Thursday, June 30, 2011

Leek Tart

Leek Tart
Anna made this from a recipe at food52, and while it looks good, we weren't entirely pleased with the results. The flavors were good, but Anna didn't enjoy working with the dough... she had to make two batches because of cracking and the second one still leaked (I would suggest using your preferred tart shell recipe)... and the dish's aroma was, shall we say, not appetizing. I have no idea why that was, but all the ingredients she used were Farmers' Market fresh, so I don't think it was an issue on our end. Overall I thought it was decent, but fairly disappointing results from an "editor's pick" over there. Maybe I should just stick to stuff endorsed by Merrill or Amanda... or maybe I'm just especially cranky today (entirely possible).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ricotta Calzones with Red Peppers, Spinach, and Goat Cheese

Calzone - Mmmmm

So what to do with all that homemade ricotta? Why make calzones of course! This recipe is adapted from Cook's Illustrated (sub required)... and it really is adapted (not just copied) because I thought they had some pretty loopy instructions about parchment paper rounds and needing a food processor/stand mixer for mixing a very dry dough (hydration: 56%). So this recipe has been streamlined for people who have baked some bread or pizza on a pizza stone before... not experts, mind you (I certainly am not one), but if you've never used your pizza stone for anything other than frozen pizza then this may be a little hard to follow and I'd recommend the Cook's Illustrated version.

I made most of my notes within the recipe itself, but one thing up top: you can use regular or baby spinach here, but you're definitely going to want to stem any regular spinach. Oh, and we also didn't actually use goat cheese here (false advertising!) but a local cow's milk cheese with a similar flavor and texture... something I'm very curious as to how they accomplished, but that's a job for another day.

If you don't need six calzones at one meal, you can either bake these all the way and then reheat leftovers on the stone for ten minutes, or under cook them a bit, freeze them, and then bake until golden (not sure how long). I did the former and Anna did the latter, though she has yet to sample a frozen one.

  • 22 ounces bread flour (4 cups)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 envelope)
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 1/2 ounces water (1 1/2 cups water, plus 1 tablespoon)
  • 10 ounces whole-milk ricotta
  • 8 ounces shredded fresh mozzarella (2 cups)
  • 1 1/2ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves
  • Table salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch by 2-inch strips
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound spinach, washed, dried, and stemmed (about 4 cups)
  • 8 ounces goat cheese , crumbled
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing and kosher salt for sprinkling
  • Cornmeal for dusting
  1. You could make this dough in a stand mixer or food processor or something, but I think that makes you a big baby. C'mon it's just dough! They were making calzones before electricity people. OK, rant done: In a large bowl whisk flour, yeast, and salt to combine. Add olive oil and water and mix with a spoon until mixture comes together in a shaggy ball. Transfer to counter and knead by hand until an elastic dough forms that passes a medium window pane test (10 minutes or so). Form the dough into a ball and then transfer it to a lightly oiled large bowl. Spray the ball with a little cooking spray and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours (should double in size).
  2. Meanwhile, combine your ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, egg yolk, oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper in medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate: try not to sample the delicious cheese mixture because your mom will kill you if she finds out you ate something with raw egg in it.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a dutch oven (or any pot large enough to hold the spinach) over high heat until oil begins to smoke. Add red bell peppers and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook (with little stirring) until the peppers are slightly softened and spotty brown (5 minutes). Add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon minced or pressed garlic and cook until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Turn off heat and stir in spinach and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Stir until spinach is wilted (1 minute). Transfer mixture to paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Once the mixture is cooled, pat with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
  4. Now this sort of depends on your oven... and if you use a baking stone regularly to bake bread or pizzas you'll know best here. However, I find that my oven runs pretty hot and I'll burn things if I put the stone on the bottom (as is commonly suggested) and think cooking is most even with it in the upper third. YMMV. Anyway, adjust oven rack to upper third of oven, set baking stone on oven rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Turn risen dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Divide dough in half, cut each half into thirds, and then reshape each piece of dough into ball. Transfer to a lightly oiled baking sheet, lightly spray balls with cooking spray, and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rest 15 to 30 minutes.
Calzone Filling
  1. Working with one piece of dough at a time (keeping other pieces covered) roll dough into 9-inch round on a lightly floured workspace (note: if it's too springy and won't roll out - let it rest some more). Place 1/2 a cup of cheese filling on the bottom half of the dough round. Spread the cheese mixture around in an even layer (staying on the bottom half of the dough round) using a spatula.... but make sure to leave a 1-inch border. Then spread 1/6th of the pepper mixture over the cheese and sprinkle with 1 ounce of goat cheese. Fold the top half of dough over filling, leaving 1/2 inch border of bottom layer uncovered. Lightly press around silhouette of cheese filling and out to edge to lightly seal dough and face this newly pressed seam towards yourself.
Shaping  a Calzone
  1. This next part is a little hard to explain (and Anna did it to be honest - I just watched), but starting at the left end of the seam, you want to place a finger diagonally across edge and gently pull the single layer of dough and fold it up and over the tip of your finger onto the double thickness section. Then you pull your finger out and it leaves a nice little crimped edge. Did that make any sense? Probably not, but if you look at the picture below I think you can figure out how it works. Regardless, working around the perimeter of the calzone, you repeat this process until the edge is fully sealed. With a sharp knife cut 5 slits, about 1 1/2 inches long across top of calzone, making sure to not to cut completely through it. 
Calzone Ready To Bake
  1. We did the baking one at a time, but you could certainly make them all and bake in batches (more than 3 won't probably fit on a baking stone at once). But to prepare for baking, brush top and sides of a calzone with extra-virgin olive oil and lightly sprinkle with kosher salt (be careful here, you're not making a pretzel). Put calzone onto pizza peel (or rimless baking sheet) that has been lightly dusted with cornmeal and then slide it onto the hot baking stone. Bake until golden brown (about 11 minutes). They need to cool a bit before you eat them, but if you're going one-by-one you'll want to cover them with foil while you bake the rest.
Calzone - Dinner

