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Gonzo Gourmands, Frugal Foodies & Crazy Culinarians

Dishing Out What Food Lovers Really Crave

News and discussion on all subjects concerning food: the food industry, chefs, celebrity chefs, culinary luminaries, heritage breeds, natural/organic/sustainable foods, craft beers brewers/soda makers, artisnal purveyors, cookware/tableware/kitchenware, cooking gadgets/equipment, food porn, and more!

Gonzo Gourmands, Frugal Foodies & Crazy Culinarians - Dishing Out What Food Lovers Really Crave

Shocking Reality for Food Workers Who Provide Your Food

Be nice to food workers everywhere you go. Not just the food servers who bring the food to your table, but everyone in between them and the ground in which the food was grown or raised. Food workers include farmers, ranchers, food pickers, truckers, butchers, grocers, cooks, dishwashers, and more. If you had any assumptions that they get a deal on the food they help provide you, you may be sorely mistaken. http://www.rodale.com/food-workers?cm_mmc=Twitter-_-Rodale-_-Content-RecentNews-_-86PercentFoodstamp

3 Simple Tips Can Save You Hundreds of Dollars Each Year!

If you are buying fast food for lunch and/or dinner, buying your whole chickens already cut up, or if you always depend on the grocery shelf placement marketing to tell you what the best deals are  – – then you can save hundreds of dollars by following these 3 tips.

#1. Plan your meals by what is on sale at the grocery store.  If you plan your meals, then you are less likely to impulse buy at the grocery store or spend it on high calorie, unhealthy fast food.  Spending $10 at the grocery store on some type of meat/poultry, vegetables, and starch can provide 4 healthy meals instead of 2 small fast food combos.  By spending that same $10 on what was currently on sale at 2 grocery stores:  a whole roasted chicken on sale for $5, 2 bags of frozen vegetables at $.88 each, and 1 baguette $1.59.  I was left with $1.65 for a litre of generic soda, bottled water, or cookies for dessert.  So, without really cooking (other than microwaving the frozen veggies), you have 4 quarter chicken meals with sides and drink.  You can actually add more sides, increase the portion size, or stretch that $10 into even more meals if you are willing to do some very simple cooking!  Which leads me to my 2nd rule.

#2. Buy whole chickens on sale.  I love it when whole chickens go on sale for $.59 or $.69 cents per pound.  I always buy the limit, put some in the freezer, and go back another day and get more before the sale is over.  On a trip to the grocery store with my parents, I’ve actually gone in a separate check-out line from them so we could each buy up the limit of chickens.  We know the markets really don’t care, but we think its great fun making a big show of pretending we don’t know each other and acting surprised when we meet at the car! 

You can actually buy 2 raw whole chickens for the same price as that whole roasted chicken on sale mentioned in Tip #1 above.  If you don’t know how, or don’t want to spend the time roasting a whole chicken, then here is the world’s easiest way to cook a whole chicken.  This technique was most memorably introduced by the late Jeff Smith, known in the 1980’s as the “Frugal Gourmet” and de-frocked Methodist minister.  It’s great for people with a short attention span or if you’re heavily multi-tasking at home.  If you can boil water, you can cook a whole chicken.

Chinese Boiled Whole Chicken
Put cleaned (take stuff inside of chicken out) and rinsed, uncut whole chicken in stock pot, and fill pot with cold water until chicken is covered completely.  Take chicken out of stock pot.  Cover pot with lid, put on burner, and bring to vigorous boil.  Once boiling, put chicken back in pot.  When the chicken causes the water temp to drop low enough to stop the water from boiling, take the chicken out.  Once the pot comes to a vigorous boil again, put the chicken back in, cover pot and turn off heat.  Leave covered pot on burner with chicken in water.  After 1 hour, your chicken will be ready to use for sandwiches, enchiladas, Drunken Chicken, lasagna, pot pie, etc.

By buying chickens  whole on sale and cutting them up yourself, you can save $2 – $4 per pound, or, an average of $3 per pound.  So let’s take the average of $3 per pound savings times one 2.5 lb. chicken eaten once a month. That comes out to a savings of $7.50 per month. ($3 x 2.5lbs. = $7.50)   In a year, that’s $7.50/month x 12 months = $90 savings per year!  But really, who eats chicken only once per month?!?  Most families eat chicken at least 3 – 4 times per month.  So that figure then turns into a savings of  $270 – $390 per year!


Here is a video of Chef Martin Yan showing how he can cut up a whole chicken in 18 seconds!

#3. Always compare prices – – use that cell phone!  Most people are aware that supermarkets have a very small profit margin on many items, so they are very deliberate in their product placement.  Items or brands that are more profitable, are at eye level and within easy reach.  Those items that are less profitable are on the top and lower shelves, where they are harder to reach.  It’s just a matter of simple math to figure out the best value in canned or packaged items by taking the price and dividing it by units of measurement.  Ounces for most items, and milliliters for the rest.  In most cases these days, supermarkets have done the math for you.  However, that is not always the case, and I’ll tell you why.

I was looking at three different sized cans of the same beans of the same very well-advertised brand on the shelf of one of the top three largest grocery chains in Southern California.  The largest can was highlighted with a “on SALE” shelf sign and as expected, the per ounce cost of the largest can was definitely cheaper than the smallest can.  However, the middle sized can only had the total price of the can showing on the shelf label.  By taking a moment with my cell phone to divide the cost of the can by its ounces, I found out that the middle sized can was actually cheaper than the larger can on sale!  So always compare the cost per ounce to determine the best deal, don’t depend on the markets to steer you to the best deal, and remember that bigger is not always better!

Also, don’t fool yourself into thinking that Costco is always cheaper.  Costco is usually cheaper for most household items.  Keep an eye on the luxury food items in bulk though.  For instance, I once saw a 3 wheel pack of brie that looked like a good price.  However, there were no per ounce or per pound shelf labels to allow comparison.  By using my cell phone to quickly divide the total cost by the total ounces and multiplying the resulting number by sixteen, I figured the cost per pound.  Their per pound cost for brie was definitely higher than what I had paid for a single wheel at Trader Joe’s.

Bottom line to saving money is to be aware of the per ounce or pound price points where “on sale” items become good deals.  That calculator on your phone could help you save you money than any coupon you clip!

Is “Foodie” Becoming a Badge of Shame?

For some time now, I’ve been known as “The Frugal Foodie,” and I even had it embroidered on my Chefs de Cuisine of San Diego chef’s jacket.  However, after  serious consideration, I’ve changed my moniker from “The Frugal Foodie” to the “Gonzo Gourmands.”  For several years, there has been a lot of discussion online and in print about the term “foodie” becoming a slur.  (Actually, I’ve heard the same applied to the term “celebrity chef,” and I will go further into that on a different blog installment.)  At first, I viewed this usage of “foodie” like Anthony Bourdain‘s “Kitchen Confidential” Les Halles crew calling the outer boroughs and NJ patrons the “bridge and tunnel crowd.”  Not so much being disdainful, but rather a time-tested categorization for a certain type of patron with a predictable set of preferences.

I assumed that the majority of people casting these aspersions were wealthy culinary elitist snobs. And, I could easily understand why some people in the industry were inwardly bristling at self-proclaimed “foodies.”  Unfortunately, some foodies think they know it all because they watch the Food Network, Bravo Channel’s Top Chef, and bought all “the best” home kitchen equipment touted by the Food Network or a sales associate at Macy’s.  Heck, these people make me wince!  But the vast majority of people in the industry are truly appreciative of the booming interest in great food, and chefs are happy that the spotlight is shining more on the “BOH” (back of house) more than the “FOH” (front of house) staff these days.

But still, I see the word “foodie” is quietly becoming a condescending slur for uninformed food faddists or celebrity chef chasers who rely on mass market branding and expensive prices as a measure of quality.  And no, it’s not some snobbish pronouncement by the upper echelon of the wealthy culinary elite.  If anything, it’s the exasperated sigh of sweaty, sleep-deprived chefs in the trenches without a TV show, book tour, or chain of restaurants.  At the mere utterance of the word “foodie,” I’ve seen industry people  make eye contact with each other and roll their eyes.  But don’t get offended. What I had at first perceived as a sardonic smirk and dismissive air, should have been more accurately  interpreted as a grimace of exasperated resignation.

Really great food is tirelessly being crafted by passionate, hard-working chefs in small neighborhood restaurants all over this country.  And keep in mind that many of them do it out of love for their craft, and not for the money.  U.S. Dept. of Labor statistics show that the median wage for a head cook or chef in May 2010 was less than $41,000 per year.* Let that be a warning to teens who think they are going into the culinary field for the big bucks.

Like in professional sports, reaching that top percentage of income earners takes a lot of extraordinary work and dedication. Wolfgang Puck, Jeremiah Tower, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, and Tom Colicchio  did not rise to culinary heights by going from culinary school to a TV show competition. Unless you are prepared for a long term commitment to long nights, weekends and holidays, then I wouldn’t sign up for one of those culinary programs to rack up a debt of up to $70,000.  Especially when most entry-level chefs jobs will run $10 – $15 per hour!

So, to distance myself from the uninformed “foodie” herd, I have coined the term “Gonzo Gourmands.”  I don’t mean “gourmand” in a gluttonous sense, but to mean someone who has a healthy interest in all food.  And as much as for the alliteration, I added “gonzo” to mean an adventurous person, or someone who is not shy in their appreciation for all kinds of food.  Gonzo Gourmands are not squeamish about their food being attached to bones or having a face.  I don’t mean to say that we are proponents for the extreme exotic fare seen in the early episodes of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” with Andrew Zimmern or even Anthony Bourdain’sA Cook’s Tour,” the precursor to his “No Reservations” and “The Layover.”  However, Gonzo Gourmands are appreciative of the efforts made by Andrew Zimmern, and chefs like Fergus Henderson, Chris Cosentino, Mario Batali, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Donald Link.  These chefs have been on the forefront by putting some “low on the hog” cuts and offal onto the menus of higher end, and hopefully, more mainstream restaurants.

Gonzo Gourmands are frugal, but not cheap.  Meaning we are against being wasteful, and this is why we advocate nose-to-tail eating, and strive to find use or recycle all food.  Also, Gonzo Gourmands are interested in the breed and quality of life of the animal before it came to the dinner table.  Just as there is a difference in the composition of human tears of stress from normal every day lubricant or basal tears, Gonzo Gourmands believe animals raised in a natural, stress free environment (not confined in a small, uncomfortable cage 24/7) will taste better.  I hope you can appreciate and embrace the Gonzo Gourmand philosophy and become one of us by “Like”-ing us on Facebook, Twitter and subscribing to my blog.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gonzo-Gourmands-Social-Media/101724446541356

* http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/chefs-and-head-cooks.htm

Confessions of a Closet Forager

It’s a great feeling to see stuff about people hunting for wild mushrooms, gathering fiddleheads, and cooking up wild greens. As a kid I learned from my grandparents and parents to pick young, tender wild mustard greens and enjoy them sauted with garlic in olive oil. Of course normal people in LA/OC didn’t wander through undeveloped lots to gather wild greens to eat, so this was an entirely undercover enterprise. At times, I felt that we should be wearing disguises while we foraged. God forbid should any of the neighbors or my classmates from my elementary (and eventually), high school recognize us. But I do find it amusing when I see items I’ve gorged on for free, featured as side dishes on trendy, expensive menus.

Currently, it’s the wrong time of year to get tender wild greens, but I’ll write about them again in the spring. I’ll share where to find them, how to pick them, my favorite recipes, and I’ll make sure to include pictures.

10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Dating a Chef

I recently came across this short article in Yahoo’s Shine by Tweeter/Blogger photographer Annie Wang Kraft and I can so relate to her. I’ve dated both doctors and chefs. Both have lousy hours – – but doctors generally make a helluva lot more money to make up for the crazy hours. On the other hand, most chefs don’t believe they walk on water, and are better lovers than doctors. So if you still have romantic notions about dating a chef, after reading the Top 10 below, then follow the link to her blog & Twitter page to read about her daily life.

