Vintage Kitchen: Carnation’s Noodle Ring with Creamed Chicken, 1935.

Why, yes, these are noodles. Thanks for noticing.

I turned up a copy of the “Carnation Cook Book” at a used-book shop in Santa Rosa the other day, and for a measly $2, I had to rescue it. Written by Mary Blake in 1935, this promo pamphlet is chock full of product placement, bound with staples, and just under 100 pages long. I believe this little cookbook was probably a giveaway, or perhaps cheap mail-order fodder, but I’m not totally certain about how it was originally distributed. As the author, Blake is credited as being Carnation’s “Director, Home Economics Department,” which fascinates me as a chef. Corporate recipe testing, and in that era — I wonder what the kitchen looked like, and how Mary Blake had become accomplished as a cook. Or did she cook anything, and only supervise a staff?

The photograph above is what sold me. [… read more …]

Vintage Cajun: “The Justin Wilson Cook Book” by Justin Wilson

justinwilson

Being in my 30s — and not being a native of Louisiana — my first exposure to Justin Wilson was from a Ruffles commercial in the mid-1980s. For better or worse, that was also the first time that I’d ever heard the Cajun dialect, a quirky easygoing patois that now has many associations for me, having lived and cooked in New Orleans since then. During the same few years that Wilson was landing these national ad campaigns, his Louisiana-based cooking series began to appear on California public television stations, and Wilson himself began doing cooking demos on several morning talk shows. At least that’s how I remember it, growing up in Northern California.

As a semi-serious collector of vinyl LPs, I would later discover Wilson’s comedy albums from the early 1960s, languishing in the dollar bins, alongside so many copies of “Staying Alive.” Although I never purchased any of [… read more …]

Sugar Pie Pumpkin Cheesecake, Gingerbread Cookie Crust and Bourbon Eggnog Anglaise

The eggnog anglaise contains bourbon. You can also add a little bourbon to the whipped cream, if it's been that kind of a year.

The eggnog anglaise contains bourbon. You can also add a little bourbon to the whipped cream, if it’s been that kind of a year.

Back when I was working as a prep cook at Houston’s Santa Monica, a cracked cheesecake wasn’t necessarily the worst thing in the entire world: It meant that some of the pieces couldn’t be served, and that they would become fair game for the cooks. Of course, for the unfortunate person who actually baked the dessert, it was a little more bitter than sweet, seeing an otherwise beautiful cheesecake suddenly develop an unsightly crack as it cooled: It usually meant having to bake another cheesecake in its place, in order to make up for the pieces that couldn’t be salvaged. On a particularly busy day, getting another cheesecake in the oven wasn’t always easy, especially when oven space could trade at a [… read more …]

Project Food Blog 2010, Round 5: Cassoulet Meets Pizza!

White bean puree, topped with duck confit, duck cracklins, garlic sausage, and Gruyère de Comté breadcrumbs. Click any pic to zoom.

The idea of a “cassoulet” pizza popped into my mind the other night, if I remember correctly, somewhere between my second and third bottle of Cab Sauv. I’m a comfort food junkie above all else, and cassoulet ranks as one of my all-time favorite dishes, especially in the fall. As I thought about it further, the entire concept of “cassoulet pizza” soon began to reveal itself: The duck confit and garlic sausage would garnish the pizza, of course, but the white beans themselves would comprise the sauce, in the form of a light puree. More than that, I realized that this pizza should even feature breadcrumbs, a nice detail that could really help to spin a crispy, thin-crust pizza even further into cassoulet territory. I figured, why [… read more …]

Project Food Blog 2010, Round 4: Makin’ Some Delicious Bacon

Heritage Pork Belly alongside Heirloom Tomatoes, Bibb Lettuce, Sourdough Bread, and Kewpie Mayonnaise. Click pic for actual size.

I certainly adore a great BLT, but I can hardly ever bring myself to order one in a restaurant. I just feel that this particular sandwich, as tasty as it might be, is a little too simple for a restaurant menu (greasy spoons excluded). When I’m dining out, I’m looking to feel the love, so I’m leaning towards items that require a little more culinary skill, even at lunch. However, when I’m at home, I’ve really learned to value the quick and simple approach, especially when time is tight. Over the years, I’ve found that if you put in the effort to procure the proper ingredients, then the cooking component becomes the easy part, which is why the classic BLT is such a beautifully simple sandwich: [… read more …]

Project Food Blog 2010, Round 3: Harvest Dinner, Napa Valley, Autumn 2010

The Main Event: Blackened Pacific Halibut with Crispy Pancetta New Potatoes, smothered in Sauce Anthony.

Here in the Napa Valley, hosting a dinner party this time of year can be a mighty tall order. The problem is finding enough guests with free time, since so many folks in the valley remain hopelessly preoccupied during harvest and crush. Among most of the people I know, they’re either working long days in the cellar, or they’re working long nights in the kitchen (tourism in the Napa Valley also hits its peak this same time of year). No doubt, as September yields to October, the typical Monday-through-Friday work schedule is a distant pipe dream for many, while eight-hour work days are also few and far between. However, in the spirit of Project Food Blog, I can definitely whip up some dinner-party-sized portions for my would-be dinner party. At worst, I can [… read more …]

Iron Chef Morimoto’s 10-Hour Pork Belly

momobelly7

I’m not sure if the following recipe appears in Morimoto’s cookbook or not, but a couple months ago, when I tasted the delicious pork belly sliders at the pre-opening festivities at Morimoto Napa, I decided that I really needed to learn to more about the Iron Chef’s approach to swine. Fortunately, I have a friend and former chef-school roommate who has cooked at one of Morimoto’s East Coast restaurants, so he’s actually executed this pork belly recipe dozens of times, if not hundreds. As I found out, the recipe itself doesn’t really contain any guarded secrets or esoteric ingredients; instead, it simply relies upon patience and technique, which is often enough. To that end, Morimoto’s pork belly recipe sees 10 hours of total braising time, spread out over two days. If you wish to discuss slow food, then this is definitely it.

Three pounds of heritage pork belly: [… read more …]

More Than Just Recipes: Frog Hollow Peaches with Balsamic Vinegar

froghollowpeaches

Peach perfect.

I had dinner at Ad Hoc on Friday night, and although I’ve offered tepid reviews of this restaurant in the past, I did have a great meal there, I must admit. The night’s menu featured an Italian-themed dinner, which actually began with meatballs, which to me was so much more interesting than salad, Ad Hoc’s typical first-course selection. After the meatballs, it was a perfectly-roasted half-chicken, followed by a cheese course, and about as much tiramisu as I could devour. The cheese plate was garnished with honey, chopped pistachios, and one of my favorite things in life, Frog Hollow Farm peaches. July and August represent the height of peach season here in California, and seeing “Frog Hollow” on Ad Hoc’s menu reminded me to track down a few of these gems for myself.

Luckily for me, I can usually find Frog Hollow peaches at the Oxbow [… read more …]

More Than Just Recipes: Bananas Foster

Adrift in a sea of butter, brown sugar, and rum.

Set adrift on butter, brown sugar, and rum bliss.

Although Bananas Foster is widely known as a New Orleans recipe, I never had any experience with this particular dish while I was cooking in the Crescent City. I dealt with plenty of bread pudding recipes, and I had an occasional hand in the hyper-decadent sweet potato-and-pecan pies at K-Paul’s, but Bananas Foster was never part of my repertoire. However, when I was attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY, I did have the opportunity to whip up several batches of Bananas Foster while I was finishing the culinary program. My very last course at the CIA was actually a three-week stint waiting tables at the Escoffier Room, which was the classicly-themed French restaurant on campus (known simply as the “E-Room” among the student population). Frankly, I hated every single day of E-Room service — not [… read more …]

Urban Foraging: A trip through 99 Ranch Market, Richmond, CA

Although the “language” of cooking is essentially universal, the “vocabulary” itself can be very different. As a born-and-raised Westerner, some of the fundamental ingredients of Asian cuisine remain exotic to me, although cooking professionally and living in California have certainly both helped to foster my assimilation. Even so, I didn’t grow up in a household where shrimp chips and salty plum candy were the norm — it was more like Cheetos and chocolate chip cookies for us. I may have mentioned this anecdote here before, but my very recent appreciation for red miso paste actually began with a lemon-miso pork belly glaze, which we featured on the menu at Auberge du Soleil (if I remember correctly, the belly was part of the skate wing set, but maybe not). The glaze itself presented a tremendous yin-yang combination of dark miso earthiness and bright citrus acidity, and it demonstrated to me [… read more …]