Sunday, October 02, 2011

Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings

Last night we had a party for Myron's alumni from Bishop England High School. One of the appetizers was Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, which is a recipe from Food & Wine Cocktails 2008. I don't know who Ike is but these are some fantastic wings. They are crunchy, salty, sweet, and the fresh herbs and fried garlic make them absolutely delicious.

In Charleston you can buy Vietnamese fish sauce at most Asian markets. I like the Three Crab brand, and get it at H&L Market.

Chicken wings
  • 3lb chicken wings, split at the drumette and tips trimmed off
  • 1/2 C fish sauce
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 4C to 6C vegetable oil, approximately
  • 1C cornstarch
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 T chopped cilantro
  • 1 T chopped mint
  1. Whisk all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Put the prepared chicken wings into a 1 gallon zip-top bag.
  3. Pour the marinade over the wings and refrigerate for at least three hours, turning occasionally. They can be left overnight, just be sure to put the bag into a bowl or baking dish in case it leaks.
  4. Remove the wings from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking them.
  5. Drain the marinade from the wings and reserve the marinade. It will be reduced to make the sauce.
  6. Place the wings on a layer of paper towels to dry.
  7. Pour oil into a large pot to a depth of approximately two inches and bring to 350F (177C) over medium-high heat.
  8. While waiting for the oil to heat, put the marinade in a pot and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. Skim off the protein raft that forms on the top. Reduce to a syrup consistency, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Pat the wings dry with paper towels and dredge in cornstarch. Making sure they are covered thoroughly but shake off any excess cornstarch. Work in batches of four to six pieces, if you dredge too many and they sit for too long the cornstarch will get gummy and they won't be crispy.
  10. Fry the wings in batches of four to six pieces until crispy and chicken is done, about 8 to 10 minutes. Monitor the temperature of the oil  because it will drop when you add the wings. You can turn up the heat to help the oil return to temperature more quickly, just keep an eye on it. You don't want it to go above 360F (182C).
  11. Remove the wings from the oil onto a cooling rack or a platter lined with paper towels.
  12. When finished frying the wings, heat 2T vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.
  13. Add the minced garlic and fry, stirring frequently, until the garlic is golden brown. Remove the garlic from the pan and allow the garlic to cool.
  14. When the wings have cooled enough to handle, put them in a bowl and drizzle with half the syrup. Toss to coat, then cover with remainder of syrup and toss again.
  15. Transfer wings to serving bowl or platter and top with fried garlic, chopped cilantro an chopped mint.
I planned to take a picture but by the time I made it to the table they were gone!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Simple smoked salmon spread

Even though the temperature is still in the 90's and the humidity envelopes me like a hot wet blanket, September means cool weather is around the corner. While working as a fishmonger in college I learned that most salmon spawn in the Fall. What better way to combine the promise of Fall with the reality of the heat and make a delicious cold smoked salmon spread?

Smoked Salmon Spread

  • 1.5 lb fresh Pacific salmon fillet
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 small to medium shallot
  • 2t salt, more for seasoning
  • 2t sugar
  • 1T capers
  • cooking oil, enough to coat the bottom of a saute pan
  • 1T unsalted butter
  • Microplane grater
  • 4 quart mixing bowl
  • small bowl, approximately 1C
  • wooden spoon
  • saute pan
  • Cameron's Cookware stovetop smoker*
  • Peel the shallot and cut into a fine dice. Split the shallots into two piles of roughly 1/4 and 3/4.
  • Use the Microplane to zest half the lemon into the mixing bowl.
  • Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the zested half into the mixing bowl, being careful to keep the seeds out. Reserve the other half of the lemon.
  • Add 1/4 of the shallots, sour cream, salt and sugar to the mixing bowl with the lemon and stir to combine. Set aside.
  • Set up the smoker with 1T wood chips over medium-low to medium heat. I use apple, cherry, alder, or pecan. Don't use mesquite, hickory or oak, the flavor is too heavy for salmon.
  • While the smoker is heating up rinse the salmon under cold running water, pat dry, and sprinkle lightly with salt.**
  • When the first wisps of smoke come out of the smoker spray the rack with nonstick spray, place the salmon on the smoker rack skin side down, and close the smoker.
  • Set a timer for 18 minutes.
  • Heat the oil in the saute pan over medium heat.
  • When the oil ripples add the butter and swirl it around the pan while it melts.
  • Add the remainder of the shallot and saute until golden brown. Be very careful, it won't look like anything is happening then they will go from golden brown and delicious to burned and bitter very quickly.
  • Pour the shallots and any oil into a small bowl and set aside.
  • When the timer goes off turn off the heat and open the smoker slightly. Let stand for a few minutes, then open the lid fully and remove the salmon. Place the salmon flesh side down on a cutting board and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  • Peel the skin off the salmon and scrape off the grayish-brown layer that separates the muscle and skin. A spoon works well for this. Be gentle so you don't scrape up too much of the salmon flesh. Let the salmon cool for another 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Add the salmon and the sauteed shallots to the sour cream mixture in the mixing bowl and break up the salmon with your spoon. Stir vigorously, breaking up large chunks, until the salmon and sour cream mixture are fully incorporated.
  • Add the capers and stir gently. You don't want to crush the capers.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Check for seasoning, adding more salt or lemon if needed.
Yield: 20 to 30 cocktail party servings

* You could use an outdoor smoker, but since I don't have one I'm providing instructions for a Camerons Cookware stovetop smoker. This is an easy way to get smoky delicious food in the convenience of your kitchen. Note that it does leak some smoke, so if you're in an apartment or a small house you might want to open a window. If it billows like a locomotive it means you have the heat too high.

