Thursday, December 31, 2009

In case you didn't notice...

I'm off this week and away from my computer, so no posting until Monday at the earliest. I may be a little slow getting back to up to speed since I imagine I'll be quite busy, since my boss is returning to work after 6 million dollar man cyborg knee surgery. I do have some pics lined up to post from my spiffy new camera.

Blogging from my phone is kind of cool, but it makes me feel like I have brain damage.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Coolio's Drunken Chicken

Truth be told, Coolio references a part of the anatomy in a colorful fashion when gauging the inebriation level of his poultry... but this is a family blog, so you'll have to use your imagination. Coolio's recipe basically consists of mixing up 1/4 cup portions of vodka, tequila, balsamic vinegar, and teriyaki sauce with a teaspoon of garlic and 12 ounces of beer... and then injecting it all into your bird before roasting it. I really had no idea whether this recipe would work at all... I've never used a turkey injector before, and it seems a little gimmicky and fairly counterintuitive. I mean, if you poke all these holes in your chicken, aren't you just creating more avenues for juices to leave the bird? It suffices to say that a quick Google didn't provide any Alton Brown or Harold McGhee based defenses of the injector method... it appears to be a technique completely ignored by mainstream food press... and I'm going to guess that's because it doesn't work.

That said... maybe all these so called "experts" have their heads in the sand and are ignoring the mighty train of culinary progress at their own peril? You never know. I already owned a baster with a little needle attachment that I've never used... so, hell, why not try it as my last Cookin' with Coolio recipe before the holidays? If the chicken came out dry and terrible from all the little holes, so be it.

To make this drunken chicken, you take a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, pour into a roasting pan, and then you put your 6-8 lb roaster on top. Next get out your giant turkey needle and the aforementioned bowl full of liquor... and just repeatedly inject that marinade all up in there. I won't say my hopes were high when what looked like 99.9% of the liquid just poured right back out of every hole I made with the injector... and that's before we'd even done any cooking. Not promising. I suppose the problem could have been due to my substandard equipment or bad technique, but being that I didn't even get how this was supposed to work on a theoretical basis... I didn't beat myself up over it.

So now I had a chicken punctured with lots of holes sitting in tomatoes and two cups of liquor liquid. Yay? Anyway... then you brush it with 2 tablespoons of honey and before seasoning liberally with salt and black and red pepper. Into a 375 degree oven it goes for 2 hours.

What I got... is pictured above... and guess what? It was actually really moist and juicy. No, really! Certainly as moist as any brined chicken I've made. The skin was also pretty crisp, and kind of reminiscent of BBQ chicken... I really liked the red pepper and honey flavors.

But... but... HOW!?

I really have no idea. Was it the partial braising? Certainly that helped with the dark meat, which was closest to it. Did the honey seal up the needle holes somehow when it caramelized? The honey at least did a great job of getting the skin crisp, in what must have been a very moist cooking environment. Did the injections actually work? It's hard to believe that this is what happened, but I can't reject it out of hand.

If I was really curious (and I'm not) I would make it again, but just pour the liquid directly into the roasting pan to see if it came out similarly. If it did, I probably wouldn't bother with the whole chicken and just do a braise of chicken parts... keeping the honey glaze on the skin... and then make a sauce out of the braising liquid.

In fact, I actually tried making a sauce last night... and it came out O.K... but the BBQ sauce angle didn't occur to me until after I made it and tasted it. What I did was strain it, fat separate it, then reduce until it was about a cup in volume... then add a simple roux from the separated chicken fat and flour to thicken it. Like I said, it was decent, but not perfect... probably needed a little sugar/honey and some hot pepper to bring about the BBQ sauce angle.

So that's the last of my Cookin' with Coolio posts... the cookbook went back to the library today, and I'm going to return to chichi recipes from Saveur and leave the ghetto gourmet-ing to my betters. I have to admit that I was pretty surprised how well both recipes I tried came out... especially given that I was skeptical of this one from the very beginning.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Breakfast


Not much to say this morning, so here's a picture of our Saturday morning breakfast. Just home fries and a tofu scram... continually trying to use up some of those excess peppers from my pickling adventure (we had to throw out some of the habeneros because they were rotting, and just strung up the rest to dry).

I don't have recipes handy... and I don't think Anna even uses one when she makes a tofu scram anymore... but I will say that the secret to good home fries is parboiling the diced potatoes before pan frying them.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

60!

