Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rachel Ray Must be Stopped

Rachel Ray is like Milli Vanilli.

Apparently millions of people love her and buy her books. I just can’t seem to find anyone who will admit it. As far as innovation goes, she gets a zero in my book, and that’s only because I haven’t found a way to give someone negative points. She has been warming things in microwaves, and opening cans of this and that while flapping around like a cartoon Swedish chef for years, and for some reason housewives and the unimaginative applaud her ferociously for it.

What has she done for food? What has she done for the American Cuisine? Rachel Ray is a galvanization of all that is wrong with our throw away fast-food nation. She even endorsed Burger King! Come on!

I even saw her glistening cleavage, all rubbed down with “EVOO” in an issue of FHM Magazine where she was posing half naked on the counter and going down on a strawberry. And this is American’s new queen of the kitchen?!?

If Julia Child were alive and Martha Stewart weren’t afraid of a parole violation, I am sure they would jump her, one holding her arms while the other beat her with a Boos Block.

Now, that would be good TV!

When it Strains it Bores

Boiling anything other than rice or pasta should be punishable by death by, you got it... boiling. So put away your strainers America and start steaming, sautéing and yes, simmering.

Okay okay, sure, there are wonderful dishes like corned beef, or even some English boiled meat dishes that threaten to make my point invalid. I say however, that those dishes are “poached” and not boiled. There is also the occasional Brussels Sprout or Broccoli that does great when boiled quickly and then shocked in ice water. But my main focus of this episode of Guerrilla Food is to do battle with the notion that it is okay to boil vegetables. It’s not.

Sure childhood images of huge pots of simmering green beans with ham hocks and black eyed peas being beaten into submission by a couple quarts of rolling H²O pop into my mind. The key word here however is simmer. That’s right, 212˚F is simply too hot for essential nutrients as well as many flavor components to survive. I’d feel much better about eating beans that were simmering away at 180˚F for three hours, than at 212˚F for 30 minutes.

Who has three hours to dedicate to simmering black-eyed-peas you ask? Well shame on you for asking. Nothing produces more lifeless and limp boring psydo-vegetation than boiling. I hope you do something really awesome like cure cancer during the couple hours you “saved” by boiling your vegetables.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Southern Food is a Sham

We all have this notion that southern cooking is the only cuisine in America that is of any real interest, anthro-historically speaking. There are thousands of soul food and southern cook books taking up valuable space on book store shelves and yet there are only a handful of books dealing with “New England” style or the dreadful “California-Style” cooking. Basically with the exception of maybe Boston Baked Beans and Cream Pie and Yankee pot roast, I’d say 90% of foods considered to be down home American fare are from the south. Well I bite my thumb at such a notion.

I grew up in Georgia, being born in Atlanta and raised in rural south Georgia farm country. I am steeped in all things southern. I have also watched countless times, a person be elevated to celebrity status based on their “soul food” southern cooking, while they are palming little packets of Lipton onion soup mix, and red and white cans of condensed soup.

I heard for years about Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House Restaurant in Savannah GA and how her food was the read deal. Imagine how cheated I felt when I got an autographed copy of her cookbook from Sema Wilkes herself, only to read in every recipe about Crisco, soup mixes, and self-rising flour.

Now, like I’ve said before, I am not trying to disgrace the memory of Mrs. Wilkes, God rest her precious soul. She was a good Nouvelle-Southern American dump cook. She simply knew no different, and probably wouldn’t have changed a thing if she had been told. And damn it! I respect that.

Southern food has always been based on poverty. Like most great dishes of the world, southern food centers around making great things from meager offerings. The southern magicians of yore turned tough meat full of connective tissue into succulent piles of smoky goodness. They took intestines and organ meat and made them sing on high. They ground sassafras leaves, tamed slimy okra, and took corn and made it into everything from smooth bourbon to velvety grits. They did all this, with little more than fat, salt, sugar and water; and sugar was something special.

Then a strange thing happened. Widespread distribution along with food canning and preservation made it cheaper to buy vegetables and things in cans than straight from the ground. Farms moved towards large Del Monte conglomerates and our corn crop began largely going to feed the high fructose corn syrup monster. The only thing that didn’t change was that southern cooks were still poor as the dirt they farmed. So they began reaching for cans and soup powders that cost pennies and promised authentic results.

Time marches on, but hunger stays the same. After a while conventions shifted to where no one even noticed these products as strange. Children turned into grand-children and within one or two generations, the glory that was southern cooking and all it’s Euro/African influences has become brought to you in part by the Campbell’s Soup Company. Mmm mmm Good.

Well I can’t cure poverty. And I’ll never be able to convince people that Paula Dean is a hype-monger that is dragging the southern name through the red Georgia mud, with her contrived “Ya’ll” and over emphasized, …“frum myy kitchun tuh yurrs!”. People love the idea of the southern dump cook with her charming accent and mint julep under the counter. But let me tell you guys, in the words of Hunter Thompson, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.

Taps is blowing over the centuries of hardship and innovation. The honeymoon is over on southern cooking. All that's left is congealed salad with Cool-Whip, potato casserole with crushed Ruffles on top, and Broccoli with Cheese Whiz.

