Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


First impressions of coffee joulies

Filed under: — adam @ 8:51 am

I backed the kickstarter project for coffee joulies, and my pack arrived yesterday. Initial reports have not been good. I used three of them this morning, in my normal Contigo West stainless mug, in lieu of the usual ice cube I normally drop in there to make it drinkable right away. The temperature change is definitely slight but noticeable. I use milk and no sugar. If I add no ice cube, it’s undrinkably hot for about 20 minutes. With an ice cube, it’s drinkable right away, and stays what I would still call hot for about an hour. With the joulies, it was still almost too hot to drink after a few minutes, but not quite too hot. Nearly three hours later, it’s still about at the temperature it’s usually at about a half an hour in.

More experimentation is warranted, but I think this is a thumbs up.



Guacamole Alfredo

Filed under: — adam @ 3:00 pm

I came up with this dish in response to a food question, and it sounded so good I had to make it the next night. It was promptly devoured by all present. It’s a great summer pasta dish.

Dice 2-3 heirloom tomatoes (or more), 3-4 avocados (or more), and 1 large onion.

Boil and salt 5-6 quarts of water for the pasta.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a medium frypan. Add the onion and sweat over medium-low heat until almost soft, then add half of the tomatoes and cook for about 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook a pound of fresh fettuccine.

Guacamole Alfredo

Add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, and half of the avocados, and heat through until softened.

Guacamole Alfredo

Mince 3-4 tbsp. of cilantro, and add to a large bowl with the rest of the tomatoes and the avocados (not pictured).

Guacamole Alfredo

When the pasta is done, reserve a half-cup of the water, then drain and return to the pot. Toss with the onion mixture and cook over low heat for 30 seconds until the pasta absorbs some of the oil. Put pasta into the bowl with the tomatoes and avocados, and toss. Sprinkle with 1-2 tsp lime juice. Add some of the reserved pasta water if it’s too thick (unlikely).

Guacamole Alfredo

Top with parmesan and serve with a crusty semolina bread.

It’s vegan-friendly as is, but I think it would also be great with shrimp.


Influential food books of the past 10-20 years

Filed under: — adam @ 9:56 am

Someone on a list asked about influential food books of the past 10-20 years. Here’s my list:

Books that started the trend of deconstructing modern food chains:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal

This one is notable because it’s one of the first I’ve read that’s really well balanced with looking at balancing health, environmental impact, and worker welfare, but also taking into account taste and the fact that people really like to eat foreign foods:

The Ethical Gourmet

Seminal books that explore the science of cooking:

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)

The beginning of the restaurant insider expose:

Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)

The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America

And the evolution towards bringing restaurant and cooking school techniques to the home chef:

Think Like a Chef

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking

There are many excellent recent cookbooks, but I don’t know how many of them really qualify as influential.



Choose Real Food

Filed under: — adam @ 6:56 pm

Here’s an edit I did of the new “Food Plate” graphic. I think this is more accurate.



Sugar may be toxic, but that NYT article doesn’t demonstrate it.

The NYT magazine ran this article on how sucrose is probably a poison that causes cancer and a whole raft of other ailments.

Unfortunately, the article is so poorly written and presents so little actual evidence that I’m shocked at the number of otherwise rational people who are simply taking it at face value. John Gruber, whose analysis I usually respect, writes “It’s not often that a magazine article inspires me to change my life. This is one.“.

Here are a few specific comments:

  • The article still perpetuates the assumption that high fructose corn syrup is identical to sucrose because they’re both made up of fructose and glucose. Setting aside the obvious difference that a 50% split between fructose and glucose is not the same as 45% glucose and 55% fructose (oh, but right – it’s “nearly” the same), sucrose is a disaccharide and HFCS is a mixture. Sucrose does easily break into glucose and fructose in the presence of sucrase, but the fact that there’s an enzymatic reaction there means that the rate at which it happens can be regulated. Sucrose and HFCS are different things, in much the same way that a cup of water is different from a balloon filled with hydrogen and oxygen, or a pile of bricks is different from a house. Every subsequent opinion in the piece that sugar is bad is doubly applicable to HFCS.
  • The article doesn’t actually cite any concrete evidence to support its hypothesis that sugar is toxic. It doesn’t even cite any sketchy evidence to support its hypothesis. Meanwhile, here’s a bit of recent research that suggests the opposite: “Female mice [getting 25% of their calories from sugars] that had been reared on the unbound simple sugars [(fructose and glucose mixture)] experienced high rates of mortality, beginning 50 to 80 days after entering the enclosure. Their death rate was about triple that of sucrose-treated females”.
  • Lustig’s Youtube presentation on which the article is based is fairly interesting. As far as I can tell, all it does it make the case that fructose is a poison in large quantities, that excessive amounts of sugar are worse for you than excessive amounts of fat, and that juice, soda, and “low-fat” processed crap that substitutes sugar (but primarily in the form of HFCS) for fat are responsible for the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Most of which is completely reasonable, although I think he ignores the sucrase regulation pathway, which is probably the most critical factor. But nowhere does he say that the body can’t metabolize _any_ sugar safely, which is the main thrust of the NYT piece, based on exactly, as far as I can tell, zero evidence. Lustig’s conclusion is exactly what it’s stated as at the beginning of the article: “our excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years. But his argument implies more than that. If Lustig is right, it would mean that sugar is also the likely dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles — heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them”. It’s a long leap from there to the position that any sugar consumption is bad, which his argument doesn’t actually imply. Drinking a few cups of water a day is good for you. Drinking a few gallons is probably not so good.
  • Here’s an example of the kind of “argument” in the article: ”In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.” Of course, it completely ignores that the fructose does not hit the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed under normal circumstances, and it even flat out includes the counter-hypothesis that the liver is perfectly capable of metabolizing sugar up to a certain point with no detrimental effects.

Excess sugar is clearly bad. I accept that it’s probably even worse than excess fat. I don’t see even a small shred of evidence to accept the logical leap presented in this article that eating a cookie will increase your cancer risk in any meaningful way. Absolutely, we need to study this more. Concluding that sugar is toxic in normal quantities based on the available evidence is ridiculous. Despite the indecision in the article, it’s not hard to define “normal quantities”. I’m the first to agree that the current “sugar in everything” trend in packaged food is bad, and it’s important to check the nutritional labels. HFCS has no business being in bread. The brands you grew up with are not indicators of quality. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if your food has a nutritional label at all, you’re already at a disadvantage.

Eat more whole foods. Stop taking your calories in liquid form. Cooking at home is different. Change your food chain.



Some thoughts on salad

Filed under: — adam @ 1:46 pm

A few years ago, I decided to eat a salad for lunch at least 5 days a week. It’s a great way to make sure you get a lot of vegetables, and if you do it right, it’s very satisfying. I didn’t want to do Bittman’s “vegan before 6pm” diet, but this is a similar approach. It also takes a lot of the guesswork out of what I’ll have for lunch on any given day. I usually make my own. If you’re on the go, Fit & Fresh makes a very convenient shaker container with a dressing compartment and a removable ice pack.

For me, a salad is at minimum: a green leafy vegetable (lettuce or spinach), cucumber, some sort of tomato, and dressing. Everything else is optional, but I try to mix in at least one ingredient from the following categories. The key is getting a range of interlocking textures and complementary flavors. Buy the best ingredients you can find.

Lettuce: I usually use a heartier crunchy lettuce (romaine) or a greens mix. Local greens are always preferable, and you can still find farmers who do greenhouse greens in the winter. People will tell you not to cut lettuce but to tear it up with your hands. I don’t find that it makes a difference either way. Always rinse lettuce a few times in a salad spinner and then soak it in very cold water for 5-10 minutes before drying and using it. Unwashed lettuce will usually last about a week in the fridge if it’s fresh. Washed lettuce may last 2-3 days – store it in an airtight container with a folded paper towel to absorb excess moisture. If there isn’t good lettuce to be found, baby spinach makes a nice alternative. You can wash grape or cherry tomatoes with the lettuce.

Cucumber: Local is always better. Generally, the smaller varieties will have more flavor and crunch – I usually use kirbys or small pickling cucumbers. Peel any cucumbers that have been shipped loose – they’re coated with a paraffin layer to protect them.

Tomato: If local tomatoes are in season, use the big ones, preferably heirlooms. They’ll dominate the salad, and when they’re in season that’s probably fine. Otherwise, tomatoes for salad should always be the smaller cherry or grape tomatoes. Out of peak season, these are the only ones that are tolerable, and they get less so as the winter wears on. I usually include them anyway for some color and texture.

Other vegetables: Depending on my mood, I’ll include some diced red, orange or yellow pepper (but almost never green – I’m not that fond of bitter flavors). Cooked beets add a nice sweetness if you like them. Shredded carrots can be nice, but I usually find their flavor too strong. To the detriment of my breath, I’ve been cursed with whatever Eastern European gene causes me to crave raw red onions, especially in the winter. In the summer, I like to use raw local corn.

Animal Protein: I often omit the animal proteins for side salads, but without them it doesn’t really feel like a meal, so I always include at least one in my lunch salads – a hard boiled egg (use eggs that are 2-4 weeks old, start in cold water, bring to a boil, cover, let sit for 8-9 mins, shock in ice water), crumbled bacon, diced leftover chicken or steak, or a few cooked shrimp (thaw frozen shrimp in water, then boil for 3 minutes and shock in ice water).

Fruit: In the summer, this will be a sliced peach or plum, in the fall it’ll be apple or pear. Dried fruits work well – raisins or cranberries. Raisins pair well with honey mustard dressing and bright vinaigrettes, cranberries go better with creamy dressings.

Cheese: I usually avoid cheese, but I have a periodic craving for the combination of blue cheese, roasted garlic vinaigrette, beets, and nuts. I think most cheese doesn’t mix well with dressing, but there are a few combinations that work.

Dressing: My favorite dressing of all time is Brianna’s Poppy Seed Dressing. It’s creamy and thick, and goes with just about everything, and is the exception to my belief that most bottled dressings aren’t very good. I also like some varieties of honey mustard, or I’ll make a vinaigrette. In the summer, I like to make a vinaigrette with a bold raspberry vinegar. Use whatever you like. I’d avoid lowfat dressings, because they generally don’t taste very good. You’re eating a salad instead of a chalupa! You can have a little fat.

Crunch: I like to include at least one crunchy element – croutons or slightly toasted (300F for 6-8 mins) walnuts or pecans. If you buy croutons instead of making your own, look for those without HFCS.

