In Cooking, The Egg Comes Before The Chicken

How do you know that you like to cook, or will have the desire to cook in the future? It comes down to the basic necessity of a simple egg. Ask most chefs, and they will ask a new recruit to cook an omelet or egg to determine the aptitude of the chef. Yes, a simple egg. Before you can cook the chicken you must learn to cook the egg.

If you merely want to cook an egg well then you have the right attitude for cooking. That’s pretty simple rule, and you don’t have to go to culinary school to find out.

My daughter Alessandra reminds me of this rule every time we cook eggs. She will throw a fit worthy of an old school French chef if her eggs are not cooked right. There is absolutely no room for any white in her scrambled eggs, and she will not eat the eggs unless the white streaks are either removed or the eggs are  re-cooked. Spoiled girl? Not really, she just wants her egg the way she prefers and there is nothing wrong with that, but the tantrum is history. Her demand does brings back memories, and I apologize to my grandmother (rest her soul), of how I used to act when eggs were not scrambled correctly. At 5, I would tell my grandmother that she was cooking it all wrong and I would jump up and cooked the egg myself. Bless my grandma for not killing me, and allowing me to cook over the stove at a very early age. My wife doesn’t quite understand why I think it’s amusing that Alessandra demands a perfect egg, but it brings back memories. Less than perfect memories, but memories never-the-less.

The white streaks are a result of cooking the egg on an overly hot pan and while there is nothing wrong with country scrambled eggs, she prefers the eggs fluffy and light. Luckily I remember watching Jacques Pepin on T.V. many years ago,and how he cooks scrambled eggs or an omelet. If you watch this you-tube video from Jacques Pepin you can see how masterful he is with all types of egg cookery. If you want to see how to make two types of omelet, then watch Jacques on this omelet video.

Jacques Pepin makes it look stupid easy, but it’s not. His show on PBS will always be a favorite of mine. Information about his show: (KQED – Jacques Pepin). He has so much knowledge from being a chef and his ability to teach via television is second to none.

I cook Alessandra’s egg very similar to the French style omelet, making sure the curds are very small. If I have time, I will cook scrambled eggs over a double boiler and allow the eggs to firm up slowly and keeping the egg a beautiful dark yellow-orange color. I practice egg cookery every weekend since it’s quick and easy to practice. Having a good non-stick pan is crucial and it’s okay to keep the heat on medium-low.

I am not sure if Alessandra will keep up the cooking bug, but I hope her cooking standards remain high.

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Thanksgiving

As a home cook, the week of thanksgiving is all about the food. Do I have everything?, is everything cooked properly?, and does it taste okay? During that time you forget why you are having that meal in the first place. As I remember the whirlwind of last week, I do have to say thank you for having one of the best Thanksgivings in a long time.

It was special because I got to spend two days with my beautiful 3-year-old daughter who was a perfect teammate.  She helped me pick up some fresh pork belly that was 2 hours away and do all of the thanksgiving dinner shopping together. The time at the park and hanging out watching TV or play was icing on top of the cake.

Then we had my wife’s parents in town, and it was one of the first times my mother in-law was able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner without the hassles of cooking herself. To have all of us around the table was very special. Cooking is a lot of work but when you allow people to enjoy the holidays, it worth every minute of prep and cook time. I am thankful they were able to make the trip to visit us. Going shopping and seeing Alessandra take a photo with Santa for the first time was very neat.

I am thankful for my wife and daughter who make everything possible, and to all of family who always support me. We don’t talk on the phone every day, but when trouble comes I can always count on them.

I want to send a special thanks to Jerry and Jane Patopea, and Gary and Sheri Zellner. We own a dog that is so perfect, and the best handler is training her. I am glad that I was on the short list to get one of the puppies. Her name is Princess of Monaco “Grace”.

Thanksgiving  is about giving thanks for the past, but also for the future help that you will get. Once the leftovers are gone or thrown away,  it still is a good time to say thank you for everything you have.  I sure will.

Happy Thanksgiving and happy holidays!

