Food for Thought: The Food Lab

Feeling a little J. Kenji Lopez-Alt-deprived with Serious Eats’ new eye candy format? The Food Lab is your medicine. It collects and organizes his best posts through the years, in a volume heavy enough to pound a cutlet.

There are several ways you can use this book. First, you can burrow into tidbits of food science. Lopez-Alt is less methodical than Christopher Kimball, less pedantic than Harold McGee, with a result that’s eminently readable. (Foolproof Soft-Boiled Eggs on page 101 is as good a place to start as any.) Second, to suss out the best way to prepare any particular foodstuff. (You can do no better than the sautéed spinach/pan-roasted mushroom spread on ages 440-441, though I will point out that you can retain moisture inside your mushroom caps by frying the bottoms first, then turning over to cook the tops.)

Third, it’s a recipe book, which is clearly what the publisher intended in order to reach the widest possible audience. The number of recipes is not large relative to the size of the book, but what’s here is reliably good and has a high probability of success thanks to the accompanying advice on technique. Pasta with Sausage and Red-Sauce Braised Broccoli Rabe (page 696) looks promising… maybe I’ll make this one for dinner tonight. Check it out.

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Food for Thought: Thrillist

I visit Serious Eats less often these days, probably because the tags for articles on the home page have been replaced with big eye-candy food porn graphics. (The content’s still there, but you have to work to find it.) As a replacement, I’ve developed a guiltily pleasurable relationship with the food and drink section of Thrillist.

Thrillist is one of those link-bait sites that happens to have some good content along with the ads. I especially like the city guides, though they are of varying quality because they are written by stringers and so only as good as the person reporting. But it’s a fun read and won’t cost you anything. Sample content (which will change by the time you get there, probably): The 33 best sandwich shops in America, ranked. Nine Taco Bell hacks you’ll be pissed you didn’t know. And (I would have liked to be the writer on this one) Signs you’re in a bullshit steakhouse.

There’s also a daily email newsletter worth subscribing to. Just watch out for fake news. Check it out.

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Drink and watch with Director Steven Soderbergh at Alamo Drafthouse

If I was in San Francisco I would be all over this: film Director Steven Soderbergh will participate in a conversation with K&L whiskey buyer David Driscoll where his Erin Brockovich will be shown and rare bibulati0ns will be served, at the Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission. The event happens January 23, and tickets are available here.

You pay $15 for the movie and the conversation; booze and food are extra. it seems Soderbergh is a big fan of Driscoll’s blog (you should be too and you can find and bookmark it here) which is how the event came about. Soderbergh is also a big fan of pairing movies with spirits and will be curating a rare (or maybe unobtainable) Bolivian spirit called Singani 63 which he discovered while filming Che. You can watch the movie, order bucket-list cocktails, and hobnob with what is going to be an extremely congenial group of folks.

There will also be a meet-and-greet for ticketholders at Bear Vs Bull after the movie, where guests can learn also learn more about Mr. Soderbergh’s foray into the distilled spirits world. I envy you and urge you to get your tickets now, because this will sell out for sure.

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Enough with the fruitcake jokes…

Corsicana Fruitcake

Corsicana fruitcake with tin

Bon vivant Calvin Trillin wrote that there is actually only one fruitcake in the world, and it is continually re-gifted each holiday season. That fruitcake joke, or a variation, has had just as much recycling to the point that giving a fruitcake for Christmas, or offering a slice to your guests, is to invite ridicule.

Enough already. While I have no doubt there are inferior fruitcakes, the standard of the art from Collin Street Bakery is a masterpiece, made with 28% Texas pecans and other high quality ingredients, and packaged in a keepsake tin with tableaux of winter festivities (in some place other than Texas, obviously) bracketing a cowboy whirling a lasso in front of the Lone Star and the Alamo. Yee hah!