A few suggestions:

My standard winter salad: romaine lettuce, persian pickling cucumbers, grape tomatoes, sliced red onion, diced cold chicken/bacon/hardboiled egg, croutons, dried cranberries, poppy dressing.

My alternate salad: mixed green lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, shrimp, crumbled bacon, diced beets, croutons, plus either raisins and honey mustard dressing or crumbled blue cheese and roasted garlic vinaigrette.

My favorite summer salad: mixed green/red lettuce, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, sliced red onion, sliced cold skirt/flank steak, raw corn, sliced peaches, croutons, poppy dressing.

Suggest some of your favorites in the comments or on twitter.


Sous Vide Poached Egg

Filed under: — adam @ 9:38 am

Sous Vide eggs are tricky, because the yolk sets at a lower temperature than the white. If you cook a whole egg in the shell, you either get a properly cooked yolk with a runny and gelatinous white (some people like this, some think it’s like eating a ball of snot), or you get a properly set white with a really overcooked yolk. As far as I can tell, it’s not possible to get a perfect “poached egg” with the sous vide method, if you cook the egg whole in the shell.

To deal with this, I separated them and cooked them individually at two different temperatures. You can cook the white first at a higher temperature to just set it (160-162F or so, depending on how firm you like it), and then lower the temperature (to 144F or so) and add the yolk. To make this a little more convenient, you can even do the white in advance, chill it, and keep it and the separate yolk in the fridge overnight, then add the yolk and cook them in the morning. The white takes about 60-90 minutes to set (depending on whether you start from fridge or room temperature), and then the yolk takes about another 60-90 minutes. Cooking the yolk will also bring the white back up to serving temperature without overcooking it. It’s not quite fast enough for a rushed morning, but that’s acceptable timing for a lazy morning. 

I tried leaving them in the water overnight at 144F, and that didn’t work – the yolks got completely overcooked and gummy. There might be a lower temperature at which that would work. Even still, unlike with regular poached eggs, there’s very little fuss. This method takes longer, but it doesn’t require you to do anything while it’s cooking.

As I looked around for a proper vessel to cook them in, I found something I’d dabbled with but never really gotten good results with, which in retrospect is actually pretty perfect for sous vide cooking: an egg coddler.

Sous Vide Poached Egg

Yes, you can use your hands to separate eggs, but I wanted to be extra careful not to break the yolk membrane. I put the yolks in a covered bowl in the fridge while the white cooked.

Sous Vide Poached Egg

Here you can see the thin layer of undercooked white that was left over with the yolks, and the more properly cooked white layer underneath:

Sous Vide Poached Egg

You can serve it directly out of the coddler, or turn it out into a bowl:

Sous Vide Poached Egg

Here you can see how perfectly runny the yolk is, and the white is creamy and well set:

Sous Vide Poached Egg

This is a great poached egg. I’m not sure it’s that much easier or more convenient than regular poached eggs in terms of timing, but it certainly requires less effort for excellent and tasty results. I think this is probably overkill if you’re just cooking for one (the above was an experiment and I didn’t want to ruin a lot of eggs if it didn’t work out), but it would work just as well with a dozen or more. Doing a single poached egg isn’t that much effort, but doing a lot of them can add up. I also got very good results using a small Le Creuset ceramic crock with a lid, though that can’t be submerged in the same way that the egg coddler can. If you want to use something like that, you’ll need a rack to keep it near the top of the water level.


I’ve found that this silicone rack is the perfect size for the SVS. You’ll need two of them for a short crock/ramekin.


Sous Vide French Toast

Filed under: — adam @ 9:27 am

After a great success with scrambled eggs, I wondered if it would be possible to make french toast in the SVS. I’ve had some good results with french toast the regular way, but it requires a lot of advance planning, and I find it difficult to ensure that the egg mixture gets absorbed and cooked all the way through without making it soggy in the middle.

I whipped up 8 eggs, added about 3/4 cup of milk, a splash of vanilla, and a pinch of salt. I added this to two slices of homemade challah in a ziploc vacuum bag and sealed it. I then shook the bag to distribute the liquid evenly and sucked the air out with the pump. These bags are much easier than the Foodsaver bags when you’re dealing with liquids, because you don’t have to worry about the seal getting gunked up.

Sous Vide French Toast

I then cooked them in the SVS for an hour and a half at 147F, removed them from the bag, and put them in a hot skillet with a little butter to brown the outside on both sides.

Sous Vide French ToastSous Vide French Toast

They came out perfectly – slightly crispy on the outside, and evenly cooked throughout, with a wonderfully creamy yet substantial texture.

Sous Vide French Toast



Making Sous Vide Custard

Filed under: — adam @ 11:35 am

Drawing on some inspiration in this post on creme brulee at SVKitchen, I decided to try a custard. Since I bought entirely too many blueberries this season, and the last of the bunch is rapidly aging in my fridge as I try to use them up before they go bad (I’ve already frozen as many as my freezer can handle), I decided to top this batch with a blueberry gel.

The SVKitchen folks used a set of fiberglass rods to elevate the tray to allow the custard cups to sit near the top of the oven while maintaining the proper water level, but it turns out that one of my cooking racks fit perfectly underneath the included one:

Making Sous Vide Custard

Making Sous Vide CustardMaking Sous Vide CustardMaking Sous Vide Custard

The normal way to make custard is to cook the cream and sugar at a moderate heat together to mix them, and then add beaten eggs and cook in a water bath. I thought the SVS could make this easier, so I just mixed all of the ingredients together in the mixer until they were combined but not frothy (do the last little bit by hand for more control). I doubled Bittman’s standard custard recipe (I’ve pretty much given up on the book and use his $2 searchable iPhone app all the time) and substituted vanilla for the nutmeg and cinnamon, since I’m allergic to nutmeg and I like vanilla. This doubled recipe calls for 4 cups of cream, 1 cup of sugar, 4 whole eggs, 4 egg yolks, and a pinch of salt plus flavorings:

Making Sous Vide Custard

This recipe made enough to fill 8 8-oz ramekins all the way to the top, plus a little left over. I filled the cups through a mesh strainer to get out any last unmixed bits, covered them with plastic wrap, and cooked them (covered) in the SVS at 175F for an hour:

Making Sous Vide Custard

When they were almost done, I cooked about two cups of blueberries over moderate heat with a tablespoon or so of sugar and bloomed a packet of gelatin in a bowl of water. When the blueberries were cooked through and starting to burst (about 5-7 minutes), I stirred in the gelatin and let them cook for a few more minutes. Then I drizzled the hot syrup over the top of the cups:

Making Sous Vide Custard

After chilling in the fridge for about 4 hours, they were absolutely fantastic. The texture is flawless, the flavors are great, they’re perfectly cooked all the way through, and the whole thing only took about 15-20 minutes of actual effort.

Sous Vide Custard



Why I don’t eat High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Filed under: — adam @ 10:11 am

The following is a catalog of my somewhat unscientific objections to High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), across a number of different axes:

Health / Chemical

It’s not “Just like sugar”

Proponents of HFCS claim that it’s “just like sugar”, but that’s not strictly true. Even the form of HFCS that’s closest in chemical formulation to sucrose is 55% fructose and 45% glucose, which is a liquid at room temperature. Fructose metabolism behaves differently in the absence of glucose, and in practice that ratio seems like enough to tip the scales in that direction.

HFCS is a mixture

HFCS is a mixture, not a compound. In the case of sucrose, it’s a very weak bond between the fructose and the glucose, but there is a bond there that can be used to regulate the rate at which it’s metabolized (cleavage of the disaccharide into glucose and fructose happens in the small intestine). When you eat HFCS, you just dump a bunch of fructose and glucose on your metabolism all at once, to be absorbed as quickly as possible. I haven’t seen any research examining whether this is a problem or not, but it seems like it would be.

Research shows that it can be unhealthy

There is an increasing body of research pointing to excess fructose or HFCS specifically as being responsible for weight gain, raising bad cholesterol levels (see the Personal Experience section at the end) and causing cancers to grow faster.

Other thoughts on Fructose

I don’t know of any research examining whether the fructose in fruit or agave syrup has similar effects. My guess would be that the fructose in fruit is buffered by everything else in the fruit (see the coda on nutritionism at the end) and that agave syrup is probably not great for you either, but I have no evidence to support either of those assertions.



I don’t like the way HFCS tastes – I find that foods sweetened with it have a somewhat sickly flavor, and a lingering unpleasant aftertaste.

HFCS is a marker for cheap ingredients.

Companies that put HFCS in their food do so because it’s cheaper than sugar, not because it’s better than sugar. A few cents extra per loaf of bread makes a huge difference when you’re selling a few million loaves, and it makes a lot less difference when you’re buying one loaf. I try to make as much of my food from ingredients I personally choose, but when I have to buy packaged food, I generally want it to be as good as it can be. In my experience, foods that avoid HFCS also tend to use better ingredients and have better overall quality. I’m disgusted by how difficult it is to find food in the supermarket that doesn’t contain it.


HFCS is an industrial byproduct of corn subsidies. This is a very deep subject with a large number of complex interactions, but one thing is pretty clear — the aggregation of incentives for many farmers line up to cause them to grow lots of corn (and soybeans) to the detriment of other products. Monocultures in farming are generally problematic, and I think we should be encouraging more biodiversity instead of less. Vastly simplified, the government makes it financially attractive for a large number of farmers to grow very few varieties of corn with the use of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. This increases our dependence on foreign oil, it weakens the basis of our foodstocks, and it gives us a large number of very cheap byproducts that make their way into everything. Michael Pollan has given this subject far more exploration than I could – I highly recommend reading the chapter on corn in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (or the article on which that chapter was based).

Personal Experience

Sometime over the summer of 2008, I made the personal decision to eradicate as much HFCS as possible from my diet. I would no longer voluntarily buy any processed food containing HFCS, and I would make conscious attempts to avoid it. I had my cholesterol checked in June, before I started this experiment, and again in December. During that time period, with no other lifestyle changes, my Triglyceride count dropped by 39 points and my LDL count dropped by 28 points. I attribute this change entirely to the direct and indirect effects of cutting out HFCS – cutting out HFCS itself, cutting out the other processed ingredients that often go along with it, and decreasing my consumption of processed food overall. In actuality, HFCS itself may be entirely benign (though I see little evidence of that), but I feel that removing it from my diet was an unqualified net good. Unfortunately, it’s been impossible to remove entirely, as most restaurants use it. As a result, I’ve been trying to cook at home more (with a little help), which has also been largely a net good.


