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  • Sharpening Your Culinary Skills

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    There are some kitchen basics which can wow your family, friends and dinner guests.

    Some of these I have done, but not nearly enough. And it's time to get back to those basics.

    This article from the Los Angeles Times talks about making some 2013 culinary resolutions.

    A couple of those ideas can be fun and easy for those working in kitchens across northeast Wisconsin.

    The first is fresh pasta. Here is a recipe that anyone can make. It involves using basic ingredients, without needing a pasta maker.

    Once you've made the dough, the possibilities are endless. In fact, fresh pasta cooks way faster than boxed, dried pasta. So you can enjoy even sooner than before.

    Another one is wontons. Wonton wrappers (frozen) can be bought in stores locally. One of the best ones is at Woodman's. Pick up a package or two.

    When you're ready to experiment, the possibilites (again) are endless. Savory ones, traditional pot stickers, wontons, gyoza, etc. I've even used fruit jellies to make dessert wontons, served with fresh whipped cream, powdered sugar and chocolate sauce.

    Taking the time to try these basics will widen your horizons as a culinarian.

  • Inside Look: Fox Valley Tech's Culinary Theatre

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    Fox Valley Technical College had their big reveal Thursday morning on their 8,500 square foot Jones Dairy Farm Culinary Theatre.

    The main story is here.

    Here are some other notes about my interview with Department Chair Chef Jeff Igel:

    • The theatre actually began as an idea to remodel to construct a demonstration cooking area. It morphed into a full-build after fundraising efforts were successful beyond what they had envisioned.
    • Igel says they surpassed the challenge grant offered by Jones Dairy in 90 days. Sought donations from purveyor partners, distributors and manufacturers.
    • Worked with Wisconsin-based companies like Alto-Shaam and Vollrath to help with design, layout and equipment.
    • Theatre can actually hold a maximum 150 people.
    • Igel calls Fox Valley Tech's culinary program Wisconsin's largest. "We take a back seat to no one."
    Chef Jeff was trying to be very humble, but truth be told I think I brought this out of him. "I would take my team of chefs (7 faculty and 3 managers) and put them against anyone in the nation," Igel said.
    When talking about recruiting (more than 300 are enrolled in culinary arts/hotel and restaurant management programs), Igel would tell a prospective student, "Look at facilities, curriculum and faculty."
    Chef Jeff adds they build their reputation one student, one class at a time. "We're employed to help you get a job," he said.
    The fire begins on Monday when 10 classes are scheduled to be held inside the theatre. But Igel says he's excited to get the public involved, "When we're not using it, I want it available to other programs, non-vocational classes."
    What's the future of the industry? Chef Jeff tells me he thinks it's a move to more induction cooking. How can you argue with boiling a pot of water in 70 seconds?
    The public is invited to their open house on Tuesday February 12th from 3 until 6 p.m. Another big event, their Cultural Cuisine, is on Sunday February 24th. Tickets are available for the Cultural Cuisine event at their website here.
    I can't wait to get back to 1825 N. Bluemound Drive in Grand Chute to soak in this facility.
  • Cellaring the Wine Aging Debate

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    There is a solid debate to be had by oenophiles regarding the benefits of aging wine.

    I'm haunted by the saying, "I shall serve no wine before its time." It may be a credo of wine servers or it could be a line uttered during an episode of Frasier.

    Either way, it's a line that gives me pause. When is the right time to serve a wine? If you're me, it's planned for that evening or whenever you arrive home to locate the trusty corkscrew.

    But for some, it's a waiting game. Those who have actual wine cellar, racks upon racks of carefully selected quaffs not yet at its peak ripeness for another 5 to 7, even 10 years.

    This column by Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator brings this debate to light and definitely brings up some solid terroir for the argument that wine has never been better to "drink now" than ever before.

    No one has patience anymore. It's not just a virtue; it's a rarer commodity than a 1982 Latour.

    If I had a wine cellar (I don't expect to land one anytime soon), I would like to believe that I had the capacity to let the wines age properly, while drinking the ones I wanted to drink now. Enjoy the small fish today, save the big fish for the right place and time.

    But since I gave away the big secret (about not having a wine cellar), I will settle for enjoying now the wider range of quality wines which aren't overly obstructive in the path towards enjoyment.

  • Why Elvis Was Fat

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    Have you ever really thought about that? Why was Elvis, towards the end of his life, so fat?? 

    This blog has an insight into some of the so-called "King of Rock N' Roll's" favorite eats.

    By now his fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches are legendary. But how about that "Fool's Gold Loaf"?? It's not something I'd fly to Denver for...but hey to each his own.

    That "milkshake" recipe seals it. It's the most ridiculous thing I've seen submitted as an actual recipe. I've messed around in the kitchen and whipped up some pretty odd combinations, but it's usually something that's not written down and published.

    Another thing I'll add is that it's true Elvis Presley had a lot of money and enough vices to make Keith Richards blush, but if you want to feel better about your diet, just read this. I guarantee no matter how bad you think you eat, its tofu and salad compared with what Elvis did with his daily intake of 100,000 calories. 

  • Hallucination Curry and other Pepper Points

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    I like spicy food. But the term "spicy" is extremely relative. What's spicy to some may be cause for the nearest gallon of milk or fire alarm.

    The next question is how spicy?? How spicy is TOO spicy?? A good rule that I live by is if you need medical attention...you've likely gone too far.

    Case in point, this soup which burned a hole in a 26-year-old man's stomach.

    But what about this story from the Huffington Post about the curry that allegedly caused a man to hallucinate?

    First of all, it should be known that the subject in this spicy study is a self-proclaimed "daredevil". He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for goodness sake.

    Nevertheless, he ate a curry made with 20 Naga Infinity chilies. Never heard of them, but with a whopping 6 million Scoville units per pepper, it's worth learning about.

    I've had salsa made with the Naga Bhut Jolokia or "Ghost Chile" pepper. That's extremely spicy in my opinion and the hottest one I've ever personally eaten.

    The last I had heard, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Blend (incidentally produced by New Mexico State University; go Aggies) was the reigning champion of chile heat.

    Chile heads are their own breed. I don't know that I would consider myself that, but I do find it fun to test my ability to handle the heat. Of course, I never know until it's too late whether or not I've gone too far.

  • Appleton's Kensington Grille Closes Down

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    The sequal to The Seasons restaurant on Appleton's east side has shut its doors.

    According to the Appleton Post-Crescent, the Kensington Grille locked up for good this past Tuesday.

    Once again, it's a story of business on weekends being "good", but since there are seven days in a week, the remaining four or five days not being good enough.

    Being next door to the Red N' White wine bar was supposed to be a great location for this, but it apparently never materialized.

    Sorry to hear about this happening.

  • What's Your Prediction for 2013 Food Trends

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    I don't own a crystal ball, and if I did, I definitely WOULD use it to set myself up both in Las Vegas and Wall Street.

    It would also help me figure out what to serve guests at the house and hear them utter the words, "My that's tasty AND trendy!"

    While not one of those things will happen to me, it's always fun to try and predict what food and beverage items may become the hip new thing for the hungry and thirsty in America.

    This article from the New York Times takes aim at 10 trends we could expect for the 2013 calendar year.

    Some of them I can see happening...others I'm not so sure.

    One of them I definitely can see taking off is salumi. I think because Wisconsin is home to many farmers, artisans, local food movement-types, farmers markets could be adorned in homemade cured meats of all kinds. We're home to venison and elk, among other animals for which meats can be cured, aged and flavored.

    One I wouldn't bet on is chicarrones. While the pork rind does have a following, it does have the label of being very unhealthy. I think more folks are concerned and curious about what they're putting in their bodies, so aside from the folks who love crispy fried bits of pig, it may not take off in the way other foods might.

    The only problem with many of these predictions and that they may have overlooked something which will appear at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis this coming summer. If it sells well (like chocolate covered bacon), that will become the hottest food trend of 2013.

  • How to Cut Your Grocery Bill

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    The ongoing economic struggle that bites most of us isn't going away anytime soon. I find the best way to help stretch your dollar is by looking for deals and breaks at the grocery store.

    It's nothing different than what a restaurant owner, kitchen manager or executive chef would do facing tighter budgets. They shop around and compare the prices of produce, meat, dairy, etc. that different purveyors have.

    This article from the Seattle Times has some ideas which translate to the more home executive chef.

    The first part of the story talks about tracking sale prices at more than one store. At my house, that's the first thing we do before making out our grocery list.

    In northeast Wisconsin, we're fortunate to have a number of different options to do our grocery shopping. You have Festival Foods, Piggly Wiggly, Pick N' Save, Woodman's, Wal-Mart and Target all offering groceries.

    In season, you can add local farmer's markets. Some items can even be had for cheaper at places like Aldi, Dollar General or Walgreen's.

    I'm not advocating "Extreme Couponing." But with all stores putting their sale items on their websites each week, including ways to track your list, match that up with printable coupons, it is much easier these days to get the best deal on food to help slash your food bill.