It galls me to cheer anything Ben Nelson does, but it looks like Health Care Reform is going to be a reality, warts and all. Now lets lock Lieberman in a cage and only bring him out for votes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Coolio's Fork Steak

So yeah. Went to Shaw's in our lovely 15 degree Boston weather to pick up the ingredients for Coolio's Fork Steak and The New York Times' Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Brown Butter and Sage Salt ( could be pithier eh?) last night. I guess I'm mixing my genres a bit here, with The Master Kitchen Pimp and The New York Times, but I like to live dangerously. One thing to note about the NYT recipe is that it's from Thanksgiving... three heads of cauliflower is A LOT. So you might want to pare it down. I didn't, and now we have many containers full of cauliflower... luckily it's really tasty, so that's not exactly a disaster... but if you don't want to be eating cauliflower for a week you might want to figure how to half or third it. The recipe is kind of weird because you put a pan of water on the bottom of the oven, so I guess it sort of steam/roasts the cauliflower... but it worked (though took more like 45 minutes in my oven) so I guess there is not much reason to complain.

Now, with the hoity-toity NYT dealt with, on to Coolio!


Believe it or not there is some chuck steak (your perfect braising cut of steak) under all that. Now, the recipe you'll find for Fork Chicken online with the video is slightly different than the one in the cookbook... mainly just in the fact that he gives you more exact measurements. In a somewhat heretical move, I overruled Coolio's request for exactly 6 mushrooms and just put the whole package in... braised mushrooms are too damn tasty to not pack them in there. I also threw in some diced jalapeños since I still have some extra after the pepper pickling. I used two, but it didn't really add any fire to the dish, which was a little disappointing (though obviously not Coolio's fault). As far as the beer for the braising liquid, I'm not entirely sure Raison D'Etre would be Coolio's choice... but I figured I'd already damaged my ghetto cred so badly by using an All-Clad pan (it was the right size and had a lid!) that there was no going back.


Here we are an hour or so later... I went longer since I had one steak that was fairly thick, and as the man says: if you can't cut it with a fork it ain't done. Pretty good stuff. It's basically just a pot roast, but with a substantially shorter braising time since you're using steaks instead of a roast. Nice, economical, and a quick prep... the meat was incredibly tender and well seasoned... I've got no complaints, though perhaps ideally I'd reduce or thicken that braising liquid for more of a gravy experience, but that's fairly far afield of Coolio's school of thought.

I'm gonna try one of his chicken recipes before I head down to Baltimore for the holidays, and that will probably be it for our Christmas of Coolio. I can't say I'm going to buy it, but I would say that the cookbook works as advertised... you could do a lot worse for quick and tasty home-style grub.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kitchin' Pimpin'

Probably the first cookbook with an explicit language warning, Cookin' with Coolio: Five Star Meals at a 1 Star Price, arrived from the library a few days ago. Yeah, that's right: the library. I admit to being mostly intrigued by the kitsch factor, and to not expecting to make a permanent addition to the cookbook shelf... so library it was. While I'm not as much of a library addict as Anna, I honestly try to do all my cookbooks this way before buying... there's only so much shelf space in a tiny apartment... so don't think I'm disrespecting the Kitchen Pimp... and isn't part of Coolio's message about saving money? That's what I'm doing then: Not Coveting My Neighbor's Groceries (Cool-Mandment IX). Or something. Oddly, the Cambridge Public Library appeared to underestimate demand for Ghetto Gourmet education... so I had a to wait a few weeks for them to get it in... which means I'm not ideally situated to fully explore Coolio's cooking principles before the holidays really hit, but I'll do my best to cook a recipe or two.

I've only been able to flip through the book to this point, but the writing is strong with the funny... if obviously gimmicky. If you're down with a little light hearted parody of 90's era gangster rap applied to braises and roasts, then you'll enjoy it. If not, then I'm guessing you were never in the market for a Coolio cookbook, so we're probably all set. Oh, and yes, he measures spices in dime bag increments (or peenches - note that pimps don't pinch). Not much of a stickler for spice measurements is Coolio, but he gives specific volume measurements where it's important, and not just a matter of taste. From what I can tell, he is very focused on simplicity and strong flavors with recipes that... and I'm being serious here... should actually appeal to a lot of people. They're not exactly Rachael Ray quick, but seem to be short on the prep time (if not cooking time) at least. I may be wrong, but Coolio might be on to something here... prep time might be more of a barrier to home cooking than how long something takes in the oven. I suspect there is a crowd out there that would be happy to roughly chop some stuff, open a few cans, and throw it all in a roasting pan with a hunk of meat for an hour and a half while they play Modern Warfare 2... but couldn't get motivated to work through a lot of prep and steps, even if you've got dinner on the table in 30 minutes. The argument against would be that this requires some foresight, but as the Kitchen Pimp notes, respectable ghetto gourmets keep things chopped and prepped in their fridge. You have to have standards, I guess... if you can't handle it, maybe you just aren't kitchen pimp material? Something to think about for all you aspirants.

It's really F-in cold here today, so I'm not sure I'm motivated to head to the store, but I am fairly intrigued by Coolio's Fork Steak (he's a big fan of braises):

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Statistical Fun Fact of the Day

From the Wikipedia article on the Student's T-Test:
The t-statistic was introduced in 1908 by William Sealy Gosset, a chemist working for the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland ("Student" was his pen name).[1][2][3] Gosset had been hired due to Claude Guinness's innovative policy of recruiting the best graduates from Oxford and Cambridge to apply biochemistry and statistics to Guinness' industrial processes.[2] Gosset devised the t-test as a way to cheaply monitor the quality of stout. He published the test in Biometrika in 1908, but was forced to use a pen name by his employer, who regarded the fact that they were using statistics as a trade secret. In fact, Gosset's identity was unknown to fellow statisticians.[4]

I think most people learning statistics think that "the Student's T-Test" is called that because it's a relatively simple and straightforward statistical test (i.e. perfect for students)... but the truth is much more interesting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Not so depressing healthcare takes

Jonathan Cohn, Nate Silver, and Ezra Klein all look on the bright side.

Personally, I'm still a little concerned that Lieberman et al aren't finished extracting their pound of flesh... so I'm a little hesitant to pat ourselves on the back about this "historic bill"... but I agree with the sentiments in all three pieces. I think the important thing to do is to think of what passes the Senate as merely the first step... a step that is going to need significant improvements in the coming years. Once there is a framework, it seems it's fairly straightforward to try and push for bringing a robust public option back via budget reconciliation... especially if it looks like private insurers aren't going to get the job done. There really are a lot of hugely important things going on in this bill... not least the subsidies which aim to make insurance affordable for millions of American families.

The Death of the Public Option

I think I've made fairly clear in my somewhat infrequent posts on healthcare reform, that I don't really care that much about the "public option". It was always my opinion that the forces are just so strongly aligned against Single Payer, that nothing that smacked of it was ever going to make through the sausage factory. If liberals were excited about any provision that they could point to as a possible starting point down the path to Single Payer, then that is exactly the provision people like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson were going to zero in on.

That said, it's still a sad day to see the (in my opinion) much better Medicare Buy-In compromise die so ignominiously and quickly... apparently under pressure from the White House (obviously not going to thrill many progressives). Ezra has the reasoning, but I can't say I find it persuasive:
The calculation, in the end, was pretty simple. The White House wants the Senate done with health-care legislation by Christmas. The argument is that big bills rarely fail in a dramatic vote. They bleed to death slowly, wasting away amid a procession of delays and procedural setbacks. The longer a health-care reform bill takes, the less likely it is to pass.

Worse, the longer health-care reform takes, the longer it is until Democrats can shift the spotlight back to jobs and the economy. The Obama administration wants to use the State of the Union as a turning point. Health-care reform would be the shining first year accomplishment, allowing the president to begin the election-year pivot to jobs and the economy and the deficit. But if health-care reform is to pass by early next year, it will have to clear the Senate before the end of this year.

I can't say I normally follow the legislative process closely enough to know how true the first part is, but there seems to be a lot riding on it. While having the bill done before the State of the Union makes sense, it can't be more important than having the best bill possible, can it? Unlike many liberals, I don't think the budget reconciliation is the best way to go in terms of politics (maybe policy), but to take it off the table simply because it will take too long? Ugh. I still don't understand why they didn't even try to make it into a credible threat.

So while whatever bill gets signed will be an enormous step forward, it still kind of sucks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Allagash to release a lambic?

Clay Risen is on the case of some wild yeast experiments going on in Portland:
To anyone versed in conventional beer-making, the koelschip process is an exercise in madness. After boiling the wort and adding a dose of aged hops, the steaming liquid is pumped into the koelschip and left overnight, with the windows open. Wild yeasts and bacteria float in on wind gusts or drop down from the ceiling, which is made of untreated wood boards to give them a hospitable waiting area. The next day the wort is pumped back into a fermentation tank for a year, then into French oak barrels for even more aging.

This is no job for the impatient. Natural fermentation can take a few weeks to get started, and it can last for months or even years. And Allagash only uses the koelschip in the fall and spring, when the Maine climate is closest to that of the Zenne Valley, home to the best of the Belgian lambics; during the summer the air is full of unfriendly bacteria, while the temperature is too high to let the wort cool sufficiently.

Hmmm... that does sound kind of crazy. I can't say I have much experience with lambics... only ever had the fruity ones, and I can't say they do a lot for me. Of course, I'm an Allagash fanboi, so I'll try it regardless of any misgivings about the style.

Sunday Saturday Dinner

I'm not feeling particularly chatty today, so I thought I'd just throw out a "photo essay" on the dinner we made this weekend for our friends who were up visiting: This is the "Pan fried Pumpkin Gnocchi" from Steamy Kitchen... though we used butternut squash instead of pumpkin. My cute tining did not hold up to pan frying, as you might expect... which is probably why she didn't bother with it... but Anna was doing all the work and I needed to feel useful.


Anna approaches relativistic speeds as she finishes a roasted beet, goat cheese, and candied walnut salad.


Just your basic green beans with lemon and toasted bread crumbs, along with the pan fried gnocchi in the background... the sauce for which nearly set our apartment on fire, for no reason we could figure out... the vinegar just combusted. A little more excitement than we had in mind for the evening.


Finished off with my favorite dessert in the world... tiramisu.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Sympathetic Control of the Cerebral Vasculature in Humans" is out

Not indexed on PubMed yet, but available at Stroke's website. If you're interested in reading it for some bizarre reason, but don't have institutional access, then e-mail me and I can send you the link to the PDF. You can e-mail via my profile over there to the right.

UPDATE: Now we're rockin' the PubMed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Uber Crock Pot

An interesting article in the New York Times, where the author tries the first sous-vide cooking appliance for the home cook. What is sous-vide? Well it's French for "in a vacuum" for starters, but as a cooking technique it means to vacuum seal uncooked food in a bag, and then put said bag into a heated water bath for several hours on up to days... the bath being held at a temperature well below boiling (and thus well well bellow traditional cooking temperatures). It seems you set your water temperature to a bit higher than you want the core temperature of your food to be when it is finished cooking... so for a medium rare steak you go somewhere in the 130-140 degree range... and then you can basically cook it forever and not overcook it. It takes some number of hours (based on thickness) to for the meat to reach that temperature throughout and it will never exceed it, and thanks to the vacuum seal it won't dry out. It will come out looking pale and undercooked, but you can throw it in a skillet for a bit to develop a nice crust... and then you have your entire piece of meat perfectly cooked, instead of needing to overcook half of it to get the center just right.

I had only vaguely heard of this technique before... though I believe Alton Brown goes on at length about the merits of long slow cooking at a low temp in "I'm Just Here for the Food"... but it is intriguing to say the least. I can certainly see the merits from a restaurant's perspective. You can cook things to an exact internal temperature days before you need them... and then just fire them in a saute pan for a few minutes before serving. What more could you ask for for putting out a consistent product?

At the same time, while I can certainly see the benefits and logic behind it, it just doesn't seem like any fun. As Thomas Keller said (he himself a fan of the technique): “Eliminate the need to pay attention and you eliminate the craft.” I guess you could argue that with the craft of cooking food to "perfectly done" taken care of, you can focus more of your energies on flavor combinations and plating and all the other aspects of making a wonderful meal... but I dunno. I think I'll stick with traditional approaches.

However, if, unlike me, you want to give it a shot... but don't want to spend the $450 (plus vacuum sealer) for the "SousVide Supreme" mentioned in the article, you can buy the $140 "Sous Vide Magic" that can control a crock pot or rice cooker heating element accurately enough to use for your water bath.

photo of a Sous Vide Magic setup by flickr user smashz used under a Creative Commons license

Vegan Kimchi Stew

One would think a Korean stew made with spicy cabbage pickles and tofu would naturally be vegan... not so! As the kimchi itself is traditionally made with aek jot (Korean anchovy sauce) and saeu chot (Korean salted shrimp), and the stew often contains pork or seafood, it's certainly best to ask before digging in at your local Korean restaurant. Since I made the kimchi used in the stew, however, veganizing the few jjigae recipes I found was not too difficult. I worked of a Saveur recipe in the November 2009 issue (not online) and this one from the blog "A Series of Kitchen Experiments".

Here's what I came up with:

Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 8 cloves of garlic, minced or garlic pressed
  • 8 shiitake mushrooms (fresh), stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 package of firm tofu, drained and cut into 3/4" cubes
  • 2.5 cups cabbage kimchi with some juice, cut into 1" pieces
  • 1 cup daikon, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup frozen soybeans (i.e. peeled edamame), defrosted
  • 5 pieces of wakame (i.e. seaweed), rehydrated and roughly chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp. Korean chile powder
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 tsp. rice vinegar
  • Cooked white rice for serving

Directions
  1. Heat the oil in a dutch oven/soup pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, mushrooms, and onion and cook until soft; about 3 minutes.
  2. Add broth, tofu, kimchi, daikon, soy beans, wakame, chili powder, and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer covered until flavors meld and soybeans are tender... 30 minutes.
  3. Stir in vinegar and serve with rice.

