Monday, April 23, 2012


I'm in San Diego this week for Experimental Biology, so no posts for a bit... but rest assured I am eating as many fish tacos and assorted Mexican delights as I can lay my hands on, so I'll try to do a roundup when I get back. Also there is science happening concurrently to tacos but I imagine readers are not so interested in my opinion on the talks and poster sessions... even though I am manifestly more qualified to give said opinions on physiology than I am on tacos, but hey that's blogging for you.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Oxford Spa

Blue Moo 2
Unless you are from New England, you're probably be asking yourself why is there a picture of a sandwich in a post about a spa... and what is a food blog doing talking about a place where people get mud baths anyway? Good question! In this case we are talking about the little known third definition of spa which means "soda fountain"... and is apparently only used this way in the general vicinity of Boston. I know it's weird, but it's not my fault now is it? Why would people invent a new definition for a word for no apparent reason? I don't know, but that's what they did so here we are.

So besides giving you a new definition for spa to impress your friends with, I don't really have a lot to say about Oxford... it's a delightful sandwich shop about 2 blocks from my apartment and it is quite good. Cambridge isn't exactly hurting for sandwich shops, but this is genuinely one of the better ones... not quite as good as Hi-Rise, but equivalent to Darwin's.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chloe's Kitchen: Mongolian BBQ Seitan

Mongolian BBQ Seitan
Was up in Maine this past weekend celebrating the battles of Lexington and Concord as all Massachusetts and Maine(was a part of MA until 1820) residents are required to do... when we all pitched in to make this dish. Also, there was apparently a marathon.

As the title states, this recipe is from Chloe's Kitchen. Chloe Coscarelli won Cupcake Wars as a vegan cupcake maker... which, while cool, means absolutely nothing to me. I have nothing against cupcakes, but I just don't watch the show... nor would winning a competition necessarily convince me that she's a good chef. But given that she probably knows her cupcakes, the clear question is whether anything other than the desserts are worth making. Well I can say at least in this particular dish's case that she knocks it out of the park: really easy to make but full of flavor... and from a glance through the cookbook that seem to be her general M.O. A couple of weird things: the book has lots of pictures of her where you might expect pictures of food and the serving sizes are pretty small. For the former, I guess this is great if you have a crush on her and/or the degree to which you are physically attracted to the author is one of the criteria you use to determine your cookbook purchases... and for the latter: just keep it in mind. We doubled this recipe for 3 people and there weren't a ton of leftovers... maybe two servings, and I'd at least like to think we're not pigs.


  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon agave
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 8 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 8 oz seitan, cut into thin strips
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 4 oz, snow peas, strings removed
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced on bias
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups cooked rice


  1. Whisk hoisin, water, soy sauce, agave, and chili-garlic sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Stir fry mushrooms and seitan until lightly browned and mushrooms have released their juices. Add ginger, cinnamon, and cloves and cook a few more minutes.
  3. Add the sauce and snow peas and reduce heat to medium. Let cook until sauce has thickened, which might happen quite quickly. Remove from heat and mix in scallions and cilantro and then serve over the rice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hipster Craft Beer

Craft Beer In A Can
Ah, Bengali Tiger from Sixpoint... only in Brooklyn would they put a great beer in a can just to mess with you. Definitely can't taste the can though, so I suppose I can't be too irate at their beer storage choices... and since light is the enemy of taste, an aluminum shield might make sense... but I tend to think this choice was made more for ironic (note: does not contain any actual irony) reasons than flavor.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Canal House Cooks Lunch

If you're looking for a new addition to your RSS feed I recommend Canal House Cooks Lunch... a very simple blog with great pictures. Possibly a great source of cooking inspiration if, like me, you've been in a bit of a cooking rut.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Problem of Veggie Burgers

Homemade Vegan Burger 2
I'm not sure I've ever met a vegetarian... and I've met a lot... who really likes veggie burgers. Many will eat them, of course, just as many a meat eater will eat a boxed chicken patty out of the freezer... but that meat eater probably wouldn't go to a nice restaurant and say "What in the way of breaded processed meat products do you have sitting in your freezer today?", and neither do many vegetarians get excited about the prospect of getting a veggie burger when dining out. Yes, there are usually a couple of places in any decent size city or college town that are going to serve "homemade" veggie burgers... and not just the stuff any of us can get at a supermarket... but here we come to the biggest problem of veggie burgers.

Even homemade veggie burgers usually suck. You generally have three kinds 1) a squishy oozy bean burger that slops out of the back of the bun, 2) or dry crumbly mishmash of vegetables and grains that fall apart as you pick it up, or 3) a weird chewy TVP meat analog that doesn't actually have any vegetables in it. The latter are generally what you get in the store, and not even worth making at home in my opinion... I'm not as anti-TVP as some, as I think it can add some interesting texture to dishes when used appropriately... but just eating a (admittedly seasoned) slab of it? Eh, no.

Anyway, this is your veggie burger background info for the uninitiated, and what led me to be really intrigued about Kenji's recent Food Lab post promising Vegan Burgers That Don't Suck. Indeed, his criteria for his burger were quite promising:
There are a few key characteristics that I look for in a great veggie patty.
  • The burger must be structurally sound. I want a veggie burger that holds its shape and doesn't have the texture of mashed potatoes, squishing out the back of the bun as I bite down.
  • The burger must have good textural contrast. All lumps or all smooth is no good. I want the patty to be soft and tender, but have little bits and bites of crunch and chew.
  • The burger's flavor must be good, but not overly assertive. I want my burger to have a good balance of savory flavors. What I don't is for a single flavor—say a spice or an herb—to dominate, restricting my topping choices.
  • The burger must hold together on a griddle or grill. A veggie burger that cracks or crumbles and falls into the grill grates when you cook it may as well not ever have existed int he first place.
  • The burger must not suck.
I mean, who can really argue with that? I suppose on the flavor point in some instances you might want your burger's taste to be dominated by a single vegetable flavor like mushrooms, but surely not a spice or herb... and I certainly favor the focus on a great texture and a savory, but relatively neutral, flavor profile. So I had really high hopes for these babies and couldn't wait to fry them up for Anna.

Unfortunately making his recipe this weekend was a fiasco. Now here I will note: he's changed the recipe. Kenji quickly responded to feedback from me and other disappointed fans, and went back to the drawing board to correct inconsistencies in how the burgers came together. So the recipe you'll find at Serious Eats right now is not actually the one I made, and may in fact be a recipe for the greatest veggie burgers ever conceived by man. However, I'm still going to talk about my experiences because... well... I hope they are instructive. At least I learned something. Plus I spent this whole last week messing around with them so I'm not about to let all that work go to waste without at least a blog post to commemorate it... but I'm also hoping that I can actually come up with my own recipe based on my experiments with tying to get Kenji's old one to work the way I wanted.

Flavor-wise I think the Food Lab recipe works great and I have no complaints. I also like the texture contrasts with the nuts, barley, and chopped vegetables. My main problem was that his patties had no clear binder (he says its the chickpeas - which makes sense in retrospect since they make flour out of them after all), and that they violated the first rule of Vegan Burgers That Don't Suck: they squished out of the back of the bun. In addition, Kenji lauds the addition of panko within 30 minutes of cooking the burgers for texture purposes, but all I could tell that it was doing was sucking all the moisture out of the patty and making it crumbly (thus violating the third rule of Vegan Burgers That Don't Suck). If you let the panko incorporate more fully it would act as a binder, but doing it Kenji's way just sabotages the structure to no noticeable benefit that I could detect.

So what to do? Well first I just ditched the panko... as I didn't see its utility as a texture enhancer nor was I excited about switching them over for use as a binder. Since I wasn't starting completely from scratch, I wasn't really looking for a different binder, but more of an an additive to keep my veggie burgers together. The most obvious one is eggs, but I was hoping to keep these patties vegan (even if I always add cheese anyway) so that was right out... but otherwise we have guar gum, vital wheat gluten, and arrowroot listed there. Plus I know you can use flaxseed as an egg replacer. I made one burger with some xanathan gum (don't have guar gum and they seem pretty interchangeable), but while the effect was interesting and worth exploring it didn't really address the core problem... the burger was still too squishy and fell out of the back of the bun. Vital wheat gluten is what I tried next, and that actually worked pretty well... I added 1-2 tablespoons of it per patty, kneading the mixture until the gluten developed and then just fried it up as normal. The result was a burger that stayed together and had a nice chew... without being too chewy... while maintaining the nice textural contrasts of Kenji's original.

I'm not done with this project by any means... I aim to see how egg performs to see if it's worth using flaxseed to attempt to replicate it... plus I'd like to try Xanthan gum in combination with the vital wheat gluten to see if that's an improvement. Eventually I'll also want to see how my additions compare to the updated recipe from Kenji.

But hey, it's a start.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Using a Scale to Make a Martini?

Ruhlman brings the OCD. Though I don't often drink martinis these days I do agree with his opinion that 1) it's made with gin, 2) a martini has vermouth in it no matter what Alfred Hitchcock said, and 3) it should be stirred not shaken... but the kitchen scale might be a step too far even for me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lack of Posting

Apologies for lacking any new content for a while, but I haven't been cooking a lot the last few weeks... or at least not cooking anything blog worthy. I am working on a post about homemade veggie burgers, but it requires a little more experimentation before it will go up sometime later in the week.