Monday, September 13, 2010

Restaurant Follies

In the introduction to my book Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering, I wrote, “Friends often wondered, with all of my restaurant knowledge, why I didn’t open a restaurant. Usually my response was laughter. I knew full well how hard restaurant owners and chef-owners worked, nearly 24/7. Basil has to be in your bloodstream to a bring a restaurant to life and keep it on life support. The good ones are magical. Cooking is one of the creative arts. I love basil, but it is not in my bloodstream.”

That was never a tough decision for me. And I have never second-guessed myself—at least on that decision. Reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential makes me feel like a freaking oracle. It has been out a while (2000) and was a surprise best-seller, especially to the author. He wrote the book for fellow chefs, thinking it too much of an inside treatise for us innocents who patronize restaurants.

A month ago I had purchased his latest work, Medium Raw, but put it down after a few chapters and bought his first best-seller. I’m glad I did and recommend it to all foodies or foodie wannabees. Though, even for foodies it is often a language foreign.

He entitles his chapter on restaurant ownership, “Owner’s Syndrome and Other Medical Anomalies.” In it he writes, “Inarguably, a successful restaurant demands that you live on the premises for the first few years, working seventeen-hour days, with total involvement in every aspect of a complicated, cruel and very fickle trade. You must be fluent in not only Spanish but the Kabbala-like* intricacies of health codes, tax law, fire department regulations, environmental protection laws, building code, occupational safety and health regs, fair hiring practices, zoning, insurance, the vagaries and back-alley back-scratching of liquor licenses, the netherworld of trash removal, linen, and grease disposal.”

So, you own a successful dentist practice and your friends say you should open a restaurant because you give great dinner parties? Fugetaboutit. Invest in a chain of tattoo-removal shops.

* He meant Kabbalah, a Jewish term mostly meaning mystical. So Kabbala-like means mystical-like intricacies.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I know, you are thinking that blowhards and blogs go together.

PJ loves hardboiled eggs. I prefer my eggs scrambled and blended with all manner of foodstuffs. Eggs scrambled are like casseroles, you just add whatever is in the refrigerator.

Boiling eggs is pretty simple. It’s the peeling that is tedious at best.

I recently saw a video about an egg-peeling shortcut. A guy created it, of course.

Place 3-4 eggs in a saucepan high enough so that eggs are fully submerged. That would be after you add water. Then add a teaspoon of baking soda. Boil for 10-12 minutes. In another bowl prepare an ice bath. That would be ice cubes and water. When the eggs are done put them in the ice bath for about 4-5 minutes. The shell should feel cool to the touch. Crack an egg at both ends and remove up to an inch in diameter of egg shell from each end. Place one end to the lips and blow. This is where being a blowhard comes in handy—you have to really blow hard—probably more than once. The egg will pop out of the other end. Rinse, repeat.

Gals, you may need a guy for this. We are much better blowhards.

This actually worked, much to my surprise. Though, I would say that the egg with the cooled shell but still warm core actually peels pretty easily. It is when both are cold that peeling tests one’s patience.

Just to prove that I am not a blowhard, I’m going to end this posting now.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bittersweet Day

Today is the 5th Anniversary of Katrina trashing New Orleans, a bittersweet time. Read the attached column I wrote about my last visit in November, 2008 to understand why.

To New Orleans, With Love

I went because I had to. I do not recall it being a choice.

During nine New Orleans’ trips since January 2006, I have helped gut sixteen homes, build eight Habitat for Humanity homes and a playground, recruited 34 friends (many of whom returned up to four times), and helped launch another NGO (non-governmental organization) which has to date hosted another 3,000 volunteers.

However, I am but one of many who contributed as much, and more. A recent estimate put the number of volunteers at two million. A senior Habitat official estimated that 700,000 workdays have been donated to Habitat.

Most of my trips were linked with the St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Churches’ RHINO (Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans) program.

Logansport high school classmates and fellow Up With People alums, joined me on my swan song trip.

Vivid memories abound. I have stood in horror upon entering my first ravaged home – then I smashed windows just to breathe. Two days later the gutted, reborn home was but a skeleton of its former self, its moldy, toxic, rotting core carted off by trolling garbage trucks to some unknown heap.

I have seen the endless ghost streets and blue tarps on roofs, sailboats on streets, and battered homes, some swept across streets and onto cars or other homes. I have winced at the heights of flood water lines stained onto homes, and the National Guard’s spray-painted cryptic survey summaries on doors. I witnessed the onset of refrigerator wasteland, FEMA-trailer towns, and trailer-lined streets.

I have left behind 20 contaminated, ripped, or paint-splattered jeans and shirts, and returned home four times with Katrina cough.

I am still challenged by friends and acquaintances perplexed as to why I would “waste” so much time recovering a city they view as a waste of time. My first rejoinder is always, “It is their home.”

The Times-Picayune ran a weekly series entitled “The Kindness of Strangers.” That series featured me one week, a pleasant surprise.

I have breakfasted at Carmellia Grill and CafĂ© Rose Nicaud, lunched at Willie Mae’s and Crabby Jacks, and supped at Galatoires, Emeril’s NOLA, Redfish Grill and Jacque-Imos. I have slid down dozens of Acme’s fresh oysters, and downed adult beverages at O’Briens and Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge.

I have ridden the circuit of the rickety, rejuvenated St. Charles trolley line, toe-tapped to Preservation Hall jazz, zipped around to Zydeco at the Rock N’ Bowl, and sipped wine in The Columns’ parlor as guitarist John Rankin strummed. Mardi Gras beads hang next to my home office computer.

I have drooled over countless columned St. Charles Ave. mansions, and stayed up to watch a phalanx of police clear and clean out Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras’ witching hour.

There is something about the crescent city. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Yes, there is the contextual, textural, rainbow history, joie de vivre, food, smells, and the jazzy live-in-the-moment rhythm. It is more, whatever it is. Maybe it is nurtured by a repressed sense that it all could be gone in a flash (or a flood), and Orleanians are driven to cram as much as possible into each day. Sort of like a Po-Boy sandwich with everything. Living in earthquake and fire-central Southern California, who am I to criticize or psychoanalyze?

New Orleans may not channel the Las Vegas slogan “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas”, but it’s close.

She can be an exasperating city to navigate, even over three years since Katrina. I still cursed at missing street and one-way signs, stop-and-go traffic behind late Friday trash collection, and trying to decipher the French Quarter traffic grid. And what’s with all of the potholes? I would think that the rental car companies would be suing for axle abuse.

I have revisited gutted homes and fought my negativity upon seeing them mostly as we left them two years ago. Was it for naught? Too often the road home (and The Road Home Program) is potholed with good intentions, along with an intimidating bureaucratic maze. I try to remember that each home is a story. I do not know the stories. I wish I did.

Yet, the heart soars when driving around Musicians’ Village, greeting the new owner of a home I helped build in RHINO’s Ferry Place project, or seeing Gertrude LeBlanc in her new digs just across the canal in the Lower Ninth Ward. Her new home sits in the midst of homes sponsored by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Make it Right 9 Foundation.

Orleanians say without hesitation that the volunteers saved the city, not the local, state, or federal governments. As a candidate, President-elect Obama promised New Orleans Category 5 protection. I doubt that much is necessary but I do fear the current Category 3 fortification is not enough.

Now it is time to go. New Orleans can keep the clothes.

I will return, whether for Jazz Fest, or a culinary tour. You now have a piece of my heart, New Orleans, and I don’t know how to quit you.

Keith Frohreich, November 2008

Shell-shocked Fish

PJ has a shellfish allergy. She doesn’t get violently sick and thrash around on the floor, but a bathroom had better be nearby.

Hence, I am depraved because I am deprived. Not really, I just like using a favorite line from West Side Story.

Shellfish does not cross the threshold of our home, until PJ leaves. Currently she is on a multi-day trip to visit her folks and sister in another time zone. The first day she was gone I trekked to Santa Monica Seafood in Newport Beach. (No, I do not know if there is a Newport Beach Seafood in Santa Monica.)

I bought mahi mahi, petrole sole, red snapper, trout and yellowfin tuna, all fish PJ can process without a trip to the bathroom. I also bought thirty shrimp and two dozen little neck clams. My taste buds were already practicing a jig in anticipation.

That first night I found an accessible recipe for garlic shrimp; minced garlic, olive oil, dry sherry, parsley, red pepper flakes and salt. First I faced the tedious task of shelling and deveining. I’m not sure what the big deal is about deveining, they looked pretty wimpy and harmless, but I generally follow recipe directions. The next time I’m going to pay extra for a professional deveiner. There’s a resume enhancer for you.

The next night I purged the clams of impurities (excrement) and created a hot tub of diced tomatoes, chopped shallots, minced garlic, chopped basil, water and cream. The clams got pretty steamed about it. (Sorry, I simply must jump on the easy ones.) But the clams got over it, didn’t stay clammed up, and all opened up on cue.

My taste buds finally got to do that jig they had previously anticipated. I even slurped up the entire aromatic and delectable broth. Yes, there were major slurping sounds but not so loud as to bother the neighbors. In case you think that was overdoing it, notice I never said that I bought a baguette of sourdough to sop up the broth. That would have added about 1000 carbs.

I was tempted.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Turnip Bowling

In our ongoing effort to manage carbs and our weights I have been using more turnips lately. At one time I considered turnips as one of my anti-guy foods. Then I found a Thomas Keller Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables recipe that uses them along with carrots, yellow onion, leeks, rutabagas, garlic, thyme and small red-skinned potatoes.

Turnips are low in carbs, potatoes are not. So I eliminated the potatoes and used more turnips. Rutabaga availability is hit and miss at my supermarket. (Extra foodie points are given for those who can tell the difference between turnips and rutabagas.) The roasted chicken juices, along with the garlic, thyme, onion cousins, olive oil, salt and pepper, layer on plenty of flavor to an otherwise pretty boring vegetable like turnips.

Another favorite, roasted vegetables with pesto, calls for fingerlings, which we love. Duh, it is still potatoes. So I now substitute turnips for the fingerlings with that recipe. Cheaper, too. The pesto peaks the flavor in this dish. This is not your traditional pesto recipe—no basil. No matter, I add some anyway but not the usual amount.

Last week, while vegetable gathering, I selected several turnips. First I had to wait for the sprinkler system to run. For you supermarket shoppers who know vegetables, they are always stacked neatly. I pay no mind to that and more often than not pick from the middle of the stack knowing what might ensue. Sure enough several turnips went tumbling. It was one of my better turnip bowling results. One rolled at least fifteen feet. Fortunately there were no small children in its path. These days they are safe and secure in the new SUV shopping carts—the ones so large that moms have to go outside just to turn around.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Match Not Found On

A few days ago I roasted turkey breasts on the barbecue and added wood chips for some smoky flavoring. I made enough so we could eat as leftovers for lunch for several days—the turkey, not the chips.

In my endless quest to find more excuses to eat blueberries I made a blueberry sauce two days ago, uncertain as to how I would use it. We had banished ice cream from our house weeks ago, a traditional calorie-loading treat. We have learned that there is no weight loss without pain.

Today, staring at the open refrigerator I noted the turkey breasts but wanted to add something. The blueberry sauce sat next to the turkey breasts. Hummmm…I wondered.

The match worked, combining the smokiness of the turkey breast with the sweetness of the blueberry sauce.

Friday night I will throw some pork tenderloins on the barbecue and pair them with what’s left of the blueberry sauce.

There are lots of recipes for blueberry sauce. Just enter the term in the search box at

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lettuce Lessons

With the all-too-frequent packaged lettuces scares lately, I’ve made some changes.

In my book I advised vigilant shopping when buying packaged lettuce such as, make sure the expiration date is at least five days from purchase, and to not wait that long and use it within 1-3 days of purchase.

Sometimes you can simply see the lettuce turning dark in a bag that says it has several days of use left. Use your eyes. They don’t lie.

Now I only buy unpackaged lettuce, even if there are no dates stamped on the leaves—with one exception, arugula. I don’t know where to find fresh arugula when my farmer’s market doesn’t sell it. I like to mix arugula in with other kinds of greens and for a favorite side dish, a watermelon-arugula-toasted pine nuts-feta cheese crumbles-herb salad. I can’t remember the last time I bought iceberg—too many other interesting flavors and colors. Iceberg is the white bread of lettuces.

The lettuces we buy are washed, spun, and laid out on paper towels to dry. After an hour I use more paper towels to soak up any obvious moisture, layer them between more paper towels, roll up, bag and finally store in the refrigerator. Still, we use or toss the lettuce within five days. Costco is going to name a store after me for my multiple uses of their Kirkland paper towel brand.

Lately I have added Caesar Salad to the menu options, and made-from-scratch dressing. Instead of croutons I make my killer onions rings, quarter them and mix as the final step. None of that canned French’s French Fried Onions for me*. Romaine never tasted so good.

PJ is not a big fan of spinach. We are still on speaking terms. But she is fine with a recipe for a spinach and pine nut pesto that we use to coat skinless chicken breasts. We bake them first.

So, if you ever let us entertain you, be assured we are looking out for you when we serve a salad.

*You won’t be thrown into the C.I.A (Culinary Institute of America) jail if you cheat and use the canned version.