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Making Homemade Ricotta

Making Ricotta
Ricotta is the first cheese I heard about making at home... well before any cheese making course... and I've known it's easy, fun, and basically foolproof for just as long. But we still had never gotten around to making it until this weekend. The recipe is as simple as can be: whole milk (plus maybe some cream) and acid that's all brought up to about 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit to precipitate out the cheese (full recipe here). After a few minutes sitting you just drain it from anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours based on your desired consistency.

Two things to keep in mind:  1) you definitely don't want it to boil: it will taste cooked and weird  2) if nothing is happening as you get close to 170 degrees F add more acid until it does (see the recipe). We fell afoul of the second one, but it's truly easily fixed... the curds will separate just like magic when you get the pH and temperature right. We drained ours for about two hours, looking for a denser and creamier product, and it came out looking like this:

Ricotta Drained
As an aside it's pretty hard taking pictures of white things in poor lighting. So the only thing you really need to buy for this is the acid... for the most precise control you'll want citric acid, but there are also recipes out there just using the acid in buttermilk or lemon juice.

So really, not a lot holding anybody back from trying this... definitely a lot of fun (has a bit of a chemistry experiment feel) and the end product was absolutely delicious. Definitely recommended.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Congrats New York

Welcome to the club.

I'm looking at you West Coast...  what kind of caveman enterprise are you running over there?

Friday, June 24, 2011


Zuccaghetti - Close up

"What is zuccaghetti?", you may ask... a perfectly reasonable question since I imagine food52 user dymnyno made the word up when she wrote the recipe in question. In short, it's making a sort of faux noodle from zucchini by julienning it very, very thinly... and it vaguely resembles spaghetti made from zucchini.  There is no cooking in the recipe: just the julienning, some salting and draining of the zuccaghetti, and then finally the making of the creamy tarragon dressing. So pretty straightforward except for the prep... with the only problem is that I think doing the prep by hand is essentially impossible... or if not impossible then so tedious as to not be remotely worth it. I recommend a mandoline/v-slicer, but apparently there are also julienning peelers out there that do the job as well (and are cheaper and easier to store - though not as versatile).