(Coda on Nutritionism vs. Nutrition)

Michael Pollan makes a really good point about eating whole foods in In Defense of Food (and the essay on which it was based). The whole essay is worth reading, but this section stood out for me:

Also, people don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently than the nutrients they contain. Researchers have long believed, based on epidemiological comparisons of different populations, that a diet high in fruits and vegetables confers some protection against cancer. So naturally they ask, What nutrients in those plant foods are responsible for that effect? One hypothesis is that the antioxidants in fresh produce — compounds like beta carotene, lycopene, vitamin E, etc. — are the X factor. It makes good sense: these molecules (which plants produce to protect themselves from the highly reactive oxygen atoms produced in photosynthesis) vanquish the free radicals in our bodies, which can damage DNA and initiate cancers. At least that’s how it seems to work in the test tube. Yet as soon as you remove these useful molecules from the context of the whole foods they’re found in, as we’ve done in creating antioxidant supplements, they don’t work at all. Indeed, in the case of beta carotene ingested as a supplement, scientists have discovered that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers. Big oops.

What’s going on here? We don’t know. It could be the vagaries of human digestion. Maybe the fiber (or some other component) in a carrot protects the antioxidant molecules from destruction by stomach acids early in the digestive process. Or it could be that we isolated the wrong antioxidant. Beta is just one of a whole slew of carotenes found in common vegetables; maybe we focused on the wrong one. Or maybe beta carotene works as an antioxidant only in concert with some other plant chemical or process; under other circumstances, it may behave as a pro-oxidant.

Indeed, to look at the chemical composition of any common food plant is to realize just how much complexity lurks within it. Here’s a list of just the antioxidants that have been identified in garden-variety thyme:4-Terpineol, alanine, anethole, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, eriodictyol, eugenol, ferulic acid, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene isochlorogenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaempferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, oleanolic acid, p-coumoric acid, p-hydroxy-benzoic acid, palmitic acid, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, tryptophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid.

This is what you’re ingesting when you eat food flavored with thyme. Some of these chemicals are broken down by your digestion, but others are going on to do undetermined things to your body: turning some gene’s expression on or off, perhaps, or heading off a free radical before it disturbs a strand of DNA deep in some cell. It would be great to know how this all works, but in the meantime we can enjoy thyme in the knowledge that it probably doesn’t do any harm (since people have been eating it forever) and that it may actually do some good (since people have been eating it forever) and that even if it does nothing, we like the way it tastes.



I think that about covers it. I welcome comments.



Sous Vide Black Beans

Filed under: — adam @ 8:53 pm

I couldn’t find a recipe for making dried beans sous vide for my Sous Vide Supreme, so I winged it. It worked really well.

1 cup dried black beans, rinsed 1 diced medium red onion Roughly the same volume of beans in ice cubes

Preheat SVS to 180F. Seal all ingredients in a vacuum bag.

Sous Vide Black Beans

Cook for 36 hours. After 24 hours, I squeezed the bag and it still felt a little firm, so I put them back in. The beans were completely tender all the way through, but not squishy and had a really pleasant texture. Salt to taste before serving.

Sous Vide Black Beans


In praise of the Sous Vide Supreme

Filed under: — adam @ 10:56 pm

Since I last wrote about cooking at home, I’ve been looking for more ways to try to cook at home. Cooking large portions in advance helps, but I think it’s somewhat unsatisfying to eat that way on a regular basis. Those foods that can be more easily prepared beforehand tend to be heavier and less appealing during the summer – lasagnas or casseroles or big braises. I’ve recently acquired a Sous Vide Supreme oven, and it’s completely changing the way I look at this.

Sous vide cooking is actually pretty simple – you seal the food in a vacuum bag (like a Foodsaver bag) and then cook it in a precise temperature water bath at very close to the temperature you want the final product to be. If you’ve eaten in a high end restaurant in the past few years, you’ve had food cooked sous vide – almost all of them are using it now, with good reason. When the food is done (at minimum, enough time for the middle to reach the equilibrium temperature), you take it out of the bag, sear it in a hot pan if needed (most proteins will benefit from a little browning to develop more flavor, but they really only need about 30 seconds per side in a very hot pan on the stove), and serve it right away. If you leave it in the water bath for a few extra hours, it’s no problem – the texture of some food will break down after an extended period of time, but for the most part, it’s hard to overcook things (fish and eggs are two exceptions – they’re more finicky about timing, but that still buys you a margin of an hour or two over). Because you can set the oven at 1 degree increments and it will stay at pretty much exactly that temperature, you can get exquisite results with very little effort, and if you get distracted, it’s no problem.

There are a few issues with trying to get dinner on the table with small children in the house, and these problems are triply compounded with only one parent in the house – you can get distracted by having to change a diaper or give one of the kids a little extra attention. Right before dinner is crankypants time. The kids might want to stay out at the park for an extra half an hour or 45 minutes. You might want to stay out at the park for an extra half hour or 45 minutes. There goes your prep time. Watching a chicken breast or a steak cook on the stove for 15-20 minutes with a small child is far too long (and takes away from the time to cook the rest of the meal), but searing for a minute or two while everything else comes together is completely doable. What’s even better is that you can do the sous vide step the day before, plop the bag right into an ice bath, and then put it in the fridge until dinner time, when you just have to take it out and sear it or warm it. What’s even better than that is that you can put the bag in the sous vide oven directly from the freezer. And what’s even better than that is that this entire process actually makes your end result tastier and more nutritious instead of compromising quality. Commercial frozen convenience food is generally pretty terrible. Sous vide food is simply… better.

My wife and I both work long hours, and getting dinner on the table can be a challenge. Often, our window for doing so may be as little as 15-20 minutes from the time we walk in the door, otherwise the kids will start to get hungry and have a hard time settling down to eat. In the past year, we’ve missed that window more often than I’d like, and if we have a half an hour or more of cooking ahead of us, we’ll usually end up ordering instead. In addition to being less healthy overall, this can cost us around $30-$40 per meal over the cost of what we would have paid for ingredients for dinner, even buying top quality ingredients at the farmer’s market. At $450, the Sous Vide Supreme is pricey, but if it can prevent us from ordering out even once a week, it will literally pay for itself in four months. We’ve already used it five times in the first week. Time will tell if this is a novelty effect, but so far I’ve been overwhelmingly thrilled with the results. There’s been a lot of focus on 30 minute meals, but for a busy working parent or two, that can be an eternity. I love to cook, but even after years of practice, my timing isn’t perfect. Pair the Sous Vide Supreme with a rice cooker with a timer and a microwave vegetable steamer and it becomes possible to get a completely freshly cooked dinner on the table with minimal work in less than ten minutes. Even without going to that extreme, it significantly cuts the amount of stove time required for a “regular” meal.

Sous vide cooking certainly requires some planning ahead – it’s not for quick dinners unless you start early, but you don’t have to really figure out how early to start – putting the bag in before you leave in the morning is just fine. It’s also a huge psychological boost, because when you get home, dinner’s already on the way to being cooked. When all you want to do is sit down after a long day and the kids are hungry, it really helps to have things already started.

We’ve done chicken breasts, steak, 30 hour country style pork ribs, carrots in butter – all pretty perfect. Soft boiled eggs and pork chops deserve special mention. Eggs do completely different things in sous vide, because the yolk actually cooks at a lower temperature than the white, and so it cooks first. A soft boiled egg in sous vide gets you a creamy but cooked yolk and a runny white. It’s strange, but entirely delicious. Hard boiled eggs were a little off, because cooking at a high enough temperature to set the white actually overcooks the yolk a little bit. I prefer 8 minutes in water just off the boil. Big fat scallops came out intensely creamy and tender.

And then, there are the pork chops. I’ve struggled for years to get a perfectly cooked pork chop. I’ve tried pan frying, broiling, baking, and braising, and nothing works reliably. They’re just too lean and too thin. They overcook before the outside starts to brown. With sous vide, they’re just right, every time, with almost no effort. They’re cooked all the way through, but not overcooked, and they’re so tender that you can cut them with a fork.

The oven comes with a few recipes with common timings, but there’s little news there if you know what your target temperatures are for regular cooking – steak at 130F, pork chops at 135F, chicken at 142F, fish at 140F, etc… There is no shortage of recipes on various food blogs, and this is a very good intro guide, though it seems meant for a more industrial setting. There are some extra safety considerations, but it’s mostly just common sense, and much of it doesn’t come into play in a home setting where you’re not storing the bags for long periods of time. You just have to be careful that you’re dealing with a somewhat anaerobic environment that can breed microbes that usually aren’t a problem in home kitchens. As long as you’re buying quality food, treating it with respect (understanding the rules of heating, chilling, and storage), and eating it promptly, you shouldn’t have any problems.

In short, this device is amazing, and it’s the future. For me, it fulfills every convenience promise of the microwave and the crock pot, neither of which I’ve ever been happy with from a culinary perspective. There is a small consideration of the extra waste in plastic bags, but I balance that against the amount of waste generated from takeout, which is far greater.

I can’t recommend it enough.


Cooking at home is different

Filed under: — adam @ 3:07 pm

There’s a bit of a debate going on about whether the lack of cooking at home is responsible for people eating unhealthily. Matt Yglesias has a piece arguing that cooking at home isn’t fundamentally different from restaurant cooking, and “If someone – Jamie Oliver, for example – devised an appealing mass-market food product that was better than Taco Bell on the taste/price/convenience dimension but also healthier, well that would be an excellent thing for the world.” Well, it sure would. It would be nice if someone could make a car that drives like a BMW but doesn’t use any gas and costs less than $1000 too.

“Cooking yourself” is not the point. “Cooking at home” is. This is because home cooking is different from restaurant cooking, and yes, there is a fundamental difference between food you prepare for yourself and food prepared by other people, at least when the latter is in a commercial/restaurant context. Unless you have a private chef, food prepared for you by other people is food prepared for… whomever. This difference is largest at scale. Industrial food is the way it is because it’s designed to be made/prepared/”made” by people with no skill at cooking for a clientele who may show up at any time and want what they want, and when you do that, you lose all kinds of properties of the food that go into making it healthier. You lose varietal selection. You lose focus on balance. You lose accounting for individual tastes. You lose someone insisting that you eat your vegetables (both because they’re good for you and also because whoever cooked them put a lot of effort into making them for you). You lose incentive to not use cheaper ingredients (or at least you divorce yourself from that decision). You lose incentive to not use flavor boosters that are unhealthy. You lose the ability to make food on demand, so there’s incentive to use ingredients that will store better. Fine cuisine doesn’t fare much better, because it’s not optimized for health, but for flavor and pleasure.

Healthy food has a lot of properties that are, I think, inherently unscalable. Saying that restaurants should offer cheap healthy options is not understanding the problem. Yes, cooking at home is a lot of work, and sometimes that takes away from the time you could be using to watch a movie or read a blog, but the benefits are immense, and they won’t realistically ever come out of a restaurant. Is that really such a bad thing?


Toys and Testing

BoingBoing reports that new rules on consumer safety threaten to put small producers out of business because the testing is too expensive.

I have a few thoughts on this.

This is a pretty common libertarian vs. nanny state disagreement – should consumers be allowed to make their own choices, but I don’t think it’s that simple, for a few reasons. (Before you go on, I think it’s worth reading my previous piece on some failure modes of the market.)

Keeping toxic chemicals out of kids toys can’t really be the responsibility of the parents, because it’s not within their domain of control. You can be a responsible parent, you can only buy toys you “trust” (whatever that means) and your child will still be exposed to toys you didn’t have any say about. It’s unavoidable – other kids have toys, day care centers have toys, kids play with toys in the playground that other kids bring or leave behind. The only way to prevent these toys from coming into contact with kids is to keep them out of the marketplace to begin with. If you like, it’s society’s responsibility to keep poisons out of kids’ toys in general, because the incentives don’t line up for the individual actors.

After-the-fact deterrents are simply not effective. Lawsuits take years to resolve, are overly burdensome, and it may be impossible to even track down the responsible party (I’m told it’s nearly impossible to sue a foreign company). On top of that, even an expensive PR-nightmare lawsuit may not be a sufficient deterrent to a large corporation with a hefty legal budget. A few million dollar settlements can seem very small in the face of a few hundred million in profits per year. Also, it’s worth noting that this is a reactive response which doesn’t actually fix the problem, but tries to throw monetary compensation in an attempt to “make things better”. But that’s basically what we’re being asked to accept here with the free market solution – let us do what we want and if you don’t like it, sue us, because it’s “too expensive” to ensure that we make safe products. We have that prefrontal cortex for a reason – people are uniquely capable of making predictive decisions, and to allow reactive forces to handle problems we can plainly see are coming seems ridicuously primitive to me. One might argue that we don’t have the capacity to predict how our actions might affect these complex systems, but that’s exactly why we need to be able to adapt and tweak them as we go. I haven’t seen any evidence that the market makes better choices in these kinds of situations, and in fact the call for regulation is a response to the failure of market forces – these companies have already shown an inability to keep toxic ingredients out of their products, yet we still continue to have these problems. Public outrage and whatever lawsuits are currently in the pipeline haven’t served as an adequate deterrent. Why’s that? I don’t know.

This is similar to the conundrum faced by small food producers. See Joel Salatin’s Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal for a lot of good examples of this. The main thrust is that the rules that are meant for large corporations where the overhead gets absorbed by the scale are overly burdensome for small producers, who don’t have the resources for dedicated testing facilities but also have less capacity to do harm, both because they have fewer customers but also because some kinds of harm are caused by the steps needed to operate at scale in the first place. I like to buy local food from farmers that I’ve come to know and trust. This can work at a small scale – if I want to see their operation, I can go visit the farm. I have no similar way to verify that with a larger company.

I don’t think that broken regulation is a condemnation of the entire idea of regulation, but I think it’s obvious that the rules need to be different depending on the scale of the domain they apply to. It is not unreasonable for Hasbro and Mattel to have to follow different rules than the guy who’s carving wood figures in his garage and selling them on etsy. Scale matters – more is different, and bigger is different.


Possibly the perfect omelet pan

Filed under: — adam @ 9:13 pm

I’ve long been looking for a good replacement for teflon for making classical french omelets, and I’d pretty much given in to the idea that it needed to be teflon or nothing. Cast iron (enameled or not) gets a nice big hotspot in the middle from the gas flame, and anodized aluminum isn’t non-stick enough. Even teflon is substandard for that, because to do it right, you need to use high heat and a metal fork.

Enter this new item in Cuisinart’s “Green Gourmet” line, a ceramic alternative to teflon for non-stick pans, which is made with no PFOA or PFTE. It’s not too expensive, and has anodized aluminum on the bottom for good heat distribution. I did a Pepin-style omelet with a little butter and a metal fork in it this evening. It has nary a scratch and the omelet came together perfectly. The surface of the pan feels very slick and hard, and the handle is comfortable. Major bonus points for this phrase in the instructions: “Never use Cuisinart Green Gourmet cookware on high heat or food will burn”.

Credit to the estimable Mr. McGee for a) scientifically confirming my assertion that cast iron has terrible distribution properties and b) mentioning some new non-stick coatings I hadn’t heard of (but not the one above, which may or may not be Thermolon, but which seems to be higher quality than the one he covered).


Why I eat what I eat.

Some number of years ago, I used to think that the ability to get any kind of fresh produce any time of the year was a mark of an advanced global civilization. We had conquered a small piece of space and time and weather to bring me blueberries in February. More recently, we lived for over a year in the shadow of the neighborhood that used to belong to the World Trade Center. I don’t want to talk about that right now, but it serves to highlight a personal revelation. When we moved, we moved to a new neighborhood, a new breath of fresh air. And a farmer’s market opened, literally, right outside my door.

After my first visit, I started making it a point to go every Friday morning, even in the dead of winter, just to see what new bounty would be there. It began with fruit and vegetables, and as I explored more, eggs, milk, breads, and eventually meat. Each new discovery reminded me of what potential could be held by a simple item of food. A peach — this is what a peach is supposed to taste like. The word “luscious” really does not fully convey the impact of biting into a local peach at the height of the season. Apples as tart as you like, strawberries with no white center to be seen, blueberries both sweet and tart at the same time, carrots you can eat without peeling them. This food was not only better for you, it was simply better, in every respect that mattered.

And then August came, and I got to the tomatoes. The tomatoes made me a lifelong convert – the drawn line between “there’s a market there” and “I need to go to the market”. A supermarket tomato is not even in the same vocabulary as a fresh, ripe, local market tomato. Flavor, texture, aroma – it’s just unfair to even do a comparison.

Of course, there’s a tradeoff here. Eating seasonally means you relish every bite until you can’t stand it anymore, because you know that it won’t last. Most crops have a few months, but some last only a few weeks. There are cycles for everything – they come in and they’re not quite ready yet, then the next week or two they’re perfect, then they’re gone until next year. Hopefully by that time you’ve been able to eat your fill to hold you until next year, but then there’s something else wonderful that takes its place. Peas move to berries move to tomatoes move to root vegetables.

The jury’s still out, but the evidence points to organic and sustainable food being healthier. It appears that plants are more nutritious when they have to defend themselves from pests. Garbage in, garbage out — I don’t want to eat vegetables that are made entirely of petrochemical fertilizers in the same way that I don’t want to eat meat that’s made entirely of corn. I don’t voluntarily buy anything that has high fructose corn syrup in it, and you won’t find any of that at the market.

And it’s not just about the food. Yes, it’s better, and everything I can buy at the market, I do. But it’s also about confidence, and community in one of the oldest senses of the word. I know these farmers. I have recently visited one of the farms and plan to go see more. They stand behind their food. I know, for the most part, which ones use pesticides and which ones don’t, and I can see the relative effects that has on the quality of their food. I’m not afraid to eat their eggs raw or undercook my burger.

Seasonal/local is not organic. That’s not to say that organic is bad, but they’re not the same thing. Organic doesn’t necessarily equate to sustainable, or even high quality. All other factors being equal, organic tends to be the better choice, but it’s not the whole answer. A local food may in fact not be the best choice, but at least if you have a question about it, you can often talk to the farmer directly and get whatever answers you’re looking for.

And so – my buying patterns: I always shop at the market first. If I can get something there, I do. The quality is always better, it is certainly healthier, it has a lower carbon footprint when you factor in the petrochemicals they don’t use to fertilize, keep the pests away, and get it to you, and all of the farms at my markets are committed to sustainable farming practices. Plus, I like them personally and I want to give them my business. Shopping at the market isn’t always numerically competetive, but it is always value competetive – if something is 1.5x more at the market, it’s likely 5-10x better.

For the things I can’t find at the market, I do try to buy organic, and I try to ensure that they’re seasonal somewhere. For example, I don’t buy oranges from Florida in July. Not only is there no reason to given the abundance of other wonderful fruits here, they’re just not as good as the ones in January. Organic is usually preferable, because I think that food is healthier and better for the planet than “conventional” (whatever that really means).

I’m not a die-hard localist. I still buy coffee, and I eat imported Italian canned tomatoes when I can’t find good ones here. I love to cook, and shopping at the market simultaneously makes some decisions easier (I make what’s good that week) and improves my results. But what it really comes down to is that I’m committed to procuring for my family and friends the best food we can have while supporting people who love food as much as I do.

This is a healthy food chain. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the farmers, it’s good for the plants and animals, and it’s good for us. Every little bit makes a difference.


My photos featured briefly in Tom Mylan interview

Filed under: — adam @ 5:26 pm

Grace Piper interviewed local butcher Tom Mylan at the Unfancy Food Show, and used some of my pictures to illustrate:


On gazpacho

Filed under: — adam @ 9:42 am

Salmonella-tainted tomatoes aside, gazpacho is about the healthiest thing you can eat, and I look forward to having some decent vegetables to make it with every year.

It’s pretty good with tomato juice, but I really prefer to use fresh tomato puree. I’m really not a fan of spicy tomato, and I go on the clean vegetal side. It really highlights the late spring vegetables that start to show up at the market in early June.

4-6 large tomatoes, quartered
2-3 medium tomatoes, diced
2 spring onions, diced
2 cucumbers, diced (or 4 kirbies – sweeter)
~10 basil leaves, chiffonade
salt & pepper
good ev olive oil

I use the plastic dough blade of my food processor to beat the crap out of the tomatoes – just quartered; peeling, coring and seeding not required – then run them through the finest disk on my food mill to remove the seeds, cores, and any remaining skin. The plastic blade won’t nick the seeds, which can be bitter. I used to just do this in the food mill, but it took >forever< and is about 50 times faster using the food processor first.

