Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fried Green Tomatillos

Fried Tomatillo and Spicy Mayo Sandwich

This was a pretty delicious sandwich from Serious Eats, though the recipe was not without its issues. The quantities seemed really off to me... since when was it 4 tomatillos to a pound? Are these some kind of mutant gamma irradiated tomatillos? I only grabbed a pound (with about 15 tomatillos in that pound) and it was still waaaay too much for four sandwiches. So I guess use your best judgement. I really like the flavors in the spicy mayo, but it came out a little too thin to be perfectly spreadable so you might want to consider upping the mayo ratio as well. Also, even though I loves me some bacon it seems a little mean to make a sandwich so close to vegetarian and then go so far as to fry the tomatillos in bacon fat. But other than that, I really loved the tartness of the tomatillos... I've only ever really had them in a verde sauce, so this was a nice change. While breading and frying tomatillos is a little involved for a sandwich, I still think this is a worthwhile recipe.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Food and Culture

Red RoosterA few weeks ago Eddie Huang and Francis Lam posted a conversation over at Gilt Taste regarding Lam's New York Times article about chefs becoming famous for cuisines they weren't born into. Like how, say, Rick Bayless and Alex Stupak are considered two of the best Mexican chefs in the country by many, but started cooking the cuisine somewhat late in life. With Stupak in particular, there seems to be some concern that since he's not cooking his food like a Mexican grandmother that he is doing it a disservice... and that his restaurant's popularity is somehow hurting the authentic Mexican joint in your neighborhood. Haung (Lam is pretty even handed) seems to have a lot of anxiety that outsiders will come and "steal" a food culture and successfully monetize it in a way that brings massive mainstream praise, while the original owners of that food culture languish in obscurity. Worse, maybe they'll bring their foams and scary chemicals! Essentially the worry is that a white dude with a CIA degree will do a "modernist" take on some cuisine and instantly be regarded as the master of said cuisine, even though his food isn't authentic nor necessarily trying to be. I didn't/don't agree with Huang's concerns in pretty fundamental ways, but I could never really got my thoughts cogent enough to blog about the original conversation and eventually I forgot about it.

Now, Huang has what I can really only describe as a hit piece on Marcus Samuelsson up at the New York Observer, which brings up the same anxieties and argues along the same lines as the conversation mentioned above... so I finally felt the need to put some contrary thoughts out into the ether. This time we're talking about an African born, Sweden raised, US immigrant who dared to put a fancy soul food restaurant in Harlem. His crime? He's an outsider that's become famous, with a successful restaurant, cooking a cuisine that he's had to learn and is not doing it authentically enough for Huang. I suppose it's fair to be upset that the original soul food restaurants in Harlem... the real pioneers... aren't being appreciated the way you want them to be, but unless you think the only people who should be eating Harlem style soul food is people who were born and raised there (excluding Huang natch)... all outsiders verboten... then simple angst is counterproductive.

My opinion is that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that if Red Rooster is bringing national attention to Harlem's soul food culture then how can that possibly hurt? In the Gilt Taste piece Huang argues that there is only so much attention to go around, and so praised heaped upon something he feel is unworthy necessarily must detract from more authentic places. Now to believe this fairly ridiculous assertion you not only have to agree that there is a constant amount of "foodie enthusiasm" to be doled out (never mind the rise of cooking shows and competitions in recent years!), but that it is constant within a cuisine. That is, we are only capable of caring about Chinese food a certain amount, and that if I get really really excited about Mission Chinese it couldn't be because I'm not really into burritos as much as I used to be. If someone went to Red Rooster and thought it was awesome, why would you think that would decrease their interest in soul food? Wouldn't they be more likely to go to another, more authentic, place in the future? I know that's what happens to me, at least, when a restaurant challenges my ill founded preconceptions of a cuisine. It seems likely that many people who thought soul food was "low class", or not worth appreciating, now know differently... and very well may seek out a more authentic meal with broader food experience in their belt and newly opened eyes. Certainly one might say that these people should have appreciated this great food from the beginning, and not needed a celebrity chef with an inspiring bio to show the way... but why should we blame Samuelsson that this is often how it works? Would we currently revere French cuisine in this country as much as we do if Julia Child hadn't first cooked coq au vin on TV? Does the fact that she brought mainstream appeal to it somehow lessen the importance of Brillat-Savarin or Escoffier?

I can appreciate the cultural anxiety... this kind of thing is kind of like the gentrification of food... but if one really loves a cuisine then I would think you'd want as many people as possible to experience it, and mainstream appeal is part and parcel to that.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Hipster Goes to 11

Rogue to brew beer from yeast growing in brewmaster's beard. Pacific Northwest To Brooklyn: Your Move.

Always Time For Elote

Mexican Street Corn (Elote)

It's still pretty far from corn season here in Massachusetts... what you see above came from Florida according to Whole Foods... but it's certainly grilling season, and whenever I see a lit grill I want corn. I've posted about "Mexican Street Corn" (Elote) numerous times on this blog, as it is my favorite way to have corn on the cob any time I can't grab the fresh picked corn directly from the farmer and cook it immediately... which is most of the time. We don't often have access to a grill, so I most often use this broiler recipe. If you use a grill it's essentially the exact the same thing but it's a lot faster and easier. I would estimate that using my broiler it can take close to 30 minutes to achieve the blackening I like... with a lot of bending down to check on my "below the oven broiler"... on a grill it's more like 10-15 and easy peasy to get nice even browning.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Three Pepper Gazpacho

Three Pepper Gazpacho
When it's near a hundred degrees a couple of days in a row it's natural to contemplate what you can cook without turning on the oven... with the most obvious choice being gazpacho. This recipe is not traditional... having more of a Latin than Andalusian flair... using three different varieties of peppers (green, poblano, and jalapeno). Made it last night from a Whitney Chen recipe over at Gilt Taste. The recipe calls for shrimp, but I wanted to keep it vegetarian/vegan so I made some basil croutons from a demi-baguette... just a 1/4 cup of basil leaves blended with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil that is then spread over bread cubes and baked at 350F for 10-15 minutes (kind of ruined the "not turning on the oven" plan). My other modification was to take the diced green bell, poblano, and jalapeno peppers plus the shallot put them in a ziploc bag and freeze them for 30 minutes... and then let them defrost on the counter for another 30 minutes. It's a technique known as "cryo-blanching" that helps draw out more flavor as the freezing/defrosting bursts cell walls. I wouldn't say it's necessary by any means... and dumping everything in the blender is obviously much quicker... but I wasn't pressed for time and loved the results when I've done it with more traditional gazpacho in the past.

Flavor-wise I would say this gazpacho is very "bright" with the lime juice and white wine... and the heat is subtle at first and builds in a pleasant way as you eat. I really enjoyed the soup and heartily recommend this recipe.

One thing I'll note is that the recipe says it serves four, but based on the amount of liquid I got I'd say it only serves four as an appetizer... as a main we got two bowls with no leftovers... so adjust quantities accordingly. Though if you double it you will likely have to blend in batches.

Oh, if you're wondering what's up with the picture... it's HDR, but you're not supposed to notice that, as I tried to tone map it in a way that seemed natural while still letting the detail and textures stand out. If you didn't notice anything then yay me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

An HDR Interlude

Don't have any food posts ready to go up, so I thought I'd put up some HDR pictures (for more about my experiments with HDR see here) I took over the weekend on a hike up Beehive in Acadia National Park. Took my tripod and DSLR and took a bunch of bracketed exposures (generally 2 stops but a few 1 stop AEBs) of the scenery... some on with the tripod but many without. It was overcast for most of the hike, so I don't really have any examples of shots where HDR was required, but I still think it's neat how much detail you can bring out with the technique. These have been tone mapped in a way that's perhaps a little too surreal for my taste, but I'm still getting to know how the software works. The photos below are all off of the tripod, but just yesterday I decided to move up from freeware to Photomatix and have had some encouraging success aligning exposures taken without a tripod... so you may see more of those in the future. It's still an open question as to whether I will do HDR food photos with any regularity.

UPDATE: Replaced the previous pictures with a slideshow (the old ones are still in my Flickr stream). I think my tone mapping here is a lot better as they look less "Willy Wonka on an acid trip" but the details still pop. A work in progress, no doubt.

Friday, June 15, 2012


I haven't posted about this blog here before... but if you follow food news you probably heard of it. NeverSeconds is a blog by a 9 year old girl in Scotland who started taking pictures and posting ratings of her school lunches, and went viral in a matter of weeks... now with a blog only two months old with over 2 million hits. Her city council shut her down in a short sighted move that they have since reversed. In fact they reversed their decision so fast I didn't even have time to get a post up to criticize it.

Anyway, her blog is super cute... she has quite the distinctive voice for one so young... and she posts her own lunches as well as ones sent to her from around the world. I definitely recommend you check out her archives and add the blog to your reader.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Charred Asparagus Tacos with Pickled Red Onions and Creamy Adobo

Charred Asparagus Tacos with Pickled Red Onions and Creamy Adobo
Another Serious Eats recipe... been on a bit of a tear making their stuff lately for some reason... but being a little repetitive as to where I get my recipes seems better than the rut I've been in cooking wise. It may all be Kenji's stuff but at least I'm cooking something.

Not my best plating job since you can't really see any asparagus in the picture, but trust me it's in there... though I think the real star here is the creamy and spicy adobo sauce. Though note that the recipe makes a ton of it, and I'm not really sure what's we'll do with it once we're done with taco leftovers. More tacos I guess?

The pickles I used were my Zuni cafe ones, but Kenji has a recipe for a quick red onion pickle that's probably more on the spicy side.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Croque Mademoiselle

Grilled Zucchini Croque Mademoiselle
This is a decadent sandwich. It's a decedent vegetarian sandwich, but that doesn't change the mounds of cheese and pot of béchamel... so be careful with this one. It's obviously delicious, but it doesn't come without cost in the calorie department. Instead of ham (for the croque monsieur) we go with grilled zucchini as the main event. Once again you can find the recipe at Serious Eats.

One issue with said recipe is that it calls for nutmeg and mustard but doesn't tell you what to do with them. We added the nutmeg to the béchamel but completely forgot about the mustard. I'm guessing you are supposed to put that on the opposite side as the butter, and based on my experience with mustard and grilled cheese I'd bet the addition is a good one.

Another fun thing about this cooking experience is that we used "shoku pan" from Japonaise Bakery as the bread for our sandwiches. From what I understand it's simply an enriched (i.e. milk is involved) sandwich bread, but it's actually fairly hard to find a legit recipe for some reason. I'd guess it is fundamentally the same thing as pain de mie, but I still found it to be a bit of a revelation because I haven't had bread like this since I stopped eating PBJ's on Wonder Bread at age 10. I think we might be a little too obsessed with "open crumb" and rustic loaves sometimes... enriched white sandwich bread with a tight crumb makes awesome sandwiches and toast, but it's not quite so fashionable. Maybe that should change.

Zucchini Grilling

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pressure Cooker Colombian Chicken Stew

Pressure Cooker Colombian Chicken Stew
Not a whole lot to say about this one as the recipe is quite simple and straight from Serious Eats. It's five ingredient 30-40 minute recipe (depending on how quick you are with prep) that is quite tasty. Contrary to the recipe I did try browning the chicken first in batches before pressure cooking... and while it does give a little color to the skin and probably a little extra flavor to the dish... it's hard to see it as a truly necessary step and it will add an extra 5-10 minutes onto the cooking time. Note that if you do decide to brown the chicken you want to keep the rendered chicken fat since that's a big part of the flavor of the finished dish.

My only quibble with the recipe... and it is indeed a minor one... is the indigestible tomato skins floating around in the finished dish. I'm not entirely sure when I became so fussy about tomato/pepper skins (perhaps this Jean Pierre video about making tomato concassé) but I have to admit they bother me. YMMV. Now, of course, only a crazy person would go through the trouble of peeling tomatoes for a rustic dish like this... but what about using canned whole peeled tomatoes instead of fresh? It's not like we're talking about a no-cook tomato sauce in the height of summer... this is a stew... so I wouldn't be at all surprised if good quality canned tomatoes actually tasted better in this dish than lame supermarket ones.

Food photography wise I'm experimenting with using a little hand held light to possibly use in restaurant situations. Obviously a little more "dramatic" with the spotlight effect.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pork Chile Colorado Tacos

Pork Chile Colorado Tacos
My first experience with Chile Colorado was many years ago at a local burrito joint I used to frequent (it's still around but it is no longer a personal favorite), but they called their filling "Chicken Colorado" not "Chile Colorado" (normally the meat is pork)... and back in the day the intertubes were not so powerful and numerous as they are now, so I never really knew what it was (I live in New England after all). Indeed, I assumed it was some personal concoction that they had named after Colorado for idiosyncratic reasons. Fast forward to a few months ago when I finally ordered Diana Kennedey's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, which is one of the more definitive tomes on Mexican cooking... and while paging through it I finally discovered that chile colorado is actually a fairly straightforward red chile sauce. Reminiscent of a mole but much simpler with only a few ingredients.

For weeks this recipe (carne de puerco en chile colorado) sat bookmarked but unmade until I say Hank Shaw post a version for wild boar (or any meat really) and I decided it was time to finally make it. I did a mashup of the two recipes... cooking the pork Diana Kennedy's way (braise until almost done and then fry a bit for color) but using Mr. Shaw's choice of spice (cinnamon!) and liquids (crushed tomatoes and stock instead of water).

Note that you want some fat on the pork, and in my case I had a little too much... so when I got to the frying stage I actually removed all my pork and poured enough off to get back to three tablespoons. It's also possible you might have too little and need to add more. In either case I would remove all the pork and brown in batches (contrary to Diana Kennedy's instructions) simply because it's more efficient and not really any more work. Also, these are the chiles I used, but you could could go with whatever ones you like... I'd just make sure you have some legitimate red ones, like New Mexicos, for the color.

Chile Colorado


adapted from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico and Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook
  • 2 and 1/4 lbs boneless pork, cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup and 1 cup water
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 2 dried chipotle chiles, with or without seeds based on heat preference
  • 4 dried ancho chiles, with or without seeds based on heat preference
  • 4 dried New Mexico chiles, with or without seeds based on heat preference
  • 2 tablespoons fat, oil or lard
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken (or pork if you have it) stock


  • Corn tortillas
  • Diced onion/shallot
  • Diced avocado
  • Queso cotija
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Lime wedges


  1. Put pork, salt, and 1/4 cup water in pan (with a lid) large enough to hold the cubed pork in two layers. Cook, covered, over low heat... stirring occasionally to keep things from sticking together... until the meat is just short of done. This will probably be about 45 minutes, but you'll have to keep an eye on it depending on the cut of meat. Possibly you'll run out of water and will need to add a little more at some point.
  2. While that's going on, crush the garlic, cumin, and oregano in a mortar and pestle. Cover the peppers with water in a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a blender jar along with 1 cup of water and the crushed garlic and spices and blend until smooth. Strain into a bowl with a fine mesh strainer and a spatula to squeeze out as much sauce as possible.
  3. Transfer the pork to a bowl with a slotted spoon and check your rendered fat. If it's less than 3 tablespoons add some, if it's more then pour some off. Turn the heat to medium high and brown the pork lightly in 2 batches. Return all pork to the pan and sprinkle with flour and keep turning until it browns. Add the strained red chile sauce a let it fry for a minute or two longer... making sure to scrape up any delicious brown bits. Add the cinnamon, tomatoes, and stock and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 15-20 minutes more. If the sauce is too thick for your preference just add some water or stock to thin it out.
  4. Traditionally it is served in bowls over rice with the above garnishes, but I just made tacos.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cell Phone Food Photos: HDR and Filters

Highland Kitchen Pork Belly TacosHighland Kitchen JambalayaToulouse Sandwich from Savenor'sSausage and Peppers

The question I'm exploring in this post: is there a way to take cell phone food photos that look good? Specifically in low light situations where you can't use a flash... like saaaay a restaurant. You want to snap a picture of your beautiful plate of food and show it to all your friends, but it's not like this is some kind of professional photo shoot... it just has to look good not amazing. So what are your options? I don't have a definitive answer, and am just an amateur, but I thought I'd share some of my experiments and thoughts.

The first thing I thought to try was HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography. There's a lot to it, but the basic idea is that you are taking multiple exposures of the same scene and then combining them with some algorithm to produce a single image with a "higher dynamic range"... which means you are better able to represent the range of intensity levels you see in a scene. All that really means is that with a single exposure if you were to take a picture of a unlit room with sun light streaming through the window.. all you'd see is that bright light and everything else would be in dark shadow (under exposed)... but with HDR you can see both. Here are some neat before and after photos to give you an idea.

The amazing thing about this type of photography is that any camera... even the camera on your cellphone... can do it. Though it's definitely much easier if your camera will "auto exposure bracket" (AEB) three... which nearly every camera can do... or more (for you people with fancypants cameras) exposures. However, you certainly can do it manually or with some fancy type of remote control ($$$)... but that's a topic for another day since this post is about cell phones.

Android and iOS both have apps to do the exposure bracketing, and I don't really have enough experience to recommend one over the other... but probably you'll want a free version to start with. I guess the question has to be: Do these apps work? Well, better than I thought it would:
Sanders Theater
That's a photo directly into the morning sun, and yet you can clearly see both Sanders Theater and the clouds. The photo is super noisy, but what exactly are you expecting from a cell phone camera pointing directly at the sun?

But noise really is the major problem if the desire is to take photos in low light (i.e. most restaurants) since those are generally more noisy in the first place, and HDR will make that worse. At home with my DSLR I'd just set up my tripod and some additional light to solve those issues, but clearly that's not an option here. At the moment I'm not really sure what to do about noise other than use small sizes of the picture and/or use filters that blur it out or cover it up. Examples of which is what you will see at the top of the page.

The top two photos are at Highland Kitchen (low light), the bottom left is a sandwich from Savenor's snapped in my (aggressively well lit) office, and the bottom right is at home with only a hand held light illuminating it.

I think they look pretty decent at the resolution here, but if you click on them they all basically suck. However, at these smaller sizes they're fine for social media sharing à la Instagram. I basically still need a lot more experimentation before I have any firm opinions... at the moment I'm just reading a lot and messing around with software and camera settings. Beyond food though, I'd like to be ready by the summer to set a tripod up on top of some mountain in Acadia and get some real HDR shots with my DSLR.

And of course if any actual experienced photographer wanders by and has any tips, please feel free to leave them in comments.