Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays

I fly down to my ancestral homeland of Baltimore Maryland this afternoon for a nice long break... I take the whole week between Christmas and New Year's because the 400 miles between Boston and Baltimore, while by no means insurmountable, is a big enough distance to limit visits to a few a year. So this is a good opportunity to see my family without it seeming like a whirlwind tour. In blog news, a little birdie told me I might be coming back to Boston with some improvements to my camera...  so I'm hoping I can take a step forward with the food photography by finally having shots properly lit.

See y'all in the new year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How Comté is Made

A nice picture heavy post by David Lebovitz about the art of cheese making in France... a process that has become a bit more interesting to me lately since Anna and I signed up for the famous cheese making class out in Western Mass. We'll just be doing soft cheeses I think... no long ripening hard ones... since it's a beginner class, but it's still neat to see the process documented.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Today in Maine/Salmon News

What with the holiday season and all, I haven't noticed a lot to blog about lately, but this was kind of interesting:
For the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), the Penobscot Project represents a rare opportunity to restore a major river in the southern range of wild Atlantic salmon.

“The Penobscot Project is ASF’s top priority in the United States and one of the most significant projects in our history”, said Bill Taylor, President of ASF, “This is our last best chance to restore a significant run of wild Atlantic salmon in the United States.”

Beginning in 2011, the Penobscot Trust will remove the Veazie and Great Works dams and build a fish bypass around the Howland dam to open migration corridors long blocked by dams. When the project is complete, renewable energy generation will be the same as before the project or even increase.
As I've mentioned previously, I don't really fish, but this sounds like a pretty worthwhile project... especially if it's true about the renewable energy being the same even without the dams. Completely anecdotally it seems like New England really has a ton of dams... so producing renewable energy without bothering fish seems like a good thing for the region. And there's my "completely no expertise and/or knowledge that wasn't contained in a press release" two cents... but that's pretty much the definition of blogging.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Case for Ethical Foie Gras

I've only had foie gras once... at L'Espalier several years ago... and while it was one of the richest and most delectable dishes I'd ever tasted, I felt extremely guilty about loving it. Who doesn't when they think about force fed ducks? Well, Kenji put up on Serious Eats  a nice look at one of the three foie gras farms in the US, and makes, effectively I think, the case that it can be ethically produced. In essence, factory farming is factory farming and it's a terrible thing whether it's used for chicken eggs or 'gavage'... and both can be done fairly humanely if we want them to be (i.e.  are willing to pay for it). The key thing for me is that, as Hank Shaw pointed out, foie gras happens in the wild (albeit somewhat rarely).

So I dunno... I don't imagine many activists will be swayed by the argument... but it just reinforces the belief that the biggest source of animal suffering is factory farming, and not meat consumption per se. I know, I know, billions of people eating meat does seem to inevitably lead to factory farming... surely there is not enough land area on the planet for every cow we consume to run(meander?) happy and free until slaughter... but ensuring such a base standard of treatment is precisely how you reduce consumption because of how expensive meat becomes.

Homemade Tonnarelli in a Smothered Onions Sauce

Tonnarelli in a Smothered Onion Sauce and Green Beans with Yellow Peppers, Tomatoes, and Chile Pepper
Pictured above are the products of what was certainly one most productive co-cooking experiences Anna and I have had together. Homemade pasta, a smothered onion sauce, and some long simmered green beens... all completed in time for a 7:30ish weeknight dinner... not something I'd want to do every night, but it can be impressive what two people cooking together can accomplish. All of the recipes came from Marcella Hazan's wonderful book that, hey, could be a great holiday gift for any cook's in your life.

I'll note that our tonnarelli is a wee bit thinner and raggedy than the classical version, but whaddya want? We're still new to the whole pasta machine thing... it's all a learning experience... and it's was delicious regardless. So there. You can find the recipe for the smothered onion sauce here... where "sauce" seems like perhaps too strong of a word: it's basically caramelized onions. The twist being that you sweat them for an hour in butter and oil before starting the caramelization, which gives them a lovely rich flavor... and when you add in the flavors of the white wine that's simmered off at the end, you get some nice complexity.

Unfortunately I don't have access to the recipe for the green beans at the moment (if you have Hazan's book they are: green beans with yellow peppers, tomatoes, and chili pepper)... but they came out pretty well even though we were using some bargain basement old and sad winter green beans. The new life experience with this dish was that she had us peel the yellow pepper, which I had never heard of doing... and you know what? It was a revelation. Sure, it's a bit of a PITA (though not really that hard), but it seems that if there is any long simmering going on, your peppers are going to have a lot better texture if you take off the skin. I see it as basically the same reasoning for taking the skin off a tomato when they're going to be simmered...  that skin is never going to break down at all...  and it ends up as a heavy and slightly bitter distraction from the awesomeness of the tomato/pepper flesh...  which is what you are there for.

Anyway...  a good cooking effort that I'm proud of and that we learned a lot from: who knew coat hangers would serve such a great dual purpose of pasta drying?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seasoning Cast Iron with Flaxseed Oil

How to season cast iron pans in a household with a vegetarian has been a bit of an issue for us (well me really, I guess)... I've always sort of felt like we were never going to get that classic black matte finish that's perfectly non-stick if we were just using vegetable oil. Well apparently, the absolute best way to season cast iron is flaxseed oil (the food grade version of linseed oil). Maybe worth a try... her method is pretty hardcore though.

Truffle Hunting in Oregon

Pretty interesting post on truffle hunting by Hank Shaw. I have to say that I've really enjoyed his work on The Atlantic... I knew he contributes to Simply Recipes, but it appears he also has a well recognized blog of his own (where there is, unsurprisingly, a bit of overlap with stuff posted to The Atlantic) and a forthcoming book. I'm not a hunter, an angler, or a gardener, so it might not seem there would be much for me to glean from his work... but besides always enjoying skillful food writing... it's just nice to read about somebody whose food world is so admirably self contained. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Prime Rib Primer

Being that I might be tasked with cooking prime rib for Christmas Eve dinner for my family, I found Kenji's guide to be pretty timely. I'll probably be following this recipe, but with added Yorkshire pudding (sub required) since I've never had it and am pretty curious. I'm a little concerned that my mom likes her meat on the well side of medium... not even a little bloody...  last time I cooked prime rib for her (a couple of years ago) she threw her piece in the microwave (making me made me feel extremely guilty)... but Kenji says that this is OK,so I guess I'll just run with it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Misguided Vegetarian Case Against Free Range Meat

Free range chicken
James McWilliams at The Atlantic provides what may be the exemplar of what letting "the perfect be the enemy of the good" in food politics look like, while being a pretty typical oomnivore vs. vegetarian vs. vegan ethics measuring contest:
Opposing factory farming on welfare grounds affirms an important premise: Thoughtful consumers do not want animals to be needlessly hurt. That is, we believe animals deserve living under conditions that allow them the chance to seek happiness (which is not to say they won't become another animal's lunch). Accepting this premise means more than we might think. For one, it means we have an obligation—again, in the spirit of being deliberate eaters—to consider the issue of animal welfare as it plays out everywhere, even under free-range conditions.

And it's here where things get more complicated. Relatively speaking, free-range animals experience less harm than do factory-farmed animals. It's on this point that the vast majority of concerned consumers who choose free-range meat rest their case; if we're content to think in these relative terms, there's really not much to argue about. In fact, it's on this point that nearly every popular media report on the benefits of free-range farming screeches to a convenient halt. And why not? When it comes to farming methods and harm, free range is better.

But this position—the idea that free-range is automatically a responsible choice simply because it's more attentive to animal welfare—is morally blurred. Better does not mean acceptable. Consumers of free-range meat who oppose factory farming on welfare grounds (however partial) cannot escape an inconvenient question: Doesn't killing an animal we don't need constitute the very thing that factory farming perpetuates—which is to say, harm? This, as I see it, is the free-range albatross.
So basically, factory farming is terrible and free range is better but still bad: so be a vegetarian. Fair enough. If I was trying to convince someone who cared deeply about the suffering of animals to be a vegetarian that's probably the way I would go too... but in taking the position that free range farming isn't good enough because it's still killing animals, he seems to be missing the entire point of being a vegetarian (in my "not a vegetarian" view anyway). Isn't making the choice of vegetarianism implicitly acknowledging that while you can't personally stop the killing of animals, your diet choices can make it happen less. So shouldn't you really be for anything that lessens the suffering of animals? Anything that causes fewer animals to be killed?

We've been having this same moral and ethical argument about meat consumption since well before McWilliams and Jonathan Safran Foer came onto the scene... Indians have been doing it since 500 B.C.... and being that meat consumption keeps rising, it seems obvious that it isn't very effective. If we accept that one of the goals of any socially conscious vegetarian should be to lessen meat consumption overall, then the only proven way to do so is to make it more expensive. Luckily for us, caring more for animal welfare is more expensive: giving them land to run around in and making sure they are humanely slaughtered costs money. While I understand trying to recruit socially conscious omnivores into vegetarianism, it seems entirely counterproductive to treat free range as merely a marginal improvement over factory farming. Why don't we worry about which dietary and lifestyle choices are the most ethical and free from hypocrisy after we've dealt with the evil of factory farming, which is the thing we can all agree on?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Gifts for the Beginner Cook

I'm still eating asado negro leftovers, and I haven't really seen a recipe or piece of food writing I want to comment on... so I thought I'd make the de rigueur blogger gift recommendations. I've oriented these towards someone who is interested in getting into cooking/baking or who is still pretty early in the process... basically I'm making a list for myself 3 years ago, but hopefully it can help others:
  • The New Best Recipe: The geek's Joy of Cooking. It's obsessive compulsive about steps and ingredients, but at least they explain why. While the Cook's Illustrated narrative style is often worthy of parody,  they always teach you a something about cooking... and it's also a godsend for the beginner since these recipes always come out (note that the magazine and their other books are less dependable in that regard). It's still my reference for any classic dish.
  • The Bread Baker's Apprentice: This is not a "no-knead" easy weeknight bread baking book. This is pretty hard core. This is a book for someone who wants to know the hows and whys and who isn't against spending more time to make sure their bread comes out right. In other words, it's the perfect bread baking book for someone who appreciated NBR...  i.e. someone like me.
  • Knives: This is fairly common advice, but I'll repeat it: don't get sets. You need basically three knives: a chef's knife, a paring knife, and a bread/serrated knife. I like my slicer, but I only bring it out for roasts and the like...  and I'd love a boning knife, but it's not like I break down chicken carcasses all that often. A good affordable brand recommended by Cook's Illustrated is Victorinox/Forschner... they don't hold an edge as well as my vastly more expensive Shuns, but we've got them in several locations we cook (home, Maine, beach) and they are solid and very dependable.
  • Knife sharpening: But if you are buying gifts for someone who already has decent knives... but perhaps never uses them...  it's worth considering getting them professionally sharpened. Sharpening is something that should be done at least once a year, is fairly inexpensive, and is easy to get done over the holidays. Obviously not a great thing to do as a surprise (ZOMG! Somebody stole my knives!!), but it should be well appreciated by any cook... and can make a gigantic difference. Using a sharp knife after months/years of getting by (dangerously!) with dull ones can be extraordinarily eye opening... and push them towards better knife care. Hardware stores and cooking stores are good places to ask about knife sharpening, but Chowhound can also be a place to seek info.
  • Honing Steel: In a similar vein, using a honing steel every 3 or 4 times I cook (I should do it every time really, but often forget) has helped my knives hold their edge longer. It's not hard to use at all... here's a slideshow from Serious Eats that gives the basics. Maybe a combo gift with the professional knife sharpening.
  • Kitchen Scale: Even if you don't think weight vs. volume makes a big difference in baking (you are WRONG btw), it's tons and tons faster... which makes it worth it all by itself, even if it didn't also make your results more consistent and repeatable. I actually have a scale on my list again this year, even though I already have one, because ours doesn't do small enough graduations to weigh out salt or yeast. I think you want one that can do at least 0.05 oz, like this guy
  • Instant Read Thermometer: In this day and age, it probably goes with out saying... but if you have any interest whatsoever in cooking meat properly then you need a thermometer. The Big League thermometer is the Thermapen ($$$), but a 10-15$ one is vastly better than nothing. I used to be a fan of those remote probes that allow you to monitor whatever you're cooking's temperature without opening the oven door... but I've just found that they break too easily. I've purchased at least 3 different ones from 2 different companies and they've all broken down fairly quickly. I say just get a regular thermometer and take the damn roast out of the oven to check it... you want to check the temp in a few different spots anyway.
  • Baking Stone: A little specialized perhaps... since it's only for people who bake bread or homemade pizza... but if they do... or would like to do... either of those things they absolutely need  to own a baking stone. Something I haven't tried, but that was recommended by my French bread baking instructor is to go with tiles instead of a stone. With a trip to the hardware store you could get them cut so that they perfectly cover one oven rack...  giving you significantly more usable space than a typical stone.
  • Fat Separator: Indispensable for making gravy or pan sauces. I have this one and love it, but Ruhlman praises this guy... and I have to admit it does seem pretty cool.
  • 6 to 7.5 Quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven: The is the most important pot/pan in my kitchen is not my skillet or sauce pan... it's my dutch oven. At least half... maybe three quarters... of the dishes I make are made in my dutch oven. The versatility of being able to move straight from stove top to hot oven, with a nice tight fitting lid, can not be understated. I might like pot roasts, stews, and braises more than the average bear... but it's just a great thing to own, and if you don't own one it really cuts off a large section of many cookbooks. You can still make perfectly wonderful food with a cheap beat up old skillet, but you're going to have a lot of trouble making even a beef stew without a dutch oven. Note that you don't have to get a $300 Le Creuset... as pretty as they are... there are lots of more affordable brands out there. The key is the cast iron for the even heating and heat retention and the enamel coating to keep the iron from reacting with any acidic cooking liquids.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Asado Negro Complete

Asado Negro

I spent Sunday afternoon making this Venezuelan pot roast from Sam Sifton and The New York Times while I waited for the Ravens to lose in soul crushing fashion to the hated Steelers. Oh well... at least the food was good (and if I'm honest I'll say the game was good to, but it's never so rewarding for you team to lose "The Game of the Year"). A first for me here, in that I had never made caramel before, which is the base of the sauce and source of the color. The sauce never got quite as dark as the picture in the Times, and I wonder if my inexperience with making caramel was part of the issue... I was pretty scared of burning it (Why? I'm not sure...  it's just sugar and water... and I could have just done it again if I ruined it) so I might have turned off the heat before it got dark enough. Here are Sifton's comments regarding the caramel sauce:
And so we begin with caramel, a chemistry-class lesson for the home. Sugar is dissolved in water and heated until the water evaporates and the sugar molecules break down, turning heavy and dark. Add to this sticky pool some vinegar and dry red wine, which impart savory, acidic notes to what will amount to a braising liquid, as well as some brown sugar for rustic depth. Pour the liquids carefully, for the caramel will spatter and hiss. Then allow the sauce to become whole again, stirring occasionally.
It was heavy and sticky... but not uniformly dark... so I think I abandoned ship a little early. But the "savory, acidic notes" came through like a champ, so I can't say I'm disappointed really...  it's just a note for next time to try to push it a little farther. Another interesting aspect, and not obvious from the picture, is that the roast itself really did turn a deep shade of velvet at midnight as it rested... it was more of a deep red when I was basting and turning it. I'm not sure what sugar chemistry led to that transformation, but it was pretty cool. Don't forget to cut against the grain when you are slicing up the beef... I forgot when I started, so I had my own little lab experiment between the two cuts... and the difference is epic.

I didn't even think to make rice with it... not reading Mr. Sifton's recommendations closely enough... but it's so obviously the perfect thing to soak up the amazing sauce that I'll be making some tonight for the... even better a day later (I hope)... leftovers.

All in all I was pretty pleased. Reminiscent of ropa veija because of the tenderness of the beef and presence of the peppers, but infinitely more complex in its flavors. Worth making on a free weekend afternoon... I bet it will impress.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jealous, Indeed

Scalzi gloats about his possession of an ARC (advance review copy) of The Wise Man's Fear... available to people without connections in the literary world March 1st. If you're a fan of fantasy and have never read The Name of the Wind you should do so RIGHT NOW. May favorite book of the last decade or so I'd say.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Recipe from the New York Times, but it's so simple you don't even need it. Boil potatoes, cut in half and top with cheese, melt cheese under broiler. Voilà. The only hiccup would be if you don't have oven safe plates that can survive under a broiler for 3 minutes. Being that I wasn't sure and didn't want to be responsible for ruining plates, I started them in the regular oven until Anna came in and told me our plates are oven safe... and I gotta say the broiler is a totally better way to go if you can. In the oven the cheese took like 20 minutes to melt (probably drying out our potatoes a bit) and didn't get any color... where it just takes a few minutes under the broiler and looks great after.

A little indulgent admittedly, but very tasty and easy. Recommended.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Asado Negro

Sam Sifton:
It is beef the color of a velvet dinner jacket seen across a dark lawn at midnight. It makes mockery of pot roast.
I was thinking of making carnitas this weekend, but this sounds waaaaay cooler.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bees don't want to eat right and stay healthy either

The strange story of Robitussin red "honey" in Brooklyn:
Maybe the bees were hitting the juice — maraschino cherry juice, that sweet, sticky stuff sloshing around vats at Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Company over on Dikeman Street in Red Hook.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” said Ms. Mayo, a soft-spoken young woman who has long been active in the slow-food movement. She found it particularly hard to believe that the bees would travel all the way from Governors Island to gorge themselves on junk food. “Why would they go to the cherry factory,” she said, “when there’s a lot for them to forage right there on the farm?”

It seems natural, by now, for humans to prefer the unnatural, as if we ourselves had been genetically modified to choose artificially flavored strawberry candy over strawberries, or crunchy orange “cheese” puffs over a piece of actual cheese. But when bees make the same choice, it feels like a betrayal to our sense of how nature should work. Shouldn’t they know better? Or, perhaps, not know enough to know better?

A fellow beekeeper sent samples of the red substance that the bees were producing to an apiculturalist who works for New York State, and that expert, acting as a kind of forensic foodie, found the samples riddled with Red Dye No. 40, the same dye used in the maraschino cherry juice.
I guess menu labeling is probably not the answer here.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I know the proper pronunciation, but still say it wrong basically every time... even though it's one of my favorite foods in the universe.

Turkey in Mole Poblano

Tukey Mole Poblano
The Bayless/Saveur recipe came out great, as I guess you can see above. Definitely a two day affair I'd say... while time wise it would be possible to make the mole and braise the turkey breast in a single day (it took me probably 6 hours to make the mole), making the mole requires so much attention and so many individual steps that it would be very difficult to make any side dishes at the same time. On the other hand, if you make the mole ahead of time you only have about an hour in the oven (plus browning and resting at either end) so you can concentrate your efforts on other things. It's not terribly spicy...  only a hint really...  so I'd think this would work for a wide range of palates...  though it's not for traditionalists obviously.

As far as tips and comments... I think a skinless turkey breast makes more sense here... after braising, the skin was a soggy, flabby, unappetizing mess... and I just ended up removing it. An intriguing alternative would be to remove the skin a fry it in the oil before finishing your mole (step 6)...  you'd still get the turkey flavor, but you'd also get a crackling as a snack...  which sounds pretty awesome. Because I didn't do either of these two options, the mole needed to be defatted thanks to the added rendered fat from the skin... so keep that in mind if you're going to leave the skin on and make the mole separately. For the mole specifically, during the "frying chiles, nuts, and raisins" stage I would have a two quart saucepan with a fine mesh strainer in it sitting next to you. When an ingredient is done just pour both it and the oil through the strainer... much easier than fishing out pepitas before they burn with a slotted spoon, and you can easily pour the strained oil back into your skillet and keep going.

I now have a ton of leftover mole (awesome) that I guess I'm going to freeze... since even as delicious as it is, I think I'm going to need a little break. But the future mole options (chicken, steak, what else?) really is an attractive added benefit for this recipe.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

We're leaving Tuesday night to head up to Maine... and we have to go shopping tonight... so I think I'll be too busy to post before we head out. So have fun with your families and all that and I'll be back in a week with hopefully something to say about turkey mole.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Turkey Stock

Ruhlman (who else?) has the deets on an easy turkey stock for gravy. The turkey mole I'm making for Thanksgiving calls for turkey stock... I was thinking I'd just use water, but maybe I'll pick up some legs and wings from the grocery store on the way home.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why eating out makes us fat... now with added Science!

In the past, I've commented on the fact that the decrease in home cooked meals in American households over the last few decades seems to be associated with the increase in our waistlines. Cutler, Glaeser and Shapiro provided an economic explanation for this: calories have become much cheaper (i.e. less prep time) and thus we consume more of them. While this reasoning is undoubtedly economically sound, it leaves a little to be desired from a biological perspective. You'd think we'd eat until we're full whether or not we ordered out or made it ourself...  a calorie is a calorie, right? (Not exactly, but close enough) Well, Jonah Leher has put together a hypothesis based on the fact that mice prefer food they have to work harder to obtain... and that obese people seem to feel less pleasure when they consume food (counterintuitive FTW!). I wonder whether the "harder to obtain" translates to "more expensive"...  I suspect it does... and, if so, would bet it does some of the work in explaining the socio-economic differences in obesity rates. Rich people may enjoy their food more... and thus consume less of it...  simply because they spend so much money on it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vegan Pupusas

Bean and Tofu Chicharrones Pupusas with Latin Tomato Sauce and Salvadorian Slaw

When I posted the tofu chicharrones recipe a couple of weeks ago, I alluded to the pupusas we made using it as a filling... strongly implying that I would be posting a recipe for said pupusas shortly. Well, I didn't...  and I'm not. I realized that masa harina dough is 3 ingredients, and I don't think I can effectively communicate how to shape them in a couple of paragraphs. So there's really not much that's super interesting beyondy the tofu chicharrones. Fortunately for anyone who wants to make them, it looks like Go Vegan Meow! has the full recipe from Viva Vegan!... including the salsa roja and curtido, which I no longer have the recipes for. She uses a different filling than we did, but you have quite a bit of freedom there. The important/interesting part is shaping the pupusas themselves... which you just have to get in there and give it a go to get the hang of it. You'll get tears and leaks... you just patch 'em up and keep going.

Dairy Management's USDA Funding

James McWilliams throws some water on that well circulated story (including here) about how the USDA is promoting making healthy eating choices with one hand, and dumping four times the cheese on those choices with the other. It turns out that Dairy Management is a private company, and that while it has indeed received millions from the USDA, those millions are for the express purpose of promoting the consumption of US dairy products abroad... not finding the upper bound of cheese a pizza is physically able to support.

Well that's kind of boring. Though it's a good demonstration as to how we all tend to take at face value any story that supports our preconceived notions (i.e. farm subsidies BAD).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ezra Klein visits El Bulli

See here.

The Economics of OpenTable, Cont.

Relative to this post from the summer, I see via Matt Yglesias that we have some more concrete information, from the Bay area restaurant Incanto, on how expensive the service really is:
The access fees can be substantial, particularly for restaurants operating on thin margins. One independent study estimates that OpenTable’s fees (comprised of startup fees, fixed monthly fees, and per-person reservation fees) translate to a cost of roughly $10.40 for each “incremental” 4-top booked through To put that in perspective, consider that the average profit margin, before taxes, for a U.S. restaurant is roughly 5%. This means that a table of 4 spending $200 on dinner would generate a $10 profit. In this example, all of that profit would then go to OpenTable fees for having delivered the reservation, leaving the restaurant with nothing other than the hope that that customer would come back (and hopefully book by telephone the next time).

In truth, the actual fees incurred for an “incremental” table may be higher than the $10.40 figure, which assumes that every reservation booked via is an incremental reservation, i.e. composed of guests who would not have otherwise visited the restaurant and were seated on a table that would otherwise have sat empty for the evening. It’s easy to imagine that, had a restaurant not been listed there, at least some of those booking on would have otherwise gone to the trouble to find that restaurant some other way.

OpenTable’s pitch to restaurateurs is that the 5% average restaurant profit margin applies only to schmucks who don’t offer reservations through their service. If you sign on with OpenTable, goes the pitch, you will fill more of those empty tables and see an increase in business, the marginal profits of which will more than justify OpenTable’s fees. Your restaurant will be more profitable than the measly 5% to which you have grown accustomed. This pitch is perfectly tuned to the psyche of the independent restaurateur; we always believe we can find a competitive advantage that will enable us to do it a just a little bit better than the guy across the street.

However, once everyone’s restaurant is listed on, does it still provide that leg up over the guy across the street? Under the old conventional wisdom, restaurateurs considered OpenTable a competitive advantage, in which OpenTable would pay for itself by tapping into a new source of business. Under the new conventional wisdom, however, OpenTable is now considered a gateway to a desirable set of customers (you savvy online diners know who you are). Anyone wanting access to these customers must now pay this new per-customer tax, or risk failure. This is the hard-edged reality of the role OpenTable now plays within fine dining. By controlling access to a growing population of diners, it’s increasingly rare when an ambitious new restaurant decides it can forgo being a part of the service.
I admit this makes me feel a little guilty about using OpenTable all the time, but I'm sorry... it's just too damn convenient. Being able to find out which restaurants have available tables while I'm walking around the city is a feature I just can't abandon: I don't have an interest in hour long waits or walking by every restaurant in a 5 block radius to see how busy they are. I have to admit, I still don't understand how, if OpenTable is gouging restaurants so heavily, a competitor hasn't emerged to do it for less? I know nothing about programming web based reservation software, but being that Incanto runs its own independent service...  it doesn't really seem to be an insurmountable barrier to entry. It can't be that hard can it? Why don't the more powerful restaurant groups band together and create a competing service that is more fair to restaurants?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quick Takes: Henrietta's Table and il Casale

My mother came into town this weekend a few days early for a conference, which gave Anna and I the opportunity to try out a couple of restaurants that had been sitting on our "to eat at" list for a while.   First off, we ate at Henrietta's Table as a sort of spur of the moment decision (thank goodness for the Open Table app) after giving her a several hour long walking tour of Cambridge... and I have to say that the dining exerience was exceptional. For those unfamiliar with it, Henrietta's Table is a farm-to-table/locavore's delight... they actually mark the items on the menu that are from local sources... similarly indicate whether wines are organic and made with sustainable practices...  and present seasonal locally inspired cuisine. I guess that may be overly trendy and verging on preachy to some, but I think it's a nice touch...  and it's not like they're in your face about it... they just are giving you some additional information to make your dining choices...  and who can complain about that? Even if you hate locavorism and want it to die, they've conveniently labeled which items are not local so that you can do the most damage to our environment and local food system. Everybody wins!

Here's the short take of our Henrietta's Table experience: loved the variety and quality of salads they offer with local cheeses. Unfortunately I discovered I'm not as enamored with fresh figs (neither is God apparently) as I am with dried, but that's obviously not the chef's fault... you roll the dice with a menu item you're not sure about and sometimes you are (only slightly) disappointed. C'est la vie.  On the other hand, everyone enjoyed their main course quite a bit...  though I'll note for vegetarians (i.e. Anna) that there is only one option (though it's got both quinoa AND farro - yay hipster grains!)... for me in particular, I found my dish of pulled lamb shank to be exquisite. For dessert, I (sort of) abstained, sampling both the pumpkin pie and bread pudding my mother and Anna ordered... each was quite good, but I absolutely loved the bread pudding... though I've got a real soft spot for that dish (you'll find it located around my midsection). I'll note that we were there quite early...  around 5:30 when they open for dinner... and it had only really started to fill up when we were leaving, but I have to wonder whether the high ceilings and wide open layout would be overly noisy on a busy night. Uncertain, but it's something to think on.  One additional (important) thing: they offer two ($25) and three ($32) course "yard sales" Sunday through Thursday... and being that their main courses are priced in that neighborhood, this strikes me as the deal of the century... we'll certainly be back during the week sometime in the future to try it out.

Next up was il Casale, which is out in the 'burbs, but up for "Best New Restaurant" and "Best Chef: Northeast" Beard awards this year... so as you might expect, it's a darling of Chowhound, and thus reservations (even for a Sunday night) require a little advance effort. From the name you might be able to guess that il Casale is all about Italian cuisine... though I don't believe they specialize in any particular subgenre...  call it "Pan-Italian."  Beware that while you'll see some dishes reminiscent of fettucine alfredo and spaghetti Bolognese, that the dining experience is traditional Italian and not Americanized Italian. What does that mean? It means that they have selections arranged as anitpasta (appetizers/tapas), primi(pasta), and  secondi(protein) with contorti (vegetable sides)... which can be a little confusing if you haven't done it before... and even though I'm a quasi foodie living in a city with a reknowned Italian section and have actually been to Italy itself... I'm mostly a novice in regards to the intricacies of the food. So I was confused. Thankfully our French(!?) waiter was perfectly able to explain it all, and you can pretty much assemble a meal from the above pieces as you see fit. We ended up selecting the cheese...  er formaggi...  plate to start, the highlights being the pecorino de vino (cheese aged in chianti), a very nice mild Gorgonzola, and some delightful robiola (a cheese I only discovered a month ago, but have developed a real fondness for). I went for a small plate of spaghetti cacio e pepe as my primi and a bouillabaisse-esque saffron seafood stew (brodetto) as my secondi. Anna decided to go with ignudi (i.e. "naked" ravioli) and a couple of veggie sides (broccoli rabe and some spicy green beans) to make up her meal, while my mother went with a salad and her favorite dish to cook at home: tagliatelle alla Bolognese. Somewhat surprisingly, I'd have to say that everyone's favorite was the one with essentially three ingredients that you can make at home in little more than the time it takes to boil water (and we will tonight!)...  spaghetti cacio e pepe. The most disappointing... and I would say it does indeed rates as a disappointment... were the contorti, which were fine but pretty uninspired... we were definitely hoping for better, but maybe Anna would have been advised to focus on the sfizi/tapas section? Maybe you can't really expect that much from food billed as a side dish. On the other hand, my brodetto was excellent... each piece of fish was perfectly cooked and I sopped up every drop of the heady broth... and my mom enjoyed her pasta Bolongese, but I think she maintains she can still do better in her own kitchen (I am in no position to judge against my own mother's cooking).

Both were very good, but I'd certainly rate Henrietta's Table as the superior experience... though since they are doing completely different things I'm not sure how fair it is to compare them. Either one is a great place to go for a nice, but not fussy, dinner out... though il Casale will probably score you more foodie points if you're trying to impress somebody... and as it is located in an old firehouse, has much cooler digs... so maybe the better date choice. For Henrietta's Table, there is just something off putting to me about restaurants in hotels...  the ambiance just seems especially inauthentic... of course, the problem there is that many of our city's finest dining options are hotel restaurants. So I guess I just better get over it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coconut Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Cocunut Lace Cookies Closer

Made by Anna... though I can testify they are delicious... the recipe can be found at Epicurious.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Food Lab: Buffalo Fried Turkey

Amusingly (to me anyway), this pretty awesome sounding recipe is the culmination of Kenji blasting the entire concept of frying a turkey... and then getting pretty justly criticized (slammed really) for his poorly designed tests of the method (a rare occurrence). A week or so later he adjusted for the significantly greater residual heat produced by frying a turkey by taking it out 5 degrees earlier... and discovered everybody was right: fried turkey is awesome. Score one for the unwashed masses!

I don't have a dog in this fight, since I've never had a chance to sample fried turkey... and don't expect to have one any time soon... but it's nice when every Food Lab/Alton Brown/Harold McGee type exploration of some technique doesn't end up "MYTHS EXPOSED!!!!"

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month

Obviously it's supremely important to honor our country's living veterans... I'm not one who agrees with the sentiment of Breakfast of Champions... but I do still think it's important to remember where this day came from.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanksgiving Tips from NYC Cooks

High Roast Turkey
We're almost down to two weeks before Turkey Day, so these kind of tips and features will only become more common (and presumably tiresome - if you're not tired already) over the coming days, but I liked some of the quotes in this Sam Sifton piece:
Lesson No. 1 in preparing food for the holiday, chefs say: Cut up the bird before cooking. Abandon the Norman Rockwell ideal of serving a whole turkey in its golden-roasted splendor. If your bird looks like that, Mr. Flay said: “Something’s wrong. Something’s either overcooked or undercooked.” To achieve the correct balance, he said: “I roast the meat until the breasts are done, and then cut off the legs and thighs. The breasts can rest, and you can cook off the legs in the drippings left in the pan.”

Marc Murphy, the chef and an owner of the Landmarc restaurants in Manhattan, roasts turkey breasts in one oven while braising the legs in another. Mr. Carmellini agreed with this method. “You have to break these birds down,” he said. “It is literally the only way to get both the white meat and the dark meat done perfectly.”
I'm no trained chef or turkey expert... having cooked Thanksgiving turkey all of three times... but every time I have done it, I've followed the above advice and been quite pleased. In my case, I've always spatchcocked/butterflied a whole bird, which achieves similar ends as cooking pieces separately by breaking down the vaulted chest cavity... but I think still gives you a pretty presentation. Otherwise it seems to me that cooking a turkey breast and/or braising turkey legs (for dark meat lovers) would be a really good way to go... and is probably what I'll do this year, since it allows me to make a smaller portion as the solo omnivore. While the linked Torrisi Turkey recipe is interesting, at this point I'm still thinking I'll do the Saveur/Rick Bayless Turkey in Mole Poblano... both are non-traditional and don't involve roasting a whole bird, but I really love the complexity of mole. If you'd rather break down a whole turkey instead of going with just the breast, Saveur also had another recipe that looked pretty good and should get everything cooked perfectly.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vegetables Still The New Meat!

Jack Schafer of Slate tweeted this morning that the New York Mag article... about a new rise in the popularity of vegetables... that is generating buzz in foodie circles, is a bit reminiscent of a 2008 New York Observer article. While it would be really nice to believe people are eating more vegetables, I think I'll wait for some stats and not just count how many celebrity chefs talk about how awesome cooking vegetables is. Still, I guess it's better than Bourdain publicly ridiculing vegans and vegetarians, which really wasn't that long ago... progress!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Speaking of cheesy summers...

David Lebovitz has a pretty delicious looking post on Swiss fondue. Seeing something like that really drives home the silliness of having a department of "Dairy Management"... doesn't cheese pretty much sell itself?

"The Summer of Cheese"

Anyone who has ever complained about the distorting effect of farm subsidies knows about stuff like what's reported in the New York Times in the abstract, but this is much more detailed than I've seen before. While I want dairy farmers to be able to make a living, a government department dedicated to getting us to eat more cheese is... at the very least...  unseemly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Slow Cooker Sous Vide Hack

Cooking for Engineers has pretty straightforward instructions on how to turn a cheap slow cooker into a sous vide machine... though it looks to cost over $100 for the requisite parts... so not as cheap as a beer cooler, but significantly less than a Sous Vide Supreme and a bit more precise than said beer cooler. Personally, I have mixed feelings about sous vide...  the OCD part of me is very attracted to the idea of being able to cook things to a perfect and exact level of doneness, but I also feel like it would take a lot of the fun out of cooking for me. But maybe not.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lavash Crackers

Lavash Crackers Post

These were delicious but not perfect, so I don't have a recipe for you, but I thought the photo was decent. I think I need to roll them thinner... Anna suggested only using half a recipe per half sheet pan, but I'm not sure whether or not that's the answer.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Korean Tacos are Delicious

Korean Taco

Last night, I finally made the Korean chicken taco recipe from the Times.. that I highlighted a on the order of a gajillion weeks ago. It took us a while to get to Reliable Market for some gochujang, so whaddya want? Poor priorities I guess.

There isn't much to say about the recipe itself except that I would just plan on marinating over night. A 2-4 hour marinade is just weird, and pretty inconvenient for a weeknight dinner... overnight is just easier and won't make a difference flavor wise. The vinaigrette is pretty great, but I think it might be worth reserving a small portion of the marinade as a nice hot sauce topper (you can't use the marinade itself since it has been in contact with raw chicken).

I really had trouble figuring out the best way to photograph this so that it looked as appetizing as truly was... and I don't think I was entirely successful.  In retrospect maybe I should have made three lines of chicken, salad/slaw, and cheese so that each was distinct...  hmmmm.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Witch's Hole and Paradise Hill via Carriage Roads

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

As the weather gets colder it becomes less and less appealing to hike up a mountain and freeze to death... fancy that! But it's still nice to get outside and away from the urban grind for a while, so enter Acadia's carriage roads. They're generally quite packed with cyclists and families and whatnot during the summer, but on cold and drizzly Saturday's in late Fall you can get a lot more peace (though they're always popular). Since you never get above the tree line on carriage roads the views aren't quite as breathtaking as from the top of Cadillac for example, but it's still just as gorgeous as you expect from any walk through Acadia... amazing stone bridges and ponds and marshes everywhere. You can view the walk a bit bigger at Everytrail, and note that this route would work well as a short bike ride...  especially with children.


And yes, I will probably be watching the returns curled up in a fetal position. Actually, I have some Korean tacos to make (finally!) and some Fallout: New Vegas to play, so I will hopefully remain blissfully unaware of the slaughter until tomorrow.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Greatest Six Pack in the World

The Greatest Six Pack in the World
The Lineup: Pater 6, Prior 8, Abt 12, Tripel, Watou Tripel, Wit.

Those are all A- (at worst) beers and some of the best examples of Belgian brewing that you will find anywhere... so I don't think I am being hyperbolic when I claim it's The Greatest Six Pack in the World. It's expensive and somewhat rare though. I've only ever seen it one place (though they have cases of it) and it wasn't even in Boston or Cambridge... you can get it for about $25 at Global Beverage Warehouse near Ellsworth Maine... so Mainers represent. I think I need to talk to my local beer merchants on getting in on some of that action... though, as it is, it's a nice treat to bring back after a day of hiking in Acadia.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Saveur: Turkey in Poblano Mole

It still seems a bit too early to talk about Thanksgiving recipe ideas, but the November Saveur came yesterday... and I was surprisingly excited by their turkey section... so here we are. I was planning on making cassoulet again (though Bourdain's recipe) this year, but then I saw this turkey in poblano mole recipe by Rick Bayless... and I think I'm in love. Just making the mole sounds incredibly complex, involved, and excruciatingly detailed with tons of ingredients... which is exactly what I'm looking for when I've got multiple days devoted to cooking something awesome. I'll once again be the only meat eater this year though, so I've got to figure out if I can halve it or something. I would assume they don't sell half of  a "skin on boneless turkey breast"...  but I've never looked... I guess I could just go with turkey thighs instead. Hmmm.

Happy Birthday to Anna!

Sources claim she is turning 29 AGAIN this year. Remarkable!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pressure Cooker Beef Bourguignon

Pressure Cooker Beef Bourguignon

So another pressure cooker recipe from Pressure Cooking for Everyone... being a stew served on a bed of something starchy, it isn't even that visually distinct from the last one (though I would argue this is a significantly better photo)... and be warned, I've got an additional pressure cooking cookbook from the library that I want to test drive, so you'll be seeing this type of posts for a while yet I suspect. However, I do understand that this topic is only useful to people who own (or are looking for reasons to own) a pressure cooker, so I'll try to interject some single atmosphere cooking in between explorations of stews on starch and fifteen varieties of pressure cooked risottos (not that bad I hope, but I make no promises).

Before I get to the ingredients and directions for the recipe, I did want to air out one pet peeve I have about pressure cooking cookbooks... including Pressure Cooking for Everyone... in that they tend to focus solely on the "time under pressure" when mapping out how long a recipe is going to take. I suppose it's not a lot different from "30 minute recipes" where they completely ignore any prep time, but giving the time the recipe is going to be under pressure doesn't really communicate much of anything about how long before you can get the meal on the table... and obviously some of this occurs in many a traditional cookbook as well, but I think it  is most egregious in pressure cooking, where it seems the authors are bound and determined to give the impression that you could bang out beef bourguignon in a pressure cooker as quickly as you could bake a frozen pizza. However, with a 15 minute prep, browning the meat in batches (say 5 minutes), sauteeing the mushrooms and other veggies (another 5),  getting the cooker up to pressure (5-10 minutes), the pressure cooking itself (20 minutes), and finally defatting the cooking liquid and making the sauce (10 minutes)... a "20 minutes at high pressure" recipe took about an hour to make. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, and an hour in the kitchen is about what I expect making a real dinner on a weeknight... but I don't know why there is such an effort to be misleading about the cooking times. Isn't the fact that I can make fantastic beef bourguignon in an hour start to finish amazing enough? It's gotta be something on the order of 2-3 hours for every "normal" recipe I've ever seen...  so why oversell it?

So that's my mini-rant and warning to prospective pressure cooker owners... don't get fooled by "time at pressure" into thinking you can whip up beef stew in thirty minutes... but that said, high pressure cooking does give you some pretty sweet weeknight dinner options that would be otherwise unimaginable.

So finally, let's move on to the recipe itself, that regardless of timing came out wonderfully:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bacon strips, coarsely chopped (Tip:  freeze the bacon for 15-20 minutes before chopping)
  • 3 pounds beef bottom round, cut into 1.5" chunks
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 10 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 medium carrots, cut into 1" lengths
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots (2 medium)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup hearty red wine, like Zinfandel or Merlot
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  1. In a 5-7 quart pressure cooker, heat the oil over medium heat. Fry the bacon until crisp and browned, about 5 minutes, and then drain on paper towels (reserve). Pour all but one tablespoon of the fat out of the cooker and into a bowl (reserve).
  2. Return the cooker and fat to medium-high heat. In batches, adding reserved bacon fat as needed, brown the beef, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes. Transfer the beef to a plate and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Add another tablespoon of bacon fat (or olive oil if you're out) and reduce the heat to medium. Add and cook the mushrooms, carrots, shallots, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and deglaze the pot by scrapping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Stir in broth and tomato paste and then return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pot.
  4. Lock the lid and bring the cooker to pressure over high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain pressure and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and quick release the pressure and then open the lid away from you to block any escaping steam. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat and vegetables to a serving bowl/plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
  5. Add in the reserved bacon, and let the cooking liquid stand for 5 minutes before skimming any fat from the surface. Meanwhile, work the butter and flour together into a smooth paste in a medium bowl. Whisk in about a cup of the defatted cooking liquid into the paste as you bring the rest of the cooking liquid to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Whisk your thinned paste into the boiling liquid and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and no trace of raw flour remains...  about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Either pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables to serve, or as I prefer, portion meat and vegetables over a bed of noodles and top with sauce individually.
Now, I don't particularly think that defatting a stock/cooking liquid, as laid out in step 5, is at all effective and didn't bother with it... I simply trimmed excess fat off of the bottom round before as I cut it up. However, if you are really concerned about your sauce being too fatty I'd really recommend a fat separator instead of this "cooling for 5 minutes and skimming" business. It costs $15 and it actually works, which is an oft overlooked feature... I would hesitate to ever make gravy without one. Cooling in the fridge to the point the fat starts to solidify also works really well, but is much more time consuming and thus more suited to stocks and the like in my humble opinion.

Regardless, despite all of the niggles I've brought up, I was really happy with how this came out. I really don't see how you could get the same depth of flavor and perfectly done vegetables and meat in anything less than 3 hours without a pressure cooker (see coq au vin). Being able to do it on a weeknight, in an hour, is the absolute best argument for owning one... and I don't really see why you should need another. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tofu Chicharrones

Tofu Chicharrones

Above is one piece of a meal assembled from Viva Vegan!, by Terry Hope Romero... one of the coauthors of Veganomicon (in the running for best cookbook name ever). Viva Vegan! is focused on traditional Latin cooking, a style that has always seemed to me to be strangely underrepresented in meatless/dairyless land, beyond the ubiquitous bean burrito... and Romero addresses that lack quite ably... adapting much more than just Mexican cuisine.

The tofu chicharrones pictured were meant as part of the filling for pupusas we made a few weeks ago, but they were so good by themselves I thought they deserved a standalone post. Plus, it was a complicated enough meal that if I didn't break it down into more manageable pieces I was never going to post it. 

Chicharrones were completely new to me... and thus I cannot comment on any kind of authenticity issues... but it's vegan anyway, so you know anything genuinely authentic about it is going to be for a given (large) value of "fake"... I doubt there are many cooks in Latin America substituting tofu for pork belly... but whatever, it's chewy, smoky, greasy and good. I haven't done much with frozen tofu before... Anna has been in a phase of not bothering with it since we started cooking together... and I have to say it's pretty neat how the texture changes.

As just mentioned, this requires frozen tofu, so if you don't have any already in the freezer you'll have to stick some in the night before. If you do already have said frozen tofu, you can let it defrost in the fridge until you are ready for it.

  • 1 pound firm tofu
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • l tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • Kosher salt 
  1. Freeze entire package of tofu overnight. The next day, remove the package from the freezer and place it a bowl of warm water to thaw. When thawed... it can take several hours, especially if you aren't good about changing the warm water regularly... drain the tofu, remove it from the package, and cut into 1/4" slices. It will look something like this:
  2. Frozen Tofu
  3. Layer the tofu slices between paper towels and place a folded kitchen towel on top. Place a plate on top of the tofu with a heavy can or two and press the tofu for at least thirty minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large plastic container with a lid, mix together soy sauce, liquid smoke, crushed garlic, vinegar, and agave syrup. Tear up the pressed tofu into 1/4" or smaller pieces like so:
  5. Torn to pieces
  6. Admire how bereft of water that pressed tofu is: the better to soak up a marinade! Add the pieces to the container with the marinade, cover, and shake vigorously to coat the tofu. Set aside for 15 minutes, but come back occasionally to shake the container a little more.
  7. In a heavy bottom skillet, heat about a 1/2" of peanut oil over medium heat. The oil is hot enough when a piece of tofu sizzles instantly and browns within 30 seconds.
  8. Fry in generous 1/2 cup increments, using a slotted metal spatula to turn and occasionally press the tofu pieces. Remove the tofu to a plate lined with paper towels once the pieces are golden brown with crisped edges... about a minute or two (at most) for each batch. Salt to taste.
As mentioned, we used tofu chicharrones with some refried black beans as a filling for pupusas, and I imagine they would do just as well as a filling for anything from tacos to burritos. They'd also be great, I'd bet, just mixed into some beans... and frankly, they are so good I liked just munching on them as a snack. Totally worth making if you are a vegetarian or vegan... especially if you've not really done much with frozen tofu, as the technique is worth exploring... but I think it will be eyeopening to meat eaters (like me) as well. No, it doesn't taste like fried pork belly, but the possibilities of using tofu prepared in this way is worth appreciating in its own right.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bill Clinton a vegan... sometimes.

A pretty interesting article on the "Bill Clinton Ate Here" effect abroad, has the following tidbit:
For health reasons, he is a vegan these days, and during recent travels on behalf of Democratic candidates his diet has included miso barley soup, black bean burritos and cauliflower and potato curry, typically prepared by a member of his entourage. Overseas, however, he’s been know to stray.

“He had the filet mignon last time he was here, four months ago,” says Javier Blázquez, the son of the owner of Casa Lucio. “The doctors tell him not to eat it, but he does anyway.”
As they say, read the whole thing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making gnocchi out of cheese?

I can't say they look super appetizing, but it's certainly an interesting idea from Bittman.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Moon Only Vaguely Irritating Mistress?

There be water in that there dirt:
NASA announced its groundbreaking discovery of lunar water last November. Now, a more detailed analysis of the data—the subject of six research papers being published in the journal Science—concludes that there is a lot more water on the moon than anyone expected, about twice the concentrations seen in the Sahara Desert.
Start planning your vacations now!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to Make Homemade Mustard

Hank Shaw at The Atlantic:
The famous Grey Poupon mustard—Dijon has been a center of mustard-making for nearly a millennium now—is traditionally made with stone-ground brown mustard and verjus, the tart juice of unripe grapes. I prefer this style of mustard, and most of my homemade mustards are grainy like Dijon. I grind my seeds with a spice grinder, but you could get all old-school and use a mortar and pestle.

The best mustards, in my opinion, combine brown or black mustard seeds with white mustard powder: The two sets of chemical reactions complement each other and make a more complex mustard.
Much more (including recipe) at the link. Personally, I would indeed "get all old school."

Cooking Science at Harvard

With all the hype molecular gastronomy, techniques like sous vide, and concepts like Cooking for Engineers have gathered lately, it shouldn't be surprising when somebody approaches cooking from a scientific prospective... but I admit I rose an eyebrow when I heard about Harvard's new course:
..."From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science", an undergraduate course that uses the kitchen to convey the basics of physics and chemistry, a most unusual Ivy League approach to science.

Each Thursday, David A. Weitz, a physics professor, or Michael P. Brenner, a professor of applied mathematics, covers the science concepts. On the following Tuesday, one of a select group of top chefs, some well versed in kitchen technology — like Wylie Dufresne, of WD-50 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, or Grant Achatz, of Alinea in Chicago — talks about cooking techniques that illustrate the science.
So what is it? A gimmick to allow Harvard to leech some of the cultivated cool of celebrity chefs? A clever way to get poli-sci and history majors to experience laboratory science? Probably a little of both, but I know I'd love to take it. But besides the slight problem of not being a Harvard student, it seems chances would be slim regardless:
Nearly 700 students wanted to enroll. By lottery, 300 got in.
Oh, Top Chef... is there anything you can't do?

If you're curious, here is the first lecture... the first 20 minutes are about the structure of the course, then Harold McGee comes on:

Looks like all the lectures will be on YouTube, so we can all follow along at home.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pressure Cooker Ropa Vieja with Saffron Rice

Old Clothes

While Anna has been diligently making beans, risottos, and soups in the pressure cooker we purchased last winter, I can't say I ever completely caught the pressure cooking bug. Alton Brown's Chili was quite good, but other than that, I had yet to find a recipe to make in it that seemed very exciting. Part of that is due to my attraction to very...  uhm... "ornate"... recipes with lots of precise steps, whereas a pressure cooker is more oriented towards speed and simplicity. But I think the main issue has been not taking a step back and realizing what a pressure cooker excels at. You don't need a pressure cooker to make asparagus. Sure, you can make it in a pressure cooker, but there is no compelling reason why you should. It takes just as long to cook as any other method at your disposal and you're at the disadvantage of not being able to see it while it's cooking... and thus at a much higher risk of ruining it. So if quick cooking vegetables where perfection is a razor's edge balance between "crunchy" and "mush" aren't its strength, what is? Anything that needs long simmering or braising. Soups, stocks, stews, pot roasts, beans, etc. What's similar about all these type of dishes? They use cheaper ingredients but still manage great flavors through long cooking times. Economical and tasty is a great combo, but of course only stay at home parents or people who work at home have any hope of getting a traditionally cooked pot roast on the table for a 7pm weeknight dinner. Enter the pressure cooker.

This recipe is from Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rodgers and Arlene Ward, is a fairly simple Cuban style pot roast called "ropa vieja" or "old clothes" in Spanish... due to the strips of veggies that resemble tattered fabric. You'll want to serve this with white rice made with a pinch of saffron in the cooking liquid. Since the chuck steak is two dollars and change per pound, that pinch of saffron might be the most expensive part of the whole dish. I'm not generally an olive/capers kind of guy (I keep trying, but it's just not working out), however I thought they worked really well here. Anyway, here is the ingredient list and directions:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 lbs (3/4" thick) beef chuck steaks, cut into 4 to 6 pieces
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2" strips
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2" rounds
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1/2" strips
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 28 oz can of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped pimiento stuffed green olives
  • 2 tablespoons bottled capers, rinsed
  1. In a 5 or 7 quart pressure cooker, heat the oil over medium heat. Next brown the chuck steak on both sides in batches, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Add onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic to the pot and cook until the veggies are softened, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes, stock, oregano, and cinnamon and use a wooden spoon to deglaze the cooker (i.e. scrape up the brown bits). Return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pressure cooker.
  4. Lock the lid onto place and bring up to high pressure over high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain pressure and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and quick release the pressure, being sure to shield your face with the lid from escaping steam when you remove it. Transfer meat to a serving platter and cover with foil.
  5. Let the cooking liquid stand for 5 minutes and then skim any fat off the surface. Add the olives and capers and cook, uncovered, over high heat until the mixture has thickened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve with saffron rice.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tailgating: Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

Getting Ready to Tailgate
I went to the Ravens/Patriots game this Sunday with a friend who was enjoying his first year of season tickets. My dad shares season tickets to Orioles games so I've taken him down to Baltimore to see the Red Sox destroy the Orioles a few times, so he thought that the opportunity to watch the Ravens play the Pats would be a good return of the favor. Of course he didn't say anything about the Pats beating my Ravens in overtime, but c'est la vie.

We both agreed that tailgating would be fun...  something I've never done before... so he purchased a relatively inexpensive portable gas grill, and I went about looking for a suitable recipe for tailgating. What I settled on is half recipe of something I've tried with good success on a full size grill: sausage, peppers, and onions. The basic idea is to put some partially cooked onions (microwaved) into a disposable little foil pan and layer on your peppers and sausages... then you cover with foil and cook the whole package on the grill to render some of the sausage fat into the onions before finishing the sausages and peppers directly on the grill. It's nice to keep everything in one package and most portable grills aren't going to have a separate burner for cooking the onions (though my friend's did). The following is adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe (sub required).
  • 1 large white onion, halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 medium green peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2" strips
  • 1 lb of sweet or hot Italian fresh sausages (4-6 links)
  • Hoagie Buns
  • Small disposable pan, small enough to fit on your little grill but big enough to hold everything
The night before:
  1. Combine onions, salt, and pepper in medium microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high power until onions begin to soften and tips turn slightly translucent, 4 to 6 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking (be careful of steam).
  2. Let the onions cool, and then transfer them to the disposable roasting pan. Place sausages and peppers in single layer over onions and wrap roasting pan tightly with foil. Put pan in the refrigerator until you're ready to leave.
At the tailgate:
  1. Heat up your grill for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Place roasting pan in center of grill and cook 15 minutes. Move pan to one side of grill and carefully remove foil cover. Using tongs, place sausages and peppers directly on grate. Grill sausages, covered, turning every 1 to 2 minutes, until golden brown on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Grill pepper pieces, turning once, until charred patches form, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Transfer sausages and peppers to platter and loosely tent with foil.
  4. Continue cooking onions, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and onions begin to brown, 5 to 10 minutes longer.
  5. Toast your buns. Serve sausages on buns topped with peppers and onions.
Obviously, those times are approximate on the grill. I started pulling the pepper pieces off as they got nice char marks and just threw them in the pan with the onions. You also might prefer thicker slices of the peppers... the original recipe called for quartering the peppers... so they are easier to handle and don't risk falling through the grate, but then what do you do with those giant pepper pieces? Cut 'em up after, I guess?

Anyway, a nice and tasty recipe that's pretty easy to execute on a windy and blustery day with a beer in your hand.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Champlain North Ridge Trail (Formerly Bear Brook Trail)

What was I saying about the wind?

EveryTrail Hike Link

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Acadia National Park

This is the hike we did on Columbus Day weekend. We had planned on a longer 5.2 mile out and back hike that would have taken us to The Bowl, but it was just too cold, overcast, and windy to make that idea appealing. The weather doesn't always cooperate with your vacation plans, especially in Maine. Still, it was a nice hike. North Ridge Trail/Bear Brook is probably the easiest and least strenuous route to the top of Champlain... so if you're intimidated by Precipice (like me) this is your best bet to take in all those pretty views without fear of falling to your death.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Homemade Pasta

Pasta by Anna, Sauce by Jason
Anna did all the work here on the noodles (though I did make the sauce from fresh tomatoes), but I thought they came out very well. She did one of the versions from Bittman's HTCE but used our 00 flour. It was somewhat shocking how thin she was able to get the noodles by running it through the machine three times as instructed (maybe a little too thin actually). Anyway, it's easier than you think and seems worth doing... we've had the pasta machine gathering dust in our cabinet for years now, so it was a very good thing Anna broke it out and had a lot of fun making the fettuccine. Now that I've seen it done, maybe I can help next time and we can try a filled pasta or something else more exotic.

EDIT: Whoops! Photo back.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

MacBook Pro Challenge Update

Sadly, it looks like I'm falling short of my $500 price point goal... screwed up mainly by the cost of monitor and a copy of Windows 7... which cost over $200 all by themselves. But even if we exclude those costs... which isn't really fair to be honest... it would still cost probably $600-700 to construct a desktop that would exceed a $2000 MacBook Pro from my quick lunchtime perusal of Newegg. Sow while I could construct a pretty decent computer for $500, it would be more like a grand to reach expensive Apple laptop standards when you factor in all costs.  So off by a factor of two in my guesstimate, but in my defense when I upgrade my own computer I don't need to buy things like a monitor, keyboard, mouse, or copy of Windows. Here's a parts list (that doesn't include those things) that I put together quickly:

Shuttle Barebone System
i5 2.8 GHz quad core
4 GBs of memory
GeForce GT 240 512MB
Western Digital 500GB 7200 RPM HDD
24x DVD Burner

Which clocks in at $670.74. Not too shabby. The video card is fairly pedestrian and budget oriented, but from benchmarks I could find at a glance, it looks like it would blow the doors off the GT 330M in the MacBook. If Anna wants to do this for real I'd probably stay away from the "barebones" system and look for some combo deals to get a case, power supply, and motherboard... save some money and get better quality parts... but the small form factor is nice.

Freezing Coffee Beans



I told Anna last night that I could build her a computer that performs better than a MacBook Pro for $500. Now I need to see if that boast is accurate. The conversation that led to this declaration was precipitated by the fact that, with the release of Cataclysm, WoW will no longer support her aging PowerPC. Can't really be too hard on Blizzard there, since not even Apple supports her aging PowerPC, but it still sucks.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Marinated Queso Fresco

Marinated Queso Fresco
There was some worry that the queso fresco would be too mild and thus overpowered by the flavor of the herbs, but I did not find that to be the case. In fact, I thought I probably should have used more sliced cayenne peppers to make the element of spiciness more noticeable... but the cheese is great with just with some nice bread (we bought a wonderful semolina loaf from Chase's). I can't wait to use the oil tossed with some noodles once the cheese is all gone. If you're curious to try it (and you should be!), David Lebovitz's recipe for marinated feta can be found here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chase's Daily, Belfast ME

Whenever we're "down east" in Maine we make a point of hitting Chase's Daily, in Belfast (technically "mid coast" I believe, but close enough), either for Saturday lunch or Sunday brunch. Chase's is both a vegetarian cafe, and the front end to a local farm, so while you wait to be seated you can peruse some pretty gorgeous produce.

Potatoes and Tomatoes

Nice, huh? This is probably one of the last batches of tomatoes I'll see... I'm not going to be back up for another few weeks and so I suspect it'll be mostly potatoes and squash by then.


I like to look at what's available before we sit down... so we can figure out what we want to make for dinner... and then pick up what we need on the way out. On this particular trip we had already decided what we were making that evening, so those sexy tomatillos up top didn't call me like they normally would.


At the height of summer it's probably more advisable to grab what you can, when you can, because at the end of a leisurely lunch things can be pretty picked over. If you're eying any of their amazing freshly baked bread you're also going to want to ask them to put it aside for you... since the baguettes and batards can be gone before breakfast is over.

Dining Room

The main dinner area is a quaint cafe area that, while it looks quiet in this picture, can have pretty significant wait times even in the dead of winter... getting there when the produce comes out (around 11 from my experience) seems to me to be the best strategy. [UPDATE: Anna thinks the produce generally is out earlier than 11... regardless, the point is that if you come for lunch at 11 you probably won't wait much for a table, but if you come at 1 you certainly will. Standard "popular restaurant" stuff.]


The food is entirely vegetarian... no meat... but eggs and cheese are involved, so you can still get your Sunday omelet if that's how you roll. Usually there is at least one vegan option... or at least something that can be ordered without dairy... though I don't believe they necessarily guarantee it, they'll at least know what you're talking about if you ask.

As an omnivore, of the innumerable vegetarian places I've eaten, I would have to say that Chase's is my favorite. Even on their special Friday and Saturday night dinners, it's not quite the fine dining experience of a Horizons or an Upstairs on the Square... but it's consistently excellent seasonal and local food that is incredibly tough to beat. They don't try to make vegetarian fare the mimics traditional meat based dishes... no fakin' bacon here... they just cook to get the most out of the freshest and best ingredients, and really, what more can you ask for than that?