Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

I probably should have written this post before I traveled to my ancestral homeland for the holidays, but Chimpanzee Tea Party will return in the New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beer Sommelier?

Belgian BeersThere is an somewhat interesting article on Slate about the idea of classing up the serving of beer in restaurants and bars:
There may be agreement in the industry that great beer deserves top-notch service, but there’s not yet a consensus on what that means. In fact, there’s not even agreement on what to call a well-trained beer server. Engert’s job title is beer director, but he doesn’t mind being called a beer sommelier. (He has put some thought into this.) Some in the beer community find this term problematic, since "sommelier" is tied to the wine world and may imply a professional certification that doesn’t exist.

No one is working harder to coin a new title, and certification, than beer author and educator Ray Daniels. His ideal beer server is called a Cicerone (sis-uh-ROHN), a term he trademarked for the beer training program he started in 2007. The name comes from the word that can mean guide or mentor.

The program’s website states the claim that wine sommeliers might have known enough to choose a good beer for you a few decades ago, but now “the world of beer is just as diverse and complicated as wine. As a result, developing true expertise in beer takes years of focused study and requires constant attention to stay on top of new brands and special beers.” So Daniels set out to build a testing and certification program to create a standard level of knowledge and titles that would signify superior beer knowledge to consumers, similar to the way a Court of Master Sommeliers credential does for wine.

The industry has responded positively. A growing number of brewers, bartenders, and servers have signed up and tested to earn the ascending titles of Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone.
I don't really have a problem with this, but the article doesn't talk at all about what I find to be the most important issue for the beer equivalent of a sommelier: pairing beer with food. I'm happy to have more knowledgeable and competent beer purveyors, but you can't consider yourself a "sommelier" unless you can see a tasting menu and come up with great beer pairings. I love beer a gajillion times more than wine, but the experience at a multicourse dinner in a fine restaurant where you are being offered wine pairings on the fly by a sommelier is beyond compare. That is what I want from my "Cicerone" or what-have-you... not the proper knowledge of what to do if the keg is too foamy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Gougères - Puffed Up 2
I guess the Holidays are the time for gougères, since 101 Cookbooks just posted a recipe a few days ago, and a classic one from David Lebovitz was posted on New Year's Day a few years ago... which makes sense since these French "cheese puffs" are a pretty great thing to munch on with a glass of wine while you hang out with family and friends. I used Dorie Greenspan's recipe from Around My French Table (can be found on Epicurious here) since I thought it a little simpler for my first attempt at pâte à choux: "a light pastry dough used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs, French crullers, beignets, St. Honoré cake, Indonesian kue sus, and gougères."

Gougères - Pre Baking
I was a little scared, I admit, since Anna was off teaching and she's my go to resource for any thing pastry related (having worked in a bakery and generally being more inclined towards this type of cooking than me)... though, truth be told, being a vegan for much of her life means we were probably on equal footing here anyway. However, despite my fear, it wasn't really that hard... well mixing in five eggs by hand was a little tiring... but they tasted great and my poofs stayed puffed. In this regard, David Lebovitz gives the following advice:
The most common problem folks have with pâte à choux, or cream puff dough, is de[f]ated puffs. The usual causes are too much liquid (eggs), or underbaking. Make sure to use large eggs, not extra-large or jumbo, and use a dry, aged cheese, if possible. And bake the puffs until they’re completely browned up the sides so they don’t sink when cooling.
Of course the water is also an important part of why it puffs up in the first place. One interesting thing about hand vs. mechanical mixing is that Ruhlman says here that mechanically mixed pâte à choux will puff up higher... though I was by no means disappointed by the airiness of texture I achieved with elbow grease.

As you can probably tell from my "rustic" little gougères, I just used two spoons to get these guys onto cookie sheets... but you can pipe them for a more refined look. Next time I think I would add some herbs and maybe reserve some of the cheese for dusting on top, but overall I think they turned out pretty well for a first effort.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vegetarian Junk Food

Salt and Vinegar Oven Chips
Being that pizza and ice cream are vegetarian I think it's pretty obvious that not everything that qualifies as meatless is necessarily going to get your cardiologist's seal of approval. However in this particular case I think Anna did a nice job of putting out some fun "junk food" that at least isn't horrible for you. She made this meal in its entirety with no aid from me. Said meal consisted of some salt and vinegar oven baked potato chips and tofu buffalo "wings"... and then some green beans to make us feel better about ourselves. The recipe for the chips can be found here... they were really good, but the vinegar flavor (even after 5 minutes simmering) wasn't as strong as I prefer, and I suspect that doing a real deep fry would have been best flavor/texture wise.... but presumably the oven thing saves us some calories and there is no reason to complain about that. A good use for a mandoline/v-slicer if you've got one.

Buffalo Tofu

The buffalo tofu was really, really good stuff. Recipe here. Nice spice and a good crust... loved it, and definitely recommend it. Anna used butter, but you could obviously sub in margarine to veganize it (indeed, the recipe calls for vegan "butter"). There was no special treatment of the tofu beyond draining in a colander, which makes me wonder whether it would be improved by freezing or pressing. If you pressed the tofu you'd probably want to go a different direction and marinade it, but freezing will give you a chewier texture... which might be nice. However it really was great as it is, so there is no serious need to make any changes.

Buffalo Tofu, Salt and Vinegar Chips, and Green Beans

As far as "junk food" goes, obviously you can go a lot worse than the vegetarian fare pictured here... but I think you want to throw something green on there just so you can point out that there is a vegetable involved if questioned. Otherwise the chips and tofu are a great option for a vegetarian tailgate (yes, there are vegetarians who like sports).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ruhlman's "Perfect" Roast Chicken

Out of the Oven
This recipe for roast chicken is from Ruhlman's Twenty, but you can find both the recipe for the chicken itself and the pan sauce at Serious Eats.

Roast chicken is probably one of the easiest and tastiest meals to make in the world and here Ruhlman has really distilled the process down to its essence. It basically works out to 1) stuff, truss, and salt 2) roast at 450 or 425 for an hour, and 3) make a pan sauce while it rests. Now, it only takes an hour in the oven for a 3-4 pound bird, but the salting step adds another hour of the chicken hanging out at room temperature... and then there is another 20 minutes to make the sauce (which I definitely recommend since you have to rest the meat for that long anyway). While it does require a little planning, this is certainly doable on a week night... especially since the vast majority of the time here is hands-off.

Rustic Pan Sauce

I went with both lemon and onion in the cavity... though the it didn't really fit more than a half of each so it probably makes sense to pick one or the other. At the end of the cooking time the skin was well crisped and I was pleasantly surprised to find that, even though he doesn't tell you to cook to a specific temperature (just to cook until the "juices run clear"), the breast meat was perfectly in the 155-160 degree range at the end of the prescribed hour while the thigh meat was around 170.

While the chicken rested I made the "rustic" pan sauce, and it was both tasty and super easy. I used a vegetable peeler to "thinly slice" the carrots... took like two minutes... and the onions can be quickly sliced as well, so really all there is to it is the repeated deglazing steps. It comes together quickly with little fuss, so if you've never tried a pan sauce before, this is a good one to get your feet wet with. You also have the option of a more refined sauce, but I didn't have the herbs and knew I wouldn't really use them up before the holidays... so I opted for the simpler path.

Dinner is Served

While I think I prefer roasting some root vegetables along with the chicken as a better use of that rendered fat than a pan sauce, I can't deny that this is a really easy chicken to make and that it came out... dare I say... perfect. It definitely makes me question any kind of Cook's Illustrated style rube goldberg approach to roasting the perfect chicken... some things are just made to be simple and can't really be improved.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Homemade Vegan Treats

Homemade Butterfingers

I'm not much of a candy or sweets maker, but Anna certainly is... and I have to admit they are a great way to make some wonderful holiday presents that don't cost much money. While I think homemade items are always appreciated, this is especially true of making treats for her vegan mother and sister... where there are innumerable cookies and candies that could be somewhat simply veganized. The butterfingers you see above are naturally vegan, but she has also made vegan peppermint patties (required vegan evaporated "milk") in the past and has done caramels this year (using soy milk) for a variety of applications including pretzel twix and the salted version of said caramels. I'll try to get some pictures, as well as the recipes she used, as she boxes these babies up for Christmas... but if you have any vegan relatives or friends, this is a really good gift that I'm sure they will appreciate.

Monday, December 12, 2011


This weekend's City Kitchen was all about pâté. I'm sort of fascinated by terrines, but also a little scared of them... something about the texture and coloring brings me back to my picky eater days and makes me reluctant to try them. Maybe I should think of it more like sausage without the casing... made into a loaf... which is more appetizing, I guess? (Note: Also still weird about meatloaf) I feel like I need to conquer this food fear, so maybe I'll try to make it. The difficulty would be in the different grinds the recipe calls for... not sure my butcher will do that or not... maybe the medium grind in the food processor and the coarse chopped by hand?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Final This Week

I don't have a lot of spare time with a take home final due on Thursday, so probably little to no posting... but maybe some pictures if Anna does some cooking.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Rufous 5

This is Anna's mother's new rescue. A cutie eh? More here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fig and Blue Cheese Savories

Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries
Anna and I made these for a party from a recipe at Food52. Dead easy to make, though they do require fig preserves... which is probably not in every pantry, but said preserves pretty awesome to have around for any number of reasons. The texture is kind of crumbly (in a good way) and the flavor is a good contrast of sweet and tangy. Worth making in general, but a good thing to bring for a holiday party.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Boiling Bacon (or Sautéing Bacon the Ruhlman Way)

Boiling Bacon?
After making Ruhlman's Coq au Vin, I was left with half a package of bacon... not a tragedy by any measure, and a situation easily remedied... but while paging through his 20 I ran across a recipe for sautéing bacon in water that just had to try. It's so simple you don't even really need a recipe: 1) put bacon in pan 2) cover with water 3) cook on high until water boils off 4) turn down to medium low until bacon is done to your desired crispness.

Now, this obviously takes a lot longer than cooking bacon in the pan normally, so what's the point? It tenderizes the bacon making it significantly softer with less chew. I didn't perform a side by side taste test, but I found it to be a pretty dramatic difference to your standard bacon. Obviously if you like your bacon so crisp that it shatters into fragments with a stern look then this method is of no use to you.

Now we are Frying

A concern here is the water leeching out the smokiness of our bacon... after all boiling in water is how you turn bacon into lardons... but since you boil all the water off you get all that flavor back in the glorious fat.

Finished Product

I've long been of the opinion that making bacon in the oven was bay far the best method... but when not making it for a crowd this really might be the way to go. You get a more tender product and none of that "curled up" bacon you get in a pan that irritates me to no end. (What? I like aesthetically consistent pork products, so sue me) I definitely recommend you try it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Blog Down

The power supply for my PC kicked the can last week... and thus I have been unable to upload photos or spend any serious time blogging... and while a new one is ordered and expected to arrive today or tomorrow... the fact is that it's Thanksgiving Day week and we are headed to Maine Tuesday night, so don't expect anything exceptional (it actually might be best for all involved if you never expect this) until after the holiday. We have cooked and I do have things to post about, but they're not about turkey and/or stuffing so they don't seem appropriately topical... though I suppose many get tired of seeing endless Thanksgiving posts, especially if you are not an American. Anyway, while I might put up a post or two, don't expect much until Monday the 28th.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ruhlman's "Weeknight" Coq au Vin

Ruhlman's Weeknight Coq au Vin

You know, I've always been a fan of Michael Ruhlman's books and blogging, but I haven't really made many of his recipes. I mean, sure, he taught me how to make a real quiche but otherwise I mainly think of him as yelling at people to make stock and being a charcuterie hero... and with Ratio I almost thought he had abandoned recipes in their entirety. But apparently recipes are not dead, as the principles of cooking in Ruhlman's Twenty are illustrated with one hundred of them... which may make this book more accessible to the beginning cook.