Pretty easy stuff, but delicious nonetheless. Though I wonder a bit whether this recipe is a little too chock full of stuff... should I up the liquid to 8 cups and maybe go for 3 cups of kimchi, for a little more kimchi dominance and better balance? I'm still tinkering, I guess, but it seems to really be a hard dish to screw up with decent kimchi. I am most curious to try making it with some really fermented kimchi... as that's the typical recommendation I've found... but, at this rate, the question is whether my kimchi will even last long enough to qualify as "long-aged". Next up will be searching for a vegan kimchi jeon recipe (kimchi pancakes).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Peck of Pickled (Chili) Peppers

I was so anxious to pickle me some peppers that I didn't even wait until after I made kimchi stew as planned (I did pick up the ingredients for it though, so expect a post on its merits in the near future). I had eaten enough kimchi to squeeze it all into a single jar, freeing up my second for chili peppers. I was so excited about the prospect I took my lunch break to head over to a nearby Whole Foods to gain access to a better variety of peppers than is available at the Shaws near my apartment. But I guess I was a little too excited because I imagined I had a jar that was roughly 2-2.5 times as large as the one actually sitting on my kitchen counter. So I bought a few too many peppers. OK, more than a few... but that's a problem for another day... though if you have any good habenero hot sauce or salsa recipes please leave them in the comments! Besides the habeneros, I also purchased jalepenos, serranos, anaheims, bananas, and poblanos. Anna pointed out that in the Michael Symon recipe, Ruhlman says that thick skinned chilis are best, so I set the habeneros aside for that reason... along with the anaheims, bananas, and poblanos... which while thick skinned, and brining a welcome variety, those chilies are on the large side and take up a lot of jar space... they also having more obvious other uses (chiles relleno!)... so I stuffed just the jalepenos and serranos into the jar, and went ahead with the recipe.

Let me tell you something: simmering sherry vinegar is pungent. Open a window. I would also suggest making a cup more of pickling liquid than you think you need... I did so because I screwed up the sugar and salt math in my head and needed to add some more liquid to get the right ratio for the brine... but after simmering for 10 minutes I had lost enough liquid to have very little left. As a tip for the sugar/salt math... Ruhlman lists it as 2 tablespoons of each for each 3 cups of liquid, which obviously makes it confusing if you are dealing with volumes not in multiples of 3. A tablespoon is 3 teaspoons, however, which breaks it down to 2 teaspoons per cup of liquid... which is probably a little more versatile of a way to think of it, since you probably won't often be making several quarts of pickling brine.

One thing I realized this morning is that I think Ruhlman meant for me to use whole spices... but I used both ground coriander and cumin (even though we have whole spices of both) when I made my brine. A quick Google says the pros use whole spices to avoid darkening... so there you go... that's why mine is so much darker than Ruhlman's. While it's not exactly clear from the recipe... and using ground spices won't hurt you... I suggest sticking to whole spices.

Well see if I have the patience to wait two weeks to dig into these bad boys, but I'll report back when I do.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Google Goggles


Pretty cool stuff... I really had no idea image recognition had advanced so far. How long ago would people have looked at you funny if you imagined a world where you could take pictures of things with your phone and instantly be able to find the best deal on it from stores all over the world?

Mass. Senate Primary Today

I totally forgot about this, but Alan Khazei's brother-in-law was outside the Porter Square T station telling all of us commuters that the polls close at 8... so, uhm, oh yeah... primary today! I haven't even really decided who I'm going to vote for... I like Khazei the most from a progressive perspective, but I think he's polling in the single digits. I guess it will be a shock if anybody but the milquetoast Coakley wins... she's been trying so hard to be inoffensive and take no risks that I have to wonder whether she will be a strong enough voice in the Senate. Capuano might have a shot at the upset, and he's my Rep and has a solid progressive voting record, so I might go that way. The only other thing I know for certain is that I'm not voting for a millionaire business man whose money comes from laying people off.

So I guess it's down to Capauno or Khazei. Hmmm.

UPDATE: Cast my ballot for Capauno and my polling location was pretty much empty at 6 pm... echoing reports of overall abysmal turnout. I guess you can't expect too much turnout for the primary of a special election in an off year... but this is one of your two Senators, people! In a state like Massachusetts, which is blue as blue can be, we're basically electing whoever wins the Dem primary for life. So go out and vote! Polls are open until 8 pm.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pickling Plans

In looking over David Lebovitz's 2009 cookbook recomendations, I noticed in his blurb lauding Ratio (a feeling I share - though perhaps that's obvious since I think this is my third consecutive post with "Ruhlman" in it), that Lebovitz had made Michael Symon's (via Ruhlman) pickled chilis... he also appears to have made a more recent batch of kimchi than the one I cribbed from... so while David Lebovitz and I don't share the same passion for desserts, we do seem to have love of spicy pickles in common.

