. A cut piece of cheese in your fridge isn’t going to get better; rather, the opposite. And trust me, there is nothing worse than reaching into your fridge for your favorite cheese and discovering that it’s way past its prime.

How should we remedy this? The answer is simple. Buy smaller pieces and visit your cheesemonger more frequently. Ask your cheesemonger questions such as:

• What’s really good today?
• What should I shave into my salad?
• What should I put onto my pasta?
• I’m having this wine with dinner tonight;what cheese would pair well with it?

When you ask these kinds of questions, you’ll get to know your cheesemonger. Develop a relationship with them, get to know their schedule, get to know when the fresh buffalo mozzarella arrives, get to know who their favorite sports team is, and more! Trying to establish a strong relationship with your cheesemonger might seem silly, but if you love great cheese, this connection will become incredibly valuable.

Now that you know how to buy your cheese, let’s turn to storage. For the most part, if you’re buying cheese from a reputable cheesemonger, you should keep the cheese in its original wax paper packaging. This wax paper is specially designed to store cheese. This will work for the first few days after you bring the cheese home. Beyond that point, you should rewrap the cheese in parchment paper and cover it tightly in aluminum foil. The cheese wax paper will only keep the moisture in for a few days; by covering it in fresh parchment paper followed by aluminum foil, you let the cheese breathe, without letting it dry out from being exposed to the air. This also works to keep the cheese from absorbing ambient scents or flavors in your fridge. And if you’re a real cheese fiend like I am, you can dedicate your vegetable crisper as a cheese storage box. Who needs vegetables, anyway? Just remember to let the cheese come to room temperature completely before you serve it—you have to let the flavors open up, in much the same way as you decant a bottle of red wine. Depending on the cheese, this could take one to three hours. Promise me you won’t serve it cold.

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Clueless in the Kitchen

Clueless in the Kitchen

Cooking for Beginners
also available: Paperback Paperback
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