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Tuesday
November

30

2004
11:39 PM




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Ok. A couple of final notes on the Thanksgiving meal.

First of all, as Lauren points out in her comment, it was not a Tofurkey that she brought but a delicious (according to her) UnTurkey. I don't know as I didn't try it. Next year I promise I will.

Second, next year if we want a pre-done Turducken, and want to do it at our house (where we keep kosher) the internet has an answer (I LOVE the internet). OK, it's more like Aaron's Gourmet ON the internet. But still. Cool.

And finally, if we don't want to go kosher, or smoke the thing, I should have relayed Chris' suggestion about what the next step is... the Osturducken. That's right... stuff the whole damn thing inside an Ostrich. Just to see if Chris was original in this, I did search the web, and unfortunately found the same suggestion from last year. However, this did inadvertently give me a good word to use when wanting to demonstrate how to get only one result on google. (D'oh! As soon as this entry gets indexed there will be two.)

Monday
November

29

2004
12:12 AM




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13-removing the turducken from the pan.JPG

Click photo to see entire album.

Thanksgiving, November 25, 2004 — You may have noticed the discrepancy sometimes between the dates that denote the particular moment the post is published versus the date which the event I'm describing actually happened. Aside from the confusion of having two separate dates, the observant among you will have also put two and two together and noticed that I'm 7-8 months behind in posting. I'm busy describing meals that we ate awhile ago. Luckily my notes are good, the photos help a lot, and the best dishes stay fresh in my mind anyway. But by the time I got around to describing what we did for Thanksgiving last year it was already this summer and frankly nobody needs me to describe a huge meal with an enormous turkey in the heat of July. So this year I am reporting on our eating a little out of order. And what follows is a basic description of the "little" meal we cooked up last Thursday.

There is a unique combination of disorders that result in the activities that get documented on this site (not to mention the fact that things get documented at all, and in such detail). Allow me to explain. What do you get when you get a bunch of friends together, who are curious, eager to try new things, obsessed with food, over-focused on details, love to understand how things work, love to explain endlessly once they understand things, love to be right, are competitive, with a solid does of geek/nerd underlying the whole bit? You get me, my friends, and this website. So for the last three years we have been following a DaVinci Code like path hunting for Thanksgiving treasure. Did we shamelessly rip off Dan Brown and put a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence? We're no Jerry Bruckheimer (or Nick Cage). We shamelessly ripped off Jeffrey Steingarten and his description of the three superhuman challenges that one must go through to experience all a turkey has to offer.

Two years ago we deep-fried a turkey. These days this may seem commonplace, but back then it was novel. (OK, maybe not even back then.) While we didn't burn the house down, we did completely underestimate how long it takes to heat a huge pot of boiling oil. We ate quite late. Last year we (and by "we" I mean Alex) made a Thompson's Turkey. Five billion ingredients. The most complicated turkey and stuffing ever made. This year, there was only one thing left to do... (and I mean that figuratively) the Turducken.

Take a chicken, stuff it into a duck. Take the very same duck, and stuff it into a turkey. Mortar between each layer with three different stuffings. Cook for 8-10 hours. While we're not searching for the holy grail, the deep-fried, the thompson's, and the turducken are the essentially the Thanksgiving trinity. And this thanksgiving is when the hats hit the ice.

Now most people would take on the Turducken and figure that some basic mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a salad would be nice accompaniments. But most people are not me and my friends - feeling compelled to go overboard. I suppose when it comes to gatherings where there is cooking to be done, our strategy is typically "shock and awe".

Things started off with Gruyere Gougeres which Leslie made from the recipe in the French Laundry Cookbook. These were delicious... all airy and cheesy but crisp on the outside. Kat came through with Crostini with Chevre, Fresh Fig Compote (made from figs in Alex' garden) and topped with a Cranberry "Coulis" that was supposed to be gelled cranberry sauce but it never gelled. There were also Lebanese Spinach Turnovers from DebDu. Little yummy phyllo surprises.

The main dishes was of course the Turducken which Alex made from Paul Prudhomme's recipe. This was quite good. We can't find the quote (though we think it was Steingarten) who said the turkey makes a perfect vessel for cooking a delicious duck. And in fact our turkey was a touch dry, though it was beautiful to look at, and the skin was perfection. The gravy helped. But the duck inside was juicy and delicious. The stuffings were great as well, with the shrimp and hot pepper version as the most delicious.

But again, the group personality disorder served the crowd well as one triple main dish wasn't enough. This was the genesis of the Three Pork Surprise. The surprise is that there are three kinds of pork. Ok, not much of a surprise given the name. Basically it's a Pork Loin Stuffed with Andouille Sausage, Wrapped in Bacon, Smoked, and Grilled. And while it was good, I think more creativity is in order here for next year - anyone for Seven Pork Surprise?

Oh yes, and Lauren brought her standard Tofurkey. (This one seemed particularly downtrodden. No Presidential reprieve for him.)

What to do for cranberries? The debate raged, but suffice it to say (that since I'm writing down what happened) the fans of the Cranberry with Flavo-Ridges won the day. I don't need some fancy cranberry sauce on my turkey. Alex succumbed a little bit and got the organic cranberries in a can at Wholefoods. (By the way not only does Chris deserve credit for "Flavo-Ridges" but he also gets credit for all the photos this time. He has his own write-up of  our Thanksgivinganza at his blog.)