Want some mayonnaise with that?

Herb and Spice Mixes Are Evil!

With the exception of maybe Old Bay, all spice mixes are bad and should be gathered and burned Salem-style for crimes against the kitchen. Have I owned a bottle of that fuzzy little Portuguese TV chef’s spunk mixture? Yes. Have I used “Italian Seasoning” in a Ragu Bolognese and “Herbs de Provence” in a Beurre Composé? Yes. Am I proud of it? No!

Nothing has done more to drain the soul out of the American kitchen than specialty spice mixes: steak seasonings, seasoned salt, rib rubs, jerk mixes, rotisserie chicken rubs, taco-seasonings, Mrs. Dash’s 10,000 different combinations that each only vary by one ingredient, and the dozens of celebrity chef’s ridiculously grinning at me from my local supermarket selves… all of these bastardizations of herbal goodness have chipped away at the collective skill of the home cook.

When I moved to Europe I wanted to cook an American Thanksgiving diner for my new German girlfriend’s family. They had only seen Turkey-day images from Norman Rockwell paintings and post cards. At that time I didn’t have very many notches on my culinary head-board yet, so I was going to mostly wing it, and was doing a lot of google'ing for American recipes. What I wasn’t prepared for was that literally EVERY dish that I wanted to make was held together, at least herbally, by ridiculous spice mixtures that meant nothing to my local Lebensmittelgeschäft employee.

What the hell was in “Poultry Seasoning”? How do you make “Apple Pie Spice”? Where was I going to find a 10 and ¾ ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup in Munich? And was I going to have to get my mom to air mail me a package of “Turkey Gravy Mix”? I made a Magna Carta like vow then, that I have lived by until this very day eight years later. Nothing enters my kitchen pre-combined. I even hate having Iodine in my salt. Self-rising flour is for the unimaginative, and even pre-made Ketchup never sees the refrigerator-light of day in my killing field. Ever since this decree, my understanding of food has increased with each day, and my food costs have crept to an all time low.

You’ll never hear me talking about my “secret weapon” or my “special secret ingredient”. That’s right. My only cloak-and-dagger mojo is my passion to understand what, how, and why. I have literally never seen a spice mix that could produce a better end product than even a dyslexic ten year old. The quality of the herbs in these mixes are, with microscopic exception, little more than dust off the floor of a Maersk Line shipping vessel. They produce unpredictable and irreproducible dishes. They take up valuable space in your cabinets by consisting of redundant ingredients. i.e. You already have all that shit in your spice rack to begin with!

I know that there are thousands of cookbooks out there that list spice mixes in their recipes. I also know that no one wants to think that they or their past family members were cooking bullshit dishes for generations. But, let me be the bearer of harshness. If grandma was using Bisquick, Coca-Cola, or Canned Soups to create her down home goodness… grandma was rookin` your ass! Now, before I get blasted for laying the pimp hand to ol` granny, I have to say that it wasn’t Granny’s fault. She was just doing what she knew, with what she had. Grocery stores then weren’t the mega-marts they are today with 15 different types of lettuce. There was iceburg and “the fancy stuff”.

So in conclusion. No, you do not have to throw out your mother’s old shoe box full of family recipes. No, you don’t have to rebuild your entire repertoire from scratch after bulldozing your pantry. But damn it! Think for yourselves. And if you pick up a cookbook that even makes mention of using pre-combined products to make a dish… leave it on the shelf with the rest of the dying dinosaurs. It is a new day. Your local store’s spice section is teaming with botanical life. Pick an herb, and use it all by itself in your dishes until you get a feel for what it does. Then move on to another. Eventually you will see how horrible you’ve been cooking and you’ll all start writing me thank you checks for having written this.

I look forward to my riches. Thank you in advance and good luck!

What the Hell is Guerrilla Food?

Guerrilla Food is all about taking the culinary bovine by the horns and wrestling it to the ground until it mooo's uncle, and then roasting that fucker whole, kalua-style. I want to shut down and shut up all those “I’m a chef, and I have the certificate to prove it” posers of the world. My mission is to humiliate weak-hearted kitchen-boys and girls with their All-Clad home kitchens, while making women want to do thing to me they haven’t even thought about since freshman year of college… all on the cheap and all with food.

I plan to slash and burn new paths through the jungle of “the food world”. This blog is for anyone who has ever felt their heart hesitate a second when they tasted a Brasato al Brolo that they themselves cooked, using a hand towel to pull an $8 speckled aluminum roasting pan that they found stashed behind their mother’s collapsible steamer basket, out of a cheap apartment oven.

I don’t care if your poison is Coq au Vin served over a Saffron Pilaf or is it’s boxed macaroni and cheese that you “fancied up” with Oscar Meyer hot dogs. While the later is a revolting thought, if you do it with passion and you feel that gut-extending pride as you relax on the couch after demolishing said Weeniemac, and you did it without insultingly expensive gadgets, you have experienced Guerilla Food. And it was good!

...except for the heart-burn.