Anna and I were both impressed with this dish and thought it came out very well. If you've got a garden this seems like a good way to use some of the bounty of summer squash coming your way... or for the rest of us, the bounty available at the farmer's market (though alas, these were supermarket zucchini). I would note that I completely agree with the Amanda and Merrill's comments that rinsing the salt off the zucchini is unnecessary... in fact I think the dish would be woefully under seasoned if you did.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Vegan Who Eats Bacon

Vegan superstar chef Tal Ronnen on militant veganism:
"So many people tell me, 'I could be a vegan if it weren't for bacon,' and I tell them, 'Be a "vegan" who eats bacon,'" Ronnen says with a shrug as he sits in the sun-dappled dining room of his loft in downtown Los Angeles.

Wha? Isn't that sacrilegious?

Ronnen sighs. "Real militant vegans hate when I say that. But if you are cutting back on the amount of meat that you eat, you're still doing something great for your health, for the planet and for the animal."
I have certainly scoffed at the concept of "a vegetarian who eats fish"... I mean, words have meanings and you just can't eat animal flesh and be a vegetarian... however, I think the approach to lessening meat consumption that's highlighted in the article is exactly the right one. Worrying about the eating semantics of how everybody's diet should be precisely labeled just seems like a colossal waste of time to me. No, somebody who eats bacon on their black bean burger shouldn't be called a vegan, but if they're not eating dairy and they're not eating meat otherwise... that's a hella lot better than most people, and embracing them seems a lot more effective on the animal suffering point than letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Also: "A Vegan Who Eats Bacon" would be one of the best blog titles ever. So somebody go get it... I'd snap it up myself, but I could never change my diet that much... and "A Vegan Who Eats Dairy, Bacon, and Often Meat" is just wrong, no matter what Tal Ronnen says.

The Importance of Milk Fat (or How I Screwed Up Finocchio al Forno)

Fennel Baked in Cream - Ready For Oven

Last night I tried to make Saveur's Finocchio al Forno (Fennel baked in cream), but it being the summer (and thus me being a little more calorie conscious with a beach trip coming up) I thought to replace the heavy cream with some light cream... what could possibly go wrong? Well, you see above a nice luscious and creamy fennel ready to go into the oven for an hour (after it gets dotted with butter)... and what you see below:

Fennel Baked in Cream - Curdled!

... is clearly not rich and creamy. That, my friends, is curdled cream... though not bad milk in your fridge curdled (i.e. not smelly or rotten)... simply the curds and the whey separating (as in cheese making). While very much a novice cook, I am certainly experienced enough to know this would happen (and as I was pouring in the light cream I started to worry)... there are threads in every cooking forum and entire recipes and articles devoted to keeping mac and cheese or potatoes au gratin from curdling.

Milk fat is a powerful stabilizer, and it's very dicey to cut the milk fat of any dairy (including cheese) dish that will be exposed to high heat. What I should have done is either use 1) evaporated milk which, while lower in fat than cream, has already been cooked and is incredibly stable, or 2) use guar or xanthan gum as a chemical stabilizer.

Of course, I didn't do that, but maybe you will next time you're trying to lighten up a creamy dish. I actually do plan on trying the evaporated milk method in a mac and cheese in the near future, so I'll report back with the results.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scotch Pronunciation Guide

I find this Esquire guide invaluable, since I occasionally like a glass of scotch after a nice meal... but always reveal myself as a uncultured n00b by having to point at the menu and go "Uhhhh... I don't know how to say it..."

But no longer! Bookmarked on the phone: la-ga-VOOL-in

3 Ingredient Summer Cocktails

As a nice antidote to "mixology", The New York Times offers up some simple cocktails for the summer:
Thanks to practitioners like Mr. Wiese, we live in an age of cocktails that isn’t gilded so much as trimmed in platinum, reinforced with titanium and tipped with mercury.

But there’s a flip side to this creative efflorescence, looming large as summer tightens its sweaty grip and demand for refreshment grows: The gap between zeitgeist cocktails and stuff you might actually whip up at home has become a chasm.
They have a pretty nice interactive feature up as well, though the article provides links to additional cocktails not shown in the feature. Generally I've favored a pitcher of planter's punch or mojitos when we've wanted to do something nice, simple, and summery, but I like that these are set up as recipes for individual cocktails... gives you a lot more options and works significantly better (from a not getting wrecked standpoint) in smaller gatherings. Some of them still seem to suffer from the fact that you have to buy some exotic specialty liqueur that you'll never use for anything else, but overall they seem to be strong recipes... a great way to change things up. I'll be bookmarking this for our trip to the beach in August.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Organic Strawberries and a Fair Wage

A nice story about the pioneering ways of Swanton Berry Farm in Saveur:
Eliminating pesticides and prioritizing flavor have given him a business reason to rethink labor, too. Most growers pay temporary workers to strip the plants as quickly as possible; it's all about high yield. But with lower yields and delicate fruit, Cochran couldn't afford to lose berries to manhandling; he needed workers who would pick carefully. But above all it was a moral question: "If I'm doing something good for the people who buy strawberries, why wouldn't I want to make things better for the people who grow them?" So Cochran paid a better wage and started growing other crops that ripen at different times so that he could employ a regular staff year-round. Then, in 1998, Cochran made organic farming history a second time, when he invited the United Farm Workers to his fields, making Swanton Berry the nation's first unionized organic farm. Today, his workers have health insurance, paid vacation, and an employee stock ownership plan. This way, says Cochran, he has assurance that his fields are tended by a staff of agricultural professionals. And he gets a marketing boost among conscious shoppers by putting the union label on his package.
Not a story you hear often about farming in this country.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Late Night Snack

Late Night (for Old People) Cheese PlateAdmittedly, 8:15 isn't very late, but it sure felt that way when I was putting together this dish.

Cheeses (Clockwise from left): Morbier, Keen's Farmhouse Cheddar, Gruyere Vieux

Accompaniments: Nuts and Honey, Mostarda, Casalingo

Served with lightly toasted bread. Better than a bowl of popcorn methinks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dave Arnold goes Raw Vegan

...for a week. Apparently the director of technology at the French Culinary Institute lost a bet. Pretty funny and (as always) very thorough and informative.

Homemade Mozzarella

So it only took us two months since our cheese making course to actually... you know... whip out the ol' rennet and citric acid and make some cheese. Of course we had forgotten basically everything we learned from the course at that point, but luckily Anna, like the excellent student she is, took copious notes... so all was not lost.

Knowing that the level of pasteurization of the milk is critical in mozzarella making... pasteurization at temps of 191-212 F are common in supermarket milk (especially organic)... we picked up milk from a local farm at Formaggio Kitchen.

Milk for Cheese Making

As long as you have good milk, the recipe is fairly straightforward. In short: you add some acid to your milk to start it curdling, get it up to 90 F and then add your rennet, let it rest until a solid curd has formed, cut the curds and then drain them... and finally heat (to 175 F) and stretch the curds. So not too hard, right? Our only difference from what I linked is that we did it on the stove, not a hot water bath... the danger there being that you can scald the milk on the stove, but we did fine in that regard. Besides the milk, the key variable is how much you work the curds, which will determine how dry the final product is. In fact, if you like a super soft and moist mozzarella, there are recipes that involve no handling at all (though without stretching, it's not technically mozzarella).

I'd advise a good thermometer, but besides the rennet and citric acid there isn't anything else you need to special order. Note that this isn't a way to save money or anything... getting good milk is fairly expensive (unless you own a cow of course)... like 5-6$ for a gallon of milk to make, I dunno, half a pound of cheese at most? I thought our final product was great... and it was fresh as can be... but was it better than 5-6$ mozzarella from the store? Maybe, maybe not... though admittedly this was our first attempt... but, regardless, making it was certainly a lot more fun than shopping.

We decided to try our mozzarella on smitten kitchen's roasted peppers, capers, and mozzarella salad... though we subbed in basil for parsley. Not much to say about the recipe itself... thought it turned out really well, and was easy enough to follow. Recommend... a great way to show off homemade mozzarella.

Roasted Peppers with Capers and Homemade Mozzarella

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pickled Snap Peas

Pickled Snap Peas
A great way to save that big bag of snap peas from the farmer's market that's going bad in your fridge. I make them every year and really love them... the pickled version is admittedly not superior to eating them right off the vine, but it's pretty damn good... especially if you don't have any vines. The recipe is originally from The Joy of Pickling, but you can find it online at Smitten Kitchen... dead easy to do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Real Price of Prix Fixe

New York - Mario Batali's Del Posto
Obviously the name implies that the "real" price is what they print on the menu... that's the phrase means, no? But as this excellent Bloomberg article points out, it is seldom the case:
Because if you’re plunging into a four-hour meal, you’re probably not dining alone. And if you’re taking out a client (or wooing a date), you’re not likely to be splitting the bill.

So: Flush with cash? Mario Batali’s Del Posto serves Manhattan’s most expensive meal, the 12-course “Collection” with mandatory wine pairings: $1,269 for two. Masa’s $1,142 before-sake price gives teetotaling couples a break.

For the city’s priciest three-course dinner, try Gordon Ramsay’s $343 bash.

You won’t see those faint-inducing figures on your menu.

You’ll find them on your check
Click through if you want to see their compilation of "real" prices for New York City. The costs of a six-courses+ with wine pairings is pretty eye popping, but the Del Posto offering is $500 per person on the menu... so you clearly couldn't expect to get out of there for less than $1300. At this point in my life I can't imagine spending nearly the cost of a class at UMass on a dinner... no matter how transcendent (some foodie I am)... but the three course prices hit a little closer to home, and they don't even include drinks. You really do have to do all the math on tax, tip, and drinks if you are budgeting for a fancy dinner... otherwise you are definitely asking for serious sticker shock.

So in that sense I think this is a pretty great article, but I don't know if I really get the calls for restaurant transparency. I mean, sure, if they offer an optional wine pairing they should probably show you want the total would be... but it's not like they should be putting tax and 18% gratuity on the menu, right? Or should they? I think no, but it's an interesting idea at least.

What I'd really like to see is somebody put this same list together for Boston. Maybe I'll do it, but what'd you really want is somebody monitoring price changes more closely than I think I have time for.

City Kitchen

A new weekly cooking column announced for the New York Times:
...dedicated to the small — even tiny — urban kitchens everywhere, and the cooks who inhabit them. As well as the daily quandary: what’s for dinner?
Well that certainly applies to my kitchen... and I also often want to know what's for dinner... so, hey, perfect fit. The column is written by David Tanis of Chez Panisse, who I know nothing about, but am certainly willing to give a shot... the inaugural column (on beans) is here. Can't say I really agree with his dismissal of canned beans, though if I was making a bean salad I'd probably make the beans myself too... but I see no reason to dismiss them in general.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Food Trucks Catering Weddings/Bat Mitzvahs

If you thought that food truck thing was soooo 2010, it apparently still has some legs:
Amy Maureen Yee had all the trappings of a Brooklyn wedding. An off-white lace dress that was a remake of a vintage gown. Bundles of tulips grown by her and the groom.

And food trucks serving huaraches, schnitzel and dumplings on paper plates.

"We started to look at traditional caterers and the costs were just crazy," said Ms. Yee, who got married last month in the Green Building in Carroll Gardens. For a third of the price she hired three food trucks instead.
They say that many food trucks derive as much as half their income from catering, and I gotta say a food truck does seem perfectly suited for the task... as long as the guests don't mind paper plates.

via Eater

Cold Brewed Coffee

I've posted about cold brewed coffee before, and even though that was two years ago I have still yet to try it. Well apparently there is a newer, even hipper, cold brewing method distinct from the old skool (circa 2007!) steep and strain method called the "Japanese iced method", and detailed by Oliver Strand here. The advantage seems to be that you can drink it right away, instead of needing overnight steeping.

One of these days I'm actually going to need to cold brew some coffee, instead of just linking to articles about it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Rise of Agritourism

Pretty interesting story in the New York Times about small farms using tourism to defray costs:
“The whole idea is to get the farm in a productive state so that it carries itself, so that it pays its own way,” Mr. Maguire said early on a recent morning as he watched sheep file onto the raised stainless steel platform of an automatic milking machine. “The farm stay is an important economic portion of that.”

The United States Department of Agriculture predicts that this year the average farm household will get only about 13 percent of its income from farm sources. Agritourism is appealing because it increases the family’s income from the farm, potentially reducing the need for off-farm jobs.

The U.S.D.A.’s census of agriculture, which is conducted every five years, estimated that 23,000 farms offered agritourism activities in 2007, bringing in an average of $24,300 each in additional income. The number of farms taking part fell from the previous census, in 2002, but at that time the average agritourism income per farm was just $7,200.

California, the nation’s largest farm state, was among the leaders in agritourism, according to the census, with nearly 700 farms averaging more than $50,000 in agritourism income.

The agritourism movement is fueled by city dwellers who want to understand where their food comes from or who feel an urge to embrace the country life.

Scottie Jones, who raises sheep and runs a farm stay in Alsea, Ore., received $42,000 in U.S.D.A. grants to start a Web site, Farm Stay U.S., which maintains a listing of farm stays around the country. The site began last June and now includes more than 900 farms and ranches, with about 20 listings added each month.
I imagine there will be any number of people out there laughing at the urban hipsters willing to pay $125 a night to see a cow get milked, but it seems like all win to me. People should visit farms, and if the farmers can make money off of it... well, then good for them. What's most sad (though not surprising) about the report is how little money farming makes. Definitely don't quit your day job to be a farmer... sounds like you'll need it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Tool for Restaurant Photography

I'm not a huge fan of the practice in general, though neither am I a h8ter: people take pictures of each other in restaurants all the time - why does it matter if it's food instead? However, on a personal level, I'd just feel sort of like a rude goofball whipping out my DSLR and blinding diners with big flashes... but it's either that or hoping you can hold your camera steady enough to go without a flash. Or at least, that's what I've always thought... but this video by Robert Caplin (via Strobist Strobist) shows that there is indeed another way:

How cool (and unobtrusive) is that? Unfortunately, it's not cheap... but if you regularly take pictures in restaurants it seems like a no-brainer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

(Sort of) Carnitas Tacos

Carnitas Tacos
Anyone experienced with true carnitas, can see that the above is entirely too moist... which doesn't make for a bad tasting taco by any means, but it wasn't what I was going for. Unfortunately I did a poor job of following Kenji's directions in this excellent recipe at Serious Eats (Kenji's discussion of the rationale for said recipe can be found here). You see, when I got to this step:
Transfer pork and liquid to strainer. Let drain for 10 minutes. Transfer pork back to casserole. You should end up with about 1/2 cup liquid and 1/2 cup fat. Using a flat spoon or de-fatter, skim fat from surface and add back to pork.
I read it as "defat the liquid and add back to pork" which, of course, is the exact opposite of what I was supposed to do... which is entirely clear if you look down and see that the pork cooking liquid is supposed to go into the salsa. I tried to strain it out once I realized my mistake, but it was too late.

So I ended up with too moist carnitas. Broiling it helped, and did get me some crispy bits, so next time I bring out the leftovers I'll broil just what I'm going to eat... which should be quick (important when it's 100 degrees)... and do a more thorough job of crisping things up.

UPDATE: Crisping up a small serving of my overly moist carnitas worked like a charm. I just used one of those toaster oven trays, so the layer was thin, and put it under the broiler for 5 minutes. Texture was perfect... though I suppose I risk drying out the pork too much.

UPDATE 2: A picture of the improved tacos...
Better Carnitas Tacos

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Myhrvold Burger

More food Science! today, with Modernist Cuisine's Nathan Myhrvold decontructing the classic burger. Interesting stuff, and he also provides this recipe:
First, put the beef patty in a plastic bag and cook it sous vide — immersed in warm water for about half an hour until the core temperature reaches about 130 degrees. Next, dip the patty in liquid nitrogen for 30 seconds to freeze the outer millimeter of the meat, and then deep-fry in 450-degree oil for one minute.
Perhaps a little out of the reach of home cooks, what with the sous vide and liquid nitrogen and all, but certainly a thorough response to the technical challenges of burger making.

Best Way To Thaw Meat

Harold McGee on the latest food science of meat thawing (exciting eh?):
It turns out that we can thaw frozen steaks and other compact cuts in as little as 10 minutes, without compromising their quality, and with very little effort. All you need is hot water.

This information comes, surprisingly, from research sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, though the methods aren’t yet officially recommended. The studies have been published in the Journal of Food Science and in Food Control.

At the U.S.D.A. labs in Beltsville, Md., Janet S. Eastridge and Brian C. Bowker test-thawed more than 200 one-inch-thick beef strip loin steaks in three different groups: some in a refrigerator at 37 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, some in a constantly circulating water bath at 68 degrees, and some in a water bath at 102 degrees.

Air-thawing in the refrigerator took 18 to 20 hours, while the room-temperature water bath thawed the steaks in about 20 minutes, and the hot-summer-day bath in 11 minutes. These water-bath times are so short that any bacterial growth would remain within safe limits.
You should click through for more at the link, but an important note is that this applies to relatively thin cuts of meat like steaks and fillets... they don't really know whether something like a roast will grow too much bacteria during the longer thawing time to be safe.

I have a feeling that the "hot water thaw" has been in widespread use despite past USDA concerns... because how else are you going to get dinner on the table if you forgot to thaw the chicken? Well I guess if you were worried that you might poison somebody this way you can now sleep easier.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


USA vs. Spain
It didn't go so well.

But hey, Tailgating was fun! Though I suppose we could have grilled burgers and sausages in anybody's yard and not have had to endure the indignity of Spain pantsing us.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Modern Culinary Tools and Cheese Making

Farmhouse Cheddar - 1 Week OldIn a Washington Post article about local chefs making their own cheese (above and beyond ricotta, which is fairly foolproof), I saw this nugget:
The chef’s modern tools give him an advantage that the cheesemakers of previous generations can only envy. Water circulators and induction burners regulate heat to the exact degree, which eliminates the stress of watching over the milk to make sure it reaches the proper temperature for adding the coagulating and flavor-generating cultures. Plus, induction burners don’t scorch milk.
The utility of an immersion circulator for cheese making is fairly obvious... since we were even told that making something like farmhouse cheddar, which requires heating milk to temperatures around 100 degrees, is much easier to regulate in a water bath in your sink. Clearly an immersion circulator is going to make that job a breeze. A convenience worth $800? Not for this home cook, but YMMV. The bit about induction burners "not scalding milk" is interesting... and they are certainly cheaper appliances... but it seems the limited number of power/temperature settings (e.g. 10 settings ranging from 140 to 450 degrees F) I've seen on models at Amazon seems like it might be problematic. Though perhaps the fact that when you turn off the power there's really not any residual heat gives you plenty of control... dunno, since I clearly have no experience with the things. Seem cool though.


An interesting article in the Times about aperitifs, which, as the article states, have always seemed a bit unapproachable to me:
As a result, today, the terms themselves — aperitif, aperitivo — affect some Americans like headlights do a deer. “They seem like foreign concepts because we’re not accustomed to using the word,” said Eric Seed, owner of Haus Alpenz, the Minnesota-based company responsible for importing Cocchi, Bonal, Zucca and other aperitifs.

But aperitifs are simplicity itself. Pour over ice, add soda water and an orange or lemon twist, and that’s that. The recipes haven’t changed much since the mid-1800s, when aperitifs took root as a popular tradition. Campari, Lillet and Dubonnet are a few of the benchmark creations of that era.

“They stimulate the appetite,” Ms. Miller said. “They do what the term ‘apertivo’ means: a before-dinner stimulant, that allows you to enjoy the aromas and flavors of the food that follows.”
My problem with aperitifs, beyond the above, comes from a nasty experience with Campari on the rocks... which I ordered trying to be sophisticated, I guess? Just wanted to try it? Whatever my motivation, little did I know it is strongly anise flavored (a truly vile flavoring in my opinion)... and just because ending up with a terrible tasting drink wasn't punishment enough, the bartender somehow heard me ask for two drinks. So that was nice... over a decade ago and I'm still scarred.

I think I'll just get a beer before dinner, and it'll just be Belgian if I want to feel worldly.