The dish you see pictured above is "Weeknight Coq au Vin" and it appears in the "Water" chapter. Yes, that's right, he has an entire chapter (and a handful of recipes) dedicated to the wonders of water. But you know what? I think he's right on with this: water is a very important element in cooking but it's obviously not one we often think of, and understanding how it works seems a good way to become better in the kitchen. In this particular case, water is used to tenderize the bacon and extract flavors from both it and the onions and garlic. What's clever about this is that in the Julia Child method of making Coq au Vin you turn regular bacon into lardons by blanching it, which neutralizes the smokiness... and added hassle that might not seem worth it... but Ruhlman achieves this, along with extracting sugars from the onions to help them caramelize, all in one step with the creative usage of water.

The other clever part of this recipe is another simple addition... and that is finishing the chicken under the broiler to crisp up the skin. Weak and flabby skin is the bane of any braise of chicken parts, but for whatever reason you seldom see recipes that try to mitigate it. It's a nice touch and it makes leftovers much more appealing, as you only have to put one leg per diner under the broiler... and if somebody wants a second serving, it's only 3 minutes to the table.

The one complaint I do have is the assertion that this dish can be prepared in an hour. Maybe if you have a sous chef who has all your mise en place all set up and the oven preheated when you walk in the door... but otherwise I'd say plan on an hour and a half if you are super efficient but I'd expect closer to two. Admittedly this kind of time underestimation is de rigueur in cookbooks... and I guess you just have to know the times are always ridiculous, but I can't help it... it's still a pet peeve. I feel like unrealistic times end up discouraging aspiring cooks who try a recipe expecting to get dinner on the table by 7, but are still slaving in the kitchen and fending off a hungry family at 8:30. I mean, how is that fun? Doesn't that push you to the side of "let's just get takeout"? Why not itemize the times and show where people who aren't as good in the kitchen where it's likely to take longer? Maybe that means less people will try cooking it on a weeknight, but I think it also means fewer frustrated cooks... which is a net positive in my view.

I also think the sauce needs to be defatted if you care about presentation. Maybe the bacon I used was especially fatty, but the sauce was swimming in it at the end... still very tasty, but I recommend letting it cool or a fat separator if you are trying to make an impression.

All in all, however, I thought it was a very good recipe. The flavors are great and it's easy to follow. You can find it here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Zucchini Tart with Puff Pastry

Zucchini Tart
This dish was made by Anna a couple of nights ago (recipe from Epicurious), with I think the prime attraction being that you could make it with store bought frozen puff pastry dough instead of going through the trouble of making a pie dough... which would add a couple hours to the prep time. Using the puff pastry makes this at least conceivable (if not exactly "quick and easy") to do on a weeknight, as long as you are together enough to get the dough defrosted. I guess if I was trying to save time I'd defrost the dough overnight and roll it out before I went to work... and then prep the rest of the ingredients while the crust was blind baking.

With sundried tomatoes and lots of herbs this is quite a flavorful tart, but it's not overpowering. I liked it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Turkey Stock

Moist TurkeyRuhlman exhorts us to get started on the Thanksgiving Day prep in the form of turkey stock:
I don’t know where we got the idea that a roasting turkey results enough juices to make gravy. It doesn’t. And you certainly want to have way too much gravy on Thanksgiving so that you have leftovers. My favorite day-after meal is hot turkey sandwiches, smothered in gravy.
It's also important to note that with this method you can make the gravy the night before and reheat it while the bird is resting... spiking it with pan drippings if you so desire. Not having to worry about the gravy could make the last push to get everything on the table a little more bearable, but if that's not enough then Melissa Clark has a list of other things you can do ahead.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Apps vs. Cookbooks

iPad Epi App In Action The New York Times has a trend piece that asks: "Are cookbooks obsolete?" with the advent of a new style of cooking apps (i.e. not just a collection of recipes). The obvious answer being "No, don't be silly" since iPads still cost $500+ and I can get a cookbook for free at the library. Of course we all know that these kind of articles aren't really about any truly widespread change occurring, but about a small slice of early adopters that are excited about the possibilities in the future... and it is clear that there is some innovation going on in the cooking app world. "Baking with Dorie" and all the other apps they mention sound pretty neat, but I'm not sure I really buy the logic in this pronouncement:
Many developers say that recipe animation, either employing stop-frame photography, line drawings or infographics, is the future of digital cooking instruction. Video, on the other hand, while it can be valuable for bringing a personality into the kitchen, has several drawbacks. It is expensive to produce, and eats up precious memory. Because there is so much video in Baking With Dorie, its mere 24 recipes pushed the app to the maximum data size allowed by Apple in the iTunes store. In contrast, the app for “How to Cook Everything,” illustrated only with line drawings, holds 2,000 recipes.
Why on earth do the videos actually need to be contained within the app? A well produced video seems so much more valuable to me than an animated line drawing, and it seems there simply must be an internet (dare I say cloud) based solution to the issue of onboard memory and app size limits. Regardless, despite some strong promise in teaching people how to cook via app... having quick and easy access to technique videos in the kitchen sounds great (I've stopped cooking to look up how to do something on YouTube many many times)... I'm still not planning on ditching my cookbooks any time soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homesick Texan - Carne Guisada

Homesick Texan - Carne Guisada

I've only been reading Homesick Texan's blog for a few months... so I can't call myself any sort of longtime fan... but I definitely dig her style and the Tex-Mex thing even living all the way up here in New England. As a Baltimore native, I'm also well aware that regional cuisines often don't travel very well or very far - either not being available or only available in some bastardized form (see New England crab cakes)... and so if you want to eat the food you grew up with you have to wait until you go back home to visit, or make it your own damn self. To all of our benefit, Homesick Texan took the latter route, publishing recipes that allow those of us in places with terrible Tex-Mex scenes to still experience the food at home.

