Wednesday, May 25, 2005 

'Dogs, Burgers, Wine and Beer...

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers are in the food sections of the New York Times and Boston Globe. In NY,
Ed Levine has a look at where you can find the best Hot Dogs in the city, looking at "Katz's Delicatessen, Gray's Papaya, Papaya King, the legendary Dominick's truck in Queens", and of course, Nathan's. He defines what various Hot Dogs terms mean, (A true Kosher dog...etc) and sets down what makes a great hot dog to him:
So what constitutes a great hot dog? To me, it's a grilled, kosher-style frank served on a lightly toasted bun with slightly spicy mustard and a homemade onion or pickle relish that is neither too sweet nor too hot. The Old Town Bar on East 18th Street not only toasts the bun that encases its grilled natural-casing all-beef Sabrett dog, it butters it as well. Sublime! Sauerkraut is also fine atop my dogs, though every once in a while I crave one prepared Southern style, with cole slaw. My ideal dog should fit neatly into its bun, sticking out by at most an inch on each end.
He notes that the NY Style Hot Dog has been around for over 100 years, and in some parts of the city, you can pay almost $20 for a "Haut Dog". He also runs down the top places in New Jersey and Connecticut to get your fix. Man, now I'm craving a hot dog...and the gas station ones aren't going to cut it...

The Boston Globe has a short primer on building a great hamburger this summer. Here's a few tips from the piece:
  • Use 85 percent lean ground chuck, "lightly" formed into one inch thick patties
  • Find one intense topping - sauteed golden mushrooms, a spicy guacamole
  • Get the right type of cheese for your burger - Roquefort, Stilton or an aged Gouda can all work
  • Choose buns that are dense enough to hold up to the patty's juices.
  • You can use the traditional toppings, or try "thinly sliced extra-sweet onions tossed with a little vinegar, chopped tomatoes marinated in oil and balsamic, or even a little slaw."
Hey...I just discovered that the Globe has a section with excerpts from Cooks Illustrated!

Eric Asimov has a look at an Italian winemaker who is trying an unusual fermentation process:
Rejecting the modern trappings of the cellar, Mr. Gravner has reached back 5,000 years. He now ferments his wines in huge terra-cotta amphorae that he lines with beeswax and buries in the earth up to their great, gaping lips. Ancient Greeks and Romans would be right at home with him, yet his 2001 wines, his first vintage from the amphorae, which he is planning to release in September, are more vivacious and idiosyncratic than ever.
Ann Cortissoz has a look at Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch and how far his brewery has come in 21 years. He offers some pairing suggestions for some of the various brews with food.

Need some dessert now? Jane Dornbusch has a recipe for bread pudding made with Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

Monday, May 23, 2005 

Bring your kids to the winery!

Hey...have you ever wanted to drag your young children around the vineyards and wineries of Napa?

Ok, maybe not. But in the off chance that you do, The New York Times had an article yesterday on Napa Valley Wineries that offer a kid friendly environment.

With a little planning, the wineries of Napa will serve the underaged. Some wineries offer coloring books, crayons and fruit juices to occupy children while their parents sip chardonnays and cabernets. Others have picnic areas, interactive displays, aerial trams or caves that capture young imaginations

There's also a list at the end of the article on Wineries in the Napa Valley that will accommodate your children should you bring them along.

Thursday, May 19, 2005 

Grilling Tips

Lifehacker comes through with more food related tips. Today they link to an article giving a few tips on grilling meat. As summer is almost here, they're very timely. My biggest gripe about being in an apartment building now is that I can't grill. I don't have a deck. Unfortunately, the article doesn't have any tips in that regard for me.

The tips are from a site called A Work in Progress and titled "Everything you thought you knew about grilling is wrong."

1. Flip Early, Flip Often. This is the big shocker. It was hard to imagine doing this at first, and when I told people, they thought I was crazy. Think about it this way: you want a juicy steak, right? Or juicy chicken, or hamburgers, or whatever. The juice is nothing more than the blood in the meat. When you put the meat on the grill, there is more heat below the meat than above. The heat forces the liquid up, through the meat. Ever see a big pool of liquid on top of the steak when you lift the cover off the grill? It's been on too long. You don't want it to come out of the steak, you want it to stay in the steak. So you flip every four or five minutes. Sometimes I flip every two or three, depending on what else I'm doing. Flip it before any liquid has a chance to escape out of the top. Repeat often. Flip, flip, flip. It really works. And if you think this takes a lot of time and concentration, you're right. There's time enough for socializing later. Do you want to grill an excellent steak or not? Okay, then. Concentrate.

If you do nothing else, try this the next time you're grilling.

2. Rotate. There are probably different "hot spots" on your grill. Especially if you use charcoal. Instead of overcooking one steak, undercooking one, and getting two "just right," rotate 'em so they each get a chance to be over the hot spot, or the cold spot. It's almost assembly line for me, especially if I'm cooking a bunch of wings. I'll take whatever is on the far left of the grill and, when I flip it, I'll move it to the far right. Then I shift everything over to the left. This will give all the meat equal opportunity to cook.

Again, you could probably stop here. The next one takes some practice, but it's worth perfecting.

3. Testing for Doneness. This really does take practice. Tap on the meat with your spatula, tongs, whatever. The meat gets less fleshy (loose) the longer it cooks. Tendons tightening and whatnot. Hold your hand loosely and push at the base of your thumb. Now spread your fingers apart and feel the same area. Feel the difference? With practice, you'll be able to tell when the meat is medium, or medium rare, simply by pushing against the meat with the tongs. Took me awhile to get the hang of it, with a lot of sliced open practice steaks to help me see how done something felt. Basically, the less give there is, the more it's been cooked.

here are two more numbered tips and another page of smaller tips. The posts are apparently almost three years old, but the timing is right for them to be released again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005 

Whole Wheat Pasta - On the Upswing

Marian Burros in the New York Times today has a piece on the improvements made in whole wheat and whole grain pasta. First we're told why these foods are healthier:
These better-tasting products are healthier because the nutrients in whole-wheat flour are significantly better for you than what is left once flour is refined. Whole-wheat pasta contains the entire grain seed, usually referred to as the kernel. The kernel has three components: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The bran and the germ contain a host of vitamins, minerals and fiber, some of which are lost in the refining process. So a two-ounce serving of whole-wheat pasta can contain five to seven grams of fiber, more than a typical serving of old-fashioned oatmeal. Refined pasta has only about two grams's all about fiber these days, isn't it. The author also did their homework for this article...eating a whole lot of pasta.
I tasted about 35 dried whole-grain pastas made not only with whole wheat but with farro, spelt, quinoa, rice and corn, and even artichoke flour - and 10 fresh pastas made with a combination of whole wheat and refined durum wheat. I found a number of dried flat pastas, as in fettuccini, linguine and spaghetti, were easy to recommend. Most extruded pastas like rotini, penne and fusilli still needed some work.
Dang. That's a lot of pasta. But it makes sense that a lot of the enjoyment of pasta comes from the sauce you use. A lesser pasta can be improved with better sauce, though a chewy, grainy "healthy" pasta probably isn't going to be improved with the best sauve.

I've tried quite a number of the whole grain and whole wheat pastas. I would agree that they've made vast improvements. Sometime this week or next I plan to try a whole what Macaroni and Cheese. I've got both a box from Annie's Homegrown as well as one I believe from Arrowhead Mills. When I try them I'll post a review here.

Stephen Jermanok in the Boston Globe has a look at the wine from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Pinot noir is the top wine coming out of there, and unlike California where you can blend in 25 percent of another grape, like syrah and zinfandel and still call it pinot noir, in Oregon, it's 100% pinot.

Wondering what you can freeze and what you can't? Beth Budra in The San Francisco Chronicle has a complete guide to what freezes, what doesn't and why.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 

How to cut an Onion without Crying

From LifeHacker today:

Using a knife, cut a cone out of the bottom of the onion (where the roots come out). The diameter of this cone should be about a third of the diameter of the onion, and about 1/3 deep. Take this piece and throw it away (don’t put it down the disposal!). This piece contains the part/gland that makes baby Jesus and everyone else in the room cry when you’re chopping it up. Once you’ve gotten that piece out, chop off the top, peel, and slice the onion.

Been doing it for years, and it works like a charm. You know your cone is too small if it doesn’t work, because you’ve cut into that teargas grenade.

I always cut my onions this way anyway...and have never really had an issue with tearing up when cutting them. This must be why...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005 

This is food?

Is this a sandwich?

Sci-Fi Cooking Tries Dealing With Reality

Would you consider the above picture a sandwich? Well, that's what is...its from the Alinea in Chicago and described as "a passion fruit sponge rests between swirls of dehydrated prosciutto".

Frank Bruni's article in the New York times is one of the most interesting that I've read in some time. The things that chefs are trying to do with foods these days is amazing.
On the opening night of Alinea, the name of which refers to a symbol for a fresh train of thought, the first course was a visually nifty riff on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: a peeled, heated grape, still on a sprig, that had been dipped in a peanut purée and encased in a thin layer of brioche.

A later course paired slivers of rare beef with an undulating sheet of potato, which became a jagged landscape with discreet canyons and buttes of molasses, raisin purée, dried garlic, dried tomato and more: the flavors of A.1. steak sauce, candidly acknowledged on the menu.
I have a hard time picturing these things. The rest of the article has more equally compelling descriptions. R.W. Apple, Jr (Great name for a food writer) also has a piece in the Times today looking at creative food techniques.

Rod Smith in the LA Times looks at Napa Valley Vineyards with Pedigrees - is it real, or more public relations?

The Chicago Tribune has a newly re-designed food section starting today.

Got Crawfish?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005 

Cooks Illustrated is at the top.

I subscribe to three cooking magazines currently. Gourmet, Cooking Light and Cooks Illustrated. I can say without reservation that the latter is the best magazine of its kind on the market. It's only published six times a year, so they put a lot into each issue. There are so many little touches to each magazine that make it special.

  • First of all, NO ADVERTISING. That's right, not a single ad in the magazine.
  • The pencil-style illustrations give it a warm, old-time feel.
  • The product reviews are detailed, yet easy to follow.
  • The techniques for making various dishes and overcoming common problems are without peer.
  • If you like "America's Test Kitchen" on PBS, you get the same people in the magazine.
  • The pages of tips and hints both from the editors and from readers are outstanding.
  • Throughout there are special "on-line"features. You go to the website, type in a code and get a bonus. I did one of these last week and printed it out, and it's like having additional pages to the magazine.
  • I even like the editors introduction to each issue.

There's a lot to like about this magazine, and if you're a serious cook, or just a Part Time Gourmet, it has something that's going to help you out in making the most of your time in the kitchen. The website is also outstanding (Link in the right hand column.) and worth a visit. You can become a paid member at the website and get access to 12 years of magazine articles and reviews.