Transcript of September 27 chat with California Cook columnist Russ Parsons

Times Staff Writer

2007-09-27 13:00:17.0 Administrator2: Welcome to the Food chat! We'll get started shortly-- submit your questions for Russ now!

2007-09-27 13:01:53.0 Russ Parsons: Yesterday's cover story on lasagna was inspired when I started making fresh pasta again after a break of probably more than a year. Are there things that you do that with? Old favorites that kind of fall by the wayside until you rediscover them? How many of you still make fresh pasta, anyhow? And what do you do with it?

2007-09-27 13:04:11.0 Michael: Russ: loved your comments on Ruhlman's blog. How did you come up with these new awards?

2007-09-27 13:05:20.0 Russ Parsons: Hiya Michael, I had nothing to do with coming up with the awards, but I am smart enough (just barely) to recognize a good idea when I see one. Besides, when Michael Ruhlman asks me to do something, there's no way I can refuse. And I'd pay money to be in the backroom when he and Bourdain make their choices! do you have any nominations for any of those categories?

2007-09-27 13:07:43.0 Michael: That's hilarious! Ruhlman and Bourdain seem to always be scheming! I think Thomas Keller might fall into the Batali category. I'll have to take a look at the other categories to refresh my memory ...

2007-09-27 13:08:41.0 Russ Parsons: Thomas certainly might. His imprint is spreading, and it doesn't seem to have hurt his culinary reputation (which is, basically, god). i'm amazed at how he can do that.

2007-09-27 13:09:17.0 Michael: Although I haven't eaten there yet, I would love to try Incanto in SF and from what I've heard, Chris Consentino is basically the Fergus Henderson of the US right now ...

2007-09-27 13:09:21.0 Administrator2: What's the address for the blog?

2007-09-27 13:09:39.0 Michael:

2007-09-27 13:09:47.0 Administrator2: Thanks Michael!

2007-09-27 13:09:53.0 Russ Parsons: is that you Ruhlman?

2007-09-27 13:10:40.0 Michael: No. I wish. I'm in Gardena. And I wish I had a career in food writing.

2007-09-27 13:10:50.0 Russ Parsons: Chris Cosentino is a really good cook. I'm not sure he's quite innards-y enough to be Fergus Henderson

2007-09-27 13:11:04.0 Russ Parsons: i didn't think it was. you write too well to be Ruhlman.

2007-09-27 13:11:06.0 minky: Hello Mr. Parsons! I just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed your article and recipes on lamb from this past Easter. We roasted the leg with rosemary and garlic and anchovies, and it was terrific! Do you have any plans for publishing more lamb recipes?

2007-09-27 13:12:26.0 Russ Parsons: Hiya Minky, Glad you liked it. I love lamb and I'm always trying new ways to cook it. in fact, two weeks ago, i did a variation on that recipe with butterflied legs for 350 people ... on a grill in a tent up in Mendocino. i served it with a salsa verde (essentially: anchovies, garlic, parsley, rosemary, some wild fennel)

2007-09-27 13:13:09.0 Michael: Haha! Can I cut and paste that on Ruhlman's blog? I haven't had a chance to participate here in the past few weeks and have a bunch of questions. Do you have a preferred flour for your lasagna pasta?

2007-09-27 13:14:10.0 Russ Parsons: Sure go ahead. that big head needs a little deflating. he's too damned pretty. as for lasagna flour, ideally, I'd be using Tip 00, the Italian pasta flour. But i use regular old unbleached and it works just fine.

2007-09-27 13:16:37.0 minky: sounds yummy. On Michael's note; any advice for a restaurant manager wanting to break into the food writing and reviewing biz? How can one differenciate oneself in the era where everyone has a blog, and "everyone is a critic?"

2007-09-27 13:18:34.0 Russ Parsons: i get asked that question all the time and all i can say is: i'm sure lucky i started food writing when the bar was a lot lower. honestly, 25 years ago, it was a kind of amusing eccentricity that people kind of fell into. now people go to college wanting to do it. and, speaking for the rest of my generation, we're not going anywhere! Seriously, thebest advice is always: Eat a lot, cook a lot, write a lot and read a lot. And learn to read your own work with a critical eye. always try to do better.

2007-09-27 13:19:19.0 Administrator2: Are the farmers' markets almost done for the year? What are you gonna do with yourself?!

2007-09-27 13:20:02.0 minky: thanks!

2007-09-27 13:20:43.0 Russ Parsons: Oh no, thanks to our wonderful Mediterranean climate, we have farmers markets all year round in california. I'll have plenty to keep me busy. just today i got a hot tip that the first fresh green pistachios of the year will be at the Santa Monica market Wednesday. and already, i can't wait for citrus to start. what are the rest of you looking forward to? what are your favorite fall foods?

2007-09-27 13:21:02.0 Michael: Russ: do you know if most newspapers will accept article submissions? I've been thinking of writing an article on barbecue.

2007-09-27 13:22:22.0 Russ Parsons: Unfortunately, with the state of the economics in the newspaper industry, fewer and fewer newspapers are taking much freelance. but it's always worth pitching. if you have a local bbq place you really love, or a local tie-in, i'd pitch it at that level. in gardena, maybe the long beach or torrance papers. they probably won't pay much, but getting that first byline is always the hardest.

2007-09-27 13:23:21.0 Michael: Thanks. I'm looking forward to end of season heirloom tomatoes for salads, but over-ripe and blemished tomatoes for sauce.

2007-09-27 13:24:37.0 Russ Parsons: Me too: for sauce, blemished and over-ripe tomatoes are great, but be sure to throw a couple of under-ripe ones in, too. they'll give you the pectin you need to thicken the sauce nicely.

2007-09-27 13:24:38.0 minky: I always start thinking about braising as the weather turns cooler (osso bucco with lamb shanks, anyone?)

2007-09-27 13:25:25.0 Russ Parsons: oh, again, me too. i made a beef daube with black olives this weekend and it was really nice to pull the old dutch oven out of the cabinet again.

2007-09-27 13:25:26.0 Michael: I never thought of that and that makes total sense. Thanks Russ.

2007-09-27 13:26:14.0 Russ Parsons: although, minky, i like braised lamb shanks, but for real osso buco, i do prefer veal. a big part of what i like about osso buco is getting that marrow and lamb marrow is often just a little too strong for me.

2007-09-27 13:26:16.0 minky: Also, I have a question about home-grown garlic. The garlic heads I harvested this year (first time growing them) and they had very little (papery) skin. How long can the garlic cloves last once peeled?

2007-09-27 13:27:29.0 Russ Parsons: don't peel the cloves until you're ready to use them. they really start to lose their fragrance quickly. tie the heads of garlic up in a pair of hose--that keeps them together but still lets air circulate (OK, if you're martha stewart, you can braid the tops). they'll keep for a couple of months at least in a cool, dark place.

2007-09-27 13:29:15.0 Administrator2: I'm a big fan of pumpkin...any suggestions for new pumpkin-themed dishes to try? How difficult is it to prepare (I'm a newbie)?

2007-09-27 13:31:24.0 Russ Parsons: If you like pumpkin, I'd really suggest you start out by cooking butternut squash. Honestly, most pumpkins you'll find have been bred for jack'o'lanterns, not cooking. butternut is really easy to fix: cut it in half lengthwise, pull out the seeds, and roast it, cut-side down, in a jellyroll pan with a little water ... 400-degree oven will take about an hour. Then just scoop out the pulp. You can just beat in some butter to make a really nice puree, or use it in lots of other ways (including pumpkin pie).

2007-09-27 13:31:43.0 Administrator2: ooooohh, love butternut squash! i'll try that, thank you!

2007-09-27 13:31:45.0 Michael: Russ: when you're making stock or broth, besides the standard care required (i.e. never letting the stock boil, blanching the bones and meat, etc.), do you have any insider tips on keeping the liquid clear? I've even used a chinois with cheesecloth and sometimes it's still not as clear as I'd like.

2007-09-27 13:33:13.0 Russ Parsons: the most important thing to keep the broth clean is maintaining a very low simmer so the meat doesn't break apart. another tip is not too get too greedy--leave about an inch of stock in the bottom of the pot--that's where most of the gunk will fall. but stocks are never as clean as a) commercial stocks; and b) consommes. don't let that bother you.

2007-09-27 13:33:17.0 minky: definitely agree on the marrow. I think braising with all of the other flavors of olives, orange, tomato, garlic, etc is a great method and flavor profile to introduce people to lamb. (just a thought!) What is your favorite way to braise chicken pieces?

2007-09-27 13:34:28.0 Russ Parsons: when i braise chicken, i always use the thigh ... the breast just dries out too quickly. but i love to do chicken sautes--brown the chicken, remove it to a plate, cook onions and garlic, add the chicken back with a little stock. cook covered until tender, whisk in a little cream and some herbs. there you go. really easy.

2007-09-27 13:36:19.0 Administrator2: What have you been cooking this week?

2007-09-27 13:36:44.0 Michael: I have to run but thanks again Russ!

2007-09-27 13:37:23.0 minky: thanks! will definitely try that.

2007-09-27 13:37:45.0 Russ Parsons: Let's see, last night I started testing recipes for my next story. I roasted some fingerling potatoes in salt: 2 cups salt, about 1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary, cover the potatoes completely, bake at 400 for about 30 minues. really good. i served that with some broiled chicken breasts and some mustard greens i'd braised with onions and garlic.

2007-09-27 13:38:18.0 Administrator2: yum!!

2007-09-27 13:40:05.0 truro: I have friends who believe that the flavor of their tomatoes goes down over the course of the summer. I, on the other hand, believe that the flavor remains good. Any thoughts?

2007-09-27 13:41:12.0 Russ Parsons: I'm exactly the opposite: i think the flavor improves. I think the tomatoes we're getting now have been hanging on the plants for months, soaking up sunshine. it could be that when we get the first good tomatoes in early summer, it's such a shock that they seem to taste better. but man, tomatoes right now are just killer.

2007-09-27 13:42:59.0 jeaner: hello everyone

2007-09-27 13:43:09.0 Russ Parsons: hi jeaner!

2007-09-27 13:43:28.0 minky: do you know a good source for heirloom plants in the spring?

2007-09-27 13:43:56.0 Russ Parsons: Yes, go to teh santa monica wednesday market and getthem from Windrose Farms. They also sell at Whole Foods stores, I believe.

2007-09-27 13:44:12.0 jeaner: Hi Russ, question for you-- I've been reading a few cookbooks in the evenings, and have noticed that some magazines call for more esoteric ingredients than others. Do you take that into consideration when you're developing a recipe?

2007-09-27 13:44:29.0 jeaner: (both cookbooks and magazines, I should say)

2007-09-27 13:46:07.0 Russ Parsons: Yes I do. I want people to cook my recipes, not just read them. but tehre is a wide range of what people consider to be "exotic". I'll use things like Spanish chorizo, or pimenton de a la vera. I probably won't use things like caviar or veal stock. we have a lot of wonderful food resources here in southern califonria and i think it's a good thing to get people shopping outside the main grocery chains.

2007-09-27 13:47:02.0 Russ Parsons: i should say, it's a good thing to get people to try shopping outside the main grocery chains once in a while. it's a very fine line. i think if people have good luck with your recipes, they'll take a chance once in a while.

2007-09-27 13:47:45.0 jeaner: Yes! That's exactly what I mean-- things like veal stock. I mean, I understand that when I pick up recipe cards from Williams Sonoma that they're going to be using things from their stores (demi glace, for example), but I was reading an old issue of Cooking Light yesterday and they asked for veal stock, and I had to shake my head!

2007-09-27 13:48:47.0 Russ Parsons: especially because in most cases you could use a light chicken stock and get much the same effect (this does not apply if it's a sauce, where you need the gelatin of the veal stock to thicken).

2007-09-27 13:49:57.0 Administrator2: Do you have any advice for making a truly masterful grilled cheese sandwich? I bet a friend that my grilled cheese is better...and I REALLY don't want to lose.

2007-09-27 13:50:59.0 Russ Parsons: grilled cheese is wonderful and easy: start with good bread and good cheese (i really like gruyere). brush the bread with butter on the outside of the sandwich, and when you're cooking it, keep a weight on top to press it flatter (something like a heavy plate).

2007-09-27 13:51:24.0 Administrator2: So the weight makes it brown evenly? Is that the idea?

2007-09-27 13:51:32.0 Russ Parsons: also, take your time. you want the cheese to melt thoroughly, but you don't want the bread to scorch.

2007-09-27 13:51:56.0 Russ Parsons: the weight helps it brown evenly, but it also compacts it so it's crisper and gooeyer.

2007-09-27 13:52:21.0 Administrator2: Perfect!! Now I KNOW I'll win. Thank you!

2007-09-27 13:52:31.0 jeaner: Is there a secret trick to making a well-formed poached egg?

2007-09-27 13:53:41.0 Russ Parsons: i do them in tea cups: put the egg in the cup and lower it into the simmering water; hold it there or a minute to let the outside of the egg set, and then release it into the water. make sure the water is simmering, not boiling. if thewater is too violent, it will break apart the egg.

2007-09-27 13:53:47.0 jeaner: mine tends to... sort of fizzle and become a blog.

2007-09-27 13:53:47.0 jeaner: *blob

2007-09-27 13:54:06.0 Russ Parsons: well, a lot of blogs have fizzled, too.

2007-09-27 13:54:33.0 jeaner: (haha) wait, so the teacup should halfway be in the water and the egg too, before I release the egg into the wild?

2007-09-27 13:54:52.0 Russ Parsons: yup. you want to leave the egg in the cup until the outside of the white is set.

2007-09-27 13:55:25.0 jeaner: and do you prefer to put a cover on top to let it steam or do you spoon water over it?

2007-09-27 13:55:29.0 jeaner: and what do you use to poach the egg?

2007-09-27 13:55:45.0 jeaner: i usually do it in a skillet with some water... but that's because I'm too lazy to break out the little saucepan.

2007-09-27 13:56:28.0 Russ Parsons: i don't cover them, though i do spoon water over (and if strands of egg white float free, spoon that over, too--it'll stick to the egg). i just use water. i don't think it picks upmuch flavor from anything else. some people like to add some vinegar because it helps the white set more quickly.

2007-09-27 13:57:14.0 Russ Parsons: skillets are actually good for poaching eggs, as long as they're deep enough that the egg can float. because they're so wide, you can do more eggs at once than you could in a pot.

2007-09-27 13:57:18.0 buchko: Is it ok to eat cantalope so hard it is like an apple?

2007-09-27 13:57:25.0 jeaner: I used Mark Bittman's book to look it up and he uses salt and vinegar

2007-09-27 13:58:14.0 minky: Mr. Parsons, thanks so much for your time and answers!

2007-09-27 13:58:21.0 Russ Parsons: what do you mean by OK? it won't hurt you, but it sure won't taste as good as if you let it set. cantaloupes are one of those fruits that will continue to ripen after they've been picked. if you buy an under-ripe one, just leave it at room temperature for a couple of days and it will soften nicely.

2007-09-27 13:58:28.0 Russ Parsons: ubetcha minky.

2007-09-27 13:59:43.0 Russ Parsons: we're getting close to time. one or 2 more questions?

2007-09-27 14:00:00.0 Russ Parsons: don't be shy!

2007-09-27 14:00:08.0 jeaner: What fresh herbs do you always keep on hand, whether you grow them or buy them?

2007-09-27 14:00:55.0 Russ Parsons: I always have basil on hand in the summer, parsley, thyme and rosemary year-round and tarragon in winter and spring. oh, sage, too and i have a bay tree.

2007-09-27 14:00:56.0 jeaner: And do you know why it is that I never see John Dory on sale in supermarkets, fancy or otherwise, yet they're always in the menu of fancy restaurants?

2007-09-27 14:00:58.0 jeaner: (thank you!)

2007-09-27 14:01:30.0 Russ Parsons: it's an expensive fish and there's not much of it. so what there is usually goes to restaurants where they are more willing to pay a premium price for it.

2007-09-27 14:02:14.0 jeaner: thank you!! see you next time

2007-09-27 14:02:32.0 Russ Parsons: thanks for stopping by everyone; see you next time!

2007-09-27 14:02:33.0 ryan: yes, thanks!

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