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.