Sunday, November 4, 2007

Mashed spuds, frozen peas and pressure cookers

A few things...

Mashed potatoes. When I made the mashed potatoes for the Shepard's Pie the other night I realized how much I remembered from what they taught us at Culinary and how it differed from how most people cook at home. I guess that is not such an amazing revelation given the Teutonic population of the staff, so they were pretty strict on the mashed potato thing. Germans strict about potatoes, go figure.

I don't think that they taught us this but I always put down a piece of newspaper and peel the potatoes over that so it's easy to clean up.

What they did teach us at school was that you leave the potatoes whole when you boil them. The more surface area that you expose to water, the more water is going to be absorbed and thus the more watery the end result. You also are supposed to wait until the water has come to a full boil before putting the potatoes in the water.

When the potatoes are done you drain the water and put the pot back on the stove very briefly to get more starch out of the potatoes. Then I mash them by hand and add lots of melted butter, salt, a couple of drops of hot sauce (this is in lieu of white pepper which is what they used at school) and hot milk or cream.

I don't know if this makes them significantly better that doing it any other way but it's really the only way that I know how to do it.

Frozen peas

Man, I love frozen peas and I try to make sure there are always some in the freezer. One of our favorite quick pasta dishes is fettucine with peas, bacon and onions. My mother, alev shalom, had two vegetable dishes that she made for company; "Party Peas", peas with bacon and pearl onions and "Company String Beans", the casserole glop with mushroom soup and the canned freeze dried onion rings.

My father's , alev shalom, favorite vegetable was peas and carrots and he didn't tell this to my mother until he was in his late sixties. I remember her telling me how surprised she was to find this out. Using snow peas or snap peas and carrots with butter and a little sesame oil is a nice deviation from the regular peas and carrots.

Frozen peas also came in really handy in the restaurant business. We used to keep a couple of bags in the freeze at the Fiddlehead in case of emergencies. Mostly this would happen on an unexpectedly busy Saturday night if you ran out of fresh vegetables and needed something to serve.

If you are thinking to yourself "how could you run out of vegetables in a restaurant" remember that when Nancy and I first moved here there was only barge service to Juneau once a week and you had to plan your orders for the restaurant two weeks in advance because of the lead time that you needed with your suppliers. This is mind boggling to people who come from the Lower 48 and are used to next day delivery with their suppliers. Trying to predict the future with a perishable inventory naturally led to occasions when you simply ran out of stuff.

Or it may have happened because a certain Norwegian general manager of the restaurant had refused to let us by more vegetables since it would have meant going over the 2% food cost that she was able to maintain. This is meant as a compliment. Our friend Susan was the general manager of the Fiddlehead at the time and she was one of the best bosses I ever had until Shawn and Gary at Specialty showed up.

Every time I used frozen peas I made sure I thanked the woman at the company that we bought them from. She worked for a company called K and N meats in Seattle. Her name was Donna and she was one of the best sales people that I have ever had, hopefully I learned something from her. She was very pleasant, extremely reliable and boy did she ever know her product. Whatever cut of meat she recommended for industrial size pot roast worked perfectly.

Before the kids were born Nancy and I went to Seattle and visited the K and N plant and it was very interesting. We met Donna and took a tour of their meat cutting facility which was immaculate. The manager took a minute to visit with us and I told him that we were a little embarrassed because they had taken such lavish care of us and we were such small customers. He told us "All our customers are important to us, we built our business on small customers" and he was obviously not giving us a line.

What was telling about this is that we went directly from K and N to our other meat supplier which specialized in organic meat. At the time we were their biggest restaurant customer and not just a rounding error like we might have been at K and N. They were alarmingly casual to the point where one person was sitting on one of the cutting boards. When we pointed out the maybe he should not have been sitting on the cutting table he just shrugged it off. I don't know about you but when I place a meat order I usually don't ask them to shove the beef tenderloin up their ass before they send it to me.

Pressure cookers.
My mother had a pressure cooker and whenever she used it it scared the bejusus out of me. It would bounce around in the kitchen with that little whistle thingy rattling all over the place and I was convinced that we would be blown into our component molecules and spread over Mrs. Oberholtzer's bougainvillea that bordered our kitchen.

Hunter and Debi Davis use their pressure cooker frequently. Keep in mind that Hunter Davis spent the better part of his career in the military in ordinance. Stuff blowing up was his daily bread and butter for awhile which, to me, explains his comfort with pressure cookers. I remember sitting in his kitchen drinking wine while he used the pressure cooker and Sapper ran amok through the house. All the time I was thinking, and I am borrowing liberally from Dave Barry here, "Say, Hunter, wouldn't you feel more comfortable across the street in the fetal position and wearing a football helmet?". But it all worked out for the best.

Thursday is Hunter's birthday and I will be in Ketchikan on Friday to help him celebrate.

In the meantime, time to take the chien for a promenade.

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