Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Cure for the Holiday Blues.

Have you ever wished you could make something for a party that just blows everyone's mind? I mean something that everybody will love to eat and at the same time make you look like the king shit of cooking?

"Yes John, that sounds radder than a Sasquatch fighting a chupacabre. The problem is, my culinary expertise amounts to me just barely being able to open up a box of Stagg Chili".

Well faithful reader, I have the perfect dish for you. It's Called Gravlax. Don't be taken back by the funny name or that it sounds like Harry Potter speaking Parseltongue; Gravlax is a simple and wonderfully flavorful example of how to cure fish.

Curing is one of the ways humans have been preserving meats and vegetables for thousands of years. Now of course, humans don't have to preserve foods because we have refrigerators to keep our foods from rotting. We preserve our food now because it tastes damn good. From the aptly named salt cod to the more labor intensive prosciutto or salami, cured items are a huge part of modern society. The process of curing in the home though has almost been forgotten by the masses. It's a shame because the main ingredient is something that all of us have at our fingertips in the kitchen; salt.

In a cure, salt is what gives food its flavor, its texture, and preserves the food item so it can be stored for long periods of time. It has been sustaining our civilization for millenia, and now it will sustain you and yours once you learn how to use it properly. The transformative property of salt cannot be overstated here and after you have completed this recipe, you will understand the power of the darkside salt. Uhhhh, anyway..... let's get started!



1 filet of Salmon with the skin on (2-3 pounds)
1 ounce of Gin (you can substitute vodka, Aquavit, or Pernod)
1 ounce of lemon juice
6 ounces of Salt
4 ounces of Sugar
1/2 ounce of fresh cracked Black Pepper (see picture on my favorite easy way to crack pepper)
1 bunch of Dill

• Rinse and dry your salmon filet.

• Combine the gin and lemon juice and brush the outside of the salmon filet with it.

 • Chop the hell out of your dill. You want it rough chopped, not minced into a paste.

 • As mentioned above, cracking whole pepper is easy. Just put said pepper into a metal cake pan, cover with plastic wrap and bash into oblivion with a heavy object (I use a meat tenderizer). Using the plastic wrap keeps the peppercorns from popping out as well as being translucent so you will be able to see which peppercorns have been crushed and which have not.

 • Combine the salt, sugar, pepper, and dill in a bowl. Mix together with your hands. Try to squeeze the cure mix together so you bruise the dill. (This will extract a little more flavor from the dill).

 • Place salmon on a piece of cheese cloth that is three times as wide as the filet. It only needs to be in one layer since you will be wrapping it up.

• Place the filet in a 13 x 9 baking dish (or whatever the fish fits into with walls). Make sure that your cheese cloth is hanging out of the dish, not under the fish.

• Cover the salmon filet with the cure mixture. Try to cover the thinner end of the filet less than the thicker end. More salt on a thinner end will make it super salty.

• Fold in the end pieces of the cheese cloth and then roll it up till there is no more cheese cloth. It will not look perfect (see mine). This is ok (seriously, it's cool), it just needs to keep the salt on the fish.

• Transfer the fish from the dish onto a sheet pan with a wire rack in it. If you do not have a wire rack insert (and why wouldn't you?), you can just put it on a sheet pan without it. The rack is there to raise it up so the water from the fish can drain out easier. Don't go killing yourself trying to find a wire rack insert, it will cure without it (but really you should have one).

• Place some weight on top of the filet. I just used the dish I had the fish in and a cast iron pan. You could use a brick instead of the cast iron guy; just make sure that you get even pressure on Mr. Fish.

• Place the wrapped salmon filet in your fridge and let it sit for 48-72 hours depending on how cured (salty) you want it. I go for 60 myself.

• Unwrap your gravlax and wash off all of the cure mixture. Pat dry delicately with a paper towel.

• If you are not going to eat it right away, just wrap it up in some plastic wrap or place it into a zip top bag.

* Do not worry about a little discoloration on the top of the fish. It is caused by the pepper and the dill bleeding into the flesh. It just looks a little strange. It you are wierded out by the way it looks, by all means thinly slice it away.

• If you are going to eat it right away then you should find your sharpest knife and begin to cut the gravlax as thinly as you possibly can. You want it almost transparent. This will not be easy at first, but I guarantee you by the time you have sliced that whole filet up, you will be an old hand at it.