Use about 2-3 cups of the puree for the soup, but it really depends on how liquidy you like it. I like lots of chunks. Whatever you don’t use will keep in the fridge for a few days. I’m sure it would freeze well, though I’ve never done that.

Add the diced vegetables and basil leaves, and salt and pepper lightly. Stir in a drizzle of olive oil (on the order of 1-2 tbsp) until it thickens slightly. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours. Stir, taste, add more salt and pepper. You’ll need more than you think because it has less impact when served cold.

Serve cold.


How to cut a pepper

Filed under: — adam @ 10:26 am

Some people were asking, so I finally got around to making a short video of how I cut a bell pepper. I haven’t been able to find anything on the web illustrating this, but I haven’t actually looked very hard.

[Update: Okay, yes, it's a stupid minor thing, but I made this in response to the proliferation of instructions like this.]

Tags: , , , ,


Fed up with food labeling

Filed under: — adam @ 10:59 am

Our food labeling standards are completely out of whack.

As an example, let’s take “100% fruit juice”. I’m pretty sure that at some point, “100% fruit juice” meant that what you got in the bottle was, prior to being put in the bottle, a piece of fruit that was crushed and maybe filtered. I’m 100% sure that that’s what most people still expect when they buy something that’s labeled “100% fruit juice”.

Except that’s not what you get anymore. Now, it’s reconstituted from concentrates, mixed from different kinds of fruit juice concentrates (which may have vastly different nutritional profiles), and blended into whatever they like, but it’s still the healthy choice kids, because it’s 100% fruit juice!

Right off the labels:

Kedem concord grape juice (which, incidentally, is among the sweetest of the grapes):

The label says “100% fruit juice”.

Ingredients: Grape Juice, Potassium Metabisulfite Added To Enhance Freshness.

It has 150 calories per 8oz.

Welch’s grape juice:

The label says “100% grape juice”.

Ingredients: Grape Juice From Concentrate (Water, Grape Juice Concentrate), Grape Juice, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), No Artificial Flavors Or Colors Added.

It has 170 calories per 8 oz.


They’re not using grapes that have 13% more sugar in them, they’re dickering with the proportions to make their juice sweeter.

This is just one particularly egregious example, but it’s all over the place – many “100% juices” are sweetened with cherry juice or other concentrates. It’s a complete sham. Even the Kedem is pushing it because it’s got preservatives, but at least the juice is actual juice. No way does that Welch’s bottle contain “100% juice”.

Our food labels don’t mean what they say anymore, they have very detailed technical specifications to go with them, and it’s impossible to know what they mean from common sense without understanding those specifications. This isn’t even about making dubious health claims – it’s about defining away the actual contents of the package.

Tags: , , , ,


Well that’s just about the strangest thing I’ve seen all day

Filed under: — adam @ 8:14 pm

“This work began on the day when we had made a extra big candy like a bowling ball by ourselves.
Since that day, we had been licking the candy day after day for about six months.’

Tags: , , ,


Cadbury got busted for reducing the size of the Creme Egg and then lying about it

Filed under: — adam @ 3:31 pm

I used to get a Cadbury Creme Egg a year about the same time I had my annual McRib. Since I’ve realized over the course of the past few years that you’re only supposed to eat food, I didn’t know that Cadbury reduced the size of the Creme Egg this year. And then they lied about it! And they blamed it on the increasing size of their consumers (possibly from eating too many Creme Eggs)! And then they got busted on National TV! At least they could have had the dignity to release the “New Creme Egg”, and then release the “Creme Egg Classic” in the smaller form factor when people complained about the new formula.

Tags: , , , , ,


Informal comparison of organic ketchups

Filed under: — adam @ 3:33 pm

I don’t really enjoy the taste of high fructose corn syrup, which seems to have worked its way into all kinds of places. The only kinds of ketchup that I’ve been able to find that are made with sugar instead are all organic, and I’ve tasted a bunch of them.

Here’s an informal summary of my findings:

  • Heinz Organic ($2.49/15 oz = $.17/oz) : Tasty. Almost exactly like Heinz ketchup, but without the HFCS twang. But even at this reduced price from Amazon Grocery (it was about $1 more for the same size bottle at my local supermarket), it’s the most expensive of the choices. Not worth the extra money.
  • Tree of Life Organic ($4.69/36 oz = $.13/oz) : Very good, but a little fruitier than I like. Still full bodied, and a perfectly acceptable choice. Sort of like getting Hunts if you like Heinz.
  • 365 Organic – Whole Foods ($1.89/24 oz = $.08/oz) : This was my favorite of the four, and also the cheapest. Very well balanced, good acidity. Tastes like Heinz, for the most part, but with a brighter, more persistent flavor.
  • Annie’s Organic ($2.79/24 oz = $.12/oz) : Not good. Very reminiscent of tomato paste, and too thick.


Tags: , , , , ,


A chef’s response on Foie Gras

Filed under: — adam @ 10:50 am

From Eve Felder, CIA dean, someone who’s spent time actually feeding the ducks.

“It was an extremely gentle and intimate experience. The animal does not have a gag reflex. They always waddled away perfectly happy and full and ready for a nap.”

Tags: ,


Addressing the lamentations of the local

Filed under: — adam @ 9:27 am

Meg says it’s too expensive to shop locally:

I have some responses to this.

1) The Union Square greenmarket is, in my experience, significantly more expensive than the other satellite markets throughout the city. There are a few possible reasons for this – it might draw the more expensive farms which sell different but slightly more expensive varietals of the same produce, the thriving restaurant business in the area could be a factor, or it could just be fame. What I do know is that everyone I know who shops at the USGM says “hey, this stuff is really expensive” far more than the people who don’t. I’d suggest doing some comparison shopping at other markets.

2) There are regional variations in the growing season and only the most prime produce will be at better prices. The berry season has barely started here in NY, so they’re more expensive. But lettuce, greens, beans, and cucumbers are all MUCH cheaper at my green market than the supermarket, and much higher quality. You’ve got to pick your battles. One exception I’ve found to this has been tomatoes. Local tomatoes are outrageously expensive compared to shipped tomatoes. But on the other hand, they’re incomparable, because tomatoes were not meant to be shipped. They are completely different beasts. $3/lb for local tomatoes is an indulgence I’ll gladly pay to consume what I consider to be among the most pleasurable culinary experiences we have available to us. The depth of flavor and delicate texture in a local tomato is simply something you can’t get for any price nonlocally, because what it must go through to survive shipping destroys its unique characteristics. I feel the same way about Ronnybrook Farms milk. It’s pretty expensive compared to other milks, but that’s only if you assume that because they have the same name that they’re somehow the same product. They’re not.

3) There’s a lot to be said about the freshness and fridge life of fruits and vegetables purchased locally. If you’re actually going to eat it in a day or two, the quality will likely be unmatched by anything you can find even at Whole Foods. On top of that, a head of lettuce purchased at Whole Foods will last maybe 3-5 days in the fridge before it starts to wilt, but I’ve eaten lettuce purchased two weeks prior from the farmer’s market, and it’s always still crisp and green.

    Tags: , , , , , , ,


    Coffee cups with stamps in the bottom

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:09 am

    Instead of corporate logos, they leave behind pretty floral patterns.

    Tags: , , , , , , ,


    Support local farms by joining a CSA program.

    Filed under: — adam @ 9:52 pm

    We finally got around to signing up for a CSA share this year.

    I strongly support the concept in principle – you buy a “share” of a small local sustainable farm, and in return you get a portion of the harvest every week (or two weeks, depending), for the duration of the growing season, which is usually June through October for NYC. For the one near us, this seems to be an assortment of about 7-10 vegetables plus 2-3 fruits (which are two separate shares). You have to go to the drop location to pick up.

    We picked up our first drop tonight. It was a bit sparse, but it’s still very early in the season and I expect that the volume will pick up over the summer.

    What we got this week:

    5 garlic scapes
    a small bunch of red radishes
    about a gallon ziploc bag of mesclun greens
    about a gallon ziploc bag of escarole
    about a gallon ziploc bag of spinach
    1 pint of sugar snap peas
    5 rhubarb stalks
    2 pints of strawberries

    We also got the fresh flower share, which was just a bunch of assorted flowers. For $6 a week, this is definitely cheaper than any florist around here.

    We ate the radishes and some strawberries tonight. The radishes were intensely peppery raw, but cooked up nicely braised with butter, balsamic vinegar and chicken stock. The strawberries are among the best I’ve ever had. Not yet prime of the season, and small, but again, very intensely flavored.

    Depending on whether the portion sizes increase, I suspect that the prices are going to be about equal to going to the farmer’s market, but I like the idea of supporting a farm directly. This is somewhat of an experiment; we’ll see how it goes.

    If you’re interested in this, it may not be too late to sign up, but do it ASAP. This is the NYC one; if you’re not in NYC, you might be able to find a local program by searching for CSA.

    Tags: , , , , ,


    NYC restaurant reviews organized by subway stop

    Filed under: — adam @ 8:43 am

    Tags: , , ,


    Dinner with Britt and Doc

    I had the rare and interesting pleasure of having dinner with Britt Blaser and Doc Searls last night, since Doc is in town for Syndicate (which I’ve never attended, but which does seem to attract fascinating conversations to my doorstep every year).

    Doc and Britt

    Asked to pick a restaurant for our gathering, I suggested D’Or Ahn, a newish Korean fusion place in west Chelsea. I’d eaten there a few times, and the food has always been top-rate. Unfortunately, the sushi chef was out for the evening (for reasons I didn’t entirely catch, but which seemed to involve some sort of surgery), so their wonderful raw bar was closed. However, the rest of their selection more than makes up for it. The menu is somewhat confusing, separated into “raw”, “cold”, “hot”, and “main” (which are also hot) sections, but the best advice is simply to ignore that, order for the table, and share everything. Flavor is the overriding component here, and everything is full of it, with rich but not overpowering sauces.

