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Paul Winalski

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Not worth the work

by Paul Winalski » Tue Sep 01, 2020 12:57 pm

The recent post about the labor-intensive prawn preparation inspired me to start this thread. The topic here is techniques, etc. that aren't food frippery per se, but are way too labor intensive to be worth it. Here's a couple of examples that spring to mind:

Cutting carrots en gousse.

Trimming the root ends and bean ends off of mung bean sprouts. This is the traditional Chinese formal banquet way to prepare them for cooking. I suppose if you're the emperor, you can order your kitchen staff to do it without fear of having them quit in protest. And besides, you're removing the most nutritious part of the bean sprout.

-Paul W.
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Bill Spohn

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Re: Not worth the work

by Bill Spohn » Tue Sep 01, 2020 1:24 pm

I've been doing a fair bit of reading while sitting at home lately, on all sorts of topics, and some of that has been classical French cooking. Many recipes of that genre were multi day exercises (Andre Soltner at Lutece....first go and catch a pike, then....)

If you didn't have three sous to designate to make a dish like that it would be a long, long haul.

Here is an interesting article https://www.saveur.com/most-time-consuming-recipes/

Agree that cutting carrots into matchsticks with a knife when you have a handy mandoline is a waste of time.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Paul Winalski » Tue Sep 01, 2020 1:58 pm

The en gousse cut isn't for matchstick-size pieces. It's for the larger pieces you'd use in a stew or ragout. You cut the carrot crosswise into pieces of the desired length, then cut the pieces that are too thick in half or quarters, lengthwise. The final, en gousse step is to round off the edges of each piece so that it resembles an oversized garlic clove. Lovely to look at, but makes zero difference to the dish and takes forever to do.

There are a lot of Chinese dishes that call for julienne or matchstick pieces (you need all that surface area because the stir-fry is so brief). Some of them I'd rarely make if it weren't for the mandoline.*

-Paul W.

* BTW, I did acquire a replacement blade set for the Bron.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Bill Spohn » Tue Sep 01, 2020 2:04 pm

Ah - OK, thanks for that.

I CAN cut veg into tournee, for instance...but never bother. The little carved football shapes look nice and I suppose I might do it if I were serving, say, 5 pieces as a side in a dish I wanted to look articularly enticing, but normally I'd just do the usual quick slice up.
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Jeff Grossman

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Re: Not worth the work

by Jeff Grossman » Tue Sep 01, 2020 6:15 pm

Oh, there's a great comedic article on this topic; I'll try to find it.

For me, the limit is three days. I'll make cassoulet. I'll even consider making tea-smoked duck. I once made a variant duck prosciutto in my fridge (the air is dry in there, right?). But those recipes only take a little actual time.

I'll have to think about processes that I won't consider.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Jeff Grossman » Wed Sep 02, 2020 4:17 am

Whew, this took a while to find...
Harry Mathews' "Country Cooking From Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double)"
Read by Isaiah Sheffer
https://soundcloud.com/selectedshorts/harry-mathews-country-cooking-from-central-france-read-by-isaiah-sheffer
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Re: Not worth the work

by Bill Spohn » Wed Sep 02, 2020 10:00 am

Nice one!

You incited me to get out a couple of French country cooking books I have, both full of little bits of paper marking recipes to try - we can do a trial a couple of times a week (we may never approach Jenise's ability to do something fancy every night!). Time to start working on those books and discarding rejected bits of paper and noting the ones that are worthy of repeat.

I sense Autumn in the air and feel a spate of carbonades and boeuf Bourguignons coming on. I shall be 'braising Hell' very soon!
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Re: Not worth the work

by Jenise » Wed Sep 02, 2020 11:35 am

Bill Spohn wrote:we can do a trial a couple of times a week (we may never approach Jenise's ability to do something fancy every night!).


I'm flattered! But honestly I don't think I do 'fancy', I just cook. It doesn't take special effort to make food complex and attractive, it's my norm, my standard. Some people paint, some people dance: me, I cook.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Not worth the work

by Bill Spohn » Wed Sep 02, 2020 11:50 am

Hmm - you could 'paint' with food on the plate and dance while you do it! Alton would approve and call you a multi-tasker!
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Re: Not worth the work

by Jenise » Wed Sep 02, 2020 11:58 am

Bill Spohn wrote:Hmm - you could 'paint' with food on the plate and dance while you do it! Alton would approve and call you a multi-tasker!


I'll start tonight!
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Not worth the work

by Bill Spohn » Wed Sep 02, 2020 12:10 pm

Of course as an unrepentant audiophile I would insist on suitable music.

Tell Bob that if you are making Spanish or Mexican food it should be salsa on the system, if you are doing classic French, then maybe Edith Piaf, and for a Tuscan dinner he better find something like this

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_26BhViw28s
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Re: Not worth the work

by Jeff Grossman » Mon Sep 07, 2020 12:22 pm

I finally thought of one not worth the work: onion soup. I like onion soup, even Pumpkin, who does not like raw onions, likes onion soup. But it takes a mountain of onions and it takes forever. Yes, it's easy, but, in the end, it's only as good as the beef broth you slog it into. This is one recipe much better left to a pro kitchen where they have time for it, and plausibly better beef broth than I get in a tetra-pak.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Jenise » Mon Sep 07, 2020 12:30 pm

Jeff, I've been thinking for days on this and haven't come up with much that qualifies as "not worth the work" except for chicken broth. Your beef broth tetra pak comment compels me to talk about it. Mind you, I don't mean a great broth isn't worth it, it IS. I never waste a bone. But I use more broth than I can make/keep up with, so I buy commercially made broth because it isn't "worth the work" that would be required to be someone who only uses homemade.

Jeff, a great way to bulk-out onion soup is to add a few teaspoons of instant espresso.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Not worth the work

by Bill Spohn » Mon Sep 07, 2020 1:13 pm

Re broth - look at the old French recipes and translate them into today's prices.

They pretty much read "Take $50 worth of beef, simmer for ages then discard and keep the broth." We keep broth from every chicken or piece of beef we braise, roast etc. and it still doesn't match the demands we have for it, so augmenting it with commercial broth carefully selected (I like the Campbells chicken but not the beef, for instance) is pretty much a necessity.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Jenise » Mon Sep 07, 2020 1:42 pm

Bill, totally agreed on the Campbells, wish we could get it down here in the quart packs you get up there. Here, 10 ounce cans only.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Not worth the work

by Paul Winalski » Mon Sep 07, 2020 4:58 pm

Maybe it's because I do a lot of Chinese stir-fry that requires chopping stuff up into little pieces, but I don't find French onion soup all that labor intensive. Yes, it does have a long cooking time. The same thing with stocks--they have a long simmer, but they pretty much cook themselves unattended. They require a lot of time, but it's not all that much of my time.

-Paul W.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Jenise » Mon Sep 07, 2020 7:45 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Maybe it's because I do a lot of Chinese stir-fry that requires chopping stuff up into little pieces, but I don't find French onion soup all that labor intensive. Yes, it does have a long cooking time. The same thing with stocks--they have a long simmer, but they pretty much cook themselves unattended. They require a lot of time, but it's not all that much of my time.

-Paul W.


I'm with you. I'm pretty fast with a knife, doesn't take long. The tears, if they come, is the only painful part.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Not worth the work

by Larry Greenly » Mon Sep 07, 2020 8:40 pm

When I make French onion soup, I slice two pounds of onions, which doesn't take very long. Tip: Cut off tips of onions. slice onions in half pole-to-pole, peel them, and slice pole-to-pole so the cut onions are long slivers instead of circles (seems to work better in this soup).

The time-consuming part is cooking down the onions to a golden color, which requires some attention. After that, it's adding the broth and then it just cooks pretty much unattended. I also use a bit of thyme and a splash of fish sauce to up the umami.

Another tip: If you use canned beef stock, add one can of chicken stock, which will get rid of any tinny canned taste.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Jeff Grossman » Mon Sep 07, 2020 10:16 pm

Everyone, thanks for all the tips about making onion soup... which I'm still not all that likely to do. :mrgreen:

Re tetra-paks... I read somewhere that Rachel Ray's broth -- of all people! -- is excellent and I have found it so. Whereas I cast a jaundiced eye on Campbell's anything as it's likely salt first and soup second.

Re $50 worth of beef... Exactly. For me, stock is a side-effect of doing other things, so I never ever have enough.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Bill Spohn » Tue Sep 08, 2020 9:49 am

Campbells has both regular and low salt in tetra pak, but I much prefer the regular. It works well as long as you don't simmer and concentrate it and forget to adjust salt at the end 0 it could be a bit much if you did that.

I was not aware that Rachael Ray had any products, nor skill nor sense either. I am glad to say that that particular product has not made it north of the border so far. I believe you when you say it is good despite bearing the name of the Princess of Culinary Vapidity.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Paul Winalski » Tue Sep 08, 2020 12:54 pm

For years I used College Inn broth from a can. I looked carefully at the ingredients lists on the various brands of tetra-pak stock. I was surprised that Rachel Ray's had the ingredient list that most closely resembled what I'd have used to make it from scratch. So that's what I chose. I've been pleased with the results.

-Paul W.
Last edited by Paul Winalski on Sun Sep 13, 2020 12:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Bill Spohn » Tue Sep 08, 2020 1:11 pm

We do not get Rachael Ray products in Canada as far as I could make out. I did see (and will refrain from comment) that she does a large range of pet foods.....
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Re: Not worth the work

by Paul Winalski » Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:59 pm

There's a whole subcategory of "not worth the work" items--the things that almost everyone buys commercially-made and almost nobody makes at home. Things like ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce.

Lately I've put the common Thai curry pastes (green, red, yellow, massaman, Panang) in that category. Why spend an hour pounding the crap out of the ingredients in a mortar and pestle when one can buy excellent ready-made pastes from Mae Ploy or Hand brand? Besides which, those outfits in Thailand have access to fresher raw materials than I can get here in the US.

French puff pastry probably belongs in this category, too. I have a friend with a degree in hotel management who is an excellent baker. She says that yes, she can make from-scratch puff pastry that is superior to Pepperidge Farm and other brands from the frozen food aisle. But the difference is very small and almost never worth all the effort.

-Paul W.
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Re: Not worth the work

by Paul Winalski » Sun Sep 13, 2020 2:07 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:I CAN cut veg into tournee, for instance...but never bother. The little carved football shapes look nice and I suppose I might do it if I were serving, say, 5 pieces as a side in a dish I wanted to look articularly enticing, but normally I'd just do the usual quick slice up.


This leads into the whole area of vegetable carving, which the Chinese and Thai have elevated to a fine art form. I've seen some carved vegetable presentations that are so beautiful that you feel guilty about eating them. I'm way too much of a klutz to attempt that sort of thing.

-Paul W.
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