  • So You Wanna Be a Barista??

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    During my journey to northeast Wisconsin, I spent time under the job title: Barista.

    It's true. 

    Anyone who knows me understands that I have a caffeine addiction. So it would make sense that I would get a job slinging espressos, lattes and other assorted coffee drinks. Free coffee!

    When you get hired for any job, there is some sort of training which takes place. But in the coffee world, there's a whole new kind of job training. 

    This article from the New York Times goes into detail for one person's visit to two "boot camps" for the bean counters.

    I began my work as a barista at a small cafe in El Paso, but then moved to Milwaukee and signed up to work at a cafe inside the Corporate Center at Children's Hospital in Wauwatosa. 

    They served Alterra Coffee, so I got to attend a half-day of this type of training at their Prospect Avenue hub.

    It began with a pair of DVD's regarding the history and types of coffee. Then it was past the roasters and up a flight of stairs to the training center. It was wall-to-wall espresso machines. That's where I was trained on the specific type of espresso machine I would be using at Children's, and went over how to make the proper milk foaming.

    Definitely not quite the intense training that takes place in northern California for that writer, but it was something completely different.

    But the training did serve me well, not just in that job, but at my next coffee job at the Coffee Bean in Scottsdale. I didn't need that much training, was used to demo for regional managers and even was the personal barista for the owner of the building we were in. 

    There's more to coffee and espresso drinks than the normal person or customer may know...and it's definitely worth learning about. But at home, it's much easier to keep it simple...find a good drip coffee and you can't go wrong.

  • Make Mine a Minestrone

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    With the holidays coming to an end, Wisconsinites know that means the only thing left is the dead of winter.

    It's no better time to break out the hearty chili, stew and soup recipes that right now.

    One of my personal favorite soups is Minestrone. Ever since I was a small kid, I loved the flavor and taste of Minestrone. Now as an adult, I can adjust the recipes and try different ingredients in a Minestrone soup.

    Here's a story about a great idea for this Minestrone recipe.

    It's a great way to keep warm and watch the snow fall from the best place...the INSIDE of your house. 

  • Tamale Tradition for Christmas

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    It's Christmas Eve, and in the five years-plus that I've lived in Wisconsin, the one aspect of the season which I actually miss from living in the Southwestern U.S. is the endless flood of tamales.

    For those of you unsure what exactly a tamale is, it's a meal consisting of masa (a starchy dough consisting of cornmeal or hominy), a protein (chicken, beef, seafood), chiles (red or green since that's for Christmas. Not really, it just works out that way) that's steamed inside a corn husk (or a leaf).

    In El Paso, it's very traditional to not only make dozens and dozens for hosting family and friends, but also to give as gifts. Tremendous gift, since you can eat for days with all the tamales given to you without ever having to make yourself anything.

    This article from the New York Times talks about the tradition of making tamales and the history of it.

    As much as I enjoy traditional tamales, the ones which combine unusual proteins and chiles really gets me excited.

    It's the same as a pizza, spring roll, crepe, or any other ethnic dish in my view. The traditionally made ones are good, but when creativity comes into play, that's when it becomes really special.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family and take time to remember what this holiday is all about. Togetherness and caring for each other.

     

  • What to Kneaux About Bordeaux

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    It's the standard by which all other wine regions are measured. 

    Bordeaux.

    It generally commands the highest price tag globally, from France and Great Britain to the U.S. and China.

    The labels and chateaux are legendary and known like the great names of film, music and sports. Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Cheval Blanc, Haut-Brion. It's the murderer's row of the worlds most sought after wines.

    But what you may not know is that there are some great buys at your local wine shop. Prices that won't break your bank. 

    You may ask, why bother going for an unknown when you can have a big name??

    That's where one of the great lessons of wine comes into play. It's all about terroir.

    "Terroir" is a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine.

    Bordeaux vineyards cover approximately 520 square miles, and not all of that are Latour, Lafite and Margaux. Those are first growths from Medoc, Graves and St. Emilion.

    There are many others who don't have the name recognition, but come from much of the same terroir. And that is what can translate to quality for a lower price point.

    This story from the Wisconsin State Journal covers some of the great value-priced Bordeaux and talks about theorizing what the "great" years are.

    The photo above is a wine I bought during my last visit to El Paso. It cost around $15 at Spec's on the west side. It was a great wine for the price. It's a Medoc that I'm willing to open my wallet for.

    These are the kinds of treasures which I hope everyone can enjoy during the holiday season.