Will Owen's Profile

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Overripe Fuyu Persimmon?

Follow-up on my persimmon pudding thing: the Japanese variety to use is Hachiya, not Fuyu – that was a case of mistaken identity. Hachiyas are different in that, like the American persimmons, are not edible when unripe because of their astringency. However, when they become completely soft, they are not only sweet but have a pronounced and very good flavor. Easy to tell the difference as the Fuyus are shaped rather like small pumpkins, while the Hachiyas are more like a tapered deep goblet.

about 14 hours ago
Will Owen in General Topics

On "Authentic"

"Not how Mama (or Grandma) cooked it" is the standard for most people, I think. Let the food scholars and historians go on about authenticity all they want, the gold standard will still be the dish as I remember it from childhood. The writer Kenneth Roberts (popular in the 1940s and '50s) wrote of his constant search for the perfect corned-beef hash, and of being presented with one example after another, "the ingredients chopped only to the size of machine gun bullets." He then gave his recipe, demanding that everything should be very finely minced … and yet I have seen this treatment derided as resembling the canned stuff and therefore not as "authentic" as the much coarser "home style." I guess much depends on whose home …

about 14 hours ago
Will Owen in General Topics

Signs that someone is a GOOD cook

If my guests are watching I might use a clean spoon every time. But otherwise if I know I'm a carrier of no disease I refuse to do more than rinse the old one in the nearest container of water. We've gotten too damned cootie conscious; most of our circle of friends are as over that as we are, and have no problem borrowing the much-reused water bottles out of our fridge.

If this were a commercial kitchen it would of course require a different protocol … which is one reason that it's not a commercial kitchen.

As for the original question? If whatever comes out of his or her kitchen is reliably good. Mine is an ergonomic mess, sometimes even a disaster, but the votes of confidence keep me from feeling in any way down-hearted.

1 day ago
Will Owen in General Topics

Veal . Your thoughts ?

Rather sad, reading an old James Beard cookbook where he speaks approvingly of the "Provimi method veal being raised nowadays," which is in fact those poor crated critters. But few cooks of his time had any real sense of the animals themselves. I think just by virtue of growing up in a farming community and occasionally interacting with livestock myself I had a better idea of cows and pigs as intelligent creatures with agendas of their own than Beard ever did.

1 day ago
Will Owen in General Topics

On "Authentic"

For the record, the first cheeseburger that really got my attention was a roadside place in Oregon where my first wife and I stopped on our way to CA in 1967. It was adorned with a nice fat slice of sharp Tillamook. Authentic? Well, since the location was near the source of that cheese, yeah.

How about the standards you grew up with? Okay, our family believed as a group that any cold meat sandwich required butter and mustard on one slice of bread, mayo on the other. We also ate ketchup ONLY on hot dogs and mustard on burgers.

I think that if one is establishing an "authentic" American eatery in a foreign clime, one should make the best of what's available. You'd think that England would be the easiest to match with US stuff, but what I've heard about Wimpy's makes me wonder. But ground beef is ground beef, easy enough to specify contributing cuts and texture, and a white-bread bun can be duplicated at any competent bakery, given a recipe. Oddly enough, the pickles, tomato and lettuce might be the hard part, especially in Italy. That slice of raw onion might be a hard sell there too.

1 day ago
Will Owen in General Topics

Veal . Your thoughts ?

While I don't know if the boxed-in method, feeding the calf milk and massive antibiotics, is actually illegal anywhere in the US (though it certainly should be), it is heartening to see that it's widely falling out of favor, and veal lovers are looking for and getting noticeably pinker meat from a healthy animal. Mrs. O is still not convinced, and has become vegetarian anyway, but the next time she's out of town I intend to try one of the lovely chops I'm seeing.

1 day ago
Will Owen in General Topics

How to Make a Perfect Omelet - So Easy

I had a laugh looking over these posts and seeing mine from eight years ago, insisting on "St. Julia's" high-heat method as the One and Only Way. Since then I've seen Eric Ripert's video demonstrating his low-heat method for making fully-cooked but very tender omelets, and have become a devotee of that method … which is EXACTLY the one the OP was telling us about!

I must point out that there's more than one style of French omelet. The one Julia demonstrated is the widely-accepted classic, but one of the most famous as a local specialty is the big, puffy ones from a restaurant on Mont St. Michel. I have one of the copper bowls they use to beat those up in, and it's about a ten-pound, 16" hemisphere with a heavy lip and a single handle, since she's wielding a big whisk with the other hand. I think I would not want to pick a fight with any of those women …

1 day ago
Will Owen in Home Cooking

Lindy and Grundy Closed!

Very well said, VealParmGuy, and an excellent summing-up.