So enter the carne guisada that you see above. A type of "carne" I had never even heard of, but which translates into "stewed meat." Just by looking at it you can tell it shares a lot of similarities with chili, but calls for fresh green chiles and tomatoes (definitely a no-no in Texas chili). While I cooked this from her cookbook, the full recipe is also available on Homesick Texan's site, so there is no sense in reproducing it here. The only major change I made was using a mixture of pork shoulder and bottom round instead of just beef. I did this on a whim (because that's what looked good at the store), not for any specific reason, but I thought it came out great this way (though I have no point of comparison). The bottom round which was much better marbled than the pork, completely fell apart, imparting some nice body to the stew, while the pork stayed together in chunks - creating a nice contrast.

Pretty easy to prepare as most of the cooking time is hands off simmering and final dish is quite tasty. Not as complex as Texas chili, but quite hearty with a nice kick of heat. According to Homesick Texan you would traditionally serve it either in a bowl with some tortilla chips, with some refried beans and rice, or just wrapped up in a tortilla. As you can see I went with the simple bowl presentation, and enjoyed every bite.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Obviously it can be tough to "vegetarianize" a holiday built around eating a bird, but the New York Times has got your back...  with an interactive feature where they are allegedly going to add new recipes (some vegan, some with dairy/eggs) every day in November. If that's not enough ideas for you then you can go back to the 2010 recipe collection. So no excuses for making a boring spread... the pressure is on.

Waiters Hate Coupons

They list five reasons, but I think it really only boils down to one: tip based on the original bill, not the discounted one.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tom Colicchio on Gnocchi

Uncooked GnocchiSome nice tips at the LA Times:
Moisture in the potatoes is the enemy because it means having to add more flour. So you want to start out with potatoes with lower water and higher starch content — Idaho or other russet baking potatoes work well, and Yukon Gold or other sweet, waxy varieties do not. Potatoes get starchier as they age, so older potatoes are actually preferable here.

You want to encourage the potatoes to release as much of their moisture as possible during the cooking process. Prick the skins all over with a fork before baking them; slice them open immediately out of the oven; and — trying your best not to burn yourself — scoop the steaming hot contents of the potato into a fine ricer or food mill as soon as possible. These three things will help steam escape.

Once you've riced the potatoes and turned them out onto a clean work surface, it's time to make the dough. Working a pastry bench scraper in chopping motions, distribute the potato evenly across your work surface, then drizzle that with your beaten egg yolk. Add pepper.

The flour that we use for gnocchi is what's called doppio zero in Italy — "00 flour" to us Americans — which is very finely milled and soft as talcum powder. It leads to a smoother, more supple, malleable dough, which is why it's often used in pizza dough and fresh egg pastas.
Much more, including a video and recipe at the link. I've actually only made gnocchi the one time, and Anna recently mentioned wanting to tackle the dish again, so maybe this will serve as inspiration. Giving clear directions on what you're trying to achieve (and why) is something many recipe sites and cookbooks fail to consistently do... and thus Colicchio's comments on gnocchi shows one of the main reasons I like these "Master Classes" by the LA Times... and note that it's value is completely separate from the recipe.

The Perennial Plate: Lobster Pie

I'm generally in favor of all things Maine... with the notable exception of UMaine's college hockey team... so I found this episode of The Perennial Plate to be particularly interesting. Also, being from the Chesapeake Bay region... an area that seems to have a new depressing environmental report or endangered population story come out every day...  it's really strange to see a seafood population as well managed as Maine lobsters seem to be. Thus I was fairly curious as to whether this particular lobsterman would have a different stance on government regulation than you typically see in watermen, but (not surprisingly) this do not appear to be the case. He seems to think the regulations actually made the pressure on the lobster population worse, which seems to me to be unlikely... but admittedly it's not an issue I've studied with any kind of thoroughness.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mustard Oil

2007_12_09__17_07_13I found this New York Times article appropos mainly because I was trying to find out what "mustard essence oil" is not more than a week ago. For us it is about making mostarda (a truly transcendent condiment) as a holiday gift, but according to the times American chefs are being a little more experimental:
While Bengalis mostly use it for sautéeing, reducing its intensity, American chefs usually finish dishes with a trickle of the sharp raw oil, as Jean-Georges Vongerichten does with blanched mustard greens in his new book, “Home Cooking With Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes” (Clarkson Potter).

Mustard oil is a key ingredient in the “uni panini,” a sandwich with a cult following at Alex Raij’s Chelsea tapas bar, El Quinto Pino. Playing on the Japanese pairing of sea urchin and wasabi, Ms. Raij mixes it into butter she slathers on a ficelle and tops with sea urchin. “It has these great vapors, but it’s not the kind of heat that lingers,” she said. “I think because it’s an oil, it hits the tongue differently.”

Ken Oringer said he discovered mustard oil when the Indian cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey made a guest-chef visit to his restaurant, Clio, in Boston. Now he marinates jalapeños in mustard oil for Indian-inspired pickles and poaches fish in mustard oil before searing it with Spanish paprika. “There’s no ingredient that comes close to it,” Mr. Oringer said. “It brings so much flavor.”

Few American chefs have featured mustard oil as prominently as Michael Hodgkins, the former chef at Hung Ry, a hand-pulled-noodle shop in Manhattan. In his time there, Mr. Hodgkins used mustard oil as his go-to seasoning in everything from a simple salad dressing for shaved apples and local greens to a fried squid dish with fennel and coriander seeds, lime and honey.

“It doesn’t have that thick, fatty texture that coats your mouth,” he said. “You taste it, and then it’s gone.”
The catch? The FDA says it has to be labeled "for external use only" because there is some data out there that it causes heart problems in mice. But:
Ramanan Laxminarayan, a research scholar at the Princeton Environmental Institute, said any benefits, like any risks, have yet to be conclusively proved. But Mr. Laxminarayan said he has no concerns about the safety of a drizzle of mustard oil.

“I can’t imagine that at that quantity of use it could do much of anything at all,” he said. “Just as it would require a lot for serious health benefits, it would probably require a lot for any harm.”
Caveat emptor, I suppose, but I'd be pretty confident in taking my chances... it's not like Bengalis are keeling over en masse.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cheese Pronunciation

I haven't had a single one of these cheeses, but there is just something about a goat speaking French that is awesome.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Young Cooks

Jay Rayner on the issue that "nearly 60% of 18- to 25-year-olds are leaving home without the ability to cook five simple dishes":
I don't think I could really claim that I could cook in a meaningful way until my late 20s.
Hey, me too! Though I guess I was really just learning to cook at that stage, not really cooking "meaningfully"... but the point stands.

I certainly don't think it's any kind of culinary death sentence to escape college with no ability to cook... I turned out OK after all. However, from what I've seen... any youngin in the aforementioned 18-25 range gains a distinct advantage by being able to cook a prospective partner dinner, though it's probably more a more pronounced advantage for young men. Just sayin.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ragu alla Bolognese

Cook's Illustrated - Ragu alla Bolognese

The above was made from a recipe in the latest issue (November/December 2011) of Cook's Illustrated (sub required), apparently based on the Bolognese sauce of Dante de Magistris - chef/owner of Dante and Il Casale. I think pretty much everyone with a passing knowledge of Italian food knows about Bolognese sauce... basically it's the quintessential "meat sauce"... with ground beef, pork, and veal all making an appearance. What I didn't know is that there is some argument as to what role dairy ingredients should play in the sauce, with some swearing by their presence and others saying they have no place in a proper Bolognese. I've made Bolognese a couple of times but I've always made it with milk or cream, so the fact that this sauce was a "no dairy" version was kind of intriguing.

Otherwise the meat profile here is: pancetta, mortadella, ground beef, ground pork, ground veal, and chicken livers. I'm a little intimidated by offal... and haven't really tried it since I was a kid, but I couldn't detect the chicken livers presence despite the fact that they are pureed and added towards the end of the cooking process... so keep that in mind if the liver thing is a turn off (or just omit them). One tip I would have if you are going to make this is to use a large/wide pan... I used our smaller dutch oven (3.75 quarts) and it held everything fine, but it took forever to cook off the liquid from the meat.

Regardless, good recipe and I didn't miss the dairy... certainly a little less silky, but the big and complex meat flavors stole the show. Worth making.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Peeper Ale

Peeper Ale

Had this nice little pale ale over the weekend... not sure how hard it is to find in the New England area (presumably not available outside it), but I got mine at The Wine and Cheese Cask in Somerville. A very solid beer that isn't too hoppy and is pretty well balanced... you can find more in the way of reviews over at Beer Advocate.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cheesy Heirloom Tomato Pie

Cheesy Heirloom Tomato Pie - In Mold

This is another recipe that Anna made out of Emeril's Farm to Fork (recipe here)... though he calls for Creole tomatoes and Anna used heirlooms from her mother's garden in Maine - hence the slight name change. Anna has actually made it twice, but this is the only time I've tasted it... not really sure how I missed it the first time, but I'm glad I tried it the second. While it didn't totally blow my mind, I thought it was a good dish... especially once it had fully cooled down. The tomatoes could probably use peeling, but that's a lot of work to add on to an already involved recipe.

Emeril calls for a deep dish pie plate... which we don't own... so Anna used the 9 inch ring mold we use for quiches. Worked out well with no leaking (always the worry when using a ring mold)... I'm sure the egg wash helped here. 

Cheesy Heirloom Tomato Pie

Monday, October 17, 2011

Small Apartment Kitchen

Things are crazy here at work with a move to a new facility coming on Tuesday, but I took some pictures of the new kitchen that I thought I'd post. Nothing that exciting, but this is the cleanest and most put together it will probably ever look so I thought to preserve it for posterity. I'm also proud of our use of space. So here we go:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Preserving an Open Bottle of Wine

I wish this column at Snooth wasn't in slide show form, but it's a pretty interesting discussion of what causes and remedies there are for wine going bad when you can't finish a bottle... with this as the take home message:
1. Minimize surface area
2. Keep it cool
3. Introduce as little oxygen into the wine as possible
By which he means, if you know you're not going to drink a whole bottle of wine transfer what you plan not to drink it to a smaller container (minimizing surface area and exposure to air) and put it in the fridge (cooling it). Anna use the Wine Saver which the author seems to think isn't a great solution... his argument being you're sucking all the good aromatics out with the air... but we've had surprisingly good results with it... at least in the respect of the wine lasting well beyond when you'd think it'd be vinegar.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sriracha Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables

Sriracha Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables - Close up

Sadly, I think it's no longer cool to like the omnipresent hot sauce known as Sriracha, but that didn't stop NPR from doing a column on the stuff five years late. But I'm not complaining since they can pry my Sriracha from my cold dead hands. This weekend I made the roast chicken with root vegetables you see pictured above. I didn't really detect any Sriracha flavor on the skin of the chicken, which was a little disappointing, if not surprising... but the veggies were great. Perfectly cooked and nicely spicy. I'd make it again.

Sriracha Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables

You'll notice that the chicken is trussed... which I did not do myself. The Bell and Evans chicken I picked came that way. Kind of odd, but nice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Quinoa and Kale Crustless Quiche

Quinoa and Kale Crustless Quiche

I've been on a pretty long (unintentional) break from cooking... and even though I have some decent excuses (our kitchen is still in pieces, my lab is moving in a little over a week, etc.), Anna has still been cranking out the dishes and making me look bad. Whose food blog is this anyway? Well, for now... and I hope to rectify this over the weekend... I guess it's Chimpanzee Tea Party guest starring Anna.

Here is her effort on the Quinoa and Kale Crustless Quiche recipe from Food52 user Hillarybee. One thing she thought was important to note is that the recipe calls for caramelized onions, which can take quite some time if you're not risking a burned mess by rolling on high heat like some kind of culinary cowboy. So keep that in mind when you're figuring out how long this will take to make (probably longer than you expect).

