Archive for May, 2011

May 29, 2011

Meat and Greet: Welcome to Grilling Season!

by Jen Wanous

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!  In honor of the christening of summer, and of my bestie, Bridgie’s b-day today, this post is on her favorite grilled goodness: ribs.  I know, fire and raw meat can be scary, but don’t be afraid, YOU can do it!  Light up that barbie and get the the choicest cuts this summer, your taste buds will thank you.

This week, I took a pig butchering class.  I thought it would be a good to balance my resume given my mostly vegetarian culinary training.  Plus, pork is my favorite meat product and it’s time that we properly met.

When I walked into the class, they had cozies and cans of Bud waiting.  Half a pig was splayed out on a stainless steel table and a pack of giddy Wall Street guys were beside themselves with anticipation.  I was less emotionally moved by the half carcass than I thought I would be. More intriguing was discovering the exact location where bacon and lard live.  Hand-held hack saws were used and two very sharp knives.   The two cans of Bud I had downed by the middle of the class made it all seem more like a fun butchering party than anything else.  Following the natural arcs of bone structure and muscles made for a surprisingly easy deconstruction of this 120 pound pig.

With the sanitized industrialization of food production, we have become so disconnected from the source of our food.  We are used to our boneless, skinless chicken breasts in styrofoam plastic-wrapped perfect portions.  We get grossed out by meat product that resembles what it looks like in life and we are paralyzed by the risk of contamination.  Be brave my friends, get different cuts of meat and be creative in how you cook it.  Of course, grilling is one of the best ways to bring some cuts of meat to their prime glory.

There are several different types of ribs to get.  Country Style Ribs are the meatiest consisting of the rib end of a pork loin.  Spare Ribs have great flavor, a good balance of fat and meat and are therefore loved by BBQ enthusiasts.  They are the large ribs that you would usually picture at a BBQ.  They require a low heat and slow cooking method.  Baby Back Ribs are smaller and have a pronounced curve to them. They are not as fatty as spare ribs and for that reason require less cooking time.  They are more expensive then spare ribs and if over cooked can turn out tough.  St. Louis Cut Ribs are often confused with baby backs but they are less curved and have more fat and meat on the bone.

Get the highest quality of meat you can afford.  Even if you have to sacrifice quantity, your body and environment will thank you.

Here is a link to a website that will walk you through step-by-step on how to BBQ ribs with your charcoal grill.  Click here.

May 23, 2011

A Quick Pickle: Veggies and Ginger

by Jen Wanous

My school’s equivalent of a thesis is a dinner that our class crafts from start to finish for 100 people. In preparation for this event, I have been testing out different pickling recipes for a preliminary tasting at school tomorrow.

I don’t know about you, but for me pickling seemed like this mysterious process that somehow kept things consumable for a really long time and turned out some salty vineagary  goodness.  I wasn’t sure exactly how this happened though.  With a little Googling, I came to find out that it is really quite a simple process and, like most good food, it just takes a little bit of forethought.

Along the way, I also discovered that pregnant women crave pickles for a reason!  It’s not just an old wives tale.  Fermented foods contain a naturally occurring chemical called tyramine that acts as a stimulant for hormonally charged pregnant women.  Also, fermented foods are good for people who are dealing with depression.

Below are two recipes for pickled products.  One is for wasabi pickled veggies and the other is for pickled ginger (which we all know and love from sushi restaurants).  Enjoy these pickled condiments on your next burger, sandwich, or as a garnish for any plate.

Wasabi Pickled Veggies

Equipment you will need:

  • Large pot
  • Glass jars and lids
  • Tongs
  • Veggies (carrots, radishes, onion, peppers, etc)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • One lime, juiced
  • 1 Tablespoon wasabi powder
  • One bay leaf
1.  Prepare your jars by first sanitizing them.  Bring a big pot of water to a boil and add your glass jars and lids.  Boil for 15 minutes.  Use tongs to carefully remove.
2.  Deseed peppers and slice all your veggies.  Put them in the jar, as full as possible.
3.  Combine the salt, sugar, vinegars and lime juice in a pot.  Bring to a boil, until all the sugar and salt is dissolved.  Add wasabi powder and bay leaf.
4.  Pour over veggies in the jar.  Make sure the liquid covers everything.  Add the lid.  Let it come to room temperature and then store in the fridge.  They will taste best 3-4 days later and can keep for months.  (Just make sure the liquid is always covering the veggies.)  Yields about 14oz.

Easy Peasy Pickled Ginger

Instead of spending $5 on this at the store, make some at home!  This recipe makes a small 4oz jar.

  • 3 inch fresh ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown rice vinegar
1.  Sanitize the jar and lid by boiling in water for 15 minutes.
2.  Peel ginger and slice thin, or cut little matchsticks.
3.  Add the salt to the ginger, toss and set aside for an hour.  Then blot with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.  Put ginger in the jar.
4.  Bring the sugar and vinegar to a boil until the sugar is dissolved.
5.  Pour liquid over the ginger in the jar to fill to the brim.  Put lid on.  Let it come to room temperature then put in the refrigerator.  Use after 3-4 days and keep for months!
May 16, 2011

The Beatuy and Glamor of Culinary School

by Jen Wanous

After shelling fava beans for hours, fingers wrinkled and back sore, this Cinderelli was able to go to the ball.  And what a ball it was!  The James Beard Award gala is the Oscars of the culinary world.  No expense was spared.  With a black tie dress code and food from some of the best chefs in America, I was was wowed by the glitz and glamor of the evening.  The chef from my prospective internship, Gabrielle Hamilton took Best Chef of New York City!  In her acceptance speech she said,  “All you have to do is open a can of sardines and a box of Triscuits, call it a signature dish, and you get Best Chef New York City.”  Another reason why I think this woman is so awesome.  Even after winning best chef of New York City, she abstained from pretentiousness.

My date, Annie and I indulged in some of the 30 odd dishes available –  a smorgasbord of gourmet samplings from the top chefs in the country.  I smiled when I saw the smoked sea scallops and fava beans.  The day before I had worked with chef Timon Balloo of Sugar Cane restaurant of Miami to prepare that dish.  I told Annie and every other person in earshot , that I shelled those favas!!  I was proud to be a part to the event from the inside out.  As an Events Manager prior to starting culinary school, I was often on the inside of events, rarely able to enjoy them.  This time though, I was able to have the inside scoop and be able to fully partake and appreciate what exactly went into pulling an event like this off.   Back to the food:  we had caviar on prosciutto, octopus carpaccio, pulled pork on grits, salmon sashimi…and the top distilleries were handing out the latest cocktail concoctions.  Big ice cubes were all the rage and we enjoyed a Hendrick’s Gin drink poured over one of the giants.  We made small talk with the co-owner of the Spago chain and nodded a hello to Jacues Pepin.  It’s fun to be famous!

Meanwhile, back at school, we had a week of baking.  From cakes to pies to cookies, we rolled out some beautiful gems of sculpted sugar.  We learned how to make most treats vegan and some even gluten-free.  They all were delicious.  Stay tuned for a gluten-free baking post.

May 9, 2011

Special of the Day: Soft Shell Crabs

by Jen Wanous

While upstairs in the kitchen, during a busy 7pm dinner rush, Mashama asked me to get the soft shell crabs for her. I thought this would be a simple task, like fetching the garlic chives or the Serrano peppers I had brought up earlier. In the cool recess of the refrigerator walk-in, I saw the large plastic bin labeled “Crabs; Be Careful!” with little ventilation cuts takes taken out of the top.  Seeing those, I quickly put together that these soft shell crabs were still living! Suddenly, a little guy inside the box flailed its pinchers at me. Certainly, I wouldn’t be killing these crustaceans. I would just go up stairs and let them know that they had not been prepared and someone else would do it because I hadn’t a clue of how to.

Back upstairs, Mashama told me to bring her a crab so she could show me how to prepare them. With a snip of the sharp kitchen scissors, the crab’s face, butt, some of its shell and part of its inner workings were gone. She held them with such confidence and ease that I took the box of 14 wiggling crabs downstairs, each step telling myself that it would be okay, that I just had to do it, it wasn’t a big deal. With scissors in hand, I went to grab for the first one and it grabbed back! I flinched and might have squealed out loud too. I was so glad that no one else was downstairs to watch me freak out. And there, on the sanitary, industrial steel tables, I took a deep breath and snipped the face off of the first crab. Of course, it wiggled a bunch, and I dropped it, so I had to pick it up again and cut its tail off, then the pokie parts of its shell and then pull up the flaps of its sides to scrape out the gills. Its eyeball cavities oozed grey and green gelatinous substances and even with its face off, it still was flailing about. At first I was afraid that it would pinch me but then I realized that the claws weren’t actually grabbing anything, probably because of their small, pre-exposure-to-a-rough-life-to make them hard shells.

