Monday, January 28, 2008

Sondaisa's Branwyn Song at Camelot, July 1996 - January 2008

My good friends Tim and Robin have just lost their last remaining Akita (award-winning Akita, no less), Branwyn. She will be sorely missed by those of us who knew her, as we miss her late pack-mate Desi. Many toasts will be raised in her honor at this year's wine tasting, to be sure.

Tim and Robin, my deepest condolences go out to you.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sustainable Schadenfreude

I don't have anything to contribute to the ongoing shitstorm of controversy surrounding the fall of the House of Stein. I suppose I'm really just kicking a man when he's down, which admittedly is a little weak. But while I may be a slave to the snark, at least I'm writing my own damn words (if not using my own photo).

Michael Bauer, on the other hand, does have something to say about Stu Stein. So does Food Dude. And Willamette Week.

I fully expect to hear news in the not too distant future of Stein teaming up with Michael Hebberoy in Seattle...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Romancing the Swine: Pork Belly Confit

Now, tell me, what could be better than the fattiest cut of pork, cooked slowly in its own rendered fat, then preserved by submersion in its own fat, and later dug out of its own fat and deep fried in said fat? Did I mention pork fat? Obviously, not something you'd want to eat on a daily basis, but every now and then you have to throw caution to the wind and go for it, and for me that often involves pig.

This recipe took a circuitous route to get here. It's adapted from Veronica's adaptation of Jim Drohman's formula, as published in Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie.

2 oz kosher salt
2 Tbsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinammon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3 bay leaves, crushed and finely chopped
10 springs fresh thyme
2 lbs pork belly, skin removed and cut into 1 x 2 inch chunks
Rendered lard, about 3 lb
1 bottle dry white wine (Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc)

Combine salt, pepper, herbs and spices. Dredge pork belly chunks through this mixture to coat, pack into a nonreactive container, such as a stainless steel bowl, and cover with the wine:

Cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

Preheat oven to 250F. Remove pork belly chunks from the wine and pat dry. Pack into an oven-safe container deep enough that the chunks can be completely submerged in the lard. Melt the lard and pour it into the container and set on stove:

Bring to a simmer and place into the oven. Cook uncovered for 2-3 hours, until pork belly is fork tender. Allow to cool to room temperature. Add more rendered lard to cover if necessary. You want the meat to be completely submerged. Cover container with foil and store it in the fridge (the pork belly at this point is "confited," and will keep for up to two months).

Just prior to serving confit, pull container from fridge and place on stove over low heat to melt lard. Pull confited pork belly chunks from container, and pour off lard into a small saucepan, adding more if necessary. Heat lard to 340-350F (lard has a relatively low smoke point, around 360F. A candy/deep fry thermometer is more than useful here, it's pretty much a necessity). Deep fry confited pork belly, a few chunks at a time, in lard for 2-3 minutes. You can pan fry it as well, but deep frying will create a more even crust. I had something very similar to this once at Clyde Common, where they served it with stone ground mustard, pickled onions and an ice cold shot of vodka, a treatment that was damn near close to perfect.

Send any leftovers to the American Heart Association.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Toaster Review: The Sanyo SK-7 "Bagel Best"

A fancy new double-decker toaster, the Sanyo SK-7 "Bagel Best," recently appeared in the kitchen area of my workplace, which had previously been served - or should I say underserved - by something called "ToastMaster," which was neither. "ToastMaster" is standard in Mariott hotel rooms (my sleep lab is housed in a Mariott Residence Inn) and, it has to be said, couldn't toast itself out of a wet paper bag, even if said wet paper bag was dried out, doused in lighter fluid and set aflame, something my cousin Ted in his youth back in the 70s was a bit of an expert at and would've been happy to do. To make matters worse, "ToastMaster" is actually co-branded with Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, if you can believe that. "ToastMaster" must be destroyed! But I digress...

The Sanyo SK-7 "Bagel Best" is a huge improvement. So without further ado, I give you the very first Macerating Shallots product review...

First, a quick overview. As you can see from the photo, this toaster's design is characterized by economy of space. This makes it particularly appropriate for workplace kitchens, which are typically short on real estate. The SK-7 has two toasting surfaces, with heating elements at the top, bottom and middle. The sleep lab's example is early-nineties white (the SK-7W), but it's also available in more contemporary silver (the SK-7S). It packs 950 watts of power, measures 9.25"wide x 8.4"deep x 12.9"tall, and retails for around $55. The following scores are out of 5.

