Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Meeting Alton Brown!

There's a bookstore in my neighborhood called Octavia Books. For years this small business has fascinated me. You know how at Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble, the end-caps of the aisles always have the most interesting books, well imagine an entire bookstore filled with nothing but those types of books. You can walk in and swear to yourself that you won't buy anything, and end up needing a dolly to get all your books back to your car.

Another fascinating aspect of this little hole-in-the-wall place is their celebrity book signings. Enter Alton Brown, host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America. Promoting his new book, Good Eats 3: The Later Years, he was at Octavia Books tonight signing books, kitchen utensils, giant stand mixers, and answering questions. One interesting question someone posed to him was "If you have any advice to give to someone who wants to become a professional chef, what would it be?" His answer, unsurprisingly, was "Don't." He elaborated that tainting a wonderful hobby like cooking by attaching monetary values to one's product will only make one miserable and develop a disdain for that former hobby which was once loved. This exactly mirrors a case study I had in the Tulane MBA program in a class called Managing People. The study elaborated on Brown's notion, but went into much more detail. It mainly focused on singers, who once only sung for sheer enjoyment, but after being rewarded monetarily for their talents, now view singing as a pain, and will often times refuse to utter a note unless they get paid. Basically, it said don't turn your hobby into a profession, because you will end up hating it. Tonight, Alton said the same thing. Interesting...

When it was finally my turn to get my book signed, I asked him if I could pick his brain for a minute. He said sure, but that I'd have to make it quick. I told him that my aged steaks are coming out much more well done than normal steaks, even though I'm cooking them the same way. His answer was that since the aging process removes about 35% of the moisture from a steak, there is no longer that water barrier/buffer inside the cut of meat to slow the cooking process, thereby cooking the dry aged steak much quicker than one would expect. Ok, so now I don't feel as bad about serving up three medium-well 28+ day old aged steaks, but it was still a pricey learning curve. He also said, a little more enthusiastically, that he would get the butcher to cut the steaks a little thinner next time, and do just a quick sear before tenting.

Anyway, he was very enjoyable, humble, and witty. I went with my friends Laura and Ross and Ross told me he'd read that instead of sitting down like most authors at a book signing, he insists on standing up the whole time so that his feet will hurt just as much as those of everyone in line. He also made sure to answer questions from every little kid, and promised he wouldn't leave the book store until each and every person got their due time with him. And they say you shouldn't meet your heros...

Dry Aged New York Strip

Notice the perfect marbling, the hallmark of
a cow allowed to slowly mature and age. 
So, it was going to be a guy's weekend at our farm. I volunteered to bring up the food and decided on 4 dry-aged NY strip steaks. At $22/pound, it was going to be one of the finer things we've eaten up there, only to be out done by the half case of wine we drink every night. I arrived a day early, removed the steaks from the butcher paper, placed them two to a plate, and let them age another day in the fridge with a paper towel over them. When it came time to prep them, I took them out about an hour before cook time to let them rise to room temperature, them seasoned each with fresh cracked pepper and truffle salt. When I put them on the skillet (a major decision, but ultimately it was decided a skillet would preserve more of the hard-earned flavor, instead of taking on BBQ pit flavors) and they sizzled and seared to perfection. 

I stood by the ready, constantly flipping and taking internal temperatures with my Thermapen, and my plan was to take them off when they reached precisely 125 degrees, tent them in foil, and let them rise another 5 or 10 degrees to the medium rare range. Imagine my horror and shock when they were basically medium well inside! What had happened!? All this work, this dreaming, for naught! I suspected they may cook quicker due to the lack of typical moisture inside, but I was still upset. I still had one steak that hadn't been cooked, so I promised myself a redemption.

I finally achieved my perfect center, along with the best,
crunchiest crust I've ever had on a steak!
Two or three days later, after the steak had continued to age, I decided to cook it. By now, it was probably 34-35 days old, and had taken on a crispy dry appearance reminiscent of beef jerky. Forgoing the Thermapen altogether, I seared it one one side for a minute or two, then flipped, then took it off. Whatever happened happened, and I would find out soon enough. Well, what happened was tantamount to the second coming of Christ. What was once a miserable little dried piece of jerky ended up being the most succulent, moist, flavorful cut of meat I'd ever put in my mouth. The best and only way I can describe it is the whole steak turned into an inch and a quarter thick slab of bacon. IT REALLY TASTED LIKE BACON! Needless to say I was spoiled, and now I'm afraid I can never go back to non-aged steaks.

Smokes Sausage with Banana Peppers and Onions

This one is beautiful in its simplicity, and satisfyingly filling. To make it, I chopped cut one pound of smoked sausage and browned the pieces in a heavy cast iron pot. After drizzling in a little oil (not before or else the sausage won't brown), I added banana peppers and onion rings to the mix (the ratios of which depend on your own taste) and let them slowly cook down while adding in dried chives, hot sauce, and spicy cajun seasoning. Simple, effective, and delicious.

Roasted Tomatoes with Fresh Basil and Mozzarella

Hey everyone, all six of you! I haven't updated in a while, and for that I apologize. I've been busy and though I've occasionally had time to create things in the kitchen, I haven't had time to upload them.

To my left is a promising dish gone bad. To create this little culinary appetizer, preheat your oven to 450 degrees, then pour a little olive oil into a glass or enameled baking dish. Cut your tomatoes in half and roll the cut part in olive oil, then turn over and arrange in the dish, cut side up (duh). Sprinkle each tomato with chopped fresh basil, crushed garlic, salt and pepper, and then a thin slice of cheese. Drizzle again with olive oil and roast for 20 minutes until tender and lightly browned. Garnish with whole basil leaves.

Sounds delicious right? What the recipe fails to note, and failed to alert me to, is that there is nothing more disgusting on earth than a hot tomato. Ultimately, I just ate the cheese, and the crispier, the better. PS, I won't be making this again. Caprese salads are much tastier.