Friday, April 30, 2010

Depressing

Here's a New York Times graphic showing all the animals endangered by the ecological disaster that is the Gulf oil spill. Drill, baby, drill eh?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gabe and Tycho make Time Top 100

Kind of cool... though, granted, they got crushed by Lady Gaga.

Appholes

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Appholes
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
Apple - you guys were the rebels, man, the underdogs. People believed in you. But now, are you becoming the man? Remember back in 1984, you had those awesome ads about overthrowing Big Brother? Look in the mirror, man! …It wasn’t supposed to be this way - Microsoft was supposed to be the evil one! But you guys are busting down doors in Palo Alto while Commandant Gates is ridding the world of mosquitoes! What the f*** is going on???!!!

…I know that it is slightly agitating that a blog dedicated to technology published all that stuff about your new phone. And you didn’t order the police to bust down the doors, right? I’d be pissed too, but you didn’t have to go all Minority Report on his ass! I mean, if you wanna break down someone’s door, why don’t you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone! I mean, seriously! How do you drop four calls in a one-mile stretch of the West Side Highway! There’re no buildings around! What, does the open space confuse AT&T’s signal???!!!

…Come on, Steve. Chill out with the paranoid corporate genius stuff. Don’t go all Howard Hughes on us.

Preach it!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Super Mario Crossover

Anyone who played a NES as a kid owes it to themselves to check out Super Mario Crossover. In short, it's a recreation of Super Mario Brothers, but you can play as one of several classic NES characters. It's shockingly well done.

French Bread 101 at the CCAE (Part I)


I had my first class (of 2) on French Bread baking at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education on Sunday. The class cost $145 for a total of 8 hours of instruction split between two consecutive Sundays. While I'm talking specifically about a class in Cambridge, I'd guess there are Adult Ed's everywhere that have similar offerings... so I thought I'd post a quick review.

I'll admit that as someone who adores his Peter Reinhart, and has already made some strides along the home bread baker route... there wasn't a whole lot that was completely new to me from a theoretical standpoint. However since at this point I have mostly book learnin' and not much else, there was some serious benefit from seeing things I'd read about demonstrated by an expert, having said expert available for questioning... and just plain practice. I thought it was worth it, but depending on how much bread baking you do, it might not really be a good use of your time and money... though I guess that's suggested by the 101 in the course title... read on and decide for yourself.

There were around a dozen of us there for the class, with most having little or no bread baking experience. Since we were limited to 4 hours... far too short a time to go from flour, yeast, water, and salt to a baked batard... we did steps out of order, starting with dough that had been made by our instructor and mixed, kneaded, and proofed over night. He had us each weigh out (the use of a digital scale being one of the bigger lessons of the day) an 8 ounce piece of dough and shape it into a boule to rest... where the "rounding" concept of stretching and gathering the dough to form a taut surface caused those new to bread dough some problems (easily corrected). He then demonstrated the "home hearth baking" of some batards he had shaped before class... inlcluding moving from couche to peel without disrupting the shape, slashing the loaf, transferring the loaf from peel to a tile lined oven, and then spritzing oven walls with water during baking to simulate the steam of a commercial bread oven. Then we went back and shaped the rounded boules into batards under the instructor's guidance... similar in concept, but quite distinct from the shaping I've done for Pain a l'Ancienne in the past. Reinhart has you cut the batards/demi-baguettes at the very end... doing all the folding on much larger pieces of dough... whereas we were working with 8 ounce batard sized pieces of dough from the start. Obviously, the latter method is more generic and scalable to any quantity of dough, and I found it a quite natural and fun way to shape a loaf.

After the batards were shaped and left covered in their folded couche to continue proofing, we proceeded to learn how to mix and knead dough with a starter. I've never used honest-to-goodness starter before... only commercial yeast and biga/poolish pre-ferments to this point in my home bread baking career... so that was pretty interesting. Functionally it was the same as any pre-ferment, but instead of commercial yeast it had some local Boston guys, which is kind of cool. Allegedly this will make the bread taste noticeably different than, say, a starter with San Fransisco yeast... don't know how true that is, but it's a pretty thought regardless. We measured everything by weight, of course, since that's really the only way to reliably make quality bread.

Hand kneading a pretty wet dough gave a lot of people problems (our instructor intended to also use a stand mixer, but it had no dough hook). You can't be tentative with a wet dough if you don't want it to be stuck all over you, but quite understandably people who have never kneaded dough before need (ha) to practice a bit before they can get that comfortable... fortunately there was plenty of opportunity for said practice, since many wanted dough to take home.

While all this was going on, we were also chowing down on food... the instructor had some amazing croissants baking when we came in, made some bruschetta with the batards and some pizza from failed batard attempts, and also brought a cream of asparagus soup to accompany it all... and of course, we were making standard batards to eat the entire time.

Finally we ended the class with a demonstration of a shortcut croissant recipe, that I may eventually try (and thus blog) with store bought puff pastry dough. Acknowledging that said dough isn't going to be nearly as tasty as hand made croissant dough, he made an almond paste filling for them. What was most informative for me was seeing how you cut the dough and roll up the individual croissants... it was much easier (looking) than I had imagined, and it definitely makes me want to try it.

After dessert... with time for questions... we were sent home with our own bag of starter (score!) and whatever other fruits of our own labors we cared to cart away. I simply took home a fresh baked batard to make the sandwich pictured above, but many took home dough to make later.

I'll blog the second class... which is more influenced by what we'd like to see... next week. I'll also likely post about my efforts to keep a starter alive. To date I've fed it once and given it 4 hours out of the fridge in the warmth to make sure it's alive; hoping to give it a full 8-12 on Saturday.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Crisp Roast Chicken

I think it's fair to say that Cook's Illustrated is obsessed with finding the perfect roasting methodology to produce a chicken with the crispest skin and the moistest meat. Now, as far as obsessions go, perfecting the roast chicken is pretty tame and certainly worthwhile... however, being that it seems we've got the essentials of chicken roasting mastered at this point... brine or salt your bird to keep the meat moist, and then roast in a high temperature oven (450+) to crisp the skin, while using a temperature probe to ensure you don't overcook it... it's fair to wonder whether all the different variations on this theme (e.g. butterflying the chicken, air drying the skin for crispness, or roasting it breast side down for part of the time) are making a contribution that's discernible above variations due to cook's skill and random uncontrollable factors. I mean, simply making sure you don't overcook the breast meat is going to produce a damn tasty chicken... and indeed, I found Barbara Kafka's "simple" methodology, which involves no salting or brining, to produce a great end product, with very little prep work and a short cooking time. So is there really a glaring need for more tricks and wrinkles to be added in the pursuit of perfection?

Enter covering your chicken in baking powder (original Cook's Illustrated recipe from 2008 here, but subscription required). Yes, that's right, baking powder... and after 24 hours air drying in the fridge, it gives an odd look to the bird:


Well, it's novel, you gotta give them that. In addition, the other somewhat unusual step Cook's takes is to cut some slits in the chicken's back, and poke some holes in the fat deposits on the breast and thighs, to give the fat an easy path to drain out so it doesn't get trapped and make the skin all flabby. Otherwise, the recipe calls for standard things like: salting the chicken overnight (along with the baking powder and some pepper) and starting the bird breast side down on a V-rack before at a lower temperature (450) before flipping it over and bringing the oven up to 500.

Does it work?


In a word: yes. The baking powder trick does indeed help suck significant moisture out of the skin... more, I'm pretty sure, than air drying alone. I detected no off flavors from the powder, and it was the crispest skin I've yet made. However... and there are a couple of "howevers"... in simple act of carving up the chicken, juices are likely to get on that perfectly crisped skin and make it not so crisp. In addition, even with the foil they suggest, all the rendered fat from those holes got burned onto my roasting pan... and I'm still scrubbing it off. A much more effective choice, in my probably naive opinion, would have been to put some root vegetables down there to soak it all up. Maybe not a great choice for a dieter, but at least you're not wasting the glorious chicken fat, and I suspect you'd have an easier cleanup... especially if you kept the foil (with no holes) between the root veggies and the pan.

So, with a couple of caveats, I found it quite successful. I'm not entirely sure how effective poking holes in the chicken was at rendering additional fat... but it's not like it's much additional work if you're already salting and baking powdering the chicken over night. Whether it's worthwhile is up to you, but unlike many Cook's recipes, the added steps didn't seem too onerous... at least for someone, like me, who thinks brining or salting is vital step to chicken roasting. The major limitation would be that you can't get this on the table in one night, unlike many brine based recipes... however, I am starting to think salting is significantly superior to brining, so it's almost moot at this point. I'm tempted to try my favorite high roast chicken, but with a salting and baking powder step instead of brining.

Study this AM

While I have a list of things to blog about, I had a long/busy weekend and will be in the lab collecting data all morning... but here are some pictures from the wedding I went to this weekend, which I know at least a couple of people who read this blog wanted to see.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Busy

I've got yet another wedding to attend this weekend... this one thankfully in Boston, so my chances of getting stranded in Milwaukee are extraordinarily low... but it means I have some friends in town, and I have a bunch of stuff I want to get done today... so I don't have any spare moments to finish up the couple of cooking posts I was working on. Next week.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

For those concerned about internet privacy...

...it might be a problem that our Chief Justice (also the youngest Supreme Court Justice!) doesn't know the difference between a pager and an e-mail.
According to the story, the first sign of trouble came was about midway through the argument, when Chief Justice John Roberts asked what the difference was “between email and a pager?” (Cue sound of hard slap against forehead.)

At another point, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked what would happen if a text message was sent to an officer at the same time he was sending one to someone else.

“Does it say: ‘Your call is important to us, and we will get back to you?’” Kennedy asked. (Cue sound of louder slap against forehead.)

Justice Antonin Scalia stumbled getting his arms around with the idea of a service provider.

“You mean (the text) doesn’t go right to me?” he asked.

Then he asked whether they can be printed out in hard copy.

“Could Quon print these spicy little conversations and send them to his buddies?” Scalia asked.

And who is paying the bill for all the pigeons to carry these "e-mails" around to people, is what I'd like to know!

Beef and Kimchi Stir-fry


This Cook's Illustrated recipe (sub required) was a bit of a FAIL, but not because the recipe was poor, but because my local Shaw's didn't have flank steak (or hangar or skirt)... and I couldn't figure out a suitable substitute on the fly (even with the smart phone). So after staring at the meat section for 10 minutes, hoping flank steak would magically materialize, I just picked up two precut "stir-fry" meat packs, since I figured that'd likely be a similar cut of meat. While that's probably true... precut meat has one large deficiency: they're cut way too thick, as you can see from the picture up top. That's like 1/2" thick or more, and what I really want is an 1/8" to get the meat nice and tender. I thought about trying to slice the precut meat down, but decided just to take my chances and... entirely predictably... the meat came out way tough. Oh well. I'm still not entirely sure what I should have bought instead, since I only wanted 12 ounces of meat... and it's not like a I want to be wasting a New York Strip in a stir-fry. But... otherwise, the recipe was easy and worked out well... I was a little concerned that my 5 month old kimchi might be too potent, but I found the flavors to be well balanced... which might mean I'd find jarred kimchi disappointing here, but it's hard to say.
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar plus an additional 1 teaspoon
  • 12 ounces flank steak , cut into 2-inch wide strips with grain, then sliced across grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup kimchi (from 16-ounce jar), chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 ounces bean sprouts , mung (about 2 cups)
  • 5 scallions , cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, white and light green pieces quartered lengthwise
  1. Combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sugar in medium bowl. Add beef, toss well, and marinate for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour, stirring once. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, remaining tablespoon sugar, chicken broth, sesame oil, and cornstarch in medium bowl. Combine garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon oil in small bowl.
  2. Drain beef and discard liquid. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of beef to skillet in single layer, breaking up any clumps. Cook, without stirring, for 1 minute, then stir and continue to cook until beef is browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer beef to clean bowl. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in skillet and repeat with remaining beef. Rinse skillet clean and dry with paper towels.
  3. Add remaining tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet and heat until just smoking. Add kimchi and cook, stirring frequently, until aromatic, 1 to 2 minutes. Add bean sprouts and stir to combine. Push vegetables to sides of skillet to clear center; add garlic-ginger mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Stir to combine garlic-ginger mixture with vegetables. Return beef, any accumulated juices, and scallions to skillet and stir to combine. Whisk sauce to recombine, then add to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and evenly distributed, about 30 seconds. Transfer to serving platter and serve.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Greatest Football Game Ever Made Coming to XBLA

Screw Madden, I love me some Tecmo Bowl. Football video games should be played with two buttons, just like God intended.

The Cooking Channel

Apparently The Food Network felt like it needed a more XXXtreme spinoff... enter The Cooking Channel:
“The feel and style we’re going for is a little grittier, a little edgier, a little hipper,” said Bruce Seidel, the senior vice president for programming and production for the Cooking Channel.

Reading the article, however, I'm not sure what shows they mention that really count as "edgy" exactly.
...the channel is hedging its bets with new shows by established talent including Mr. Lagasse, Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay. And it has a spinoff of another hit, called “Cook Like an Iron Chef,” in which Michael Symon, a Cleveland chef, makes dishes like those concocted in Kitchen Stadium. But less familiar faces await.

Many of the newcomers are imports from Canada and elsewhere. The Canadian shows include “Food Jammers”; “French Food at Home,” starring Laura Calder; “Indian Food Made Easy,” whose host is the chef and writer Anjum Anand; “David Rocco’s Dolce Vita”; “Everyday Exotic,” with the Toronto food personality Roger Mooking; and “Chuck’s Day Off,” featuring a young and enthusiastic Montreal chef, Chuck Hughes.
Maybe it's gritty because Canadians don't bathe? Ha, just kidding... but seriously, is Indian food supposed to pushing the boundaries of food television?

I'm probably the audience they're trying to reach... someone who likes to cook, used to watch a lot of FN, but finds it fairly boring these days outside of Iron Chef... but nothing in that article sounds that interesting. I certainly would give "French Food at Home" a chance, and I guess it would largely depend on the quality of the host.

Double Down

I've not had it, and never will... but there are a bunch of reviews out there that have an "extreme eating" appeal, and I thought I'd highlight the the AV Club's take, since it is by far the best. It's worth clicking on the link just to see what it looks like in a non Glamor Photo context. Also, how can you argue with this line?
Like grief, the Double Down is experienced in stages.
If you're curious as to exactly how unhealthy it is, Nate Silver runs the numbers. Turns out it's surprisingly low in calories (relatively speaking of course), but on a bite by bite basis it's definitely got all the unhealthiness you could ever ask for.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tim Gunn on Superhero Costumes (Part I)


Part II coming up this week I think.

Craigie on Main

Last night we had a 9:30 reservation for the Chef's Whim at Craigie on Main. They only do it after 9 on Sundays, so we strategically picked the Sunday before Marathon Monday so we could both sleep in after the late dinner. They called Saturday night to confirm that we wanted the Whim, and we went with both vegetarian (even though I eat meat)... since one of the better things about a tasting menu is talking about what you get with whoever you're eating with. On Sunday, we took the T down two stops to Central, arriving a few minutes early, where a wandering waiter in the bar area asked if we wanted drinks while we waited... he conveniently put the drinks directly onto our bill, instead of necessitating settling up with the bar before getting seated. It's a simple thing, but I've never seen it before, and it made the experience feel more... I dunno... fancy? That's not quite right, but it definitely made me feel like the wait staff was really looking out for us. Which was another aspect that seemed unusual about Craigie on Main... it's not a formal dining setting (wait staff in jeans, customers all dressed casually)... but the competence displayed was exceptional. Our waitress spoke very knowledgeably about the wine list, we recieved fresh silverware for every course (a pet peeve of mine ever since reading about how horrid American table service is in The Making of a Chef), and everything just seemed to hum along quite smoothly.

We ordered the six course tasting, a relatively expensive bottle of white wine, and two glasses of red for the main course... so it was not a cheap night out, rivaling New Year's Eve in terms of expense. However, I certainly feel that dinners of this caliber are the very best reason to go out to eat in restaurants... since Anna and I don't have the training nor an army of chef's to whip up a six course tasting on a random night... where on the other hand, many a restaurant dish could be quite well executed by a competent home cook. As long as we keep it rare and special, I think it's a fine enough way to blow a couple of hundred bucks.

I didn't write down our courses, so I can't give a proper run down... but overall we were essentially floored by two of the six courses... an avocado salad (2nd course) that was simply perfect in it's interplay of textures (creamy and crisp) and flavors (rich and spicy) ... and a vidalia onion pottage (3rd course), that was shockingly complex in its flavors, served with a small grilled cheese that was just amazing. The first course, fourth, and fifth course were all excellent... but not quite as incredible as those two. The desert course on the other hand wasn't very exciting... decent enough, but not quite on par with the rest in our humble opinion.

Highly recommended.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Sam Sifton Eating Fascination

If you were as fascinated and frightened by NYT restaurant critic Sam Sifton's food journal and accompanying article as I was... you'll want to check out round 1 and 2 of his Q&A.

...and for the record he's 6' and 170 pounds, as he has been since he started the restaurant critic job in the Fall.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mail in your Census form today if you haven't already!

Food Diary of a Food Critic

Sam Sifton, the NYT restaurant critic, has put up a week of his food and exercise life (with calorie counts) that he feels is fairly representative. It's something to see, that's for sure... number one, for the quality of food he's eating day in and day out... and number two, despite having a quite solid exercise habit, he's still seems to be fighting a losing battle with all the calories he consumes for his job.

The food diary is a companion to this article, where he discusses the challenges inherent in his lifestyle as a "professional eater" in more detail (and as always, very well written detail)... nicely supplying some "salad day" advice... though he admits they're not particularly healthy salads, but they still make him feel better.

Makes me think I should start keeping a similar diary if I want to get serious about losing some of the weight I've gained since I quit smoking and crested into my 30's. I've always hoped I could just "exercise more" and it would take care of itself, but that doesn't really seem to be happening... though just this week I went up from 20 minutes 3-5 days a week on the elliptical to 40 minutes. From a calories perspective, 20 minutes is like two of Sifton's spring rolls. I should probably be working towards getting in a full hour 5 days a week if I don't want to diet... and I'm not entirely sure that will be enough.

It's working fine, thank you!

Clay Risen over at The Atlantic asks:
For years, craft brewers have been pushing beer as a dinner-table alternative to wine. So it's worth asking: how's that going for you?
OK, granted, he's not asking me... since I'm not a craft brewer... but I think here in New England at least, it is indeed working pretty well. I mean, I think the success of places like Publick House (yay!) and Lord Hobo (blech!), who pair craft beer with good food (if not high end bistro fare) suggests that people are perfectly open to the idea of beer being brought to a dinner party. I don't know how often it really happens... probably not that often... but if I got invited to a dinner party, I'd certainly feel pretty confident matching up a bottle of Allagash against any $10-$20 bottle of wine somebody else might have brought. Belgians, or Belgian styled beers, generally (though not always) come in a 750 mL bottle with an alcohol content high enough (which leads to serving sizes small enough) that they are perfect for sharing.

I think the main barrier to beer as a substitute for wine at dinner, isn't that there aren't enough options... or the labels are too garish (WTF?)... but that the vast majority of Americans who really love beer, really love hops. As Goose Island's master brewer tells Risen "they'd want to pair beer with their food, but they'd bring in all these hoppy beers than didn't pair well." Stay away from the Hop Devil, and instead bring a bottle of Ommegang's Abbey Ale, and I think any dinner guests (that don't hate beer in general) would be favorably impressed. I suppose if I was in charge of the beverages for such a gathering, I would probably bring both wine and beer... since wine is the expectation... but I'd at least like to think that many Belgian style beers would be enjoyed by a wide audience.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cilantro Hate

via Balloon Juice

One of the more popular food topics on the internets is how much people love/hate cilantro. It seems that people who love it are always surprised to find that there are large numbers of people out there who absolutely despise it, and then someone always brings up that they heard somewhere that it's something genetic that causes the huge disparity and then everyone goes "oh" and moves on. What's the real story? According to Harold McGhee the genetic angle is not well explored, and it may be a bit more straightforward:
Modern cilantrophobes tend to describe the offending flavor as soapy rather than buggy. I don’t hate cilantro, but it does sometimes remind me of hand lotion. Each of these associations turns out to make good chemical sense.

Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects.

Soaps are made by fragmenting fat molecules with strongly alkaline lye or its equivalent, and aldehydes are a byproduct of this process, as they are when oxygen in the air attacks the fats and oils in cosmetics. And many bugs make strong-smelling, aldehyde-rich body fluids to attract or repel other creatures.

The published studies of cilantro aroma describe individual aldehydes as having both cilantrolike and soapy qualities. Several flavor chemists told me in e-mail messages that they smell a soapy note in the whole herb as well, but still find its aroma fresh and pleasant.

I like cilantro quite a bit, but I can see where people are coming from with the soap flavor assertions... it just doesn't bother me. Though the subsequent explanation for why it would bother some more than others, doesn't really fit my experience and seems pretty hand wavy. I doubt I had really any exposure as a child to cilantro (I'm pretty sure my mother wouldn't even know what it is), so I'm not sure where I would develop enough of a familiarity with the flavor to not be bothered by the soap smell.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Portland by Train


I meant to post this last week, soon after the Bar Lola post... to keep them semi-contiguous... but got distracted. Even if it's a little late, I still want to comment on the viability of taking the train up to Portland for the day... including a nice dinner... and back to Boston to sleep in our own beds.

Here's the weekend schedule of Amtrak's Downeaster. In truth, the "day trip" works the best in the reverse... Portland-Boston-Portland... which I guess it perfectly reasonable, if personally inconvenient. The last train down to Boston from Portland is at 8pm... a bit tight for a leisurely dinner (as we discovered)... but if you take a 5:30pm reservation instead of the 6pm one we took, I think you'd be fine, even doing multi-course. You might have to setup to have the host/hostess call you a cab while you settle up the bill, but I'm pretty sure it would work. The city is just not that big, nor traffic that bad, for you to really need that much time to make the train.

The other issue is, what to do for lunch? You've got two train choices for a 5:30pm dinner reservation... the 8:50am train, which gets you to Portland at 11:15am, or the 11:10am train that gets you in at 1:35pm. Neither is really ideal in my view. I guess the 8:50am train means you can have a reasonable sized lunch and still be hungry by 5:30pm... but getting up that early to make a train doesn't seem like a whole lot of fun... though you can sleep on the train, so maybe that makes up for it. Instead, you could have a really big breakfast, take the 11:10am train, and then just snack a bit until dinner. We did neither... having a light breakfast, taking the 11:10 and then having a light lunch at around 2... which, I guess, was very European of us?

All of the above is doable/reasonable... the main problem with taking the train up for a day trip is the cost. A ticket is $24 per person, each way (though you can, right now at least, get a round trip for $39 with 3 day advance purchase).... so about $100 for the two of us to get up there... which is what I paid for a night at the Eastland Hotel when we missed the train. Originally, the idea of doing a day trip was to avoid having to pay for a hotel room for the night... and the train seemed superior to driving since it meant no late night 2+ hour drive after a full day, nor any skipping wine or cocktails with dinner... Anna could sleep and I could read, and the ride is comfy. However, if the train is going to cost as much as a hotel room, it a lot harder to justify the day trip financially. I mean, if you get a room and drive, you have a lot more time to hang out (and spend more money obviously) and don't have the firm time constraints of a train schedule... making it more relaxing and convenient. The major negative of driving (not considering carbon emissions) is traffic, but traffic isn't really that bad from Boston to Portland... certainly a lot of people head up to Maine for weekends in the summer, but traffic is seldom a disaster in my experience. Note that the AAA trip cost calculator says it would cost us less than $20 in gas for the round trip (in Anna's MINI Cooper).

The bus is a cheaper option (but not as much as you might think), and unfortunately, the times are even worse for dinner... with the last bus leaving Portland at 7:30pm.

So not a great review, I guess... at least if you have a car. The train wins on a Green standard, regardless, but not by a significant margin on price. Thus it's certainly tempting to skip the whole hassle and just drive up and get a room for the night instead. On the other hand, if you don't have a car... and some spare cash... it's not a bad way to get out of the city for a day. I think I'd like to give it another shot, now that we've done it once... but I think our rail corridor could really use some improvements in speed, and a commitment of public funds to make the trip more affordable.

Oh please no

Looks like the next Jersey Shore knock-off is going to be down on the Cape. Casting call here. I've never seen a minute of Jersey Shore, but as far as stereotypes worthy of mocking that are also oddly compelling, I've gotta think the "Masshole" ranks right up there with the Guido.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Well... I got a lot of reading done at least

I got stuck in Milwaukee for a night (no, I have no idea why AirTran routed me through Milwaukee) on my way down to Dallas, but still made the wedding on Saturday easily. While it was a pain, thanks to the "distressed traveler" discount thing, that the hotel in Dallas didn't charge me for the missed night, and the fact that I spent the evening quietly reading instead of going out to the wee hours like all the wedding attendees who were in Dallas... it was actually a fairly economical diversion. In addition, I didn't leave for home until 4 ish Sunday, so had quite a bit of solo time to read (Anna sat this wedding out)... finishing all three books I brought with me. As an aside, the pork al pastor tacos I had for lunch that Sunday... at what appears to be a middling chain restuarant... were definitely better than anything I've had in the Northeast. Sigh.

Back to the books... note that these aren't serious books like the ones that influence serious bloggers, since neither am I very serious nor was I looking for erudition... but some of the people who read this blog might find them interesting... strangely, all three ended up being alternate histories:

His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik - Probably on of the cheesiest sounding titles ever, but nevertheless a good book. I picked it up entirely on Tycho's recommendation... and was worried that it would not be a good fit, and so only got the one book. In retrospect I wish I picked up the three book set, but it looks like the Penny Arcade Effect has that on back order... making it useless for my weekend of airports (and a wedding!). I'd call it a Master and Commander With Dragons but I think most of the similarity is due mainly to the time period of the Napoleonic Wars... as it seems you could just as easily call it Pride and Prejudice With Dragons. I'll be curious as to to how much Anna takes to it, since she has a particular fondness for the period and no stranger to books with dragons in them. It's really quite well put together and cohesive... and while it's got a little Eragorn angle in there... it's much more of a military oriented story from the perspective of an new officer of a unit fighting in a massive conflict... not Luke Skywalker coming to save the day.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld - Now, this one is a young adult book... i.e. there are illustrations and big type and that sort of thing. The illustrations are quite good, and made me wish more "grown up" sci-fi/fantasy would do them as imagination aids... but that fear of being roped in as "kids' stuff" seems to keep it rare (or maybe it's too expensive or time consuming to do). I blew through this one pretty quickly, and kind of wish that instead I held off on it for the audio book for our next trip to Maine. It's got the ideal 8 hour length to finish it in one trip and is simple and straight forward enough to absorb while you are driving (or lightly dozing in the passenger seat)... hell, maybe we'll do it anyway, to be ready for the sequels. The story is an alternate WWI history with a fantastical edge... a genre known as Steampunk. In this particular alternate history, Europe is divided between Darwinists, who create genetic hybrid creatures, and Clankers, who are machine based. It's a lot of fun, and more thoughtful than you might expect... I'm looking forward to read/listen to the rest of the story.

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest - This is also Steampunk in genre, but significantly more dystopian than Leviathan and certainly not geared towards children... though I can't recall any "mature" themes if you've got a kid who is a reasonably advanced reader. It has a strong female protagonist and zombies, to go along with the Steampunk, so there's a lot here to like. It's not particularly fast paced, and probably more about characters and exploring the world Priest created than it is a zombie killing adventure. Those aspects, characters and the world, were at least what I thought shined through best about the book. Recommended.

UPDATE: Accidentally published this one before it was actually done... should be fixed now. Hopefully.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wedding

Headed to Dallas for a friend's wedding... haven't packed or gotten my hair cut, so expect little to no posting until I get back Sunday night.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Food Photography - Hobby or Compulsion?

The New York Times looks at people who photograph everything (or nearly everything) they eat... from a bowl of cheerios to a five course meal. Obviously, this one hits a little close to home, since I like taking pictures of my food... to the point that I got a DSLR so I might take better pictures... but I lean towards wanting to take pictures of things I make, more than everything I consume (though one of the guys who does this uses it as a diet tool, which is interesting). Even with the relative unobtrusiveness of a camera phone, I find taking picture while dining to be a bit distracting... only doing it when the presentation is just too pretty to resist... though I do have to wonder how much of that is due to the fact that in a few short months I've already become a camera snob, and feel a bit dirty if I take a picture with my Droid.

What surprises me the most is how much we seem to be interested in what other people are eating/cooking. Why is that? I suppose it's not much different than looking at random photos of places you haven't been, but for some reason it feels weirder. Regardless, I'm glad people do it, since I like looking at the pictures... but it does seem that a few might need to reign it in:
Photographing meals becomes pathological, however, if it interferes with careers or relationships or there’s anxiety associated with not doing it. “I’d have to ask if they would feel O.K. if they didn’t do it,” said Tracy Foose, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, who treats patients with obsessive-compulsive disorders. “Could they resist the urge to do it?”

Joe Catterson, the general manager of Alinea restaurant in Chicago, said that, increasingly, people can’t. “One guy arrived with the wrong lens or something on his camera and left his wife sitting at the table for an hour while he went home to get it,” he said.

Sometimes you gotta put the camera down and just enjoy your meal.

Picky Eating Explored

In the writing of my last post, I was reminded of an article that I meant to mention/comment on two weeks ago... but never got my thoughts together enough to write a post. Amy Sullivan (you may recognize her from Time) appears to have started a regular column at The Atlantic on the trials and tribulations of a foodie trying to overcome picky eating well into adulthood. Her latest is about learning to eat a raw tomato... something I can completely identify with, since I've only been eating them in the last five years or so. Like her, the main problem I had was that the entirety of my experience with tomatoes centered around cardboard out of season super market tomatoes... when I started eating them in season and fresh from a farm/garden, it was a completely different experience. I will still refuse tomatoes on a sandwich in January, especially if I don't know their provenance... but in the height of summer am completely comfortable.

Anyway... if you'd like to step into the irrationality and weirdness of a picky eater's mind, I highly recommend her stuff.

Another Step in the Reeducation of a Picky Eater

Made reservations for Craigie on Main's famous "Chef's Whim" for the Sunday night before Marathon Monday (aka Patriots' Day). Anna will obviously do the vegetarian option, but I haven't entirely decided whether to do that as well or do the "surprise" (includes meat and fish) instead. On the one hand, it's really fun to have the same courses so that you can talk about what you like and don't like about each, but on the other hand I'd like to see the full range of Chef Maws's imagination... in addition, I expect the meat courses to challenge my picky eater-ness a fair bit more than the vegetarian ones.

I'll probably be debating this all the way up until we are seated.

For an idea of what the Chef's Whim is like, check out this well documented review over at Serious Eats.

Update your RSS readers

Bitten (Bittman's blog) and the Pour (a wine and beer blog) have been folded into Diner's Journal over at the New York Times. Bittman's blog was the only of the three I read regularly, but it was mainly out of habit... let's just say there was considerable room for improvement. It'll be interesting to see how well they are able to make a cohesive food blog out of all these disparate elements... it's certainly got a lot of potential based on all of the quality food writing that goes on over there.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Obama and Clark Kellogg play H-O-R-S-E

Actually P-O-T-U-S... kind of fun:

For added hilarity, witness the Weekly Standard:
After having seen the president try to throw a baseball, I must confess to having been mildly surprised to see some degree of coordination on display in his shooting a basketball. Still, I can't resist asking a few questions about the president's "shooting competition" versus Clark Kellogg:

1. Why wear shorts on Air Force One in Europe -- and regularly not wear ties at events of a somewhat formal nature -- and then wear a tie to play hoops?

2. Has President Obama ever played basketball on a team in a meaningful way? Sports Illustrated describes his having been on the "jayvee as a sophomore" at his high school in Hawaii, having made "second varsity" as a junior -- SI explains that the "school fielded multiple teams in some sports" -- and having finally made the varsity during a season spent "largely on the bench" as one of the "pine-riders." (And this is Hawaii -- hardly a rival of Indiana or North Carolina when it comes to hoops hotbeds.)

3. As a lefty, why release your jump-shot from the right side of your head?

4. Can the president dribble with his right hand at all (and I'm not speaking figuratively)?

5. Why was it that Clark Kellogg, whose shots were repeatedly flicking the bottom of the net as he built up a P-O-T-U (H-O-R-S) lead -- much of it off-camera -- barely able to draw iron after that? (This is not a tough question.) Relatedly, has President Obama recently played in a basketball game, or even a shoot-around, in which someone actually tried to beat him? I would love to see such a game take place.

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, if after watching that video, questions like these occurred to you... you may be a wingnut. Also, note that the first part of question #5 is addressed by the POTUS at the end of the video.

Bar Lola - Portland Maine

So, I haven't uploaded my Portland pictures yet... not that I took any of Bar Lola anyway (falling down on the job there)... nor can anyone at Flickr bail me out, since the few pictures of the restaurant are "all rights reserved." So the only Web 2.0 content I can offer is, sadly, Google Maps... which, in a seemingly useless development, apparently added 3D to their street view at some point. Great. Anyway, Bar Lola is the place with the red facade and guy in front of it with the dog/small sheep. It's located in Portland's West End, which is a residential area and not particularly touristy... however this stretch of Congress street has a few good restaurants (Blue Spoon, Front Room, in addition to Bar Lola) all packed into a tight area, so it's worth visiting.

The whole impetus for this particular trip to Portland was to see how doable a day trip to Portland was from Boston that didn't involve driving. Getting up to Portland more is something I've wanted to do because, as I've highlighted before, it has a surprisingly robust food culture for a city of 65K. I mean, if you compared it straight up with my town of Cambridge (100K+) for restaurants it would do pretty well... I mean they have two James Beard winners (Sam Hayward at Fore Street, and Rob Evans at Hugo's) and numerous other well regarded places like Evangeline, Vignola, and Bar Lola. So the idea of being able to hop on a train Saturday morning, wander around the city, have a four star dinner, and then hop on the train back to Boston is pretty appealing. That way we can have a wine pairing with dinner, or a couple of beers at Novare Res, without worrying about making the two hour drive back home. I'm going to save the in depth examination of the feasibility of this plan for another day, but I think yesterday's post makes clear that our initial foray... with the missed train and all... was not a smashing success (great brunch though!).

The reason why we missed our train wasn't because service was terrible or we couldn't get a cab or whatever... it was because we had a leisurely paced five course meal with wine pairings, and decided we didn't want to ask them to hurry it up so we could make our train. Certainly they could have done so... we could have even made it if we decided to take our dessert to go, but there was just something very pleasant about not feeling like people are breathing down your neck waiting for you to finish your damn dinner so they can turn the table over. It's a feeling I don't often experience in Boston... especially not on a Saturday night at 6pm on a beautiful spring day.

I'm not going to post an in depth review of the meal, but I thought I'd put up the list of our courses for the record. I'm a little chagrined I didn't make note of the wine pairings, since the sommelier appeared to be making the parings on the fly... to the extent of opening up a couple of bottle for Anna's meal... and her explanations of 'why' were interesting for someone who knows next to nothing of wine.

My 5 Courses:
  • Select Charcuterie (chicken liver pâté, pork belly, and a salami of some kind) with Crostini and Whole Grain Mustard
  • Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Beets with Greens and Bagna Cauda
  • Heritage Pork Belly Confit with Spicy Celery Root and Radicchio Slaw
  • Grass Fed Meyer Hanger Steak with Potatoes and Spring Parsnips
  • Chévre Cheesecake
Everything was delightful. I've been avoiding pâté for years, and I was quite pleased to find it is in fact delicious. Though I can't say I was bowled over by the bagna cauda dressing on the potatoes. It was more subtle and less assertive than I expected... but I had never had it before... and the potatoes were still quite delicious, they were just not what my naive self thought was coming. So who did I just criticize there? Hmmm.

Anna's 5 Courses (vegetarian):
  • Sautéed Radish Tartine with Butter and Maldon Sea Salt
  • Chickpea and Herb Salad with Pickled Onions and Garlic Croutons
  • Miso Broth with Noodles, Spring Vegetables, and a Forty-Five Minute Egg
  • Ricotta and Local Goat Cheese Filled Crêpes with Perno and Leek Cream
  • Pineapple Upside Down Cake with Basil Slaw
She was a little creeped out by the egg in the miso broth, being new to the whole "lacto-ovo" thing... but she dug in like a trouper and didn't even make a funny face. In fact, I believe the miso broth was her favorite part of the whole meal. The crêpes also drew rave reviews.

So... really enjoyed it, if that's not obvious... and the meal itself (not factoring in getting to Portland and whatnot) was actually pretty reasonable. $36 for 5 courses and then another $24 for the wine pairings is obviously expensive, but it struck me as a good deal for food and service of this quality... since I've paid closer to $100 per person for a similar experience and not regretted it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The iPad

I generally find Fareed Manjoo's take on gadgets and technology for Slate to be too breathless and fanboi-ish to be of much use other than mockery... but since his review of the iPad confirms my preconceived notions in a succinct and literate fashion, I now anoint him a Very Wise Man Whose Opinion Should Be Respected.

First, the reason I want a tablet in the semi-near future:
So, why would you pay at least $500 for a machine that merely replicates your other gadgets' functions? Because the iPad is the best media-consumption device ever made. Or, to put it another way, there is no better machine to use on the couch, the bed, or in the bathroom. Not long ago we had other ways to occupy ourselves in these places. But as TV, movies, books, newspapers, and magazines migrated to computer screens, our machines began to infiltrate every part of our lives. Yet neither the laptop nor the phone is especially well-suited for use while lying down or otherwise slumping around. The laptop is too bulky and the phone is too small. The iPad bridges this gap—its size, shape, and interface make it the perfect machine for your most intimate moments of leisure.
I am an avowed laptop h8ter, and have already made my interest in a tablet pretty clear... but I thought this laid out the argument fairly well. My home entertainment centers around a PC, from games to movies to Hulu/Netflix television to internet surfing, and a desktop I build myself is the only cost effective way to get the performance to do all those things well (OK, fine, it's really only the games that need cutting edge performance, but still). So I already internet surf on the couch, and already consider sitting at a desk in an office chair as "doing work" and as a thoroughly uncomfortable way to spend leisure time... and then the smartphone went and showed how much better it is to surf lying down. That sounds like a joke... I mean who cares, right? But what it does is unify how you consume information for entertainment... most people don't read a novel sitting at a desk, after all... so why The New York Times or your favorite blogs? The thing is, that smartphones are really bad at surfing... they're just better than the alternative... which is... not surfing at all. My Droid does an exemplary job of displaying RSS feeds, giving me mobile access to my email, and the ability to search for things on the fly... but even "mobile" optimized websites are a chore to navigate... I really only do it when I'm forced to. So I certainly see the value of a roughly page sized reader that can surf and play movies and the like. It's obviously not something I need, but it's a toy that I don't think would sit gathering dust.

That said, he also lays out why the tablet I eventually get probably won't be an iPad:
But this simplicity comes at the cost of flexibility. There are 1,000 things you can't do on the iPad. I wanted to add a "bookmarklet" to its Web browser—it wouldn't let me. I wanted to increase the browser's text size, but that option isn't available. I wanted to look at one window as a guide for something I was writing in another window, but I couldn't. In order to keep things simple, the iPad runs all apps in full-screen view, which means that you can't look at two windows at the same time. The iPad doesn't offer multitasking on third-party applications, either, so you can't run an IM program in the background as you can on your desktop. Worse, the iPad doesn't have a great way to notify you of processes occurring outside your main app. On my PC, I get a little pop-up bar showing me the sender and subject line of every incoming e-mail message. That would be very useful on the iPad, but there's no way to add it.

These aren't bugs; they're deliberate limitations that are inspired by the iPad's design philosophy. In many cases these constraints make sense, but for some users in some situations, they can be extremely frustrating. Choire Sicha says that the iPad spurns creative people, but it seems more appropriate to say that it resists "power users," people who like to customize their machines to do things better, faster, and more productively. The iPad resists customization; there is only one way to do most things on this device—Apple's way.
There are a lot of things that look really cool about the iPad... I like the looks of that Marvel app to get back into casually reading comic books for example... but I don't think Apple took anybody by surprise with this one, as tablets have been on the way for a while, and thus I don't really fear an iPod like situation where being an Apple apostate has significant cost. It should be more like the smartphone market were, while Apple may (or may not) have the best device, they don't have market share so large that competitors are completely irrelevant and your only option is to capitulate or be "that guy" who is always talking about how draconian Apple's DRM is (it really is!).

And even if the iPad does to casual computing what the iPod did to mp3 players, there is really no reason to buy one right now when you just know they're releasing one with a camera or whatever in 6 months with a huge price cut for the original.

Easter Brunch at Bintliff's in Portland


Neither Anna nor I are religious, and we were probably going to avoid brunch this past weekend because of the Easter rush... but an extraordinarily long (from our Boston busybusybusy perspective) dinner turned our "day trip" to Portland into an overnighter. Eh... whoops? I'll get into that when I get my Portland pictures uploaded, but since I snapped a cell phone pick of the gorgeous... and gigantic... meal I had at Bintliff's, I thought I'd post some quick thoughts on it.

It's not an "underground gem" or anything... they win "Best of Portland" quite a bit, and if you look at brunch places in the area they'll be in the top 3 on most people's lists. Of course, as you might expect, not every Chowhound poster is a fan... though bad experiences at well regarded places seem to fire people up to comment more than good/decent experiences... see my angry post about Lord Hobo, and how I'm on the verge of sending a spittle flecked e-mail to the guy who gave them four stars for overpriced and sub-mediocre pub food... well, OK, there won't be any spittle, but I would type very angrily if I wasn't too lazy to bother. I suppose when you really want to like a place... and then the experience goes and sucks... it makes what should probably just be a "meh" into quite intense dislike. That's my theory anyway.

Regardless, I have no strong feelings one way or the other with Bintliff's... but did find it pleasant and enjoyable. Since we were staying at the Eastland Hotel around the corner, we were able to get in there before 9:30 when there were still a fair number of empty tables, even on Easter... though it quickly filled up. Early brunch for the win, always. The space is cute, with lots of wood and the architectural quirks of a very old building. The menu is quite large, as is common in many brunch places, and (surprisingly) has a vegan option. I ordered a cup of the seafood bisque and the "Louisiana bayou benedict"... whose gimmick is corn cakes instead of an English muffin, andouille sausage, and a spicy hollandaise. Anna got a single (huge) raspberry almond pancake and their vegetable home fries. The only complaint food-wise for us, was Anna wishing there were a few more potatoes in veggie home fries.

Service wasn't awesome but wasn't bad either... our server didn't initially bring me cream for my coffee or syrup for Anna's pancakes... though in both cases we decided we didn't even want them. She was not Johnny-on-the-spot with the coffee refills either, but she didn't go MIA or anything, so we easily could have flagged her down for anything we needed.

I would definitely go back, though we'll probably try another place we haven't yet dined at for our next Portland visit.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Patience pays off! Who knew?

Instant cult classic... and alleged "Never-ending Game"... Borderlands, is 50% off on Steam (and Direct2Drive) right now.

Empanadas

I have always had a "thing" about turnover/hot pocket type foods. I don't know exactly what caused it, but for whatever reason, ever since I was a kid, I've been turned off by savory pastries of all kinds. I suspect that the deal breaker was that you can't see what's inside... I mean, what exactly is that dough is hiding? Could be monkey brains... you just don't know... sure they say, it's beef, but you can't know that. Weirdly paranoid, I know. Unfortunately, like many of my picky eater habits from childhood, I have carried this into my adult life. Even in Jamaica, I completely eschewed their famous patties for no particular reason... Anna loved them of course, and while I was not swayed by her incredulity, I knew I was being silly.

So when I saw a beef empanada recipe(sub required) while browsing the latest Cook's Illustrated, I figured it was finally time to try and to conquer my irrationality here. After all, if I make the filling myself, then it's really not that mysterious right? Perhaps my first step towards a savory pastry filled future!

The cool thing about empanadas is that, while they are fairly labor intensive, you can make them over the course of several days... and even freeze them uncooked, which is pretty handy. While they're quite delicious, I didn't really want to eat a dozen empanadas all at once... so being able to pull a pair out of the freezer to bake on a random night is pretty sweet.


We decided to make a double batch of the Cook's Illustrated empanada dough, where I would make their beef and chorizo filling(sub required) for mine, and Anna would do Emeril's grilled vegetable and goat cheese filling for hers. Since I didn't think our aging food processor could handle a straight up doubled recipe, I made the following twice, but obviously YMMV.
  • 15 oz (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 oz (1 cup) masa harina
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
  • 1/2 cup cold vodka or tequila
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  1. Process 1 cup flour, masa harina, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and process until homogeneous and dough resembles wet sand, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 2 cups flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle vodka or tequila and water over mixture. Using hands, mix dough until it forms tacky mass that sticks together. Divide dough in half, then divide each half into 6 equal pieces. Transfer dough pieces to plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
Now, I found that Cook's liquid measurements were not nearly enough for the dough to come together. The first batch I used volume measurements and the second I used weights, and in both cases the dough was way too dry... with me needing to add 1/4 to a 1/3 more cups of water to make it happen. I mean, you are talking about what is (with the masa harina ) essentially 4 cups of flour to 1 cup of liquid... and I could just not form a "tacky mass that sticks together" with that little liquid. Possibly that is because I suck at doughs and pastries, but if you share that fault with me, feel free to add water to loosen it up, since that's what I did and it was still great.

If you're familiar with Cook's current pie crust/pastry shell trends you'll notice a pretty common theme with the vodka, cubed butter, and everything chilled. If not, understand that as weird as the vodka usage seems, it has been their thing for a few years now... under the theory that the alcohol burns off faster than water and leaves a flakier product behind. I can't say how it compares to other empanada doughs, but they delivered a flaky and tender crust with a strong corn flavor... which is hard to argue against.


On the second night, I made the filling... dough still chillin' in the fridge. Anna made hers day of... and since Emeril's recipe only makes enough for about 6 empanadas... then improvised a second batch on a whim. Her second batch worked so well that I tend to think the primary hurdle here is the dough, and that you can do well filling it with pretty much anything. That said, here is the meaty filling I used:
  • 1 large slice hearty white sandwich bread , torn into quarters
  • 6 oz chorizo sausage , cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can tomato sauce (14.5 ounces)
  • 1 pound 85 percent lean ground chuck
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium onions , chopped fine (about 2 cups)
  • 4 medium garlic cloves , pressed through garlic press
  • 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile pepper
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves , coarsely chopped
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs , coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup raisins , coarsely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons cider vinegar
In retrospect, looking at this ingredient list... I think I forgot the vinegar... but it was still really good anyway! Whoops. Next time.

Here's how you put it together, stolen directly from Cook's:
  1. Process bread and 2 tablespoons chicken broth in food processor until paste forms, about 5 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add beef, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and pulse until mixture is well combined, six to eight 1-second pulses.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil and 6 ounces Spanish chorizo or Portuguese linguiça, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup), in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove chorizo or linguiça, leaving rendered fat in skillet.
  3. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and chipotle chile pepper; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beef mixture and cook, breaking meat into 1-inch pieces with wooden spoon, until browned, about 7 minutes. Then, add chorizo or linguiça back to skillet along with tomato sauce and simmer until mixture is moist but not wet, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl and cool 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, eggs, raisins and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour. (Filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
No complaints or clarifications about how this comes together. It worked well in my estimation, and was quite the tasty filling. Chipotle chile powder may be hard to come by for many... I have a bit of a dried chile "problem", so I actually had a bag of chipotle chile flakes ready to be ground up. You'll lose the hint of smokiness if you use standard chile powder, but that's probably not too large a price to pay for the convenience of not having to go to a spice shop. On the other hand, spice shops are awesome. Up to you.


And finally, on the third day, we assembled the empanadas. I made half of my share, and froze the rest. Anna baked all of hers and froze the already baked leftovers. Both of us have been pretty satisfied, so you could probably do it either way. They reheat really well in a 325 degree oven too, so you don't need to have a family of six or an "empanada party" to do this... they're essentially the perfect leftovers. Frozen and unbaked just take a minute or two longer... though our oven sometimes runs a little hot, and we found ourselves more on the 22-24 minute side rather than the 25-30 minutes listed below.

Note that all of the above photos are of Anna-made empanadas, as she has bakery and pastry experience and rolls a damn fine 6" circle. However, I did roll and assemble all my own... they're ugly, but they're perfectly functional and delicious... so don't be afraid to try this if you don't really know how to roll out dough.

Also, I was able to make a couple of extra empanadas from the scraps... just use some water so that the pieces came together. Presumably these won't be quite as tender as the others, but I was unable to detect a difference... maybe I'm just not that picky.

Anyway, here's how you assmeble and bake them, as per Cook's Illustrated:
  1. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions, place 1 baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. While baking sheets are preheating, remove dough from refrigerator. Roll each dough piece out on lightly floured work surface into 6-inch circle about ⅛ inch thick, covering each dough round with plastic wrap while rolling remaining dough. Place about 1/3 cup filling in center of each dough round. Brush edges of dough with water and fold dough over filling. Trim any ragged edges. Press edges to seal. Crimp edges of empanadas using fork.
  2. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over surface of each hot baking sheet, then return to oven for 2 minutes. Brush empanadas with remaining tablespoon oil. Carefully place 6 empanadas on each baking sheet and cook until well browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Cool empanadas on wire rack 10 minutes and serve.

I have no idea whether all that rigamarole with the preheated cookie sheets and oil is really all that necessary... but I like that it skips the egg wash many other recipes call for.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Organizing for America looking for Analysts

This is probably one of the more creative uses of Obama's massive mailing list I can think of... targeted want ads!
Jason --

Are you interested in campaign data analysis? Want to get involved in the 2010 elections?

This year, the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America are looking for creative, quantitatively-minded individuals to join the Targeting Department.

We are filling three analytics positions -- Elections Analyst, Modeling Analyst and Lead Modeling Analyst -- to work in our D.C. Headquarters.

We are looking for bright, hard-working people with experience in areas such as data, statistics, analytics, mapping and programming to work in a fun, fast-paced and exciting environment.

Learn more and submit an application now.

As we look forward to 2010, our ability to reach out to key voters, monitor our progress and effectively deploy our resources will be critical to our success in November.

Apply now:

http://my.barackobama.com/targetingjobs

Please be sure to pass this note along to anyone else you know who might be interested.

Thank you,

Dan

Dan Wagner
Targeting Director

I know I gave them my occupation when I gave them money, so that's probably why I was part of the mass mailing... interestingly, looking at the positions, what they're asking for is not far from my skill set, but I don't have any database experience nor much time in stats software... I'm a Matlab guy... so I guess it's a good thing I'm not interested in moving back to the D.C. area. Somebody who reads this blog might be though! Seems like campaign data would be an interesting data set to work with, especially for the politically minded geek.