Random Thoughts and Recipe Links 5-14-09


Random Thoughts

  • I learned from Bron Marshall that floury potatoes are what New Zealanders call non-waxy baking potatoes.  But I think it is much more fun to imagine little gnocchis growing in the ground.
  • I was able to attend the Foodbuzz 1 millionth post party in New York the other day, and it was a marvelous time. It was wonderful to see Ryan(thegirl) again from Foodbuzz and meet Ben Dehan, their CEO.  I got to see friends like Stacey Snacks, Colloquial Cookin’, and No Recipes.  I got to finally meet some folks who I’ve read for a while like the wonderful Culinary Types and Red Cook, as well as Amateur Gourmet (Adam really is as genuine and nice as he appears on his blog, but then I’ve found that blogs tend to be a pretty good indicator of a person’s character). I also got to meet some new folks like Taste As You Go, Balance (who is writing a fascinating PhD studying health issues with molecular gastronomy), Culinary Wannabe, NY Crumbs, and Chez What?.  It was much fun and I wish I could have met more folks, but it got a little crowded.  I would post a picture, but the camera flash was a bit severe and, well, if I did, Stacey might never talk to me again. Thank you Foodbuzz 🙂
  • I have never cooked with lovage. I have never even seen it in a market. Sounds interesting though.
  • I learned today that the EU wants to allow wine makers to dump a bunch of red and white wine together and market it as rosé. To paraphrase Cai Palmer, the proprietor of my favorite local wine store Wine at Five, Provence rose makers have spent years trying to undo the brand damage to rose done by Sutter Home and cheap “blush” zinfindels, and now the EU wants to undo all of that and legitimize a flood of cheap junk.
  • I attempted to make ravioli last night. Trying to roll pasta made from bread flour (Hazan says use all-purpose, while Oliver votes for bread flour) with a normal rolling pin was an ugly sight (note to self for billionth time: must get pasta maker).  Still, I made an interesting discovery with the filling:  chop up and saute an onion, some ham (I used black forest), and some garlic with olive oil and a bit of vermouth.  Pulse it thoroughly in a food processor with hazelnuts, ground pepper and red pepper flakes. The taste has a definite similarity to lobster.  Lisl agreed, so I’m not completely nuts.
  • Williams Sonoma sells personal brands for searing your initials into steak.  Is that for the beef possessive, or folks who commonly misplace their steaks at family picnics?

Recipe Links
Here are a few recipes from the blogosphere that sounded really wonderful:

What’s for Lunch Honey, Caramelized Potato Leek and Brie Quiche
Food Blogga, Fruity Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
What We’re Eating, Wild Mushroom Gratin w/ Macadamia Nut-Blue Cheese Topping
Bitten, Spanish Croquettes
The Wednesday Chef, Moroccan Carrot Soup with Mussels
White on Rice, Chili Garlic Hot Sauce (ie homemade sriracha)
Zen Can Cook guest at Rasa Malaysia, Grilled Shrimp with Green Papaya Salad
Wrightfood, Clam and Pork Belly Chowder


Olney’s Simple French Food; Recipe Links 4-23-09


“Even vegetarians expend most of their ingenuity trying to destroy the vegetableness of the poor fresh things, welding them into horrible imitations of meat dishes in pathetic compensation for self-imposed deprivation.”
— Richard Olney on cooking vegetables, Simple French Food

Do you find that the longer it takes you to read a book, the harder it becomes to pick it up and start?  Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been referencing Richard Olney a lot recently. The truth is I’ve had his book Simple French Food for almost 15 years, collecting dust on my bookshelves all this time. I picked it up right after college when I decided to learn to cook, out of a sense of associated loyalty. Olney and my father (an editor) worked together on the Time Life Good Cook series, but I was very young at the time and did not meet him.  So novice-me bought the book and was intimidated right off the bat.  I scurried back to the familiarity and ease of my Julia Child, and kept this one on the shelves.

Fast forward to a month ago, when I picked it up in earnest. What a change! All of a sudden, it wasn’t scary anymore.  Quite the contrary, to the older, more experienced me, this book is brilliant, accessible and often funny.  A book like this does not go out of style.  I read it basically cover to cover, and was quite inspired.  I like that Olney often explains his reasoning and purpose behind a decision, rather than just dumping out some ingredients and assembly instructions. Verdict: an oldie but very goodie.

