Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Center to Rind Cheese Eating

Dinner's Journal talks cheese rinds. I admit, being an even bigger novice to cheese eating than I am to cooking, I've never really known what to do with the rind... besides not eat it. I guess what's a little confusing is that there are coverings for cheese (wax being the one I see most) that aren't rinds... so I was a little shaky on which were  good for other uses. It seems certain that Parmesan and similar cheeses have rinds that are worth freezing for soup, but in a related blog post Simply Recipes goes so far as to propose toasting them. Intrigued? I am. Technique here.

Apparently today is Revenge of the Parmesan Rinds Day...  who knew? Though selecting a gift couldn't be easier.

Homemade Ricotta, Cont.

Last winter I linked to a Molto Mario episode where Mario Batali made some ricotta... and we still haven't made it at home, despite Anna's continued fascination with both ricotta itself and homemade cheese making in general... but now the LA Times is throwing down the second gauntlet with over a thousand words of rapturous praise for the process. How much longer can we resist the siren call? I've been eying a cheese making class for both of us as some sort of holiday gift, but ricotta seems so easy that it would be a great place to start before plunking down $150 a piece for the workshop.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Neapolitan Pizza Continued: Leopard Spotting

Fontina and Oregano

Last week, while the skillet-broiler method for Neapolitan pizza making showed a lot of promise, we had trouble with the lack of oven spring inherent in that methodology when using my typical dough from the freezer. So on Friday, I put together a batch of dough following Kenji's instructions (including Italian 00 flour)... the basic difference being that my usual dough (Reinhart's) is wetter and made with some olive oil, ice water, and cold flour. While the wetter dough should create an airier crumb, the ice cold water and flour is going to retard the cold ferment relative to Kenji's dough... not to mention that he spikes his with sugar, which will fire those yeasties up, while the oil in Reinhart's recipe is going to inhibit gluten formation a bit... so it wasn't really surprising to see that Kenji's dough had a stronger rise in the fridge than I'm used to seeing. They also easily doubled in size in the two hours prior to baking, so the yeast was still quite active three days in.

We made two pizzas... a fontina, oregano, and parmesan pie with recipe here... and Anna's creation: a squash, blue cheese, Parmesan, caramelized onions, spinach, and sage pizza. Maybe a little too much going on in that last one, in retrospect... but it's tasty... definitely try squash and blue cheese together on a pizza sometime if you haven't.

In the end, it worked great... but I'm a little disappointed that it looks like the freezing is the culprit for the poor performance of our regular dough. Perhaps not using olive oil and spiking with sugar would help, but I'm pretty sure you need the fat if you're going to freeze it... though I'm not positive. Also, cleaning the burnt flour off the bottom of my pan is still not fun... maybe semolina or corn meal to dust the hot pan is the answer here? We have four more pizzas to make this week, so I'll try my hand at shaping finally and report back.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Time for Duck Confit?

Ruhlman says it is. It's certainly been a bit cooler these last couple weeks in New England...  but I think I'm going to hold on to summer a bit longer, and hold off on the duck preserving a few more weeks. What may appeal to some in his guidelines is that he doesn't demand that you use duck fat... apparently going for olive oil in his own preparations... so if you've been wanting to make it but not sure what you're going to do with the giant tub of duck fat after, then this might be a good option. I'm also intrigued at how low he recommends keeping the oven (180 degrees F).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pizza Shaping

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt continues his Neapolitan pizza mission over at Serious Eats, examining how long is the ideal "cold ferment"... a cold ferment being a slow rise in the refrigerator. Being a Reinhart fan, I already do a cold ferment on my pizza dough... but it's nice to see Kenji confirm its value and put a number on the ideal length. However, that's not actually what I wanted to post about... in the midst of all that fermenting info, he linked to a really good video of an expert shaping a pizza (something I am basically afraid of and thus have Anna do):

Obviously he's shaping pizzas much bigger than would even fit in my oven, but I still thought it was pretty interesting and valuable. Notice that he doesn't ever toss the dough into the air.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gourmet iPad App

From Dinner's Journal:
The product, available for free at the iPad App Store, offers packets of content—called “rewards”—for viewing certain pages, but only if readers have checked into one of the social-media sites. Those sites are then used to send out alerts naming the content the user has just downloaded. Earlier today, Facebook friends and Twitter followers of Bob Sauerberg, the president of Condé Nast, got the following message: “I just earned a great collection of cocktails by Elayne Duke on Gourmet Live! Find your rewards at”. (Users can opt out of these alerts.)
Uhm, that's not very cool... not at all. Though it's good that you can opt out. Is a business model that tries to get people to be spam bots to their friends going to be a successful one? I certainly hope not... but Farmville would argue otherwise.

On the other hand, I'd like to see Gourmet resurrected, and the iPad is a more viable platform than many.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bloggus Interruptus

Superchunk, Civ 5, and a 4 course Vegan dinner at Upstairs on the Square have killed my blogging time so far this week.

In addition, we're running non-stop studies in the lab right now... which totally eliminates my early morning habit of banging out a blog post to go up later in the day while I drink my coffee and looks at the internets... before getting down to science proper. Now I spend those former moments of quiet and measured contemplation running around and trying to get equipment set up, turned on, and calibrated before the subject shows up. Which is all a long winded way of saying I might look to change my blogging paradigm... though hopefully that won't be too obvious on the front end, thanks to the magic of scheduling posts for THE FUTURE... but blogging may continue to be sporadic for a bit as I figure out how to work things.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Skillet-Broiler Pizza Method - Results

Sorry, no pictures for this one... I took some Friday but don't think they really turned out. We made two pizzas on both Friday and Monday, following Kenji's method posted over at Serious Eats. We were using Peter Reinhart's dough, not Kenji's, but I think their hydration level is relatively similar.

I thought the method worked pretty well, except for two things:
  • Almost no oven spring.
  • Cleaning the pan after.
For the first, I wonder whether this is partially a product of using frozen dough. I've noticed the balls we just cold ferment in the fridge seem to do a lot better with this... and if Kenji's method is generally bad on this front, maybe the combo causes you to end up with something closer to a flatbread. As far as the pan, the solution is to use a cast iron skillet... which we have, but that needs to be scoured and re-seasoned for vegetarian uses. Maybe this will provide the motivation for that project.

On the positive side, it is very quick and turns out a nicely browned pizza without making my kitchen 100 degrees. So that's pretty awesome. The thing to try next might be 00 flour (these were bread flour + olive oil) and no freezing of the dough. However, if that does prove to be the issue, I'm not sure how practical that makes this method... freezing the dough is what makes pizza making an attractive weeknight dinner option. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a tasty flatbread either...  and maybe there are some other tricks out there I can track down.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Braised Fingerling Medallions

Braised Fingerling Medallions

Made these delicious potatoes this week from an an Alice Waters recipe on Epicurious. I don't have a lot to say about it other than:
  • The parchment paper thing is kind of neat, but I imagine you could get away with a "partially covered" lid... but no promises
  • Peel the potatoes: if you don't the skin comes off in tough little strings
  • Do not bother without a v-slicer/mandoline unless you are seriously hardcore with your knives
Even with a v-slicer, this is fairly labor intensive in the prep work, but the braising (a technique that's fairly hard to mess up) makes up for it.

Neapolitan Pizzas: "Skillet-Broiler Method"

This is an article from last week, so if you're a Serious Eats reader you've likely already read it, but since we've been making pizzas a fair bit lately, I really liked to see J. Kenji Lopez-Alt bring his obsessive rigor to Neapolitan pizza making...  and explore a pretty interesting technique. I love me a good Neapolitan pizza, but I'm not into them quite enough to, even briefly, consider building a wood fired oven (even if I had a back yard to put it in) or a hacked oven (even if I owned my oven).... however Kenji apparently achieves his aims  in authenticity using nothing more than a pan and his broiler. An alternative...  if your broiler is on top of the oven as opposed to the bottom like Kenji's (and mine)... would be to put your pizza stone on the top rack instead of the bottom and fire the oven up to broil. Like other standard pizza stone methods, you're going to need an hour for your pizza stone to heat up, which Kenji's method avoids... but that may not bother you much as the weather cools down.

We're making a couple of pizzas tonight I think, so we might give it the "Skillet-Broiler Method" a shot.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

meez on PLASS

Pete Wells is his "Cooking with Dexter" column goes after mise en place:
Setting all my ingredients on the counter before cooking is no problem. I’ve learned my lesson from getting halfway through a recipe before realizing that the jar of roasted peppers in the refrigerator is covered in a downy white film of mold. But the next step in a proper mise en place — the knife work — trips me up. I run out of space on the cutting board. I run out of patience. I run out of time. I’m hungry and I want everything to move faster. So with only half the chopping done, I start to heat the pan. With that, the train has left the station, and I am swinging by one hand from the back of the caboose. Ultimately, I get where I’m going, but the trip isn’t pretty to watch.

This filled me with shame until I opened Sara Moulton’s latest book. Moulton knows her way around a kitchen. She has been the host of several cooking shows, the author of a number of cookbooks and the executive chef of Gourmet for 23 years. And she says, on the second page of “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners,” that mise en place is “a waste of time.” She exempts Asian recipes, where the ingredients spin around in a smoking wok and are ready to eat two minutes later. But in general, she endorses my method of chopping the onion that will go into the pan first, and then doing the rest of the prep as I go along.
The problem with this style is that, for most beginning cooks, prep is often the most unpredictably long part of following any recipe. We're not fast with our knife work and we don't necessarily know all the terms used in the recipe until we look them up on the internet. I know that for me, especially when I was just starting to learn, not doing mise en place was just asking for a stressful cooking experience. I don't want to be stressed cooking... I want to have fun... and a good way to achieve that is to have everything chopped and in neat little bowls. Now, these days... since while I'm still pretty slow with a knife, I at least know roughly how long it's going to take me to dice a pound of zucchini...   I mainly only seriously mise en place for more complicated recipes with lots of fine dicing... otherwise I look through a recipe to determine where I have enough time in between steps to prep... but there is no way a person just getting into cooking is going to have any solid notion of how long it takes them to dice an onion. Ultimately it's all personal, and some cooks are just more seat-of-the-pants than others (not me)... but if you find that one of the things you don't like about cooking is how stressed out you get trying to follow a recipe, then mise en place is definitely something to try (though then you might get frustrated at how long it takes to make what is supposed to be a 30 minute recipe).

Photographing Soup

Some nice tips over at Diner's Journal. At some point I'm going to need to get lighting... it's just tough when you live in a tiny Cambridge apartment and don't have any storage space. Also, learning how to use my camera would probably be a good call.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's not (just) because I'm old

...and liked Superchunk in college. This is a great song/video you should listen to/watch:

You should buy their album.

Awesomest desk EVER


Bittman's Paean to Food Processors

I would agree that a food processor is an indispensable home kitchen appliance... but Bittman's exasperation with making mayonnaise the traditional way seems a little overwrought:
By-hand instructions for mayo require you to dribble oil — not quite drop by drop, but close — into an egg-acid mixture, while beating with a fork or whisk. It’s doable and it’s fun — once.

By machine, you put an egg, a tablespoon of vinegar, two teaspoons of mustard and some salt and pepper into a bowl; you put the top on and start ’er up; pour a cup of oil into the pusher, with its little hole, and go sip coffee or do yoga. The oil drizzles in, and you get perfect mayonnaise in a minute. That alone is worth the price of admission.
I don't make mayo all that often (in fact I've only been making it at all for about a year), but I've never found it to be either hard or time consuming. YMMV I suppose.

I also don't use a food processor for chopping (though using it for grating is a superb idea), and that's because I actually like chopping things. However I know it's fairly common for people to feel the opposite, and thus avoid any recipe that requests lots of dicing, mincing, and/or julienning... so I think it's a fairly good thing to point out that most of this can be achieved by using those food processor attachments that are gathering dust in a cabinet... and based on how extraordinarily dull the knives are that I encounter in friends' and family's kitchens, this might be best and safest option for everybody involved.   Though this train of thought begs the question...  do people hate chopping things because their knives are dull and sucky?

EDIT: Probably a good idea to spell the fancy word I threw out there correctly, so I don't look like a (complete) idiot

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vegas Thoughts

  • Staying at a place with a nice pool seems pretty key, especially if not everybody gambles.
  • Gambling makes me a nervous wreck... but it's definitely fun to win.
  • Betting on NFL games was the worst from a nervousness perspective, since the games last 3 hours instead of a minute or two for a hand of blackjack.
  • Related to above: That was so a touchdown!
  • The food... even when it's quite good... is so outrageously overpriced that I think it negatively effects the whole experience. 
  • In some ways it seems like Vegas would get old fast... and I was really ready to go home by the end... but when you think about it, you have far fewer entertainment options in most vacation spots.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Sorry for the light posting lately, but it is bound to continue for a bit longer as I'm headed out this weekend for a few days in Las Vegas (my first time). On a foodie related note, we've got reservations for Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay (where we are staying) and I'm hoping to hit either Bouchon or Picasso for dinner another night... depending on how my money holds up. I'm not much of a gambler (though I look forward to watching Sunday's NFL games from the Mandalay Bay sports book) so most of my spending money will probably be going towards nice food.

I'm back in Boston Monday and hope to get back into some serious cooking.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Google Instant

Taking it a step further than simply suggesting searches as you type them... Google now displays the search results themselves as you type. Allegedly it's going to save me 2-5 seconds per search, so watch out world, my productivity is about to skyrocket!

With this and priority inbox, Google has been rolling out some pretty cool stuff lately.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

MRE's around the world

French soldiers get cassoulet in their field rations, which isn't really surprising, but kind of cool from this blog's perspective. Unfortunately, according to the related article, French rations are experiencing some depreciation (originally trading at 5 to 1) in the face of the Americans' "hamburgers, chili, peanut butter, candy"... which are described as "fun"... sigh. Though I suppose I can't really deny the sentiment, it is kind of cooler to think of our GI's trading away their hamburgers for French food.

