Archive for the 'Advice Column' Category

Beef Cuts

Monday, April 8th, 2013

A beef steer can be processed in many ways—the least processed option would be as 2 sides of beef; the most processed would probably be to grind the whole darned thing.  When I organize my beef draft, I provide instructions to the slaughterhouse that are intended to make the cuts as consumer-friendly as possible and to provide as wide a range of cuts as I can get.

So what’s on a beef steer?  Here’s a quick look at the percent by weight of each cut that I get based on the cutting instructions I provide:

So what to do with these cuts?

Grilling/ Dry Roasting:

These are some of the easier cuts to handle!  Season with salt and pepper or your favorite spice rub and have at it!

  • Tenderloin
  • Strip Steak
  • Ribeye
  • Sirloin Steak (center cut/ boneless)
  • Top Round/ Round Tip (cook no more than medium rare and slice thinly)
  • Top Round Roast (cook no more than medium rare and slice thinly)
Intense heat will sear the outside while leaving the interior nice and rare.  This is best used for thin cuts.  It’s also a good idea to marinate these cuts before broiling
  • Skirt Steak
  • Flank Steak
Chicken Frying
There’s nothing like a good chicken fried steak.  Don’t feel like going to the truck stop?  You can make it at home.
  • Bottom Round Steak (place meat between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound the bejeezus out of it with a tenderizing hammer before breading and frying)
Long, slow, moist heat will help the collagen in the tougher, more exercised muscles to liquefy, making these cuts tender and flavorful when done right!
  • Chuck Roast
  • Rump Roast
  • Bottom Round Steak
  • Boiling Beef (braise, cool, separate meat from bones and fat, reheat in sauce for best service!)
  • Short Ribs (braise, cool, separate meat from bones and fat, reheat in sauce for best service!)
  • Shank (think osso bucco!)
  • Brisket (if you’re feeling ambitious, this is the cut typically turned into corned beef!)

Dinner for a Friend

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Hey -

A friend / co-worker just had a baby. What’s a good dish to bring them? The husband doesn’t like green veggies & they have a 2 yr old. Ready….go!


With some spinach in it so that he can set a good example for his two-year-old by eating a full spectrum of colorful foods.

More Timely Advice—Standing Rib Roast

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Hey Jesse,

A confluence of events has led to me hosting Christmas dinner this year.

I’m planning to go all-out with a standing rib roast.  My question is, the rubs I’ve seen seem to call for a ton of salt.  Does that sound right?  Don’t want to dry out a $90 piece of meat.

Thanks much,



I’d go with less salt in the rub, but I’d salt it 3 times:

  • once a day before you cook it, so that as it sits overnight, the salt will have a chance to penetrate;
  • once as you’re preparing to cook it so that there is a bit more immediate of an effect;
  • and then a small sprinkle of sea salt upon slicing it for a finishing effect.

All in all, the amount of salt spread over the three applications may approach the amount called for in the rubs you’ve seen, but the overall effect should produce a better result because the salt won’t be concentrated in a crust on the outside of the beef.

Hope this helps, and enjoy your dinner!

Cloving a Ham

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Hello – Christmas is fast approaching and I’m planning to contribute a glazed ham. I’ve made this several times over the years but always find the spot to place the clove a real challenge as it’s very difficult to see the actual diamond shape in the white fat. Everything else is dead easy but I always groan when I get to that part of the procedure and feel there must be a simple solution. Last time I basted the ham for a short time so that there was some colour on it and then removed it from the oven and placed the cloves in. However, that was hardly a success either because the fat was then too soft to push the clove in! Do you have any suggestions to make my life a little easier?
Many thanks,
Jane (Perth, Western Australia)


I will actually be doing my own ham this year for the first time in about 6 years, so I am glad you asked the question, otherwise I don’t think I would have even been aware of the concern until it came time to slice the ham and stick the cloves.

My mother has always been the one to handle the glazed ham, so I asked kicked the question to her. She says that she always has the same issue, but after she cuts the grid, she uses her sense of touch to find the first few spots to put the cloves. Once she gets a few of them established, she estimates where the rest would go based on the pattern of the grid.

I can tell you that the results are consistently very nice, and it sounds like a reasonable method to me, so I hope it is helpful to you.

If anyone else has questions for me (or my mother), email me to let me know! Your question may be featured in a future advice column.

King Cake Question

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011


I’ve tried making your king cake twice now and it just doesn’t work.  The dough never rises.  You say it’s easy to work with but I disagree.  Someone else had the same problem and you advised using a bench scraper to transfer the dough to the baking sheet.  I don’t think you understood their question.  It was the recipe not working, not an equipment failure.



I feel your pain and I know the solution.  Last year when I tried following my own recipe it came out poorly.  This year, it was a joy.  the difference?  the yeast.  This recipe requires instant yeast–not just active dry.  Exactly why, I don’t know–but I can vouch for the difference.  Sorry for the confusion, and happy Mardi Gras!

The Science of Baking

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011


do you happen to have any suggestions of books that explain the science behind baking?  I’m envisioning a pseudo-chem lab text book.




A few resources come immediately to mind:

  1. Alton Brown has a tremendous volume that sounds pretty much what you’re looking for, though broader in its scope.  I’m Just ere For the Food: Food + Heat= Cooking is the only cookbook that I’ve ever read cover to cover.  And I took notes on it.  Therefore, I can give an unequivocal 4-orange recommendation to this volume.  Mr. Brown also has a follow-up volume, Food x Mixing + Heat= Baking, which I have never read and therefore cannot give any recommendation on, but based on teh quality of his initial volume, I imagine that this may be the book you seek.
  2. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee is a comprehensive reference volume on many of the scientific aspects of food and its preparation.  It is not set up like a lab manual (the way Mr. Brown’s book is), but the information included in it is far-reaching and (often) fascinating.
  3. Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking Revealed, by Shirley O. Corriher, is a volume that I have consulted on several occasions and have found to be useful in answering some of my questions.  The author also has a book called Bakewise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking Revealed that may be more of what you’re looking for.

