Monday, November 29, 2010


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

Turkey in Mole Poblano

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Turkey Stock

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vegan Pupusas

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

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

Dairy Management's USDA Funding

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ezra Klein visits El Bulli

See here.

The Economics of OpenTable, Cont.

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quick Takes: Henrietta's Table and il Casale

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coconut Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Cocunut Lace Cookies Closer

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Food Lab: Buffalo Fried Turkey

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanksgiving Tips from NYC Cooks

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

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vegetables Still The New Meat!

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

Monday, November 8, 2010

Speaking of cheesy summers...

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

"The Summer of Cheese"

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

Friday, November 5, 2010

Slow Cooker Sous Vide Hack

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

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lavash Crackers

Lavash Crackers Post

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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Korean Tacos are Delicious

Korean Taco

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Witch's Hole and Paradise Hill via Carriage Roads

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

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


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

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Greatest Six Pack in the World

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

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