Ease of Use: 4
The SK-7 has only two controls, both of the knob variety. The knob on the right is the timer, which goes to 15 minutes. The knob on the left allows the user to determine which heating elements come into play in the toasting process, the four options being top rack only, bottom rack only, both racks and the "Bagel Best" setting. The really weird thing here is that the settings for both racks and "Bagel Best" do the same thing, which is to say both settings engage only the middle element. A setting that would engage the top and bottom elements together would be nice. Granted, that's not really an "ease of use" issue, but well, there you go.

Evenness of Toasting: 4
On repeated tests, the SK-7 toasted the top half of the bagel evenly. The bottom half, however, was toasted a just a bit more on the front than on the back. Pretty good, but not a perfect 5...

Speed/Efficiency: 2
This is the SK-7's only major drawback. Its 950 watts fall a bit flat, as my bagel had to wait nearly eight minutes to get a decent toast on. In my work environment, this isn't such a big deal, which is why I was generous enough to give it a 2, but if you're working within the increasingly typical 30-minute lunch break, those extra minutes really count.

Functionality: 4
Sanyo makes no conceit about the SK-7 being a toaster-oven. It's strictly a toaster. But a capacity for baking as well as toasting would be a simple adjustment on the part of Sanyo's industrial design staff, involving only the chip and the knob configuration, and would make this a much more useful product, even at a slightly higher price point.

Design: 5
Aesthetically pleasing. Perfectly proportioned. A champion space saver, the SK-7 is just large enough for two bagels at a time. Its glaring lack of power notwithstanding, the SK-7 got itself mad juju.

Overall Score: 3.8

Now, at this point you're probably asking yourself, "How can I get my boss to outfit the kitchen at my place of employment with a high-end toaster such as the Sanyo SK-7?" The answer is simple. Just bring in something that looks like this:

After 3 or 4 toaster fires, a Sanyo SK-7 will magically appear, I promise. Incidentally, that crusty old Black and Decker model, which served me so well for so many years, will be going home with my colleague Richard. I really hope he has fire insurance!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I Thought Kevin Martin Headed the FCC...

Not exactly surprising news here, but another of our esteemed public regulatory agencies has sold out the public in slavish obediance to its mandate to promote the interests of The Man, in this case Big Ag and Big Pharma. If you're reading this, chances are you've heard, or read, by now of the FDA's decision that meat and milk from cloned animals is every bit as safe as that from normal animals and need be neither labeled nor tracked. Never mind that most Americans don't want it and that most of the rest of the world won't import it. Never mind that the Senate has twice voted to delay the decision to allow for more research from the USDA and the National Academy of Sciences (the FDA decision was based at least in part on research provided by... wait for it... biotech firms such as Viagen and Trans Ova that own the cloning technology). And never mind the precautionary principle (remember Vioxx?). On the off chance that you haven't heard about this, you can read the Washington Post article here.

The Post article points out that meat from cloned animals isn't going to show up in your local Safeway tomorrow. The idea, apparently, is to clone specimens with favorable genetics and use the clones as breeding stock. Those animals' offspring are what may someday show up in your local Safeway (or more likely, have already shown up in your local Safeway; given the cloning industry's fast and loose approach to documention, it's likely that a fair amount of meat produced from the offspring of cloned animals has made it into the food supply by now - this from cloning industry officials, no less). In the meantime, for those of you who want to know more, the Center for Food Safety has a lot of good information on this, as well as a form letter, which you can edit, in support of the Mikulski/DeLauro Cloned Food Labeling Act, that will be automatically sent to your senator/representative (based on your zip code). These actually make a difference, even when sent by e-mail. I've just sent mine off, and I urge you to do the same (oh, come on, like you're not already on some FBI watchlist anyway)!

Oh, and if anyone out there knows of a creepier name for a company than "Trans Ova," please don't tell me what it is!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Calkins Lane Confidential

Some of you may have noticed that I've been away for a few weeks. Between studying for an upcoming Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists certification exam, fighting off the latest cold to go around, and an intense Deadwood binge, I've been neglecting the blog a bit. But I'm back in a blogging way, and thought I'd share with you all a look at my cousin's winery. The extended family came in from all corners of the country last weekend for Grandma's 95th birthday, and on the day before the big event, a bunch of us headed out to said winery. I, naturally, took my camera along and got some photos of the place.

Here's a shot of the vines, under a textbook Oregon January sky:

An interesting detail in the stairwell leading down to where the action happens:

This is the red fermentation room, where the red wines ferment (yes, I did figure that out all by myself, as a matter of fact):

And here's the "tank room," where the whites ferment:

Here we see barrels of wine aging in one of four temperature and humidity controlled "caves" (which are actually pre-fab culverts manufactured by a company in Tualatin):

And finally, a shot of uncle Flip, who makes his dime with an east coast janitorial supply company, extolling the virtues of a particularly magnificent specimen: