Monday, October 9, 2006

Have Santoku, Will Travel

I need to find more excuses to cook with other people. Yesterday was my friend Burr's 50th birthday celebration. It was held at his mother-in-law's house in Woodburn (which he lovingly calls Deadburn -- ooh, like Deadwood!!!). I managed to get lost briefly on the way down, but not for long. Ten people got together to cook, dine and giggle.

Burr orchestrated the central theme, which was sampling ribeye from various breeds of cattle raised in different ways. We had five different samples, two of which were grocery-standard beef (Angus?) and tasted totally blah to me. One was a grass-fed local, which scored high marks with me, another the same type of animal, but aged beef, again high marks, and finally Wagyu beef, which is the American equivalent of Kobe beef. That came in a close second after the tied two just before it.

In all, two of my favorite three ribeyes were grass-fed. So much for Jean's mother, who claimed the last time they visited us that "grass-fed is tough, it's just awful. And the taste is not nearly as pleasant as grain fed!" When I tried to tell her I'd been reading articles about the various breeds and feeds, she pulled the "I'm an old farm girl" card on me. Can't argue with that. But now I can state from first-hand experience that some grass-fed beef is definitely superior to grain fed.

Burr had been taking cooking lessons for the last year from a friend of his who is a chef, so he was cooking the steaks, and directing the preparation of the vegetables. I got to prepare the tomato salad, composed of Roma and some other (Beefsteak?) tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese balls and balsamic vinegar (to taste), tossed with a pinch of salt. It was great. I'm afraid I had three helpings of this dish alone.

The other dish I got to prepare was a root vegetable casserole. Various potatoes, carrots, garlic, asparagus, herbs, etc. Baked until tender. Yum! Another dish that I ate too much of!

Both of these dishes were prepared with the help of my new favorite knife, my santoku! I carried it down with me to the party (in the trunk of my car, so I wouldn't get some paranoid cop cuffing me for a concealed weapon. Fun fact: America's Test Kitchen did an evaluation of santokus, and all through the segment, Adam and Christopher referred to them as santukos. Only an effete snob like myself would take such pleasure in belittling their fumbled terminology!

Alan Batie served up some truffly coconut cookies and two pumpkin pies, and Toby and his mate served up custards prepared in cooked squash! I had to try that one, given my history with creme brulee and my love of squash. It was excellent!

During the festivities, Burr's wife Lori unveiled her big present for Burr, a chef's hat and a set of chef's whites. Needless to say, Burr looked ever so cute in his new chef's get-up!

So anyway, doing all my cuttting, dicing, hand folding of ingredients, oven watching and every five or ten minutes shouting out "hot oven opening behind you Chef!" was just more fun than I can truly convey. Burr has to be my most conventional, white-bread friend, but this idea was pure genius, and really reached into my core. I hope he gets another fifty.

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