Regardless, it's a pretty neat photo-essay from the New York Times that's worth the click.

00 Flour for Pizza

Pear and Walnut
As I mentioned last week, Anna picked up some of the famed "00" flour imported from Italy for Neapolitan pizza making in Maine this past weekend. What is 00 flour?  It's pretty well explained here... but in short, the numbers just mean the fineness of the grind (of which 00 is the finest)... and has nothing to do with the protein content that American bakers are concerned with... a 00 flour could be anything from 6%-14%. However, as long as you are buying flour labeled for bread or pizza, it's going to be pretty high protein... the equivalent of our bread flour. The difference is that the type of wheat used in Italian flours (durum), allegedly doesn't produce gluten with the same chewiness that our own red summer wheat does. So when American pizza makers try to make a Neapolitan style pizza without Italian flour they end up using lower gluten flours (like all purpose) to lower the chew or soften a bread flour dough with olive oil (Reinhart).

So how did it go? Not well enough to fully review the flour. I didn't let the pizza stone heat up enough, so the bottom of the crust was not well browned by the time the toppings were starting to burn... so while the crust was noticeably softer, I can't rule out that this was caused by it being slightly underdone. It's funny how used I am to baking bread/pizzas in my crappy apartment oven, that using a really fancy nice one threw me off my game so badly.

I think what I'll do is make a batch of 00 pizza dough to freeze with the standard Reinhart dough we already have...  and then do some side by side comparisons.

Oh, and for the vegans out there...  we tried Daiya mozzarella style shreds on some of the pizzas, and while I'm no fan of vegan "cheese" in general, this stuff was pretty good.

Acadia to Valley Peak to St. Sauveur Loop

Acadia to Valley Peak to St. Sauveur Loop

The weather was incredible on Sunday, so we did get up to Acadia. The park was really crowded, as you might expect on Labor Day weekend, so we tried to stay away from the main loop. I forgot to charge the camera batteries so I had to use the cell phone... so I apologize for the poor photo quality... and then we missed the turn for Flying Mountain... so not the best hike ever. In addition, St. Sauveur doesn't really have great views and was a little boring. If I did this hike again, I'd make sure to hit Flying Mountain and then skip St. Sauveur by heading back to Acadia Mountain from Valley Peak. Despite that, the hike was fun and varied in its terrain.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Off to Maine

To celebrate the "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations"... by hiking in Acadia. Hurricane permitting, of course. Anna picked up some Italian 00 flour from Capone Foods to make pizzas with this weekend, so I'll report back with on Tuesday or so with the results.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kimchi Quesadilla!?

The recipe comes from Serious Eats. Look... I know it sounds gross, but it was really quite good. No, I'm not lying! Yeah, dairy products and Asian cuisine are supposed to be like oil and water... but it all works somehow. Maybe it's sauteeing the kimchi in butter that kind of mellows it out so it doesn't overpower everything... I dunno. I won't claim it's the best quesadilla I've ever had, but it was good and I'll have it again... with my very last cup of homemade kimchi. That will be a sad day... until I make more.

Next week I hope to continue on the Korean-Mexican fusion tip with Korean tacos... so I can be even more trendy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Making the switch to vegetarian "sushi"

I haven't had sushi in at least 6 months, not for any concerns about sustainable fishing, but just because I've been on a prolonged udon/ramen kick. When I'm in the mood for Japanese food that's been what I want. However, we almost ate sushi last night (udon ftw again though)... and were of the opinion that we should do it soon... but then came this timely post by David Lebovitz about a sustainable sushi place in Paris. Obviously the restaurant itself isn't of much interest to me... if I ever visit Paris I won't be eating sushi... but he provided a lot of links to places like the Marine Stewardship Council, which lists fish that are OK to eat... and it only takes a quick glance to see that nearly none of them is commonly used in sushi. Now, I actually don't eat a lot of fish (raw or otherwise)... so I've not paid as much attention as I should to this kind of thing. I know the obvious, and would never eat bluefin, but I had no idea that unagi was so bad... and that's pretty much in every roll I order. Or ordered.

Looking at how resistant the sushi industry has been to sustainability concerns... four sustainable sushi restaurants in the US that I'm aware of (Miya’s in New Haven, Tataki Sushi & Sake Bar in San Francisco, Bamboo Sushi in Portland (Oregon), and Mashiko in Seattle)... I'm not sure how much business I want to give sushi restaurants in general, but if/when I do go out for it again... I won't be ordering anything with fish that I can't be sure was sustainably raised/caught. So it looks like it's sweet potato rolls for me from now on. Good thing I like sweet potato rolls.

photo by Flickr user Muy Yum used under a Creative Commons license