I guess I know what my next pickling project is... yay for pickled peppers... but that means I need to clear out a jar... and that means, this week, we make kimchi chigae/jjigae (kimchi stew). I've heard you want some really fermented/sour kimchi for the stew, and mine is only a couple of weeks old... but I think(hope) we'll be fine. Saveur has a recipe (not online unfortunately) but this one also looks promising, since it's vegetarian from the start (the authentic recipes include pork)... and I believe Anna has a vegan/vegetarian Korean cookbook. I kind of want to avoid any special trips, but they may be inevitable... at least there's a Korean market in Union Square that isn't too hard to get to.

Sunday Dinner


Clockwise starting on the left, our Sunday meal was: garlic mashed potatoes with smoked Gouda and chives from Cook's Illustrated (subscription required), creamed spinach from smitten kitchen, and pan-seared portobellos from Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food".

The mashed potatoes were awesome... a 2lb portion of a giant bag of Yellow Finns we acquired from Chase's over Thanksgiving... we both really liked the smokiness of the Gouda with the garlic. I bought about 5 ounces too little spinach, so the creaminess to spinach ratio was a heavier on the cream than intended... but it was still good. In restrospect, since we already had creamy/cheesy dish with the potatoes, we probably should have gone with a less fattening preparation of spinach, but oh well. The mushrooms need a sauce or something, but they really do have an intense mushroom flavor... however Alton's description (1/4" slices, medium high heat, and 5 minutes each side) seemed to way overcook them... I cut it down to three per side and they were much better, but I would also probably have the slices be more like 1/2" to ensure you get a nice crust on the outside before turning the inside to shoe leather. And this advice from Ruhlman a few weeks back still resonates:
Other ways to vary them are to deglaze the pan with some white wine after you've got a nice sear on the mushrooms. A pinch of curry powder can heighten their flavor—not so much that you can taste the curry, add just enough to intrigue. Add whole cloves of garlic and fresh thyme to the oil just before you saute mushrooms, and they'll pick up these aromatic flavors.
Honestly, I really felt like I should be deglazing the pan, but I'm just not confident enough of a cook to be whipping up pan sauces on a whim... but even I can throw in a little white wine to brighten the flavors and get up the browned mushroom bits. So next time I sear some mushrooms... a little thicker slices and a deglaze with white wine at the end. Beyond flavor, deglazing with each batch would have also prevented the burned on gunk... gunk that Iget to continue scrubbing off this evening. Sigh.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Photography Lighting on the Cheap

Donna Turner Ruhlman (yes that's right, she's Michael Ruhlman's wife, and blogs about food photography on his site) has some interesting suggestions on how one might engineer some affordable stand-ins for professional lighting:
Clamp on lights or desk lamps with bendable arms will cost you no more then $20 each, but you’ll have to use a tripod because they give out a much weaker light compared to strobes. A steady tripod is important, and even with that you can create camera shake just by clicking your shutter. If you have a “mirror lock up” on your camera, use it. If you don’t (point and shoot cameras don’t) you don’t have to worry, just be careful when you click the shutter not to jar the camera. I would buy at least 3 or 4 because I would adapt them for different light sources.

With one, I would simulate a soft box by covering the light with some white semi-transparent material, like white parchment paper. Poke several holes to vent out the heat of the bulb—we don’t want to start a fire. For another, try attaching black boards to either side to simulate “Barn Doors” (that’s what we call the lights that have movable flaps so you can narrow the angle of flare), duck tape goes a long way. Close them almost completely and you have what looks like light coming through a blind in the window. Use it as a back light just when you want the light to skim the surface (see previous juicy onion post). This will be a difficult one to make work, but anything you can rig up to control the light can be very useful, even just cutting out different sized holes in black cardboard to place in front of the light to make different size spot lights. And try making a lot of dime sized holes in one board to simulate a “grid spot” that creates a soft round spot light. These are all great for back lighting your subjects.

