Jul 16

Fruits & Vegetables You Should Eat in the Summer

You know fruits and vegetables are loaded with nutrients. During the summer, they can provide additional benefits. Fruits and vegetables are crucial to a good diet, decreasing dehydration and the risk of skin problems.

Here are a few fruits and vegetables you should be eating this summer and why you should be eating them.
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Jun 16

Amazing Summer Smoothies

summer smoothies

It’s getting to be that time of the year, when the weather is hot and the only thing you want to do is find things that will cool you down. There are some amazing summer smoothies that you can make on your own. With a blender and a few fresh ingredients, you can tantalize your taste buds and not have to spend a fortune at the local smoothie hut.
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Jul 15

How to Have Beef without Spending a Fortune

Beef Chuck Steak Boneless2_organic

The cost of beef is higher than it has been in a very long time. You can still add beef to your dinner table, and you can do it without spending a fortune. You simply need to understand that there are more affordable cuts of beef out there, and once you’ve learned how to work with them, they are just as delicious as the more expensive cuts.

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Jun 15

Become a Savvy Shopper When Buying Ingredients

herbs and spices

If you plan on being a savvy shopper, it is important to look at all of the details when you go to the grocery store to buy ingredients. You may not be aware of it, but there are a variety of manufacturers who are getting sneaky about how they raise prices. Rather than out and out raising the prices, they are keeping the prices the same, but providing you with less inside of each package.

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Dec 14

World’s Largest White Truffle Expected to Fetch $1 Million

Largest White Truffle Can you imagine Austin Powers saying “ONE MILLION DOLLARS!” in an incredulous British accent?

You would not be alone among the thousands gawking at this gourmet monster. It may look like an aerial shot of real estate on the moon, but it is actually a terrestrial whopper; and it is causing a lot of fuss.

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Sep 14

Atlantic Caviar & Sturgeon

Sometimes an obscure reference to an obscure place, which has a niche product, makes the best lead for a road trip destination. Following up on a single sentence in a June food magazine had brought me to a very happy valley, literally Happy Valley in Lenoir, North Carolina, which is the home of Atlantic Sturgeon & Caviar Company.

Through an email exchange I got the invitation from Elizabeth Wall, who does the marketing over there, and headed out, completely oblivious as to what to expect. As much as we do with Smart Kitchen, we were not super-experienced with Sturgeon, or frankly Caviar, beyond the usual of scoop, serve, revel. I was not prepared to be blown away by the the mix of Sea-World, Natural History Museum, green aqua-farming and outstanding culinary adventure. As you can imagine, I am now a super-fan, mega-convert.

Apparently the “farm” is the brain child of two valley residents, who were childhood friends and both aware of the depredation of the Russian sturgeon population. They got going in 2009 and then brought in the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation and NC State to help with the “fish husbandry.” Today, the farm is run under the auspices of the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation and turns out the only domestic Ossetra Caviar. They also have some Atlantic Sturgeon Caviar and Siberian Sturgeon Caviar. I was partial to the Siberian we sampled, even though it was technically out of date. The salty, briny taste was reminiscent of the ocean, even though the Siberian Sturgeon were raise in landlocked Happy Valley.

The surprise product was the Sturgeon meat (smoked & unsmoked) which Atlantic Caviar calls “The Pork of the Sea.”

Atlantic Sturgeon & Caviar Company also does some mail order, if you are in the mood to try some of the real good stuff for a holiday or just a treat. I know we will be anxiously awaiting our Fed Ex package in late November. : )

The video is a bit on the long side for our Blog, but it has a lot of information that you don’t see just anywhere.

P Chef

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May 14

Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend

Little Cleo's Restaurant Week Cropped


We must have been too busy this spring, because Arizona Restaurant Week just sprang up on us this year. We had to scramble to get a reservation and to get Mrs. P Chef on board. At the last minute, we were able to get a table at Little Cleo’s, which has been written up and raved about all year.

Truth be told, I have not been a big fan, personally, of many of the Sam Fox Restaurants’ concepts. I know that they are popular and do a booming business, but to me they all (Sauce, Olive & Ivy, Blanco, North, etc.) somehow just miss. If forced to put a finger on the problem with the group, it seems like a lack of authenticity and/or too much passion for lucre.

Sam Fox never killed my baby seal, insulted my Prius or fought with my Honor Student (if we were so lucky), so I don’t know what I have against the group, except that maybe it just isn’t for me. If doing Pizza, I prefer Le Gran Orange, Pomo, Pizzaria Bianco, etc. There are places that have something vibrant and real about them.