Ben Marco Malbec 2008

This is the last review from my trip down memory lane of my most memorable travel destinations, Mendoza Argentina. If you have traveled to Buenos Aires or to the other large city of Rosario you will feel “big city” life. People are busy, people need to get from place to place, and it’s not conducive to openness. As the third largest city in Argentina, Mendoza is much different because the people are far friendlier, and there is warmth from this city that is very rare. When I first traveled to Argentina I spoke nearly no Spanish except from a phrase book, and when I did speak Spanish, it was horrendous. This didn’t stop me from walking the city and meeting some of the nicest people in the world.

There was Pedro who was my ambassador taxi/remise driver who saved me from renting this car at the airport. If you would have seen this car it barely fit my suitcase and it would have never made it to the Andes. Despite the fact that the all of the banks were closed due to the national banking crisis he still took it upon himself to show me around the wineries, the mountains, and the club on my last night. Only charging me enough so he wouldn’t get in trouble with the boss. It’s where I learned the term, go to the club with your sunglasses on and leave with your sunglasses on. Yes, those clubs are up all night to the wee hours of the morning.

There there were the kids playing in the main square would always wave to me every day and practice their one or two words of English. They felt so proud and those smiles have remained in my memory for ten years now. From the grocery store clerks to the wine merchant who opened a bottle of champagne for me to drink with him and his family while I shopped. I don’t have one bad memory from my week-long visit. I want to go back to Mendoza this winter for the warmth of the sun and the people, and if you ever have the chance to visit any town in Argentina, Mendoza is number one, and Bariloche is number two.

In saving my best memory of Argentina, I have saved my favorite reasonably priced Malbec for last. The 2008 Ben Marco Malbec is an absolute gem. From your first drink you will know that this is a medium-bodied wine with a ton of flavor. As I mentioned in my previous post, a Malbec is best enjoyed slowly, and with more air it will really open up and please your palate. Each drink will produce a layered and long lasting fruity finish. It’s hard to explain, but this wine is produces such a great sensation while you drink it. The wine is not overly complex, but when you drink it young it really surprises you with the layers of taste it has. I am looking forward to having a bottle of Ben Marco tonight to enjoy the finish of another week and to look forward to Thanksgiving.

I cannot say enough about this wine because I have enjoyed this Malbec over many of its past vintages. Wine Spectator has consistently rated it 90 or more since 2001. With the 2008 there is 10% Bonarda grapes which really blends well with the Malbec grapes to produce a smooth wine. For a price that is regularly below $20 you are not risking much to give this wine a chance.

Alto Cedro Malbec Año Cero 2008

In December 2001, I went to Argentina for my very first time and I fell in love with this country and especially, Mendoza.  One of the mandatory requirements, besides wine drinking, is going to the Parque General San Martín. It is larger than New York’s Central Park and is beautiful in every way. Watch the crew teams row on the lake or relax on the grass lawns. It is such a lovely park to spend time in. See the map (map) There are also many other smaller parks and the central square that are also special and worth visiting. Remember that during our winter it’s summer time in Argentina. A great place to escape the winter blues.

This the second part of three, describing wines that remind me of this trip. My criteria is that they are affordable, drinkable, and have a distinct flavor. This wine is a Malbec from Alto Cedro and it’s important to note that they make two types of Malbec. I am reviewing the 2008 Alto Cedro Malbec Año Cero or Zero Year. 30% of the grapes are aged for six months in French oak barrels and is designed for immediate easy drinking. If you go to the wine store and buy this wine you will be able to drink it right away without concern. There is also a Alto Cedro Malbec Reserva that is more complex and full bodied and is designed for the full bodied wine enthusiast.

The Alto Cedro Malbec Año Cero 2008 did not disappoint my continued journey of Mendoza wines. I really enjoyed this Malbec’s full bodied nature, and firm flavors that remained fresh. One of the reasons I like Malbec so much is the amount of enjoyment that each drink offers, you don’t have to drink Malbec fast and a little goes a long way. This wine brings warmth to your entire body and will soothe your soul. There are other Malbec’s that may rate better, but for a price range of $16-$19 this wine is a suitable buy, and it is fine drinkable wine.  I had two bottles of this wine and enjoyed them both very much.  Despite the low price, it still rates very well among industry wine reviewers and fellow wine drinkers.

As Malbec’s go, the 2008 Año Cero is a great fit for those trying a Malbec for the very first time. I would pair this wine with a nice steak, or even a hamburger. It has the character to really enhance bold flavors from your meal.

Prices range from $16-$19/ bottle and you can see the winery and more detail at this link……. (Alto Cedro 2008)

Alessandra’s Desire To Cook A Whole Fish

For months my daughter has wanted to cook an entire fish, not a piece or a half of a fish, the entire fish. It needed to have two eyeballs, gills, and the mouth. Since she doesn’t eat a lot of fish I would continue to get my salmon (Alaska Wild Caught) and Pacific Halibut for my wife and I. Needless to say, my daughter would be upset that we didn’t get the whole fish. “Dad, I want to eat the eye!!” I listened in horror, but smiled at the same time, as it takes a brave little girl for even thinking of eating an eyeball. Was her Asian roots materializing? Alessandra quickly quipped, “I want the red fish next time“, pointing to the Red Snapper. I promised that we would cook her whole fish soon, and after a couple of days, we went shopping.

On Friday afternoon, I picked her up from school and we went to Whole Foods for the necessary ingredients, and the snapper. The plan was to cook the entire fish in a mound of kosher salt, stuffed with lemongrass, orange, parsley, thyme, and salt and pepper. Alessandra pushed that little cart with desire and focus as we picked up each key ingredient. Her excitement was so cute.Unfortunately, the whole fish supply was out for the day, so we left with our mise en place (fancy words for ingredients). We would tackle the fish in the morning for an early Saturday dinner.

As you can tell, Alessandra’s excitement of cooking an entire whole fish hadn’t subsided from a night of sleep. She reminded me that morning of my obligation to complete the fish cooking activity, so off we went to the market to get her fish. Looking at the available fish we had to pass on the Red Snapper since it wasn’t fresh enough, but we did end up with a 2 lb Stripped Bass.  Stripped bass would bring an appealing dish for even a 3-year-old. The crew at Whole Foods cleaned and scaled the fish for us before we left. For prospective parents trying to get their kids to cook with them, don’t introduce cleaning and gutting a fish for a while. Leave the imagery of fish guts for later and stick to the fun stuff.

The game plan was for her to cook the fish, and I was going to cook a Spanish fish stew to serve with the fish. After I got the ingredients cut up and ready, Alessandra went to work. Alessandra stuffed the fish with orange slices, then with the parsley and thyme, lemon grass, and then some salt and pepper. Overall pretty easy. Of course she had to poke the fish eyes a couple of times.  Then the real fun begins as we emptied two boxes of Kosher salt into a bowl and poured some water into the salt to make it slushy for her to mold around the fish. She stirred the salt mixture with determination with her spatula while salt flew in the immediate vicinity. In a baking dish she poured 1 /3 of the salt mixture into the baking pan and made a bed of salt for the fish, just enough to cover the side of fish that is facing down. She placed the fish  a bed of salt and cover it, as illustrated by Alessandra. It’s very important that you cover the entire fish and to make sure there is no cracking or exposed areas of fish . You are cooking the fish and the goal of the salt is to keep the moisture inside the crust.

Alessandra had a blast cooking this fish, and in the end you got a perfectly cooked fish inside a rock hard salt crust. To get the fish, crack the salt crust at the spine of the fish and carefully remove the salt from the fish. The fish is ready immediately to eat. As shown in the picture of the cooked fish, is the pine nuts recipe from Joyce Goldstein. Story and recipe from Carolyn Jung, a James Beard award-winning writer. Follow her on twitter @CarolynJung or follow her posts on www.foodgal.com The fish was then added to the stew and then topped with pine nuts, peas, and some basil for garnish.

Here is the recipe, and the only change was the method of cooking the fish. We didn’t cook the fish per this recipe, but the overall dish was very easy to make and a great way to spend a day cooking with my little princess chef. She didn’t eat the eye, but she did eat all of her fish.  recipe is here:

For the fish follow these guidelines. With your oven @ 425-450 degrees For a small (2-3 pound) fish, bake 20-30 minutes. For a 5 pound fish, 40-45. For a 6 to 7 pound monster, give it about 60 minutes. I’ve seen other methods that ask for egg whites instead of water to create a stiffer salt paste, and some don’t scale the fish to prevent the salt leaching into the flesh. Overall this entire method is very stress free and perfect for a dinner party as the magician as you pull out a fish from a pile of salt!!!