To get through the rest of the 13, staring googily-eyed in front of me, I started things like, “You were such a good crab. I’m sorry I have to cut your eyes off now. Thanks for being so big, someone will really love eating you.”  And other things, some even in a whisper, out loud, to myself, “You can do this. Only 10 more.”  My heart was racing and tight. It was comforting to remember that the owner of this restaurant (the person who essentially bought these crabs) had recently written a book telling about her first experience killing a creature. It was a chicken and she told about how hard it was and the delicate balance of life and death. It was deep. And here I was, in her kitchen, channeling her courage and before I knew it, the 14th tail had been chopped off and I was done! I marched my way upstairs, so proud of myself, arms extended, chest puffed and Mashama took them with a quick “Thanks.” and went on, in the fiery heat of the sauté station to make the seven orders in front of her.


Prune is the restaurant where I hope to do my culinary school internship. The owner, Gabrielle Hamilton is nominated for Best Chef at tomorrow night’s James Beard Awards (the Oscars of the food world). Her book is called, “Blood, Bones and Butter”.

May 1, 2011

Strawberries on the Cheap: Things to Consider When Buying Food

by Jen Wanous

If you know me, you know that I love a good bargain!  That’s why, the other night, when I saw a guy selling strawberries off of a card table for a buck on the side of the street, I got two!  Of course, these ripe spring jewels were not of the organic variety – those cost $6 at my local food coop.  Every time we make a food purchase, we are confronted with ethical, nutritional and financial decisions.  This time, for me, the financial component took precedence, but it doesn’t always.  Below are some things that I consider when choosing food.  Next time you are at the grocery or at a makeshift fruit stand on the side of the street, you can consider these things too.

Is it local? 

Is it organic?

Does it look ripe and fresh? 


I put local at the top of my criteria because buying local supports your local farming community, reduces the carbon footprint by cutting out shipping fuel and ensures that you’ll be eating fresh, seasonal food.  Your local farmer’s market will have a great selection of food that is grown within 150 miles and Whole Foods is stepping up its game now by sourcing products locally too.

Organic means that the food has been certified to be free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, does not contain genetically modified organisms and is not subjected to irradiation.

Okay, this is quite the package to unpack, but here are some highlights:

Pesticides and chemical fertilizers keep the bugs off but poison the consumer and the environment.  The runoff from farms pollutes our waters and has health risks ranging from mild skin rashes to more significant environmentally-derived health problems like cancer and birth defects.

GMO food has been messed with on a genetic level.  We are talking DNA here.  Scientists, paid by monopoly seed producers and pesticide producers (like Monsanto) go into the DNA of a seed and change it to be resistant to chemicals or bugs, or anything.  The effects of DNA splicing in the food we ingest has unforeseen consequences.  Do you really want to eat food that has genetically modified DNA?

Irradiation is something that I had not heard about before I started culinary school.  I was amazed to discover that most of the non-organic food that we get in grocery stores has been exposed to low levels of radiation.  It is used to increase shelf life by killing bacteria, viruses and insects on food, including meat.  This process of exposing food to radiation has many drawbacks. Some of these possible issues are that it masks food that could be spoiled, it impairs flavor and, hello, we are eating food that’s been exposed to radiation.

All this being said about organic foods, we still have to consider that a healthy adult person has the immune capacity to deal with some non-organic products.  It’s not a must to buy all organic, just try to.

Here is a list of the “dirty dozen”, which are foods that you want to get organic, if possible:

1. Meat

2. Milk

3. Coffee

4. Peaches

5. Apples

6. Sweet bell peppers

7. Celery

8. Strawberries

9. Lettuce

10. Grapes

11. Potatoes

12. Tomatoes

Here is a little tip when buying produce to tell what you’re getting. 

We all see them and peel them off whenever we eat a piece of fresh fruit.  They are the stickers with numbers and they have a secret code so that you can tell what you are buying.

–  4 digit number means conventional (grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers)

–  5 digit number and starts with a 9 means organic

–  Starts with the number 8, then it’s been genetically modified

To find out more about organic food, you can check out:

Food Inc. (movie)

The Future of Food (movie)

The Ethical Gourmet by Jay Weinstein (book)

Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan (NY Times article)

Organic Food, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetic modification, irradiation, all on Wikipedia.