While I played no part in making it, I did help with the eatin', and I can say that it's quite good. I would probably put the finger quotes around "quiche" when referring to it since it really doesn't have a custard base... it's more like a frittata variant in my view, but I suppose that's quibbling. Regardless, the flavors are really good and the hipster grain quinoa a welcome presence.

Quinoa and Kale Crustless Quiche Close-up

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chimpanzee Grill Party

pan-sanma-ikebana by drawndie

If you've ever wondered where the name of this blog comes from, this video shows you the Japanese take on the concept. Originally... in the version popular early 20th century... it was just chimpanzees in a cage dressed up in suits/dresses having "tea" for the amusement of visitors... but grilling some fish and flower arranging share the same elements. Not to get all "deep" on what has become a full time food blog, but what I find interesting about these displays is what it says about our concept of humanity's place in the world. That we seem to need to dress up chimps in clothes to laugh at how bad they are at using chopsticks seems to reveal a deep insecurity. As I think our fellow primates insanely awesome, I find that need to distance ourselves from them both curious and a little sad. If you have any interest in the topic of humanity's relationship to chimpanzees I recommend The Ape and the Sushi Master.

But mainly the name is about me feeling like Pan-kun, trying to act like I know how to cook for (hopefully) the entertainment of others.

Affinage Controversy!

OsterCheese nerd post: A couple weeks back I linked to a blog post from Formaggio Kitchen about their trip to the Jasper Hills cheese caves, hoping to improve their "affinage" (i.e. aging of cheese) operation back in Cambridge. Well today we've got a foodie controversy about the practice laid out in the New York Times:
“This affinage thing is a total crock,” said Mr. Jenkins, the cheese monger at Fairway and the author of the pivotal 1996 book “Cheese Primer.” “All it does is drastically inflate the cost of cheeses that have benefited zero from this faux-alchemical nonsense.”

Mr. Jenkins, a New York retail pioneer, argues that affinage is ultimately about marketplace savvy. Long ago in places like France and Belgium, the affineur first stepped in to extract profits by acting as the middleman.

“It has nothing to do with making cheese taste really good,” he said. “It has to do with getting paid. And it’s morphed into a typical ‘French things are cool’ thing that Americans have bought hook, line and sinker. They all think, ‘I can even turn this into a marketing tool, so people will see how devoted I am to my craft.’ ”
It suffices to say that affinage aficionados disagree. My cheese knowledge consists of a cheese making course and putting together a few cheese plates on the advice of experts, so I really have no idea how true this charge is on the merits... but you should read through the article and see the results of their blind taste test. I tend to be a skeptic on most things, but I think it's pretty easy to see the difference aging makes in a cheese... so why would it be surprising that there are ways to do it right and ways to do it wrong? Which is not to say there isn't some "faux-alchemical nonsense" mixed in there, but that seems true of almost everything.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2 Minute Mayo

While we're on the topic of quick cooking hacks, here's a video by Kenji on how to make mayo with a stick blender... no slow dribbling of the oil required! You can read the full post here. I've honestly never had a problem making mayo before, though I've done it less than a handful of times so my sample size is pretty small... but I still feel like it's more intimidating to people than it needs to be. Well here's your excuse if you've never made it before (and own a stick blender).

Monday, October 3, 2011

10 Second Garlic Peeling

Don't know how often I need to peel an entire head of garlic, but still pretty cool.

Jalapeno Cheese Bread

Jalepeno Loaf

Anna did all the work on this one, but I thought I'd post it because a) it was good, and b) the picture came out reasonably well. This one is from Homesick Texan, whose cookbook needs to be put on the library list methinks.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Curry Leaves?

Curry leavesFrom NPR's Kitchen Window series (definitely check this out if you haven't), Monica Bhide talks about curry leaves:
Curry leaves have nothing to do with curry powder. Nothing at all. Curry powder is ground spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and coriander. It may or may not include curry leaves.


Though they look similar, unlike bay leaves, curry leaves are edible. Traditionally, curry leaves are used in multiple ways. First remove the leaves from the stem. You can add the leaves at the beginning of a recipe, sizzling them in hot oil and then adding ingredients such as vegetables, cooked basmati rice or poultry. As the final seasoning to a dish, the leaves are sizzled in hot oil along with other spices such as black mustard seeds, and the hot seasoned oil is poured over a prepared dish — for example, a bowl of plain yogurt or stewed lentils.
I definitely have never seen or heard of these, but I am somewhat notable in being the one person in the world who doesn't totally crush on Indian food. I can't imagine we'd have a lot of luck finding the fresh leaves in Boston, but there are a fair number of Asian grocery stores in the area that have all sorts of things that I am oblivious to and probably wouldn't comprehend even if I was made aware of them. So who knows?

Click through the link for a more full description and some recipes, including the intriguing curry leaf mojito.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wild Mushroom Ragout on Creamy Polenta with Beer Braised Cabbage

Mushroom Ragout on Creamy Polenta with Beer Braised Cabbage

It's been a bit of a crazy week, with a trip down to Baltimore with some Red Sox fan friends (whoops, sorry guys!), all of my work computers seemingly exploding at once, and the kitchen in our apartment getting replaced. So that's why I've been completely silent on the blog front... and why this post will be on the terse side... but we did cook a few things this past weekend... not so much to say farewell to our old kitchen (which I will not miss) but so Anna had something to eat while they were ripping out cabinets.

Above you have pictured the meal Anna and I made together out of Emeril's Farm to Fork, which, for as cool as it used to be to hate on Emeril, seems to be a damn fine cookbook. He really does seem to have an honest interest in sustainability and the environment, and I guess Guy Fieri has replaced him as the celebrity chef everyone loves to hate... so maybe now we're allowed to like Emeril? Regardless of the ruling  from the foodie thought police on that one: we made a great meal from his cookbook.

We had to go to the Whole Foods in Fresh Pond to get access to a fun selection of wild mushrooms (bluefoot, oyster, shiitake etc.), and I like my polenta a little wetter than Emeril (necessitating adding a little extra liquid)... but otherwise everything came together pretty easily and tasted great. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Charred Corn Tacos

Charred Corn Tacos

As a last gasp of summer, before turning to root vegetables and heartier dishes, I made these charred corn tacos from Smitten Kitchen. Smitten Kitchen is one of the most popular food blogs on the planet, but sometimes I've seen "real" cookbook writers grumble a bit that she's gotten so famous not (often) writing her own recipes. As someone who writes about food and also doesn't write recipes, perhaps I take such criticisms more personally than I should, but I can't help but point out that such criticisms really miss the point of her appeal: the lady has really good taste. Beyond the snappy writing and beautiful photos, it seems any dish you pick from her is a guaranteed winner, and her narrative and instructions seem to be prescient in anticipating mistakes... much better than many of the celebrated cooks and cookbook authors we've had some trouble with in recent months (Ottolenghi I'm looking at you). Anyway, looking forward to her cookbook... but on to the cooking results:

Squash and Radish Slaw

The City Hall Farmers' Market had corn, radishes, and squash in abundance... so ignoring limes, cilantro and the like, it was a relatively locally sourced meal. I'd love to claim that the knife work you see in the radish-yellow squash slaw above was my own, but I really have to credit the mandoline/v-slicer on this one. I enjoy julienning a carrot or two, but a half pound of radishes plus a squash enters into tedium... and there is just no way I could approach that kind of regularity in a 1/8 x 1/8 inch cut (though I suppose practice makes perfect). A mandoline is not something I think anyone needs, but if you have one you'll use it quite a bit. If you get one I'd recommend a cut resistant glove to save fingers.

The one thing I was a little dubious about when executing the recipe was that she calls for an entire medium white onion... which seemed like a whole lotta onion... but if you look at her picture that is indeed what she wants. Despite my skepticism, it really did work out well as they cooked down and paired nicely with the sweetness of the corn.

Charred Corn

One tip I have for charring corn portion of the recipe: do not remove the stalks. If you just remove the husk and silk, you'll leave yourself a nice little handle so you can char the corn quite easily. While you can put it directly over the burner, that is a) a little gross depending on when you last cleaned it b) fairly inefficient since the flame comes out of the sides of the burner.

Anyway, a really good vegetarian recipe that can easily be made vegan by omitting the cheese.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beer Cooler Sous Vide: Some Thoughts

Beer CatI might put up a more substantive post on Kenji's concept of Beer Cooler Sous Vide, but I don't think I have it totally perfected yet... so I thought I'd just throw out some advice/issues I've had so far. Tried it twice, both times just making burgers. I thought using sandwich bags and slowly immersing them in water to force the air out worked pretty well... though you probably get a tighter seal using plastic wrap like Thomas Keller suggests, it's a bit more wasteful. The biggest problem was that my cooler lost about 10 degrees by the end of 45 minutes. I used water that started over a 130 degrees, so the food was still cooked fine (120 degrees is rare)... but it's obviously not ideal. Now the cooler I was using is not very big, so maybe the initial addition of the meat caused the drop... but I made sure the second batch of burgers was at room temperature. However some of the comments of Kenji's post suggests that the top of beer coolers tend not to be insulated (mine does feel pretty flimsy and possibly hollow)... so I should have used a blanket on top to hold in some more heat... apparently home brewers use beer coolers for a similar purpose (making a mash tun) and drill holes and use expanding foam to make their coolers more effective. I'm not particularly handy, so I think I'll skip the latter solution, but a blanket is fairly doable. The second idea to combat temperature loss is "preheating" the cooler with hot tap water for 10-15 minutes, which is also suggested in Keller's piece.

Oh, so how were the burgers? Not perfect obviously...  but still pretty great. The best part being that they only take a couple of minutes to make after they've been cooked in the water bath, so it's much easier to bring together a meal with multiple moving parts. I'll probably have some more posts on this in the coming weeks as I experiment some more with perfecting beer cooler sous vide. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sweet Paul

Just found this online food magazine called Sweet Paul from a link in The New York Times Dining Section. The photography is top notch (better than what I could achieve even in my dreams), the design seems great, recipes look good... and, hey, it's free. Haven't looked at it long enough to see how good the writing is, but did I mention it's free? It appears to be quarterly and their archives go back to Spring 2010.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Korean Barbecue Meets Sloppy Joe

In what I presume will be Sam Sifton's last recipe column, he details the preparation of a pretty natural fusion:
The dish is the Korean barbecue standard known as bulgogi — “fire meat,” is the literal translation — transformed into a sandwich filling, a sloppy Joe for a more perfect union. (File under “Blessings of Liberty.”) Fed to children with a tall glass of milk, the sandwiches may inspire smiles and licked plates, rapt attention and the request that the meal be served at least monthly — they are not at all too spicy for younger palates. Given to adults accompanied by cold lager, cucumber kimchi and a pot of the fermented Korean hot-pepper paste known as gochujang, they can rise to higher planes.
I guess I should make this dish in memoriam: one bite for me, one for my promoted hommies.

What I like about this dish, and what suggests it could be a keeper, is that it looks like you can put together the marinade, spicy mayo, and salsa (minus the scallions) on a Sunday and then finish it off pretty quickly on a weeknight. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yes, You Really Should Buy A Kitchen Scale, Part XXXVII

My First Ever Digital Kitchen Scale
The New York Times on the case. I think I've made pretty clear my preferences on the topic, but it's always worth saying again: it's most essential for baking, but it's also really handy for anything where weights are involved (like cheese). The only thing remotely new to me here is this tip:
Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute, recommends that you make a chart with the standard equivalences, and tack it up next to the scale. The conversions sometimes require some math, but there’s a payoff if you can brave it.

“If you start cooking that way, it makes your life so much easier,” Mr. Arnold said. “You’ll do everything just so much faster.”
Hey, I know math! Hmmm.