P.S. Another book of Olney’s that I love, and which has not collected so much unjustified dust, is Lulu’s Provençal Table.

It has been way too long since I posted some recipe links, though my list has been stacking up. Here are a few from the pile that inspired me:

Hopkinson, Cookstr, and Recipe Links

It is time for another installment of musings and recipe links.

spices 1

Hopkinson and “mindless innovation”
My brain hit pause-and-spin when I read in NYTimes’ piece on Simon Hopkinson: “he is driven nearly mad by carelessly peeled potatoes, badly washed lettuce and what he views as mindless innovation. ‘Why on earth would anyone put cumin in mint sauce for lamb, or a Caesar dressing on bibb lettuce?’ he asked, wincing in genuine pain. ‘There’s no reason for it.’”

No reason for it? How exactly does Hopkinson think that our flavor combinations emerged in the first place? Did mirepoix emerge from Zeus’ thigh like Athena? Or perhaps innovation emerged via casual collisions on ancient street corners: “Hey you got your honey in my yogurt!” “No, you got your yogurt in my honey!” (I wonder how many people have seen the Reeses Pieces candy ad to which I refer)

Rules of flavor have emerged through trial and error over centuries. With trial, comes error! It might be bad, but don’t question the why. In ancient times, “fusion” happened through military expansion and today it continues via travel and trade. I do not believe that the door has been closed on originality or food innovation, either through flavor experimentation or today’s molecular gastronomy investigations.


Cookstr & Online Recipes
The other week, the NYTimes also had an article on Cookstr, a new recipe website being started by a former publishing exec which pulls in recipes from the cookbook stars and in doing so hopes to sell more books.

I am firmly in the camp that the Internet, and social media in particular, sells more books. Cookbooks are a purchase of desire, not necessity. If it was the latter, all you would need is a copy of How To Cook Everything, or Joy of Cooking, or The Cook’s Companion if you are down-under, and you would have more than enough to eat well. I believe that the blogosphere (and its hugely-increased word of mouth dynamic) is one of the strongest marketing channels for cookbooks. I have bought numerous books because bloggers I like have tried and shared recipes, and in doing so raved about a book. Word of mouth works because of trust; trust emerges through time and relationships, even tenuous ones. It means a lot more than a review from a stranger on Amazon.com.

While there are many places for recipes online, people still want to feel like they are making a “safe” bet before they labor over a stove, and nothing screams reputation more than a big name. I believe that Cookstr will do well and carve out a place for itself.

Looking ahead, I wonder if Cookstr be able to control the impulse to “shut down” the recipe sharing that goes on in the blogosphere. A natural inclination might be to become the “exclusive” source for their authors, or fight modifications like that misguided attempt by Cook’s Country earlier this year. Over the last several years, traditional media, PR and marketing has been fearful, controlling, and at times even threatening to social media, but it is a bit like trying to stop the tide from coming in (not to mention an excellent exercise in how to alienate your customer base).

I think that Cookstr will be wise to embrace and incorporate social media into their planning and product. Like any startup, no doubt they shall begin small, but over time we shall see if Cookstr’s founder, or his consultants, really understands this new medium he is embracing. I will note that Jamie Oliver did not come across well in his quote in the article. It smacked of arrogance and a refusal to acknowledge that his recipes come from a deep foundation of recipe sharing and evolution, but I’m going to give Jamie the benefit of the doubt since he seems like such a down-to-earth bloke and the wrong soundbites, out of context, can make anyone sound terrible.

Musings and misgivings aside, I look forward to Cookstr’s launch and am hopeful that they will be an excellent online resource.

Recipe Links
All that talking and finally some links! Here are some of my favorite posts from the last several weeks. I seem to be pie crazy at the moment!

Too many photo sites? + recipe links 10-23-08

food photo sites

Foodgawker, TasteSpotting, and Photograzing (Serious Eats) — three food photo sites that people flock to. They are similar, and you often see the same pictures across all three.

These sites are a fun place to discover interesting posts and drool on your keyboard (careful with that). With the right photo, they can also be great traffic generators for a blog. A number of bloggers are taking the approach of posting their pictures on all three, but since time is perpetually limited, I would prefer to pick one.

In terms of site speed, they all seem comparable, and all seem to be relatively well-built. I doubt I will have time to get a sense for relative moderation / posting speed. Serious Eats has a large following, but I do not know how much of their traffic is also using Photograzing. According to Compete.com (not the definitive word by any means), Foodgawker has a slight lead now over Tastespotting.

Unfortunately, all of them insist on cropping images to a square. Sure, it makes the page layout more beautiful, but my camera does not take square pictures, and that is not how I frame my shots. I notice that Etsy’s home page has a consistent landscape orientation for displayed images. I would love one of them to differentiate by embracing the non-square world.

So… which one do you prefer?

Recipe Links
I haven’t had time in a while to post my “wannamakes”, the amusing term someone applied to recipes you see and want to save for the future, so here is my batch since the last post (not including a few we already made and enjoyed):

Speaking of links, we enjoyed playing a part in Foodbuzz’s 24, 24, 24 blog event, and they just created a neat little video now up on YouTube.

And I shall end the post, since it gave me a good chuckle, with a link to The Haphazard Gourmet Girls’ alternative spelling/definitions for “locavore”.

Recipe Links 9-15-08; Rum & Poached Peach

Boy, between Texas flooding, Wall Street collapsing, the heated election and Tina Fey bringing me to tears (of laughter), it is hard to think about food in the evenings, but nevertheless, we sally on! Lisl has been dragged to Switzerland for work this week, which either means that I’m going to be doing crazy experimentation in the kitchen or subsistence eating… you never know. I find it harder to motivate to cook properly when I’m the only one eating the results (our munchkin is a good eater but she likes food bland bland bland!).

First, here’s the latest list of recipes I’ve discovered recently (roughly in the order found) and would like to try at some point:

Recipe Links

Part 2:
Rum and Poached Peach
The other night we had some friends over to dinner. I grilled some New York strips (interestingly, the butcher told me they were “grass raised and corn finished”, which he said is an increasing trend) and made a Mediterranean gratin with layers of eggplant, roasted red peppers, olives, plum tomatoes cooked with onion and garlic, cheese, rosemary and breadcrumbs.

Lisl made a play on Peach Melba, which, rather than topping with rasberry sauce, we topped with some really good dark rum from St. Lucia called Chairman’s Reserve. Delish!

peach melba
Pre-Rum (and the attack of my spoon)

To make: Bring a pot of 1 1/4 quarts water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and some lemon zest to boil, then lower heat to a light simmer. Poach your peaches (in batches if you have many) for about 5 minutes, allow to cool, then place in the fridge the chill. When cold and you are ready to serve, slip off the skins (they should come off easily), halve and pit. Place on a scoop of vanilla ice cream and lightly pour some high quality dark rum on top.

On Elizabeth David; Recipe Links 8-30-08

Last Sunday and today, I’ve enjoyed flipping through classic old Elizabeth David cookbooks over a cup of tea. She brought French and Mediterranean cooking to the Brits after World War II and has a wonderful, informal style (albeit a bit parsimonious with her words when describing recipes). She had a delightful habit of mercilessly chiding her countrymen and women for atrocious cooking habits (these books were written in the early 1950s).

Among other things, she rails against the obsession over the relatively new (at the time) “deep freeze” technology and the popularity of artificial flavourings at the expense of fresh, seasonal food. Given that I’m currently reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma (and San Francisco is currently hosting the Slow Food festival) the message reverberates. It is interesting to see how long it has taken for the pendulum to start swinging back to “natural” here in the US in a broad way. It takes a lot to get people to change, especially under the onslaught of marketing messages.

These two quotes caught my eye today from David’s cookbooks, and made me smile:

“Nobody has ever been able to find out why the English regard a glass of wine added to a soup or stew as a reckless foreign extravagance and at the same time spend pounds on bottled sauces, gravy powders, soup cuves, ketchups and artificial flavourings.” (she then has a footnote that details out the horrific ways some artificial flavourings are created — from French Country Cooking, pub 1951)

“How one learns to dread the season for salads in England. What becomes of the heart of the lettuce? What makes an English cook think that beetroot spreading its hideous purple dye over a sardine and a spoonful of tinned baked beans constitutes an hors d’oeuvre? Why make the cold salmon, woolly enough anyhow by mid-summer, look even less appetizing than it is by serving it on a bed of lettuce leaves apparently rescued from the dust bin? What is the object of spending so much money on cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuces because of their valuable vitamins, and then drowning them in vinegar and chemical salad dressings?” (from Summer Cooking, pub 1955)

As Homer Simpson would say… “doh!”

Now on to recipe links! Here are some of the recipes I’ve seen from food bloggers over the last several weeks that caught my eye and I want to remember for a future day:

P.S. I might not make desserts (that’s Lisl’s territory), but all you Daring Bakers are sure making great-looking eclairs right now!

Recipe Links 8-21-08

We started this blog a couple of months ago originally as personal space to store, tag, and share recipes with friends. It is one reason why we have no official first post, just entries like “Grandma’s Oyster Stew” and “Mom’s Meatloaf” where I ported recipes over from my old personal website. Every week since then, I continue to discover new foodie blogs that inspire me, or resources like Rancho Gordo mentioned below. There’s no question that I’ve become a better cook by engaging in the foodiesphere.

And I’ve said it before, but boy-oh-boy does the foodiesphere have a huge sweet tooth!

I love the new discoveries. One unexpected example is the delicious restaurant Lisl and I went to last night, which I never would have pulled from the Manhattan haystack save for a recommendation from Stacey over at Stacey Snacks, who I met through Foodbuzz.

In no particular order, here are a number of blog recipes from the last couple of weeks that I want to try later when inclination strikes. This isn’t meant to be any kind of “best” list or any of that nonsense – just things that caught my eye that I will forget if I don’t write down.

Experimenting with Peach Salsa

peach salsa
Some friends spoiled us the other week with a brilliant dish of mahi mahi covered in peach salsa, so I’ve been in the mood for it since. I decided to try a recipe for peach and avocado salsa I saw posted on Foodbuzz by TiffyC (that link will take you to the ingredients). It was good but I think I would hold the avocado next time (personal preference, not the fault of the recipe). I did a little experimentation with vinegars and the apple cider vinegar came out on top; I also tried adding chopped mint and liked the result.

Note: If I had used my head, I would have held the avocado and peach till last and chopped/mixed up all the other ingredients first to prevent mushiness with stirring (not the recipe’s fault since it calls for a light hand, but I was playing with flavors — in any case I think it makes most sense to add the peach and avocado last, lightly mix, then chill).

I ended up deciding that my own inclination pointed towards the more fruity recipe our friend Caroline used and was kind enough to share with me:

2 large ripe peaches, finely diced
2 tbsp jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 large navel orange, supremed with juice
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mags to Blogs + Recipe Links

There was a time when I hit the magazine racks once a month to choose a magazine out of the Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appetit, and Food & Wine selection. I never knew which title I would want each month. I bought them for inspiration and the fabulous photography (who doesn’t love some good food pr0n?). But I have to admit, I’m wondering why I would spend the money on magazines at all when I can barely keep up with excellent posts from food bloggers.

There are so many blogs where the photographs are great, the culinary ideas delicious, and the writing down to earth. Not to mention that in the foodiesphere, it is participatory, i.e. you can have a conversation or send someone a smile through comments, email, or a vote on sites like Foodbuzz. I admit that we currently have subscriptions to Food & Wine (which used to be my least favorite, but may actually now be my most favorite) and Gourmet, but I have to wonder for how long. How do those magazines raise the bar to compete?

I now have 55 food blogs in my RSS feeder (luckily food blogs are much easier to scan and follow than other blog categories), and it continues to grow. Here are a few links to recipes over the last week or so that I want to try (in no particular order):

On Joining the Foodiesphere; Recipe Links

I’ve been actively involved in the social media / virtual worlds blogosphere for a number of years for work, but am a total noobie to the foodiesphere. I have to say that it has been a joy to explore and join. There are some wonderful people out there, not just in terms of the quality of their food, photographs and culinary ideas, but also in terms of friendly, community spirit.

I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of folks in the foodiesphere who are really into baking, and even more into desserts (which I almost never make, but they do make for awfully nice food photos).

Part of my exploration consists of working my way through various blogrolls, and accordingly a whole new “food” category has been growing in my RSS reader. I have also enjoyed discovering foodbuzz.com, and have slowly been getting the hang of it. My interactions with the FoodBuzz staff have been very positive — they seem to truly care about building the community, which strengthened my desire to participate more actively.

As I run into great recipes from other foodies, I am going to save links here so that I can find and try them in future: