Anthony Bourdain, talking to me?

Tricia Homis, a new co-worker and foodie friend recently blew me away with a video she had taken in Menlo Park, CA at the recent Anthony Bourdain book signing tour/dinner.

Yep, that’s the man himself, telling me that Austin “is actually cool.” I had a rough time leaving California to return to what I thought was a culinary wasteland of chicken fried steak and chain restaurants not to mention leaving all of the friends I had made over 6+ years. I mean, aside from New York, California is where it’s at when it comes to food. But I’m coming to realize that Austin is like a little slice of California in Texas

Mr. Bourdain seems to think so as well.

So to say I was gob smacked would be an understatement. I have all of Mr. Bourdain’s books, I bought DVDs of his show, I even managed to snag a limited edition DVD they only send to folks who are voting for the Emmys. I moved from Alton to Bourdain, and never looked back. Don’t get me wrong, I brine my turkey ever Thanksgiving following Mr. Brown’s instructions–and yes I know that McGee is all about salting–but Bourdain is my guy now.

After thanking her over and over–and I’m still doing it now–she managed to tell me a bit about the night.

“I’m so happy you liked it! Monsieur Bourdain was quite affable. If you get a chance to see him, I highly recommend it. I also asked him a question–part of the dinner was a Q&A session. Most people asked him about organics and sustainable farming and blah blah blah… He also took one lady to task about availability of organics and sustainable farmed items when you’re poor and black, and that was cool, actually.

I asked him if he was stuck on a desert island with Rachel Ray, which five CDs would he have with him and what song would he listen to while he was beating her with her own leg?

He said:

1.) Dead Boys – Young Loud & Snotty

2.) The Ramones – Rocket to Russia

3.) The Clash – London Calling

4.) Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

5.) The Stooges – Fun House

He also said he would be eating “fruity pebbles out of her empty fucking skull” before the music even started, thereby doing her a favor.”

After the dinner Tricia gathered her courage and asked him to recorded a quick message for me about Austin.

Tricia, if you’re reading this: I’ll never be able to thank you enough. But I’m sure as hell going to try.

Pumpkin and Bacon Soup

A dish suitable for a large autumnal gathering. One pumpkin will feed many. For preference, choose an organic one, with a whitish green skin that feels very hard; they’re often available from health-food shops and some supermarkets.

Well, yesterday was supposed to be the big day: My first real post about making a recipe from the cookbook. I had originally planned on making Duck Legs with Carrots on Sunday as I have made it before, but after seeing this recipe I changed my mind. The fact that the temperature in central Texas has plummeted was also a factor. So later in the day when I got a chance I rushed off to Central Market for my ingredients, envisioning a lovely evening dining on a nice hearty soup laden with bacon, a mammoth cup of hot buttered rum and a fire crackling in the hearth.

Reality kicked me in the face when I realized that I was out of chicken stock after I got home. Making stock from scratch isn’t something that fits into 30 minute meals.

At one point I actually considered using some canned chicken broth. Whoever is reading this sure wouldn’t know or care. But a recent post on eGullet concerning Michael Rhulman’s new book, “The Elements of Cooking” perfectly embodies what I was feeling.

If his mantra ‚”How to perfect a good recipe: Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again.” strikes you as affected machismo, then the real world instruction “This is bullshit. Do it again.” is going to hurt your feelings. Far from being put off, I found the finger-wagging in Elements crucial in these days of Rachael Ray, Food TV’s paragon of the soft bigotry of low expectations. Book store shelves are groaning with books advocating half-assed technique, but finesse is vital and that essay may be the most important bit of information in the book. Finesse can be tasted in fine food and seen in the presentation, it’s what makes places like The French Laundry worth the expense, and it makes Thomas Keller’s cookbooks worth the hair pulling. The results are superior. It’s worth the care and attention to detail.

I’m cooking these dishes for myself, to learn and grow as a cook. Taking the easy way out isn’t going to help me accomplish that. So I put the groceries away, checked the cookbook for Mr. Henderson’s stock ingredients and headed back to the supermarket.

An hour later I had my stock pot on the stove, ready to go. If you’ve never made stock, I beg you–give it a shot once. It’s disturbingly simple, you can make a bunch of it at once and freeze it for later, and it beats the bejesus out of any broth or stock you can buy in a can or box. Heck, I watched football most of Sunday while I made chicken stock. Once you have it at the right temperature you can just leave the pot alone for a few hours, skimming scum off the top during the halftime breaks.

Stock

Here is the total sum of what it took to make a half decent chicken stock

  • Cut the meat off a chicken carcase, leaving the wings
  • Peeled and diced the vegetables
  • Dropped the above in the pot with a few herbs and a handful of peppercorns
  • Filled the pot up with water
  • Left the pot on the stove with a very slow simmer going
  • Threw away the vegetables and chicken carcase
  • Strained the stock

Finished Stock

That’s it. I could have clarified the stock as well, but Mr. Henderson claims that it wasn’t really needed. So again I beg of you–try making stock just once. The ease of it will surprise you.

Once I had stock on hand, I was able to start making the Pumpkin and Bacon soup.

The recipe itself is pretty straight-forward, with no fancy ingredients or special techniques. And that’s just fine with me. I need to establish better fundamentals before I try making El Bulli caviar.

Hello, sexy. I’ll say it here the first time, but I’ll be saying it again in the future: The pig is a magical animal. And this is a photo of two and a half pounds of smoked magical animal.

I dropped the cuts of smoked bacon into the pot with some leeks, onions and garlic. At this point in the recipe the kitchen smelled rather nice.

Pumpkin

The hardest part was cutting the whole pumpkin into one inch square cubes. Halfway through the cutting, my poor little knife callus just kinda gave up on me. It’s still smarting tonight. You can call me Mr. Softhands I suppose.

Let's get this show on the road

Here’s everything in the pot ready to cook. I ended up with a lot more pumpkin than I had room for, but I managed to stuff a good portion of the extra into the soup somehow as it cooked. I’ll have to ask Santa for a bigger pot this year.

And we're done

Once the soup was done, I noticed that there was about a half inch of bacon grease floating on the top of the soup. The recipe didn’t tell me to skim the fat off but I did so anyhow. I don’t think the flavor suffered in the least for it either.

One down

And here’s the final product with some nice rustic bread for sopping up the last dregs of the soup from the bowl. For my first attempt, I’d like to think I did pretty well. The pumpkin was soft and had soaked up some of the smokey bacon fat. The bacon was, well, bacon. My wife seemed to enjoy it too. I could see myself making this again in the future. Not like I need to though. Somehow I managed to ignore the fact this recipe can feed twelve people “easily”. Oops. I hope it’ll freeze well, as it’ll sure come in handy during the upcoming winter months.

One down, one hundred and thirty seven to go.