Tag Archives: blog

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!

In Praise of Nigella

Even though it’s unlikely, I have said that if Nigella Lawson were to do a book signing stop in DC this year, it would make 2010–cancer aside–the best year ever. Since Sara Moulton was dumped from Food Network and they’ve gone in new directions, the only shows that are my mainstays are Barefoot Contessa and whichever Nigella series they carry at the time. The other shows are background noise and none of the food personalities really seem to enjoy cooking as much as Sara, Ina or Nigella do.

The feminist cooking blog To Serve Woman has a guest post today extolling the virtues of Nigella and I absolutely agree:

Nigella stands out from these for the following reasons:

  1. She’s beautiful.
  2. She’s not as skinny as a twig.
  3. She takes an almost orgasmic pleasure in food.
  4. She uses stock cubes.
  5. She advocates the use of frozen peas.
  6. She doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a supermarket chain.
  7. She makes cooking risotto look almost worthwhile (why anyone should want to stand around stirring a pot continuously for about half an hour to produce a generally tasteless yet savoury version of a rice pudding, has always been beyond me).
  8. She comes down to the kitchen at midnight and wolfs down huge slices of chocolate cake.
  9. She has a body that looks as though she comes down to the kitchen at midnight and wolfs down huge slices of chocolate cake (although not on a daily basis).

Those last two points are what won me over. Not that it ever speaks to excess, but there’s nothing wrong with a midnight snack! If you’re a Nigella lover, check out the full article and the rest of their blog.

Dry Rubbed Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

It’s funny how things come full circle. Just over a year ago, I was starting to discover and connect with the DC foodie scene. My cooking posts were tossed in with the other things I wrote about in DC and if you’d mentioned a “food blog” to me, I would have laughed in your face. And well… here we are!

When I got my first crock pot, my inbox and IM windows were flooded with recipes to try and one that worked out well for me was a pulled meat style barbecue. It was ridiculously simple, put meat in the crock pot with a bottle of your chosen barbecue sauce and set on Low for six hours, shredding it at the seventh hour and simmering in the developed sauce. I shared the technique with a friend and ended up getting a mention as a “foodie friend” in her post on Pulled Pork. After looking back at that recipe, I decided to give it a try with a pork shoulder I recently picked up at the supermarket. Instead of a wet sauce, it uses a dry rub and relies on a bit of water and the pork’s fat to develop a sauce as it slowly cooks.

The dry-rub recipe is a “classic” from Cook’s Illustrated and the method is pure crock-pot with just a little bit of fiddling. You normally can leave things in the crock pot and walk away, but this requires some turning early on and obviously some shredding in the later hours:

  • one 6 to 8 lb. pork shoulder
  • 1/4 cup water (optional, depending on how much sauce you want to form)
  • spice rub
    • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
    • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
      (2 tsp if you like it spicy, I substituted chipotle pepper to trade heat for smokiness)
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
    • 4 tablespoons paprika
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon white sugar
    • 2 tablespoons salt

  1. Mix together the spice rub in a large ziploc/oven bag, shaking it to combine the spices thoroughly.
  2. Add the pork shoulder and vigorously shake the bag until the pork is fully covered in the spice rub.
  3. Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours/overnight. The longer the pork is allowed to marinate, the stronger the flavor will be.

Crammed into the crock!

On cooking day, remove the pork shoulder from the bag and place it in the crock pot. Discard any leftover spice that didn’t “cling” to the meat.

  1. Add the 1/4 cup of water, if desired, and place the pot on low.
  2. Cover the pot with the lid and allow to cook for 1 hour.
  3. After an hour, turn the pork shoulder over and continue to cook for 1 more hour.
  4. Turn the pork shoulder over one more time and let it continue to cook for another 4 hours.
  5. Check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize. If it is, shred the pork using a fork (or tongs–or bear paws!) and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during cooking.
  6. Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your crock pot and the desired flavor/texture.

Shredded and ready to serve

If your pork shoulder is closer to 8 pounds, you may need a longer cooking time and vice versa for smaller cuts of meat. Because of the fattiness of pork, it’s hard to mess this one up. Please note, this recipe makes a lot. It would be great made in advance of a picnic or party, but if you’re making this for just yourself, plan on a lot of leftovers!

To appease the BBQ purists out there, I admit that this isn’t barbecue. It was slow cooked using a steamed/simmering method, not slow-roasted over low heat on a grill/smoker. Some people like the charred bits that barbecue brings and if you feel that’s missing from this recipe, I advise that you remove the pork shoulder at about hour 5 or 6, place it on a baking or roasting pan and set it under the broiler for a few minutes per side to crisp up the edges before returning it to the crock pot for shredding. Just be careful moving the pork shoulder around at this stage as it’s quite ready to fall apart.

Even if it isn’t traditional barbecue, it will do for me in a pinch. Especially if I see that a planned cookout might be rained out, this wouldn’t be bad to have in the fridge as a backup dish. And while a sandwich is certainly the most satisfying serving method for the pork, I could also see it going over couscous or steamed rice, rolled up in a wrap with chopped veggies or even tossed with some cheese into an omelette for brunch. As I said, you’re going to have a lot of it, so if you and your guests aren’t feeling piggy–pun intended–when it’s first served up, plan ahead to freeze some or make some unique dishes with the leftovers. Enjoy!

Chopper’s Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

We all have our standby recipes that are, first and foremost, easy. They may also be impressive, but like a well-known commercial illustrates, they really aren’t any trouble at all. And then there are those recipes that may happen to be easy, but are also chosen clearly to knock people’s socks off.

Parchment off, ready to travel

I first made this cake nearly 4 years ago when some friends were getting together for a cooking night. I’d never tried making any sort of mousse before, let alone into a cake, so I was pretty nervous about it. Mostly I was nervous about dealing with egg whites as I’d heard so many horror stories about how easy it is to screw up trying to whip them! Armed with that experience though, I was able to triumph this time around with no problems at all. I even decided to add a little snowflake effect to the top of the cake as a symbolic way to say goodbye to DCs snowy season–one hopes.

The recipe is not mine, but comes from Belly Timber, where Chef “Chopper Dave” adapted some recipes to develop a chocolate/hazelnut cake base, a chocolate mousse center layer and a chocolate ganache top. Since this is proper baking, a scale is best, but I was able to make adequate conversions to survive without one. And as the recipe is in three distinct parts, you’re not rushed to make sure everything is happening at once and I had time to make and eat dinner between the mousse setting in the freezer for a while and whipping together the ganache.

I wouldn’t say this is easy for the absolute beginner, but if you’re looking for a recipe with impressive results that draws on basic techniques, this is a great recipe for you. Plus, if you’re serving it to chocolate lovers, it won’t have to be perfect anyway!

We Brunch Hard

It’s like I keep telling people, brunch isn’t just some cutesy little meal for the chicks and the gays, brunch ain’t no joke! Baratunde Thurston just linked to this on twitter. Not normally known for his food-related comments, I clicked through and found the official anthem “We Brunch Hard” (there’s a tiny bit of blue language) from Elon James White of This Week in Blackness and The Brooklyn Comedy Company:



Follow it up with the Salon article, Brunching While Black: The birth of #webrunchhard. I’ve written plenty about the defense of brunch, even disagreeing with Amy Sedaris about it. It’s not just a late breakfast, it’s not just an excuse to drink while the sun is up, it’s brunch, son and y’all better recognize!

Southern Lazy Sunday

Sweet Iced Tea and Chicken n' Dumplings

I can’t always be bothered to take photos of the entire meal from prep to finish, especially when it isn’t my recipe! Plus it’s a crock pot meal and believe me, there’s a good six to eight hours when they aren’t exciting in the least. Chris over at Ramblings of a Hopeless Khowaga posted this recipe for slow cooker chicken n’ dumplings that was passed along to him. Even though we aren’t feeling the bite of chilly fall/winter yet, I’m loving my crock pot meals and this one was too easy.

While I might pester him for more specific measurements, and I skipped the cornstarch completely as he didn’t mention it–it still made for an amazing dish. The vague spices ingredient is really a doorway for you to give it your own additional flavor. I tossed garlic cloves into mine before cooking and then some diced garlic in after the biscuit dough for both the sweet and the bite. This recipe would easily make enough for a week for one, a few nights for a couple and perhaps dinner and next-day lunches for more than that.

The iced tea was more an afterthought to show off some of the new glasses I bought at IKEA, but rest assured, it was made in the Southern way: brewed with flavor and loaded with sugar. (Or in this case artificial sweetener, but in iced drinks, you can’t tell.)

100 Restaurant No-Nos?

I was waiting for this list to be complete before saying anything about it. NYT writer/blogger Bruce Buschel has written a list of 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do in two parts:

New York Times Herewith is a modest list of dos and don’ts for servers at the seafood restaurant I am building. Veteran waiters, moonlighting actresses, libertarians and baristas will no doubt protest some or most of what follows. They will claim it homogenizes them or stifles their true nature. And yet, if 100 different actors play Hamlet, hitting all the same marks, reciting all the same lines, cannot each one bring something unique to that role?

Even though he only seems to mention servers in his introduction, I would note that some of these items aren’t solely the server’s responsibility even if the customers are inclined to only blame the server for them. Still there are a lot of good points and it makes you wonder when our expectations as diners are either too high or when they’ve become too low.

Some of my favorites:

  • Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, “Are you waiting for someone?” Ask for a reservation. Ask if he or she would like to sit at the bar.
  • Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition.
  • Do not bring judgment with the ketchup. Or mustard. Or hot sauce. Or whatever condiment is requested.
  • Do not serve salad on a freezing cold plate; it usually advertises the fact that it has not been freshly prepared.
  • Do not ask if a guest needs change. Just bring the change.

I’m usually never a fan of “blog entries” that just consist of lists, but these two articles seem fairly well thought out, if a bit heavily weighted on the side of the patron. And 100 items does seem a lot, though after reading them through, there’s a lot of common sense mixed in with general hospitality rules. Still, I’m not going to keep this list in my pocket and judge my dining server experiences by it!