Regarding the last part of item #2: the vegetarian Mrs. O (who works a block or so from Grand Central) very kindly bought me a piece of Belcampo pork, a roughly 3/4 pound slice from an upper neck muscle they referred to as a "copa" (or maybe "coppa"). I pan-braised it in the same manner as I do those inch-thick pork steaks from Marconda, but the result was even more stunning – the first bite was a sudden time-trip to my 1950s youth, back to when all pork used to taste like that! It was really enough food for two meals, but I couldn't resist doing that over and over. I can hardly wait to revisit a ca. 1956 pork loin roast … !

Oct 14, 2014
Will Owen in Los Angeles Area

Lindy and Grundy Closed!

Too true about Alexander's – I think Harris Ranch is their main source, and while that outfit still enjoys a good reputation among a lot of older-generation carnivores, Mr. Harris's obstinate dismissal of all this sentimental crap about being nice to pigs and cows is both troubling morally and a bad signal from a food-lover's viewpoint. Too damned bad, because I love the butchers at Alexander's. I got some fine lamb shoulder there last year, cut up exactly to my wishes and reasonably priced. But it'll be Belcampo this year.

Oct 14, 2014
Will Owen in Los Angeles Area
1

What's a good Shanghai or Family Style restaurant for Lunch in the SGV nowadays?

Chang's Garden has impressed the two of us so many times at lunch that I keep pushing it as a spot for a gang dinner, just so we can cover more of the menu. We've had nothing that wasn't at least very, very good, and the welcoming atmosphere and unforced friendliness of the service are a refreshing change from the usual impersonal treatment at so many medium-to-large houses. Our Food Posse has been urging an outing soon, and I'm hoping we can do Chang's this time.

Oct 14, 2014
Will Owen in Los Angeles Area

Can chives be frozen?

For a while frozen chives were fairly common in store freezer cases – seems to me they came in small tubs. That would have been when chopped chives were a thing no self-respecting American cook would omit from his or her baked potatoes.

I would think that if you packed them either with a Food Saver device or just in freezer zip bags with the air pressed out they'd be okay. They're stems, after all, and the cell structure is tighter and has less moisture than bulbs.

Oct 14, 2014
Will Owen in General Topics

Prices for Butter?

I had a similar experience at Schreiner's, my semi-local German butcher/deli (I'm in Pasadena, they're in Montrose), where I found excellent slab bacon for less than $4/lb (though it may have gone up, since I buy a 2-lb. slab once a year now).

Meat and dairy was much more local when I was young, 50 or 60 years ago. Local butchers and poultry markets were common in every town of any size, and even the big dairy companies had plants within 50 or so miles of each other; our town of 3,000 had a small Kraft cheese factory out by the Illinois Central freight station, and our nearest "big city," Terre Haute, was home to many meat packers and other food processors including vegetable canneries. Call me a curmudgeon if you will, but I think the centralization of our food processors (and the huge reduction in the number of companies involved) is as bad for our economic health as it has been for the diversity of our food choices.

Oct 14, 2014
Will Owen in General Topics

favorite fish dish

Rae à la Beurre Noir – skate wing gently simmered in court-bouillon, then finished in the pan with lemon, capers and (not quite) black butter. Easier to do than you might think, as long as you get your skate already skinned! I didn't once (from an Asian market) and was too ignorant to know they'd have skinned it on request. First had it in France, was delighted at how non-tricky it was in California … though skate, very strangely enough, is off the Sustainable list now.

Crab, lobster and scallops are near the top, too, but any fish really well prepared can be my favorite for a while!

Oct 13, 2014
Will Owen in General Topics

Prices for Butter?

I'm paying I think a bit over $3 here in SoCal; the days of $2 specials on Challenger are gone. The drought is stressing the CA dairy industry badly, too, with farmers having to buy feed due to lack of pasture.

Oct 13, 2014
Will Owen in General Topics

Adding Flavour To Rice - Simple Sauces/Seasonings

Basic under-the-food rice is done just with salt, a good pat of butter and a shake or two of cayenne pepper in the water. For pilaf I used to cook it in chicken broth, but with Mrs. O gone veggie it's a good vegetable broth – one of the broth/soup companies has one called No-Chicken Broth that works quite well. And then there's Coconut Rice, for which I do not have a recipe but want one.

Aside from these, I don't monkey with the rice much at the basic cooking level. As several others here are saying, stand-alone rice is there to support the other food, whether it's a curry, a stir-fry or some good Southern gravy.

Oct 13, 2014
Will Owen in Home Cooking

Scrambled Eggs and Salt?

Nika Hazelton earned a major loss of my respect by pronouncing in one of her cookbooks that "streaky eggs are disgusting." Not "I find them disgusting" or "think they're disgusting," mind you. My mom rarely pre-beat scrambled eggs, and never if they were done on a campfire, and those are for me THE scrambled eggs to go for.

