Category: Competitions

Home Cooking vs. Fancy Cuisines, plus ca. 1923 Toledo Public School Recipes

At QQ Kitchen in Toledo, a serving of Tong Soo Yo — Deep-fried pork loin with Napa cabbage, Wood Ear, Cucumber, Pineapple, Green Onion and Carrots, in a Korean Sweet and Sour Glaze. A beautiful and accessible “home-style” dish.

It was March 1983 when Sony’s Compact Disc audio player hit the U.S. market, after first being made available in Japan the previous October. Dr. Toshitada Doi’s development of the digital audio system would continue from Sony with recordable CDs, along with the related DVD format and recordable versions of those as well. CDs have since become less available with the advent of the mp3 file format, giving rise to the iPod and smartphone-based mp3 player apps.

Movies have followed suit. When Lucas directed “Star Wars II: Attack Of The Clones” for its 2002 release, it was one of the first feature films shot using all-digital cameras. These were the Sony HDW-F900, which were then modified for Panavision to become the HD-900F camera system. The finished film was only converted to film for distribution in theaters. Since then, films have become all-digital, from the Red EPIC cameras currently used in production, through completely-digital editing, to digital 4k projection systems in theaters, not using a single frame of Kodak film stock along the way.

But some things haven’t changed in the “digital era” since 1982. Electric guitarists understand this. The best sound for their instruments are still processed via vacuum tubes, and many popular guitar amps and amplification heads for speaker stacks use, strangely-enough, old Russian military audio tubes in their designs. The Russian 6L6 medium-power tube (20 – 25W outpout), known as a “Groove Tube”, has been used in popular amplifier brands such as Fender since the 1960s. A matched pair of 6L6 tubes runs about 60 bucks.

Lately, these things have begun to revert back their previous forms. Vinyl albums are making a comeback, and there are numerous turntables for analog amplifier use which also have USB ports to transfer the music into a digital system if desired. And “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens”, released in December 2015, was shot entirely on film stock, with the effects shop at Industrial Light & Magic returning to the use of miniature models for many of their sequences.

What Does This Have To Do With Cooking?
Quite simply, even with the popularity of eReaders such as the Kindle, cookbooks have not successfully made the transition to digital formats. People still want physical cookbooks and publishers have obliged, developing new presentation styles and tapping solid, honest cooks and chefs for content.

For a while it seemed as though cooking in the U.S. was itself headed in the wrong direction. After TV dinners became popular, frozen and processed foods were all the rage, and every home kitchen gained a microwave on its counter or above its electric range. Basic tastes really didn’t change though, and with Food Network and other cooking channels showing up people realized they wanted to “really” cook once again.

But a split happened, a dichotomy of sorts, pitting home cooks against restaurant-style cooking, which in many ways followed what Food Network and others were producing.

“Worst Cooks In America”
This show is a prime example of what’s wrong with a lot of the programming on Food Network today. The competitors are people who can’t even cook their family a decent meal. But instead of taking them through what used to be considered a Home Economics cooking class, they teach them restaurant techniques, finishing with a “restaurant-style meal”. In recent ads a competitor is berated for not knowing the difference between a scallion and a shallot, neither of which many home cooks have ever even heard of. Meanwhile, the competitor’s family probably wants meatloaf, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, grilled pork chops, pancakes with bacon … The basics. Nothing requiring scallions, shallots, or a wrapping of caul fat. (No, you likely don’t know what that is either, but it’s taught on the show.) What the families want is what’s important to everyday cooks in their own kitchens.

What these families want to eat is how normal people eat. The concepts of the “training” in the show certainly don’t reflect this.

Fortunately, some of the few actual cooking programs on the network are largely unscripted and present honest home cooking. Nancy Fuller is excellent in this regard in her show “Farmhouse Rules”, as is Damaris Phillips in “Southern At Heart”. Celebs Trisha Yearwood and Valerie Bertinelli also offer unpretentious dishes in shows taped in their home kitchens.

Most of the rest of the network’s programming, however, has drifted considerably far from the concepts presented in these few shows.

At the same time, Americans’ affinity for burgers spawned the excellent Sonic and Five Guys burger chains. Local burger joints have begun cooking butter burgers and topping burgers with slow-cooked pork belly and locally-smoked bacon. And home cooks began to learn that a 50/50 blend of ground sirloin and chuck made for the best-tasting burgers from their own grills.

This has happened in other areas of cooking as well, burgers are simply a good example. But it then becomes apparent some well-known “trending” statements about cooking simply aren’t true.

Bocuse d’Or 2017

The offifical photo of part of team USA’s winning creations from the 2017 Bocuse d’Or, “Presentation On A Tray”.

Yesterday, January 25, 2017, Team USA won the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition hosted in Lyon, France. This was the 30th anniversary of the Bocuse d’Or, and it was also Team USA’s first-ever win. It really is one Hell of an accomplishment.

No, I have no desire to detract from what Team USA has accomplished. They worked long and hard to get the win, and that hard work is no joke.

But as beautiful as the above-pictured Team USA dish is, I couldn’t make head nor tail of what it was. No one I’ve shown it to have been able to either, chefs included. Someone said “Well, the individual dishes look like oyster shells, so those must be some kind of oyster.”


“Those things on top … Prickly pear?”


It’s chicken and crayfish. I kid you not. Here’s the official description of this particular event, lifted from the Bocuse d’Or web site:

5 hours and 35 minutes, not a second more: that’s the time allotted to prepare a recipe using the imposed main product. Top quality meat or extra fresh fish, the recipe imagined using these superb products will be presented ‘à la française’ on a tray.

2017 has a big surprise in store for its fans but more importantly for the participants. As for the presentation on a tray, the Bocuse d’Or will proudly state its Lyon and French identity. To celebrate its 30 years of existence the participants will work with ‘Bresse chicken and shellfish’ based on an interpretation of the famous Lyon recipe for ‘Chicken and crayfish’.

My friend who’d originally reposted the above photo of the reinterpreted “Bresse Chicken and Shellfish” took issue with my lack of appreciation of the dish:

“The appeal is the creativity, the artistry, the innovation. Like the haute couture that influences what we wear (as Meryl Streep described in The Devil Wears Prada), these techniques trickle down. It’s fascinating to watch, like an art show meets the Olympics!”

Sorry, but haute couture has never influenced what I wear. I might wear a suit for a special event, and my wife does make me wear khakis on occasion. But I’m normally in jeans with a t-shirt or flannel shirt. And there’s likewise no real innovaion here either … Fads maybe, aka temporary “trends” … But the reality is that people, carnivores of course, will still gravitate toward steaks, fried chicken, broiled or grilled fish, pulled or grilled pork, stout sausages … and burgers. This plate will fade into history, and people in 2117 will still be ordering medium rare steak grilled over open flame. That’s the reality of how people really want to eat.

As pretty as food really needs to be: Seared Ahi Tuna at 12A Buoy in Ft. Pierce, Florida.

Once in a while, I don’t mind if food is pretty, especially if it’s a surprise in what’s an affordable ($21) dish. We were visiting friends in Ft. Pierce, Florida, in April 2016 and they suggested a late lunch at a place called the 12A Buoy. We were seated outside about 20 feet from the Indian River, an estuary that runs more than 100 miles along the eastern coast of Florida. I ordered the seared Ahi tuna in toasted sesame seeds. I was not expecting what’s in the above photo, especially at that price, but we took that pic immediately after the dish hit the table.

It’s a great presentation, downright pretty, and I can tell exactly what it is.

Which brings up other issues I have with Food Network programming. In the competition show “Chopped” chefs are expected to transform the ingredients in the various baskets. If they don’t do so, they’re berated for it and, in many instances, “chopped” in that round for not transforming items. They’re also expected to include some kind of sauce to just about evry dish they create.

These particular requirements show complete disregard for the following phrases I’ve learned and understood elsewhere:

  • Ingredients need to not only be respected, but showcased as well.
  • Not everything needs a sauce, a concept which is more French than is necessary.

These two phrases fly in the face of what many believe, but they hold true more often than not. Take a look at the images in this post. No sauces (except the barbecue sauce on the ribs), not even with the Bocuse d’Or tray presentation. But the Bocuse d’Or tray presention is the only one that can’t be identified by looking at it.

One of most odd competition shows recently was “Battle Of The Grandmas”. Transformation was part of the show, for example, “Using everything you’d use for Green Bean Casserole, create a dish that’s not Green Bean Casserole.” That’s entirely unnecessary. Have each of them make their Green Bean Casserole, and see whose is the favorite. Transformation shouldn’t be part of the equation for grandmas, as it doesn’t respect the women and their skills as they are.

Home-Ec Cooking Courses vs. “Culinary Classes”

Two historical public school Home Economics cookbooks from my collection.

The bottom hardcover book in the above pic, the 527-page “Experiences With Foods” published in 1956, includes photos illustrating the process for making yeast breads. The top book is the 1923 “Home Economics Cook Book for Elementary Grades” published in 1923 by Toledo Public Schools. The pages shown are those describing how to select a chicken, using flame to remove pin feathers, then finding and removing the birds’ innards piece-by-piece as birds were purchased unprocessed at the time.

I remember Home Ec cooking classes in middle school. There were multiple home kitchens in that room. We were put together in groups of two or three students, and taught how to cook different dishes, like simple pancakes from scratch, eggs, and burgers. I don’t recall what the textbook was, but given the time period it could very well have been the 1956 textbook in the above image.

Cooking is making a comeback as an available course in middle and high school levels. But in too many cases, this is a culinary course intended as a starting block for a professional career, not a home cooking course. These are indeed two separate concepts, the latter being too seldom not taught at home.

Every student needs to learn how to cook at home, much in the same way as they need to know how to write and execute a grocery shopping list, clean a home kitchen, balance a checkbook, do laundry, change the oil in a car or at least know how to check the various fluid levels … simple everyday skills that are sorely missing in today’s eucation.

How people actually cook at home: Hickory-smoked barbecued spare ribs with collard greens and cornbread.

I grew up on the kind of food in the above pic, as did my kids, and many other people we know. This is how people eat. And there’s nothing here from any competition whatsoever. Instead, this is nothing but old-school techniques, like most home cooking.

Steak and potatoes has remained steak and potatoes. Meanwhile, David Chang has brought ramen forward to be respected using old-school techniques, Kin Khao in San Fransisco received a Michelin star with her family’s authentic Thai recipes about eighteen months after opening, farm-style and southern kitchen cooking shows are popular … People are rediscovering real food and real cooking from non-French influences. That’s what’s accessible and possible for everyday cooks, regardless of what trend followers want to believe.

Cultural Respect: Respecting the Ingredients

Lengua Tacos, lengua meaning tongue, in this case beef tongue, at Esmeralda’s in Monticello, Indiana.

Respecting ingredients, showcasing some items while contrasting them with others, making certain parts of a meal shine … This is what real cooking is all about. Other cultures have been doing this for millenia. It can be found every day in what we call “ethnic” restaurants in authentic pockets of those cultures throughout the U.S. They also exist in more rural areas as well, showcasing local game and historical preparations unique to those areas. These communities are where honest and historical cooking exists today. And they’re making a comeback, just like vinyl, just like real film stock …

Just like what used to be called Home Economics.

We need to continue to encourage this comeback. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Recipes from the 1923 Toledo Public Schools Cookbook

Baked Apple
Wash and core sour apples, beginning at the blossom end. With a sharp pointed knife remove the stem. Score the apple near the top, by cutting a ring completely around the apple. Fill the cavity with sugar (1/2 tbsp. to the apple). A wedge of lemon may be placed in the top of the cavity. Nutmeg or cinnamon may be used in place of the lemon. When apples are at their best, do not use any flavoring. Place the apples in a baking dish, cover the bottom with boiling water, and bake in a hot oven until soft, basting often with the syrup in the dish. Test with a pointed knife. Serve hot or cold with the syrup, with or without cream.

Oyster Soup
1 qt. milk
2 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 pt. oysters
2 tbsp. butter

Clean the oysters. Heat the milk. Boil and skim the oyster liquor till clear, and add to the milk. Add oysters, and cook till the edges curl and the oysters are plump, but do not boil. Add butter and seasoning and serve at once. If the soup has to stand before being served, make the soup, but do not add the oysters until just a few minutes before serving.

Ham Kentucky Style
Select a piece of ham one inch thick. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp. dry mustard in the bottom of a pan, then a little brown sugar, and a little pepper, put in the meat, cover with brown sugar and add milk to come 1/4 of the way up the side of the meat. Cover and bake 1/2 hr. or until tender.

Boston Baked Beans
1 pt. beans
1/4 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt 1 small onion
1/4 c. molasses
1/4 tsp. mustard
1/4 lb. salt pork

Pick over, wash beans and soak over night in cold water. Drain, add soda and cover again with cold water. Boil 20 minutes, or until the outside skin cracks. Cook the pork 20 minutes, saving the water in which it was cooked. Put the onion and pork in the bottom of the bean jar. Fill with beans and pour over them the molasses, with which the seasoning has been rnixed. Cover with the water in which the pork was cooked, and bake slowly for 5 or 6 hrs. Cover while baking and add boiling water as needed. Brown sugar may be used instead of molasses.

Swiss Steak
2 lbs. round steak 1 to 1-1/2 in. thick
1 c. flour
1/2 onion
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. fat

Pound the steak with flour and add salt. Brown onion in the fat in the frying pan. Add meat and brown on both sides. Barely cover with water and bake from 1-1/2 to 2 hrs. or until tender. Peppers, tomatoes, onions, peas or mushrooms may be added. Reduce liquor to make a thick brown sauce to pour over the meat.

2009 Memphis BBQ Network Competition, Novi, Michigan

What it’s all about; Ribs

It took me quite a while to learn how to cook ribs at home so they turn out halfway decently. What I do is pretty simple: The spare ribs get wiped down, sprinkled with a mix of Kosher salt, pepper and granulated garlic, then slow-cooked in a 200F oven for anywhere from 4 – 6 hours depending on their thickness. The pans are then drained, the ribs slathered with sauce, and grilled outside over medium-high heat for about 45 minutes, with flipping and reslathering about every 10 minutes. They then cut well into servings, fall off the bone, and are tender while still having a good “bite” to the meat.

I’d never imagined I’d be invited to be a judge at a rib-off. But a few months ago, that actually happened. It kinda threw me, particularly since the Memphis BBQ Network-sanctioned competition feeds into the massive Memphis in May competition.

Of course I accepted the invitation. The West Oakland Rib Cookoff & Family Fest happened last Sunday at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, Michigan.

One of the aspects they don’t show on documentaries of these competitions is what and how the competitors eat for other meals. You might imagine they send a team member off to the nearest fast food joint for a sack of something, which probably does happen to some extent. But this team (who, from what I understand, have something to do with a scrapyard) cooked their competition-morning breakfast on a massive trailer-based griddle made from a thick steel plate and powered by LP gas.

Something to remember here is that gas of any kind is not allowed for use in the competition itself. Smoking, slow-roasting, grilling, whatever … it must be done over wood or charcoal. The wood or charcoal may be lit via gas, but that’s all that’s allowed. So this amazing gas griddle, covered with potato wedges, bacon, sausage, eggs and an 18-inch skillet filled with sausage gravy, wasn’t used for the competition. It was just along for the ride.

As to the equipment used by the teams for the actual competition, the gear-of-choice ran the gamut from some rather high-end gadgets to some of the most basic backyard stuff. At the higher end was this beast, looking like one of the computerized environmental test chambers used in automotive R&D.

A Fast Eddy’s by Cookshack Series 300 competition smoker being used by one of the teams in Novi.

Now I have to tell you, in most cases I have no idea which of the ribs came out of which of the teams or, of course, which piece of gear. So, I have no idea if the ribs that came out of this Series 300 smoker was any good! Is this thing worth the $11,000 price tag? Don’t ask me, I don’t know …

If I were to ever any competition of this type, I might end up with something like this:

“The Party” smoker from Backwoods Smoker

With its $1330 base price tag, “The Party” from Backwoods Smoker seems just the right size for a competition like this one. I may be a certifiable geek, I may have friends at Microsoft, and I may even program industrial applications for a living. But I definitely don’t need a computer to run my smoker. When it comes to ribs and such, I like getting in there and actually doing the cooking myself. This smaller smoker, protected from the elements with a solid mechanical temperature guage on the front is something I could live with.

A custom trailer-based cook station.

If you’ve seen the documentaries on Memphis-style barbecue competitions, you’ll know there are two kinds of judging. As new judges, Mary and I could participate in the blind judging. Once finalists are selected, they’re subjected to on-site judging by more experienced judges. In this judging, competitors have to put on a “dog-n-pony show”. The judges arrive at the team’s site expecting a polished welcome, a clean cooking area, possibly a maitre’d, maybe even a story which may or may not be true. Some competitors, such as the one above, set up their area in expectation of being a finalist, and were ready for just about anything.

A simple and inexpensive charcoal cook station.

At the extreme other end of the gear are the guys who could do this stuff each and every day using the same equipment in their backyard. The first photo in this post, the photo which made your mouth water and caused you to read this lengthy post already, is simply a close-up of this pile of ribs on this cooker. And you thought you needed something expensive to create ribs good enough for competition …

The blind judging, with yours truly on the far left. The judging was blind but the judges weren’t.

In the blind judging portion of the cometition, teams bring their ribs to a collection area in containers given to them for that purpose. The ribs are checked for garnishes, which are removed, and any custom markings that will cause identification of the entry. All that can be in the container are ribs and sauce. These are then brought to the judging tables, and all are opened simultaneously. We judged on appearance first, then grabbed ribs to judge further on tenderness, flavor and overall impression.

One thing to note: If you’re ever judging one of these competitions, do yourself a favor and don’t eat breakfast.

Mary, on the far right, joined us at training in the morning to become a competition judge herself.

One aspect of this judging Mary and I really liked was that it’s what’s known as “comparitive judging”. Judges are told not to compare endtries to their grandfather’s ribs, their own ribs, their favorite ribs, or ribs they’ve tasted at other competitions. The entries are  to be judged only against other entries at the table. While this is difficult to do at first, it really makes a lot of sense.

I’ll finish this post with a look at the ribs from the Bavarian Smoke BBQ from Frankenmuth, Michigan, who used that nice “Party” Backwoods Smoker to prepare these ribs. Don’t these look good?

West Oakland Rib Cookoff & Family Fest 2009 Competition Results

1st: Pork of the North 

2nd: Smokey Rhodes 

3rd: Smokin’ Post #6

4th: Bavarian Smoke BBQ

5th: Goats ‘a Smokin’

6th: Smokin’ Studs 

7th: Terry Poster with Epoch Catering

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