Traditionally, this is served on pumpernickel with a dill mustard sauce (recipe in the next day or two). Other accoutrement that I use are finely diced red onion, capers, and a separated and minced hard boiled egg (whites and yolk apart from each other).

Non-traditionally, you can use this in whatever you want. I have seen it in potato salad, sandwiches and I've even put it in my scrambled eggs (recommended!). So go out there and make some gravlax. I will be by your house in a few days to test the results.........for scientific reasons of course.

Update: I have posted recipes for a mustard sauce and a mustard vinaigrette in the comments section. Feel free to comment on anything you like with your gravlax.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gravy Baby

So I know that this is totally last minute, but hopefully it will help you tomorrow while making your thanksgiving dinner. This post is about the life saver (or mouth saver) of thanksgiving; gravy. If you have played around for the last two weeks with roux, this will be no problem at all. The only thing you need to have is a little patience in the beginning and you'll be fine.

Gravy makes everything better. We know mom over cooks the turkey every year. We also know that the potatoes are gluey and dry, as well as the dressing that has the consistency of a sandcastle. These all are helped by decent gravy that although lumpy, makes dinner bearable to eat without stabbing everyone at the table with a shiv that you have fashioned out of the leg bone of the turkey.

This year fortunately, there will be no murder at the dinner table. If you stick to this general gravy recipe you will be good. This is also a great recipe to make on Friday for your leftovers. You can be gravy-ing up while your neighbors tear each other apart over $20 MP3 players.

This is you basic gravy that you can feel free to add more herbs, spices, or giblets. As always this is the foundation to build your gravy greatness on. Let’s get going:

Before we get going, we have to talk a bit about stock. I'll let you slide on using that boxed shit (broth) this time, but next time use homemade stock. Stock bases are also acceptable in a pinch, but no real substitute for real stock. Just a friendly warning for next time (I will hurt you).

Also a note on the herbs. You will need to chop the fuck out of these woody bastards. Chop them until they are super fine and then chop them some more. You'll know you’re on the right track when they look feathery. I know that sounds vague, but you'll understand it when you get there. The herbs have to be fine or else you will get chunks of rosemary stuck in your teeth and nobody wants a wedge of Christmas tree in their teeth.

Herb Gravy
8 cups of stock.
8 ounces of roux
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
6-10 sage leaves (depends on your taste, just start with 6)
Small bundle of thyme (if you had me at gunpoint I'd say 12 sprigs)
1 sprig marjoram (totally optional)
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper


•Heat you stock to almost a boil.

•Chop your roux and add it to a hot pot.

•After the roux has melted, start adding one ladle of stock. Whisk until the roux thickens to the consistency of peanut butter.

•Add more stock ladle by ladle until the gravy has the consistency of over creamed mashed potatoes.

•Add the rest of the stock and whisk until incorporated. Bring to a simmer.

•Throw in your herbs, salt, and pepper. Whisk to incorporate.

•Simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and season (salt and pepper) according to how you want it.

Now you have a gravy recipe that will make you the envy of your family and might even get you booted from some of your more wealthy relatives wills. You will be able to take solace in your poverty that even though you won't have money you also won't have to eat dry turkey sandwiches for the rest of your life like the rest of your horrible family.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to Make Roux...........Well it's about damn time!

Ok, this will be the entry where I lose my recipe virginity. I know what the kids on the twitter and the interwebs want. They want recipes. They don't want to hear about my excursions to go pick cherries, eat crabs, or have photo shows; they want to make their own food. So in the spirit of giving, I will cave to your selfish demands.

This is going to be both simple and profound. It's simple to make and then it becomes profound when you get to know how to use it. It's also an obvious choice given the name of my blog/ business. It's called a roux (pronounced roo), and although it may look like a funny French word, it will change the way you cook. So what the hell is it?

Roux, when used properly, will thicken any liquid it is put into. When the liquid comes up to almost a boil the starch in the roux gelatinizes and thickens the liquid being used. It is super helpful for making gravies, sauces and for thickening soups and stews. It sounds like it would be really complicated right? Well, it's not.

If you have never made a roux before, fear not; you can't get any more simple that this:

1 part fat
1 part flour


• Melt fat in a saucepan.

• Whisk in flour until incorporated over medium heat.

• Cook (while stirring every few minutes) until it becomes the shade you are looking for (white, blond, brown, brick).

