Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Return Of Recipes! Roasted Beet and Wild Rice Salad



Coffee and a rainy sunday afternoon are the perfect combination to facilitate a day dedicated catching up reading Critical Distance, making end-of-the-year mixtapes and, as promised, typing up some new recipes. Winter may not have been the most auspicious time to rejoin the Silverlake Farms CSA, but from past experience I've found whether it be red kobocha squash or freshly picked beets, there are plenty of interesting items to challenge my cooking skills.

In this recipe, I'm happy to be able to share one of my favorite kitchen tricks, which is using both the beets and their greens. If you haven't ever cooked with beet greens, don't worry at all — slice them off the top of the beet and lay them on the counter and you'll realize it won't take too much imagination to think of them like chard or kale.


Roasted Beet and Wild Rice Salad
Serves 4 As A Main

1 small sweet onion (1/2 of a larger onion), chopped
1 cup wild rice
1.5 lb beets w/greens (3 large beets), greens thoroughly washed, stemmed and sliced in to thin strips (1/4")
1/4 walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tbs + 1tbs olive oil (divided)
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
2 tsp nice sherry vinegar (white balsamic or champagne vinegars would work as well)
small handful of fresh basil, sliced in to very thin strips
1/4 c. chèvre cheese, crumbled (goat feta or even crumbly blue cheese works great as well)
salt and pepper to taste

1) Roast the beets: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop off the greens 1" from the top of the beet and reserve. Wash beets. Wrap each beet individually in foil. Bake for 60 minutes on a baking, or until they are tender when poked with a fork. Let cool. Once cool, remove the skin using your fingers  (it should come off fairly easily if they are cooked through.) Cut in to 1/2" cubes.

2) Make the wild rice: Wash the rice well in a strainer. Put rice, 4 cups water and 1/2 tsp salt in a kettle. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat and gently simmer for about 45 minutes. Uncover and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain excess water if necessary. Fluff with a fork and let cool a bit.  

3) Make sure to thoroughly wash the reserved beet greens since they tend to be quite dirty. I prefer to soak them in cold water for five minutes and then wash them. Dry the greens in a salad spinner or on paper towels. Cut out the stems (and discard) then slice the remaining leafy parts in to thin strips (1/4"). 

3) In a skillet heat 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions with a pinch of salt until soft, 4-6 minutes.

4) Add the beet greens and sauté until just barely tender but still bright green. 

5) Empty the onions and greens mixture in to a large bowl. Mix in the walnuts, rice, basil and beets.  

6) Add 1tbs olive oil (use the good stuff for this part), vinegar, lemon juice, pepper to taste and mix. Taste for salt and adjust.

7) Serve with crumbled cheese on top. 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Brief Update


Hello everyone! It's been a couple months since I made a post here, but it's been for good reasons. I've been working like crazy, both professionally and artistically. Between taking trips to NYC and Chicago for work and getting the first stages of my project about professional video gaming as well as planning a trip to PhotoLudica.

The next post I have planned is a rundown of my favorite albums from 2012, but in the mean time feel free to check out some of the of revised portfolio at my site, especially "Romance," my project about Renaissance Faire architecture. If you want some good reading, head over to Critical Distance, which compiles the most fascinating and challenging articles about video games and gaming culture. Also, if you have any interest in furthering your understanding of Duchamp, I recently read "Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess" which explores his relationship professionally, personally and artistically with the game.

Also, Callie and I have started getting CSA produce again so expect some recipes in the mix!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Not-So-Complete Guide To Buying A Chef's Knife Pt. 2

I think I am in love.

While I never intended my previous article to be the knife-equivalent of the Library of Alexandria, there have been more than a few very interesting notions and suggestions that have floated on the breeze in my direction. That said, most of the larger points remain valid: Buying a nice knife is confusing; Most big-brand Western knives are no where near as good as their similarly priced Japanese knives. However, there are many nuances which I didn't know enough to communicate. So let me take you through a few things I learned, as well as show you some cool pictures of the knife I ended up buying. (Spoiler: it is a 240mm Gesshin Uraku wa-gyuto. If you're curious, a wa-gyuto is the same blade as a gyuto, but it has a Japanese style handle.)

First, if you are ever in LA, I highly recommend dropping by a wonderful store that came to my attention via Twitter: Japanese Knife Imports is a specialty knife shop that works in close concert with craftsmen in Japan to bring over and maintain wonderful Japanese knives of all kinds. If you get a chance, chatting with Jonathan there is an enlightening expirience. He has an amazing ability to explain complex ideas about knives in an easy to understand and direct way. He was kind enough to let me come by the shop, drink some tea and hang out a couple of times, which lead to a whole slew of new information about knives.

One tidbit Jonathan mentioned explained a much broader (and highly relevant to someone buying their first nice knife) cultural difference: I had asked why reviews of otherwise fantastic Japanese knives often bemoan that the edges weren't sharp from the factory. Jonathan explained that Japanese knives are shipped from their producer with the expectation that the person buying any given grade of knife will have knife sharpening and use skills equal-to-or-better-than the quality of knife they are getting. In real terms, that means that even lower-mid-level Japanese gyutos are shipped with only a partial finished edge. The craftsmen who make the knives assume that the buyer will put their preferred edge on the knife once it arrives. 

This is a correct assumption when you are selling to Japanese restaurant staff members since learning to sharpen knives is one of the base skills you learn as an apprentice cook. But in America, this isn't true. As a novice knife buyer, what this means to you is that the more sophisticated knives are also trickier to sharpen to their full potential. That 64 hardness super-blue-steel-BS-blah-blah-blah that looks so cool? Well, it's going to require more skill to setup and maintain. What this means for my guide is that I would actually steer those of you who are novices (like myself) to the less esoteric, less brittle knives. 