Oct 13, 2014
Will Owen in Home Cooking

Only a Chef Can Ruin Mashed Potatoes

I generally refer to those as "smashed" potatoes. First time I had them they were small redskins with garlic, under the Chicken Cacciatora at Buca di Beppo of all places. The BEST dish of the evening! I use White Rose potatoes for mine and smash them with skins on, but pick out whatever I think is excessive before serving. Lots of butter, S&P.

Oct 13, 2014
Will Owen in Not About Food

Chicken Fried Steak

That was my mom's method, probably learned from her father. Used one of our green glass dime-store Fire King plates … you know, the ones that go for about $20 apiece now. Only difference was she spread flour plus salt and pepper over the meat and just pounded it, turned it, pounded some more, pushing flour back over it and repeating. As far as we were concerned that wasn't chicken-fried or country-fried, it was just "steak," period. I was thinking that I was in my teens before I had a "real steak," but I just remembered a T-bone that my parents bought me at a little local café, maybe for my birthday, when I was nine or ten. I also think I secretly preferred the kind with gravy …

Mom's gravy was not so high-falutin' as Merle's; she just stirred some leftover seasoned flour into the skillet, stirred it until it browned, then stirred in milk. Good enough for me!

Oct 11, 2014
Will Owen in Home Cooking

"We don't take reservations for less than 6." Restaurant Owners Listen Up! [moved from Seattle board]

The customer is not always right, but he is ALWAYS the customer.

If a customer wants a reservation for ONE it's my obligation to give it to him. I am in business to make money, not to make hime happy, but the Sin Against the Holy Ghost in customer relations is to ever under any circumstances let that fact be obvious. My customer must invariably be made to believe that his satisfaction is my fondest if not sole preoccupation, and to allow my deeply selfish, profit-oriented motives to make themselves obvious is a serious failure on my part. No, I am not a restaurateur, but I did deal with clients in other fields, and see no philosophical difference between a lunch reservation and a sixteen-page brochure.

Only a Chef Can Ruin Mashed Potatoes

I think the point was that there aren't any, but they somehow manage to produce quasi-edible glue anyway.

I occasionally go for their Monday Special of two pieces plus two sides, and make a point of asking for two orders of coleslaw, which is pretty good, as an alternative to one each of that and the ghastly "mashed potatoes."

Oct 10, 2014
Will Owen in Not About Food

Only a Chef Can Ruin Mashed Potatoes

That rule is responsible for more ghastly pasty potatoes than any other. The best way to avoid both lumps and wallpaper paste is to use a ricer, but in the absence of one I'll use my heavy-wire steel masher, and if there's a lump that's just too damn bad. I assume your mother had the manners to conceal her scorn at someone else's table …

Food mythbusters . What's your belief or not ?

Bittman insists that eggs should be cracked against a flat surface, since cracking on an edge can drive itty bitty particles of shell yada yada yada. I say Bunk. Cracking on a rounder edge, such as the rolled-rim steel bowls I use when cracking four or more, does occasionally make me fish for shell bits, but the little sharp-edged china ones I use for one or two eggs give me a clean break and no residue. The only flat surface I'd be tempted to break eggs on might be Bittman's forehead …

Oct 09, 2014
Will Owen in General Topics
1

What else can I do with Steel Cut Oats?

The first time I bought steel-cut oats it was for a Scottish recipe for fried trout – the oats were chopped up in the processor and then used as breading for the egg/milk-dipped whole fish, as you'd use cornmeal for frying catfish. First time anyone at the table had tasted it and it was a hit. After that is when I discovered how good the oats are for breakfast!

I think the Dad's oatmeal cookies, the flat, crunchy disks that used to be sold for 5¢ each from big jars, must have been made with steel-cut oats. I always liked those much better than the rolled-oats cookies I knew how to make back then, and I'd love a recipe for them.

Oct 08, 2014
Will Owen in Home Cooking

should I add the breadcrumbs if I'm making this stuffing the day before?

If you've made the stuffing, you can (1) put it into a dish to bake for the next meal, (2) cool it and use it to stuff a bird, or (3) cool it and then refrigerate, covered, for use the next day or so. If I were stuffing a bird the next day I would prefer the stuffing to be roughly the same temperature as the critter, but not hot. However, if it's to be served as a freestanding side dish of course you'd "reheat" it.

Oct 08, 2014
Will Owen in Home Cooking

Not a fan of packaged foods, what ones do you still use?

Canned tomatoes, like canned tuna, are sometimes the "correct" ingredient for some recipes. On my first trip to Italy, in the South, I kept encountering a deliciously fresh-tasting tomato sauce. On the trip home I sat with two sisters from Bari who'd married US Army officers and went home every year, and they were familiar with that sauce, which depended on good canned tomatoes, good oil, some garlic and very little cooking. Similarly, seeing that a version of Vitello Tonnato or Salade Niçoise on a menu is proudly advertised as being made with fresh tuna simply tells us that the chef does not understand the dish.