I hope this helps!

Apple Varieties

Friday, November 12th, 2010

So, tell me…are these different types of apples sprung from different tree species or is there something else causing the variation?


The different varieties of apple are no more different species than you or I are.  They’re just different individuals within the species.

Apples reproduce through bee-assisted cross-pollination: pollen from two trees is required to fertilize the stamen.  Therefore, each seed produced is a cross between the traits of two different trees, and each seed has the potential to grow a unique individual.  Plant the seed, wait for it to grow; three years later, you could find yourself as the sole progenitor of an exciting new apple variety.

Or, more likely, you’ll find that you’ve got a crab apple tree.  There’s no way to tell what you’ll get until the fruits appear.

If you do happen to hit the lottery and grow a varietal worth reproduction, it’ll take some old-school cloning to make it happen.  Grafting is the process by which, in the spring, when growth is happening at an exponential rate, a branch from one fruit tree is cored from its trunk and transferred to a correspondingly shaped hole in the trunk/ rootstock of a tree from the same species.  When the grafted branch takes successfully to its new home, it will continue to grow apples of its own variety.  Thus, it is entirely possible (and used to be common) to have a single apple tree yield 2 or more varieties of apple, depending on how many types have been grafted onto its trunk.

For more great information on the biology of apple reproduction, and the history of apples grown from seed (including information about how John Chapman [aka Johnny Appleseed], who got his seeds from the cider mills of Pittsburgh, was in the business of providing settlers with the means to make booze for the long frontier winter), check out Michael Pollan’s pop-ag classic The Botany of Desire.

Good Cook II: The Sequel

Monday, July 12th, 2010

In May, I put up a few musings about what makes a good cook.  The original post prompted a flurry of activity on the site (1 comment), which in turn prompted my other reader (thanks, Mom!) to draft a formal response on what she believes makes someone to be a good cook:


A few weeks ago, you answered the question, “What Makes a Good Cook?”  I consider myself to be a good cook and at least partially responsible for your interest in cooking and your enthusiasm for food and fresh ingredients.  I have been thinking about this and mulling over my response and have finally come up with several ideas on the subject.


Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I must admit, I don’t remember ever not liking vegetables.  Even when I was really young, I never understood why Dennis the Menace didn’t want to eat his peas or his broccoli (maybe his mom’s just a bad cook.)  I loved when I was assigned the task of picking cherry tomatoes before dinner—because that meant I could eat a few as I plucked the ripe ones off their vine.  I always wanted to take as much asparagus as I could get away with (”Can I have 8 pieces?”).  The only vegetable I can remember not enjoying were beets—I had to get to be quite a bit older before I could appreciate them.

That having been said, I understand that not all children get excited about eating fresh vegetables.  Researchers at Penn State have determined with empirical evidence that a common-sense solution works: feed kids fresh veggies before the meal, when they are at their hungriest.

[The researchers] found that when preschool children received no first course of carrots, they consumed about 23 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of broccoli from the main course.

When the children received 30 grams (about 1 ounce) of carrots at the start of the meal, their vegetable intake rose by nearly 50 percent compared to having no carrots as a first course. But when the first course was increased to 60 grams (about 2 ounces) of carrots, average vegetable consumption nearly tripled to about 63 grams — or a third of the recommended vegetable intake for preschool children.

Putting the team’s findings to use should be quite easy.  As researcher Maureen Spill notes, “The great thing about this study is the very clear and easy message for parents and care-givers that while you are preparing dinner, put some vegetables out for your children to snack on while they’re hungry.”

The first step toward getting anyone to enjoy a new flavor is getting them to taste it.  While no one will necessarily enjoy every new food that they try, they will not enjoy every food that they don’t try.  Or, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.”  Simply getting kids to taste something different could help them to realize that they actually enjoy the flavor, crunch, and finger-food nature of fresh vegetables.

One other strategy parents might use?  Maureen Spill suggests (and I heartily concur) that “Parents also need to set an example by eating vegetables while children are young and impressionable.”

For more information on the Penn State study, click here.

What Makes A Good Cook?

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Hey Jesse—

In your opinion, what separates a good cook from a bad cook?




Whoo, tough question.  I’ve been letting this one simmer in my mind for a few days trying to sort it out.  My first instinct was knife skills, but I had to rethink that one pretty quickly, as you asked about good from bad.  And, whereas knife skills can separate a great cook from a good cook, they are far from necessary to avoid being a bad cook.  One can be a quite good cook with only functional knife skills.

Next, I thought about respect for ingredients: their quality and their integrity.  And whereas I do believe that such respect is crucial for someone who aspires to cook as well as possible, there are plenty of cooks who do just fine without a great deal of consideration going into the provenance of their ingredients.

So, perhaps a passion for the results?  A love for flavors and how they combine?  Again, helpful, but not necessary.  While these can provide one with the motivation to persevere through kitchen mishaps and produce a better result on one’s next attempt, misguided enthusiasm has been responsible for many a kitchen error, from the novice’s tendency to throw the entire spice rack into the pan, to the combination of dissonant flavors (just to see what they would taste like).

Eventually, though, I decided that there is but one quality that truly separates a good cook from a bad: