Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When is enough, enough?

When is enough, enough?
Roman Abramovich, wiki here, gangster, thief, con-man, plutocrat and one of the wealthiest men in the world, has just had his boat, Eclipse, floated. It is notable as the largest private yacht in the world. A set of pics and description are here. It is made of steel. The weight of the boat, 13000 gross tonnes, when converted to pounds is 29,120,000 lbs. Fuel capacity is 8801 liters. ( 2325 gallons) It cruises at 25 knots an hour.
I was unable to obtain fuel consumption figures for the specific boat, but here is the rate for a charter boat half the size:
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 800 ltrs/hour (211 gallons).

The descriptions are really only best guesses, written by a salivating media, and the cost estimate is for the boat only, exclusive of furniture and toys. For a look inside another of these behemoths the WSJ recently published this video.

There is a decidedly mixed message within this video. While subtly mocking the $60k water faucet, the "nookie" chamber, or the walls lined with the hides of sting rays, the reporters appear to enjoy cavorting aboard, racing along the corridors and apparently wishing they could extend their stay. Nothing new about that. When boats float on "in the water" boat shows/sales the docks are flooded with on-lookers clawing aboard, wanting to know who owns what, and how much it costs. The owners know of the envy they provoke. Around the world in port after port owners have their yachts docked stern in, and proceed to dine in lavish excess while the proles stroll by and salivate. No fear of protest or a pitched grenade, owners know the poor eat each other.

Here is a list of other yachts that are the "top 100" in size.

We'll know later today if stories regarding the Florida candidate for senate, Jeff Greene, uses and abuses of his yacht sank his election bid.

We were living in Florida, just south of the Port Everglades cut on 9/11/01. Within an hour of the confirmation of the news of what had happened in NY and before we knew if the attack was limited, hundreds of yachts could be seen bobbing in the ocean. I called a boat builder I knew in the area and asked him what he knew, what was up? "They figure if this is it, their chances are better at sea then on shore, they're outta here." Says something about the character of the big boat owner.

We cannot suppose that all of this excess is without consequence. The argument that we have no right to dictate to any of these billionaires what they can or cannot do with their money is an argument WE cannot afford. By example we rarely restrict the scale of housing. If megabucks wants to build a McMansion he is generally free to do what he wants. However there are mitigating circumstances. When in the height of the drought that threatened to parch Atlanta in 2007, the county water authority placed restrictions on water consumption.

When it was discovered that a fat cat was consuming 440,000 gallons of water a month for his mansion the outrage and outcry resulting in forcing him to cut back. Public outrage reined in an excess that threatened the rest of us. This outrage is too rare. As tourists roam the "great houses" of the world they never ask how the wealth was obtained, how many backs were broken in the process of the erection of these monuments to excess.

There is no outrage at the overwhelming excesses of big boat owners. And the scale of their abuses. They are building the equivalent of private hotels that dwarf any of the so-called "great" houses.

One would hope, in a resource starved world, that we would shift the onus of responsibility where it belongs. We are barraged with stories of how marginal peasants, let's use Chiapus as an example, are deforesting the jungle. We blame them, not the end user who converts these exotic hardwoods into railings for his motor yacht.

Are we blind to the fact that having 30 million tons of steel processed for a private yacht is of enormous environmental impact. Do we really accept the idea that because a person can "afford" to burn fuel at the rate of gallons per mile it has no impact on the rest of us. These gluttons are eating our lunch and we don't pull the plate off the table. We stare like beggars at the banquet and validate their excess. We may have no political authority to curb them or rein them in, but we can abhor their behavior and let them know it. Maybe some of the rowdies at a Chelsea ( the team Abramovich just bought) soccer match might carry in a sign or two.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Roll Your Own

A cruise through my local supermarket this morning revealed the following facts: Boneless beef sirloin steak, America's favorite, was on sale for 2.99 a pound, pork sirloin roast was 1.49, and split chicken breasts were .99 cents. For reference know that in the trade these are referred to as "prime cuts".

Across the aisle, in the ever growing sausage section, a survey revealed the following prices: Store brand Italian sausage was 3.19, "Gourmet" whatever that means, was 3.39, Jimmy Dean's Breakfast was 3.39, so called "all natural" was 5.99, and D'Artagnan's was 9.18 a pound. Different brands of sausage made from chicken all hovered around the 6 dollar price point. Specialty sausage, chorizo for example was 4.99 a pound.

Hebrew Nats were 5.80 a pound and franks you shouldn't even consider eating fell to as low as $1.29. A new item, uncured franks (no nitrites), sell for 6-7 dollars a pound.

Bottom line: The prime cuts are half the cost of whatever finally makes it into the sausage of your choice. You can be assured your commercial sausage contains no prime cuts.

The old joke re. the making of laws and sausage, you don't want to see it, still holds. The following was the most info I would share with you without totally grossing you out:
"Spent layer chickens, an underutilized, inexpensive source of animal protein in the United States, were used to produce an acceptable all chicken frank following mechanical deboning of the chicken parts without pregrinding. The franks were subjected to shear tests and compared to two well-known commercial brands of chicken franks for overall acceptability by an untrained 59 member panel. The franks produced from mechanically deboned spent layer chickens (Lab franks) had greater resistance to shear than the two commercial brands and the panelists showed significantly greater preference for one of the commercial brands. Comments of the panelists indicated the texture of the lab-prepared franks was tougher than the two commercial brands. However, 12 members of the panel stated the lab-frank texture was tender. Collagen content of the spent layer franks was no higher than for the commercial brands. It is therefore concluded that the toughness could have been due to the nature of the myofibrillar proteins. Such toughness could be modified by tenderizing enzyme treatment of the raw material to produce varying degrees of frank softness or firmness depending on consumer preference".