• Cool in saucepan for 5 minutes, and then pour the roux into a glass or metal container. (Be careful, this shit is like napalm at this point!)

• Let the roux cool until room temperature, then stick it in the fridge.

• Once solid, cut it into cubes and transfer into a plastic bag or plastic container for storage.

• Roux may also be frozen at this point.

One ounce of roux will thicken 8 ounces of liquid thoroughly.

That's it? Yep, that's it dear reader. But what's that you say? What kind of fat and flour? How much is one part? How will I know when its white, blond, or brick? Jesus, do I have to explain all of it for you?........ Yes, actually, yes I do. Let's begin.

For this recipe, when it says "fat" it can mean almost any fat you would like to use. Butter, clarified butter, lard, tallow (beef fat), and vegetable oil would all be acceptable. They all produce the same exact product, albeit with slightly different flavors, and work exactly the same when you use them. Btw, Crisco is not really a good product to use in a roux because it is engineered to melt at such a high temperature that when combined with a liquid and turned into a sauce it will leave a film in your mouth (yuck).

Flour is the easy part of the equation. Just use regular AP (all purpose) or bread flour. Cake flour or pastry flour can be used in a pinch, but do you really keep cake or pastry flour around your kitchen? That's what I thought.

The one part to one part ratio is a standard sliding ratio that can be sized up or down depending on how much roux you want to make. The easiest way to express this would be to take a pound of butter and mix it with a pound of flour (which is what I used in the pictures) and this would produce 2 pounds of roux and you would be set for a long time. You can half that amount by halving the weights of the ingredients. You could also make 33.6547 times more and just adjusted the weights accordingly (if you appreciate odd proportions). Just make sure you are using equal parts (by weight) of fat and flour and you won't go wrong.

Now that you have mixed your melted fat and flour, you need to cook it. Depending on what shade of roux you are looking for, you can be cooking for 5 minutes up to an hour. Generally, you will be using a white roux for 95% of the recipes you use. Unless you plan on making gumbo all of the time, you won't really need to make too many dark rouxs. Luckily, the white roux is the one that only takes 5 minutes to make. You want to cook your roux for at least five minutes to cook the raw flour taste out of the roux. If you don't do this, the sauce or stew you are making with this undercooked roux will have a bit of a doughy taste. Nobody wants to get into some mac and cheese and have it taste like bread dough.

I realize that I have made things seem a little more complicated than they need to be, but I want you to be able and nerd out on someone who would have any questions about making roux. And now that you are a bad ass roux making mother fucker it's time to make something with it. Alas, this entry is only about making roux. That being said, future recipes will prominently feature the mighty roux. Mac and cheese (not that blue box shit), gravies of all kind, and thick soups will all have roux as the ingredient that makes them what they are. For now, just practice your roux making abilities (using water is a cheap way to practice) and get ready for god-like thickening power.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nothing in this world is free...... except free stuff.

I should start this entry with the disclaimer that I was given food for free to write this review/ story. Am I proud of this? Not really. Do I feel bad about this? No. I'm sort of ambivalent about the whole thing. I like the fact that I was given product to review for free but at the same time I have punk-rock guilt about being a shill for a business. Complicated stuff indeed, but that has neither here nor there to do with the overall story. I will sort out my feelings at a later date* in order to try and entertain you with this compelling story of free seafood and why I hate UPS.

A few months ago I wrote an article for about the best crab dishes in Baltimore. After appearing in Metromix, it was also put into "B" Magazine where it was seen by a PR person (henceforth know as the Crab Guy) for the website He liked the article and got in touch with me about maybe reviewing some of their product. After searching through the website and figuring out that they were in fact a legit company, I got back to the Crab Guy and told him "sure I would love to sample your wares".

After a few more emails back and forth we settled on what I was going to recieve from the company and it turned out to be a pretty sweet score. The list was as follows:

6 mini crab cakes
6 soft crabs
4 16 oz jars of crab marinara
1 # cocktail crab claws

I was excited to receive the package and get to cooking. But then UPS stepped in and fucked things up for a bit.

The food was going to be at my house on a Thursday but, was lost in transit and did not reach our house until Friday. My wife came home from work at 5:30 on Friday to find our package sitting behind a planter in the sun. It had probably been sitting there for a few hours and needless to say I was more than worried to see what was in the box when I got home. I was expecting a goddamn science project when I opened the box, but to my surprise, everything in the box was below 40 degrees and still cold. A day over the delivery date and left out in the sun for hours by a UPS asshole and the food was still cold and edible. It was a testament to the packaging procedures that the crab place workers put in place to make sure their food stays edible during shipment.

After the relief of knowing that the food was edible, it was time to plan. What to do, what to do? The soft shells and the mini crab cakes were easy enough (sandwiches for the cakes, fried and served on a bed of potato succotash for the soft shells), but the marinara and the claw meat was another story. After a few ideas were thrown around, we finally decided that we would make claw meat raviolis and toss them in the marinara for Saturday’s dinner.

I didn't want to mess with the crab cakes or the soft shells too much so I could judge the quality of the product. For the cakes I decided I would just broil them in the oven while I was frying the soft shells in butter. This way everything would be hot and ready for our judgment (there were five people helping me to sample the goods). Placed on a cast iron pan and popped into an oven whacked to full broil, the crab cakes were on their way. The soft shells were dredged in flour and fried until golden and crisp (after being rinsed and dried off) and lovingly placed on a succotash of summer vegetables. After its hellacious stay in the oven, the crab cakes were nestled onto a slider bun with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Time to eat!

The soft shells tasted wonderful. They came out crisp and caramelized with no toughness at all. I prefer smaller soft shells to the larger ones because I am not a fan of the leathery texture that accompanies some larger soft shell crabs. These were a hit with the friends I had cooked them for. Even the people that were not big fans of soft shells liked them. I tend to think it was because of my extraordinary cooking ability, but the quality of the crabs had a lot to do with it as well.

The crab cakes were not as immediately loved. Although cooked to golden brown and crispy, there was not a lot of flavor going on. It turned out that after a generous sprinkling of salt, the crab flavor came out and they were gobbled up in a few bites. We were a little disappointed with the seasoning of the crab cakes. As long as you know this before you get the crab cakes you can plan how you will season them (salt and pepper, old bay etc.) and you won't have any trouble. The problem is, you will not know how they taste until you eat them and then it is usually too late.

So far so good? We were happy about the overall quality of the crab cakes and the soft shells. It was also agreed that if we actually did order that food from an internet site we would have been very happy with the results. So yes, so far so good.

I was a bit suspicious about the marinara sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of jarred tomato sauces, so I wasn't really looking forward to trying the crab marinara. I was a big fan of the claw meat that was sitting on the table yelling at me to dip it in melted butter. After resisting the temptation to eat the whole pound, I managed to strip it off the claw and fold it into a filling that my wife made of finely diced red peppers, onions and ricotta cheese. We then made raviolis with some pasta that was freshly made earlier that day by my wife (I was exceptionally lazy that day I admit). It was just a matter of boiling them until they were done (fresh pasta is extremely quick to cook), tossing them in the marinara, and topping it all with a snowfall of parmigiano reggiano.

As I was waiting for the marinara to heat up (the raviolis were not in the water yet) I decided that I would look at the ingredients list on the back of the jar to see what scary unpronounceable words were mixed in with actual food items. To my surprise I found that the list only consisted of a few items that were all actual food. No additives, no weird shit at all. Delighted in this revelation, I tasted the marinara. It was really good. It was better than a lot of marinara’s I have gotten in the Little Italy section of Baltimore. It didn't taste heavily of crab, although you could see crab meat throughout the sauce, but there was crab flavor there. It was the best jarred tomato sauce I have ever had. I would eat it again and not think twice about it. Needless to say the sauce enhanced our wonderful ravioli (as a sauce should do) and everyone that ate that night at our house was very happy with the flavor of the dish (as well as my wifes ravioli skills).

In the end it turned out that even the item I was sure I was not going to like tasted good. I have never ordered seafood off of the internet and I don't know if I would ever just because of where I live, but if I wanted to provide someone out of town with a taste of Baltimore I wouldn't hesitate to go to the Crab Place's website and order up a taste of home for a friend in need.

*After writing this, I still feel odd about not paying for it. Maybe it’s just because this was my first time reviewing food I haven’t paid for. Maybe I just need more, ahem, practice (wink, wink). I’ll keep you posted as always my dear readers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What month is it again????