The reusable tin alone is nearly worth the price of the fruitcake (currently a little under $30 for the two pound Deluxe) and when I was growing up in Dallas more often I saw these packed with chocolate chip cookies or divinity than the original product.

I enjoyed “Corsicana Fruitcake” (the bakery is located in Corsicana, TX) as a special treat at my grandmother’s buffet each Thanksgiving, and had no idea about the ridicule until I ventured out of state. I also have a family connection to Collin Street Bakery because my cousin, John A. Burnett, did their advertising for a number of years.

I like to think John A. was responsible for the unusual entry on their mail order form where you specify in care of whom the gift should be sent. One assumes this is because a large percentage of their orders went to assisted living facilities, and what finer treat could there be to share with your neighbors at social hour?

We are currently at the end of the holiday season so I am going to ask you to get on their email list so you can try it in 2017. Here is a sign-up link which will possibly give you 5% off your first order. Also, keep an eye out for specials… last Cyber Monday they were offering free shipping plus a steep discount when you order two cakes. (Which proves, definitively, that there is more than one fruitcake in the world.)

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Recipe: Umami Butter

Umami Butter

Umami Butter

I happened on umami butter as a sauté base for green beans… fantastic. Also works well with mushrooms. I would consider it for any sautéed food that could benefit from a jolt of this savory accent: steaks, cottage fries, peppers, eggplant. Broccoli and other crucifers I’m less sure about, but give it a try and let me know how it works. Recipe makes 1/4 cup, which you can cool in a ramekin as I’ve done and give to somebody as a gift. (You could also roll it up as a compound butter, but it’s going to be softer than usual because of the liquid component.)

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz)
2 t dried bitter herbs (I used mint; shiso or basil would also work), OR 2 T fresh bitter herbs, finely chopped
2 t fish sauce (I use Red Boat)

Unami Mushroom Caps

Mushroom caps sautéed in Umami Butter. Be sure to pour the pan juices over the produce when you serve.

Method: melt the butter over low heat and add herbs; sauté at low heat until they have softened somewhat. (You can reduce the cooking time if using fresh herbs.) Add fish sauce and mix thoroughly. Keep some in the pan for the food prep at hand, and transfer the rest to a heatproof container for future use.

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Recipe: Leftover Banana Bread

Leftover Banana Bread

Leftover Banana Bread

The Eagle Brand condensed milk adds a nice richness to this leftover banana bread. A good thing to make after the holidays when you discover lots of blackened bananas lurking in the corners of your refrigerator. Makes 1 big loaf.

Ingredients:
4-6 very ripe bananas
2 eggs
1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
2 T melted butter
1 t vanilla extract
½ c brown sugar (or 1 cup if you like it sweet)
1 ¾ c flour
1 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t Kosher salt
¼ c sliced almonds (optional)

Method: mush the bananas into pulp with a potato masher, back of a spoon or your hands. Mix in beaten eggs, Eagle Brand milk, melted butter, brown sugar and vanilla. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in second bowl and mix well. Combine wet and bowls and pour into a loaf pan which has been rubbed with butter and dusted with flour. Bake 350 degrees for 60-90 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and continue cooling to room temperature before eating. Good toasted with butter or cream cheese.

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Recipe: Accident Bread

Accident Bread

Accident Bread, ready for sandwiches. I’ve found family members are much more likely to use the bread when you pre-slice it for them.

Accident Bread happened because I was experimenting with Sirvinta wheat, a heritage grain I picked up at the Maine Kneading Conference. I was under the impression it was a high extraction flour but the resulting dough was quite different than expected. I added a few mix-ins to rescue my bake and ended up with a very satisfying result. After the fact, I realized this is a pretty fool-proof formula any time you want to experiment with flours and ingredients. Makes two 2-lb loaves.

