Friday, May 28, 2010

Indoor Pulled Pork?

I'm Home Alone(TM) this holiday weekend, so it's a perfect occasion to cook a big hunk of meat while the girlfriend isn't around to wrinkle her nose. Since this is a weekend of cookouts, and I have no grilling option, I think I've settled on Cook's Illustrated's Indoor Pulled Pork recipe (detailed here). If I was feeling really adventurous I'd make my own brioche buns, but I'm guessing that takes more effort and time than I'm really willing to spend... but I'll check it out when I get home tonight.

I'll report back later... but have a good weekend in the meantime!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche

I mentioned earlier in the week that I had a little difficulty in making my first quiche... a hole in my pie crust causing the custard to leak out and soak the outside a bit... an error due, I think, from halfway following Michael Ruhlman's quiche advice while trying to make a Cook's Illustrated recipe (sub required). I didn't have a 9" x 2" ring mold like Ruhlman called for, but Anna did have a 9" cake pan that he cites an an alternative, so I just assumed it was high enough (which of course it wasn't).

Then I went about following a recipe meant for a pie plate in a cake pan, since Ruhlman's recipe was for Quiche Lorraine, and thus decidedly non-vegetarian. Since the recipe from Cook's was meant for a pie plate, blind baking the crust is not nearly as risky... and even if there was a hole, the crust wouldn't have separated from the plate because of the sloped sides. Of course, if I sat down to think for a second, I would have realized I could have simply substituted the leeks and goat cheese as my garnish for Ruhlman's recipe... presumably leading to a less leaky pie crust... but oh well, live and learn, right?

So here's a cobbled together version of the Cook's Illustrated recipe I used... meant for a 9" pie plate. The hardest part is really, blind-baking the pie shell... but since store bought pie shells are so uniformly terrible, it might be the most important part of the whole thing.

The Pre-Baked Pie Shell:
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter , cold, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening , chilled
  • 3–4 tablespoons ice water
  1. Mix flour, salt and sugar in food processor fitted with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture, tossing to coat butter with some flour. cut butter into flour with five 1-second pulses. Add shortening and continue cutting in until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal with butter bits no larger than small peas, about four more 1-second pulses. Turn mixture into medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of ice water over mixture. With blade of rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix. Press down on dough with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more ice water if dough will not come together. Shape dough into ball with your hands, then flatten into 4-inch-wide disk. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling
  3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
  4. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.
  5. Remove pie pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake 5 to 10 additional minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove pie plate and baking sheet from oven.
The Filling:
  • 2 medium leeks , washed thoroughly and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • pinch fresh grated nutmeg
  • 4 ounces mild goat cheese broken into 1/2-inch pieces
  1. Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Sauté white parts leeks in butter over medium heat until soft, 5–7 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk all remaining ingredients except goat cheese in medium bowl.
  2. Spread goat cheese and leeks evenly over bottom of warm pie shell and set shell on oven rack. Pour in custard mixture to 1/2-inch below crust rim. Bake until lightly golden brown and a knife blade inserted about one inch from the edge comes out clean, and center feels set but soft like gelatin, 32 to 35 minutes. Transfer quiche to rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Despite the imperfection of the attempt, I really enjoyed my first quiche... you can't really go wrong with leeks or goat cheese, but the custard was also much lighter than I feared. It was rich without being too heavy, which is difficult line to walk.

Ruhlman's idea of a perfect quiche would be about a 1/2" deeper than the roughly 1 and 1/2" tall piece you see above... which sounds intriguing. As it was, it was hard to tell the difference between the goat cheese and the custard by sight... and I'm kind of curious to see how the texture would work out in such a deep quiche.

I've ordered a 9 and 1/2" by 2 and 3/8" ring mold, so I'd wager you'll be hearing a bit more about quiche attempts in the coming weeks.

Top Killed?

Reports from the leak are encouraging... of course, even if the hole is plugged, the spill is still there... so the nightmare is only started. What a incomprehensible disaster... a job for nonexistant superheroes. Aquaman would have knocked this out in twenty minutes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oh, Burn

I've made some bread that has wild yeast, but I spiked it with commercial yeast to speed things up... so this is my first 100% wild yeast bread.

It has a fairly closed crumb, but not overly dense and quite delicious... took forever though. Fed my my wild yeast on Saturday... used said wild yeast on Sunday to make my firm starter... made the dough from the starter, including kneading and a 4 hour proof on Monday... shaped the loaves before retarding overnight... and finally baked the loaves on Tuesday.

I could have made the firm starter the day I feed the yeast, while also kneading, proofing, shaping, and baking on the same day... shortening the process to two days... but the long way maximized flavor and fit better into my schedule.

Besides the time commitment, it wasn't all gumdrops and lollipops results wise either, as I burnt the bottom of my loaves:

Obviously I just cut that off and it's fine, but it's still a little disappointing. Two semi-fails with the wild yeast in a row. I'm a little jealous of food bloggers who never screw up (or at least never write about it).

When I set my oven up for "hearth baking", I put my pizza stone on the very bottom near the heating element, and a pan at the very top to put hot water in for steam. Since I noticed both the burning and the fact that my water didn't all turn to steam... I think I'm going to move the stone up to the lower middle rack, while putting the steam pan on the very bottom of the oven. I'll cross my fingers, and hope that solves it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is Sam Adams a Craft Beer?

Clay Risen on the definition of "Craft Brewery":
According to the Beer Association, an industry group representing small brewers, a craft outfit makes less than 2 million barrels of suds annually, and 25 percent or less of it is owned or controlled by a non-craft brewer—i.e., MillerCoors or InBev.

Problem number one: any month now, the Boston Beer Company, the company that makes Sam Adams, will top 2 million barrels in annual production. Technically that will disqualify it as a craft brewery, even though Jim Koch, the founder of Boston Beer Co., is a godfather of the craft beer movement and a board member of the Beer Association.

Problem number two: in 2007 a brewery in Golden, Colorado called AC Golden started operations. AC Golden brews beer in small batches with local ingredients—including Colorado Native Lager, which you can only get in-state. Its beers have received respectable ratings on It's got everything a promising craft brewer could want. But AC Golden is careful not to call itself a craft brewer, because, at least according to the Beer Association, it's not: it's controlled by MillerCoors, the second largest brewer in the country.

Sam Adams is a good solid beer, and it's a handy thing that it's distributed widely enough that it is often on tap at restaurants where the only other options are Budweiser and Coors. However, I haven't thought of it as a "craft beer" for ages... and while the number 2 million seems fairly arbitrary, it does seem there is something definitive about volume in the way the word "craft" is being used here.

However... it shouldn't be measured in total barrels of beer, but more in a "barrels per batch" kind of way. That way, a craft brewery wouldn't be fine expanding it's operations by releasing a larger number of offerings and upping it's overall output... but discouraged from moving towards mass production... which I think is the real point of "craft beer" status.

On point two, frankly I don't care about who has ownership stake... while I don't like the idea of InBev just putting a smaller brew kettles next to the gigantic ones and calling it a "craft beer"... it seems like you could shape the rules to prohibit that, without preventing them from opening up a separate site that is genuinely geared towards brewing small batches.


I've blogged the recipe to this before, so I won't repeat it... but it's definitely become my favorite way to have corn on the cob (not truly in season here yet, but it was hard to resist). I only wish I had either a grill or a regular broiler... mine is the ancient drawer at the bottom of the oven style that is fairly awkward to use... since it would make tending the ears during browning less onerous. I've come to believe there's really no reason to put the ears back in after you've slathered them with sauce... as long as you get them right from under the broiler... residual heat will cook it fine. I like a little sprinkle of chile powder to finish as you serve.

I think my food photography might have improved since that original post. Yowsa.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I'll have more to say about Sunday's quiche making experience (you can see non-narrated pictures here) when I find a little more time to write it up, but I wanted to highlight some advice (that I did not listen to) from Ruhlman's quiche recipe (that I did not use):
Reserve a small piece of dough to fill any cracks that might open in the dough as it bakes.
Unless you have a giant monitor, you probably have to click through to see what's going on at the edges... but some custard leaked out through a whole in the crust... not a disaster, since it's in a cake pan instead of the 9" round Ruhlman suggests... but a fair amount of liquid did absorb into the crust from the outside, leaving a distinctly less crisp crust than expected.

Still delicious, regardless... and, like I said, I'll have a more detailed post about my first quiche cooking and eating(!) experience later this week... but let this be a lesson to us all. Always. Listen. To. Ruhlman.

Friday, May 21, 2010

That's fun

Mobile Slaughterhouses

I've highlighted articles about the lack of infrastructure for local, organic meat in the Northeast before, so I thought this report about a mobile slaughterhouse noteworthy:
“We had no models to follow,” Snyder said. “We were trying to miniaturize what is a very complex process and still keep it able to be legal on the road. It’s so well choreographed in there. It’s like the Rockettes: you can’t step out of line because you’ll bump into somebody’s saw.”

Yes, you will. The kill trailer is 8 feet wide and 53 feet long. In that space a cow, lamb or goat is stunned, killed, bled, skinned and eviscerated. The organs are rolled into the adjoining inedible parts trailer, to be composted or picked up by a renderer for disposal. The carcass is sawed in half and washed with a lactic-acid solution before it’s moved to a chilling compartment. Later, it will be transferred to the connecting refrigerated delivery truck, which can drive off to the nearest “cut and wrap” facility, or butcher. During the entire process, a U.S.D.A. inspector — in the Eklunds’ case, a ponytailed woman with a warm smile — stands in the kill trailer.

I wasn’t allowed in during a kill, but I was able to watch the Red Devon cow I’d just admired in the holding area be led calmly up the ramp and into the trailer. The wild thrashing that followed triggered primal fear and sadness, which caught me off-guard considering that I’m that obnoxious meat hipster who serves pickled pigs’ tongues at her wedding. Silence. Then blood began trickling from the pipe. When I entered the gory trailer at the end of the day, the quarters of four cows dangled neatly in the cooler.

There's no mention of how expensive it is to operate something like this... obviously it's much more inefficient than a regular slaughterhouse... but presumably it's worth being able to keep your meat organic and to not stress the animals with transport and the like.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

iPhone Auction House

Looks like World of Warcraft has their Auction House iPhone App out in open beta. The application is for seeing and making bids on the Auction house on the go. Apparently it's free to browse, but you'll have to pay a subscription ($2.99 per month) if you want to make those bids... though, of course, it's all free right now during beta to get you hooked. You can also check it out on the Armory, which is kind of cool. Sure enough, I could log on (though only one of the two servers I'm on are in the beta) and see that I made over 58 gold on auctions I put up last night... and even claim the gold (this will be a pay feature unfortunately)... saving me some precious mouse clicks and trips to the mailbox next time I log in. It seems like that has a real danger of OCD behavior ("Did I sell that recipe yet? No. How about now?"), which I'm sure is exactly what they want.

As far as creating auctions, from the FAQ:
You can sell any transferable item (excluding account-bound items) from your bags, bank, or mailbox.
Which is pretty handy (I thought maybe it would only be stuff in your bags, not the bank). The main problem I see (besides $2.99 a month) is that you won't have access to Auctioneer to know the going rate for things... but it would be really nice not to have to log in and run around Ironforge or Thunder Bluff just to sell stuff.

I wouldn't be surprised if this thing does really well.

On a semi-related note, the Armory has gotten really awesome since the last time I checked... here is character I've been playing for years (i.e. he has a PvP title), and only managed to get 63 levels on:

His attire is a little embarrassing... and reminiscent of this Penny Arcade classic... but the fact that you can export the character models is sweet enough for me to endure the ignominy. I imagine it's a bit cooler when it's with some level 80 in Tier 8 gear, but whatever... I have lots of alts, o.k.?

Quelle quiche?

On-vacation Ruhlman has an old post up about quiche making that has inspired me to give the dish a try. I'll have to find a good vegetarian recipe though, since I don't think I'm ready to get all Ratio on something I've never made and... gasp... never even had. I was a fussy eater as a kid, what do you want?

photo by Flickr user Xavier Encinas used under a Creative Commons license

Reductio ad absurdum

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

When your vision of property rights precludes the Civil Rights Act, then your vision of property rights is dumb. I think we all want people to be able to make their own decisions about how to run their businesses, but most of us, when we encounter things like discrimination (or child labor or whatever), we acknowledge that there is a role for... I dunno... laws. Libertarians like Rand Paul, on the other hand, just dig deeper.

This could be your next Senator from Kentucky.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

(Alleged) New York Style Bagels

I call them Alleged New York Style Bagels, not because I found them lacking in some sense (in fact, they were probably the best bagels I've ever had)... but because neither am I a New Yorker, nor am I bagel connoisseur, and I don't want to get in trouble with the bagel police. Whatever characteristics they share with classic New York City bagels of someone's youth is purely coincidental as far as I'm concerned... but "New York Style" does imply a certain level of chewiness not present in the vast majority of mediocre doughy messes out there masquerading as bagels. So no matter whether you think it's courting disaster to boil a bagel in something other than New York City water, I think anyone who makes these bagels will find something... at least on the "chewiness" scale... pretty NYC.

While I'm not particularly obsessed with finding the perfect bagel, I've been wanting to make this recipe ever since I got Bread Baker's Apprentice... and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because it's just something I never really would have thought of making at home. The problem, however, is that Peter Reinhart's recipe calls for some fairly exotic ingredients: a very high gluten flour and malt powder. The flour is available on the internet, at natural foods stores (seitan is wheat gluten after all), or perhaps even from your favorite baker... but it's not in your regular Supermarket (well at least not mine). So I've put it off.

Then uber-political blogger Matt Yglesias went and made Bittman's bagels (no exotic ingredients there), and I felt like I needed to spring into action... immediately placing an order with King Arthur Flour for a bag of 14.2% gluten flour and some non-diastatic malt powder. Since we had friends coming from out of town who didn't mind being guinea pigs, I had the perfect occasion to offer a bagel brunch.

The recipe is at Smitten Kitchen, so I won't reproduce it here... and instead just provide some pictures with reactions to making it.

Before I continue, I should note that SK's recipe for Reinhart's bagels (as well as the others I've seen online) omits weights... which is a terrible thing. I'm a huge believer measuring everything by weight when baking, and thus wouldn't even bother with a recipe that doesn't include them. So what to do? Well, Peter Reinhart goes by a cup of flour equaling 4.5 ounces... so just multiply that out to get your weights. Water is always 8 ounces to the cup, and don't worry about weights for the yeast or salt (as long as you are not using kosher!). Alternatively: just buy the damn book (or get it out of the library). If you have any interest in bread baking it's totally worth it... it might even be my favorite cookbook at this point, despite it's specialized content... mainly because it's probably the most educational cookbook I own.

The main unique thing about the Reinhart recipe for the initial dough making stage is that he has you start with a sponge... which develops more flavor, but might result in a little more time in the kitchen. But then, if you're going through the trouble of making your own bagels, is time in the kitchen something you're really trying to avoid?

A lot of people seem to be into the "poking a whole into the center of the bagel" thing to shape. I hate it. It makes some damn ugly and mishapen bagels IMHO. Doing it the snake way is not hard at all, and results in much more uniform and aesthetically pleasing offerings.

Boiling a giant pot of water takes a long time (30 minutes?). Do not forget this if you are on a tight schedule.

I used two tablespoons of malt powder and one tablespoon of sugar in the water (suggested on the malt powder bag by King Arthur), and not the baking soda called for by Reinhart. He suggests few people will really notice the effects, but that the alkalinity will produce better carmelization in the oven... which would have been welcome. Can you do both at the same time? Unknown.

I boiled them for one and a half minutes per side... to split the difference for normal (one minute) and chewy (two minutes) bagels. We could all have done chewier, so it'll be two minutes per side next time.

I don't think you'll have any trouble getting toppings to stick as long as you put them on as soon as they come out of the water... they won't stay on when you pick them up... but, eh, isn't that what bagels do? Rain seeds everywhere?

I did equal proportions coarse sea salt, poppyseed, and sesame seeds for my "everything" bagels... and found the salt to overwhelm everything too much. Next time I'll mix equal parts of the seeds, and salt each bagel individually.

I left them in the oven five minutes longer than Reinhart suggested, but still wasn't 100% percent satisfied with the browning. They were perfectly done and wonderful, but I thought they ended up a little pale. What's the solution? Baking soda in the water? An egg wash? I think I'd lean towards the egg wash as likely to provide the most consistent results while also helping the toppings stay on... but of course Anna is weirded out by egg washes still, and it feels a little wrong to make bread non-vegan simply for aesthetics. So maybe we'll try the baking soda next.


I admit that I paid almost no attention to Super-Mega-Obama-Tea-Party-Referendum Tuesday, but reading the summaries of the fallout of the elections (from two bloggers I really like) this morning... just made me laugh.

Center-Right Politics Blogger James Joyner:
Will Republicans pick up a large number of seats in November? Almost certainly. That has been clear for months. Will they pick up a majority in the House and/or Senate? I still don’t think so but it’s more likely today than it was yesterday morning.

Center-Left Politics Blogger Jonathan Chait:
For months, I've been very bearish on the Democrats chances in November. This is a strong data point that Democrats might hold onto the House and perhaps, if the economy picks up steam, potentially hold their losses to the 20-25 seat range.

I concur: last night was GREAT tepid news for [Insert Political Party or Ideology Here]!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More Sausages and Peppers

Serious Eats has a 2 serving version of the sausage and peppers recipe I noted last Friday... though it appears the blog, A Good Appetite, published it first - over two years ago... though it's not like a Nobel Prize is at stake here, and thus proper attribution is probably not crucial, it's always nice to give credit where it's due.

I made it on Saturday... with just your basic hot Italian sausage from Shaw's (i.e. nothing exotic)... picking up one of those convenient packages holding 1 each of red, yellow, and green peppers, as well. I thought it came out quite well, and it reminded me of the tasty (but quick and easy!) one dish meals my mother made when I was a kid. I will say that you definitely get way too many peppers per sausage if you're doing the sub/hoagie thing... I had five sausages to cook, and I'd think you could easily do six in a 12" pan, and probably even more if you're willing to brown them in batches. But since it's just me eating the sausages, the real question is how good the leftover peppers work as a sauce for pasta, since that gets me two meals for the price and effort of one... which is pretty handy.

I'll try that this week and report back the results... but at this point I'd say, for the sausages at least, this is a quick and easy recipe that's well worth doing for anyone looking to replicate Street Food Hotness in the kitchen.

photo by flickr user southarmstudio used under a Creative Commons license

Monday, May 17, 2010

Custard vs. Béchamel based Mac and Cheese

Before Saveur's latest issue, I had assumed there was only one type of macaroni and cheese... the béchamel kind... but what you see above is "Southern Mac and Cheese" which is, in fact, custard based... that is, the thickening agent that binds it all together is eggs instead of a roux.

To someone who has never even had (knowingly at least) a custard style mac and cheese, this dish was a bit of a revelation... while ultimately I still prefer a béchamel and a larger number of subtler cheeses, it was quite good and totally worth the (minimal) effort. It's easier to put together than a béchamel, and has a very distinctive taste... especially with the recipe's "secret ingredient" of grated onion. I just minced the onion instead of grating, because grating an onion seems like a giant mess... but it's possible that makes the onion a bit more obvious. I kind of liked that though. Anna ate so much of it that she got a tummy ache, so I guess that's a pretty strong endorsement?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sausage and Peppers

Over Mother's Day weekend, I tried a Cook's Illustrated recipe (sub required) for Sausage and Onions... there was nothing shockingly awesome about it... the basic "revelation" being cooking the onions and peppers together in a covered disposable roasting pan for a bit before before putting the sausages directly on the grill... but it was good (and it was the one thing everybody ate), and it made me a little sad grilling is not an option in our apartment bound life (not entirely true as I think there are ways to do cook outs in various parks around the city... maybe we'll try that this summer).

Well, Simply Recipes to the rescue, as they have a superbly well timed indoor Sausage and Peppers recipe that looks divine. At first it looked like there is way too high of a pepper to sausage ratio, but then I saw the suggestion to use the leftover peppers as a sauce for pasta... which seems fairly brilliant. I will try this.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I'm in the lab and entertaining visiting friends this week, so I'm not sure I'll be able to post much the rest of the week. I've got two cooking projects (one completed but yet to be written up, another to go this weekend), so next week hopefully won't be so content-lacking.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Diner Confronts Yelling Chef

It's like Reality TV on Diner's Journal:
I don’t remember exactly what I said, though I did not raise my voice to the point beyond where people in the kitchen could hear it. I told the chef that his behavior was making me and others uncomfortable. I let him know that I thought it was mean. And I asked him to cut it out. I don’t remember exactly what he said in response, but whatever it was, I found it irritating enough that I reminded him that I was paying to eat there and told him again to stop berating his staff at that volume.

Maybe 20 seconds after I had returned to my seat, he approached the table. He apologized, barely, and then let me know that he thought it was incredibly rude of me to come into his kitchen and tell him how to do his job. I repeated the fact that he had been ruining my dinner. But his yelling was all in the interest of maintaining quality, he said.

“I think it’s time for you to go,” he said.

“Are you kicking me out?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.
There's a lot more to it than the section I quoted... including the chef's take... so go read it, but that's the gist. I'm sure it would make me uncomfortable, but I'm pretty positive I would not confront the chef unless he/she was being ridiculously offensive... I'm just not a very in-your-face type of person, and (usually) have a pretty high threshold before I get angry. I'm also not sure what was gained by the confrontation exactly... since isn't dinner beyond saving at the point you get up and walk in the kitchen to lecture the chef? I think that if I did anything, besides just not coming back, it would be to leave a comment/review somewhere saying that the chef's actions towards his staff ruined our dinner. Passive, I suppose, but like I said, I don't see how the confrontation leaves anybody better off.

I'll also say, that if the guy yells at his staff where I can't see or hear it then it doesn't bother me... which I guess makes me a bad person, since I don't care if he (legally) abuses his staff... but it seems the greatest offense here is the chef making a spectacle of himself in front of his diners.

Full Disclosure: I do kind of enjoy Gordon Ramsay yelling at people on Kitchen Nightmares... though Hell's Kitchen is a little much for me.

photo by flickr user spunkinator used under a Creative Commons license

The Pickleback?

Well... I like pickles... and I like bourbon a'ight... but I'm not sure about this. It's got to be better than Nickleback though, right?

Bill Buford's Heat to be made a movie?

It's a fun book... one I really enjoyed... but I'm not sure I see it as a movie. The best parts of the book were all the little details about work in a high end kitchen and butcher shop... not so much Bill Buford's life, or details about Mario Batali and Dario Cecchini... at least IMHO. It seems a movie would have to be about the personalities, and I don't see how that could be all that good when they're all alive and have access to lawyers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Facebook and the Illusion of Privacy

For whatever reason, everybody is talking about what a mean privacy violator Facebook is... making much of your personal information available to others unless you jump through 20 different flaming hoops to stop them. What they're doing seem's fairly shady... and I personally find Facebook completely irritating; wishing I had never succumbed and joined it... but I'd say the real mistake being made here is thinking you can post anything on the internet and have it be "private" in an real sense of the word.

I post this blog under my own name, as opposed to a pseudonym, because it reminds me that there is nothing I should be posting online that I'd be embarrassed to have traced back to me professionally or socially. Of course, I'm also not a lawyer, a banker, or in a job where my... say... political views are relevant... and while a prospective employer might find my Obama fanboism a turn off, and not hire me because of it, I'd just as soon not work for someone who even considered political affiliation when making hiring decisions (liberal or conservative). Hell, they might find the fact that I like taking pictures of food kind of weird and creepy... if so, c'est la vie. I suppose this might put me at a competitive disadvantage against someone with similar skills but no "paper trail" (à la Elena Kagan), but it's not something I lose sleep over, since I've already made the conscious effort to merge my offline and online personas. If somebody doesn't like me from what I post here, I have little reason to suspect they'd take a shining to me in in person.

Maybe you disagree, and you'd really rather be a blank slate when meeting somebody... making a decision about whether to work somewhere only after they offer you the job... fair enough. But realize that doesn't mean finding a more private Facebook substitute to express your political views or post your drunken photos... it means not putting those things online at all.

photo by Flickr user Alan Cleaver used under a Creative Commons license

Mother's Day Mac and Cheese

I didn't take any pictures, since my family was hovering around me as I was cooking, but I made the Artisanal Macaroni and Cheese from this month's Saveur... and it was a pretty good crowd pleaser. While it's hard to figure how you could go wrong with pasta covered in cheese... for some reason I have it in my head that homemade mac and cheese is really hard to do well... or at least a lot of effort to make... why else would people make that neon yellow stuff otherwise? Well, some people just love powdered cheese (I sure did when I was a kid), but honestly there is nothing hard about this recipe beyond finding all the cheeses in your local supermarket. Parmesan, Gruyère, and fontina are all over the place, but something like Comté... not so much. While I think you could easily get away with just doubling the Gruyère contribution, it's worth grabbing Comté if you can find it, since it has a noticeably milder flavor than Gruyère.

Anyway, it was great... especially loved the Panko topping... and with the only prep work being cheese grating, I think it's certainly feasible to get it on the table in an hour, depending on how good you are at multitasking.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Batali and Stewart

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mario Batali
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

I actually haven't watched this yet... so I don't know if it is funny or insightful... but I figured the best way to remember to watch it is to put it on my blog.

Science, Travel

Got a study this AM, and then I'm catching a plane to Baltimore to see my mom for mother's day... so no blogging until Monday.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Most Expensive Typo Ever?

There's apparently a chance that the market's massive dip today was due to someone transposing a 'b' (billion) for an 'm' (million)... those three orders of magnitude get you every time. Presumably the person responsible will still get a massive bonus for a job well done.

"Everything but the gobble"

Every foodie knows that there is a "nose to tail" movement afoot, and thus offal has become incredibly trendy and hip... but as this Atlantic article about full utilization of a wild turkey makes clear... for hunters, that's just a way of life. Pretty alien and fascinating to someone who's never fired a gun in his life.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bread Baking Goodies

A couche, malt powder, and high gluten flour(14.2%). The latter two are for an upcoming project I am quite excited about.

Trickle Down Vegetarian

Ezra Klein makes the case for "haute vegetarian cuisine" leading to a wider availability of vegetarian entrees overall:
If trendsetting restaurants begin producing plates of food that happen to not include meat, hopefully other restaurants will just copy their dishes, and over time, adapt them and improvise off of them. It'll become part of the tradition. And that's what you need. If veggie-friendly food requires chefs to sit with a pen and a pad and brainstorm meatless recipes, there'll never be much of it. If it just requires them to emulate and tweak something they've long loved eating, then it'll become a natural addition to menus.
While I'm even less of a vegetarian than Ezra, I've been trying to find places to go out and eat with them for... I dunno... maybe 18 years now? And I have often thought that the biggest problem vegetarian/vegan cooking has, is how poorly defined and lacking in culinary tradition it is. It's no accident that the very best vegetarian food has always been ethnic cuisine (e.g. Indian and Asian) with a strong food culture associated with meatless dishes. I complain fairly regularly, that this lack of standards and tradition outside of ethnic foods leads to some pretty mediocre food getting seen as the face of vegetarian cuisine... and despite the fact that the food is decidedly mediocre, these places can do an extraordinarily swift business because nobody really has a clear picture in their mind as to what exceptional vegetarian food is.

Well, hopefully Ezra is right, and six course vegetarian tastings are paving the way for a more coherent conception of vegetarian cooking. Certainly the high end dining scene is looking better than it ever has for vegetarians... and anecdotally, I can say there are two places near me (Temple Bar and West Side Lounge) that have significantly expanded their vegetarian offerings in the last year or so. Maybe it's working.

picture of the roasted baby beets by flickr user eprescott used under a Creative Commons license


That is: "One Book, One Twitter"... essentially just a Twitter based book club. It appears Neil Gaiman's American Gods won the vote and will be read simultaneously by however many thousands of followers they can gather on Twitter. Normally this kind of thing doesn't interest me, but I really like American Gods... perhaps my favorite Gaiman book (Anansi Boys would be the main competitor)... I like it more the Neverwhere, more than The Graveyard Book, more than Coraline, and more than Good Omens... I don't have anything else I'm burning to read right now... and I haven't re-read the book in a couple of years probably. Interestingly, Mr. Gaiman himself is somewhat concerned that his book is divisive:
As an author, I'm half-pleased and half-not, mostly because American Gods is such a divisive sort of book. Some people love it, some sort of like it, and some people hate it. (As contrasted with, say, The Graveyard Book, which some people love, some like, and a statistically insignificant number of people hate.) It's not a book I'd hand out to everyone, because the people who don't know anything about what I've written and who hate it -- who might have loved Stardust, or Neverwhere, or The Graveyard Book or Sandman -- probably won't go and look any further.

Personally, I think most of the "divisiveness" comes from the fact that it was a major departure from his earlier work, and thus it disappointed some hardcore fans who just wanted him to write Neverwhere sequels and more Sandman comics until the end of time. I think anyone who comes into this book without the biases of a Gaiman fanboi is going to come out really pleased... or at least not feel that their time reading it was ill spent.

Anyway, I've got a Twitter account for the purposes of following what famous people have to say in 140 characters or less... so it won't be hard to tack on 1B1T2010.

UPDATE: They've posted the reading/discussion schedule.

Monday, May 3, 2010

All Recipes are Crowdsourced

You see crowdsourcing dust-ups in any number of fields... where the experts get irritated by the unwashed masses encroaching on their turf... but the clash between Cook's Illustrated and Food52 is probably the first time it's hit the world of cooking. The Washington Post lays out the beef:
The whole thing began in October when Christopher Kimball, the bespectacled and bow-tied founder of Cook's Illustrated magazine, posted an item on his blog challenging the proponents of recipe wikis, Web sites that rely on readers to share and rate recipes. "I think that only a professional test kitchen with substantial resources, strict testing protocol and lots of time can develop the very 'best' recipes. . . . So, I am willing to put my money, and my reputation, where my big mouth is," Kimball wrote. "Should be fun! Who is interested? Amanda? Anyone else?"

His call-out was to Amanda Hesser, a former New York Times reporter and editor and a co-founder of Food52, which had launched a month earlier to great food-media fanfare. The reference to her was later removed. But Hesser and business partner Merrill Stubbs jumped at the chance to promote, perhaps even prove, their model.

"We see it as an experiment. We believe in what we do," Hesser said. "But I also felt Chris had publicly challenged us to a contest. So we held his feet to the fire."

If you read any of my cooking posts, you'll see I cook a lot of Cook's Illustrated recipes... I cook them almost exclusively, in fact. I do this because I trust that their recipes will be good ones, and that even if I don't adore the end product I'll have learned something by reading why they made their choices. I'm also hesitant to trust a recipe I find online simply because a lot of people think it's HAWSOME.

That said, I think this "conflict" is nonsense. The people at Cook's Illustrated aren't pulling their recipes out of the ether... they don't invent a completely new way to slow roast pork shoulder out of whole cloth... they take recipes that are already out there and tweak them. I mean, granted, putting baking powder on a chicken is something I'd never seen before, but in general, their "innovations" tend to be things in any number of cookbooks. I'm just not sure there's all that much that's really "new" in cooking... I mean, aren't 99% of the recipes simply a particular chef's take on a recipe that's been perfected over the course of generations and longer? And even if you don't buy that all classic dishes are essentially crowdsourced... doesn't Cook's Illustrated send their recipedsout to 2000 people to test?

I've not spent any real time over at Food52, but if I got to know their community and trusted their editors... I don't see why I'd have a problem using their stuff. The presence of an official "test kitchen" doesn't really enter into it. Indeed, a serious advantage they have over Cook's Illustrated is the community itself... authors of recipes available to answer recipes, and a whole cadre of commenters who are really into cooking. Chris Kimball probably isn't online at 9pm to answer my questions about a failed batch of brownies, but a Food52 commenter might be... and if I knew that person to be a good cook based on their contributions to the community, I'd probably trust them just as much.

I think ultimately, the value of "experts" isn't really in recipes... it's, to state the obvious, in their knowledge of the how's and why's of the cooking process. While it's great to have recipes that work, even when you have little to no kitchen experience, I've always thought the best part of Cook's Illustrated... and the part that can't really be crowdsourced... is the narrative description of why certain parts of the recipe are the way they are. I'd love to see them abandon their "kitchen epiphany" style that's become self parody, and just layout the cooking principles at work and the cost/benefit of any trade-offs in a straightforward fashion... but nonetheless, it's still what distinguishes them for everybody but Alton Brown.

And yet... while I think this conflict is silly... I'll still be scanning Slate for the recipes and results, just like every other foodie.

photo by flickr user Anirudh Koul used under a Creative Commons license

Bittman's Back

The website has been there for ages, but it looks like Mark Bittman is relaunching it to fill the space left by having all the New York Times food blogging merged into Diner's Journal:
Starting today, will become an active, dynamic, bloggy, constantly updated site. We're calling it a "slog," a combination of "salon" and "blog."* And we're going to try to slog our way forward, so that eventually, there'll be even more here - a place to share and comment on recipes, on eating styles and changing habits, a place to offer your own variations, pictures, videos. A place where you can participate in a variety of ways. A conversation.
I like Bittman quite a bit, so even though I never found his old blog to be that stellar, I've got the new feed on the RSS reader and we'll see how it goes.

Eating Your Mistakes

I made my first baguettes with a starter yesterday... trying to utilize the lessons of my French Bread class... but everything did not go entirely smoothly. The good news is that homemade bread, even in "mistake" form, is pretty damn good.

Saturday I "refreshed" my starter... adding four ounces of flour and four ounces of water to 8 ounces of starter... then left it a sealed four quart container at room temperature (probably 75-80 in our non air conditioned space) for about four hours, by which time it was nice and bubbly. Following my instructor Edgar's recipe, I prepared the dough for it's first ferment... but since my kitchen is so warm, I put the dough in the refrigerator overnight and brought it out to warm up in the morning instead of leaving it out the entire time.

The problems started when I prepared to shape. First, the dough was just too sticky for me to handle... and the handling of wet dough is actually something I thought I was pretty good at... so I needed to flour my workspace (specifically something we were told to try and avoid) to keep the dough from sticking. Was the dough wetter because of how much starter I used, or because I used it when it was particularly ripe? Hard for me to say, but it seems likely to be something I'll learn to control better with trial and error (at least I hope so). However, even once I got the dough formed into baguettes, my problems weren't over. I don't own a couche and had completely forgotten that we were out of parchment paper... so I didn't really have a good place to proof the baguettes. I left them on the floured counter, but of course, that didn't work since the dough just absorbed the flour on the counter as it proofed and started sticking again. I suppose I could have oiled some plastic wrap... but I was completely at a loss until I mentioned my dilemma to Anna, and she pointed out that we have a silpat... uh, whoops? Well that totally worked, but I was already an hour into my proofing at that point and had totally handled my baguettes too much... degassing them a fair bit as I fussed with them. But as soon as I backed off and stopped messing with them I realized I had made my baguettes too long for our peel (that I now hate)... meaning I had to fold in the ends and reshape a bit... so even more degassing. At that point I should have probably just left them alone for an hour and a half, but I had already been waiting more than an hour and was impatient... so they really hadn't fully proofed by the time I started baking them, and thus didn't get as open a crumb as they might have, if I had just let "time do it's work" as Edgar says.

Another problem I encountered was that I didn't initially use an egg wash... contra the recipe... because I know it creeps my girlfriend, the former Vegan, out a bit. It turned out to be fairly critical however... the baguettes without the wash just didn't brown at all, nor did the sesame seeds really stick very well. I'm not entirely sure why I've not needed egg washes in the past to get good browning... hotter oven perhaps? Reinhart's technique of keeping a pan of water in the oven for more constant steaming? But certainly using this methodology, the difference was stark as far as coloration goes.

On the plus side: the bread tasted great, and my slashing was pretty boss. It also, I suppose, highlights the need to just get in the kitchen and screw things up a few times as you get a handle on the process. No class can prepare you for all the things that can go wrong... just get in there and don't be afraid to make mistakes!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sometimes it's nice to live in a Socialist Hellhole

We don't have to boil our water to brush our teeth like people in Boston. Fresh Pond FTW!

Actually, I'm sure it's just happenstance... but it's fun to pretend it's a triumph of the progressive policies of The People's Republic of Cambridge.