Yes. it's October. Yes, it has been a long time since my last post. Yes, the next time you see me you can punch me in the face. OK, so maybe not that last one.
I do have a good excuse. I have been dutifully preparing and executing the artwork for an art show that I am in. If you go downtown to Abacrombie restaurant (digs of Top Chef contestant Jesses Sandlin) I currently have twelve photographs hanging up on their lovely walls. Here are a few preview pics for your viewing pleasure. These are artist proof shots taken on my iphone. The actual prints are much richer in person, but with these you'll get the idea of what sort of food photography I do.
Electric Allium- Silver Gelatin Emulsion on Paper. 11 x 14-2009

Frank – Silver Gelatin Emulsion on Paper. 11 x 14-2009

Mistress Corn- Silver Gelatin Emulsion on Paper. 11 x 14-2009

I have been working on these photos for over six months and to finally get them out of my head and onto walls was greatly fulfilling and terrifyingly fun. One of my best friends Andrew Gleason is showing with me. I would try to describe the madnees that came out of his beautiful, twisted brain, but I would be doing him a disservice. He does ink transfer prints that are heartbreakingly stunning and vibrantly ass-kicking.

I will be updating new stories and post starting this weekend. The next post will be about how I was contacted by a crab delivery company to test out their products. You'll have to tune in in a couple of days to find out how it went, I'm not saying shit...... yet.

So get your asses down to Abacrombie, have a great meal cooked for you by a great chef and see some great (in my opinion at least) artwork.

See you in a few.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ch ch ch ch ch ch ch Cherry Bomb!

Is there a better harbinger of summer than the cherry? I mean, I'm not in school anymore so I don't give a shit about summer vacation and as far as going to the beach is concerned...... have you seen my complexion? Cherries perfectly time themselves around the beginning of the summer (June 21st) and last only a few months. So it is with this in mind that as soon as the cherries are ready to be plucked from their branches that I get excited to go out and pick a bunch.

Around the second week in June is when I start to get an itching for those little red drops of fruity goodness. It is also around the time that I started calling Lohr's Orchard and hoping that the recorded voice says that it is time to come over and pick your own cherries. When it was time, the wife and I woke up bright and early on a Saturday morning (11 am ) and headed on up to the orchard for a few hours of relaxation in the cherry trees.
After you have navigated your way through Lohr's agricultural maze to the cherry orchard, you find yourself in a small field full of cherry trees bustling with people all trying to pick a perfect crimson drupe. It is time to get to picking!
                               This was the contents of a ladies basket by us. (notice her form of stemming them before dropping it)
The first thing you realize is how shockingly red they are. We all know that cherries are, well cherry red, but damn these little fuckers are bright. They look like Christmas lights when the sun hits them the right way. Once you get over the sheer beauty of everything its now time to start grabbing. It's oddly relaxing up in the tree picking off the soft fruit. You're brain turns off and all you need to think about is "would I eat this?". If the answer is yes, then you pick it off the branch and pop it into your bag (a nice fabric one I hope). As time goes by you get into a rhythmic trance and before you know it, you've been in the trees for an hour or so.

After I had realized that we had been there for an hour, I asked my wife if she was satisfied with her haul and when she said yes we were ready to compare our plunder. She had picked way more than I did (in my defense I was taking pictures) and we realized that the total weight might have broken our previous years record by a pound or two. In the end we wound up picking 15 pounds which was up from 12 pounds last year. We were victorious, but then we remembered what happened to us last year. With dread we realized we were going to have to take them home and pit them ourselves. It took around 2 hours.

After the pitting, we looked like we murdered a bus full of nuns (or if you are disturbed by that image, how about a bus full of penguins. Better?). We were ready to eat, but there was no way in hell we could polish off 15 pounds of cherries in one sitting. Time to freeze.

After the cherries were pitted, all that was left to do was to put them on sheet trays and pop them into the freezer until frozen. From there, the frozen red marbles were scooped into a gallon size zip top bag for an indeterminate deep freeze.

Kept this way in the freezer, you can have individual cherries anytime you want. Although being able to pop them in your mouth frozen anytime you want is a good reason to freeze them this way (I do this constantly), there is another functional reason. If you were to just plop them all in a bag together at once, you would have a huge cherry colored block of ice that you could hack at with a butter knife.
So go get some cherries. Whether you pick them yourself, or buy them from a local farm at the farmer's market, they are a great and versatile fruit.


I will start posting cherry recipes as soon as the recipes start.