The other major point which Jonathan mentioned was that you actually shouldn't use a honing rod or a steel on your knife. There's some geometry involved, but the basic reason is that it applies far too much repeated pressure back and forth on the edge of the blade which deeply fatigues the knife. With repeated use of a steel over its life, the knife won't be able to hold an edge for as long. Especially as a home cook and with how long most of these Japanese blades will hold an amazing edge, it's easier to avoid honing and just to sharpen them occasionally. I was wrong in my first article to recommend using a honing rod — live and learn, and besides, it's one less thing to buy.

Having spent some time watching knives get sharpened, repaired and modified, I learned that sharpening is a way less traumatically technical skill than I could have imagined. Frankly, it's shocking to learn how organic and malleable knives are — how easy mistakes are to fix — and how simple the process of sharpening with a whetstone actually is. (Simple, but not easy.) After a quick lesson, buying a $30 stone (a Super King 1000), a giant Sharpie and a few attempts on my crappy home knives I could put a really decent edge on them. 

If you are getting a nice Japanese knife, I can't recommend enough to spend the small amount of money and the small handful of hours learning to sharpen your knives will take. Think of it this way — you can always make back your investment by sharpening your friend's knives in exchange for beer! Jonathan has a great series of videos online explaining the ideas behind the process here.

Another point that I would make is that while I was very much emphasizing the 240mm knives in my initial article, I would say that after using my 240mm for a while, a majority of home cooks would likely be happier with 210mm knives. I really like my 240mm wa-gyuto, but I had Callie cut a bit with it and she agreed that she would have preferred the 210mm if she was the one buying it. 

Aside from the size of your hand and control over the larger blade, a major issue that will push people toward the 210mm is that even a large home cutting board (mine is 13" x 16") feels very cramped when you have a knife with a 9.5" blade. In my initial article I should have emphasized getting a larger and nicer cutting board. Japanese Knife Imports has some cutting surfaces they recommend if you contact them. Aside from that a Sanituf board would be a good bet. 

Another note on my original article would be that you will really want to learn how to use a pinch grip before selecting your knife. Handles that seem awkward to hold in the standard "hammer" grip are often perfect when held in pinch. Many of the handles on the better knives are only set up to be comfortable with this grip style. It will only take a couple of sessions to learn to love this hold, since it offers way more ergonomics and control. Here's a quick video to show you how to hold a knife like a pro.

The other observation I have is that with the wide diversity in types of Japanese chef's knives available, I can more firmly recommend them to all levels of home cooks. If you are a novice, get a novice knife. No need to stay Western at all like I implied in the initial article. (I just bought a friend and his wife a simple but nice Japanese chef knife for their wedding.) If you are more veteran with a bag of whetstones, then you can more easily get a more expensive knife. Having only basic skills I feel totally fine with a $150 knife but there are excellent knives below $100. 

I wouldn't change too much in my list of knives to buy. The only major change is that really I wouldn't recommend the Wustoff Ikon, if just because at it's price the Japanese knives are a better value. I would additionally add three great options to the list from Japanese Knife Imports.

If you're curious what knife I got, I ended up picking up a medium-level knife that wasn't on my original list, but which I'll share here. It is a 240mm stainless steel wa-gyuto from Japanese Knife Imports's Gesshin Uraku line. A fantastic knife that many line cooks in LA use at $155.00 with saiya (the wooden protector). Not to hard nor too soft, light and easy to handle. It's a perfect starting knife. 

A less arty photo of the 240mm Gesshin Uraka wa-gyuto.

A bit higher end, the other knife at Japanese Knife Imports that I was considering was the Zakuri Aogami Super Kurouchi line.  It is a bit more rustic of a knife, but with exceptional steel (high carbon so I wasn't totally comfortable with learning on it.)

If you want something a little less expensive than the Gesshin Uraku which I purchased, Japanese Knife Imports has a great line of Suien INOX guytos. Being easy to use and amazingly well made it is a great value at $125.00! 

The final footnote on my original article is that even if you tldr'ed and skimmed these two posts of mine, then you're more than ready to buy a knife. Once I got over the initial fear, the process was actually fun because I learned that if you are shopping with good stores like Japanese Knife Imports, you're going to get a great knife no matter what — So relax and find one you like then go to work in the kitchen!



Monday, October 1, 2012

Los Angeles Fried Chicken Festival Pt 2

 For those of you who saw my last post about the Los Angeles Fried Chicken Festival, you were probably wondering "Where the hell is the chicken?" Let's just chalk up the black and white photo essay to the inspiration of the excellent rye whiskey that was being served. As for the chicken, Callie managed to get through all eight recipes, while I only got through the first six. That said, cold fried chicken is brilliant for lunch, doubly so if it's a curry version from Byant Ng (Spice Table). Presented in the order we ate them, not by rank!


#1: Jiltada
This was an amazing spicy-sweet Thai fried 
chicken. Even if this wasn't the most perfectly cooked 
chicken, the ultra-spicy sauce as a condiment
and the assortment of sides tied this dish together. I love 
Jazz's take on Southern Thai cooking and this  
recipe shows how she can take unassuming ingredients
and make something better than the parts.