**Another variation would be to grill the salmon instead of smoking it. The last option I'll leave you with is to bake the salmon, and for smoky flavor you could add a sprinkle of smoked sea salt. The recipe will work no matter how you cook the salmon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My brushes with the space program

With the last shuttle mission underway a lot of people are recounting their experiences growing up and following the US space program. I never was that into it. I read sci-fi and dreamed of escaping to another world, but I never paid much attention to the space program.

That changed a bit in seventh grade because my science teacher was one of the ten finalists to be the first teacher in space, a spot ultimately won by Christa McAulliffe. She took every opportunity to share what she learned in her training and it was fascinating. We watched the Challenger launch in science class the morning on January 28, 1986 and were horrified when the shuttle exploded. The first thing that went through my mind was "That could have been Ms. Salyers!" She was my favorite teacher and it was gut-wrenching.

My partner Myron's father was a Captain in the US Navy. One of his missions was to lead the flotilla that would have picked up the capsule from the first moon landing if they had to land in the Atlantic instead of the Pacific. He spoke only vaguely of the experience, and said he was temporarily granted Cosmic Clearance so he could be debriefed. Unfortunately he never got to meet the astronauts, or at least he never talked about it. I'm still in awe that he was there for such an incredibly important point in human history, and there was a reasonable chance he could have played a role in it.

I wasn't glued to the TV for launches and I can't even name all the space shuttles, but the space program has still been an inspiration.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

If Sarah Palin was a waitress

Customer: "What's the special of the day?" 

Waitress Palin: "Our special...uh...cod. The Cod Special."

Customer: "Okay. How's that prepared and does it come with anything?"

Waitress Palin: "Well...uh...that's a good question and...uh...I appreciate you asking that question because it's good. The Special Cod is specially prepared by our fantastic chef who's just a real good, real hardworkin' American. He'll cook that right up for you, special-like, and it's just delicious. And then I'll bring it out and you'll like it, it's just real tastey."

Customer: "Okayyyyy...I'll just have the fish and chips with a Diet Coke."

Thirty minutes later, no fish and chips, no diet coke.

Customer to random other waiter: "Hey, can you get my waitress...Sarah, yeah her name was Sarah. I ordered the fish and chips with a Diet Coke thirty minutes ago and I haven't seen her since."

Random Other Waiter: "Ooh, sorry bro. Sarah just quit. Just up and quit and it was only halfway through her shift." 

Taken from NomNom83's comment on Gawker.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Dining With Friends 2011 - Ciao Baby!

It's that time of year again: Dining With Friends. This is the thirteenth year my partner Myron and I have hosted a party for this event. This year we're having our party on Saturday, May 14th. We selected Italian as the theme and Myron combed through over 30 cookbooks and magazines to come up with a master list of over 120 recipes. We eventually whittled that down to 19. Below is what we came up with, with links to the recipes.

Crostini bar:
Main courses:
Side dishes:
Other recipes:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A call for passive activism

IBM is celebrating their 100th anniversary by highlighting their top 100 contributions. One they selected is World Community Grid. From the World Community Grid website:
World Community Grid brings people together from across the globe to create the largest non-profit computing grid benefiting humanity. It does this by pooling surplus computer processing power. We believe that innovation combined with visionary scientific research and large-scale volunteerism can help make the planet smarter. Our success depends on like-minded individuals - like you.
Here's how it works: IBM donates the hardware and coordinates the projects that get submitted to WCG. People like you and me install an application on our computers that downloads work for these projects -- such as curing cancer, AIDS, and polio, or finding more nutritious strains of rice -- and then churns through it (or as I like to say "and a miracle occurs"). Once it's all analyzed the data is sent back to WCG where the IBM servers aggregate it for the researchers.

You don't have to leave your computer on all the time, or have it running constantly so it slows down your computer. The hour your screensaver is running while you're at lunch or in a meeting is an hour you could be contributing to solving the world's problems.

Incidentally, there is a WCG team for Lotus Domino Bloggers. There are 26 members but only three of us have been active in the last couple of months. If you're reading this through PlanetLotus please consider joining your peers.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Motorola Atrix is the reincarnation of IBM Meta Pad circa 2002

It's no secret that I'm a slow adopter of mobile technology. It comes down to one reason: IBM spoiled me with the Meta Pad. This little gem debuted out of IBM Research in 2002. That's right, nearly 10 years ago IBM was touting a mobile computer you could carry with you and connect to various docks for different purposes. Antelope Technology licensed the Meta Pad and sold it as the Mobile Computer Core. People stayed away in droves. It was incredibly expensive, heavy, bulky and slow. Antelope Tech closed its doors within a couple of years.

IBM's idea of carrying your computer with you and just plugging it in to different form factors has stuck with me for the last decade. I knew what was possible and I wouldn't settle for anything else. I never bought a smartphone because I didn't want a phone. I wanted a mobile device that was a lot more flexible.

Other devices entered this space, most notably the Oqo and FlipStart. To me they were awkward compromises, and they're still prohibitively expensive. The closest I have found to meet my wish list was the SmartBook from Always Innovating. The only problem with that is it's only WiFi. I wanted something I could use as a phone, but since the SmartBook was so close I was seriously considering purchasing it. I never expected any manufacturer to build what I wanted.

Then Motorola announced the Atrix. I read a review of it and I was stunned how closely this mirrored IBM's goals from a decade ago. It's a phone. Dock it and you can play music and videos to your home entertainment system, using a remote. Connect a keyboard and fire up a full version of Firefox. Insert into a laptop chassis and enjoy a larger screen while traveling. And it's not insanely expensive.

Thank you, IBM, for showing the world what was possible. You're often ahead of your time, but I'm glad in this case it has come full circle.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

your zone of influence (is much bigger than you think)

Last night I attended a volunteer training session for the upcoming Charleston Wine + Food Festival. A large portion of the session centered around customer service. There will be over 18,000 people attending the festival this year and there are more than 400 volunteers. We will be wearing burgundy aprons and we will be the most visible face of the Festival.

Over half the Festival attendees are traveling from out of state; one-third have never been to the festival before; and fifteen percent have never been to Charleston. If they don't have a positive impression of me it will reflect on that person's opinion the Festival as a whole, Charleston, the South, and who knows what else. It is critical that every volunteer leave every guest they influence with a positive impression.

David McNair, co-author of Exceptional Customer Service, is a Charlestonian and was there to talk about our zone of influence. This was defined as:
  • The number of people you actually speak to. Volunteers from last year said to expect to talk to 500 people in a 4 hour period.
  • People are highly visual and at events such as this anyone official-looking immediately draws attention. So add the number of people who pass within 10 feet that we don't actually talk to. This was estimated to be twice the number you do speak to, so that's 1500 people total. Yes, people you will form an opinion of you from 10 feet away. It's not fair, but that's life.
  • Most of the events happen in tents where people file through, but some are outdoors. In open spaces people will notice you from up to 30 feet away. The number of contacts jumped to 2000. So not only do you have to worry about the people you directly talk to, and the ones who pass 10 feet away, but the people three times as far who can't even hear your voice will also form an opinion of you.
  • And finally, he threw out the number 5, which he used as a multiplier. This is because on average every person we influence will tell five other people. If it's a positive experience they usually tell two to three people, and if it's negative they tell ten to twelve. On average it works out to five. That brings us up to 10,000 impressions made in a 4 hour period.
David went on to say that people form their first impression within seven seconds of engaging someone. That doesn't mean talking to them, that's simply from the point of first sight. If you have a 60 second conversation the other person has made a final judgment about you, including whether they find you trustworthy. How to you make sure someone you don't even notice but who sees you from 30 feet away forms a positive impression of you?

David talked about how simple things can make or break a good customer service experience. Since most of the people we are influencing are not even going to talk to us we need to be aware of the message we're sending. Are we smiling or do we look bored? Are we slouched over or are we standing with good posture? Do we appear energized or tired? These seemingly small details have a tremendous impact, up to 30 feet away.

It is a little daunting to think that I may be influencing 10,000 people in a single four-hour period. It's an incredibly important seven seconds.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

three words

I don't do resolutions. The idea of a point in time when you commit to lofty unattainable goals, or even realistic achievable ones, just doesn't interest me. I work toward what interests me, and that changes as my relationship to the world around me changes.

My friend Kat French posted about a meme among her friends of doing a three-word resolution. Encompassing your broad goals and intentions with bare language leaves more to interpretation. I can get behind this.

My three words are:

  1. Do
  2. Share
  3. Joy
Dreaming and wishing only get you so far. Doing actually makes things happen. All that doing yields results. Keeping them to myself isn't why I'm doing all the doing. I have learned that sharing brings me joy. When I share the results of my doing, know that I'm actually being selfish. It isn't about you, it's about me.

* Update 1/14/2010 to fix link Blogger screwed up.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Please take the time to read this

I had never heard of Bill Zeller until today. He created a bunch of projects that a lot of people use, though. He was also apparently incredibly smart. He committed suicide January 5th, 2010.

Bill's suicide note is long, but please take the time to read it. Bill endured horrors no one ever should and his note describing them is painful to read. I can tell you from my own first-hand experience it's much, much worse from his side. It struck a chord with me because I felt like he did for much of my life. I'm thankful for everyone, and especially Myron, who helped me see that life is worth living. It's tragic that so many people never get the chance to feel loved.