1. They rarely cook for you at home. Everyone always assumes that I have a magnificent home-cooked meal waiting for me all the time, but that is far from the truth. Why? Because a restaurant kitchen is usually a million times more fun to cook and experiment in. It often has high end gadgetry that you probably do not have (or can fit) in your home kitchen. If you rent in New York City, then you might understand the rarity of a full sized stove and oven.

2. But you really do eat like a king or queen. Chefs are passionate about their art and they’re very serious about it. They show their emotions through food and they often use food to romance you. You’re in for a spectacular surprise once you dine in your significant other’s restaurant or meet them for lunch. They might just surprise you with a gourmet picnic meal.

3. Date nights are not on the weekends. I’ve come to accept the fact that I’ll have to go out to a lot of events and gatherings by myself. Weekends — aka when many social events happen — are the busiest days in the restaurant industry. But the great thing about weird chef schedules is that they often get Sundays or Mondays off — the perfect day to go to a new restaurant or cocktail lounge that’s normally hard to get into.

4. Every moment counts (maybe a little bit more). It’s so tough when they’re working nights and you’re working days that it can be difficult to find overlapping free-time you can spend together. I savor every little trip and outing with my husband — even grocery shopping. There was a period when we rarely saw each other, so much so that I would skip birthday parties and appointments to be with him. It’s difficult for some people to understand, but we’ve learned to make it work. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” sure sounds cheesy, but a chef’s wife knows it is probably true.

5. You get to experience an amazing variety of restaurants. I’ve been to tiny under-the-radar restaurants because my husband loves discovering new restaurants and trying new foods he hears about in the chef circuit. I would have never bothered to visit these eclectic mix of restaurants otherwise.

6. You’re going to learn so many crazy food words by accident. You’ll be spouting off words like “mignardises,” “transglutaminase,” and “thermal immersion circulator” before you can say Vol-au-Vent. You’ll hear chefs talk about cooking techniques or their newest experiments all the time like geeky teenage boys. Eventually, you’ll pick up the words and actually understand what they’re saying. If you asked me what these words meant before I met my husband, I would’ve given you a blank stare and assumed you were trying to explain a weird science fiction novel, but now I’m pretty much a food geek, too.

7. You become insanely sensitive to the dining experience. And you’ll garner sympathy for front-of-the-house staff and the kitchen staff. (Especially if you’re eating at your significant other’s restaurant.) Improper dining etiquette will annoy the hell out of you, like rude behavior (people who invite themselves to sit down when they don’t have a reservation) and crappy tipping (for the record, servers should be tipped 20%). Grr! I’m annoyed just thinking about these things. Let’s move on.

8. People will ask you for restaurant recommendations and cooking tips. Or they ask you to ask him. Because I’m married to a chef, I’ve suddenly become a walking cookbook/food guide. Sometimes people will ask me for recommendations for a cuisine I’m not familiar with and I’ll feel flustered or embarrassed for not knowing it (not that I’m supposed to anyways).

9. You’ll try foods you would normally never try. It usually starts out with my husband saying, “Here. Try this.” You might think that I’m gullible, but I trust him even though I’ve ended up trying all sorts of weird offal dishes because of him. I’m actually glad I just dig in and try all this unique food without asking. I’ve definitely become less of a picky eater and I do love fried sweetbread now (even though I still o not want to think too much about what it is, anatomically).

10. Patience is key, especially when you’re married to a chef. I’m still figuring this one out myself. Things will come up at restaurants unexpectedly. It can be anything from a group of diners who came in late, rowdy patrons at the bar, or something in the kitchen took longer to prepare than anticipated. He might not be able to get home until 3 a.m., and considering how little I see him, it can be particularly frustrating. Things happen that are beyond your control and the only thing you can really do it be patient and wait. But realistically, who wants to wait around for someone all night? Remember, though: you might go to sleep alone, but you’ll wake up next to the person you love — and it’s worth it.

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