Friday, April 29, 2011

The Yelp Elite

It can be quite entertaining surfing around Yelp, looking for ridiculous reviews... but, let's be honest, it can also be a fairly involved process to separate the wheat from the chaff, and who really has time for that these days, amirite? Well fear not, now we have a website that does all the hard work for us. Welcome to the RSS feed Yelp Elite.

EDIT: Link corrected. Sounds like Yelp wasn't too amused.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

(Pan) Size Matters

Not A Pizza
Sadly I wasn't trying to make an egg pizza here, but that's what happened to my hoped for Mushroom-Poblano Fittata when I used a 12" skillet instead of a 10" one. In my defense, the recipe just calls for a "medium non-stick skillet"... which is admittedly a little vague... but I've made enough frittatas to know you need to use a smaller diameter skillet to get the right depth. The flavors were good, though the eggs (unsurprisingly) ended up a little overcooked... I would definitely try it again with the proper pan.

Can't win 'em all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tomme de Crolles

Tomme de Crolles
What you see above is a fermier (farmhouse: i.e. from a herd of cows from one farm) version of the cheese Tomme de Savoie, but made in (and named after) the town of Crolles. While I doubt you'd find this specific cheese in the states, Tomme de Savoie is available online and at your finer cheesemongers. My boss's friends in France apparently sends him wheels of cheese these days, so I lucked into a portion by association... and his desire not to see such a fine cheese dry out before it could be consumed. It's a semi-soft alpine cheese (like Comté, Gruyère, etc) made from semi-skimmed cow's milk... so it's surprisingly low (20 to 40%) in the milk fat arena. Remember that I am still quite the cheese n00b, but nutty, rich, and milky would be how I'd describe the flavors. The creaminess is kind of reminiscent of Brie. As for accompainaments, Tomme de Savoie is allegedly great with charcuterie... though since I have not tried this pairing (yet), I can't really comment... but I found it to go wonderfully with bread, nuts, honey, mustardo, and Belgian beer.

Are Exotic Salts Worth It?

Harold McGee finds that, unless you have a very sensitive palate, they're probably not worth it in a flavor sense:
The Hyde Park team used kosher salt and several French sea salts to make different batches of five foods. They served the batches side by side not to a trained taste panel in a lab, but to staff members, students and visitors in several different settings, including a food conference and a restaurant during lunch service. These everyday tasters then rated their liking for each batch.

The tasters significantly preferred chicken broth and bratwurst made with an inexpensive white sea salt over the ones made with kosher salt. Batches of those two foods made with gray sea salt, or sel gris, and fleur de sel fell in between.

For fresh tomato juice, mashed potatoes and lima bean purée, the tasters had no clear favorites among the salts.
But if we're just talking about a sprinkle to finish a dish at the end, then obviously the different colors and textures can have an impact as a garnish.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Perennial Plate: Wild Edibles

An fun little video about foraging for some common edible plants and making some ravioli from the bounty. I've only seen two episodes of The Perennial Plate, but I've liked the both quite a bit. I might need to start digging into the archives.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Serious Eats on Food Photography

Is it national food photography week or something? This guide is more about how to get good food photos at restaurants (very, very difficult to do without being rude and/or weird) than taking food photos at home... but the principles are the same: 1) Lighting 2) Lighting 3) Lighting 4) Other stuff.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Strobist

Man, I wish I had known about The Strobist (as described in this recent Slate article) when I decided I liked food photography enough to ditch my point and shoot for a DSLR. I probably would have approached the unending "lighting problem" in a significantly different (and cheaper) way if I had. As it is, it looks like there are some fairly cheap ways to move my flash off camera... so all is not lost... and conceivably I wouldn't really have understood the site as a complete n00b.

Anyway, even a partial n00b like me realizes that more often than not it's the lighting that makes the critical difference between a good or bad shoot... especially when we're talking food photography, where natural light is often not an option. Bouncing my flash off ceilings and walls has made a big difference, but the problem is that it is somewhat unpredictable and hard to control... I just bought a cheap diffuser to help with that, but moving the flash off camera is pretty intriguing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cheese Making 101 with Ricki Carroll

A Rennet Pouring Demonstration
Anybody who has read the Barbara Kingsolver book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is likely familiar with the cheese making workshops of Ricki Carroll. Before the Kingsolver family took off to southern Appalachia to live only on locally produced food, Barbara took Ricki's cheese making class, at the foot of the Berkshires, in Ashfield Massachusetts. Since the publication of that book, Ricki's cheese making supply business has doubled... and shows no signs of slackening.