#2: Baco Mercat
To call us biased toward Josef's work in the 
kitchen doesn't do justice to the raw skill and
direct but complex ideas he creates. This time
he opted for a lightly Morrocon take on fried
chicken that had hints of exotic flavors peeking
out from one of the most perfectly cooked pieces
at the festival (was there preserved 
lemon in there?) The cute shishito peppers on the side 
provided a pleasant bitter contrast to the rich 
chicken. The general manager had also brought a tasty,
lightly sour shrub to make drinks with that
was the perfect pairing for the oily chicken
all around.



#3: Border Grill
I'm always hit or miss on Border Grill (as well 
as completely unimpressed by Street) but
I will give it to them that they know 
Latin flavor combinations exquisitely 
well. This is a Southwestern tostada with
an heirloom bean salad, frisse, and peppers.
This was one of the more fun dishes at the event, even
if the focus wasn't really the fried fowl. If only
I could have gotten a margarita. 




#4: Mo-Chica
Again, Ricardo's modern take on Peruvian food
is a perennial favorite of mine. No surprise that his
extra crunchy fried chicken with fried 
potatoes and verde sauce was outstanding. Honestly
the potatoes were the best side at the event. This
dish would pair gloriously with a funky,
off-dry Spanish white wine. I really need to
hop on the expo line to get back downtown
and check out his new joint.



#5: The Coop
I want to say something nice about this dish
since the two chefs hosted the event in their new space 
(if you wondered, yes, it was the location from Kill Bill).
That said, this dish a complete trainwreck. It was
something with raw cherry tomatoes, black-powder
fried chicken, some sort of melted ice cream, 
melon balls and a strange sauce. The flavors didn't 
merge and the ice cream was a pool of 
lukewarm sweet goo in the bottom of everyone's
plate. It was such a mess of a dish that I couldn't
even fathom what they were going for and was so
unpleasant that I likely won't even be
be visiting their restaurant. Sorry...   


#6: MB Post
Neither of us had heard of David LeFevre or his 
restaurant. However their interesting breading (almost 
like it was wrapped in it's own biscuit) was combined perfectly with their
immaculate frying technique. I had one of these
deeply spiced pieces of chicken the next day for a 
heavenly lunch. Hefty but refined, it made me want
to visit MB Post for sure.


#7 Mozza
Mozza, especially Pizzeria Mozza, ranks high on
my list of amazing food in Los Angeles (and
not just for their generous wine pours coupled
with ultra-fresh mozzarella). That said, their chicken
was probably the most technically perfect
but simultaneously had the least character. It reminded
me of a bland and extra salty version of Ludo's chicken.
However, it's one redeeming grace was it's brilliant, 
buttery, tiny biscuit. Mozza's chicken couldn't possibly
 keep me from being in bliss every time 
I eat at their restaurant though!



#8 Spice Table
Ng's food, especially those glorious wood-roasted pig's tails
which are so far from being even "third date food" that you
might want to be solidly married before attempting to
eat them in front of your significant other, tends toward
an overwhelming cascade of flavors and textures. It was 
no surprise that his extra-crunchy curry chicken
with umami-loaded gravy potatoes was a complete winner. 
As good the next day as it was the first. 

Looking at my reviews, you can clearly see 
that I prefer some more funk in my food given 
that Spice Table and Baco's takes were my top choices. 


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Quick Indian-Fusion Fried Rice




Developing this recipe uses the typical four-step Eron-approved Bachelor Chow method: 

Step One — Start by poking around in the fridge, determine what produce is going to turn bad soon and set it on the counter. 

Step two — Rummage in the cabinets and pull out whatever staples, such as rice, beans, canned tomatoes, broth, or pasta might compliment the produce and set them on the counter. 

Step three — Dig around in the spices, condiments, hot peppers, garlic, herbs etc to flesh out the dish and set those things on the counter too. 

Step Four — Repeat steps adding or subtracting ingredients from the pile on the counter until you have a dish that seems coherent. 

I wish I was joking, but being a visual artist I'm also visual thinker, so this method of setting everything out helps me visualize the flavor and texture combinations. In this case, I realized that I had the right bits around to make a biryana-inspired fried rice dish.

Quick Indian-Fusion Fried Rice
Serves 2 

1 pack saffron rice
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper (or 1/2 c. mixed sweet peppers), diced
1/2 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (optional)
2 tbs almonds, roughly sliced
1 tbs dried blueberries, cherries or raisins
1 tbs canola oil
1 c. cherry tomatoes, cut in to mixed halves and quarters
1 small handful of cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
your favorite simple yogurt raita or chutney for a condiment

1) Cook rice according to the directions on the package. Let rest for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork. (You can chop all your veggies while this is happening.)
2) Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl with a decent pinch of salt and mix. Let sit for 5 minutes then drain, reserving the tomatoes.
3) Once the rice is ready to use, heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat then add the onions with a pinch of salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.
4) Add the peppers and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
5) Add and mix in the rice, chickpeas, almonds, cherry tomatoes and fry over high heat, stirring often for 2-3 minutes, or until the rice's texture seems a bit more firm. 
6) Mix in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with raita or chutney on the table. 

This would go together in a lovely fashion with a new beer I discovered called "Le Petite Prince" by Jester King. This is a very low ABV beer (2.9% ABV!) that is quite dry on the finish but is loaded with herb and grass anotes nd has hints of golden dried fruit flavors hiding throughout. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Chicken, Leek and Caper Pasta




This is a quick dish that is the perfect use for the leftover bits of the previous night's roast chicken. Using the combination of sweet leeks and bitter shallots to make a wonderfully rich base for the flavors is something that I stole from a random cookbook who's name has been lost to the ages. To whomever wrote about it (perhaps Patricia Wells?) thank you! Aside from that, the combination of capers, white wine and chicken is a classic. 