Restaurant Week

That being said, AZ Restaurant Week felt like a perfect opportunity to see if there was anything to the plaudits being heaped on Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend. That fact that the seafood choices in this desert town are slim pickings, argued for a new addition to the roster, which mostly tended towards homecooking, and sushi places like Roka Akur, Sushi Roku, Hana Japanese Eatery, Yazu Sushi, etc. Most of the other very good choices, many served by refrigerated delivery from Santa Monica Seafoods out of LA, were painfully overpriced. It took a modicum of self-reflection, and a few phone calls before everything fell into place.

The Restaurant Week Menu was broken down into 3 sections: Small Plates & Veggies, Large Plates, and Desserts. The small plates choices were Clam Chowder, Crispy Frog Legs, Grilled Octopus and Black Kale Salad. We opted for the Octopus and the Kale Salad. A half dozen oysters also made the cut, as did the house made “bacon & eggs,” made with house made sturgeon. The octopus was well cooked, a plus, but skimpy on the protein (3-4 small cephalopods) and heavy on the distracting cheaper clutter (fried masa, hush puppies, watercress, charred serrano). At $10 on the normal menu, I see the economics but the purist in me balks at the misdirection.

The kale salad was all it could be and Mrs. P Chef put it away quickly. The oysters at MP, were a dissappointment to someone hoping to rave about seafood. The Pacific Northwest or Maine was on my mind as I pictured the oysters on the half shell as I heard that they were actually serving Luna Oysters from Carlsbad Aqua Farm in the lavish iced presentation. Carlsbad is nice but not something to write home about. It was the same with the near-local oysters. They were a nice change but not worthy of a ton of ink.

Cleo Blog

Little Cleo’s “Bacon & Eggs” with house made Sturgeon Bacon. Yay!

The house made sturgeon bacon was novel and a great item that I could get behind, if only it were not cut so wafer thin and saddled with the bread, egg and creme fraiche as filler and distractions. See it above under the egg and topping the bread. I would have preferred, at $12, the pure experience.  And so went the meal.

Grilled Ahi Tuna, for Mrs. P Chef was nice. As Jon Favreau’s character, Chef Carl Casper puts in Chef, and I am paraphrasing, “how do you go wrong with Ahi Tuna? Its safe. It sells.”

little cleo bouillabaissev2

Little Cleo’s Bouillabaisse (with apologies for the Android camera photo and dark restaurant)

Honoring the large plate item that was pushing the norms, a bit, I could only choose the “bouillabaisse.” Overall, I liked the direction of the dish, but I was also very glad that I did not pay the regular $24 price for the privilege. The ONE scallop was good. Did you notice it there on top, prominently displayed, hinting at a few more friendly scallops below? If I were cynical, I would suspect that the lone scallop was placed there with precision, even though the menu clearly states “scallops.” But who needs cynicism? I choose to chalk it up to the vaguaries of the ladle.

The substantial pieces of bread, imitating large pieces of grilled fish, were also very crunchy and flavorful, but NOT ACTUALLY FISH. A Bouillabaisse is a fisherman’s fish stew from Marseilles which was developed as a way to avoid wasting the bony rock fish they hauled in. What the trash fish lacked in quality, was made up for with quantity. It would not be unreasonable to have .75 pounds to 1 pound of fish per person served in a Bouillabaisse recipe. The seafood in the dish was principally the shrimp (which was overcooked and, in my opinion, of less than stellar quality) and the mussels (which were servicable). Though it wasn’t listed on the menu description, I believe that there were also some nubs of Salmon in the mix.

The lack of abundance of seafood also was one of the reasons that I imagine that the broth was thinner than expected. The other was likely the absense of Olive Oil, Thyme and Bay (stalwarts of Provençal cooking) in the soup base. The menu lists Saffron & Fennel, but not Garlic, Onions, Olive Oil, Thyme or Bay. For the life of me, I swear that I tasted Garlic but not the complexity, richness and depth of flavor I was seeking, so I must attribute this to missing ingredients. The good news, if there is any, is that on the Restaurant Week budget, I was only disappointed, not totally out of sorts.

If I were to go back to Little Cleo’s, I’d stay away from the, in my opinion, value engineered menu and order a fresh fish special which may be pricier but will also be more dificult game.

P Chef

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Little Cleo's Seafood Legend on Urbanspoon

Feb 14

Freeze Meat Prices by Deciding “Weather” to Buy Now and Thaw Later

Wagyu Cattle and Calves on the Range

Wagyu Cattle and Calves on the Range

You may or may not have “herd” yet, that there is a generational drought occuring in many of the agricultural centers of the United States. How it impacts you may depend on local conditions and how much precipitation we get in the next few months.