Now, while both Anna and I have read Kingsolver's book... and her description of cheese making was indeed the prime motivation for our taking a class on the subject... we wouldn't have taken Ricki's class if it wasn't a mere 2.5 hour drive away in a part of Massachusetts we both love visiting. There are lots of cheese making workshops out there, and many that are not nearly as expensive as Ricki's. However, since she is one of the pioneers in home cheese making, has written a book that is well reviewed, and her class was reasonably convenient... Anna and I decided it was worth it... and after taking the class and thinking over the material I think we both still feel that way.

One thing to keep in mind as I describe the class is that selling cheese making supplies is Ricki Carroll's primary business, and many aspects of the workshop reflect this. I'm not saying there is anything nefarious about this (it is a business after all), it's just that nearly everything you use during the course of the class is something you can buy from them... from the elaborate $279 cheese press to the milk thermometer to the curd cutting knife to the curd stirring spoon. It's not that they make an over the top effort to sell you stuff, but they don't necessarily mention that you can make ricotta with the juice of a couple lemons instead of a $6 package of citric acid.

Cutting the Curds

The course costs $175 per person and lasts from 10 am to 5 pm with a break for lunch (provided, and quite good). There were 4 tables of 6-12 people each, so it's a relatively crowded class... so not the best choice if you are looking for more one on one instruction. The general theme is soft cheeses, but the only cheese that everyone gets hands on experience with is actually a hard one: farmhouse cheddar. The reason for this is that cheeses like ricotta, queso blanco, and mozzarella require higher heat and thus a burner of some kind... which they (wisely I think) restrict to direct supervision. It is the making of this farmhouse cheddar that forms the structure of the whole day of instruction... in that, as you wait (say) for the curds to form after adding the mesophilic culture and rennet, she'll either lecture on cheese making or demonstrate the making of another cheese with a volunteer. This back and forth is the general pattern of the workshop, but you also pause to taste various yogurts and and overnight cheeses as you learn how to make them.

Straining Our Curds and Whey

Included with the workshop are an intro DVD and the recipe booklets that come with all the starter kits they sell on their website. The recipe booklets let us decide exactly what supplies we wanted to buy... as opposed to the kits that often had things (like cheesecloth) we didn't need. Obviously you could much more easily (and cheaply!) get a cheese making book to make those determinations; assuming you don't see much value in the direct instruction of the workshop. As you would expect, they have everything you need to get started available for purchase and take home that day... and I have to admit we (and probably everyone) filled a big bag with supplies on our way out. Though they did give 10% off, so it wasn't complete impulse shopping after a fun filled day of cheese making... only mostly.

Making Sure the Pressure is Right

One of the more informative aspects of the workshop was seeing the effects of pasteurization on cheese making process. Ricki is very much a raw milk advocate, but you don't have to be a believer in the beneficial effects of the organisms living the said raw milk to see the dramatic effects of pasteurization... especially ultra-pasteurization... on curd formation. You will have a tough time making anything more than ricotta with milk that has been pasteurized at high temperatures.... and unfortunately nearly any name brand organic milk you buy will be pasteurized like this. At minimum, what you need is milk that hasn't been pasteurized past 170 °F (HTST)... but apparently, while it's required by law to label milk that's been pasteurized  up to 275 °F (UHT), there is a lot of milk that's been pasteurized 191-212 °F... i.e "ultra-pasteurized", that sucks for cheese making, but requires no special label. I think you can still make some cheeses with the latter milk, but mozzarella made from this will certainly disappoint... and without a doubt your yield (i.e. pounds of cheese per gallon of milk) will be much worse.  Ricki says that Whole Foods 365 brand is generally local (and thus doesn't need the ultra-pasteurization treatment to get to the market and last on the shelf) and might be worth a shot, but she recommends simply buying raw milk from your local dairy farmer... however that's obviously not an option in every state in the Union. Thankfully, Ricki and her team have compiled a list of "good milk" as a helpful resource to finding milk in your area for cheese making.