As a technical digression, if you don't understand the underlying principle, the reason you use wine in a recipe (specifically the reason you use *dry* white wine) is not just to add a wine-y flavor, but much more importantly to add acid. The acid from the wines will act the same way that lemon or vinegar will cause all of the other flavors flavors in a dish to "pop," assuming you have the salt level correct. 

Serve this with whatever white wine you had to force yourself to open to make the dish ;)

Chicken, Leek and Caper Pasta
Serves 2 with leftovers for tomorrow's lunch

1 lb leeks, halved, washed and sliced 
2 small shallots, minced
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 lb leftover chicken, shredded
1/8 c dry white wine
2 tbs cappers, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
1/8 tsp hot pepper flakes
2 tbs italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 lb linguine or tagletelle, fresh or dried 

1) Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

2) Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, until fragrant (the idea is to infuse the oil).

3) Add the pepper flakes, cappers and shallots and sauté for about 60 seconds. 

4) Add the leeks and cook for 4-5 minutes until they are lightly colored. 

5) Pour in the wine and cook until it's mostly reduced. 

6) Add the chicken reduce the heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally, until the leeks soften and the chicken heats through. (About 10 minutes.)

6) Add the pasta to the water so that it finishes cooking to al dente a minute or two after the leeks are done. 

7) About 5 minutes after you cover the leeks add 1/2 cup pasta water to the leek mixture.

8) Transfer the noodles from the pot with a pasta fork once they are done. 

9) Add the parsley and mix it in well the noodles and leeks. Turn off the burner and let stand for 3-4 minutes so the noodles can absorb some the sauces flavor. 

Serve with a simple mixed greens salad and some thin slices of galric bread. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pepper and Sweet Potato Frittata




While Callie and I were sad for many reasons that we had move from our cool loft in downtown LA, not the least of which reason was that our new place was too far away to participate in the CSA which had fueled so many of the great recipes I've posted on Curio. The recent opening of a small farmer's market less than a block's walk from our new place in Palms has brightened our week, so I've got a couple recipes to share to brighten yours! It's no Wednesday Santa Monica market (the market where most of the best restaurants in LA shop) but having access to local, seasonal produce is the vital to me because of the constant challenges the ingredients create for me in the kitchen. 

This recipe, which would be perfect for this weekend's brunch, uses two of those ingredients, Japanese sweet potatoes and Italian curly peppers. I've eaten Japanese sweet potatoes every fall, roasted directly over hot coals by street vendors in Little Tokyo. They are firmer in texture and higher in sugar than the normal variants. As for the Italian peppers, had never even heard of these weird, gnarled red and green curls. Almost as mild as a bell pepper, they have only the mildest bite and are light in flavor. I decided to turn them in to a gloriously simple but amazingly rich frittata the moment we got home from the market.

I would serve this with a simple salad with a champagne vinaigrette with plenty of ripe cherry tomatoes heaped on top, a glass of prosecco or vinho verde, and some great jazz on the record player.

Pepper and Sweet Potato Frittata 
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 tbs olive oil
1 lb Japanese sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced in to 1/8" thick half moons
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 lb Italian red and green sweet peppers (or a 4:1 mix of red bell peppers and Anaheim chiles)
1/4 cup whole milk (or cream)
5 eggs
salt & pepper to taste
fresh basil, cut in to thin ribbons (cilantro would work too)
sour cream 

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the eggs and the milk together.

2) Parboil the sweet potatoes. Parboiling means "partial boiling", which is easy to do. You just put the potatoes in a pot covered with plenty of water, then cover and bring to a boil and then boil for about 5 minutes so the potatoes are still firm. Drain and set aside.

3) In a small oven-proof skillet, heat the olive oil of medium heat. Saute the onions with a pinch of salt until they are soft, about 5-6 minutes. 

4) Add the peppers and saute until soft, an additional 5-6 minutes. (Make sure the onions don't burn, so feel free to turn down the heat as needed). 

5) Turn off the burner and season the saute with salt and pepper. 

6) Place the paroiled sweet potatoes on top in a layer.

7) Pour the egg mixture on top and gently shake the pan so the mixture settles in.

8) Bake for 20 minutes — until the eggs are cooked through and the top is lightly golden. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. 

9) To serve, place a dollop of sour cream and a smattering of basil on top of each slice. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wasted Days Mix


Earlier this summer everyone was hanging out at Cana celebrating Callie's birthday by drinking copious amounts of rum punch. The conversation drifted to music (as it tends to when I'm around) and one of our friends, Jenny, mentioned with general agreement that she missed my old mix tapes from back before I was in to metal. That comment stuck with me for two reason: 

First, I totally understand that no matter how much I would try, no matter how great the music might be, I would never be able to convince someone who is not an initiate to like death metal, funeral doom nor black metal (or free jazz for that matter). 

Second, I was a bit shocked because I hardly listen exclusively to metal. Yes your most likely to catch me at Behemoth or Winter or whatever, but my previous mix was a jazz mix. The one before that was an DJ mix of electronic music. Before that, sure "Shadowside"  went crazy noisy and metal for the last half, but apparently those tracks were so abusive that no one even noticed the first 50% of the mix was all indie, jazz and rap. (Also, there might have been a funny/frightening incident with Callie and her mom involving accidentally setting the mix on randomize.) 

While these mix-related thoughts fermented in my brain, I ended up drinking tons of beer, wrecking my hearing and getting sunburnt all weekend at the inimitable FYF Fest in Los Angeles. So many amazing bands played, but I was struck by a number of acts I had heard but hadn't paid enough attention to: Bands like HEALTH, Cloud Nothings and Purity Ring made me immediately go back and check out their albums. While other bands that I already loved reminded me why I love them: Atals Sound, Nicolas Jaar and Aesop Rock (even though he could have stolen a page from the hipster book and worn sunglasses so that he wasn't completely blinded the whole show). 

Inspired by the amazing weekend of music I decided to try to make a mix that duplicated the generally cool but inclusive vibe of the festival. This is a mix for the dusty, sweltering first days of late fall. This is a mix that everyone out there who likes cool music and wants to find a few new bands to expand their musical taste. This is a mix that is pretty much free of metal and hardcore, but if you don't like it because it's too indie or poppy, screw you, I'm playing Anata as I write so you haters can go back to listening to your trendy grindcore crap.  

"Song" — Artist — Album
1) In Medias Res — Los Campesinos! — "Romance Is Boring" (Thanks Ross!)
2) Party Talk — Craft Spells — Idle Labor
3) Belong — "The Pains of Being Pure at Heart" — Belong
4) What Whorse You Wrote Id On — Owls — Owls (I have no idea how I missed this album for like 10 years — it's the only thing older than a couple of years on here)
5) 'sus Envy — Myty Konkeror — I Miss The Future.
6) Solitary Traveler — Torche — Harmonicraft
7) Shugo Tokumaru — Lovely Allen — Vicious Circles Vol. 1
8) In Citrus Heights — Tera Melos — Patagonian Rats (I'm breaking a rule by including this on more than one mix, but holy crap this album keeps blowing my mind more and more as I listen to it.)
9) Recent Bedroom — Atlas Sound — Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But… (The most recent album is even better!)
10) Broken Pieces — Siamese Twins — Demo [Cassette]
11) Saltkin — Purity Ring — Shrines (Go see this band live!!!)
12) Peso — A$AP Rocky — LiveLoveA$AP Mixtape
13) Snakes & Ladders — Snowman — Absence
14) Cycles To Gehenna — Aesop Rock — Skelethon (the best album he's done since Labor Days even if his show at FYF wasn't as brilliant.)
15) Die Slow — HEALTH — Get Color (Touring right now with Crystal Castles — go see them.)
16) Wasted Days — Cloud Nothings (This one gets a bit crazy, but damn is it a perfect track for the last days of summer.)
17) Variations — Nicolas Jaar — Space Is Only Noise 


Seventeen tracks in just a bit over an hour — Let me know what you dig on and what inspires you! As always, if you like anything, for sure go buy the album, go see the band live and/or buy some merch to support these amazing artists. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

First Annual Los Angeles Fried Chicken Festival Photo Essay

I just wanted to post up a small photo essay about the First Annual Los Angeles Fried Chicken Festival. Callie jumped at the chance to get tickets, and we had a really interesting time milling about the giant out-of-business Japanese restaurant that was the venue. A few of our favorite chefs were there (Jazz from Jitlada, Josef from Baco Mercat, Bryant Ng from Space Table, and Ricardo from Mo Chica) and almost every preparation was stunning. Even though the chicken was the star, and even though I was very nearly ready to explode from eating [and drinking rye whiskey] I wanted to capture a series of images that gave a sense of the ambiance of the event. My next post will be a rundown of the eight on the menagerie of poultry and will include plenty of photos of the food as well as color commentary by the two of us. 

















Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Virtual Light & Video Game Tourism



Hi! I just wanted to direct your attention to the blog Video Game Tourism. Their editor, Rainer, has graciously given me the great opportunity to pen an essay there — Titled "Virtual Light" I try to delves in to the history of photography in an attempt to help highlight some of the modes of making virtual photographs in video games. In-Game Photography is a contentious issue, but many of the battles and concerns seem to have been foreshadowed by the early days of chemical photography. Check it out at http://videogametourism.at/node/1649

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Romance



Hi everyone! I've been busy traveling and paying the bills so I haven't gotten a chance to update the blog in a while. I have a major follow up article planned that will expand my recent post about Chef's knives. The article will feature many of the lessons I've learned from the repository of knowledge from the couple that runs Japanese Knife Imports.

I've also spent that last couple weeks penning a major essay about the complex genres that might bloom from the intersection of photography and video games for another blog, which I'll link here next week once it goes live.

One of my major projects for the summer is finished: I've been itching to get an in-progress portfolios for my Romance & Structure projects online so that everyone can see where it is headed. Set at Rennaisance Faires in America, these are the two related bodies of work that explore the difficulties that photography encounters when trying to examine the complex forces buffeting the intersecting point of social geography, deliberate anachronism and the omnipresent traces of human work.

"Structure" is a series that peers intently, almost trance-like, at the surfaces and forms of the temporary architecture which makes up the Ren Faire towns for the two months they exist every year. http://www.eronrauch.com/ren

"Romance" is a series of threaded panoramas which strive to reconcile the crowds, who both intentionally and accidentally act out their own variant of history paintings, with the the tiny tableaus of details performing their minuets of history in every surface and cranny of the Faire. http://www.eronrauch.com/ren2

I'm looking forward to posting up some great new content as the summer winds down (maybe even a photo essay from the Los Angeles Fried Chicken Festival if I get ambitious?)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Eron's Epically Complete Guide To Buying The Best Chef's Knife [Or At Least A Good One]





Let me tell you a story. It's dark and involves knives, but maybe it will sound familiar? Once upon a time, there was this guy who liked to cook so his parents went to something like JC Penny Outlet and bought him some random chef's knife that was on super-sale which he used for 8 or 10 years now. Whenever our protagonist had to do some serious chopping he bitterly stared at the knife and wondered what other knives might be out there in the wide world.

Now our protagonist, he wasn't rich, but he understood the value of buying quality-made items. So he steeled himself (oh, accidental knife joke, did you like that?) and went over to local merchants at The Surly Table to buy a new knife. Standing in front of the glaring lights of the knife cases, he froze. Between the shear variety and the often massive prices tags, he started to sweat, then fidget in panic. Some helpful salesperson wandered out of the forest of pans starts talking to him about the 17 generations of samurai-dragon-ghost-blacksmiths that have worked to perfect the knife rising from the block in front of him, and how it can only be pulled from the block during a full moon while shinto priests intone prayers. Dazed and defeated, he end up walking out of the store with some sherry vinegar and coffee filters.

The End, Or Is It?

At least, this was my personal experience trying to buy a knife. It was pathetic, I know, but I highly doubt I'm the only person who has felt that way. When I got home I went out on the internet hoping to learn more. But the information online wasn't any better considering all I learned is that I would probably need a materials sciences M.A. and a 10-year internship as a knife-sharpener to begin to understand all of the jargon of micron-burring correction with cryogenic treatments or standard Rockwell ISO hardness variations in specific forging methods. Probably more useful than samurai banter, but I don't actually know because it still sounds suspiciously like marketing-speak to me.

Dammit! I just want to be able to cut up the damn garlic and zucchini for a dozen friends at a dinner party without hating life. Why is that so bloody hard? What is it that makes a knife worth $200? Is a $100 knife any better than a $50 knife? (The short answer is, "probably yes.") If so, what are the things I should be looking for to maximize the one thing I need the knife to do: efficiently cut food things in the kitchen.

But let's back this whole discussion up. One of the first things that wandering through the forest of knives of all shapes and makes made me realize was that I needed to know what kinds of knives you should have in your kitchen.






The inimitable Evan Kleiman, host of NPR's "Good Food," who I must tangentially also thank for making sure Callie makes some of the best pies around, took some time out of her busy schedule to answer this question for me. She even made a blog post about it. Follow her blog if you don't already, since there are always great articles going up over there! 

I'll sum up what she said, and combine it with what my experience in the kitchen has taught me as well:

1) You need a chef's knife, between 8" and 10".

2) You'll need a utility knife. A shorter, burly steel knife for general purpose jobs — Think santoku or such. 

3) You'll need a pairing knife, but it doesn't have to be amazing. Evan even mentioned that she rotates a couple of the cheap plastic-handled ones.

In addition, there are three other knives that you might use depending what you do in your kitchen:

1) While I hardly ever need these, Evan said that if you are boning chickens or filleting whole fish with any regularity, you'll need the correct boning knife/knives for that job. I wish you luck there, as I have no experience. She says to get one flexible and one rigid, if that helps.

2) From my own experience I would add a "non-knife cutting-tool", which is a good pair of kitchen shears.

3) Additionally, if you love that no-knead bread recipe as much as I do, a decent bread knife will be handy. 

But for now, let's ignore everything but the chef's knife because even I, Mr. Lowly Home Cook, have found that the old saying, "your chef's knife is your primary tool in the kitchen," to be increasingly true as I get more serious about cooking. To return to the core question I set out to answer in this increasingly long article is: What chef's knife do I get? 

Based on an article in Lucky Peach #2, that the lovable asshat David Chang (<3) buys massively expensive, samurai-grade Japanese knives for the folks who work the line in his Momofuku kitchens, but his outlook on this topic, like most topics, seems a bit extreme. But if you look around the internet, there are a huge amount of sites that say the exact opposite — that any expensive knife is just a ripoff. 

To clear up the matter, I did what any self-respecting food nerd would: I hopped on Facebook and asked a random selection of my favorite chefs and restaurants what they use in their kitchen. After all, who better to ask about what actually matters with a knife than someone who spends all day using one!






Before we get to specific recommendations, two general topics came up often in the replies which can summarized as: 

1) You need to have solid knife skills. 
2) You need to keep your knives sharp. 

In fact Perfecto Rocher, the chef at Lazy Ox (who also worked at El Buli) said these two points almost verbatim in his reply.  "[what] is most important is how well and how often it is sharpened, and the skill of the person using it." 

I'm not sure how good my knife skills are, but I've cooked and chopped an awful lot in my day. I still want to take a basic knife skills class at a local cooking school as a refresher sometime in here, and I would recommend the same if you are serious. For the self-learner, there are also books on Amazon that include videos on knife skills. For the lazy, I'm sure there are more than a few articles online that could teach you some basics, like how to hold a knife. Your knife skills are yours alone to judge.

As for the more complicated issue of sharpening, let me share what I have gleaned from the internet ("gleaned" is a great word for internet learning, isn't it?) First, what the layman calls "sharpening" is actually split in to two separate processes. 

What you actually do when you use one of those steel rods at home, is called "honing." This is a rudimentary maintenance process which has the purpose of reconditioning the metal on the edge of the knife but does not actually remove metal nor change the shape of the edge. Sharpening proper is a much more complex and skill-based process of actually grinding away metal to make/sharpen the edge of the knife. 

Honing should be done before every session when you use the knife. Sharpening is best done by a professional as the knife gets dull — that is, when honing doesn't keep the knife sharp anymore. You can sharpen your knives at home but from the videos I've seen, correctly sharpening a knife looks like it would take lots of practice (http://www.chefknivestogo.com/knshforne1.html).  For the brave soul who wants to work through those videos, you should probably practice on a cheaper knife at first to get a feel for the process. 

As for me, I would love to learn to sharpen my own knives, but there is a guy named Gary at many of the local Los Angeles farmer's markets who does knife sharpening and comes highly recommended (as does Ross Cutlery in downtown LA). If you aren't in L.A., I'm very confident there are places or services to get your knives sharpened near you!

If you are considering getting an electric knife sharpener: don't. There are a myriad of ways that they will wreck your knife — I have unwittingly used one and over time it has jacked up my knife irreparably. (Which is a decent part of the reason why I have to buy a new knife. But sob for me not, dear reader, my tragedy and subsequent nerdery, will be your boon.) 

I'm getting ahead of myself here, but regarding honing and sharpening, Japanese knives (and this will be important later, once we get to the recommendations) tend to be more brittle and thinner in build, so they require a bit more finesse in both the honing and sharpening phases.  A regular steel honing rod can possibly chip some of the more brittle of the Japanese blades. Ceramic honers are actually preferred for this process depending on the knife. The more exotic the Japanese knives, such as those $400 one-sided "yanagi" knives you probably drool over at the sushi bar, the more specific the sharpening has to be. But don't fret, none of the knives I'll be recommending are overly fussy.






To move forward with actually buying this mythical knife: retention of sharpness is one of the key points that  Nguyen and Thi Tran from Starry Kitchen brought up in regards to selecting a knife: "Choosing a knife is probably two-fold in decision making: #1- one that doesn't dull after 30 min of use. If you have to sharpen/hone your knife often it becomes a pain in the ass." 

What this means to us as potential knife-buyers is that getting a knife that is sharp and stays sharp is actually priority #1 for getting a good knife. None of the marketing speak nor gilding matters if the blade won't keep an great edge while you cut. It's such an obvious point that it's easy to miss.

Getting a simple answer like that is the whole reason that I asked specifically what brands of knives get used in real restaurant kitchens — I figure that if a knife can stand up to being used on the line at places like Lazy Ox, Baco Mercat and Starry Kitchen for years they will certainly hold an edge while you slice mushrooms and onions for a risotto at home a few times a week. 

But before we throw down and name some names, the second general criteria Nguyen mentioned is that "#2- ultimately how it feels and how comfortable it is for YOU to hold. Doesn't matter how expensive, everyone cuts a bit differently (posture, height, technique)…" Which means that, no matter how much you like the look or the idea of a knife it doesn't matter if it can't do its job. No matter how much your favorite chef uses one brand or style of knife, it's up to what feels good for you as you cut (as long as the edge holds it's sharpness, of course). 

This comes in to play most immediately in choosing the length of the knife you use. Most folks I know have an 8" chef's knife around. I wouldn't buy a knife any shorter than 8". I personally find a 9" or 9.5" knife much more balanced for how I personally cut. A 10" knife is longest commonly used chef knife by home cooks, and will require a cutting board that is larger than average in size. 

When it comes to choosing a knife, there are a multitude of variables from weight to different handle shapes, different steel types, different edge profiles (the curve of the cutting edge) etc. etc. etc. that are pure personal preference. As a home cook, you're not going to need to be quite as picky as a chef that is battling carpel-tunnel while cutting 10 hours a day. As long as you understand there is no universally perfect knife that will suit every hand and every kitchen, many of the mysteries that make buying a good a knife so complicated are deafeated. 






So that finally leads us to our list of recommendations. 

Chef Perfecto from Lazy Ox prefers Yanagi, Misono or Masumoto. 

[Eron's Note On Perfecto's picks: I didn't find Yanagi as a brand, but it is instead a style of knife — it's the samurai sword-style knife they use at sushi restaurants to cut raw fish. Misono is a very high-end brand that I've never held, but I'm sure their products are stunning. I've tried the 8" and 11" Masumoto chef knives and they were some of my favorite. Very functionalist in design, but near-perfect weight, grip, steel and balance.] 

Chef Thi via Nguyen: "My wife has a Masahiro chef's & santoku knife, but I most commonly see Global knives as they've got the balance of value (comparatively) and function. One of my other line cook has a Global, and others we've had come in have used quite a few Global (Japanese brand)." 

[Eron's note on Nguyen and Thi's picks: I got a chance to handle a couple of Masahiro knives I was impressed. Scary sharp, great balance. A touch light for my taste, but obviously excellent knives. I've also handled most of the Global lines of chef knives. They tend to have slightly smaller grips and lighter weights than average. I felt my hand was crowded on the handle of even the 10" chef, but I have fairly large hands being six feet tall. Again, wonderful knives especially for those of you with a lighter touch.]

Chef Josef from Baco Mercat: "I use MAC knives. I have used them for 10 yrs and they don't let me down." 

[Eron's note: MAC knives were a brand I had never seen before, but I tried a bunch of them at a local Japanese kitchen store and was tremendously impressed at their weight, balance and general feel. The MAC and Masumoto knives were the least esoteric ones am leaning toward buying. MAC has a number of lines of knives. The lower end knives were a great price-to-value ratio; the "Professional Mighty" knives were nicely weighted and perfectly built.]

Now what's amazing is that all three, Perfecto, who's at Lazy Ox (famous for his paella and doing a stint at El Bulli), Thi from Starry Kitchen (famous for being an underground restaurant and serving epic Vietnamese inflected asian fusion food) and Josef from Baco Mercat (which features transformative small plates) all use Japanese-made but western-styled chef's knives in the middle of the price range ($100-$250).

Additionally, The Wall Street Journal has an article where they got the chef from Crush in Seattle, Jason Wilson, to talk about chef's knives. Four of the five knives from the Wallstreet Journal's article were also these kind of Japanese knives.

These "Japanese-made, Western-style" knives have a name by the way, it's "gyuto."

So why is this? I can only speculate, so skip this paragraph if you value credibility, but based on rule #1 of picking a chef's knife, Japanese knives tend to be made from hard, very well-made steel. This means they are insanely sharp and stay that way. Additionally, a gyuto is thinner than a Western-made knife. This means that it is more nimble and controllable, especially while cutting vegetables. These restaurants all focus very heavily on produce, so such knives would make sense with their food. Being in Los Angeles, there is often a light Japanese or Southeast Asian inflection to the food, so perhaps the tools reflect the cuisine? Anyway, it doesn't particularly matter, so it's time to move back to the land of knife-reality.

As I mentioned earlier, Japanese knives are also a bit more difficult to care for than Western knives: They are more brittle and hence they are more prone to chipping so you should take care about banging them against hard objects; This means you probably shouldn't be hacking at bone-in meat with them — Instead, use a sturdy Western utility knife or boning knife for those tasks. Some Japanese knives have higher than average carbon content in their steel alloy which means they can rust if you don't keep them dry. Occasionally wiping these high-carbon knives while you work will prevent any issues. Wash and completely dry your knives immediately after use. Do not put them in the dishwasher. Repeat after me: Do not put any good knife in the dishwasher. You can't let these higher-carbon knives sit in a sink either. Please do not cut with them on anything but a cutting board or specially designed cutting surface. 

Since the knives that were recommended all hold up to heavy professional use, so they're obviously not THAT fragile. A few of the knives also have more stainless-steel properties than others so read the descriptions to pick the best knife for your kitchen. 

Speaking of cutting surfaces, the most recommended surface is getting a large "end-grain" block cutting board. These kinds of cutting boards keep the edge longer. They are not dishwasher safe. They aren't terribly expensive, making them a good investment. Get the biggest board your can reasonably use on your counter. At least in my kitchen, I can never have a large enough cutting board.






Now the knife-porn — these are the links to the 9.5" versions of the knives discussed in this article (since that's the size I liked, though almost all of these knives come in various sizes), along with some alternates that got mentioned on forums and in the Wall Street Journal. I'm mostly linking to Chef Knives To Go because their interface made it quite easy to navigate and they seem like a cool company. I have no particular relationship with them but I am happy to accept any and all free knives that they might send my way, wink wink nudge nudge. There are other places like Korin that are also reputable.

Chef Perfecto:
Masumoto Western Market VG 240mm gyuto $179.95 
Misono 440 240mm Gyuto $224.00

Chef Thi:
Masahiro Gyuto 240mm $136.50
Global GF-33 8 1/4" Forged Chef's Knife $164.00

Chef Josef:
MAC Professional Mighty Chef's Knife 9 1/2" $220
MAC Chef's Series Chef Knife $110.00

On a pesonal note, after my stop at The Surly Table, I was considering the Miyabi Kaizen because I liked the general vibe of the knife, but this post mentioned that while it's better than a Shun, at $200 it's rather overpriced. Of course, the fancy decorative pattern on the blade doesn't mean it cuts any better. The responder suggested going with one of these two other knives instead — both of which are great value knives:
Fujiwara FKM *Stainless* Gyuto 240mm $83.00 
Tojiro DP Chef Knife 240mm $99.95

From the Wall Street Journal, two knives that seemed like good additions to our list were:
A very traditional looking Japanese knife: Moritaka Gyuto 240mm $207.00
Or if you wanted a more familiar Western knife, the Wustof Ikon line 9" Chef Knife $180.00

To wrap up, I hope you've been able to take the story of my humiliation turned to determination as a way to learn a bit about knives. I set out to fill a major gap in the knowledge-base of internet by providing a comprehensive look at buying your first quality chef's knife. Hopefully you'll walk away from this article with enough knowledge to skip the marketing and the troll-nitpicking and a get yourself a good knife so that you can make good food! I spent a while away from my art (http://www.eronrauch.com if you want to see some of it) to write all this and hope this article can be of great service to those of you who, like myself, are fairly serious about cooking but by no means have the knowledge pool of a professional chef. Let me know about your experiences with getting a knife — Follow me on Twitter @eronrauch







Shout Outs:
Starry Kitchen is moving to share a kitchen at Tiara's. Go stuff your faces there and follow them on Facebook too! Nguyen and Thi are great people, who are always happy to answer a silly question, make amusing blog posts and make wonderful food. If that doesn't impress you, they are doubly amazing people for being so polite when I misspelled their names a couple of times in this article. Go team art school spelling bee! If you like the idea of eating at a place where a dude in a banana suit is cursing up a storm about how much he loves fish sauce with a bunch of Star Wars jokes around you, you'll be right at home.

Lazy Ox, where Perfecto resides as chef, was very generous in answering my questions. I've been going there since they opened, and they continue to be one of my favorite culinary venues in Los Angeles, forcing me to make agonizing choices about what dishes to order from their constantly changing menu.

Josef is easily one of my favorite chefs in town, weaving fascinatingly diverse but direct flavors together in his dishes at his restaurant Baco Mercat. Snag a reservation and have a whiskey before you eat. 

Evan Kleiman is host of KCRW's "Good Food" and one of the stewards of Los Angeles food, a master of Italian fare, and a guru of pies. Like her on Facbook, follow her blog and most of all, listen to her show which is one of the best food resources available!

I'd also like to thank Callie for persuading me to go ahead with bothering these amazingly talented folks with my silly questions and for putting up with endless hours of talk about knives around the apartment. 

PS: If you were wondering, I shot the photos and created the knife illustrations for this article.