Some things I think are better canned; some are about as good canned as fresh or frozen. I make succotash with frozen baby limas but always canned corn; using the drained corn liquid as part of the beans' cooking water, I've found, deepens and sweetens the flavor, and I find frozen sweet corn pretty flavorless.

Only a Chef Can Ruin Mashed Potatoes

Any fool can ruin mashed potatoes, but there may be a kernel of truth in there since chefs, and professional cooks in general, tend to ruin their inventions by not knowing when to stop … which is the surest way to ruin mashed potatoes. Just throw the boiled potatoes into the big Hobart and leave it running until you have a pot of glue. I have a small list of otherwise okay eateries where this occurs regularly, so if I'm ordering anything that comes with the "whipped" (and how!) potatoes I'll ask for hash browns.

Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US

Our family usually went to the Owen grandparents' house for Thanksgiving, and it was always a large gathering with two turkeys (one with plain sage stuffing, one with oyster) and the usual potatoes, string beans and half a dozen other things, plus two pies (pumpkin and mince). Twice we went to my mother's parents, Grandma and Grandpa Kuntz; he was easily the best cook in the family, and did a bacon-wrapped turkey one year, and an assortment of game birds he'd shot for the other one. For Christmas we had no set dinner entrée, but it was always good and festive.

After the current Mrs. O and I took up together in Nashville, TG could be either a small quiet dinner of turkey (a small one) or chicken, or else an invited group of "orphans" given a traditional feast. Early on we made Christmas the Day of the Duck, either splitting a duckling or sharing several, although when we visited her parents in California her Papa would cook either a standing rib roast or a goose. After we'd move out here he passed the TG Chef toque to me, but kept most of the Christmas feast as his own. His last Christmas, he prepared a goose, but between his son and I we got it in and out of the oven and made the side dishes.

Now he and Maman are both gone, Mrs. O is vegetarian, and my passion for holiday dishes is barely there, although I will make a small choucroute garni for New Year's just because I love it enough to eat leftovers for a week. Turkey, not so much.

Oct 05, 2014
Will Owen in General Topics

USA heavy cream vs UK double cream

When I was a lad growing up in Illinois in the 1940s and '50s, we never had any double cream, of course, but the cream we did have was of a pale ivory hue, sweet and rich, whether it came as bottled cream or atop the bottle of pasteurized (NOT homogenized) milk. In strawberry season our main treat was shortcakes of sweet biscuit, split and both filled and topped with cut-up and macerated berries, then served in shallow soup plates with unwhipped cream poured over. I liked the cream-soaked biscuit left for last maybe better than the first part …

That would not be possible now, unless I were a dairy farmer and kept some cream out of what I'd sold to the co-op, as my Uncle Dave did (along with selling cream and butter out the back door at night to a few neighbors). Along with the demise of dozens of dairy companies, all swallowed up by this or that conglomerate, has come the shortening of the products list. Plain pasteurized milk, coffee cream, churned buttermilk, genuinely thick cream, all gone except where old practices have been preserved or revived. Altadena, California's last major producer of raw milk, finally had to go completely pasteurized after the state kept racheting up the testing requirements.

Oct 05, 2014
Will Owen in General Topics

Food mythbusters . What's your belief or not ?

There are lots of received-wisdom myths that have been disproven, usually (it seems) by Harold McGee, whose thorough (and incredibly patient) experiments would see to produce the final word … and yet they pop up over and over, not just in blogs but in supposedly authoritative cookbooks. The "fact" that you need lots of water (and maybe oil) at a furious boil to cook pasta or potatoes, the "fact" that you should never salt bean water until they're almost cooked, the "fact" that alcohol in any cooking ingredient will be "cooked off" … these and other thoroughly disproven "facts" have shown up repeatedly in published recipes and food articles I've read just within the last month or so. Amazing, and a bit depressing.

On the other hand, I don't give a rat's patoot what Mark Bittman says, my mom taught me to crack eggs on the rim of the bowl maybe 65 years ago, and I'm damned if I'll stop now!

Oct 05, 2014
Will Owen in General Topics
1

Read the whole menu then decide or stop when you see something you want?

Whole menu, always, even if it's a frequent stop. The only variance from that is if there's a large category of stuff I'm not interested in (desserts, usually), or if I've had my breakfast for the day and it's a breakfast-anytime place (as most of my favorites are) then I'll skip that section. Well, then there are the classic delis with 800+ dishes, so I typically look only at the sandwiches and salads as those are why I'm there anyway.

Oct 05, 2014
Will Owen in Not About Food