Here are some of the facts: the nations cattle population is at a 61 year low, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wholesale prices for Choice Grade Beef hit an all time high of $240.05 per hundred weight on Jan 22 nd, 2014 and desperate ranchers are ordering hay sending Hay prices up to about $270 a ton from $200 in just a few months.

As a nation we are still recovering from the 2011 drought and experiencing a new one in California in 2014. If there is insufficient spring grass (due to drought conditions) ranchers may be forced to further cull their herds, leading to a short term increase in the immediate supply but a longer term reduction in supply. The range mathematics and economics of animal husbandry applies equally to Sheep & Cattle.

Even the cold, wet winter may not help very much according to Professor Ron Gill Ph.D., of Texas A&M University who told Smart Kitchen that the Midwest, where the precipitation greatest this winter, is not much of a factor in the national beef supply. Further Professor Gill reminds us, “before any rebuilding can occur additional heifers will have to be kept”…which will “actually shorten beef supplies even further until those cows can produce calves that will in turn have offspring that will contribute to the beef supply.”

 What this means, Professor Gill continued is that “if expansion begins it will be at least two years before we see any additional beef supply.”  If you want to read more about rebuilding the national beef herd, Professor Gill has an article on the subject on the Texas A&M website at Rebuilding the Beef Herd. The link goes to the Texas A&M website.
Beef Chuck Steak Boneless2_organic
Practically, this means that chefs with foresight may want to purchase a bit more frozen Beef today, to hedge against an uptick in prices this summer and fall. If there is a slight downtick in pricing due to the cull, that is an opportunity to purchase an extra Steak or Roast or two, because the long term outlook will be even worse.
As long as the Beef is Frozen properly to Avoid Freezer Burn, and Flash Frozen to avoid the creation of flavor and texture destroying ice crystals, it should last a good 6-8 months in the freezer.
Something similar is going on in California where 80% of the Golden State’s water is used for agricultural purposes and their is another drought in the state which produces nearly half of all U.S. grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and is also our leading dairy and wine producer.  Wet weather, or the lack of it, in the next few months will be a very strong indicator of future produce prices.
If you don’t see the Weather Channel expounding on the precipitation in Northern California, or the elevated levels of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, you may want to make some room in the freezer for some of your favorite produce, or plant a bit of it yourself if you want to avoid paying steeply higher prices later this year.

P Chef

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Jan 14

With all the World a Wintery Veggie Freezer What’s a Cook to Do?

Frozen Cauliflower

Frozen Winter Caulifower in the Field (courtesy of TinyFarmBlog.com)

So with the whole continent seemingly subjected to Seasonal Global Cooling, how is that “Eat Local” thing working out for you and yours?

frozen field

We are having a problem with Tempering the Produce! That Mixed Green Salad Might Take a While.

If you are a die-hard ‘localer” you may be experimenting with your 47th variant of a Stew built around Winter Seasonal Vegetables like Beets, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, etc. Before you throw off your Toque and stamp it to bits, just remember that there are only 74 more days until Spring and the first fresh Spring Vegetables.

Even with air freight, the corner grocery is not a great veggie resource all year long either. Many of those specimens on the shelves come from warmer climes and have traveled (really TRAVELLED) a long way to get to you. They may be days or weeks old before even being set out for customers. Nutrients (and flavor) have been escaping that whole time due to light, heat and Oxidation.

If you are like us a realist first, just before being a localist, we may have a palatable solution to the problem of a reduced supply of reasonably priced, extremely fresh Vegetables in the neighborhood produce aisles: Frozen Vegetables.

No, we are not suggesting tossing the fresh stuff into that snow drift taking over your balcony. We mean actual sub-zero, in the freezer case, bagged, branded (Green Giant, Birdseye etc.) old fashioned frozen vegetables. The kind your Mom, or even your Grandma, bought. The kind of veggies that are thought of more often as a hang-over-helper (be honest did you break out the frozen Peas on 1/1/14?) than a fine dining, main line ingredient.

So what has changed? Mostly it is the freezing process, the frozen distribution system and recent nutritional studies (albeit mostly funded by frozen food groups). The first commercial freezers were just big cold insulated rooms that took between 10 hours and 48 hours to freeze product solid. With the advent of Clarence Birdseye’s (1866 – 1956) “Flash Freezing,” the old method became “Sharp Freezing” and went by the wayside. Sharp Freezing gave us (collectively) most of our negative imagery associated with Frozen Food. Because the freezing process wasn’t efficient, thawed food turned out mushy and dry.