The difference is really quite striking. For the making of farmhouse cheddar she passed out a gallon of milk to each of the four tables ranging from raw to ultra-pasteurized... and the difference in curd formation and even cheese coloration was stark. However, it was really the most obvious in the making of mozzarella, where the texture and flavor of the cheeses made with pasteurized and raw milk were quite distinct. Pasteurized milk produces a much more tender mozzarella, while the raw milk mozzarella was much more chewy and buttery... however, both were delicious, and preference would mainly be a matter of personal taste.  

Pressing Number Two

So that's my review/overview of the class. I've got a more pictures with detailed descriptions on Flickr if you want to better understand the pictures I've put up here. But hopefully this gives a fairly clear idea of what was involved for anybody who might be interested. As I mentioned, we have quite a bit of supplies and are anxious to get started with the cheese making thing... so in the coming weeks I'll be posting more specific thoughts/guides about individual cheeses as we work through them. You should be able to find such posts under the (fairly barren at the moment) cheese making label.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sam Sifton on Duck Ragù

This recipe looks awesome. However, I've never seen juniper berries in the store... though admittedly, it's not like I've been looking for them. While I had assumed the only place you'd encounter them is gin, I guess they're a traditional spice for wild game, and I recall Anna recently came across another recipe (a dessert of some kind) that called for them. We've been meaing to check out Penzey's in Arlington to see if it's better than Christina's... so perhaps collecting some juniper berries will provide the impetus for a visit.

Behavioral Economics and Gastrocrats

Grant AchatzJosh Ozersky calls out the "gastrocrats" who he believes are responsible for $3000 dinner reservations to Grant Achatz's Next appearing on Craigslist. Just the latest skirmish in the war between people who appreciate good food and people who consider appreciation of good food to be a status symbol to be proudly displayed. His basic point is not that high end restaurants aren't worth visiting... quite the opposite... he believes that since an  army of highly trained chefs can create things you could never dream of doing in your home kitchen, a pilgrimage to any of these "temples of gastronomy" is a wonderful experience... but  that people who don't really appreciate the food... only the bragging rights of eating at The Hot Restaurant of the Moment... are making it impossible for anyone without oodles of money or the right industry connections to ever experience it.

This, of course, relates to the IAAEB/Foodies=Gluttons themes I've posted about before... but I actually wanted to touch on the economics side of this phenomenon, based on a great Felix Salmon article on why we seem to love bad service. There appear to be two factors, the first is what was highlighted by Ozersky, and relates to status... and why somebody might actually pay $3000 to go to Next:
These restaurants have perfected the art of creating Veblen goods — items where demand increases as the price goes up. In this rarefied world, high prices are a feature, not a bug; they're status symbols that alert others to the fact that the patrons can pay $26 for something as basic as a spinach salad. They also serve to keep out the riff-raff. If L'Ami Louis cut its prices so that they were commensurate with the quality of the food and service, no one would go there anymore
So bidding up the cost of a reservation to Next is almost self-justifying. For some, evidence of the price they were capable of paying for that exclusive golden ticket is worth more than the meal itself. However, there is another, more interesting, aspect of this phenomenon which relates to the behavioral economics of our relationship with expensive restaurants:
The more you invest into something, the more you tend to get out of it. That's why expensive wine tastes better than cheap wine, even if you would have preferred the cheaper wine in a blind tasting. A $79 foie gras appetizer in Paris tastes that much better for being expensive. And once you've waited an hour and half just to be seated in a restaurant, you're going to be more excited to eat its food — not to mention hungrier.

Even when you're aware of the phenomenon, you can't escape it. One of the best meals I've eaten in the past year was at Vij's in Vancouver, a spectacular Indian restaurant with a no-reservations policy and a permanently long wait to get in. Would I have appreciated the meal as much if I'd been able to saunter into a half-empty restaurant and get served immediately? Quite possibly not. The quality of the food more than justified the two hours I invested waiting for a table. But at the same time, the two hours I invested waiting for a table probably also improved the perceived quality of the food.
Like it or not, scarcity simply makes things taste better. Are the $16 a pound tarbais beans (from France!) I get for cassoulet really so superior to the great northern beans I can easily find in any Supermarket? Or does the fact that I have to order them on the internet for a ridiculous amount of money make them taste so much creamier? Is the elusive black truffle of France so divine as to be clearly worth paying $500 a pound? Or is it the price that makes eating them so transcendent?