Beef producers live with the daily fear that an incident of mad-cow entering the food chain is coming and the smart money is betting that it will be the result of bone material in beef that was "chipped off" and used for franks. That should be enough reason for you to consider making your own sausage.

You can go whole hog and buy sausage stuffing machines, casing, and learn to form sausage links while keeping the air out, or you can prepare your own recipe from prime cuts, control the additives by adding herbs and spices of your choice, add pure fat for flavor and mouth feel, and simply form a patty and fry or leave crumbled for pizza or pasta. The following is a site filled with recipes that you can adopt.

Here are my provisos. Use a food processor and make small batches that can be ground and mixed to a smooth paste. Always test a tiny bit in a hot pan to taste for seasoning.

For the truly food obsessed do the following. If you have a custom butcher shop, independent market, or slaughterhouse near by visit them and ask for caul fat. Here in Maine the way I obtained mine was to note a recipe on a restaurant menu that called for rabbit wrapped in caul. I called the chef and asked her to order an extra ten pounds for me. She did. I picked it up at the next lunch.

Caul fat is an inner organ lining the best of which comes from a pig. It is not greasy or smelly. In a ten pound box for example it will be squished together in a mass. Soak in a pan of water and start to separate the sheets. Lift a large sheet to a cutting board, and using a paring knife or scissors, cut 6 inch squares. (I pack what I don't use in small freezer bags). It won't be neat. It doesn't have to be. You can place a couple ounces of stuffing in the center, press to from a disk and fold the caul over. You can spread filling, tube like, across the caul and roll it like a frank. Fry over medium heat. The caul will melt away or leave just a trace of gorgeous netting. Once you have caul in your system you will discover a variety of uses. Here are pics of the ultimate chicken loaf.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Tis the season.

Tomatoes are in and I want to help to keep things simple. A good first principle is that canned tomatoes are for cooking and fresh tomatoes are to be eaten fresh. Most of us will simply cut or slice a fresh tomato and add it to a salad or sandwich. Here is a preparation that takes longer to write about then perform and will significantly improve your summer tomato pleasure.

Filleting a tomato. The pics are self explanatory. Here are some essentials. Just barely score the flesh. Immerse in boiling water for no more than a minute (you will notice the skin start to curl).

The point is not to cook the tomato. Plunge in a bowl of icy water. Remove center core. Peel.

Cut from the top to the bottom of the tomato at the point where the flesh is thickest. Err on the side of thicker. You can always remove excess with your fingers. Sometimes you will create a quarter piece or often the whole will remain intact.

These fillets are obviously dryer and thus better on bread, lack uggies which freak most kids and some adults, and can also be sliced and or diced for a variety of uses. Your salsa will improve at once.

Collect the uggies in a sieve and press and strain them for juice.

Here is a fabulous recipe: Under cook 1/2 pound of pasta by a minute. Save a half cup of cooking water. Heat retained 1/2 cup juice in saute pan, add pasta, swirl in hot water as needed to moisten, stir till absorbed (about a minute), turn out. Top with sliced fillets of tomato, oil, some shredded basil, a crack of black pepper or red flakes, a sprinkle of salt, serve 4.

A side dish: Roma style tomatoes are grown because they have thick flesh, a high meat to juice ratio and thus are perfect for cooking. There is no reason to grow your own given the producers do a great job of the whole process, including canning.
San Marzano "style" tomatoes are Roma type and unless labeled DOP are grown here. A lot of time and energy has been spent tasting different canned tomatoes and conclusions are reached that might have you going out and spending 5 bucks a can in the belief that an Italian San Marzano is a better tomato. If we were eating them from the can (we don't) the expense might be warranted. Given that, at least, we will smash a garlic clove, add a pepper flake, and cook our tomatoes in olive oil for at least 20 minutes I defy anyone to distinguish the difference in the source of the tomato once cooked. More important is to notice the amount of sodium added to the can. It varies widely and you don't need the extra salt. You can always add your own.
Consider how you want your canned tomatoes to perform and purchase the appropriate style. Crushed, sometimes labeled "kitchen ready" are the simplest for a basic sauce. Italians buy jars of "passata" for their sauce which are essentially crushed tomatoes passed through a sieve. You might want diced to hold up a little texture for a cooked TEX/MEX salsa, and whole tomatoes can stew with a chicken and hold up.
Many eschew tomato paste as something less then authentic. Big mistake. For years I couldn't discern what it was that smelled so rich emanating from the back of checkered tablecloth "Ity" restaurants. I couldn't duplicate that aroma and I knew it was key to a successful sauce. Roberto Donna of Galileo in D.C. finally clued me in. Caramelize a couple of tablespoons of paste in oil with garlic till just lightly brown and then proceed to add tomatoes etc. Ah the love.