Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cooking For Geeks Series: Author Interview

Bet you all thought I'd forgotten about this feature right?  It's turned out to be really hard to make it a weekly thing, so I'm thinking now that I'll do bi-monthly.  I'll cook once a month and post my interview with Jeff Potter, author of Cooking For Geeks, once a month.  So about three weeks ago I made steak tips and rosemary mashed potatoes for dinner.  You can read that post and see those pictures here.  A few days later I was able to interview Jeff and get some tips on how I can improve my cooking skills.  Here's the interview (with Jeff's replies in bold):

On Saturday night I made steak tips and rosemary mashed potatoes using your recipes. They were delicious, but I have to admit that my skill is a little bit lacking. I had a very hard time getting my timing right. I just couldn't seem to get it all ready at the same time. By the time I finished the potatoes the meat was cold and had to be reheated and the rice was burned. Do you have any suggestions for figuring out how to get all of your food prepared at the same time?

In general, you can hold starches at temperature for a while; whereas meats and fishes can overcook if held even slightly too warm. I'd suggest starting with the potatoes and midway-through starting the meat. But this is something that will come with experience! Don't expect to be able to line everything up on a first pass.

Where do you suggest shopping for ingredients? We went to our local grocery store, but I wasn't able to find fresh rosemary, so I had to use dried from a jar. I'd love to try your recipe for duck confit, but I have no idea where to find duck! It's definitely not stocked at the Ingles in Ringgold, GA!

It really depends upon the ingredient. Duck legs are often seasonal—I know my local default grocery store doesn't carry them during the summer, but there is a local butcher who does. I'm lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area that has enough interest in food to support a specialized butcher (more than one!); but of course not everyone has that. You can always ask your store "Do you have duck legs? Can you order them? If not, do you know who would be able to get them around here?" And, remember the telephone! One quick call to a grocery store to see if they have something in stock can save you a lot of driving and aggravation.

We loved the rosemary mashed potatoes, but I'm not sure that I cooked them correctly. I did them in the microwave, but I peeled them first, so the outsides were really cripy. Should I have left the peel on while they cooked?

Yes; leave the peel on while microwaving them. Otherwise the water will steam out and leave the potato before it cooks, resulting in a rubbery, dry, uncooked potato at the extreme. You can poke a few wholes; or even quarter or eighth them, but peeling and dicing them too small won't work.

Finally, any suggestions for making the beef tips more tender? Because I was unprepared for the recipe (which I realize now is why you stress preparedness so much in the book) I had to cook them in a ziplock bag instead of a vacuum bag. Do you think that completely messed them up?

Ziplock is fine—SC Johnson says their bags are heat-stable to 170°F. The issue is more likely the quality of the meat you were using. Make sure to get a cut that's low in collagen; and also slice it on the bias—i.e. against the "grain" so to speak—which will reduce the chewiness as well. Steak tips should be fine; and work well in my experience, but experiment!
My panel and I have been trying for several weeks now to get together for a dinner of pork chops, black eyed peas, and carrots, but it's been difficult.  This weekend my younger siblings and I are headed to south Georgia for a visit with our Mema, so it's not looking good for cooking.  I may try to do a dessert night on Sunday though if I'm not too exhausted from the trip.

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