It's a bit of both I imagine, but anytime somebody tells you that something that is hard and/or expensive to gain access to is The Best Thing Evah... there is some reason for skepticism. Or perhaps we should just embrace the fact that a $400 anniversary dinner is simply going to taste that much better because we can only afford to do it once a year?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dim Sum Primer

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt demystifies the Dim Sum exeperience with a nice primer and slide show. I admit I've always been afraid to go without someone fluent in some form of Chinese. Of course, dating a vegetarian limits the traditional Dim Sum opportunities regardless, but we've been meaning to try the vegetarian Dim Sum at Myers+Chang.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thomas Keller's Fava Bean Agnolotti with Curry Emulsion

Fava Bean Agnolotti with Curry Emulsion
Anna did most of the work on this recipe... shucking, peeling, and cooking fava beens for the filling... making and rolling the pasta dough... and finally shaping the agnolotti. I basically just made the emulsion, lent moral support, occasionally pinched some pasta together, and washed some dishes. Nonetheless, I thought this would be a good recipe to post about... not least because it was freakin' delicious, but also because it's not as hard to make as the recipe would seem to indicate. Oh, and what exactly is agnolotti? Basically just a type of ravioli from the Piedmont Region of Italy... different mainly in that one side is folded over.

Intro out of the way, I guess it would be nice to note that you can find the recipe itself on Epicurious... however it originally comes from The French Laundry Cookbook. Thomas Keller is of course famously exacting and it shows through in this recipe, but none of the steps are particularly difficult in and of themselves... there's just a whole lot of them. You could conceivably do this on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and have your agnolotti ready for dinner... but you can also do what we did, and split it up over two days for what I think is a more manageable experience. Anna made the filling on Sunday and shaped the agnolotti on Monday while I made the emulsion. Even with the two of us working it still took one and a half to two hours to get dinner on the table. So unless you are some sort of pasta shaping expert you'll want to factor that in. Believe it or not, shaping roughly 48 agnolotti is fairly time consuming.

Shaping the Agnolotti
The pasta dough has so many eggs in it that it is actually quite easy to work with... no cracking, splitting, or sticking... though you should keep sheets of dough and the filled agnolotti under a wet towel to keep them from drying out. The recipe only calls for a half recipe of the dough, but like one of the commenters on Epicurious, we ended up using the full amount of pasta dough. Not sure where the disconnect comes from... maybe we should have rolled it thinner, but I found it to be thin enough since I could see my fingers through it. One thing we didn't have was a pastry wheel to make our agnolotti super cute... but for the most part they held together with just some pinching around the edges.

The emulsion is straightforward... you just reduce some stock and cream then add some (er, lots really)  butter before doing the emulsion part in a blender. I also blanched the scallions and chives (sadly no ramps or garlic sprouts in Shaw's - quelle surprise!) in the boiling water that was waiting for the pasta with a little steamer insert.

So like I said, not too hard but there are lots of steps... and it's no weeknight recipe unless you split it up over a couple of nights. It's a pretty fun little cooking project and the final dish is absolutely divine.  

Monday, April 18, 2011


Farmhouse Cheddar - 1 Week Old
So Anna and I went to a cheese making class out near the Berkshires this past weekend... and I took lots of pictures and Anna took lots of notes, so I should have a more expansive post up some time this week once I put it all together... however, this is not that post. This is just a picture of cheese with some foreshadowing. We've got all sorts of supplies, so I should have some fun cheese and yogurt making posts to put up in the not so distant future.

What you see above is some farmhouse cheddar (which we learned how to make) that had been aged about a week. Can you guess which one was made with raw milk?

Happy Marathon Monday Patriot's Day!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Artisanal Slaughterhouses?

From Food Curated we have a look inside Larry's Custom Meats, a small scale slaughterhouse in upstate New York. Be warned that this is fairly graphic, but I'm one of those people who thinks that if you eat meat then you should be comfortable with how that cow becomes food:

CADE (Part 2): The Good Slaughter: A Proud Meat Cutter Shares His Processing Floor
from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Vegan Recipes, Meaty Pictures

As reported by, apparently the vegan website/magazine VegNews has been using Photoshoped versions of iStockPhoto to illustrate its recipes... and quite frequently the pictures aren't of "veganized" meat dishes, but of actual meat dishes. I guess this is the Food Porn to actual pr0n equivalent of finding out all those hot babes you were ogling were actually men in drag. Is it a terrible scandal? Well, since I'm not a vegan, don't know what's involved with publishing a magazine, and don't read VegNews... you'd probably have a hard time finding someone less qualified to have an opinion on this, but the internet being what it is I'll throw one out there anyway: it seems like with all the myriad of food bloggers out there that it wouldn't be hard to find a bunch who could test your recipes and knew how to handle a camera. Would a food blogger looking for exposure really ask for that much money?

Is Sugar Killing Us?

Sour Patch Kids
A very interesting piece in this weekend's New York Times Magazine from science writer Gary Taubes about the evils of of sugar. A long piece like this is really impossible to excerpt, so you should just go read it... but the general idea is that if you consume enough sugar (including, but not limited to high fructose corn syrup - refined sugar is essentially identical), especially in liquid form, that when it is metabolized by the liver it is quite likely to be converted into fat... leading to insulin resistance and ultimately much worse things like metabolic syndrome and diabetes.  It's an interesting theory, though I'm not personally familiar with any of the research being cited, so I can't attest to its validity... but the article is an interesting read nonetheless... and a great example of how to write about science. Unfortunately at the end... assuming you buy his story...  the conclusion is: no, we don't know how much sugar is "too much".

So... I guess, being that I can consume it in quantities that would make an ten year old sick, I should probably cut back on the candy, huh?

Thursday, April 14, 2011


In the kitchen at El Bulli
Or: the "I Ate at El Bulli" piece. Noreen Malone at Slate mercilessly takes down the endless rhapsodic food writing pieces on the El Bulli experience. You should definitely read it, but I think the Frank Bruni quote echoes my thoughts the best:
El Bulli represents a "strain of merciless competition that split food lovers into two camps: those with the economic means and single-minded focus (or professional affiliation) to gain access to experiences as exclusive and rarefied as El Bulli, and those who had to listen to the rapturous accounts, nod appreciatively and cop to envy, which they were absolutely supposed to feel."
Now, to some extent this is perfectly fine... people read travel writing about places they'll never be able to go... so what's wrong with writing about a restaurant experience that only a select few could ever have? Not a whole lot if that's all it is... a sort of food tourism piece... but I think it's the bragging and one-upsmanship among the food writers themselves, that strikes me as the most unsavory. There is a definite foodie merit badge snobbishness that I don't think can be denied.

Now, if I had dined at El Bulli would I have written a rhapsodic blog post about it? Of course... with tons of pictures! But I think that foodies need to understand... when people talk about Foodies being Gluttons, this is precisely what they are talking about. Nothing in this writing appeals or applies to 99.9% of the world's population... it's just foodies showing off for each other... and you know, fine, right? I'm a foodie and I like showing off too, but let's not get all defensive next time people point it out, OK?

Look, it's National Grilled Cheese Month, alright?

Grilled Gruyère and marinated onion sandwich
Srsly. So I know I've posted almost nothing but grilled cheese pictures lately, but I at least have some justification for this particular one.

The recipe for this grilled Gruyère and marinated onion sandwich is from the LA Times... who did a little recipe slide show to mark the occasion.

Anyway...  great, great sandwich. Like the technique of toasting over low heat very much... I've always done it medium high, which tends to char the bread by the time you get the cheese all nice and gooey. A simple thing that can make a big difference: take your time. I prefer a more open crumb than the country bread they suggest, however, because you get that awesome semi-burnt cheese effect as the cheese oozes through the holes. The marinated onions are awesome...  don't go light on them! Pile them on in a full layer. The marinating cuts the the sharpness of the raw onions by quite a bit, but the vinegar still gives them a little bite. Since a smallish onion will make a full cup of sliced onions I just doubled that part of the recipe and had plenty to pile on and plenty left over for a salad  (or whatever). Also, whoever thought of putting mustard on a grilled cheese is a certified genius. I'm sorta sad that the first time I had it was only a couple of years ago (at Hi-Rise)...  all those grilled cheese opportunities missed. Oh well.

Besides the time to marinate the onions, this couldn't be an easier recipe... and no special ingredients required.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More on "Egg Coffee"

The food blog Khymos has an older post on the strange phenomenon of Scandinavian Egg Coffee with lots of added science.

I'm seriously thinking about mixing an egg into the grounds that go into the top chamber of my vacuum pot, letting it brew at the top for a bit longer than usual, and then just seeing what happens. It would be a shame to waste good beans on something that could be terrible, but it seems that would be the only fair comparison.

Best Bottle for the Aspiring Wine Lover?

Beaujolais - Fleurie
Eric Asimov says Beaujolais:
It seems both an obvious choice and an absurd one. Beaujolais’s historic reputation as a juicy, joyous wine was at odds in the last quarter of the 20th century with its descent into a banal beverage more noteworthy for the marketing success of Beaujolais nouveau than for pleasure in the glass.

But in the last 15 years, Beaujolais has come back strong. Numerous small producers, focused squarely on quality, have seized the initiative in the region, setting a template for success in Beaujolais. In the process, they have not only revived the reputation of Beaujolais for exuberant, spirited wines, but have also won the region new respect for complexity and even age-worthiness. This is especially true of wines from the 10 crus, the highest echelon of Beaujolais terroir, which include the five best-known: Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent.
Click through for an interesting read and a review of ten 2009 bottles all around the $20 price point.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Flavor Bouncing

Grant Achatz on how he comes up with dishes:

This is an aspect of cooking that is simply beyond me at this point. I really just don't understand flavors that well. We got The Flavor Bible from the library once, but it was basically over my head when I glanced through it. Maybe I should give it another try.

Scandinavian Egg Coffee Review

As you can guess, "Scandinavian Egg Coffee" is coffee you make by using an egg to settle the grounds. Unfortunately the results seem disappointing:
The resulting pot is a beautiful golden-amber color, remarkably free of cloudiness or sediment. But it both smells and tastes, well, exactly like something you'd get in a church basement after a rousing game of Bingo.

Because of the extreme high heat and constant agitation from the rolling boil, the coffee tastes acrid, burnt, and overextracted: Kind of like a big, sloppy kiss from your chain-smoking Aunt Sylvia. The cup has an unmistakably clean and silky body, as the egg causes the grounds settle heavily in the bottom of the pot.
I heard about this tradition from a Neal Stephenson book, and had always been curious about it... I wonder if it would be better if you did it traditional French Press style instead of boiling it, but still added an egg to the grounds?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Recipes, Japan, and Charity

Ever since I changed this site from an insipid and amateurish political blog into an insipid and amateurish food blog, I've generally stayed away from current events... but everybody saw what happened (and is still happening) in Japan... and this particular charity on Japan's behalf involves both the Red Cross and food, so I thought it worth a post...  from Serious Eats:
This is a good cause and it involves Japanese food. Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, How to Cook Everything author Mark Bittman, our very own Kenji, and some other good food folks have teamed up with founder Phil Michaelson to provide Japanese recipes to help the American Red Cross with their relief efforts in Japan. To support the cause, go to and click on the fundraiser link. 
Donors will immediately get a digital cookbook with 21 Japan-inspired recipes (including miso-glazed salmon and Tonkotsu ramen) for any contribution of $10 or more. Of every dollar donated through June 30th, 86 cents will go directly to the American Red Cross' efforts on behalf of Japan.
Though note: the recipes you get are on, which I've not used and can't speak towards it's quality. If you're not interested in trying out that site, you're probably better off just giving directly to the Red Cross (or whatever your favored charity may be).

I'll probably give it a shot though... because, hey, why not?