No shortage of sides. Alex made Chipotle Sweet Potato au Gratin, Bobby Flay's recipe. Debdu brought Tunisian Squash Puree (she used Sugar Pumpkin instead of squash), and Moroccan Orange Salad with Olives which was one of the most interesting flavors we had all night. Both were from the Saffron Shores cookbook. Walter and Mary-Alice brought Marjoram Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding. The recipes was from an as yet unpublished cookbook from Jerry Traunfeld. (Mary-Alice got it when she took a class at Sur La Table.)

I made a few sides myself. First was the Pearl Onion and Shallot in Port Glaze. This was from the latest issue of Bon Appetit. Simple to make and delicious. The next was Joel Robuchon's Potato "Puree". Carefully but forcefully combine two pounds of potatoes, one pound of butter, and some milk. What results is as best I can describe a perfect potato milkshake. I mean this in a good way. Every time we've tried to make this recipe we've chickened out before adding as much butter as the recipe says. This time I was determined. In addition to the food mill, we also had a tamis, which is absolutely critical to really breaking down the potato atoms into their respective potato electrons. I've had this dish in at Robuchon's restaurant and it was delicious. Mine (with help from Leslie, Peyman, and Walter) were damn close. If anything they were slightly less buttery. Though I'm not sure that more butter would have necessarily resulted in a more buttery flavor. But trust me, they were not the least bit greasy.

I also embarked on the next chapter in my eternal quest for the perfect macaroni and cheese. I won't get into all the details, as I have not finished my quest. But that said, imagine penne, in a shallow pan (so it maximizes the amount of crusty goodness, drenched with a mix of a super-sharp cheddar and an ultra-creamy Italian, studded with huge chunks of extra-thick bacon, and topped with breadcrumbs. This was good. Alex has been eating hte leftovers and says it's awesome frozen food. I was not happy (and btw, none of the kids at the meal liked it). Onward and upward.

Finally, Leslie rounded out the desserts with a delicious Apple Cranberry Ginger Pie from a Williams Sonoma recipe; a yummy Pumpkin Cheesecake - here's the recipe from Frank Stitt's Southern Table courtesy of Hsao-Ching Chou of the Seattle PI; and some delicious and interesting Sugar Cookies which she got from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook (she added orange oil to give it a unique flavor).

All in all, a pretty successful Thanksgiving I would say. A little crazy, but that's the fun. When we compared the Turducken, the Deep-Fried, and the Thompson's, the Deep-Fried seems to be the best deal in terms of flavor divided by effort. So you would think we would try that again next year, but in fact Alex just a few minutes ago sent me mail with a link to an article about and a recipe for a Smoked Turkey (free registration required). I suppose deep frying another turkey would just have been boring anyway.

 

 

Sunday
November

28

2004
12:26 PM




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It's been a long thanksgiving weekend. And we've been spending some time this weekend sprucing up the site. Hopefully you'll like our new look. Granted it's only the homepage that has gotten this new treatment, but eventually this will work its way throughout the entire site.

And to keep things lively, the pictures across the top refresh every time you come to the site. We'll keep rotating some of our best food photography throughout the header space as often as we can. Right now the images range from pancakes at Sears Fine Foods in San Francisco to little muffins we got at Gordon Ramsay in London.

We're working now on getting the pictures up from our thanksgiving extravaganza. Hopefully we'll have them up later tonight.

Tuesday
November

23

2004
9:36 PM




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While we're super happy with our first cookbook, All About Apples, there's always room for improvement. Some people were having trouble downloading the cookbook, or having trouble figuring out how to zoom in on the text. We have a new version posted now that shows the Acrobat toolbar immediately. It also fixes confusion in the first recipe as to whether you should use two or three duck egg yolks (three please).

Happy thanksgiving to everyone who reads our site. We'll be making a turducken from scratch. And by "we" I mean Alex. I won't be a complete slacker as I'll be doing my best impression of Joel Robuchon's two part potato, one part butter mashed potatoes.

And for anyone who wants a true challenge for Thursday, try this. (Thanks Alex.)

 

 

Monday
November

22

2004
12:24 AM




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Writing About Food, November 22, 2004 — This website exists to document my experiences with eating great (and sometimes not-so-great) food. Invariably, when you write almost 300 posts, most about meals and eating at various restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and food stands, people are going to call you a “food critic”. On the one hand there’s no doubt I think critically about the food I eat. But a “food critic”? I have to admit that title feels a little like an epithet to me.

Let’s start at the beginning. Anywhere there are creative people expressing themselves (especially for money) there grows a cottage industry around criticizing what those creative people do. I’m not (at least in this post) trying to get into a discussion of whether cooking is art, craft, or something in between, but cooking and creating food in general does appear to be one of those creative endeavors that has inspired a legion of people who spend their life and make their living criticizing other people’s cooking and creativity.

Some of the people who write about food for a living (possibly even many of them) are simply thrilled about sharing their love of food with others. Many are counting their lucky stars that their paid to do this. Others do it even without being paid – note the hundreds of food blogs that have sprouted up all over the net over the last couple of years. Others however (and by my take this is the majority) appear to be taken mostly with themselves as opposed to the food and food producers they’re paid to write about. How do I know this? I’ll tell you.

There are two things that tell me. The first is the myth under which most food critics operate. The second is the drivel most food critics produce. Let’s start with the myth. The myth is one of objectivity. It starts with the employers of most food critics in the nation – commercial media, mostly newspapers. The people who write for newspapers are called journalists. Journalists build their credibility on the notion that they are objective. The more textured among them will fully acknowledge that complete objectivity is impossible, and their real goal is to be honest, fair, and balance (though the latter of those two have been co-opted in the most sad and ironic fashion by a media outlet that clearly is neither). My point here is not to take a position on some part of the red/purple/blue spectrum but rather to point out that the notion of being objective in writing about food is silly.

Not so says the Association of Food Journalists. In fact, in their "Food Critics' Guidelines", they claim that “Good restaurant reviewing is good journalism. Reviewers should subscribe to the same accepted standards of professional responsibility as other journalists.” The give specifics on how to achieve this: “The Association believes that the primary responsibility of food journalists is to serve the public interest by reporting the news accurately and as objectively as possible. (1) Gifts, favors, free travel or lodging, special treatment or privileges can compromise the integrity and diminish the credibility of food journalists, as well as that of their employers. This includes commercially sponsored contests. Such offers should be avoided. An example is a contest promoting specific food products that is open to food journalists only. (2) Similarly, food journalists should not use their positions to win favors for themselves or for others.” There are a bunch of others, but my favorite is “(8) Because of the controversial nature of many food-related topics, food journalists accept the obligation to acknowledge opposing views on such issues.”

Now I am sure that most restaurant critics do their utmost to follow all these rules to the letter, but my take is that it’s borderline impossible to follow these rules, and completely impossible to follow the spirit of them. Whether they want to acknowledge it or not, most reviewers portraits are plastered to the bulletin boards of kitchens all over their respective “beats” right next to the OSHA mandated postings. Waiters are trained to look for the critics and relay the information when one is spotted to the folks in the kitchen who do their utmost to treat the reviewer like a king (or queen as the case may be). Additionally, many reviewers get discounts and freebies. Maybe not at the actual meal where they are reviewing the restaurant, but at others. Chefs and restaurateurs have confirmed this to me privately. And let’s say for argument’s sake that a critic goes through all sorts of trouble to stay unrecognized, refuses all freebies, and follows all the other rules and guidelines. They still are not, in my opinion, able to follow the spirit of the guidelines.

Again, I know it’s a generalization, but my impression is that many food critics get carried away with themselves. Everyone has met people in life who squeeze every last drop of leverage and superiority from the small positions of power they wield. In the worst cases this small taste of power results in an overinflated sense of self-worth and expertise. There’s nothing worse than critics who feel that their positions on newspapers and other media outlets somehow make them experts at food. This is like disc jockeys who get their job because of the quality of their voice, but have come to believe they are now experts on music, determining what’s good and what isn’t. The best journalists food or otherwise readily admit their biases, the things that color their opinion, and the context for their thinking.

Recently the editors of Slate magazine decided to tell the world how they were going to vote in the Presidential election. In “Our case for journalistic disclosure” Jacob Weisberg says much more eloquently than I ever could when he explains that one of the reasons they did it was “to emphasize the distinction between opinion and bias. Journalists, like people, have opinions that influence their behavior. Reporters and editors at most large news organizations in the United States are instructed to keep their opinions to themselves to avoid creating an impression of partisanship. Len Downie, the executive editor of the Washington Post, famously goes so far as to avoid even voting. Slate, which is a journal of opinion, takes precisely the opposite approach. Rather than bury our views, we cultivate and exhibit them. A basic premise of our kind of journalism is that we can openly express what we think and still be fair. Fairness, in the kind of journalism Slate practices, does not mean equal time for both sides. It does not mean withholding judgment past a reasonable point. It means having basic intellectual honesty. When you advance a hypothesis, you must test it against reality. When you make a political argument, you must take seriously the significant arguments on the other side. And indeed, Slate writers tend to be the sort of people who relish opportunities to criticize their own team and give credit to their opponents. Or so we'd like to think. By disclosing our opinions about who should be president, we're giving readers a chance to judge how well we are living up to these ideals.” And while the practice of writing about food is not of the same importance as writing about politics (in either direction depending on your outlook on life) here at tastingmenu we try to live up to these same ideals. And why aren’t these the ideals of the Association of Food Journalists?

The thing is that it is impossible to be objective about food. Food is an emotional component of our lives. You cannot convince me that Bella Cooperman, my father’s mother, didn’t make the best chicken soup ever in the history of planet earth. Nor can you convince me that my other grandmother, Goldie Jackson, didn’t make the best small apricot filled pastries(the unfortunately named Apricot Pasties). And while I’m sure each and every one of you would agree with me on how perfect these dishes were (if only my grandmothers were alive to make them for all of us) the flavors in these dishes are so intertwined with my memories of my grandmothers that it’s really impossible for me to separate the two. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has wonderful memories that involve food. Smell is a critical part of tasting food, and smell is also linked very closely to memory (both positive and negative). It doesn’t bother me that objectivity is impossible. What bothers me is people who under the mantle of objectivity spout their opinions as if they have some greater value than any other person’s perception. Even, Jeffrey Steingarten, his quality writing I aspire to achieve a fraction of, said at one point that there were several restaurants he loved so much he frequented them regularly and therefore would never write about them. I say why not? Do I imagine that just because he’s become friendly with the chef that all of a sudden he loves the food even if it sucks? Maybe he became friendly with the person making the food because the food was so good in the first place. I feel cheated not knowing the names of those restaurants. Because as much as I respect the opinion of Steingarten, I’d still like the option to make up my own mind.

And while objective food criticism is a joke if not in practice, then in spirit, just look at the quality of the content and the recommendations to know for sure that most food writing (especially in newspapers) sucks. (Luckily food blogs are starting to fill the void.) The main signpost for me is the relentless focus on trends. How many articles have you seen talking about what foods are trendy at restaurants? The latest interesting ingredients that “everyone” is cooking with? I remember running into a local food personality once and asking her what her favorite restaurants were. This is a question that in the worst case helps me get context for what kind of food the person is into, and in the best case lets me know about cool restaurants I didn’t know about. At first I was surprised that it took her a full 30-40 seconds to come up with even one name. This person is in the food business and has lived in Seattle for many years. And when she finally did come up with some names, they were all of restaurants that opened in the past 12 months and were considered “hip”. Distressing to say the least.

I’ve gotten accused once or twice myself of showing favoritism. Consider this post my response. I write about food because I love to eat. And due to some dysfunction in my personality when I love something I get just as much pleasure from getting other people to feel the same way about it as I do. I have no qualifications, no expertise, and no right to judge anyone's cooking as I am not very good at it myself. The only thing that fuels my efforts is my unhealthy obsession with documenting my life, and my willingness to dedicate what little spare time I have to doing so. I don’t expect everyone to agree with all my opinions, but I know from much of the supportive mail I’ve gotten that often people have had great experiences with food they read about first on this site. And that moment, the moment of shared discovery of something wonderful is why this site exists. So when you see me writing about food I love, ingredients I adore, and people who’s cooking fills me with wonderful memories – be it a person with 3 stars from Michelin, a person manning a street-side food stall, or my grandmothers – understand my exuberance is just that. And I hope that on occasion you’ll find a reason to share it.

 

 

Friday
November

19

2004
12:02 AM




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Philadelphia Fevre Steak and Hoagie Shop, Seattle, WA, February 28, 2004 — The steak sub (for anyone confused by "subs" please substitute heros, hoagies, submarine sandwiches, or cheesesteaks) is one of my favorite all time foods. In high school my friend Roee and I used to plot the apartment we would share after we moved out of our homes. The centerpiece would be a sub-making station complete with frying surface for the steak, mushroom, and onions (not to mention melting the cheese), as well as bins of vegetables and other toppings. We would eat subs three times a day. (Yes, I know this is weird, but be sensitive as I'm baring my soul and my adolescent silliness.) I still love these beautiful creations, but alas I have to travel back to Boston to get the perfect combination of toasted roll, chunky pieces of steak, cheese, and veggies.

And yes, I do know that Philadelphia prides itself on its own cheese, steak, and bread combination. I'm still on the fence however about whether they are any good. I have traveled to Philadelphia and partaken of the famous cheesesteaks (with). But we didn't eat at a top cheesesteak spot so it hardly seems fair. But I've eaten other cheesesteaks since that claim to be authentic and they all shared certain qualities that I wasn't sure about (more on this later). Anyway, I do crave a good steak sub, and right near where I live is the Philadelphia Fevre Steak and Hoagie Shop. I would have preferred it was the Boston Steak, Cheese, Mushroom, Onion, Sub Shop but beggars can't be choosers.

Look, writing about food is not something that can be done objectively. And I freely admit that the memories associated with the perfect combination of toasted roll, cheese, and steak overwhelm me with warmth and positivity. It's simply hard to compete with that. And any similar combination of ingredients is inevitably going to be held to that standard. I'll write more about objectivity at a later date, but I wanted to be up front about my biases.

Back to Philadelphia Fevre. The atmosphere there is great. Homey. Comfortable. Self-effacing. Focused on cheesesteaks. And with free wireless access. Cool. Definitely a place you'd want to hang out. The cheesesteaks are filled to the brim with cheese and steak. They do a good job. And here's where I can't tell whether my hesitation is about the quality of the dish or my bias. I'll let you be the judge. First things first. The roll was not toasted. I think if you're going to put a huge bomb of juicy steak and cheese in a bun, it's critical to toast the bun. You need it to maintain some structure as you eat your way through it. I asked for toasting, but they said they couldn't toast, and could only grill and the roll would get a bit charred. I talked to the owner a little later and he said in fact he could have grilled it properly for me. Ok. No biggie.

Now to the other two main ingredients. First the steak. I'll admit it, the steak in cheesesteaks that I've had has a shredded texture. This may sound silly, but it can almost feel gritty to me. I also think they stuff too much of this shredded steak into the roll making the ingredient balance a little bit off of what I consider perfection. The second issue is the cheese. The appropriate topping is whiz as in Cheese-Whiz. I have no problem with processed foods. They have a uniformity that I often find comforting. But I just don't think it does justice to the steak. It just ends up being gloppy. I prefer provolone. (Authentic Philly Cheesesteak fans feel free to flame away starting... now.) Philadelphia Fevre did accommodate me on this front.

Did the cheesesteaks at Philadelphia Fevre meet my deep emotional need for the steak and cheese subs I grew up with? No. Were they decent in their own way? Defnitely. I think they might be even better next time if I get some toasting/grilling of the roll. And time moves on.

 

 

Thursday
November

18

2004
12:45 AM




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Olive Oil, Seattle, WA, February 28, 2004 — Olive Oil is a funny thing to me. We grew up with it in the house but I don't know that it occupied a particularly special place in our pantry. I seem to remember us having one of those super big gold colored square metal containers filled with it. My dad would use it when he was cooking Italian food. I remember the garlic shimmering in the greenish olive oil, sautéing slowly. We would also dribble it over tomato slices followed by balsamic vinegar. Later we would also pour a bit onto plates of chummus and baba ghanoush. Yummy.

I only really started understanding what was interesting to me about olive oil after I spent a year living on a farm in Israel. The eating pattern is very different. The big meal of the day is lunch. Breakfast and dinner are very similar if not identical. Dairy products, eggs, chummus, baba ghannoush, pitas, and of course an Israeli salad. The basic version is: diced cucumbers and tomatoes with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil. Truly perfect. The fresh vegetables from the farm didn't hurt either.

Up until my time in Israel Olive Oil seemed lighter than a traditional vegetable oil, but it didn't really have any strong flavor I could discern. Not so with the olive oil in Israel (and in the middle east in general). Almost all the olive oil I've ever tasted from Israel, Lebanon, Syria, etc. have had a really strong but pleasant olive flavor. And for those who have an aversion to olives, while the flavor is strong, it's still somehow mild. It really adds something to cooking that is altogether different than the comparatively "pale" olive oils I've tasted from Italy, Spain, and California. More recently I've come to appreciate the extra light olive oils of Italy for use in dressing dishes right before they're served. I guess I really think of them as two separate experiences - one a deep flavor foundation for dishes, the other a glossy accent. Both good.

With that short history for context, DebDu and Peyman decided to host an Olive Oil Tasting. Very cool. They gathered a whole bunch of Olive Oils and set them up so we could taste each one. First up was Mishelanu made in the Galillee of Israel. This extra Virgin Olive Oil had a beautiful yellow color. It was nice and olivey. Really light and delicious. Lauren felt it had an odd flavor, almost meaty. Trampetti Olio, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Super light. Something I'd like to try on super delicate noodles. But a bit of a burn on the finish. A touch sweet. Castelas, Huile d'Olive, Verge Extra, De La Vallee Des Baux De Provence, Provence France. Grassy flavor, slightly bitter. (I didn't like this one much but everyone else did). Medi Terranea, Getsemani, Extra Virgin Olive Oil - really not that flavorful at all. No substance. Olio Extravergine Di Oliva "Pianogrillo". This stuff was sweet at first and then a horrible burn on the finish. Terrible. Casa Brina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, was a flavor vaccuum. Just nothing. Like a black hole. Badia a Coltibuono, Extra Virgin Olive Oil - plain flavor, burns like hell on the finish.

Not a bad start on our olive oil journey. More work to do. There are thousands to try.

 

 

Tuesday
November

16

2004
12:36 AM




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We're doing another cookbook project here at tastingmenu. Too early to mention the details, but we do need some help to round out our team on this effort. In addition to producing the second in our series of tastingmenu cookbooks, we'd also like to videotape the making of this book. To that end we need a volunteer to be our video intern for this project. The(unpaid except for the fun of working with us) job will run for a couple of weekends during at least the first couple of weeks in the early part of December and is located in Seattle. Here's the job description.

Do you dream of making videos and films? Do you love food? Are you looking for a project that will give you an opportunity to show your stuff and have a showcase for your talent? tastingmenu.com is a James Beard Award nominated food blog, that has recently produced its first electronic cookbook - All About Apples with Seattle chef Scott Carsberg of Lampreia restaurant. The cookbook has been downloaded thousands of times. We are about to create a new cookbook (the chef is a secret) and are looking to produce a documentary style video of the making of the new cookbook. We need a video intern to shoot the entire process, and then edit the footage down to an exciting 20-30 minute "making of" video that shows the entire process. All equipment will be provided (digital video cameras, as well as Windows computers and editing software - Premiere, etc.). Proficiency with the camera and computer hardware and software is expected. The project kicks off immediately after Thanksgiving and people need to be available right then for several weekends in a row.

Send your resume, personal information, and a link to a sample of your work to jobs@tastingmenu.com.

 

 

Monday
November

15

2004
12:05 AM




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Riingo, New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — I've said enough recently on the ups and downs of fusion cooking. Sometimes I think fusion cooking is like when couples have a child to save a marriage. "Hey, it's not working, so let's complicate matters further." That said, we were in New York City, there was lots of attention on this new restaurant, and one of the founding (if not cooking) Chefs was Marcus Samuelsson from Aquavit (which I've never eaten at but hear good things about). And besides, while I lament the fact that most fusion restaurants end up being good at neither cuisine while not creating anything new and interesting, if it were possible to combine French and Japanese cooking beautifully, I certainly would like to benefit from that combination. Given this outlook, we decided to give Riingo a try.

As things were gearing up some bread showed up with an edamame spread. It tasted fresh and yummy. There was also a dark flat bread which was very very good. To me it tasted like it had sesame in it, maybe some shrimp, and definitely a little kick. It too was very good. The attention to detail and complexity of the flavors were getting things off to a good start. Then our orders started to arrive.

First up was a Tuna Caesar with Sea Urchin Vinaigrette. I don't know what the hell we were thinking ordering this. What did we expect other than a boring caesar sald (in this case not even with good caesary flavor) and some slabs of tuna (which were nice but not that interesting). It came with a tuile that was so crispy it was literally hard to eat. We also got some tartare - kobe beef, tuna, and salmon to be exact. Hard to criticize piles of chopped raw meat and fish.

Next up was Nori Wrapped Foie Gras with Melon and Mackerel. I was really eager for this as the combination sounded interesting and of course I adore foie gras. Not this time as the dish was quite unenjoyable. The foie gras ended up being thick and gelatinous - not in a good way. This was followed by the Bass Ceviche with Tofu Chili Sauce, Edamame, and Pickled Vegetables. This dish had no flavor. I don't mean it was subtle. I mean there was a surprisingly tiny amount of flavor in this food. Things were going downhill in a hurry, but luckily the next thing that showed up was Seared Arctic Char with Herbs and Coconut Milk. The char was truly tasty. The skin was delicious with a mixing of caramelized soy flavor and some kind of kick which might have been wasabi. The effect was subtle and complex. Nice.

We got a few sides as well including Chili Mashed Potatoes, Yam Puree, and Potato Pancakes. The latke was different but nice. It was a little sweet but not cloying. As for the mashed potatoes with chili, we couldn't really taste any chili. So I guess it was just "Mash". As for the Yams, they were great. They're not typically my favorite, but they were beautifully cooked, not overly sweet, and a gorgeous orange color.

At this point we had lots of plates and dishes on the table. It was getting hard to maneuver. But to be fair, only our table seemed to suffer from this as we had a weirdly sized table. Maybe also the non-traditional way we order our meals and share also contributed to the crowding.

Towards the end of our meal our sushi and other more Japanese items arrived. This included: Tuna Foie Gras Ngiri, Maguro Ngiri, Kobe Beef Sushi, and Rice Puff Crusted  Shrimp. The tuna with foie gras frankly was fantastic. It was like a creamy savory butter pat gently hidden under the beautiful tuna. As for the maguro the rice under the fish seemed a bit small but otherwise it was perfect tuna excellence. (I know, it's wacky to complain about too little rice, but at least to me, even with wonderful ingredients, making something great is also about proper balance.) The kobe ngiri was amazing. Tender, juicy, really fantastic. And the shrimp maki had a perfect texture with what seemed like a sweet soy glaze inside.

Desserts followed including a Grapefruit Granite with Yogurt and Vanilla foam which was excellent and had super grapefruit flavor. Some excellent Green Tea Donuts (though Peyman thought the dough was nice, he thought they were overseared and didn't have a ton of flavor - Alex and I disagreed). And there were also Chocolate Covered Soy Beans - which were delicious and crunchy - and Wasabi Dusted Marshmallows and Petits Fours.

To be fair to Riingo, there really are two (if not three including Pastry) chefs and two kitchens. And the sushi bar and dessert really seemed to be from one end of the spectrum. And while the food from the main kitchen had it's high points, it also had several low points. And unfortunately for the customer, they don't know how to pick which dishes come from which kitchen. Combine this with the fact that the restaurant was only a few weeks old and maybe it's no surprise that things were not that memorable. And of course why do people assume that they can fuse two foods that have been developed over decades and even centuries. French and Japanese food may share some common values - attention to detail, etc. But that doesn't mean that they can be made compatible just by cooking them in the same restaurant.

As with many things, the more I eat out, the more I learn. And on the one hand I could easily say that the kitchen(s) at Riingo are obviously capable of turning out some standout food. But then again, so are a lot of kitchens. The trick is to do it consistently. And also it's true that they had just recently opened, but then again, if they're still working the kinks out, then why are they open and charging full price. I wouldn't mind trying it again, but only if they've really hit their stride.

 

 

Thursday
November

11

2004
12:17 AM




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Totonno's, New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — I'll admit that I don't have the deep and abiding love for pizza that some people do. For them pizza is like sex. Even bad pizza is preferable to none at all. That said, The unique combination that is dough, tomato, and cheese is quite compelling. And even moreso when done to perfection at Totonno's pizza on Coney Island in Brooklyn. I'd had decent pizza, but theirs was simply the best I've ever had. Needless to say, given that we've already gone all the way to Manhattan (from our basically pizza-less Seattle homebase) the trip to Coney Island seems like a long haul. Given our laziness we were excited that another Totonno's existed in Manhattan. Wondering if it was possible to replicate perfection a few miles away we were eager to try it out. We even asked on Coney Island how similar the pizza was. They assured us that it was identical. They were wrong.

We should have known that things were not going to go well when on the phone I asked the Manhattan folks if they were related to the Totonno's on Coney Island, and the woman answering the phone had never even heard of it. Oh oh. But we thought to ourselves that we had a secret that would save the day. The last time Steve and Kira went to the Coney Island Totonno's they were told that if they went to Manhattan, they should order their pizza "Coney Island style". This apparently means more burnt on the bottom. Apparently the New Yorkers in Manhattan freak out at a little charring, while the more hardy Brooklynites (Brooklynians?) know that this is how their pizza comes out best. With that little tidbit in our arsenal we ordered one cheese pizza, Coney Island style.

And while it was nicely roasted with charred edges, it was just not the same. The sauce in Manhattan was definitely the same - robust, flavorful, and delicious. But the pizza didn't come out the same. Was it the cheese? The dough? The water? The oven? Was it the fact that it wasn't a descendant of the founder personally making the pizza? The waitress claimed that the owners were the same, but she seemed to lack conviction, and her answers were suspect. I suspect but can't confirm that the Manhattan Totonno's is the result of some ancient licensing arrangement with the original (I have no proof of this, just a hunch).

We tried a couple of other pizzas. The cheese on the Margherita was a little too even, a little oily, and a bit salt. Maybe they were using a different mozarella. Peyman had a neapolitan with sauce, oregano, onion, and garlic which he thought was fantastic. The sauce was super present flavor-wise and the garlic was roasted to perfection. And though it shouldn't matter, I couldn't help but be slightly oppressed by all the St. Patrick's Day decoration giving this place more of a sports bar feel than the atmosphere of a place where great pizza is created. Though if the pizza were great I wouldn't have cared if they had Christmas decorations up in April.

Perhaps the real issue is quality control. Maybe the intangibles that make the pizza great on Coney Island simply don't translate into a different borough. It's not the first (or last time) that perfection doesn't scale when it comes to food.

 

 

Wednesday
November

10

2004
12:33 AM




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Fried Dumpling, New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — We don't spend a lot of time talking about prices on this website. For one, they change often. For two (can I say that?) price perception is relative to how much money you have. We're lucky to be able to eat out quite a bit. And while we don't assume that everyone can do it to the extent we do, we do assume that everyone can make up their own mind on how to spend their money. We are typically leery of restaurants for which an extremely low (or high) price is one of the main points people bring up in describing it. Fried Dumpling certainly qualifies in this category. The basic deal is 5 potstickers (or Peking Ravioli as we used to call it in the 80's) cost $1. That's a pretty ridiculously low price. You can also get 4 pork buns for $1 and a hot and sour soup for $1. If only this place had existed around the corner from my where I went to college (we had a psycho cheap Indian place instead). Bottom line: the food overall is certainly not bad, and even decent. I would say it's slightly above average food with exceptionally low prices. The dumplings were a little doughy and slightly oily. The soup was not super interesting. Not bad, but not good exactly. And while this is several grades above Americanized Chinese fast food, I'd still be willing to pay a little more for better dumplings. The best part of the visit was watching them make the dumplings. A middle-aged woman sat on a stool and churned out dumpling after dumpling wrapping the dough around the filling that she would parcel out from an enormous vat. It was fascinating.

 

 

Monday
November

08

2004
1:11 AM




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Fong Inn Too, New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — If practice makes perfect, then focus is a prerequisite. This is why I love street food. A brutally small menu (often 1 or 2 items at most), and repetitive focus can make for some delicious snacks and treats. You might think that wandering around Manhattan going from one restaurant to another would make us reluctant to "spoil" our appetites with some street food "a la minute". You would be wrong. Fong Inn Too is a small, somewhat non-descript, Chinese restaurant on Mott Street. It does however feature a walk-up window where they sell and serve Fried Radish Cakes. How can I explain these deep fried beauties? They are like radish foie gras. They have a perfect savory seared/browned top, while remaining slightly gelatinous inside (in a good way). There are little bits of savory ham generously dotting the radish landscape, and you get the full flavor of the vegetable on the finish. An oversized portion, just prepared for only $1.25? I'm in.

 

 

Friday
November

05

2004
12:11 AM




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Il Laboratorio del Gelato, New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — Since we were already in the Lower East Side of Manhattan we needed to make one more stop - this time for gelato. In retrospect our morning reads like some sort of fraternity hazing where the goal is to induce a diabetic coma in the inductees. Yet, for some reason, on the morning in question, capping off our hot chocolate and donuts with gelato seemed perfectly logical. Especially when it was from Il Laboratorio del Gelato. I assume this translates to "The Gelato Lab". We went in to do some experimentation.

Our experience was funny. The appeal of the different flavors really ended up being all about texture. Some of the scoops we got seemed over-frozen and ended up having a crystallized texture that was not enjoyable. But the rest of the flavors we tried were some of the best gelato and sorbet we've ever had (I think the main difference is the milk/cream content). The orange and blueberry combination seemed promising. And while the orange was good, the blueberry was phenomenal. It was stunningly creamy with a deep beautiful ruby/purple color. The banana gelato tasted like a fresh banana - super dense goodness. The pear sorbet was pretty good and the blackberry gelato was yummy too. However, the green grape sorbet fell victim to the texture issues we described below. We didn't miss the vanilla either, which was incredible dense and creamy. Delicious.

 

 

Wednesday
November

03

2004
7:45 AM




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Doughnut Plant, New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — Growing up in Boston you don't really have a sense of what value the rest of the world places on donuts. It's not that they aren't appreciated elsewhere, it's simply that they aren't appreciate quite as much. It is said (mostly by me) that you can't sneeze without bumping into a donut shop in Boston. And since the Department of Justice has yet to get interested, Dunkin Donuts appears to have a monopolistic stranglehold on the Boston donut market. And while I recognize that my childhood may have colored my opinion of those donuts (and even my stubborn insistence at using "donut" instead of "doughnut"), I still say they are quite delicious. They don't have the sickly sweet flavor of a Krispy Kreme (is there any flour to be found amidst all that butter and sugar?), nor do they have the heavy cakey quality of some of the other donut chains I've had. Just a perfect balance of sugar and buttery dough that comes in a large variety of flavors. And while my love for Dunkin Donuts is everlasting, our relationship is certainly not monogamous. This is why the prospect of trying out some donuts from the darling of the New York donut scene - Doughnut Plant - filled me with excitement. What would a "gourmet" donut taste like? Would it be too "foofy"? Would the donut refined spoil my love of the more pedestrian Dunkin variety? Let's find out.

Doughnut Plant certainly met my imagination's vision of what a refined donut maker should look like. A no frills, utilitarian storefront where all the energy in the small establishment is being directed at making great donuts with a simple approach valuing high quality ingredients. We tasted quite a variety including: Vanilla Valhrona Chocolate, Rosewater Rose Petal, Banana Pecan, and Grapefruit. Each donut started as the same item - a relatively large ring of dough that's light, filled with air pockets, and has almost an eggy quality (though I was assured several times there is no egg in their recipe, just 100% corn oil and "lots of love" - this website is probably not the place to comment on other recipes that use 100% corn oil and "lots of love"). The glazes are all rich, sugary, and almost dripping off the sides of the donut. There were no fillings, and the glazes were all organic using fruits and nuts for flavor. The grapefruit variety just had juice, pulp, and zest added to the glaze before it was applied to the donuts. Its essence was captured in the glaze. We also tried some non-donut pastries including a Sticky Bun with Fresh Roasted Pecans, and a Churro. Both were excellent.

Mark Isreal, the owner and founder took a couple of minutes to chat with us about his excellent donuts. His grandfather Herman's picture looks over the whole operation which it appears is booming. At the time we spoke he was already selling his donuts to 40 stores in the area, and since we spoke he's opened a branch in Tokyo. What can I say, though the donuts were a little large for me (Mark explained "we like it big") the love they put into making them is definitely apparent. Why the simple formula of focusing deeply and passionately on a small set of things and doing them the best they can be done isn't copied more I don't know. But in the meantime, Doughnut Plant really makes some of the highest quality, and tastiest, donuts I've ever eaten. And while I was assured they could do special orders to make small ones, I kind of like experiencing them the way the folks at Doughnut Plant intended - large in size and overwhelmingly tasty.

 

 

Monday
November

01

2004
12:19 AM




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Jacques Torres Chocolate, New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — I'm a big fan of hot chocolate, and not just when it's snowing out. Frankly, I think hot chocolate should become a year round beverage. As someone who still hasn't found a way to like coffee (no matter how much sugar and cream I pour in there) I have another reason to want hot chocolate -something to drink when everyone else is drinking coffee. When I heard that there was a spot in Brooklyn, a self-styled "chocolate factory" created by Jacques Torres, former pastry chef at Le Cirque, I knew we had to make a stop there. Sure enough, our first stop that day was at Jacques Torres Chocolate.

While there were a zillion chocolate treats (I didn't see a chocolate river) we were there for one reason, and one reason alone. A perfect hot chocolate is almost like a heated chocolate milkshake. Thick, frothy, creamy, velvety smooth, with a chocolate depth that feels light because of the infusion of air and cream (whipped or otherwise). There are those that like their hot chocolate a little more rustic. I enjoy that as well, and Jacques Torres' hot chocolate fell more into that category. It was slightly bitter (in a good way) with consistent thickness and not overly thick or muddy. That said, it was still like drinking a bar of rich dark South American chocolate. I could have finished it with time, but it would have taken awhile. I'm usually a fan of a slightly sweeter hot chocolate, and this bordered on the Mexican. It was very very good.

We also got the spicy variety. At first you think the spices only make their presence felt in the aroma. But a few moments after you drink some then it sets a tiny faint fire in your mouth on the finish that lasts and lasts. A little late, but better than never we noticed a bowl of homemade marshmallows sitting on the counter. Homemade marshmallows. Who makes their own marshmallows? Jacques Torres does. Letting that melt into our drinks gave them a candied quality. They were so thick and rich that they didn't just disappear, they floated and melted for some time. Deep, rich hot chocolate, with complex flavors, and homemade marshmallows. Not a bad way to start our day in New York.

 

     
     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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