Category Archives: Personal

Po’ Boy? No Mo’ Boy…

There’s nothing quite like discovering one of your favorite places to eat has shut their doors. I mean, we’ve probably all experienced arriving on a day that they happen to be closed for a holiday or simply as part of their normal schedule–that we failed to check, but closed? Forever? Forevah-evah? While not the worst thing to happen in the world, it can certainly throw you for a loop.

DC New Orleans Po Boy Shop (Closed) For me, that moment happened yesterday at DC’s New Orleans Po Boy Shop whose doors have apparently been closed since December. It was not a favorite place for me because of the food–which was excellent, or the location–which was close but not super close, and certainly not for the hours since they weren’t open on weekends. It was mostly a comfortable place that I would visit every time I had blood drawn for lab work related to my cancer.

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Ice Sculpting… not just for weddings anymore!

I admit that I have pretty much given up on Food Network. In terms of programming, I will watch Barefoot Contessa, Good Eats and perhaps any rerun of a Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver show–both of which are now found more on The Cooking Channel. Nothing else interests me because they’ve just about gotten rid of every show that might remotely show you how to cook in a manner that makes it seem accessible. Any knowledgeable host was given the boot and replaced with a “celebrity chef” that’s more about food as a lifestyle. To a point, I was willing to accept this as simply part of changing trends. Food is something that a lot more people are paying attention to these days, whether for health reasons, political reasons or because they’re becoming foodies. Still, watching the step-by-step/recipe shows give way to travel shows, I Love the [decade] style shows about where their hosts have eaten, restaurant rehab programs and a show that examined/busted food myths–busting myths… where have I heard something like that before?–signified that it was no longer about the food. But at the least each new non-cooking show had at least the tiniest root in food & dining… until now.

Ice Brigade is a new show airing in March on Food Network. When I first heard the title, I thought it would be a new show on either History or Discovery Channel, but no, it’s a “food” show:

Ice Brigade follows Michigan-based chef Randy Finch and his team of renegade ice artists as they blow the lid off ice sculpting by developing original designs that defy the imagination. To these frozen outlaws, the standard wedding swans are simply huge ice cubes. The real thrill of their bone-chilling craft is to make life-sized and interactive creations like pool tables, bowling lanes, grand pianos, carousels and putt-putt courses. Armed with chain saws, chisels and sledge hammers, each episode features Randy and crew sculpting rock-solid ice blocks into out-of-this world art and delivering them to awestruck clients. No matter the job or locale, the mission remains the same: get the job done, before it all melts away.

I dunno about you, but that picture of a guy with snappy headwear, a chainsaw and a sledgehammer just screams “I have a new show on Food Network”… right? And I don’t discount the attractive inexpensive quality of a “documentary/reality show” but watching an ice sculpture company’s trials, tribulations and triumphs doesn’t exactly shout “food television” to me. Yes, ice sculpting is considered a culinary art, but I fear the direction things are going when a programming executive says, “Hey, you know ‘Ace of Cakes’? Why don’t we just make a bunch more shows like that?” picking the businesses to follow at random just like Bewitched‘s writers would choose what Endora would turn Darrin into on that week’s episode.

It isn’t that I don’t like reality shows–as it happens, I can’t stand them–but when Food Network still owns the rights to show their entire back catalog starring actual chefs and noted food writers it seems silly that, in an effort to maintain a “full” programming slate, they’d seek out new and loosely-food-related shows to put on instead. I suppose this falls under the category of “guy programming” which many networks–who were made popular by their female viewing demographic–are now trying to appeal to for… truck ads? I have no idea. But I suppose it’s a good thing that this show is airing just as Winter is over, otherwise we’d probably be hearing about a bunch of emergency room visits due to chainsaw slippage and sledgehammer bruises!

Knife Skills with Olga Berman (Mango & Tomato)

I don’t often blog about cooking tips or techniques because most of the dishes I make don’t require any special kitchen moves to get the job done. Most of the time, people aren’t standing over your shoulder as you cook, and depending on what you make no one will ever know how adept or clumsy you are. That said, I am now an extremely dangerous man with a chef’s knife.

Knife Skills class, in potentia. Olga Berman of Mango & Tomato taught an amazing knife skills class this weekend for a few local food bloggers. It was hosted by Adventures in Shaw with myself, Thrifty DC Cook, adventures of a florida girl in dc and One Bite At A Time in attendance. We all have varying levels of experience in the kitchen, but I think most of us either ignored our chef’s knives, or weren’t using them to their fullest potential. I personally love my Santoku-bladed knife, but I admit that it isn’t the best tool for every job. I mostly reach for it because it’s a slightly smaller blade than my chef’s knife and the handle suits my grip better than that of my Sabatier set. And sometimes when your kitchen surface area is reduced, you just want the one tool to have at the ready. Still, after this past Saturday’s class, I have newfound respect for the chef’s knife.

This is definitely a “100 level” class, as she went through the basics on how to prepare your knife before each use, the best type of cutting board–we both love Epicurean boards, and how to hold the knife. Of course, I’d been doing it all wrong thereby robbing myself of the naturally rhythmic cutting motion that a chef’s knife affords the wielder. After we had the proper grip and cutting motion, we moved to to food, starting with segmenting an orange. It isn’t a necessary technique for when the slices won’t be featured, but it’s an amazing effect for when they’re center stage. My technique wasn’t quite perfect with this as I couldn’t quite get the roundness I was looking for, but I was able to get a few pretty segments before my orange fell apart. Still, in this class, even your mistakes are yummy.

IMG_0744 From there we moved onto onions, learning two methods for dicing them: making perpendicular cuts into the onion–which is the method you’re mostly likely to see TV cooks use, and cutting with the natural grain of the onion. The latter being a more natural and faster technique, but for either one, you have to have good control of the knife and the food on the cutting surface. Both gave us nicely even diced onion pieces which were swiftly collected in a bowl and whisked away by our host… As it turned out, she was reaping the benefits of the class by planning to use our chopped veggies for dishes this week.

Working with potatoes, we learned basic cutting methods for strips, matchsticks and cubes which can be applied to many foods. We also learned a new way of cutting carrots to give more triangular cuts than the standard round chunks. I’ll be using that next time I roast something as more surface area is a good thing. After applying the same basic cutting method to garlic and learning how to mince parsley–also discussing the chiffonade method for leafy herbs, she ended the class with a bang: peppers. I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting until she showed us the following method:

It may take me a while before I’m able to do that, but it was certainly impressive and none of us had ever thought to avoid the ribs and seeds that way. Over the course of the class, I realized that my biggest problem is timing. When I cook for myself, I often lose track of what needs to be done when and I end up rushing through my prep. This usually leaves me with shoddily chopped veggies–though that doesn’t always matter–and the occasionally-nicked fingernail. With Olga’s instruction and surrounded by friends, I realized that it wasn’t (and isn’t) a race. Taking my time produced superior results, and learning the appropriate techniques still had me finishing quickly. I will also note that there were six of us dicing onions in close proximity, but with the right methods and sharp knives, none of us cried.

The class was a lot of fun, very hands on and Olga is a wonderful teacher. As we were wrapping things up, she made sure we asked questions, and using pen & paper was able to sketch out cutting techniques for other types of food that we didn’t have on-hand. If you and some friends are looking for a fun (and educational) foodie event, get in touch with Olga through her blog and ask about the class.

We all took some great photos of the class and our efforts. There’s a flickr group with fantastic shots by Shaw Girl and the rest of us. I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I was surprised at how much fun it actually was. I’m not really into classroom type situations, but this was non-competitive, non-judgmental and we had a lot of laughs.

If you want to hear more about the class or our other foodie exploits, look us up on twitter: @urbanbohemian, @MangoTomato, @Shaw_Girl, @ThriftyDCCook, @floridagirlindc & @frijolita. (Note: Some of us have protected accounts, and some of us may not follow back right away, if at all. But an @-reply will be seen if you have a specific question.)