Ruhlman vs. Public Health

Isolated bacteria - Micrococcus luteus
In a post about stock, Michael Ruhlman probably freaked out more food safety professionals, public health officials, and general germaphobes than can be counted:
Last week I posted on Twitter that leaving chicken stock (recipe below) out on the stovetop all week was fine and I got all kinds of mystified tweets about how could this possibly be safe.
People are unnecessarily afraid of bacteria. Once your stock is cooked, it’s safe to eat. If there was bad bacteria in it, you’d have killed it. Let it cool uncovered (the faster the better; don’t fear bacteria but don’t give them the upper hand). Leave the pot out on the stove top (covered or uncovered once it’s cooled, doesn’t really matter). Bring it up to heat the next day and any bacteria that landed there and began to mulitply (and they multiply with astonishing speed at 90 to 110 degrees F.) will be dispatched well before the stock hits a simmer.
People who cook seem to always be at war with food safety guidelines... I guess because of things like how the USDA tends to recommend vastly overcooking every piece of meat in the name of safety, is considering banning raw milk cheeses, and is deathly afraid of raw milk in general. Of course, what's a minor risk to a person can be a fairly large public health hazard on the population level... so it's not hard to understand where they're coming from, even if you don't agree with it. I used to generally favor paternalism on these issues in the past... protecting people from their stupid selves... but now pretty much only care about it on the restaurant level. I'm not sure Yelp reviews can quite as adequately protect me from food poisoning as the Health Department... but think we should let people make their own decisions in their own homes. I wouldn't leave a pot of chicken stock out all week, but that's more from living with a vegetarian who probably wouldn't enjoy the smell of me reheating it everyday. On holidays like Thanksgiving, where fridge space is at a premium, I've considered leaving half-prepared dishes out overnight... I was going to cook it the next day anyway, right? Wouldn't that kill all the bacteria? But in the end never really felt it was worth it... and just made more space in the fridge. YMMV.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Braised Pork Ribs?

admiring the smoker we put together
The New York Times has an article about a possible trend in chefs doing more braising instead of smoking of pork ribs. Heresy? Probably... the author decribes the historical problems with ribs not made in a smoker thusly:
Until recently, barbecue connoisseurs in places like Kansas City would have considered ribs cooked in the oven little short of blasphemy. In barbecue country and elsewhere, the technique had a miserable reputation that, in truth, was often deserved. Some restaurants baked ribs with overly sweet commercial barbecue sauce. Others, to avoid drying them out, would cook ribs in boiling water. As with braising, the idea behind boiling ribs is to tenderize them before tossing them on the grill or under the broiler to caramelize and crisp the exterior.

The problem with boiling is that it’s a flavor-removing, not flavor-enhancing, cooking method. (When you make stock, you boil bones with the express purpose of transferring the flavor from the meat to the water.) By contrast, braising in the oven adds flavor, because you’re cooking the ribs in a small quantity of flavorful liquid in a sealed environment.

Many restaurants made matters worse when they slathered boiled or baked ribs with barbecue sauces pumped up with artificial smoke to compensate for lackluster flavor. The result? Ersatz barbecue and a lost generation of rib eaters, especially in traditionally non-barbecue regions like the Frost Belt and the Northeast, which came to confuse liquid-smoke-flavored oven-cooked ribs for true pit barbecue.

The chefs who are now rescuing oven ribs from their lowly reputation take a profoundly different approach. “We’re not trying to fake true barbecue,” said Mr. Shook of Animal. Instead, he and some of his colleagues around the country are deploying the braising technique, which he said builds layers of flavor utterly different from those that can be achieved in a smoker.
From a restaurant perspective, if you're not a barbecue joint it makes total sense to eschew the smoker... which requirer expensive equipment and can engender neighborhood complaints. For a home chef, I guess it depends on whether you have a backyard and how many months of the year you can use it... for me the answers are "no" and "not many", so certainly a backyard smoker isn't attractive. Though they do have indoor ones that seem to get good reviews... but I am still a little afraid of accidentally summoning the fire department (nor do I really need another cooking device). Regardless, I think the last paragraph of the quoted section is probably the most import... not trying to replicate barbecue in the oven, but also not being afraid to cook pork ribs simply because it's not the real way to do it. Anyway, I think I'll give one of these two recipes a shot in the coming weeks: Milk and Honey Ribs or Sweet-Sour Balsamic-Glazed Ribs. I think the milk and honey ones sound the most interesting along the "not trying to be barbecue" lines.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Under the Weather

Haven't been feeling too well lately, so that's why no updates... but I'm on the mend and back at work, so hopefully blogging will resume shortly.