Ingredients:
150 g lively APF starter at 60%
800 g water
100-200 g whole wheat or high extraction flour
800-900 g all purpose flour (you want to end up with a total of 1000 g flour)
100 g mixed add-ins which might include rolled oats/wheat, a few gold flax seeds, rye berries
1-2 T Kosher salt (start with 1 T, then taste the dough as it forms)
1 T olive oil
2 T maple syrup (grade B preferred)

Method: Add water to starter in a large bowl and stir with a spoon until starter is dispersed somewhat. Add flours and mix thoroughly until there are no patches of dry flour. Allow to autolyse (rest) for at least 30 minutes and as long as two hours. Add all other dry ingredients and commence to stretch-and-fold using the method described in this post. Do three rounds of ten stretch-and-folds at 15 minute intervals. Before the third round taste for salt and add more if necessary, and add olive oil and maple syrup. After the fifth round (total elapsed time 1 hour) cover and allow dough to bulk-rise for four hours (more or less, depending on how lively your starter is and the temperature of your kitchen). Shape into two loaves and rest 20 minutes.

After resting, transfer loaves to floured couches and rise another 1 ½ hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 460 degrees with cast iron dutch ovens nd their lids inside. This will take at least 20 minutes. Carefully transfer loaves to the dutch ovens (you don’t need to bring to room temperature if refrigerated), slash the tops, cover and cook 20 minutes. Then take off the lids, reduce heat to 430 and bake another 20 minutes or until bread reaches an internal temperature of 206 degrees. Cool and eat.

 

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Food for Thought: The Writer’s Guide to Bread Baking

Richard Dooling is a polymath who has sold screenplays and written bestsellers yet still teaches law at the University of Nebraska. His blog covers diverse subjects of interest to him, one of which is bread baking.

The Writer’s Guide to Bread Baking is an omnibus post in which Dooling presents the craft as an ideal procrastination enabler for writers (a benefit of which your correspondent is well aware) and provides many links to videos, recipes and sources of tools and insight. I don’t agree with all his recommendations, but absolutely can confirm his choices for the two best websites for beginning writer/bakers. Check it out.

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Behold… the wedge!

15 Church Wedge

Wedge salad at 15 Church in Saratoga Springs… can you spot the lettuce?

Have you noticed? The wedge salad is quite the thing in high end steakhouses recently. The concept is simple: cut a triangle of chilled iceberg lettuce, and pile stuff on it. Blue cheese dressing (preferably house made, with lots of big cheese chunks) and a sprinkling of bacon are essential. Beyond that, it’s open to creativity.

At 15 Church, my favorite restaurant, Chef Brady Duhame topped it off with fried onion rings and added cherry tomatoes and other garnishes till the actual lettuce disappeared. And I’m fine with that. As with stone soup, the basic ingredient is the least important thing.

By comparison, I had a wedge at a local place during our restaurant week that wasn’t even a full quarter of a head. At a food cost of maybe 80 cents max, that’s a poor place to economize. These bozos sealed the deal with a minimal amount of jarred blue cheese dressing and a light sprinkling of bacon bits, which makes me think the wedge is a convenient litmus test of presentation and commitment to customer satisfaction.

Of course you don’t have to go to an expensive steakhouse to have a wedge. You can craft a perfectly serviceable version at home, as long as you use our Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing.

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Recipe: Sautéed Asparagus with Hazelnuts

Asparagus with Hazelnuts

Asparagus with Hazelnuts

The warm sweetness of roasted hazelnuts is balanced by the tartness of lemon zest to create a heartier side dish. Asparagus with hazelnuts would be an excellent accompaniment to your holiday prime rib. Serves four.

Ingredients:
1 lb asparagus
1 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 T lemon zest
1 t Kosher salt
¼ C roasted* hazelnuts, chopped

Method: trim the ends from asparagus spears and peel any that are particularly thick. Sauté garlic in olive oil and add asparagus and lemon zest; cook until tender, about 5 minutes, turning frequently. Add salt and served with hazelnuts sprinkled on top.

*To roast hazelnuts, cook them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes then cool slightly. Remove the husks by rubbing a few nuts at a time between your palms.

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