Patent 1773079 quick frozen fish machine

Clarence Birdseye’s Quick Frozen Fish Machine, Later used for Veggies

Today, industry has improved upon Clarence’s brainstorm and foundational work. Flash Freezing has gone big time by bringing the food to be frozen into contact with liquid Nitrogen (-320.8 F). What took 6 hours to freeze with Sharp Freezing, and 1.5 hours with the first Birdseye freezer now happens in minutes and throughput rates can approach 5500 pounds an hour for a modular continuous tunnel freezer. The freezing is so rapid that water crystals have almost no time to form. The indicators of quality are really very similar for modern flash frozen products and fresh.

Cryoline SI is a Nitrogen Immersion Freezer

Modern Cryoline MT Modular Continuos Tunnel Freezer

Frozen Food Distribution is much better now than it was in the day. Modern harvested product spends almost no time in The Food Danger Zone before freezing. Flash Freezing units are now small enough and robust enough to be shipped abord fishing vessels. They are also located in multiple processing plants, built much closer to the product. There are even mobile flash freezers that can be drawn into the fields themselves. Freezing product just after it is picked has greatly reduced the amount of deterioration that occurs.

New science has also come stating that modern frozen vegetables are equivalent to fresh product which may travel days or weeks (especially in winter) to reach your produce aisle. As soon as the item is picked, it starts to deteriorate due to sunlight, Oxidation and time. A review in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that fresh and frozen produce can be nutritionally equivalent. This study was funded by the Canned Food Alliance even though canned product suffered in the nutritional comparison. Another study by University of Georgia found that “Frozen produce was as nutritious overall as fresh produce and, in some cases more nutritious than produce that had been purchased and then held in the home refrigerator for 5 days.” For example, Frozen Broccoli, Strawberries and Green Peas all had more Vitamin C than the fresh samples. This study was funded by the Frozen Food Alliance, so a grain of salt may be in order.

The last best thing that you can do with frozen produce as a Chef is use it properly. Abandon the microwave and the button pushing. Instead, Thaw and Temper the product before employing your stove top skills. Cooking frozen produce by GrillingSautéing, Roasting, Steaming, Blanching, etc will give you a far better outcome. If you want to learn more about the cooking part Join Smart Kitchen and learn all about cooking for only $9.99 / month.

P Chef

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Aug 13

Science Fiction’s Cultured Beef makes a “RARE” Burger Today!

lab beef

A Burger We won’t be cooking any time soon.

This is one rare burger, one you won’t be seeing at your local fast food chain any time soon. There was only the one made and its already gone for now, Pan Fried in Sunflower Oil and Whole Butter.

So what is it? A very cool/gross/scary/fun science fiction concept to cogitate over because some Dutch Scientists at Maastricht University, lead by Mark Post and backed by Sergey Brin of Google took a few years and made a $332,000 fat-free, Hamburger patty.  “So?” you might say, “what’s in there, gold?”  No gold, only Bread Crumbs, and a binder. The reason for the high price and uber-long prep time is more because of what did not go into making this burger. There was no grass, and no pasture; no corn and no feed lot because what it didn’t have was a Steer, at least in the traditional sense.

This new Lab Burger (not lamb burger) was grown inside a lab from Beef muscle cells that were harvested from a cow and then separated into fat and muscle cells. The muscle cells were then cultured (we predict a “Cultured Beef” designation in the future) and grown in a nutrient solution. Apparently, muscle cells organize themselves and grow in strands with nutrients and an initial anchor point. The “guts” of the thing (pardon the pun) is almost too much to think about. Two lucky people, or unlucky, depending on your point of view, got to try the new burger in London on Monday. One was a food writer and the other was a food scientist.

lab burger cooked

The Cooked Lab Burger – Courtesy of Digital Trends

The results, as you might expect, were  not great. The Lab Burger had the texture and juiciness of meat but none of the intense Beef flavor. I won’t knock it, especially as a first try.

There will probably come a day when there is a need for lab grown beef, as currently 70% of agricultural land is devoted to raising livestock. As we grow ever more crowded, lab burgers may be worth it for the land efficiency alone. Don’t even get me started on supplying the first Five Guys on Mars.

So stay posted, The Maastrict University crew is going back to the drawing board and will attempt to grow some Fat so that they can blend their next $288,000 burger with some flavor. We’d advise them to mimic the Chuck Primal Cut and go 80/20 in two years or so.


P Chef

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