    Scallops are outstanding now, so we opted for those, prepared a few ways, from a simple pan sear to encased in a crispy sesame leaf (the latter was delightful). The slightly seared duck breast with droplets of foie gras was, as expected, delicious (and it’s hard to go wrong with those ingredients). I’m a huge fan of braised meats in general, and their short rib preparation is beautiful, with a celeriac puree that’s ethereal mixed with slightly crunchy green onion slivers. Their take on the classic Korean dish bibimbop rounded out our selection of “appetizers”. I would have liked to have the rice a bit crunchier, but the flavor of the mushrooms mixed with a lightly soft cooked egg mixed into the rice leaves nothing to complain about. For the “main”, we split the lobster, which is literally a split lobster served spiced and grilled with a melon confit and a lobster claw chunk porridge. Lobster and melon is a combination I first discovered a few years ago in Maine, and I was instantly hooked. The sweet fruit complements every one of the notes in the sweet meat.

    We paired everything with one of my favorite sakes – Otokoyama – served cold in boxes.

    For dessert, we did an apple (a cake with sorbet) and cheese course (a Fourme d’Ambert “grilled cheese”), which were the two choices we wanted to try. Much as they did not go together in the least, both were still excellent. Their desserts tend to range from enjoyable to outstanding, and I’ve never been disappointed. A few glasses of port rounded out the libations.


    But of course, the food was secondary to the conversation. With these two heavyweights across the table, the topics ranged across the board, from social networking, to how to handle spam and read email with mutt, to hacks for piloting a zero-g suspension flight (I’ve never had the honor), and of course to politics and the role of technology. Some portion of what was said can not or should not be replicated in a public forum, and so I won’t, but there was one great new idea (to me) mentioned in the course of a discussion about Doc’s new Santa Barbara community trying to get very high speed internet access and looking to bypass the traditional carriers who refuse to provide the kind of speeds they want. Britt mentioned Free Entry, a term which I’d never heard before. In a certain sense, this concept defines the growth of disruptive web services – if the current provider isn’t doing a good enough job, they should be replaced by someone who’s selling what people want to buy. This goes right to the heart of why lock-in legislation to protect antiquated business models is a bad bad bad idea. It doesn’t protect competition, it’s not an incentive to develop, it’s simply “protection” for companies to foist bad products on consumers who want something better. Disruptive business models work, because they’re good for the consumer.

    It’s such a simple idea, yet so rarely practiced. If people don’t want to buy what you’re selling, sell something better. It’s almost the opposite of traditional advertising. It was a strong theme of the evening.

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

    (Larger photos)


    In which I go all Top Chef on Craftsteak

    Filed under: — adam @ 8:44 am

    We had the pleasure of eating at the newly formed Manhattan outpost of artisan meat yesterday evening, the newest jewel in the Colicchio empire – Craftsteak. There’s a constant assertion that one should avoid new restaurants, but I have really tremendously enjoyed every experience I’ve had with visiting restaurants in their first month. In many cases, these have even been preferable to subsequent excursions. Even as the staff may not have hit their stride yet, there’s something undeniably fresh about a new restaurant, and that adds a lot to the dining experience for me. Think Like a Chef is really the book that got me interested in pursuing serious fine cooking, so I feel a special connection to Chef Colicchio’s places.

    The decor is fabulous, of course. The layout of the space has a good flow, with the main dining room separated from the bar and raw bar by a characteristic walk-in transparent wine cellar. The dining room is very open and has exquisitely high ceilings. Even at full capacity, the sound level was pleasant.

    And, on to the food.

    We started with three appetizers for the four of us – roasted veal sweetbreads, roasted foie gras, and wagyu beef tartare. I’m a big fan of sweetbreads, and these were among the best I’ve ever had, and a generous portion for an appetizer course. The foie gras was outstanding in flavor, although it was not completely cleaned of veins (despite, as Mayur noted, explicit instructions to do this in Think Like a Chef). The wagyu beef tartare was served with a quail egg and toast, and it was tasty, if not terribly impressive. We all felt that the presentation was too much like traditional beef tartare, and would have preferred a coarser cut usually reserved for fish tartare, to really highlight the exceptional texture of this fine meat.

    And now, the steaks.

    The selection is large and detailed, from a few varieties of corn-fed heresford beef, both wet and dry aged, through grass-fed Hawaiian beef, to the premium grade Wagyu beef (which tempted all of us, but which budgets demanded we resist). Surprisingly, the waiter was pushing everyone to get medium rare, but couldn’t really explain why beyond “that’s what the chef recommends”. Despite our mostly ignoring that advice and asking for more on the rare side, one of the steaks did arrive fully medium rare, and had to be sent back. We had a similar problem with the rabbit. It was actually a beautiful presentation, with the various pieces separated – leg, a mini rib rack, some “pulled” rabbit meat, and a tenderloin. This would have worked well, but the tenderloin was slightly underdone. However, once we got past those two problems, everything was great. I opted for the grass-fed filet mignon, and it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had, and outstandingly prepared. It was uniformly and perfectly rare all the way through (about 2.5 inches thick), and impressively tender and flavorful. The other two steaks on the table – a 42-day dry aged strip and a grass-fed ribeye, were also superlative. As with the main Craft, sides are ordered and prepared separately. We opted for the more seasonal choices – roasted ramps, sugar snap peas, and baby carrots, and a pea and morel risotto. All of them were up to the usual standards.

    We paired with a moderately priced Qupe syrah, which was intensely berry-oriented, and matched well with everything.

    The desserts (pineapple upside down cake, a warm chocolate tart, and monkey bread – a cinnamon and nut encrusted brioche) were all acceptable, but the balance was off a bit on everything. A little too sweet, too salty, or just not quite right. The espresso was sub-par, disappointing and bitter. This wasn’t enough to really ruin the meal, but it wasn’t an impressive close, and it’s obvious that the most attention has been paid to the meat.

    Overall, I had a thoroughly enjoyable and delicious meal that very much worked for me despite the nitpicking flaws above, and the very exceptional quality of the steak is really the standout here, the gem that puts the shine on the whole thing.

    I see great potential.

    Tags: , , , , , ,


    The Anti-Griddle

    Filed under: — adam @ 6:02 pm

    ‘This unique innovation allows you to effortlessly freeze sauces and purees solid or develop semi-frozen creations with stable, crunchy surfaces and cool, creamy centers.’

    Tags: , , ,



    Filed under: — adam @ 6:35 pm

    This is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

    It’s a low-cost portable still for purifying water with a pretty ingenious design.

    Tags: , , ,


    Shared lessons between programming and cooking

    Filed under: — adam @ 7:22 pm

    I originally wrote this a few years ago, but I thought it was worth restating. Here it is lightly edited:

    Fine programming and fine cooking are similar disciplines, each a mixture of a lot of craft with a good deal of art. In each, you can have just the craft without the art, or just the art without the craft, but the results are extremely likely to be disappointing without both. The balance between the two is a reflection on the practitioner’s technique, the personality of which is always highly evident in the end product. I have found that my development discipline has been adaptable to cooking, and that many of the things I’m learning about cooking have analogues in programming.

    For example, in cooking, good stock is critical. It adds flavors to other dishes, and can be layered to build complexity and texture. The more attention you pay to getting your stock right and correctly flavored, the better your end product will be. Stock requires upfront planning, dedication of resources, patience, and unit testing. Stock is a module. Like any module, you can make your own and it will be exactly what you need (or terrible, depending on your own skills), or you can buy someone else’s and it will either be good enough or terrible (depending on the skills of the stockmaker), and the quality of your final product will hinge heavily on which one it actually is.

    Some shared lessons:

    1. Perfection is the goal, but the product had better damn well go out when it needs to and be right when it does. Perfection is the standard by which you measure what you did wrong last time so you can try not to do it again.
    2. Taste, test, measure, know. If you don’t know what’s supposed to be happening, or you don’t know what is actually happening, you have no way to compare the two, and you certainly have no way to bring them together.
    3. Building and maintaining your toolkit, which includes both tools and ingredients, is of utmost importance. For development, this is your development environment and your past history of specs, diagrams, and old code to repurpose. For cooking, this is your knives and other tools, as well as your collection of stocks, scraps, and spices.
    4. Knowing what’s in your toolkit is important, but knowing where to find something you need if it’s not is even more so.
    5. It’s sometimes easier to buy components, but it can be less effort in the long run to start from scratch. It’s entirely likely that a component you build yourself will be better for you, but the trick lies in knowing the difference before you start. Sometimes you have no choice.
    6. Waste is the enemy. Time, materials, and resources all have costs. Usage is not necessarily waste. Not taking care to avoid waste is itself waste. Failing to properly maintain your tools is waste. Not using everything that can be used is waste. Doing unnecessary tasks is waste. Documenting what you did is not waste.


    Quicktime VR view from inside a water bottle

    Filed under: — adam @ 10:10 pm

    That’s pretty funny.

    Garlicster is all about garlic

    Filed under: — adam @ 9:42 am


    Akane apples are in

    Filed under: — adam @ 9:58 am

    Akane apples are absolutely, bar none, my favorite kind of apple. To me, they embody everything an apple should be.

    They’re reddish/greenish (but sometimes bright red) with a pale interior. They’re crisp, tart, sweet, and have a complex perfume. They have a little scent on the outside, but when you bite into one and smell the flesh, it’s filled with an incredibly deep aroma. They have a slightly acidic aftertaste that persists in all of the right ways.

    I had them once a few years ago, and haven’t seen them until today, when I found them again at the greenmarket at Union Square. They’re from Samascott Orchards, and they said they’d be in for about 8 more weeks.

    Get ‘em while you can.


    This is stupid.

    Filed under: — adam @ 10:40 am

    Kottke has a post about how to make microwave popcorn without a microwave. Letting aside the possibility that this is just a sick joke of some kind, it’s wrong for a number of reasons.

    1. Microwave popcorn is, itself, the hack.
    2. Microwave popcorn is a sticky glumpy mess because it’s full of all kinds of things you shouldn’t eat. Also, it’s far more expensive than just buying even really high quality popcorn, which it isn’t.
    3. This AskMe thread has some great suggestions for how to make stovetop popcorn, including how to make regular popcorn in a microwave without buying “microwave popcorn”.


    Some thoughts on the new Sur La Table in Manhattan

    Filed under: — adam @ 10:37 am

    A new Sur La Table store opened in Manhattan recently. I was looking forward to it, but having seen it, I think it’s a bad move. The store is far enough away that it doesn’t stand to take business away from The Broadway Panhandler, and it will compete directly with Dean & Deluca. Their selection is pretty good and interesting, but nothing special.

    On top of that, their prices are high, nearly a 10% markup over Broadway Panhandler (which I consider to be still on the expensive side) with a brief informal comparison on some items.

    The store is too small to be really great – I was very much looking forward to getting some of their famous classes here, and the space seems particularly poorly suited to that. It’s too small, too crowded, and too cluttered. On top of that, I assume they now have to charge sales tax on mail orders to NY, so that pretty much kills them as a mail order source too.


    Solar grill

    Filed under: — adam @ 10:11 am

    Harness the power of our fusion neighbor to cook your dinner.


    If you lick them first, they’ll stick

    Filed under: — adam @ 3:50 pm


    Raspberry Fro-yo

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:23 am

    It’s warm enough to pull out the ice cream machine again. I’ve decided to try frozen yogurt this year. I found this recipe:

    I’ve never made frozen yogurt before, but it seems about right – some milk to thin it out, cornstarch for a little body, and two kinds of sugar to keep crystals from forming. Raspberries are getting cheaper now, and they’re the best of the bunch (strawberries are varying now, and it’s too early for blueberries).

    Plus, I get to use my new food processor to make the raspberry puree (when you puree seeded fruit in a food processor, remember to use the dough blade to avoid nicking the seeds, which can be bitter – that’s not noted in the recipe).

    I’m also going to add an extra cup of lightly diced raspberries near the end of the freezing cycle, to give it a little more texture variety.


    Per Se review

    Filed under: — adam @ 6:52 pm

    I was talking about the meal we had at Per Se a year ago, and I realized I’d never posted the review here. This originally appeared on my livejournal blog, but what’s a repost among friends…

    A year later, I can still taste everything on the menu.

    Here’s the original review I wrote:

    It’s not so much a restaurant as it is a very well oiled food perfection delivery machine. Not everything was 100% perfect, mind you, but the things that weren’t were mostly of no consequence (or wrong only out of convention and not in the sense of being, say, inferior in any way), and only served to add character to the things that were. More on that.

    I can’t remember the last time going out to eat gave me the giggles.

    To say that the food was exquisite is missing the point – it’s just in a different class altogether. Every bite is full of both genius and playfulness. Keller’s lighthearted flavor fugue is all over the place, and it shows. For example:

    Bread. They start with a choice of three kinds of bread – 9-grain, “simple” country white, or a french bread roll, with two kinds of butter. All great. But then later, they bring out something else – “this is the only bread we make here”. It’s a “Parker House roll”, little quatrains of fleur de sel crusted puffy cubes. Imagine a pretzel crossed with a croissant, and you’re mostly there. But it doesn’t stop. At the end of the explanation of the bread, the service captain tells us “we’ll revisit this later”. The dessert course has a bunch of amazing simple things on the plate; one of them is a little puddle of cream. “Remember I said we’d come back to the Parker House rolls?” The cream is ‘”Pain au Lait” Coulis’, and it’s made out of the rolls. They pulverize them in a food processor, then cook them down in a process I don’t entirely understand. But it’s outstanding.

    Wine. The wine was reasonably priced. We had a bottle of Neyers 2002 Chardonnay ($50), which was great. The captain recommended individual glasses of sharper whites (which I don’t remember) for the second course, which we did and was the right decision. The bottle went with everything, one bottle lasted the meal, and it hit a perfect match with the lobster course. The wine list is a staggering book of much more expensive choices, but I think this was a fine selection.

    They have over 200 kinds of plates, most of which were custom designed by Chef Thomas with Limoges. This attention to detail is in every aspect of the meal.

    We each started with the Per Se cocktail – ciroc vodka with a white port, glasses washed with a fruity liquor, and garnished with two red grapes. Extremely refreshing, and smooth.

    A note on the service. About halfway through the meal, we got fairly confused about who was doing what and had to have it explained. There were no fewer than 6 people involved in various parts of our meal – the waiter, the sommelier, two or three servers, and also a service captain to top it all off. They were very well coordinated, and the service was exceptionally attentive and, for lack of a better word, bright. I felt like everyone was extremely proud of their job, and rightly so.

    Shortly after drinks, we ordered, and Chef Thomas’s signature amuse-bouche was presented to us – salmon tartare “ice cream cones”. A black sesame tuile filled with onion creme fraiche, topped with salmon tartare. Delightful and fresh.

    ** Course 1:

    “Oysters and Pearls”
    “Saybayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Iranian
    Osetra Caviar

    Fantastic! Thomas Keller talks a great deal about the texture of luxury in his cookbook. Strain strain strain. This is it. A sweetish custardy pudding with droplets of oceanic salty goodness.

    ** Course 2:

    Marinated Holland White Asparagus
    White Asparagus Terrine and Garden Mache

    “I feel like I’m eating Spring.”

    “Peach Melba”
    Moulard Duck “Foie Gras Au Torchon”
    Frog Hollow Farms Peach Jelly, Pickled White Peaches, Marinated Red Onion, and Crispy Carolina Rice

    “I feel like I’m eating a big fat duck liver.”

    In a sea of a meal of the best things I’ve ever tasted, this stands out. Wow. Foie gras and peaches. Perfectly smooth, fruity, creamy, and surrounded by crunchy crisp bits.

    Another note on the service here. Two of the aforementioned minor imperfections in the service were on this course. First, the server spilled some of the rice crispies on the table while spooning them into the bowl. Unforgivable. Second, they served this with three slices of melba toast, and were about 45 seconds after I thought “they really should have served this with more toast” with offering more. They were going for a surprise, but missed it. Terrible.
    As you can see, the service was less than outstanding. :)

    ** Course 3:
    “Pave” of South Florida Cobia “A La Plancha”
    Fava Beans, Chanterelle Mushrooms, and a Preserved Meyer Lemon Emulsion

    I wasn’t familiar with Cobia before, but I think this was the most well-balanced fish course I’ve ever had. The texture was great, perfect crust, a little citrus.

    ** Course 4:
    Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster
    “Cuit Sous Vide”
    Wilted Arrowleaf Spinach and a Saffron-Vanilla Sauce

    Yeah… It’s just indescribably good. I can’t even try.

    ** Course 5:
    Pan Roasted Cavendish Farms Quail
    “Puree” of Spring Onions, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon “Lardons” and Split English Peas

    This seemed a little out of place to me, seasonally. But it was still amazing.

    ** Course 6:
    Elysian Fields Farm “Carre D’Agneau Roti Entier”
    Grilled Swiss Chard Ribs “en Ravigote”, Roasted Sweet Peppers, and a Nicoise Olive Sauce

    I think this qualifies as a “main” course. Lamb is all good.

    ** Course 7:
    “La Tur”
    “Gelee de Pomme Verte”, Satur Famrs Red Beets and English Walnut Short Bread

    Cheese course, a wedge of something creamy with tart apple gel and beets. Anne doesn’t like beets, but I found this very refreshing.

    ** Course 8:
    Napa Valley “Verjus” Sorbet
    Poached Cherries and Cream Cheese “Bavarois”

    Sorbet course. My palate was refreshed!

    ** Course 9:
    “Tentation Au Chocolat, Noisette Et Lait”
    Milk Chocolate “Cremeux”, Hazelnet “Streusel” with Condensed Milk Sorbet and “Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts” and “Pain au Lait” Coulis

    Formal dessert, basically a chocolate mousse with puddles of creamy things, and the Parker House bread pudding.

    ** “Mignardises 1″

    Creme Brulee

    Anne really liked this, but I found it, to my surprise, to be too smooth. It’s the texture of luxury, but I still think that Le Cirque has it beat. It was quite delicious, but it wasn’t right for me.

    Hazelnut Panna Cotta w/ Apricots

    This is Keller’s take on yogurt with fruit on the bottom. Yummy.

    ** “Mignardises 2″
    Assortment of cookies & chocolates
    Rosemary / Thyme chocolate

    Here, I had an espresso, and we both had white tea. I’m quite pleased that more restaurants seem to be offering high-end teas.

    The cookies were tasty and buttery, but the standout here was the filled chocolates, particularly one with a rosemary and thyme cream.

    So, that’s it. Afterwards, we got a tour of the kitchen, which is like some sort of serene temple.

    I had a fabulous time. Previously, I didn’t really feel up to the task of tackling any of the recipes in the French Laundry cookbook, but now I feel like I have some idea of where they’re supposed to go. This is unmistakably one of the standout meals in my appreciation for the art of cooking.


    Pictures from Alinea opening day

    Filed under: — adam @ 4:35 pm

    The restaurant of Grant Achatz (who studied with Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria) is full of insanity.

    Pictures of the entire meal, with commentary:


    If you need to start a fire by polishing the bottom of a coke can with chocolate, you’re probably not reading this blog right now

    Filed under: — adam @ 10:42 pm

    But, you never know when this knowledge might come in handy later.

    If, perchance, you need this at some point in the future, and it saves your ass, I expect you to take me out for dinner at Lugers.


    Bee population being wiped out by vampire mites

    Filed under: — adam @ 7:28 pm


    Spout Ladles

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:52 am

    I posted a review of spout ladles for Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools list. (The review hasn’t been posted to the site yet, just the email list.)

    Basting Spoon (Spout Ladle)
    Spout Ladle Side View

    To be honest, I don’t remember at which store I got mine – I picked it up years ago. Sorry about that.

    There are a large number of restaurant supply stores in Chinatown (NYC). I’d try one of those. Here’s a big long list of some of them:


    Transparent toaster!

    Filed under: — adam @ 10:10 am

    (Poor naviagtion – it’s the last one on the right.)

    Via boingboing:


    I smell bacon!

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:08 am


    Eggs with copper

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:09 pm

    I had pretty much given up on using a copper bowl for whipping egg whites long before I even started to cook seriously – it never seemed to make a difference in the way the whites whipped, or how long it took.

    Turns out I was misinformed – the copper isn’t supposed to do anything for the whites as they’re whipping, but it reinforces the foam and gives you two important characteristics. Firstly, the foam lasts longer, so you have a little more leeway to do what you’re going to do with them before it starts to sag. Secondly, it stabilizes the foam matrix as it cooks, giving you more rise and firmness in the final product.

    Yesterday, I took another stab at the pudding cakes, this time with a newly purchased copper bowl, and the texture difference in the cakes with copper was striking.

    If you buy a copper bowl, remember that they almost always come with a coating of laquer (keeps it shiny in the store) that needs to be removed with nasty chemicals and steel wool before you use it the first time.


    Homebuilt computer controlled coffee roaster

    Filed under: — adam @ 4:38 pm


    You can order a real pizza in Everquest II

    “Real” meaning “physical”, of course. It is, after all, Pizza Hut.


    Rice to Riches owner busted for huge gambling ring

    Filed under: — adam @ 10:53 pm

    Awesome. I love Rice to Riches! Manmade Mascarpone, baby!–gamblingarrests0203feb03,0,467055.story

    Very high tech cookery – watch this guy

    Filed under: — adam @ 8:23 am

    Homaru Cantu makes food with inkjet printers and soon, high powered lasers. Seems like interesting stuff.

    How to Cut

    Filed under: — adam @ 7:37 am

    Beautifully illustrated and comprehensive knife skills tutorial for a number of vegetables. Good knife skills are incredibly important – it’s not so much about speed as it is about consistency. When you properly cut the foods you’re preparing, everything is easier – there’s less waste, evenly-sized pieces tend to cook in the same amount of time as each other, and it adds a good amount of important pride to the process.

    There’s a lot of other good stuff on the site, too:


    Frying pan roll-up

    Filed under: — adam @ 3:51 pm

    Concept design for a rollable frying pan.

    How much milk do you take in your tea?

    Filed under: — adam @ 3:47 pm


    Pudding cakes

    Filed under: — adam @ 1:02 pm

    This month’s Fine Cooking, my favorite cooking magazine, has an amazing technique / recipe section on pudding cakes. I made them last night, and they’re just divine. The technique is similar to a very liquid souffle, and results in a slight puffed spongy cake gradually merging into a pool of creamy pudding. The recipe was pretty easy to follow, with no serious danger points. Unfamiliar recipe, prep time about 35 minutes, 30 in the oven, and another 30 to cool before popping them in the fridge.

    Definitely follow the suggestion and let them chill overnight. They’re dramatically better cold.



    Filed under: — adam @ 12:54 pm

    Last night, we were invited for drinks at a preview opening for Bed NY, a new restaurant opening tonight. The space is a pretty impressive loft. The bar is in the middle, flanked by a speckled curved wall onto which video can be projected. A number of bed/dining lounges lined the edges of the room. I was a bit surprised to see the central space largely taken up by a few giant tables instead of keeping with the “dining in bed” motif.


    Museum of Food Anomalies

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:43 am

    Not much here yet, but they claim that there’s more coming. I like the spelling potatoes.


    Michael Pollan on why cows should eat grass

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:00 am

    We were having a conversation about “what’s wrong with our food production system”, relating to obesity, the availability of cheap, unhealthy food, the abundance of corn, and eventually corn fed vs. grass fed beef. The question came up about why cows need massive antibiotics doses, and I had remembered reading an article by Michael Pollan describing that it was directly related to the change in diet from grass to grains/corn. I couldn’t find the original (actually, I think it’s buried in the NY Times Magazine archive), but here’s an interview with him that has substantially the same content:


    Safe Eggs

    Filed under: — adam @ 1:54 pm

    “Safe Eggs” are eggs that have been briefly pasteurized in the shell. Apparently, they’re indistinguishable in cooking from regular eggs, and safe for raw egg usage with immuno-compromised individuals.

    It seems to me that the salmonella scare is a bit overblown – a lot of people think you’re automatically going to get sick if you eat a raw egg. But, if you have a concern salmonella poisoning or a suppressed immune system, these may be the eggs for you.


    Vegan-approved condoms

    Filed under: — adam @ 3:08 pm


    Mobile foodie survival kit

    Filed under: — adam @ 10:07 am


    It’s a 5×6 little packet with spices and some little sauce bottles for $30. Sadly, they included Tabasco instead of some small batch habanero sauce. But if you care about that, you probably carry your own bottle of that around too.


    Chef ruins $$$$ truffle

    Filed under: — adam @ 1:02 am


    ‘The arrival of the 850g fungus at Zafferano, the Italian restaurant in London’s Knightsbridge favoured by gourmand glitterati from Madonna to Bill Clinton, drew salivating admirers from Paris and Madrid.

    Queues formed in search of the taste described by Cassini as “earthy, sexy and an aphrodisiac”, available at a cost of R6 600 per micro-sliced sprinkling.

    But then head chef Andy Needham left the mushroom in a refrigerated safe for four days, taking the keys with him on holiday.’


    General braising technique

    Filed under: — adam @ 3:14 pm

    I originally posted this on Ask Mefi, but it’s worth repeating.

    Here’s my recipe for braised lamb shanks.

    Sprinkle kosher salt over shanks. Pan sear shanks in olive oil until good and brown. Not “just browned”, slightly crispy. Do them in batches if you’ve got a small pan – that’s fine. Lay a bunch of assorted fresh herbs in the bottom of a large pan (any will do, but be sure to include rosemary – it goes particularly well with lamb), and lay the shanks on top. Fill the pan with a mixture of 1/2 wine and 1/2 stock, to halfway cover the shanks. Put in the oven for 1 hour on 350, uncovered (this differs from many braises, which are done in a covered pan). Then add sliced vegetables to the pan (carrots, potatoes, parsnips, mushrooms all work well – use your imagination here). Check every 30 minutes, turn everything when it’s starting to brown and dry out. Add more stock/wine when needed to keep it at the halfway point. Total oven time is probably around 3 hours – it’s done when the vegetables are tender and the meat is falling off the bone. Remove from the oven, and let it cool in some of the liquid. Take the rest out, reserve half. Take the other half, and reduce down a bit, and add some cornstarch or arrowroot which you’ve dissolved in water (this is called a slurry). Stir this in, and let it cook for a few minutes. This will thicken the sauce, which you can add back over the dish and serve . But wait, you’re not done yet! Take the rest of the sauce you reserved, and reduce it over a low flame unil it’s very syrupy (this will be about 1/16th the original volume, but YMWV). This may take an hour. Cool rapidly in an ice bath, and refrigerate. Congratulations! You’ve just made a lamb glace. This is extremely precious (yes, taste it). It will keep in the fridge for a few months. Reconstitute it with boiling water, and use it as part of the stock portion for next time, or for other sauces. Same basic technique works with short ribs.


    Tinted carrots offer health benefits, colors

    Filed under: — adam @ 12:05 pm

    Selective breeding yields carrots high in healthy and colorful compounds:

    "Xanthophylls give the yellow carrots their golden hues and have been linked with good eye health. Red carrots contain lycopene, a type of carotene also found in tomatoes that’s believed to guard against heart disease and some cancers.

    Purple carrots owe their color to anthocyanins. In a class all by themselves, these pigments are considered to be powerful antioxidants that can guard the body’s fragile cells from the destructive effects of unstable molecules known as free radicals."

    How to make sushi videos

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:58 am


    Wild mushroom strudel

    Filed under: — adam @ 11:27 am

    This follows my general rule of “if you’re trying to impress, use phyllo dough or puff pastry, because people who haven’t worked with it think it’s hard and it’s not”.

    The basic strudel is really easy – saute a handful of shallots and a chopped garlic clove in 2 tbsp butter until they turn clear. Add 1 cup chopped mixed mushrooms* and 3 tbsp white wine. Cook until they’re cooked through – 8-10 minutes. Cool. Mix 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese and whatever fresh chopped herbs you have on hand (I like parsley**). This is your filling. Thaw phyllo dough according to the directions on the package (it comes frozen). You’ll need 3 sheets. Lay out 1 sheet, brush with melted butter. Lay another sheet on top of it, and brush with melted butter. Repeat with the third sheet. (So now you have a stack of three sheets, with melted butter on each layer). Put the filling in the middle, and roll it up like a burrito. Brush the entire outside, top and bottom, with melted butter. Lay it seam side down on a pan or baking sheet with sides (not a perfectly flat sheet), seam down. Cut a diamond pattern into the top with parallel diagonal cuts (use a sharp knife, otherwise you’ll tear the dough). Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or so, until golden brown. Slice and serve.

    * Whatever mushrooms you can find. Definitely choose cremini over white button. Shitake adds some nice chewy texture.

    ** Parsley is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS flat Italian parsley, not the crinkly stuff.


    Obsession, by Ronald McDonald

    Filed under: — adam @ 1:57 pm

    McDonald’s Japan discovers the tomato, or something.


    The Tasting Room gets a little big for itself

    Filed under: — adam @ 4:27 pm

    I trust the Zagat ratings less and less as time goes by. The Tasting Room is good, and it’s certainly cozy (that’s code for “one too many tables packed into this tiny space but you have to forgive them because running a restaurant in NYC is really hard”). I enjoyed my meal there a lot, but it really didn’t take my breath away, and I can’t say that I think they deserve such a high rating. Granted, they aim high. But if you’re going to serve foie gras, you’re going up against some masters. It goes without saying that the foie gras at Per Se was better, but that’s not really a fair comparison. But in the same price range, I preferred the foie gras at Le Jardin Bistro.

    The Hot Plate : Just a Taste


    The perfect corn bread recipe

    Filed under: — adam @ 4:55 pm

    I found this on the internet, but it’s gone now. Luckily, I printed out a copy, and supplemented it with my notes. I think this is the best corn bread I’ve ever had. Here it is:

    3/4 cup oil (I use grapeseed)
    1 1/4 cup sugar
    3 large eggs
    1 cup soured milk (add 1 tbsp lemon juice to a measuring cup, fill
    with milk to 1 cup, let stand for a few minutes)
    1/2 tsp. vanilla
    2 tsp. lemon zest, finely minced
    1 tsp. kosher salt
    2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1/2 tsp. baking soda

    1 1/2 cups ap flour
    1 cup corn meal

    Preheat oven to 425F.

    Oil a 10″ cast iron skillet (not the 3/4 cup, use a little extra). Line bottom with 2 layers of parchment. ( These are helpful: ).

    Do the following with a mixer on low (I use a kitchenaid on 2-4):

    Blend oil and sugar together. Mix in eggs, sour milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Fold in salt, baking powder, baking soda, flour, and corn meal. Pour batter into skillet. Bake until edges are lightly browned and top is just firm (it may crack), and springs back when touched. In my experience, this is typically around 25 minutes. On occasion, I’ve missed the timer and let this go for longer and the outside burned a bit (dark brown, not black). This, surprisingly, didn’t ruin it.


    Escher tomatoes!

    Filed under: — adam @ 1:20 pm

    This person bit into a tomato, to find that all of the seeds inside
    had sprouted little tomato plants. Trippy!

    Powered by WordPress