The last light I would leave alone. With this one you can either point it straight up at the ceiling, if it’s a light color, and the light will bounce off making soft over head light—or, point it at a white card to the side of your subject and the light will bounce from the white board onto the subject creating a soft side light. Pieces of foam core that you can get at any art or office supply store are perfect and don’t need to be larger than 16X20 if you’re doing food. You won’t have to use all of these at the same time. Play with one or two add more if you need it. Most importantly, have fun and good luck.
Getting good lighting is certainly the biggest challenge I've faced as I've gotten more and more into food photography as a hobby. The flash on any of your average point and shoot cameras (like my Canon PowerShot) is absolutely terrible... and making sure to turn that off when I take pictures has made a nice positive impact in my photos... but of course, it's not like the flash is wrong when it claims there is insufficient light... so just turning off your flash in bad lighting doesn't exactly solve all your problems. What I end up doing is taking my poorly lit photographs and doctoring them in Picasa... I mess with the contrast, sometimes the color, and sometimes the fill light to try and get end results that look decent, with varying degrees of success. While I won't be challenging Donna or smitten kitchen for "best food photo" anytime soon, I've at least made some progress since last year. I have thought of doing something like Donna suggests... that is, buying cheap lamps that I could keep in my closet until I needed them for food photos... the limited storage space of a Cambridge apartment, however, has made me a little hesitant to go that route.

Indeed, while I've decided that I like taking pictures of food I make enough to get an entry level DSLR... what I'm going to do about lighting remains unresolved. I had been planning on following smitten kitchen's advice, and adding a high end flash somewhere down the road (along with a little tripod and remote switch)... but one thing that sets Donna Ruhlman's photos apart from many food bloggers, is her use of light... and that's not achievable by just buying a fancy flash. Do I care about that? Well, not at the moment... I'd just like to be able to take pictures of food at night that are adequately lit... not necessarily expertly lit.

Baby steps, I guess... probably should make sure I can effectively use a DSLR before going too crazy... but it does seem that getting a tripod, remote switch, and a couple of lamps would be far cheaper than a fancy flash and maybe even give me a little more room to grow as far as using light. I'm not getting a fancy flash any time soon, so that may be what I ultimately do.

photo of homemade light box by flickr user rotokirby used under a Creative Commons license

World Cup Draw Today

Despite adopting Spain in the last Euro Cup, and vaguely following the Confederations Cup this summer, I can't be considered more than an extremely casual soccer fan... I basically just get really excited about the World Cup every 4 years and then mostly forget about the sport in the intervening years. So anyway... you'll find no deep insights here... but here's a pretty good link to explain how screwed the US is in the draw today, and how extraordinarily lucky we would have to be to avoid being in a "Group of Death". The groups will be picked randomly from these four pots:
Pot 1: South Africa, Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina, England

Pot 2: Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Honduras, Mexico, USA, New Zealand

Pot 3: Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay

Pot 4: Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland

So getting put in with the Asian teams means we won't get to play them in the group stage, and being that they're weaker than Concacaf that pretty much sucks. I guess if I was going to imagine a nightmare draw, it would be: Brazil, USA, Ghana/Cote d’Ivoire, and France/Portugal. Obviously any team from Pot 1 (except South Africa) is going to be bad news for the US, so the real key is to avoid France or Portugal from Pot 4, as well as the better African teams like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in Pot 3. An important thing to note, is that getting a team like Brazil isn't necessarily the end of the world... as long as you think your team can beat out the other 3 teams for the last spot from your group in the Round of 16... that's why avoiding traditional powers that are on a bad run (France/Portugal) is so important to the chances of the US making a decent showing.

I don't really know enough about the remaining unseeded European teams to guess which of them would provide the easiest draw for the US... but if we get South Africa and avoid France/Portugal, I'll gladly take our chances with the rest.

EDIT: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia... could have been a lot worse. Honestly, that's pretty good... not as good as Mexico's draw, but definitely not as bad as Group G: Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, and Portugal all beating the snot out of the DPRK.

picture of proud South African Charlize Theron by flickr user SpreePiX - Berlin used under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gay Human/Elf Miscegenation Threatens Youth

I don't have anything interesting to post today, and Penny Arcade made fun of the Gay Elf Sex yesterday... so I thought I'd essentially steal this post from Ta-Nehisi, so we can mock WorldNetDaily for being aghast that there is "a popular role-playing combat video game featuring graphic homosexual sex between a man and an elf."

So, without further ado, on to the gay elf bangin'! WARNING: Watching the following may make you gay.

Pretty hot, eh? If that doesn't make you yearn for the gay adventurer lifestyle... having flings with elves "born of a whore and bred to be an assassin"... I don't know what will! Oddly, contra the above video, when my dwarf dude "got to know" Morrigan, he kept his armor on... I guess that's just how he rolls. Can't have getting a little nookie leaving you unprepared for slaying Darkspawn, no sir!

In all seriousness, I do believe this is the first mainstream video game to explicitly allow homosexual relationships... well male homosexual relationships at any rate... unsurprisingly, "hot girl on girl" action has been around for a while. Actually, if I'm remembering correctly, The Sims games have always allowed homosexuality... so I guess Dragon Age would only be the first role playing game with a gay sex scene... but that still seems laudable, or at least notable, to me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Life & Limb/Limb & Life

I see via Clay Risen on The Atlantic Food Channel that Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada have collaborated on two beers... the first a "a 10 percent ABV ale brewed with maple syrup from Calagione's family farm in Massachusetts and hops from the Sierra Nevada estate in Chico" and the second being a "small" beer off the same mash (thus lower alcohol content and less character). Apparently its being distributed by Sierra Nevada, so it should get most everywhere I would think... so keep your eyes peeled.

Admittedly, this will probably only be interesting to beer nerds, but here's Sam Calagione (the Man at Dogfish Head) talking about the collaboration:

Dragon Age Disaster Averted

When I returned from Maine Sunday night, my computer found a lot of errors on my media hard drive on boot up... this caused me to raise an eyebrow, but no undue concern... that is, not until I tried to play Dragon Age and every single save I had appeared to be corrupted. I'm not entirely sure how many hours I spent on the game, but my character is level 17... so the investment is nontrivial. Not only were my save games corrupted, but the game crashed when I tried to even create a new character. I tried reinstalling the game, and moving the character folder... no dice... and what I eventually had to do was unistall the game and move the Dragon Age folder in the My Documents\BioWare directory to a temporary location so that I could do a fully clean install. Much to my surprise, when I moved my character into the new install I was able to recover my game... the autosaves were still corrupted, but I was able to go back to one a bit earlier that appeared fine.

I doubt this is a problem many people will run into, but I'm putting it out there just in case.

Kimchi Day 12 - The Eating

With the Thanksgiving holiday, my first opportunity to taste the fruits of my pickling efforts came on Monday night... and it was good! It was definitely not under seasoned... my main worry with the extra large cabbage I was dealing with... and I thought both the carrot and pear brought some nice sweet elements that were subtle yet noticeable. I think in retrospect I would have grated the ginger, not diced it and smashed it... it was somewhat jarring to bite into a piece of ginger, though certainly not unpleasant. I think the flavors could be a little better melded, as many of the tastes were quite distinct, but I presume that is a process that is ongoing over the weeks and months you have your kimchi... presumably "young" kimchi is going to be less melded than 3 month old kimchi... but that's only a suspicion that has yet to be tested.

Another possible reason for the less melded flavor could be that, as seen above, in the interest of reclaiming a jar as quickly as possible, I consolidated my kimchi as best I could before I put it into the refrigerator (compared to this)... and ate my first serving of kimchi out of the almost empty jar. It's conceivable that the more full jar... jam packed with pickling liquid... is distributing flavors around more. So my next taste will come from the full one as a test.

Next thing I have to do... hopefully before Christmas, but I guess there's not much of a rush... is make are some kimchi pancakes (kimchi jun) and kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae). I've obviously got quite a bit of options here with roughly a gajillion quarts of spicy Korean pickles.

If you're looking for the recipe I used for my kimchi, you can find it here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cooking pasta like risotto

This strikes me as one of Bittman's better ideas:
In this method, the liquid is minimized: there’s no need for a gallon per pound of pasta. The liquid is added gradually to the pasta, which absorbs it completely and thereby retains its starch. This makes the pasta creamy and rich; it also gains the flavor of the stock.
Worth trying I think. Sounds pretty versatile as a nice way to clean out the fridge, since we always have pasta (but not necessarily the ingredients to make a tomato sauce) and some random veggies we're not entirely sure what we're going to do with. That's the kind of cooking I need to do more of... I'm great at cooking "projects" that need trips to specialty stores and 10 hours of cooking, but not so great a quick weeknight meals.

Waving

I received an invite to Google Wave this weekend (sorry, but I don't have the ability to invite anyone at the moment) and have been checking it out over the last few days. Our lab uses Google Talk fairly heavily as a (very) limited collaboration/communication tool... everything from "I'm sick!" messages to sharing the latest edits to a manuscript... so I have some high hopes for Wave to up the ante on how we can work together (especially when my boss is in France for 6 months).

A post doc and I have been trying to use it to collaborate on a response to reviewers, as well as for reading and commenting on a manuscript... to varying degrees of success. I can't say I'm super impressed with how Wave handles files at this juncture, but otherwise it has been nice. We have the crutch of being able to yell across the room as we are typing to each other, and though we have been trying to suppress that, I'm not sure we'll really have a good idea of how well it can work until my boss (recovering from knee surgery) joins in. He's been sent an invite, so we'll see if Wave can ease the productivity hitches inherent with a boss working sparingly from home... seems like it could really be helpful, but we'll see.