Obviously kind of weird Ruhlman's book Ratio... entirely about cooking by weight... is not mentioned at all. Not exactly the greatest due diligence in evidence there New York Times.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"They are chefs cooking dinner for very, very rich people."

Yesterday, a group of top chefs (René Redzepi, Ferran Adriá, Heston Blumenthal, etc) released an "open letter" to future chefs, talking about "nature's gifts" and serving as a "important bridge to other cultures"... among other things. Jay Rayner unloads:
Yes, of course good chefs ought to be serious about their ingredients. Yes they have a responsibility to source stuff ethically. But they also need to remember that they aren't secular saints. They are chefs cooking dinner for very, very rich people.

Just before it closed a couple of months back El Bulli flogged the entire restaurant for a night to a champagne company, who flew in some of their invited guests on a private jet, before helicoptering them in to dinner. (You also might enjoy Adrià's advert for Estrella beer; ah, how humanity sighed with pleasure at that one). Likewise, guests have regularly come to eat at Blumenthal's Fat Duck by helicopter (they tend to land on the cricket pitch at the end of the village of Bray). Huge brigades of cooks are involved in the preparation of the world's very best ingredients, often sourced from some distance away. A single meal at one of these restaurants will leave a carbon footprint an elephant could sleep in. All of which is fine. It is what it is. It's an expression of the market for gastronomic luxury. There are lots of things it isn't, among them, a prescription for world peace.
I agree that the world's food an environmental problems will not be solved by where some future René Redzepi forages for pine needles, but tend to err on the side of raising awareness. Rayner's argument shares a lot with anti-environmentalists who think that if you've ever flown on a plane you aren't allowed to comment on CO2 emissions, but on the other hand the "open letter" is pretty nauseating so I guess it deserves to be made fun of. Couldn't they have just done some bullet points about local sourcing and called it a day?

More Twitter Food News

 Sam Sifton 

Aaaaaand.... the official announcement.

Umami Vegan Broth?

Michael Natkin wanted to highlight umami (savoriness) in his vegetable broth:
Umami, of course, is that famed fifth flavor, sensed by receptors that look for glutamate and various ribonucleotides - basically indicators that a food contains protein. It isn't so surprising that we'd be wired to like protein, right?

I want to pack so much umami into this broth that you have one sip and feel your eyes roll back in your head involuntarily. I want to evoke a guttural groan, and in my small sample of testers, that is exactly what has happened.


The vegetarian ingredients best known for high concentrations of glutamates are tomatoes, dried shiitake mushrooms, marmite, kombu seaweed, and parmesan cheese. I decided to include the first four, but omit the parmesan to keep this broth vegan.
Pretty informative. I don't think I'd ever considered what the "umami" ingredients for vegetarian cooking were. The recipe looks good too, but does require a pressure cooker.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ruhlman's New Book

I'll have to add this to the library list to see if it's worth owning. I like the idea behind this one... focusing on techniques with recipes to illustrate.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Inside Some Cheese Caves

In a very informative blog post, Jessica Sennett, Cave Manager (cool title, eh?) at Formaggio Kitchen (Cambridge), visits the cheese caves of Jasper Hill. Perhaps only interesting if you're a cheese nerd, but I thought it was fun. We've known about Formaggio's cheese caves from our course with Ricki Carroll, but don't really know a whole lot about what goes on there. I don't see us aging cheeses anytime soon, but it's still cool to read about.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sous Vide without an Immersion Circulator

Steak sous vide
Thomas Keller at the LA Times has the details:
Rather than cooking the food using an immersion circulator, you can achieve similar results using a large picnic cooler and a probe thermometer.

Here's how you do it: Fill the cooler with hot tap water to preheat for 10 minutes and then drain. On the stove, bring water to the desired cooking temperature (you'll probably need to fill a couple of stockpots). Then transfer enough hot water to the cooler to fill it nearly to the top, reserving some water for later temperature adjustments.

Add the food and then check the temperature of the water and adjust as needed. If the temperature is too high, pour in a little cold water. If it's too low, add in some of the reserved hot. A good-sized, well-insulated picnic cooler with its lid on (we use a 28-quart picnic cooler) should maintain an even temperature for around one hour. For slightly longer cooking times, check the temperature periodically and adjust with fresh hot water as needed.

For even longer cooking times, you can use a pot of water on the stove, though it will be more challenging to control the temperature. If you do elect to cook on the stove top, keep in mind that a larger body of water will maintain a steadier temperature, so select a pot that is large enough for the meat you're cooking and an ample amount of liquid. Depending on how much control you have over the burners on your range, you may want to purchase a tool called a diffuser from your local kitchen store to provide separation between the pot and burner, making it easier to keep your water at a sufficiently low temperature.
It's worth clicking through since they also have a video from Rory Herrmann showing how to wrap and prepare some fish and chicken in a water bath on the stove (though I might call it poached, there is no need to quibble) and some additional tips and recipes.

While I've always been more of a project oriented cook who enjoys a nice long afternoon working in the kitchen, it's hard not to see the benefit of sous vide for a perfectly cooked burger or chicken breast... and I've been meaning to try the beer cooler method since I saw it on Serious Eats over a year ago. Seems like a good thing to try out before going all in on something like a Sous Vide Supreme or even a PID controller and a rice cooker.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Didn't Even Know These Existed

Winged beans - fresh from the vines
Stir-Fried Winged Beans from Michael Natkin at Herbivoracious. But I guess I wasn't alone:
I ran into a vegetable I'd never seen before at a farm stand in Kawaihae on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the middle of a preposterous but amusing adventure that involved driving back and forth over the same stretch of coast approximately seventy-three times. These pods were about 8 inches long, with ruffled leaves, somewhat crunchy like romaine lettuce, but with a central seed pod a bit like a green bean. Most unusual.
Worth clicking through just to see them, since they look like some kind of Star Trek vegetable to these Western eyes. Kind of neat to see someone who knows what they're doing experiment with something new.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The End of Good Eats

Kind of sad:

 Alton Brown 

 Alton Brown